Hours later, he’s still on the road, ignoring Sam’s frantic calls. He finally pulls over to the side of the road, gets out and throws a few rocks. He finds a fallen branch, gives the ground a few sound whacks, then whacks a tree a few more times for good measure. He yells his grief and frustration into the Badlands National Park forest, grunts loudly as he lobs rocks and whacks everything he can find that isn’t his baby. (She’s not really his baby, but he lets himself forget that point.)
Eventually, he wears himself out. He sinks to the ground, breathing hard, kneels there for what feels like hours. He feels small and helpless and hollow. His chest is a pounding, wrenching pit of pain. Finally, he looks up at the stars, tears stinging his cheeks in the cold night air. He wonders vaguely if the stars are the same here, how much of this world is completely unique from his own.
It occurs to him that he could die now. Chuck’s neutralized, so his deal with Billie is off. If Dean dies, he can stay dead.
He thinks about pulling his gun out, sticking the barrel into his mouth, pulling the trigger.
Sam’s sad, fond face pops into his head. Sam would be so disappointed in him. So let down. He can’t do that to Sam.
Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.
The sound of a car engine fills his ears. He looks up, sees the light on the horizon. It’s almost dawn. He’s cramped and cold from being out here so long. The car stops on the road behind him and a door opens, shuts. Feet crunch the gravel on the shoulder of the road.
He stays where he is, lets Sam come to him, help him to his feet, walk him back to the car.
“How did you find me?”
“Low-jacked the Impala after the last time you did this,” Sam says. He sounds weary. This has been an exhausting night for him, too.
“Of course you did.”
Sam tucks him into the passenger seat of the Impala, drives back to the bunker, leaving the antique car on the side of the road. Dean has a feeling Sam used some kind of spell to get it to run, since he doubts Sam has the mechanical skills to get the old car up and running. Thing probably needs new spark plugs and an oil change, at least. Definitely a new battery.
Back at the bunker, Dean crawls into bed with his clothes on, passes out and sleeps twelve straight hours. When he gets up, he takes a shower, heads to the kitchen for food. Sam’s out running, so Dean makes himself some eggs and toast, drinks the last of the coffee from the pot on the stove, still warm.
Sam finds him in the infirmary when he gets back from his run. He’s showered and shaved, but there are still dark circles under his eyes. He still looks beat to hell.
“You okay?” he asks. You’re not planning to kill yourself as soon as I turn my back?
Dean takes a deep breath, nods at the body on the bed.
“He needs — He deserves a hunter’s funeral.”
Sam’s lips part and his eyebrows go up, but all he says is, “Okay.” He gives a little nod, turns his face away but Dean still catches the tiny flicker of hope in his eyes.
Dean ignores the panic that rises in his chest at the prospect of burning his brother’s body, of the finality of it. But he heard Sam. He heard him say that this is his choice, this is what he wants. He’s damned if he’ll renege on Sam’s final wish.
He’s damned if he’ll let Sam down again.
Sam helps him build the pyre, in the woods on the same patch of land where they burned Charlie and Mom, all those years ago in that other world. Dean washes and dresses his brother’s body, reminds himself that Sam had to do this too, more than once, and now Dean needs to complete the task for his brother’s sake.
Sam stands to one side while Dean flicks the lighter and tosses it onto the pyre. As they stand watching the flames catch, Dean has a moment of panic. He wants to throw himself onto the pyre, try to save the body or die trying.
Sam seems to sense his panic, sways just half-an-inch closer. He’s standing on Dean’s right, just a little behind him, and his warm presence feels so much like Dean’s brother that Dean closes his eyes for a moment, lets the feeling of Sam’s presence wash over and soothe him.
He’s pretty sure if he tried throwing himself onto the fire, Sam would dive right in to try to save him, maybe get himself killed in the process.
They watch the fire in silence, wait until it dies down and is no more than a pile of lumpy ash and embers. They use sticks to poke through the remains, ensuring there’s nothing left to smolder and threaten the surrounding trees. They bury the remains in the adjoining pit, erase all sign of what was done here. Then they drive back to the bunker in silence. Dean lets Sam drive again, and Sam doesn’t mention how his brother didn’t get a hunter’s funeral, but Dean’s pretty sure he’s thinking about it.
Back at the bunker, they hover around each other for a few days, feeling more like ghosts than flesh-and-blood men. Dean finds it harder to get out of bed each morning, harder to shower and shave, almost impossible to eat. Food tastes like sawdust and ash. Sam lets him be, but Dean can feel his worry. When a call comes in on the fourth day, Dean can’t muster enough energy to care.
“You go, Sam,” he says as he pours himself another glass of whiskey. “I’ll hold down the fort here, in case another call comes in.”
Sam takes a deep breath. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he says. “Hunting alone is a major no-way.”
Dean shrugs. “So find another partner. I’ll bet Bobby would back you up. Or Jody. I’m sure you’ve got a list a mile long of people you can call.”
