Rating: PG-13

 

He tries to sleep again and wonders when the pain will end
the cuts they made run deeper than his cracking outer shell
He looks with tired eyes at all the people hypnotized
and wonders what can save him from a self-created hell

And he says,
"I swear I'm not the devil
though you think I am.
I swear I'm not the devil."
And he says,
"I swear I'm not the devil
Though you think I am.
I swear I'm not the devil."

"Where've you been?"

"Out."

"Yeah, I can see that, Dean."

"They why'd you ask?"

He tossed the keys onto the table, watching as they slid across the smooth surface, coming to a rest against the back of Sam's laptop.

"Out where?" Sam leaned back in the chair, one hand still on the laptop keyboard, the other resting on his bare thigh.

Dean shrugged out of his jacket, noting that Sam was in his boxers and T-shirt.

"Thought you were sleeping," he said, dropping down on the edge of his bed.

"I was," Sam replied. "Woke up and you weren't here."

Dean flicked an eyebrow, leaning over to pull off his shoes. "Would say I'm sorry, but… I'm not."

"Dean," Sam sighed and his lips pushed out into a pout. "I already told you—I just needed to get out for a bit, that's all."

"With the Colt."

"It was in my bag."

"You're such bad liar, Sam," Dean shook his head, his lips twisted into a sad smile. "Just admit it—you saw that Ruby chick again."

Sam pressed his lips together, shaking his head slowly, his eyes darting to the side. "Would you drop that? I did not see Ruby. Haven't seen her since Elizabethville."

Dean knew Sam was lying. He knew his brother. Knew that there was something under the waning innocence of his hazel eyes. His jaw tightened in a moment of angry fear.

Guess it's time I saved your ass for a change…

Dean shucked his jeans, smelling the red-head in the wake of the denim, and climbed beneath the covers.

"I found something." Sam's voice was petulant. "Demonic activity, ten miles from here."

"It can wait until morning," Dean yawned, reaching up to turn off the light between the beds.

"It'll be morning in a couple of hours," Sam helpfully pointed out.

Dean sighed, gripping the edge of the comforter and wrapping it around himself, burrowing into a tight cocoon. "Then it can wait a couple of hours."

He heard Sam sigh, heard the laptop click shut, heard the bed next to him creak as Sam's weight hit it, heard Sam's deep exhale as his brother forced his body to rest once again. Sam always breathed heavily in his sleep; it was at times both annoying and reassuring. It kept the memory of the horrid silence, the painful stillness that Sam had been cloaked in back at Cold Oak from swamping Dean every time he closed his eyes.

He turned his face further into the pillow, wanting oblivion in this moment as much as he'd wanted sensation earlier. But sleep eluded him. Peace was a mockery of temptation. Sam had called him a hypocrite. He was right. And Dean didn't care. He didn't care because Sam was alive.

And how am I supposed to live with that? You know, the thought of him, wherever he is right now…I mean, he spent his whole life chasing that yellow-eyed son of a bitch, he should have gone out fighting. That was supposed to be his legacy, you know? Not bargaining with the damn thing. Not this.

Had John had even a moment to feel loss, feel a flash of panic? Had John known how his sacrifice would remove the only thing standing between Dean and the dark? Had he cared? Twisting in the bed, putting his back to Sam, Dean felt an all-too-familiar pull in his chest reminiscent of the encounter with the rawhead, the sting of the reaper. He felt his freedom crushing him, suffocating him with its burden.

Still, a year left. You're not scared? Not even a little?

He was a liar. He knew it. The demons knew it. Sam was the only one that was fooled. For now. Sam was the one he needed to fool. Sam was the one that needed to let him go, let this go. Before he tried something stupid and got himself killed. Before Dean lost him.

Damn if I'm not going out fighting, Dean thought. He had one thing his father hadn't had. Time.

