At first, the thoughts just smacked like wrecking balls into his mental walls causing fractures, or more likely, exposing the old fractures—from Mom’s death, Sammy’s leaving for Stanford, Dad’s disappearance, Sam’s loss of Jessica, his own electrocution and subsequent “healing” in Nebraska, seeing Cassie again, finding Dad, Dad leaving, Jefferson City, Dad’s words when possessed, the accident, Dad’s death, realizing he’d been resurrected at the cost of Dad’s soul, almost losing Sammy to the demonic virus and Gordon and that damn demon. After all, those the cracks had never been properly repaired, just plastered over, built around, or ignored. Then the thoughts came streaming in with more force, attacking Dean’s mental fortress with the fury of a hurricane. Slamming against the walls; flooding his mind with a slurry of undefined emotions evoking an overarching sense of helplessness and a complete lack of control; swirling around and around like a twister, the force of the maelstrom stripping layer after layer from the protective barriers, eroding the surfaces, leaving nothing but fragile framework behind—riddled with holes, pockmarked, and listing. Finally the tremors started, each wave of terror shaking him. Pain, fear, hopelessness, grief, uncertainty, loss, anger, regret, loneliness, hatred, desperation, despair, and love blended together with nauseating intensity, threatening to shake apart the remnants of the walls in his mind, acting like an earthquake and taking down the barriers by their foundations, wracking Dean physically with a form of paralysis. It was all he could do to clutch the steering wheel of the Impala, clench his teeth to keep his eyes from tearing enough to obstruct his vision, and trying to keep the car on the road.
The walls wouldn’t hold up much longer. Dean was sure of that. Sooner rather than later, every unwanted emotion he had stuffed inside the compartments of his mental prison was going to come pouring out, and when it did, it would be ugly. Traumatic experiences and negative emotions were difficult enough to deal with under “normal” circumstances, but many of Dean’s emotions had been locked up and festering for decades, and if they broke free, the pain would be raw, fresh, as if they had just happened. Some would be worse, perhaps, because of the added regret of time. Others, well, there was probably some nasty stuff buried deep in his mind that Dean didn’t even know had happened, and if it was bad enough that he had forced himself to forget it, then well… Dean honestly didn’t know how he would survive that. Maybe if he was alone—away from prying eyes and faux-sympathetic meddlesome individuals—he would be able to get through it, let a little out, maybe deal with some of it, and figure out away to put his mind back together. The loss of control was overwhelming and paralyzing enough on its own. But it was the nakedness, the helplessness, and loss of dignity that came with other people—especially well-intentioned strangers, and even Sam—seeing into the parts of Dean’s soul he wasn’t comfortable acknowledging, looking at his pain, making their judgments and offering their help that had driven Dean to build up those barriers in the first place. No one had any business seeing that pain. Those were Dean’s private, personal demons, and he neither wanted to share them with the rest of the world nor to be forced to endure unsolicited advice from someone who had no idea what they were talking about. He needed to be in control. He had to… For Sammy.
There was no pride in Dean’s panicked mental pleas. Not this time. It was a simple fact. Sam was a mess. Dean was a mess. If they were going to survive a little longer, pull through this, then one of them had to suck it up and pull it together enough to keep them on track. Normally that would be Dean, because he was older, the caretaker, the stoic one—because losing control terrified him more than his own death and almost as much as losing Sammy. Sammy shared. Dean buried. Dean repressed. But here, now, it would have to be Dean, not because of the normal reasons, but because Sammy was already broken. Madison had seen to that. But Dean couldn’t blame her, it wasn’t her fault, she certainly hadn’t wanted to hurt Sam. And from the looks of Sam’s reaction, ‘Sam had been doing a lot of burying and repressing himself,’ Dean thought bitterly. But Dean couldn’t blame Sam either. It wasn’t his fault that their lives were this fucked up.
Dean glanced over at Sam. He was leaning silently and motionlessly against the window of the Impala. Maybe dozing, maybe staring into space, maybe doing everything he could to be numb and ward off the nightmares that would take him in his sleep. Dean didn’t know and couldn’t tell because Sam’s face was turned away from Dean and toward the window. Dean had to find something, some way to hang on, he thought, as the thoughts swirling in his own mental Charybdis threatened to drag him under to the black depths.
