Chapter 10/Over, Over, Over

Destination: Niagara Falls, of course. Gen, PG-13. Complete. Horror/drama. A smidgen of angst. A big freakin' smidgen of angst.

Travel Advisory: High body count. Blood. General wretchedness. Unforgivably wordy.

Cabin Crew: I never leave home without them - jmm0001 and Lemmypie. They make sure I have the right documentation, that the meals are hot, and that I'm not carrying any firearms or illegal drugs. Wait. No. They don't do that last thing.

Your pilot this flight: Without him, we got nothing. Captain Kripke steers the plane; I'm just your on-flight entertainment.

Our route so far: It's been a little while since I've updated. What can I say? RL's a bitch and you want to get the last chapter right. So it takes a while. A reminder of where we left off, then - Niagara Falls, 2001 Sam has left for Stanford; Dean returns to the apartment to face his father. In 2006, Billy Shuter has decided to shoot up the school. Sam is his hostage and the object of his fascination. Dean, having drifted precariously close to the edge for most of this fic, is about to go over. We good? Excellent.

NFHS, November 2006

Mr. Winchester was beginning to get on Billy's nerves.

First of all, he was all upset about Marcus when what fucking idiot would worry five seconds about Marcus Delindo – fuckforbrains was only going to get himself the needle one of these days and Billy had just saved the bovine taxpayers some hard cash. Mr. Winchester was concerned about the students, whether they'd all gotten out, kept telling Billy that he had to let them go. Billy supposed he could let some of that slide; after all, they were almost not worth the effort of thought, they were so slow and stupid.

But Mr. Winchester's concern over Ms. Simon was a little more difficult to take.

It wasn't as though she'd been particularly brave; she'd cried along with the rest of them when he'd shot the gym coach Ms. Lafferty and Melanie Grissom, captain of the senior girls basketball team. Girls. Needed to let them know he was serious. After the remaining students, all ten of them, Ms. Simon and two of her decorations committee members, had stopped screaming, Billy had put those plastic restraints around her wrists and ankles.

Not as though he'd had much choice: he wanted to get Mr. Winchester here in the gym and he needed Ms. Simon to do that and also? Mr. Winchester would know he meant business if he got rid of Ms. Simon in front of him. Proof of Billy's resolve. Proof of their bond.

It was how the yellow-eyed man had said it should be.

But when Mr. Winchester had come into the gym and seen them tied up, he'd almost freaked. Then when he'd seen the bodies and the blood, the teacher had been unnaturally quiet. Billy had allowed him to go to Ms. Simon then, while Billy had dragged the two bodies to one side, thrown some towels over them. It was the eyes. He didn't like looking at their eyes.

She's a distraction. I should put her down.

"You know, Mr. Winchester," Billy said, looking at Ms. Simon, "she's worried that you're too young for her."

Mr. Winchester, crouched beside Ms. Simon, froze. Looked at her first, then slowly turned to Billy.

"Stop it," he whispered, then glanced back at Ms. Simon, one huge hand on her shoulder, drifting softly and silently to her hair.

Billy pulled on his dog collar, reloaded the rifle, eyed Ms. Simon. Could hear her, clearly. Sam shouldn't be in the middle of this, I don't care about myself, I don't care, but Sam…

"Nothing you can do to save her, you know," Billy continued and Mr. Winchester came quickly to a stand, his head cocked to one side. He was pretty freaky tall. "She's still obsessed with her daughter, doesn't really care if she lives or dies. But she's not proud of herself, fucking you. One of her students."

Mr. Winchester came forward, but Billy raised the gun. He might be tall. Just made more of a target. Billy knew about guns; his dad had taught him. They'd gone hunting together. The teacher stopped, hands held slightly out from his side.

They had a bond stronger than whatever pathetic thing Mr. Winchester had with Ms. Simon. He'd prove it.

"You deserve better, and we all know it."

Ms. Simon was now thinking all sorts of pathetic things, mostly about her daughter. For pete's sake, the woman really couldn't move on, could she? Billy would be happy to help her move on.

Mr. Winchester sighed, slowly edged towards center court, drawing Billy with him.

After all, deep down, they were alike. He was Mr. Winchester's student. And Mr. Winchester was not only going to save him, he wanted to save him. It was all going to be fine, Billy just had to make a clearing around him, like you would a big tree. Take away some of the underbrush. Let him shine.

That's what he'd been told anyway.

The voices were so loud. He didn't even hear the crying anymore, really. That was like white noise, the constant rumble of an air conditioner on an August afternoon. But the voices in his head ebbed and surged, receded and advanced. Mr. Winchester was the one quiet place in Billy's noisy universe, right there in front of him, hair hanging in his eyes, which flicked nervously back to where Ms. Simon sat against the wall, now comforting a hysterical Molly Atkinson.

Then that concentrated stare was back on him.

"Don't even think about it," Mr. Winchester warned, calm but firm.

And, inevitably, Ms. Simon's yammering. Oh my god, he's insane, don't kill Sam, please don't, and then an idea of what it was like to have someone Mr. Winchester's size next to you, and wanting him, and don't kill him, please don't kill him. He's just a boy, and then remembering Mr. Winchester as Sam, as a tall gangly kid with a sheepish smile and a Thoroughbred's skittish temperament at the starting gate.

Billy glanced back at Ms. Simon. You stupid bitch, he thought. I'm not going to kill him. I'm going to free him.

He half-shrugged. "Ms. Simon," he called, waved the gun, but stepped back out of Mr. Winchester's enormous reach. He took a few more steps towards the girls.

Ms. Simon looked around, eyes panicked, not wanting to get nearer. Her thoughts were now too terrified to be properly coherent. Billy was coming to understand that most people got like this under stress. Nothing stuck, thoughts like marbles thrown across a hardwood floor.

"Get up," he barked at her, and pointed the gun at Molly's head, real casual. Ms. Simon knew what he'd do, and the implied threat was enough. Hard for her to get up, with her ankles still in the plastic restraints. Fun to watch.

