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Dean wakes up slow. 

He’s still in the car; he knows that straight off just by the smell of her, the feel of her against his back and thighs. She’s still sleeping, her engine quiet, and the sky is still mostly dark, starting to get orange-yellow at the edges with the upcoming sunrise. For a moment he’s not sure why he’s awake. 

His right side is cold where it should be warm. Sammy’s not there, tucked against him, bony little chin digging into Dean’s shoulder like it should be. When Dean looks at the front seat Dad isn’t there, either, and a little bit of fear starts to trickle in. Dad never leaves without telling Dean where he’s going, and Dean doesn’t get why Dad would take Sammy somewhere but not him. He hasn’t messed up recently - he’s looked after Sammy, hasn’t snuck out (hasn’t done that for years), hasn’t wasted a shot or got blood on the Impala’s upholstery or nothin’. No reason to punish him by leaving him behind, not that Dean can think of. He pushes the car door open, listening to her creak as he rubs sleep out of his eyes. 

“Dad? Sammy?” 

Nobody answers except a couple of birds. Dean watches them wheel through the air in nonsense circles for a second, trying to stay cool. 

If something’s happened to Dad and Sammy, he needs to find them, and he needs to rescue them. The shotgun Dad keeps in the front is gone, so either he has it or whatever took them does; Dean pulls his knife out of its sheath in his boot and flexes his fingers around the handle. Even at 12 he knows he’s good with it - if he needs to he can kill with it. He shuts the door behind him. 

First off: try to find a trail. Not everything leaves footprints, but anything that could’ve taken two humans would have to. Dean starts at the car and moves outwards. The dirt is packed and hard from the harsh sun of the last week - his skin’s still peeling a little behind his ears where Dad didn’t think to put sunblock - but it starts to get softer at the base of the corn stalks where they’ve been watered, and… 

Bingo. His heart sinks back into his chest with relief, freeing up his throat. Clear as day, the familiar tread of Dad’s boots and the scuffs Sam’s sneakers leave when he doesn’t bother picking his feet up. Dad’s prints are evenly deep, no sign of any struggle or reluctance - just a straight line walking from the car towards the path that leads to the edge of the cornfield. Sammy’s footprints are blurrier, but that’s because he walks lazy, dragging his feet all over the place. 

Maybe Sammy wanted to go for a walk, the geek. Watch the sun rise or something. Dean smiles at the thought, because Sammy’s not here to see and doesn’t have to know that Dean thinks his weird nerdy way of getting excited about regional birds or school-assigned reading lists is kinda cute, when Sammy’s not bugging him with annoying questions about it all. Weird for Dad to leave Dean sleeping, instead of dragging him out with them, but Dad’s been sleeping badly lately. Having nightmares where he wakes up calling Sammy’s name, his eyes wide and panicked, and Dean waking up too and staying up with him until Dad has stopped shaking means he’s tired too. Maybe Dad figured he could do with the extra rest, for once. 

Well, he’s up now, and maybe if he catches up in time Sammy’ll have time to ramble on about bugs or rock subtypes or whatever his latest weird fixation is before they head back to the car. Dean follows the footprints to the path, then follows the path down through the cornfield, tucking his knife back into his boot. The sun is rising properly now, yellow-orange bleeding up into the rapidly-turning-blue sky as the sun itself peeks over the horizon - there’s a bit of an incline ahead, so it’s probably further up than Dean can see. He wouldn’t say it aloud but it’s pretty, like a painting someone would have in their office on tv. The corn stalks are shining at the very tips as the sun starts to hit them. The path turns right; he checks for footprints in the corn to either side, damaged leaves or anything else that might show Dad and Sammy decided to go off-road, but there’s nothing, so he keeps following the path. 

The path twists again so Dean’s facing the sun again, and it hits him square in the eyes as he crests the hill and hears Sammy shout, “Now, Dad, now!” 