Dean barely remembered leaving Madison’s. He had been on autopilot and could only hope that years of training and months of actively evading law enforcement had served them well. The last thing either of them needed was another crime for Henricksen to pin on them, or worse on Sam—another nightmare to force Sam to relive what had happened. No one was going to make Sam feel guilty for this, no one. Dean would make sure of it. Somehow.
Stopping by the hotel had been almost as much of a blur. Dean had been vaguely aware of some internal debate over whether to leave Sam—alone—in the car or to bring him up to the motel room. That hadn’t really required much of a decision as Sam was covered in blood and not exactly responding to anything Dean said. In the end Dean figured Sam would attract less attention sitting for a few minutes in the car than staggering bloody and despondent up to the room, so Dean grudgingly abandoned his brother while completing what was probably the fastest packing and checkout in history. Dean hoped he hadn’t left anything and he almost didn’t care. At this point they just needed to leave. Go anywhere. Get out of the city now.
And that was the problem. They were in the Impala, and Dean was driving, but now he faced a real decision: where to go? Right now that felt like a far bigger challenge than Dean could handle.
They had three options: North, South, or East. West was out of the question since San Francisco was on the Pacific coast. Unless they wanted to just drive the Impala off of a pier or flee the country by boat. At one point in time, either would have seemed like an acceptable option to Dean, but now, he wasn’t in a position to make any sort of life-altering or ending decisions. Enough of those had already reared their ugly heads without his consent.
South was really never an option. South meant escaping one place associated with unfathomable pain and almost immediately entering another where the fiery ghosts of the not-so-distant past threatened to consume Sam alive. ‘Sam must really hate the San Francisco Bay Area now,’ Dean thought. Between Palo Alto and Stanford and Jessica and now San Francisco and Madison, California seemed to be cursed, well Northern California anyway. If Sam didn’t hate it, then Dean decided he did. Dean hated it with a passion, for taking Sam away in the first place; for giving him a taste of his dream, letting him almost succeed in the normal life he’d always wanted, and then snatching it all away and forcing him to watch his hope—his future—go up in flames; for causing Sam so much pain as he grieved for Jessica; for still being there, taunting Sam with a promise of another chance, torturing Dean with the prospect of losing Sam again; and now for Madison, for giving Sam something to believe in again, turning it on him, and forcing him to destroy it—her—with his own hands, for illustrating just how Sam’s destiny might play out, for making Sam realize that even if Dean did save him, “saving” might equal death, for making Sam fail in his quest to save someone like him, and most of all for making them both see that Dean wasn’t the superhero he seemed to be—he couldn’t save Sam from the pain, Dean couldn’t kill Madison for Sam, Dean couldn’t protect Sam, couldn’t take Sam’s place, and in the end… Dean didn’t know what he regretted more. Telling Sam he couldn’t kill him when they were in that motel room in Twin Lakes? Telling Sam there had to be a way to “save” him? Saying he would save his brother if it was the last thing he did? Because they all sucked. It seemed like the universe had taken every reassuring and caring word Dean had said and flung it back in his face. Now Dean didn’t know what to think. Did Sam blame him? Did Sam understand, because now he knew exactly what it felt like to have someone you loved, someone you cared for, make you promise to kill them to save them from the monster inside? Or did Sam think Dean was a coward, because Sam had gone through with it, had actually pulled the trigger, when Dean hadn’t? No it was a message, Dean decided. Sam understood everything, far too well, far more clearly than Dean did. Sam had always understood. Dean just couldn’t, yet, because understanding like that felt like failure and defeat and a complete loss of control. Thinking about it made Dean’s chest tighten and ache, like he was going to have another heart attack, made his breath come in short, shallow gasps, and made him feel like he was falling into a black abyss. But Sam, Sammy hadn’t been criticizing him or telling Dean he wasn’t man enough, no, that look, it was “I’m sorry” and “I can do this, and you can too” and “I still trust you and I know you’ll do it when the time comes” and “I forgive you” and “I love you” and every other unspoken sentiment in 23 years of brotherhood rolled up into one look. And it cut Dean to the bone, and he hated it. So, no, they weren’t going south. Hell, Dean hoped they would never set foot in Palo Alto or San Francisco or anywhere else around here again. People suffering from supernatural enemies in the Bay Area were just going to have to find someone else to save their asses, ‘cause this territory was not safe for Winchesters.