Still, if he was going to do it, he should do it quick, before Mr. Winchester figured out that Ms. Simon was dead meat.

All the way to the bottom, past the fountain. That was as much as Dean retained. Amazing that he could remember even that. Locker rooms: he chose one at random, didn't register if it was girls or boys, not until he saw the clothing scattered around the maze of lockers and cold benches, clothing belonging to girls. He knew what that looked like, clothes dropped in haste across a room.

Tiled floor, tilted so water could drain, and Dean was literally sick of cants and what those did to liquids. Knew a little too much about it, how blood would run to the lowest place, would form a river. He saw the drain in the middle of the room, but no blood. The sound of showers, of running water, registered, an echo of more thunderous waters.

He had both guns out, couldn't remember where he'd dropped the duffle bag on his travels.

I am losing it, he thought briefly, then clamped his jaw shut and shook his head from side to side and didn't really care how loony that looked. Nah. Not yet. He edged past sodden white towels dropped carelessly on the slick tiles, stood at the threshold of the showers, looked at the floor first, looking for any sign of…Don't think it. I'm just seeing what's there, doesn't pay to have an imagination in this line of work.

Four showerheads were going full-blast, still running hot with a boiler the size a school must have, the entire locker room thick with condensed steam. Empty, thank Christ. They must have gotten out. And he closed his eyes for a minute, allowing himself that. Those other kids had gotten out too. There must be a thousand students at this school, at least. Most had found safety outside. Reminded himself of that.

Remind your fucking self that there's still the gym, Winchester.

Pushed himself out the shower room, looked around for the door to the gym itself. He realized as soon as he saw it he'd be going in blind, because there was no window in the door, no way of knowing what he'd be walking into – corridor, storage room, gymnasium wide open like a shooting gallery. Dean pushed the Glock into the waistband of his jeans and held the rifle in his left hand, eased the door open with his right. A quarter of an inch, no more.

Not much to see: some spars and joists arranged like a trestle bridge, fluorescent lights strident above, blond wood flooring. He settled for a moment, quiet, straining to hear. Echoing space, the gym all right. Crying. Low voices in conversation. One of them Sam's, cadence instantly recognizable to Dean.

He nudged the door open another inch.

The girl's locker room opened up underneath a set of folding bleachers filling one side of the gym. Beyond the bleachers, between the plank seats, he could see moving figures, but he couldn't quite tell who was…oh, screw this waiting, he thought, slipping out the door, shutting it quietly behind him.

His boots could make a hell of a racket, so he walked quickly on the balls of his feet behind one of the uprights, sank to his haunches, hoping to assess the situation a little more clearly before coming up with a plan.

Not much to plan, though: Get a clean shot on the crazy motherfucker.

It was a big gym, two basketball courts, nets down ready for play, posters and streamers peeling from the walls, some kind of decoration left over from a dance, maybe. The paper turkey he spotted right away and had to swallow. Fuck. This was it all right, what Sam had described to him weeks ago.

About twenty students, girls, huddled on the floor against the far wall, tall white athletic socks, shorts, an interrupted gym class. Same wall featured a double set of doors ironically declaring 'exit' above them. Even from under the bleachers, Dean could see that there was something through the handles. Not substantial enough to be chain – maybe whipcord or plastic restraints. The doors were jammed, in any case. No exit there. Two other sets of doors were similarly secured; Billy had them in lockdown.

And in the middle of the gym, almost center court, Sam stood, hands held wide, button up shirt loose, non-threatening, like he wanted someone to pass him the ball. Hey, over here, I'm open!

Idiotic mostly because Billy Shuter stood not five feet from him, big hunting gun in his hands, lots of bulky gear stowed in that Army surplus jacket, looking like he was thinking of passing him something, all right. Shit. Where was Elise?

Dean scanned the floor, looking for what he wasn't going to imagine – found it. Two bodies, lying by an overflowing wheeled bin of basketballs. Someone had thrown – towels, maybe – over them, but the blood had soaked through, was pooling on the boards, creating a dark lake around them.

They hadn't prevented it after all. Not that Elise was any more – or less – worthy of saving than the kids Billy had already murdered, but she was important to Sam, was the whole reason they'd come back here. Dean didn't know what her death would undo in Sam, didn't even want to think it. Sam had shouldered a lot of death in the past year, and one more might break him, might push him…

If Elise were already dead, Sam wouldn't be standing in the middle of the gym calmly trying to talk Billy into handing over the gun, that's for sure.

Then Dean spotted her, comforting a sobbing girl near the double doors, one hand smoothing the girl's hair, petting her like she was a cat. She held her hands in a strange way, and Dean realized that her wrists had some kind of restraint on them. But she didn't have a bullet hole in the middle of her forehead; they were not too late for this. To save this one life out of so many.

Dean could hear Sam's voice, calm. Directed at Billy, his words doing what Elise's hand was doing. That's it, keep him occupied, Dean thought, eyeing the bleachers above his head. He swung one hand up, deftly shinnied up to the top, hooked one knee around a post. There. Much better vantage point. Didn't want to hit Sam, after all.

He knew this rifle; it had been his since he was twenty-three. A birthday present.

Sort of.

The rifle had been the kind of present John had left out on the coffee table at some decrepit motel in Arizona, had merely nodded to it, told Dean to strip it, clean it, put it back together. Didn't call it a present, since it was two weeks past Dean's otherwise unmarked birthday. Still. Take what you could get.

Long range practice that winter, their first one just the two of them, more than Dean had thought he'd been able to bear, noting John's approval in his silences and his later trust during hunts.

There had been a lot of hunts that year. That's all they had done, furious, desperate, slaking some unbearable thirst for blood. After. After what had happened.

Dean's aim was good, had always been good, even as a kid. The point: this was an old friend and Dean wasn't going to miss.