He’s about to shout back, “Sammy?”, lifting his arm to shield his eyes - he’s freaking blind right now, can’t even see Sammy and Dad, just hot golden light - when a gun goes off, startlingly loud in the quiet morning. Not just any gun - Dean knows the sound of Dad’s shotgun anywhere. Dean flinches automatically, and his eyes adjust just in time to see Sammy crumple to the ground, like one of those stupid puppets you can buy in toy stores getting dropped by a kid who doesn’t want to play anymore. Dad’s still holding the shotgun, a tiny wisp of smoke twisting up from the barrel, which is pointing at where Dean’s brother is lying, still and silent.

“Sammy?” he shouts, dropping his arm in favour of sprinting forwards, and he hears Dad say “Dean, shit- Dean, wait,” and a strong arm comes around his waist and scoops him up easily, his own momentum slamming his tummy into Dad’s arm so hard that it hurts but he can’t feel anything except I need to get to Sammy.  

“Dean, hold on,” Dad says, and he’s using his serious voice, but Dean keeps struggling until he lands a hard kick against the inside of Dad’s knee and it throws him off balance enough for Dean to tip forward and out of his arms. Dad’s gun is on the floor, the barrel hot against Dean’s hand when he falls out of Dad’s hold and lands hard and ungainly, but he’s already scrambling towards Sam, the burn ignored. 

“Sammy? Sammy?”

Sammy’s lying face down in the dirt, his arms stretched out like he’s hugging the ground, his legs a little apart, his feet pointed inwards at each other. He looks so small, and Dean scrambles to tip him back up the right way so he can see his brother’s face, but- 

He pulls Sammy’s body over by the arm, and his face is, god, it’s all fucked up where the shotgun hit - it’s not even a face anymore, the entire top half blown away in a mess of blood and bone and brains - 3 B’s, and Sammy loves patterns like that, Dean thinks hysterically for a moment. There’s so much blood. He hoists Sam further up into the crooks of his elbows, one under Sammy’s knees and one under his shoulders, clutching him to his chest even though he’s barely recognisable with- 

Dean retches, curls forwards and vomits bile and the last remnants of last night’s shitty diner burger onto the dirt, into the blood and gore spattered across it. Dad’s kneeling, his hand burning hot on Dean’s forearm, fingers barely brushing Sammy’s warm, limp body. “You were never meant to have to see this,” Dad says, and Dean can’t breathe. 

“You killed Sammy,” he says dumbly. Dean looks up and Dad has that terrible blank look he gets after he comes back from a really bad hunt, like he’s been scooped hollow. There are tears shining on his cheeks. “You killed Sammy.”

“There are things you don’t understand here, Dean,” Dad says. His tone is intense but his eyes aren’t looking at them, and Dean’s grief falls into rage. 

“You KILLED Sammy!” he shouts, his voice cracking, and drops Sammy’s body back onto the ground to launch himself at Dad, pummelling him with his fists and his feet and anything he can fucking manage, and Dad’s not even fighting back, just covering his face and his nuts so Dean can’t do any permanent damage, and that just makes him fucking madder. He’s screaming, he realises, wordless with pain and rage, and Dad’s chest is heavy and solid against his fists. It’s not even doing anything - Dad’s just taking it, just sitting there and letting Dean whale on him like it doesn’t hurt at all, and the urge to fucking hurt him rises like bile in Dean’s throat, his vision flashing red and white, blind like when he crested the hill and saw the sun and heard the gunshot- 

The shotgun’s in his hands, familiar and stinking of metal, of shot residue. He points it at Dad, his arms trembling so bad he can barely aim it. Dad holds his hands up, still sprawled against the dirt; Dean scrambles to his feet, barely able to stand. His legs are trembling too, and tears are choking him like there’s a physical hand around his throat, but he points the shotgun and tries to stop the sobs wracking his entire frame. The endless mantra of he killed Sammy, he killed Sammy, he killed Sammy, is echoing through his mind. He can’t look at Sammy’s body again because he’ll lose it, collapse and never get up again. 

“I had to, Dean,” Dad says, crying fresh again. “He had something in him, a darkness-”

“He’s my brother ,” Dean shouts back. “He was your son, he- I’m meant to take care of him, you told me to take care of him and then you killed him!”