They could go east, but driving into the mountains and the desert and hundreds of miles of dry, decayed nothingness felt too much like death. There weren’t enough bars or hotels or hospitals to the east, unless they went to Vegas or Reno, but the thought of going towards a city dedicated to indulging its visitors in pleasure, mindless entertainment, and greed was just too much for Dean and Sam right now. This pain was too great to kill or bury or forget with alcohol, but still, a bar might come in handy for cash purposes, or just to take the edge off… Sleep for either of them seemed both necessary and dangerous; Dean shuddered at the thought of what Sam’s nightmares would be like now, especially since the last time he had slept… Dean didn’t allow himself to complete that thought; even with the cacophony in his head, he retained some control. For now. But still, sleeping in a hotel was safer than camping out in the cold of the desert. And as much as they weren’t currently suffering from any physical injuries and they certainly weren’t going to be rushing into another hunt in the immediate future, Dean didn’t trust himself or Sam enough at the moment to remain sane enough or whole enough to not need the services of one. Suicide attempts and complete psychological melt downs were better left to a hospital, at least for now, because if one of them broke any further, the other would follow his brother over the edge. That was pretty much the only fact Dean knew with any certainty at this point. So driving off into the nothingness of the desert was not an option.
That left one direction, north, and two routes. Dean quickly crossed the first off his list. Taking I-280 and eventually hooking up with I-5 and taking it up the interior of the West coast wasn’t going to work. It would take them through Sacramento… and at the moment the mere mention of that city brought up painful memories of Dad calling them out of the blue, telling them about the demon, sending them to Burkitsville, Sam running off to Sacramento, Dean nearly getting sacrificed to that damn Vanir… Sam had come back to him, but John had remained distant, elusive… Frustration and pain and anger and “miss you” and “you shouldn’t have died for me” and “why did you do it?” and “how could you leave me with this?” started throbbing in his head in time to the beat of his heart. In that instant, Dean understood with agonizing clarity exactly what John had been trying to protect them from and why, at the same time as sympathizing with Sam’s hatred of being kept in the dark. Dean flinched at the thought of how easily he had slipped into good-little-soldier mode back then. At the time, it was what he knew, what he thought would save his family, hold things together… What if he hadn’t? What if way back then—was it really only just over a year ago?—Dean had put his foot down and… That was another thought that couldn’t be completed. He would drown in the “what ifs” and torture himself with regret and guilt, because it wasn’t going to get them anywhere. Plus, there was more wrong with that route than Sacramento. A thousand miles of driving through semi-arid wasteland and mountains and farms and four lanes of monotonous isolation and endless CHP stations and traffic jams in the middle of some freaking sheep farm in Oregon was only going to tempt insanity and fate.
Which left one route—one option, one way forward, one chance for escape. So, almost mindlessly, Dean steered the Impala towards 101 and headed north. Under better circumstances, the Golden Gate Bridge might have been a subject of conversation, with its majestic views and breathtaking height. Instead, it taunted Dean. It was more of a gatekeeper than a bridge across a gate. He wanted nothing more than for the bridge to let them go, allow them to leave the city by the bay in their rearview mirror and never return. He glanced over at the cars backed up in the other direction, and silently thanked nothing in particular that there wasn’t a toll in the northbound direction. Dean didn’t think he could have handled waiting in line or interacting with another human being. After all, the Winchesters had paid a toll in blood and sanity inside the city. She didn’t deserve anything more from them.
They drove in silence passing through Marin County, heading over hills and winding turns. The road turned from a freeway to a strange neither here-nor-there road near vineyards and through farmland and small towns and truck stops and hills and runaway truck lanes. The scenery changed frequently enough to hold Dean’s attention and keep him from drowning in the jumble of unwanted thoughts and the long-buried memories that were beginning to slip out of their cells through the weakened walls in his mind. They stopped for gas and coffee somewhere, where didn’t even register, and Sam didn’t move or speak or respond to Dean’s inquiries about coffee and bathroom.