He balanced the rifle between his shoulder and his left hand, rested his elbow on the riser, leveled his sight, looked down the long barrel at all that waste of flesh, that mad dog, that poor excuse for a human being, looked at Billy Shuter and felt his anger down deep inside, swirling with what he thought might be loss or some other useless indescribable.

They were standing very close to each other, the two of them, both marked by a Demon as special, but Dean trusted his aim. Trusted.

Billy was what Sam could become, maybe, but Dean shied from that and instead grabbed at the fleeting edge of the anger, which went down hot as single malt liquor, held the trigger.

He was pulling something in, not letting something go.

Could almost see it, the bullet's impact on skull, like he'd done for his sister. Could do it now, right there in the middle of the gym, center court. The rifle came up, what a mess at this close range.

C'mon, you useless fucker, just a bit to the left.

A new voice, differentiated on two counts: Male. And deadly calm. For a minute, Billy thought he'd had a breakthrough. That he could hear Mr. Winchester. But he remembered the voice, remembered the hard, sparse quality to it. The anger, constricted and under enormous pressure, carbon squeezed into diamond.

Billy turned suddenly, eyes roaming the bleachers. Where the hell is he? And just at that point, Mr. Winchester made a funny noise in his throat, something of negation in it, a protest. Billy stood very still, then saw the shadow under the bleachers, saw it far too late to bring his rifle round for a decent shot, far too exposed to take any kind of shelter.

"Dean!" Mr. Winchester shouted and then…and then stepped in front of Billy, his arms held very wide, making himself appear bigger like he was scaring off a wild dog or a bear.

Billy smiled, and pointed the rifle at Ms. Simon, yanked her to her feet, brought her close against his chest. She was tiny, yes, only came up to his chin. He pulled her into him, one arm around her throat, and she gave a little half-scream. Mr. Winchester turned his head and Billy could see the rim of white around his eyes, the sheen of sweat.

"Get him down," Billy whispered. "Or I'll blow her head off."

Mr. Winchester met his eyes, and Billy didn't have to be a mind-reader to know he was pissing the teacher off. Poor Mr. Winchester. Too many people around him, all holding him back. Need to let him shine, need to clear away the brush so the sunlight can get to him.

"Dean!" Mr. Winchester shouted. "Dean, you're not going to get a clear sight line. Pull your shot. We'll figure this out."

All the way across the gym was pretty damn far for Billy to hear anyone, but the gunman – Dean, his brother, apparently – was full of cold fury, and that counted for some. Fucking bleeding fucking heart, Sammy. Step aside. I gotta clear shot, shit. I gotta kill shot. Just let me end it.

Billy didn't exactly know how Mr. Winchester was making sense of it, but the tall man didn't move. "Dean," he called, less than a shout now. Mr. Winchester had a strong voice, and it carried as well as his brother's thoughts, especially in this empty echoing space. "Dean, he's got a gun on Elise, and he's already…I can…just get out of the school, Dean! Just…" and Billy cocked the rifle with a loud click, turned the muzzle of the piece to the back of Mr. Winchester's head, pressed it firmly into the shaggy hair. Mr. Winchester shut up in a hurry.

"You," Billy shouted, and this was rich, wasn't it? Mr. Winchester was so confused. These people – the students, Ms. Simon, and this brother especially – confused the shit out of him. It should have been so easy. Kill them all. Kill them all and come with me "You – your name's Dean? Whoever the fuck you are. Come out, hands up. Put your gun on floor when I can see you."

Aw, Sammy. Jesus, see what happens? and then a whole lot of incoherencies because of the anger, yes. But because something else too: Billy had a gun pointed at Mr. Winchester, at Sam, and that kicked up a bunch of shit, was like taking a big stick and stirring up a riverbed.

You can get to this guy through his brother, Billy understood immediately.

After a long minute during which no one said anything, there was dark movement under the bleachers and finally a muddy figure came out from behind the stands, both arms out to the side, a long rifle in one hand.

"On the floor. Both your guns," Billy called. The reporter – Mr. Winchester's brother – gave a wry smile.

You little cocksucker. By the time I'm finished with you, you're not going to be able to sit for...

"The guns, okay? Enough of the fantasies."

The man named Dean grimaced, but put first the rifle then a handgun from his waistband on the gym's floor. "So, how's this work, Billy? You just gonna kill us all?"

"Billy," Mr. Winchester started, but Billy swept the gun back to Ms. Simon.

"Shut up," Billy said, but it came out as a wheeze. "All of you!" But there was no way they knew how to do it and Billy found himself wishing that maybe he'd listened a little harder to the yellow-eyed man's instructions on how to block out unwanted thoughts.

See, Sam. This is where your ethics and morals gets us. Here. Back in fucking Niagara. This place is gonna be the death of me.

Something to use, finally, because this asshole's armor was thick. Back to Niagara, and their father and Sam leaving and it was all gathered up together in this mass of incomprehensible grief, laid out like a corpse for Billy to dissect.

Billy smirked. "Yeah, guess you don't like it much here, do you?" And that brought this Dean guy up short. He stopped, blinked those big eyes like Billy had smacked him.

But was silent. Sort of.

Course I don't. Oh, fuck. Sam. Sam?

"Ms. Simon told me all about it. How Mr. Winchester had to run away from home to get away from you. She said someone died. Wasn't just someone, though, was it?" Gathering now, greedy for information, and this idiot was supplying it, just shedding it like layers of too-warm clothing. "Mr. Winchester's friend, Sam's friend. Fat kid. Your fault, maybe? Sounds sad."

Billy stared at the gunman; he was breathing hard through nostrils widened in surprise, or fear. Not exactly anger anymore. Fear, but not of Billy, or even the gun or what was happening in the here and now. Fear of the past, which Billy was expert at mining. Billy heard: You know nothing about it. But there it was, Local Boy in Falls Tragedy, a kid at the Falls at night, a shadow against garish light, there, then gone.