“That’s not the point, Dean.” Sam purses his lips. “I need you. You’re my partner now.”
Dean looks up at his not-brother, realizes he hasn’t really seen him in a few days. The kid looks tired, eyes red-rimmed like he’s been crying, skin sallow and unshaved. He’s too thin.
Dean’s been so buried in his own grief, he hadn’t noticed that Sam was suffering, too. Sam’s not doing so well at all.
“How long has it been since you’ve eaten?” he asks.
Sam shrugs. “A while.” He thinks for a minute. “Maybe yesterday?”
Dean puts his glass down, climbs to his feet. “Okay, you know what? We need to get you fed. You want some soup? I’m gonna make some soup.”
Sam follows him into the kitchen, sits at the table while Dean warms up a can of tomato rice soup and grills a cheese sandwich.
“You, too,” Sam insists when Dean sets the plate down on the table in front of him. “You haven’t eaten in a couple of days, either.”
“I’m not really hungry,” Dean starts to say until he catches the look Sam’s throwing at him. His puppy-eyed, skeptical look is skewering Dean as sure as if he was a shish-kibosh, which, come to think of it, doesn’t sound half bad.
“You know, maybe I’ll come along on that hunt after all,” he says. “We could stop at that place in Huntsville that serves barbecue on a stick, remember that place?”
“That’s the one,” Dean nods. “We stopped there on that rugaru hunt that time.”
Sam grins, dimples popping. “You love that place, Dean,” he says. “We’ve gone out of our way to stop there too many times to count over the years.”
“Yeah.” Dean doesn’t remember it quite that way, but he doesn’t say that. Sam probably doesn’t remember the rugaru hunt, either. They’re just humoring each other, recalling memories of their lives with their dead brothers as a way to deal with their grief.
And the truth is, it helps. Dean feels better just knowing that Sam remembers Barbecue Bill’s, even if it’s a different memory for him. Obviously, their lives have overlapped enough to leave them with a lot of common memories. Maybe thousands.
“Remember Biggerson’s in New York state?” Dean’s out on a limb here, but he can’t help himself. It feels too good, and feeling good isn’t something he’s done a lot of lately. “That time we walked in and they gave us the prize for being their one-millionth customer?”
Sam laughs. “Black Rock. They took our pictures for the local paper,” he says. “Nearly got us arrested because you were wanted for that thing in St. Louis.”
Dean frowns. “The shifter thing?”
“Yeah, of course.” Sam looks confused for a moment. “Wait, how can you remember that?”
Dean shrugs. “What can I tell you? I guess some of our memories line up.”
“I guess they do.” Sam seems pleased, which makes Dean’s chest warm.
They share a few more memories, and it becomes obvious that their timelines matched up pretty well until Dean’s brother died in Cold Oak. Things seemed to diverge after that.
They agree to leave the bunker for good the next morning. There are too many memories here for both of them. They don’t say anything directly, but Dean can see that Sam agrees. They’ll go on this hunt, then find something else, but they’ll never come back here. It’s a place of sorrow and longing now. It’s not home anymore.
They leave the key to the bunker with the Men of Letters office in Normal, Illinois, which still exists because Abaddon never invaded this world, apparently.
They spend two and a half years on the road, hunting things, saving people. As long as they stay busy, Dean finds some solace. Whole days go by when he isn’t crushed by grief, although the nights are another matter.
One day, a hunt goes south and Sam ends up in the hospital, so Dean makes the decision for both of them that the time has come to stop hunting. It’s just not worth it to risk losing another Sam. Let other hunters take care of things in this world from now on.
Sam accepts a job as a law professor at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, and one morning Dean finds himself driving down the street where he used to live, in that other universe.
“That’s our old house,” Sam announces as Dean pulls up in front of the place. It doesn’t look half-bad. A little lived-in, but that’s good.
“In my world, that’s where it all began,” Dean says. “On the night of Sam’s sixth month birthday. Demon infected him with its blood and he grew up watched by Lucifer’s minions.”
Sam’s eyes widen and his lips form a silent “oh.”
“Yeah,” Dean goes on. “Fire broke out in your nursery that night, killed Mom.”
Sam frowns. “But I thought you said she died last year.”
“Yeah, well, it’s complicated,” Dean says, shaking his head. “God’s sister brought her back about four years ago.”
“Wow, Dean, I honestly thought she left you guys. I mean, for the longest time after she died, that’s what I thought happened to her. Dean wouldn’t talk about her, and Dad was gone all the time, tracking down the thing that killed her. He’d get so angry when I asked about where she was, I figured she’d left us. I didn’t find out the truth until I was about eight years old.”
Dean nods. “Painful memories, either way,” he notes.
“More traumatic for you, though.” Sam shudders. “You must hate this place.”
“That didn’t happen here,” Dean says. “Here, you all just packed up and left, moved to the bunker. For me, this is just another replica of something that didn’t happen.”
Dean pulls away from the curb and doesn’t look back.