Dean drove on, he grew a little tired somewhere around the time they headed into the forest and the terrain became more mountainous again. But there was nothing to be done. Dean wasn’t in any condition to be driving, but Sam, well Sam wasn’t really in any condition to be existing at this point, but there wasn’t anything Dean could do…
Dean nearly drove off the road right into the One-Log House that they happened to be driving by at the moment. But he regained control of the car and skidded the Impala to a stop just past the tourist attraction. Dean didn’t have any mental energy to spare to contemplate exactly what one’s life must be like to have time or reason to consider a trip to some hollowed-out redwood a worthy expenditure of time. No, Dean was too busy trying to channel the pain in his head and chest and entire being into his fingers as he gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white. He couldn’t breathe. That train of thought could not be stopped, and its conclusion had blindsided him, hitting with a physical force almost as devastating as the Mack truck that was supposed to have sent him to his grave. Protecting Sammy, fixing his problems, taking away the pain, saving him… that was Dean’s job. That was what he was here to do. That was his purpose in life; at least it was the one thing in life that actually gave Dean a reason to go on, a sense of accomplishment, pride, hope. Hell, twisted as it was, protecting and saving Sam probably was his purpose in life right now. That’s why Dad had made that deal, brought him back from the dead after all, to save Sammy. So how could it be possible that Sammy was hurt in a way that Dean couldn’t fix? What did that mean?
Somewhere in Dean’s flooded and jumbled mind a little voice that sounded something like Sammy reminded him that John had died to save him… that their father wanted Dean to have a life, too, that he wanted to save both of them and that John could no more bear to watch Dean die than to kill Sam himself. But the voice got lost in the cacophony. A demon’s words forced themselves to the top of the pool instead. Not those spoken in John’s voice nor those spoken by the red-eyed crossroads demon, but those that had come from Sam’s own lips: “You couldn’t save your Dad, and deep down you know that you can’t save your brother.” How could Dean save anyone if he couldn’t even protect Sam from pain—from having to kill someone he had just opened his heart to?
He couldn’t. That was what Sam had told him. That was what that look had meant back at Madison’s. “You’re right,” Sam had said, and Dean had never hated being right more than in that one moment. He couldn’t kill Madison for Sam, and he couldn’t go through the pain for Sam, just like he couldn’t live Sam’s destiny for him. Sam was grown up and strong and could take care of himself. But he might not be able to stop his dark side from taking over. Just like Madison couldn’t stop herself from turning. The Yellow-Eyed Demon might be able to use Sam as a weapon whether Sam liked it or not. Dean had always wondered how someone as moral and gentle and kind-hearted as Sam could turn into a “monster.” It just didn’t seem possible, Sam was a good person, and so he just had to keep on fighting, right? And then he’d be OK. But with a sickening realization that sent his forehead smacking against the steering wheel and made his stomach turn cartwheels in protest, Dean realized that he’d been asking himself the wrong question all along. It might not matter what Sam wanted or did or what choices he made. They could do everything right, Sam could fight the fear and rage and anger and hatred and whatever else lurked in his psyche, and it might not matter. Maybe all the Yellow-Eyed Demon needed to do was flip some metaphysical switch and then one day Sam would wake up as that monster.
And even if it was something Sam could fight… Dean’s mind drifted first to his brother’s words in that motel in Twin Lakes, “I can’t fight this, not forever.” The demon had possessed Sam then, but Dean had always suspected there was some underlying truth to those sentiments. Sam was scared that he couldn’t resist forever. Other kids like him had fallen, had given in… from what Sam had told him that Scott kid that Gordon had murdered had fought pretty hard too, but even he had been failing. Dean’s mind shifted awkwardly to his own words, “We could lock you up at night, but you could bust out—and some night you will—someone else dies.” When he said them to Madison, he’d realized the similarity to Sam’s fears, but it hadn’t really hit him until now. That was what he was trying to do with Sammy, wasn’t it. Just keep fighting, maybe they should hide for a while, if he could just keep his eye on Sammy then… But eventually, even with all that, maybe it wouldn’t be enough. Sam might still be a risk to Dean or to others and this Sam, the Sam that was in control, the Sam that Dean loved, the Sam that had found the strength to save Madison, wouldn’t want that. And it wouldn’t be much of a life for Sam if Dean had to keep him tied up or chained to stop him. And it wouldn’t work forever…
Dean felt a new surge of pain well up inside him, this one seeming to start as a tingle from his fingers and toes on up through his body and throb behind his eyes. He started seeing white spots and encroaching blackness as he struggled to keep tears at bay. He couldn’t cry in front of Sam. Not now; it wasn’t fair.
“Dean, you need to breathe.”
The words startled him. He picked his head up off the steering wheel in confusion and realized that yes, his lungs had indeed stopped working. For a split second he considered just staying that way, letting himself pass out or possibly die if it would get him out of this nightmare. But then he remembered why he was upset—he couldn’t do that to Sammy right now—and tentatively tried a halting breath, then a few more. Shaking, Dean pulled himself up to a sitting position and turned towards the direction of the voice.