Pain, inside and out.

Dad, a man so angry that Billy's breath caught against it, recognizing the man again, recognizing the anger and imagining the yellow eyes, which had come later. The father – the yellow-eyed man – had wounded this Dean guy in a place so deep he didn't even know it existed. Sam, you get out of the car, and everything changes. Fear of being alone. Mr. Winchester, younger, Sam, sitting in a car, tears. A bus station – Niagara Falls, painted guy in a barrel and we could just gas up and keep driving and you have no idea how bad I want to.

A black truck, packed with cardboard boxes, and a set of stairs. Back up the stairs, one heavy foot at a time. Fear of what he would find. Fear of what he did find.

Billy looked first at Dean, then at the younger brother. He still didn't understand why blood relationships conferred such feelings, but Dean had just handed Billy a weapon. His grip around Ms. Simon's throat tightened and he turned back to Dean, a wide smile creasing his otherwise passive face.

Dean looks like shit, was Sam's first thought. He was covered in mud, had some blood on him too. His rifle and his Glock over there by the bleachers. Weaponless. Too pale, mouth in a thin line like that could stop Billy from hearing him.

Sam hadn't figured out if Billy had a range yet, hadn't determined when and what he could hear. Every so often the boy would shake his head, making Sam wonder if he had much control over it at all.

Still, it was pretty obvious he could hear Dean and they all knew it.

"Your dad was pretty fucked up by it, wasn't he?" Billy asked Dean, who flinched, pulled up, and Sam wished his brother was anywhere but here, because this was the kind of shit that Dean would never say, was messy unexplored territory designed to stay that way. It was the stuff that Sam usually wanted to hear, the real deal.

But not like this.

He could see how hard Dean was trying to keep a blank mind, but it was like trying to tell someone not to think of elephants. Soon as you said it, there they were.

"Billy," Sam interrupted, looking at Elise, trying to convey a promise. I won't let you die here. "Let them go. I'll stick around. We'll…"

"Shut up," Billy whispered. He had a chokehold on Elise, her bound hands were up at his arm scratching ineffectually, her breath coming with difficulty, toes brushing the boards. The gun – a big hunting rifle – was now pointed at Dean.

Dean didn't seem to notice. He fired Sam a black look, blaming him. Maybe rightly. But.

Jesus, Dean. I know Billy's fucked up, I know it. But he's a kid. And I don't know what it'll do to you, if you kill a kid. You have enough crap weighing you down.

"It was so hard," Billy continued, almost cheerily, now directing his conversation at Sam. "So hard getting left behind. You never knew what it was like, Mr. Winchester. How out of control it got. How fucked up they were by it."

Sam cleared a throat suddenly Gobi dry. "Stop it." It was begging; it came out as though Sam was the one being strangled. "Just let them-"

"Your brother here? He tried to hold it together after you left. That's what he always did, right? Just held the center while you and your dad went at it. You've never asked him about those months, shit those years, have you? It was a fucking bloodbath, what happened, after you left, the shit they killed. Him and your dad. Dean was actually happy that you'd gotten out, that you were making something-"

"Shut up!" That wasn't begging. Not anywhere close to it.

It was kind of like watching yourself get operated on. That had happened to Dean once or twice in his life, when he'd been on the receiving end of a bad blow, far from an ER and the civility of anesthetics, had seen interior bits of himself that you really ought not to, been awake when someone – his dad, Bobby once – had sewn him shut.

But this kind of messing around inside him? This sucked.

"Yeah, that's right," he found his voice, finally, wondered if he could somehow just block Billy out if he talked enough. He couldn't feel the opening, couldn't feel how Billy was getting in, how he'd crawled right inside his fucking head. "We made do. Funny, how killing a lot of different kinds of evil can make just about anything right."

The worst part was that Sam was hearing all of it. He'd never asked, he'd never wanted to know. He'd gotten on that bus and four years had passed. The first of those four had been indescribable and Dean didn't want Sam to know, not ever.

"If only that was true," Billy laughed, tightened his arm around Ms. Simon's neck. She made a little squeaky gasp, like a plastic doll. "Was everything you killed evil? You sure about that? Whatever makes you sleep at night. But it never filled anything for you. Just one big empty space."

Not one big empty space. It was huge all right, but it was full. Full of guilt, and loss. Full of every possible painful thing in creation. Dean couldn't remember most of that year, not clearly. A lot of death. A lot of blood. A lot of hard liquor and bar fights and county lock-ups. Some him, yes. But mostly John.

It was impossible, seeing their dad like that. Undone.

Dean shrugged, half turned away, his hand coming up to his knife under the flap of unbuttoned coat. He knew a thrown knife wasn't as fast as a bullet and Billy had that rifle pointed right at him. He wouldn't make it past cocking his elbow back to throw, no matter how fast he was.

But it was a way of shutting the asshole up.

"Dean," Sam warned and Dean turned, a wild expression in his eyes.

I don't need to know what's going on in that head of yours, Dean. I don't want to hear it from him.

Dean halted in mid-turn and his right hand, his throwing hand, came out from his side. Empty. Sam knew his brother would not have been fast enough; he would have been dead. The knife was a desperate move to stop Billy's inquisition, that was all, not a real solution. That's how accurately Billy was reading Dean's memories, and Sam's heart caught fire and he wanted to kill Billy then with his bare hands.

So what now? They looked at each other, Sam and Dean. It was good that Sam couldn't read people, that it wasn't his dubious gift. It was a violation, what Billy was doing. Dean blinked, considered Sam for a long moment, and Sam saw the change when it came.

A flicker of his eye, the line of his shoulders straightening. Fingers curling into a fist. Mouth twitching, about to let fly. It was Dean gearing up, just the same as how he jammed a clip into the Glock, getting ready. Dean's game was offense, he hated waiting around for someone else to do something.

Sam watched as Dean took a breath, saw the pain and the shadow. Saw the smile.

What the hell does he have to smile about?