“He had demons in him!” Dad says. “Demons or something, something terrible and evil - I’ve known for a while, and I’ve been dreaming- you know I’ve been having dreams, Dean, awful dreams. They’re always about Sammy, and he keeps telling me I have to kill him, that there’s something evil in him, and I know it’s true. There has been ever since that night - the night your mother died. Mary died, and Sammy… he’s never been the same!”

“He’s 8!” Dean shouts. “And he’s not evil, he’s Sammy, he- he cries when he steps on a snail on the sidewalk after a rainy night, Dad, how can you even say that? Sammy’s the best person I’ve ever known! He’s my brother!”

And that’s really what it comes down to - Sammy isn’t evil, Dean knows that in his bones , and more than that he’s Dean’s brother, his whole world. Sammy, who never cared that Dean couldn’t talk for that year after Mom died, just waved his chubby little fists at Dean whenever he saw him and babbled like his big brother was the best, most exciting thing in the world. Sammy, who played a sunbeam for his school play a few months ago and waved at Dean and Dad in the audience with a big, bright smile as radiant as the sunbeam he was dressed as. Sammy, who doesn’t even like Scooby Doo that much but lets Dean put it on for hours as long as he gets to watch his dumb nerd programme at 6. Sammy, his brother

Even if Dad hadn’t drilled it into him since Mom died, Dean knows in his bones that he would’ve always defended this kid to the death. Look out for Sammy. There’s blood soaking into Dean’s sneaker. His brother is dead. Dad killed him. 

“Dean,” Dad starts, and Dean pulls the trigger. 

Dad’s head blasts apart, and Dean’s seen the shotgun’s effects before, seen a monster’s head explode into a million pieces with the force of the shrapnel, but it’s never… it’s different, feeling the gun kick in his hand and smack against his shoulder, the smell of it overpowering even the stench of blood. Dad crumples to the ground, and it hits that Dean just killed his Dad. He doubles over, retching again even though there’s nothing left to bring up, just acid. The shotgun falls out of his numb grip.

Monsters kill innocent people , Dean thinks, and if anyone in the entire world was innocent it was his little brother. If Dad killed him, that made Dad a monster. It doesn’t make him feel any better, a big gnawing empty pit opening up in his stomach. His throat is raw with sobbing and screaming. He’s completely alone. He crawls back over to Sammy’s body and lies down next to him, big spoon to Sammy’s little like they always do when a motel has thin shitty duvets and they’re trying not to shiver to death. Sammy’s ruined head doesn’t even brush his chin; there’s no soft, annoying tickle against the soft skin. Dean always used to get pissed off at the way it tickled, but right now he wants it more than anything else in the world. For Sammy to squirm like the annoying little squirt he is, because for some reason he can’t just lie still when he’s trying to fall asleep unless he’s crazy tired out. 

He pulls Sammy closer, trying to imagine that Sammy’s asleep. Arranges their arms like they usually sleep, his knees snugged up against the back of Sammy’s, ignoring the hard-packed dirt they’re both lying on pressing painfully against his hip and ribs. It’s fine. Sammy’s gonna be fine. 

Dean’ll join him soon. Just another few minutes of pretending and he’ll reload the shotgun with the rounds he knows Dad must have in one of his pockets. He closes his eyes and listens to his own breathing, the sound of his heart pounding in his ears; imagines that Sammy’s breathing and he can feel his heart beating against his chest, in sync. The smell of fresh gore is heavy in the air, unavoidable, but Dean just keeps his eyes closed and listens to his heart, the birds crying up ahead, the wind rustling through the stalks of corn. The sun is warm on his face, even though it feels like his entire world has shattered into tiny, cold pieces. Sammy gets slowly, gradually cooler in his arms, until Dean can’t pretend anymore that he’s anything more than a corpse. He wants to say something, like a eulogy, but there’s shards of glass in his throat whenever he tries. 