Sam had stirred. Sam had spoken. His voice not playful, or nagging, even ragged with desperation or pain. Low, hollow, empty, clipped. Dean looked at his younger brother for a moment, remembering just how young Sammy had looked before… For a few moments there it had been like Dean was seeing Sammy as young as he had been when Dean met him at Stanford, when he pulled Sam back into this life—Dean took mental pause, reminding himself that it really wasn’t his fault, not entirely—when the Yellow-Eyed Demon had reared his ugly head after 22 years and forced Sam kicking and screaming back into this life. That Sam was gone now, Dean realized. That Sam with the innocence and hope and faith and joy was gone forever. That Sam had died when he killed Madison. When he realized and accepted his destiny. When he acknowledged that sometimes you can’t “save” everyone in life…
What was this new Sam going to be like? Was this Sam’s way of coaxing Dean into accepting the responsibility of saving him? Did Sam allow part of himself to die to try to force Dean’s hand? Dean shook his head visibly, still staring blankly at his younger brother’s haunted eyes. That wasn’t it, and that wasn’t fair to Sam. Sam and Dean had both been holding on to the idea, whether they admitted it or not, that with enough hard work and searching and determination and desperation they could always find a way to save those they loved. After all, Sam had saved Dean after he’d been electrocuted (even if that did have nasty moral side effects); Dad had saved Dean, and even though that had cost Dad his life—and a lot more—Dean realized that some part of him had always believed that if he had known what was going on, if he had been able to do something about it, he might have saved Dad too. So, when John had told Dean that he had to save Sam or kill him, Dean had always believed those were two separate options. Saving was something distinct from killing. Saving was some way to cure his brother, some way to give Sammy a chance at a real life. But what if it wasn’t? Because now, after Madison, they both knew that sometimes saving meant death. And apparently there were no cosmic exceptions for when you really, really cared about someone.
Dean thought back to those dark hours in River Grove, Oregon, when they had believed Sam was infected with that demonic plague. Part of Dean had believed that was game over right then, and that part of him was glad to accept it. Sure he wouldn’t let anyone else touch Sam. Dean wasn’t going to let Sam die before it was absolutely necessary. But he would have done it back then. He was going to wait until Sam turned, until it was clear that nothing else could be done, until Sam actually attacked him. Then as Sam attacked he was going to hold up the gun between them and bury three shots into Sam’s chest, and then before Sam’s body even had time to fall, Dean would have put the gun in his own mouth, angling carefully to make sure he would hit the brain stem and die instantly, and he would have pulled the trigger. It would have been a relief, a release, an absolution. Freedom. Dean had been dying under the weight of his promise to Dad, ironic, since he bore the secret in the first place because John had died to restore Dean’s life. Back then, Dean had been living in a constant state of fear, wondering if every little sign, every little action from Sam was going to be the sign that he had gone “darkside” or that the next vision would drive Sam over the edge into some insanity from which he wouldn’t return. So, knowing that it was going to be all over—that Dean didn’t have to worry or wonder anymore, or worry about Sam turning when he wasn’t there to do something about it—that relief had almost brought peace. Dean would have welcomed the oblivion he hoped would follow.
But that wasn’t meant to be. They were Winchesters after all, life had never been kind up until that point, and it wasn’t about to start getting easier. The doctor had come back, and everyone had disappeared, and then Sam had been immune, and the next thing Dean knew he was telling Sam the secret… and even in the rather traumatic aftermath of that decision, a huge weight had been lifted from Dean’s shoulders. Sam’s own relative optimism, not the least of which was his insistence in searching for Ava—seeing Sam willing to believe that another psychic kid might not actually be “evil” had inspired great faith in Dean, even if Dean did have his own doubts about Ava’s innocence, considering the circumstances of her disappearance.