Billy had seen the damage Sam had left in his wake, seen what it had done to this small fucked up family. It was ugly, and it showed what power Mr. Winchester possessed. Then the two brothers had shared a look, and Billy knew that Dean didn't want Sam to know any of it. Wanted to protect him, thought it would hurt.

Didn't want to lose him again, pathetic wretch that Dean Winchester was.

Mr. Winchester should hear it. He should know the power he had, it should be shouted from the rooftops.

So why was Dean smiling?

Then, quick, so sudden that Billy had no time to prepare for it, Dean switched gears, the horror of the first year Sam had been gone replaced by newer memories, equally horrific.

Two memories intertwined, and one was familiar. Was fresh.

Blood. And loss. Everything wrong, a feeling deep in the pit of his stomach. A hospital room, and a child's bedroom, winking light from a cheap plastic ring, spill of a dropped paper coffee cup. Sound of a flatline. Of a morning show blaring from a kitchen countertop. Below these memories, driving them, an underground river always: grief. Bone deep and endless, because they were loved and they were dead and it was his fault, Dean and Billy's both.

Sam saw all the blood drain from Billy's face, leaving it pasty and green. It was spectacular.

Dean shook his head. "Billy, you don't know anything about being a brother, do you?" A little smile salvaged from the wreckage. A shrug. So typically Dean that Sam felt his heart constrict in his chest. "I was just there. In your house. You read minds? You want to know what that looked like? What you left behind?" Dean was a like a wounded animal: more dangerous for being hurt, willing to try anything. Finding weakness, taking opportunity entirely without premeditation, operating wholly on gut.

Billy backed up one step, the gun still trained on Dean who gave it as much attention as the floorboards. This was provocation as dangerous as the knife, Sam realized, but didn't know how to stop Dean from thinking.

"So, yeah, you can kill your father and your step-mother. I guess some parents might deserve it," and Dean laughed, a dark sound, nothing of amusement in it, "but your sister? The littlest one? She was what? Maybe eight years old? That's not your fucking job. You're her brother." Sam knew Dean wanted Billy to understand what he was saying, that this was more than just a bid to fuck Billy up; that Dean was saying something important.

And maybe it wasn't just for Billy to hear.

"Your other sister, the one here at the school?" His voice was quiet for all that, stripped down. Something so very basic: Dean revealing the nature of evil. Duty. Maybe love, even if he'd never admit it. Sam was unable to pull any air into his lungs, hearing this. "You don't put a bullet in them, Billy. That's not what you do. You protect them. You keep them safe. And when you need to, you let them go."

But Dean wasn't looking at Sam, so Sam had no idea what Dean was actually thinking as his words came out. Sam, concentrating totally on his brother, had almost forgotten Billy, but then he heard the miniscule movement, the slide of skin against metal, almost preternatural, knew Billy was going to shut Dean up and there was only one way to do that completely.

One sideways step, and Sam was between the gun and Dean.

The barrel was level with his chest. Behind him, Sam heard the sound Dean made, a despairing groan. Only one, though, and his next movement would be for his knife. "Billy," Sam said. "Billy, if you stay here, you're going to die. Either the cops, or Dean, someone's going to kill you. I don't want that. The yellow-eyed man doesn't want it." Time to entice him out the door, like waving a steak in front of a wolf. "We can get out if we work together. Leave everyone here. No need to kill them, it would take too long and be too noisy; the cops are probably all over the place now. If we leave, just the two of us, we can be quick."

"You'd come with me?" But that was soft, those were the words of a sixteen-year-old boy who'd been visited by evil, whose whole family had died at his hands. His head was probably reeling from what Dean had just shown him. Billy had nothing but whatever stories the Demon had filled his head with, fantasies of freedom, maybe, of power. Who the hell knew?

Sam nodded slowly, one hand reaching out back towards Dean, trying to stay him. Oh, god, Dean, I can see a path out of here, just let me try it for a few seconds. You've killed enough things. And that last wasn't an admonishment, it was a plea. It was close to a prayer.

With one fast movement that Sam didn't quite follow, Billy shoved Elise to the floor, where she landed hard, sobbing for breath. The gun was still on Sam's chest, so he didn't move, though everything in him wanted to. "Your brother has a knife, doesn't he?" Billy said, graveyard quiet.

Sam remained silent.

"They'll be able to untie everyone after we go."

"Okay," Sam agreed. "Dean?"

A sigh. Loaded.

"Dean?" he asked again.

"What?" Dean said.

"Why don't you help Elise up and get over there by the others. Did you come in through the locker rooms?"

Another silence. Man, Dean wasn't liking this. "Yeah."

"Okay, Billy?" Sam asked, tried so hard for calm.

Billy stared around Sam, at Dean. "You shut up," Billy whispered, and Sam wondered if Dean was replaying the scene at the Shuter house, the dead bodies of his family. Dean could concentrate on shit when he wanted to, when he had to. He'd found a way to fuck Billy up and he would push for all it was worth.

"Okay, Billy, Dean's going to go over to Elise and then you and me, we're going to go out through the locker rooms under the bleachers there. Okay? We don't have much time." He took a step away, leading Billy away from center court. Dean had a frighteningly accurate throwing arm, and that knife was a good one, so Sam made sure he kept himself between Billy's back and Dean, hurried them to the bleachers and only when the range was shit did he turn around.

Dean was standing very still, hadn't gone to Elise yet, just looked at Sam, face unreadable.

I'm not leaving you, Sam thought, wished that Dean could hear him. Instead, he nodded once, then jerked his head towards Elise and the girls and Dean finally moved, his knife in his hand. Ready to cut the plastic restraints that kept them captive.

Through the change rooms, steamy and warm as a tropical jungle, Sam murmured to Billy to keep moving, keep going.