The shotgun is still warm with sun, and Dean doesn’t look at what’s left of Dad’s head as he rifles through his pockets for the shells. Focus, focus. He finds them and immediately drops them, his hands shaking, even though he feels completely calm now. Dad killed Sammy, so Dean had to kill him, and now Dean has to finish it. First Mom, then Sammy, then Dad, and now him. He’s the last remaining Winchester, and they’re not meant to be alone. He can’t even imagine living without Dad and Sammy, and this way he doesn’t have to. He opens the break-action and lets out the casings left from- 

He lets out the casings, and replaces them with fresh shells. He closes the break, listening to it click, feeling it reverberate through his hands. He feels like he’s a million miles away. He sits back down next to Sammy’s body, not looking, and presses the stock of the shotgun against the hard-dirt floor, the muzzle against the soft underside of his chin. He sits, and closes his eyes, feeling the sun against his skin.

Maybe this won’t be such a bad thing. Mom always used to say angels were watching over them, and if angels are real then maybe Heaven is real, and when Dean pulls this trigger he’ll wake up to Sammy and Mom and Dad all happy and smiling and together again like they’re meant to be, like he’s been dreaming of since the night Mom died. Dean presses his chin down a little, so he can feel the muzzle pressing against the underside of his tongue through his skin. One trigger pull and they’ll all be together again. 

The birds are very quiet now. The corn stalks are making a little noise as a breeze weaves between them, but other than that it is still, and silent, and lonely. He takes a deep breath. 

Sammy coughs, wetly. 

Dean almost pulls the trigger in shock at the noise, his finger twitching before he shoves the shotgun away and scrambles over to his brother. His brother whose head has reformed , no longer a bloody, gory mess but just Sammy again. Sammy moans, lifting a kitten-weak hand to his forehead and pressing his palm against the bridge of his nose. There’s gore spattered a little over the bottom half of his face, his chest and his back, but most of his head is clean because it was completely fucking destroyed ten minutes ago. Even his hair is just like it normally is, soft and fluffy across his forehead, ends twitching upwards a little when they hit his ears. Dean gathers him up, pressing Sammy’s forehead against his neck and trying to calm his racing heart, the terror rising in his throat. 

“D’n?” Sammy murmurs, and Dean makes an absent sort of shushing noise, listening to Sammy’s hoarse breaths and his strong heartbeat against Dean’s own, feeling his newly warm-again body resting against Dean’s. 

“It’s gonna be okay, Sammy,” he says, and doesnt look at their father’s corpse a few feet away. There are crows circling, occasionally dipping down and landing before they take flight again, spooked by Dean’s presence. 

“M’ head hurts,” Sammy whines, and normally that tone would have Dean rolling his eyes and telling him to pop an ibuprofen or something, but he never thought he would hear Sammy complain about anything ever again. He strokes Sammy’s hair instead, brushes clumps of brain off the back of his plaid shirt. Tucks Sammy’s head more firmly into his neck so there’s no chance of him seeing his own brain matter spattered across the dirt. 

“I know, Sammy,” he says. “It’s gonna be okay.”

“Okay,” Sammy echoes back, and when Dean tells him to hold on tight he does, even though Dean can tell he feels weak and foggy, his hands clenching and unclenching in Dean’s collar. Dean lifts him, arm under the shoulders, other arm under the knees, and it feels like Sammy weighs so much less now that he’s alive again even though with the weight of his entire fucking head restored he should feel heavier. 

“Where’s Dad?” Sammy mumbles out hazily when they’re about halfway to the car. “What happened?” 

Dean’s fingers tighten around him, and he makes himself relax. He had something in him, a darkness, Dad says in his head, and he clutches Sam tighter again. “Dad had to go,” he says. “It’s just us, Sammy. But we’re gonna be okay. Just you and me for a bit, like when Dad’s away on a hunt and I make my special mac & cheese.”

“With marshmallows,” Sammy murmurs faintly, nodding sagely. Dean grins despite himself, and feels suddenly like maybe they will be okay, somehow, as long as he and Sammy are together. Together they’re invincible. Even death can’t keep them apart. 

Dad was wrong, he decides. Sammy doesn’t have some darkness in him, or demons or whatever - nothing evil would bring him back to life, back to Dean. That’s gotta be the work of an angel, and of course Mom was right. Dean buries his nose in Sammy’s hair, breathing in the familiar scent of cheap shampoo and dust. 

“Thank you,” he whispers, and hopes whoever gave his brother back to him is listening.