And somewhere along the way, Dean had begun to believe that there was something he could do. Instead of doubting and denying and fearing the moment Sam stopped being Sam, Dean believed in Sam, in his resilience and hope and determination, and Dean believed that he could find a way to save him. He had to. He couldn’t lose Sam, and now that Sam knew, Dean knew he couldn’t kill him. So, even when Dean had promised, it was because he had honestly believed that it would never come to that. Because there had to be a way to save Sammy… and then Madison was standing there, holding Dean’s gun, saying “this is how you can save me,” and he had tried to step in and stop it and… And Dean realized that there was a way to save Sam, but that didn’t necessarily mean that Dean wouldn’t have to kill him, and while he wasn’t ready to give up on finding some other alternative, the certainty and comfort and determination of the last few months had begun to crumble like the collapsing walls in his mind. If it came down to it, could Dean deny Sam his last request? Especially if it meant others would die? Dean couldn’t pass that job off to someone else any more Sam could pass Madison’s request off to him. Everyone should get to spend their last moments on earth with someone they love, and only more pain could come from the denial of such a request. Dean didn’t have an answer. He probably wouldn’t have an answer until the time came, and maybe in the mean time, however long that was, he would find another way to save Sammy.
Blinking, Dean realized they were still sitting in the Impala, unmoving, staring silently, both lost in thought, pulled off to the side of the road next to some stupid tourist attraction for people who weren’t hunters, who hadn’t been brought back from death twice, who weren’t stuck wondering if they had the strength to kill their brother when the time came. Dean let out a long sigh, turning away from Sam and back to the road.
Hands shaking slightly, he turned the key in the ignition and pulled cautiously back onto the highway. They drove on again in silence, not stopping even though night had fallen. The road was only two lanes in some places and narrow and twisty and high in the mountains and then low in the valleys through endless expanses of trees and then snippets of coastline. In another time, Dean would have cracked jokes about how Humboldt County was full of nothing but rednecks; surfers; and tree-hugging, pot-smoking hippies. He would have quipped about how strange that assortment of people was. But not now. There was not enough air for jokes and not enough space in Dean’s mind to remember why they were funny. They were passing through Crescent City when Sam spoke again.
“We should get gas,” he said, his voice softer and less hollow now, but still haunted.
Dean jumped at the sound, giving Sam a weary but inquisitive look after settling down.
“Gas, Dean,” Sam repeated, weariness, but not exasperation, slipping into his voice. “We’ll be in Oregon soon, and they don’t let you pump your own gas. And there might not be a gas station open there this time of night.”
Dean nodded, “Gas it is,” his voice sounded strange, rough, quiet. How long had it been since he had last used it? “Don’t want anyone else touching my baby, anyway…” his voice trailed off. That comment came out reflexively, but Dean didn’t even have the psychological space to remember why he cared. If there was no hope, no future, if it was all going to end in death, what the hell was the point? Again, an annoyingly rational voice that sounded something like Sam’s spoke up in his head. This time pulling above the rush of the swirling thoughts in Dean’s fractured mind long enough to be heard. “Everyone dies Dean. Life always ends in death eventually, it’s what you do with the time you have that matters.” Dean shut it out before Sam’s voice continued onto something about what came after… Sam might even still have faith, and Dean realized he probably needed it, knowing what Sam was facing. But all Dean could think of with death was loneliness and emptiness and pain and Dad burning, unable to scream, imprisoned in Hell because he refused to let his son die; and Mom’s spirit allowing herself to be consumed in a fight with a stupid poltergeist to save them.
Dean pulled off into a gas station, got out, and started pumping. His eyes wandered to the still nearly full moon, big and glaring and ominous, over the water. Werewolves, it had seemed like such an easy hunt. “Human by day, freak animal killing machine by moonlight;” they’d hunted them as kids and Dean felt good about the hunt. Excited. It was cool, simple, intriguing. Dean had not bargained for life-altering, mortality-confronting, psychological wall-destroying angst. What the hell were they supposed to do if they ran into another werewolf? Madison didn’t know what she was. She had no memory of turning, of killing, of eating human hearts. Neither did Glenn. Madison had been even less aware and less in control of herself as a werewolf than Sam had been when he’d killed that hunter Steve Wandell when the demon that had been in Meg possessed him. But in Sam’s case, they’d been able to do something. Even with the binding link, they had been able to exorcise the demon, or at least get it to leave. Madison wasn’t so lucky. The wolf was in her all the time. And Dean knew they probably weren’t going to be that lucky again with whatever the real darkness was inside of Sam.