Never mind that Billy still had that big rifle trained on him. His grip was slightly haphazard, somehow negligent, half-hearted. Billy didn't want to kill Sam. They stopped in the corridor outside the locker rooms and Sam tried to recall the different ways out, tried to imagine himself a cop trying to get in, especially as the girls were probably out the doors by now, maybe, and Dean would be thinking about killing again, that and not getting caught by the police.

"Billy," Sam stopped him, laid a hand on Billy's sleeve. The gun wasn't even pointed at Sam anymore. "You know that the yellow-eyed man killed your mother. It wasn't your fault. You didn't kill her. You know that, don't you?"

Billy's face was blank, the unwashed hair hanging lank in his eyes, which were bloodshot. Sam was depending on Billy caring about this, but maybe he didn't. Maybe nothing much moved in there. Dean had gotten to him, but Sam didn't know how.

"He thought she was in the way. He killed her," and Sam licked his lips. "Just the same as he killed my mother."

"But," Billy whispered, eyes narrowing. Sam's words were having an effect, he just was unsure what kind of effect. "But your father – he had yellow eyes too. Was your mother in the way?"

Sam nodded. Screwed up as that explanation was, it was accurate. Just not causal, not directly. Because his mother had died the way she had, John Winchester had eventually been possessed by the Demon. Not the other way round.

"Well, it's probably for the best." No grief in there, no awareness of love, or loss.

"It wasn't for the best, Billy." A deep breath. "He's evil, the yellow-eyed man. He's a Demon. He needs to be sent back to Hell. He's using you."

The gun's muzzle came up slightly, but Sam didn't flinch. "Lookit," Sam whispered, "he doesn't want to help you. Doesn't want to help me."

"He wants to make us powerful. Strong."

"We already are, Billy." Sam ran a hand through his hair. Convincing people of things had always been a talent. At least, with ninety-nine percent of the population. His father excepted. And Billy? "He wants to control you."

"That's not true." Billy sounded almost bored. "You don't know that. He says you don't really know what you can do yet. That you're scared. Scared of what you could become."

And that was the truth. Sam blinked, looked away. Okay, Billy. Let's see if you've been given a kill order then.

With one hand, he grabbed the barrel of the rifle, pulled hard and it came out of Billy's hands. Just for a moment, and Sam understood he wasn't going to get it all the way because Billy was already grabbing it back. They were standing beside a T-junction and Sam knew that one corridor would take him to a stairwell where he could access the ground floor. So he turned, trusting that Billy wasn't quite ready to shoot him yet.

And ran.

He was awfully fast, had won cross-country events, had long legs and stamina, and Billy in his too-tight clothes and hours in front of a computer terminal wasn't going to catch him. He would chase him, though. The promised savior was getting away, and Billy would chase.

Sam was counting on that.

Up the stairs before Billy even understood what was going on, before he had the gun securely back in his hands. Sam was opening the door to the main hallway just as he heard Billy's footsteps pounding up the stairs, echoes percussive and desperate. One gunshot, designed to scare Sam, but Sam didn't scare easy, not given the possible outcomes of sticking around.

Out into the hallway, skidding around the corner as he heard the door open behind him, and an incoherent shout of rage. Billy wasn't thinking clearly; Billy might take that shot now. Sam had been depending on being the one person Billy wouldn't kill. Now he wasn't so sure.

The main hallway was wide, but mostly remarkable because it was long – it ran the entire length of the central building, intersected by smaller halls and by the main lobby. Sam was heading for the lobby now, but couldn't lose Billy, not if this was going to work.

He turned in time to see Billy slide into the corridor fifty feet behind him, the lobby still another twenty away from Sam. Sam backed up slowly and Billy kept coming, the handgun out now, leveled at him. Sam kept eyes on Billy, walked backwards.

"You should stop, Mr. Winchester!" Billy shouted. "Because I'll kill you. Better you're dead than against him. You know that, right?"

The hallway opened out into the lobby and Sam, still in Billy's sights, glanced to his left, into the space filled with trophy cases and notices and the art class's fabric sculptures. Filled with a half-dozen SWAT members in helmets and bulletproof vests and long-range rifles. Sam swallowed, stared back at Billy down the corridor, who did not yet have the same angle as he did and couldn't see the police in the lobby.

"Don't-" But Billy did. The sound of the handgun in the corridor was deafening. Not just one shot, either, but three. The first buried itself in the locker immediately to Sam's left with a sound like someone swinging an aluminum bat at a mailbox. The second ricocheted off the terrazzo floor, chipping stone to powder, disappearing down the corridor, maybe to be found later, a spent slug with no victim.

The third, though. Well, that was different. Even moving, Sam Winchester presented a pretty big fucking target, especially this close. Billy wasn't likely to miss. But Sam chose that moment to dive into the lobby, to get the hell out of the shooting gallery the corridor had become, a literal sitting duck. He slid like a base runner stealing home as the shot passed harmlessly above him, the SWAT members surging forward. He heard shouts, screaming, another shot, and then more shouting.

A SWAT member helped him to his knees, then to a stand. Asked him over and over, words seemingly out of synch with his lips, "Are you okay? Did he hit you? Are you okay?" Sam heard helicopters, loud speakers.

He suddenly and fiercely wanted Dean beside him.

He turned, and Billy was right there, his arms pinned behind him, a huge SWAT member on either side practically lifting him from the ground. Dangling. Billy seemed perfectly calm, a slight smile on his lips.

They stared at each other. Then Billy said, "Hey, so tell me about the youth offenders laws in this state. I skipped a grade; I'm two months shy of my sixteenth birthday. Mr. Law and Society – what am I likely to get, do you think?" Cocked his head, and Sam saw a sliver of tooth. "Pretty insane to hear voices, don't you think Mr. Winchester?"

And Sam knew that Billy wasn't going to get sent to an adult prison, wouldn't even see the inside of a juvenile unit. Insanity plea. Yeah, who wouldn't believe him, because all of it was kind of insane, wasn't it?