Dean rolled to his stomach, shoving his hands under his pillow, his fingers wrapping around the knife hilt. It was hard, worn, familiar. He knew its balance, knew its accuracy. He knew his weapons as intimately as he knew himself. He knew how to treat them, how to care for them so that they responded to him.

He knew all of that… and he didn't know how he was going to leave his brother. Had he been selfish? Had he saved the only thing that mattered in his life just to curse him to a fate worse than death?

When you were trapping that demon, you weren't…I mean, it was all a trick, right? You never considered actually making that deal, right?

John and Sam, in Dean's mind as alike as twilight and midnight, two sides of the same coin, echoing heartbeats. Dean had needed them both in different ways, and because of him, they'd both died.

Sam… you and Dad… you're the most important people in my life…

Dean pulled in a breath, rubbing his face into the pillow. John's death took away his balance. Sam's death destroyed him. Dean had died in that moment. A year wasn't going to make much of a difference. And maybe this way he could prepare Sam for what was apparently waiting for him in the shadows, waiting to pounce when his guard was down, his guardian gone.

I'd do it again, he thought fiercely. He would do anything to keep Sam safe, alive.

Is that what you want, Dean? You want me to just let you go?

Clenching his teeth against the growl building at the back of his throat, Dean bound his frustrated anger, his helpless resistance to the truth and stuffed it, deep, low, into his gut where the only thing that would expose it was currently gripping tightly in his hand. He'd created this moment. He'd created this hell on earth. He may as well enjoy it while he could.

I'm not a bad person…

The thought eased his shoulders. Enjoy what he could, while he could. Tasting, feeling, smelling, listening, touching, holding. Tucking Sam behind him and barreling through the demons until he found the end of the road, until he tumbled off the cliff. Just as long as Sam didn't follow.

Minutes, it seemed, after he'd finally succumbed to exhaustion, Sam was jostling his arm.

"Dean, we gotta go."

"Mmmrphh."

"Now, man," Sam was insisted, eager. Eager Sam before coffee was hard to process. "Bobby says that this one is a mean bastard."

"You called Bobby?"

Dean didn't pull his face from the pillow, his body still enjoying the feel of the bed against his skin too much to budge.

"What?" Sam asked, his voice irritated.

Dean lifted his face slightly so that his mouth was free of the pillow. "You called Bobby?" he repeated.

"He called us."

Dean groaned, rolling to his side.

"You look like shit, man," Sam observed. "What did—or wait, maybe I should say who did you do last night?"

Dean allowed his grin to slide into place, pulling the side of his face into a quirk of sly humor, his eyes barely slits, shielding the honesty that swam to the surface. It was the grin that he knew would always soften his brother's eyes with tolerance. It was the grin that always made Sam glance away, amused exasperation tugging at his lips. It was a grin of protection. Dean reached up to ruffle his sleep-flattened hair, saying nothing.

"Did you even get her name?" Sam said, turning from the bed.

"We weren't really worried about names," he retorted. Though he'd given her his. His one way of reaching out. His one way of connecting. My name is Dean.

"You're impossible," Sam shook his head. He was dressed, ready, his backpack on his shoulder, his laptop in his hand.

Dean sighed. "Give me ten minutes."

"You have five."

"I better get coffee out of this."

"Depends on if we get there before another Ritchie shows up," Sam challenged.

Dean was out of bed and in the shower in the space of a minute. Ritchie hadn't deserved his fate. But, he wondered, letting the water wash her scent off of him, erasing the memory of his brief escape, did any of them? John hadn't deserved to be a widower, burning in a special hell even before he sacrificed his soul for his oldest son; his mother and Jessica hadn't deserved to die in wicked pain; Sam didn't deserve the loss he'd survived, let alone the destiny he was fighting to this day. None of them should have to suffer as they did.

Except me, he thought desperately as the weight of water answered the call of the earth, threatening to bow him. I deserve everything I get, and I'm gonna take the rest.

Five minutes later, they were heading west.

www