But fears of Sam’s destiny aside, what the hell were they going to do when they found another werewolf? Now that they knew that werewolves were innocent and scared and ignorant of their moonlight massacres when in human form. They couldn’t save anyone from the curse. The werewolves were as much victims of some sick supernatural joke as were their victims. Even killing them in werewolf form… Dean hadn’t expected Glenn to turn back to human form before he died. The squelch and the gurgle of the blood in Glenn’s throat, the rasping and sucking of the air entering through the bullet wounds in Glenn’s chest, the desperation in Glenn’s voice, the look in Glenn’s eye that regarded Dean as the monster for not helping him, for letting him die, for killing him… The human body left behind. Dean didn’t know if he could do that again, now that he knew. He was a hunter to help people—to save people—to make people’s lives better so that they didn’t have to live through the hell that he and Sam had been through every day since Sam was six months old. But it seemed like lately there were more and more and more situations where there were no right answers, just confusion and evil on all sides. No way to save someone without hurting or killing someone else. His mind drifted back to Layla, saying goodbye to her in that hotel room in Nebraska. There was nothing they could do that didn’t hurt some innocent life. Layla didn’t deserve her brain tumor. She didn’t deserve an early death, but they couldn’t let a preacher’s wife, whose desperation and need for control had corrupted her into a monster wielding a reaper on a leash, keep trading innocent lives either. Dean had borne guilt on his soul from the day he’d been healed onward, and it just seemed that the more they learned the worse it got. There were no neat pretty sides of supernatural equals evil and human equals good. After all there were plenty of truly evil and misguided humans out there, some of whom took that rudimentary black and white understanding of the world and used it to torture and kill supernatural beings who weren’t “evil” at all.
Ignorance wasn’t bliss though. Dean hated knowing that before they knew, they’d probably hurt and killed a bunch of things that maybe didn’t deserve it. But at the same time, would they have changed their minds in any of those situations? The method might have changed—as with Madison, allowing her to say when—but the majority of the time the result would have probably stayed the same. Dean once again felt trapped.
After a few more moments of reflection he realized that he was standing there next to the Impala. A beeping sound had distracted him; it was the credit card machine on the gas pump asking him if he wanted a receipt. The automatic shutoff on the pump had turned off the stream of gas flowing into the car. How long had he been standing there? He didn’t know. Glancing inside the Impala, Sam was still sitting there, now staring straight ahead, avoiding looking at the moon, Dean realized. Dean collected his receipt and returned the pump to its holster before closing the Impala’s gas cap and heading back to the driver’s seat.
A quick glance at Sam and he realized his brother wasn’t in the mood for talking. In the moonlight, the scratches from Madison’s claws stood out on Sam’s left cheek. “I don’t want to hurt anyone else; I don’t want to hurt you,” she had said and handed Sam the gun, the exact same words that Sam had said to Dean when handing him a different gun back in Twin Lakes. Sam had been possessed then, but the look on Sam’s face when he realized how much damage his possessed body had inflicted on Dean’s was the same as that sorrowful, guilty, regretful look Madison had gotten every time she lingered over the claw marks on Sam’s cheek. Dean reached out with his left hand to shut the door. His left shoulder twinged in protest, the bullet wound was almost completely healed now, but it still bothered him a little from time to time, and the psychological ghost of its pain haunted him, like it was doing now.
Sam was terrified that he would kill Dean before Dean could save him—in any fashion. Dean realized that now, and it hit him like a punch to the gut. Dean remembered Sam’s face—not Sam
but still Sam—staring down at him as his possessed brother tried to beat the life out of him. Dean remembered his own fear; he never wanted to be afraid of Sam… But Dean wasn’t ready to give up just yet. There was still time. Unlike Madison, the Winchesters didn’t have any sort of timetable to tell them when it was going to be too late, and that was both a blessing and a curse. The screaming voices in Dean’s head wouldn’t let him ignore that anymore. While it meant that Dean had hope that there was still time to figure something out, that he might be able to talk Sam down from going evil,, to provide an anchor to his true human self when the time came, it also meant that Sam feared that time would run out before they did anything. That if Dean waited too long, he might miss his opportunity and would be dead by Sam’s hand before he could do anything. Dean realized that was a risk, and it scared the shit out of him. There was no way to bury that fear now, not with his tidy mental compartments spilling all their contents helter skelter in his brain. Dean felt like his mind had been ransacked by an overeager SWAT team, and now it was as if his psychological underwear drawer and dirty laundry were lying out in plain sight. Dean almost mentally chuckled, since when had he ever had an underwear drawer, but it would have required a little too much energy. So, Dean settled for pulling the Impala back onto 101 North and continuing on their way. They had driven hundreds of miles, but he was beginning to doubt that they would ever escape San Francisco. to be continued. . .