Sam had no words in him, and as Billy was hauled away outside to a waiting police van, Sam felt as though he'd been kicked right in the stomach. Billy had known all along that he was going to get away with this. He'd depended on it, and so had the Demon. The Demon was depending on a lot of things, apparently, and wasn't being proven wrong in many of his expectations.

It wasn't a comforting thought.

Sam was escorted to an awaiting paramedic unit, several ambulances clustered together under a makeshift tarp to ward against the news helicopters that had come in from Buffalo. A variety of kids in states of bloodiness and shock clustered around the field hospital, many openly weeping. Beyond the ambulances, police and more police, fire trucks and State troopers. Every description of uniform. Parents. Pandemonium.

His phone shuddered. Text: OK?

Sam stood quietly. Hell of a question, Dean. OK. You?

Too hard to phone and Dean had done enough talking today, apparently. OK. Need ride?

Too fucking dangerous, Dean in the middle of all these cops. No. Later. That seemed too harsh, after what had been said and done. Thanks. More would be too much, so he turned off the phone, slipped it into his pocket.

He kept looking for her, not finding her, didn't know how wrecked he must have appeared until a paramedic told him to sit down before he fell down. Gave him some oxygen – my god, was he hyperventilating? Maybe. Just maybe. Someone would be along soon to take his statement he was told, but Sam didn't want to stick around for that.

He was trying to figure out how to leave, how to get out of there, when he finally saw Elise. He put down the oxygen mask, walked across the parking lot to where she held a sobbing girl – Molly Atkinson, Sam saw – in the relative shelter of an open ambulance door while Ms. Carcetti looked on, her face strangely fallen, a soufflé gone wrong. Sam stood for a minute in front of them, stood for what felt like long time before Elise looked up, blue eyes steady in a face splotchy and swollen.

Elise tried to smile, all watery and bereft. Sam reached down, touched a hand to her cheek. They had all lost so much today. But that wasn't what was going on with Elise, he realized. Her loss was older, was permanent, and it was almost unbearable. His coming back hadn't healed it, hadn't solved anything. A bullet to the head might have been a kindness.

As soon as he thought it, his vision swam and he swallowed hard, heard the little cleared throat Carcetti made as she turned away. Under his hand, he felt Elise shake, but when his vision cleared, she looked calm. Resigned.

The Demon stole something else from Sam in that moment, because Elise was gone in some essential way, was lost to him. Sam smiled back, nodded to her and kissed the top of her head before moving off into the crowd.

Things didn't tie up all that neatly.

Even though he really didn't want to, Sam eventually gave a police report. There were bizarre inconsistencies: some of the girls said that a second man had been involved in the rescue from the gym, but Ms. Simon and Mr. Winchester didn't mention him and no one had been found in the thorough search of the school.

Billy, undergoing a barrage of psychological tests in a juvenile psychiatric facility, said so many different things that no one could really credit any of it. Difficult to say what the insurance was going to pay out, but his was a high-profile case that already had a celebrity lawyer attached to it.

Sam was planning on getting lost long before it came to trial.

After walking away from the ambulances, one of his student's grateful parents had given him a ride back to the motel, where he'd found Dean sitting on the bed, an empty expression on his face, looking like he needed to sleep for a week. As soon as Sam had gotten in the door, Dean had looked up, nodded.

He didn't want to talk, of course.

He hadn't asked about Billy, or about Elise; he hadn't asked about anything. Sam knew it wasn't because he didn't care – it was the opposite, in fact. The very opposite. Dean had taken the first shower, then fallen into the bed and been asleep before Sam had finished his.

They both slept a lot over the next five days. Sam was glad of it, they needed it. And it made certain things easier to take: the final death toll, Billy's insanity plea, Elise's departure for Georgia.

Inevitable, and maybe the easiest thing on both of them. Her brothers were there and nothing much tied her to Niagara except bad memories. "You'll always take her with you," Sam told Elise when he drove her to the airport. She accepted that, mostly because it might be true and was certainly no less true than many other things that had become fact.

It was past time for them to go, though. Dean was practically bouncing, he was so anxious to get the hell out of the city. They didn't have anything to go toward, not yet, but that hadn't stopped them before. Niagara was full of cops and memories and death, and Sam was so sick of it he felt like he might scream.

He'd lost a number of students, and there were funerals to go to and he went. God, he hated funerals.

The school hadn't re-opened, wouldn't for a good long while. Sam talked to Carcetti, told her to issue his last check to a mailbox in Kansas City. She'd seemed both regretful and relieved at his departure. Before he left, though, she gave him a box, told him that she'd only remembered it the other day, had been meaning to give it to him. He'd taken it and opened it in the car: old school papers, a binder, his SAT scores in an envelope he'd last seen in Ms. Simon's hand, her address, his name.

His old combination lock, cut from the locker years ago, back to him. Pi: magical number, endless three making an indivisible circle. Useless now, as were most things that you kept from high school. The box he threw into a dumpster in the back of a McDonalds. The lock he put carefully into the trunk, knew that Dean would wonder about it, but not ask.

They would leave in the morning, had packed already.

There was a last goodbye to make, however. He wasn't of a mind to do it alone, and so he didn't tell Dean where they were going. Didn't mean Dean hadn't guessed, though, because he seemed unsurprised when Sam asked him to pull off the Robert Moses State Parkway, to pay the stupid eight bucks and drive over to Goat Island.

The parking lot was almost empty; it was a Saturday, but there were other distractions on a day this cold. Dean didn't seem to mind that the mystery destination was the Falls; maybe he also had unfinished business, for all Sam knew. Dean was faking normal a little too well: he took evident pleasure in pointing out his old friend Tesla, cracked wise about how the inventor had been crazy and had visions. Looked at Sam knowingly, smiling the whole time.

Without discussion, they walked the length of Goat Island past the ranger station and down the steps to Luna Island, which hadn't really changed. It didn't look much different at all, in fact.

The Falls were noisy and huge and overwhelming. Sam stood quietly for a moment, taking in the enormity of it, felt small and insignificant. Good, in some way, to feel he wasn't all that important. He turned, wanting to see what Dean was making of it, but his brother still had that faraway look he could get, amused but not really there, a defense mechanism as effective as anger. The curve of railing was the same, same number of rungs, still inconsequential against the power of the Falls. If you wanted to go over, you'd go over.

Sam stared at Dean. "You hear anything?" Just testing.

Dean shook his head. Almost too loud for conversation. And certainly too cold, everything slicked with an icy mist. Eyes somewhere else. Then meeting Sam's. "What are we doing here, Sam?"

Sam shrugged. "Just hadn't been down, you know. When you're here, you should go, I guess." They walked to the angle of Luna where it dropped into the American Falls, a small distance that meant nothing and everything. Right where Toad had fallen. Had jumped. Had offered glory.

They huddled shoulder to shoulder at the edge, sunlight too bright, late afternoon, shadows long and slanted. Cold, empty. Behind them, a posse of Japanese tourists fanned out, chattering, no more intrusive than birds wheeling across the sky.

"You know," Sam began, when the tourists had moved out toward the Bridal Veil Falls. Dean tensed beside him. Annoying almost, this visceral reaction to sharing. "After I left, I tried not to think about you guys."

"Really?" Dean murmured, too low to actually be heard, his head down, eyes on the rushing water. Sam fucking hoped he wasn't hearing anything.

Sam wasn't going to get angry; it was what Dean wanted, for him to get distracted. Another defense mechanism: get Sam angry. "Yeah. I didn't know…I thought Dad would be glad to get rid of me."

Dean's head came up, but his eyes didn't leave the water. "Well, he wasn't."

Sam nodded. "I know that. Now." He looked at Dean so hard and for so long that his brother finally sighed and returned the stare. Lifted his eyebrows: what? Sam knew what he had to say, but not how to say it. "It must have been shit, left with him. After."

Dean held that stare, nothing of understanding or compassion in it. Finally, "It wasn't being left with him, you fucking moron. Shit. Any day of the week I'd have done that. That wasn't it."

It wasn't being left with, it was being left without.

Sam had promised himself: no tears. So he bit the inside of his mouth, hard. Nodded. "Okay. Just so we're clear." He had to meet Dean's eyes so the apology would be worth something. "I'm sorry."

Sam could give it; didn't mean Dean was going to take it.

"Man, enough with the emo soul-baring, man. It was a long time ago." But he didn't seem quite so distant. They were shoulder to shoulder again, against the cold mist. Maybe Dean would save the apology for later, like Sam had given him a roll of mint Lifesavers or something.

They stared at the waters and Sam wondered what Toad would have become, had he not taken this route. Wondered how things might have been different, for all of them. Crazy thoughts. He tapped the railing, almost in exactly the same place their dad had, looking over, looking for what suddenly wasn't there.

He'd made mistakes, John Winchester. He hadn't wanted what had happened here, hadn't wanted what had followed. Had apparently gone a little mad, after. A little madder. And Dean wasn't going to talk about it. But he wouldn't have done anything differently; of that, Sam was sure.

"I'm hungry," Sam said, looking at Dean taking in water and rush and fall. "Let's get something to eat. Man o' War burger?"

Dean grinned, but was holding back: eyes serious. Sam took a few steps, hoping to draw Dean with him. Then, "Why don't you go ahead?" He tossed Sam the keys. "I'll catch up."

Sam stared at him. "No," he said. "I'm not leaving you alone-"

Dean interrupted. "Listen, I'm not going to do anything stupid. I just want…I just need-" And he couldn't say whatever it was that he wanted or needed. Typical. Didn't mean that Sam didn't know what Dean couldn't say. All Dean wanted, all he needed, right this second, was a little space. Sam could give that to him easily.

"Okay, okay." Sam held up his hands. "I'll wait for you in the car. Don't be too long."

Dean nodded, silent and grateful. "Ten minutes," he called after him, and Sam tried not to look worried, mostly because he didn't want Dean mad at him.

Sam walked up the stairs and when he got to the top he looked back, but Dean was still standing at the corner, hadn't moved. He could give Dean space, but it didn't mean he'd give him rope. So Sam leaned against the wooden railing at the top of the stairs, just watching. Or, more to the point, watching over, which was the least he could do.

Utah and California, June 2001

Sam was somewhere on the outskirts of Salt Lake City before he figured out what that goddamned noise was. The mechanical pinging had been going on for miles, a mystery. Random, inconsistent. Sam first remembered hearing it somewhere between Des Moines and Omaha, flat stretch of canola, canola, canola. Pinging. Muted and not lasting for long. Then in Cheyenne, very definite, but no one on the bus seemed to mind, they were sleeping and all Sam could really see were the headlights of other cars on the highway, endlessly passing, a lullaby from earliest memory.

Sam shut that down fast. He'd had enough weeping to last him a lifetime. Shit.

He'd found a book abandoned at the rest stop in Lincoln, and it was terrible. The dog-eared paperback detailed the machinations of lawyers who made deals with the Devil. Something inherently funny about it, on some level. So this is how the outside world sees it? he thought. Then the pinging again.

The only reason he figured it out in Salt Lake City was that he was sitting on the bus depot floor nursing a cup of coffee, his back against his duffle bag, when the pinging happened again.

He looked around. He wasn't on a moving bus; he was in a stinky bus depot avoiding people's eyes. Trying to wake himself up. Waiting for a bus link to San Francisco, scoured clean as an old pot. The book he'd left on the last bus. There was a reason people left books like that lying around, he'd figured out. He wished he'd find something by Dostoevsky or Faulkner, but that wasn't likely.

The pinging was coming from his duffle bag.

He opened it up, his hand rummaging through the clothing, and the pinging stopped almost as soon as he pulled out his cotton button up jacket. He hadn't worn it since that night on the golf course. Patting down the pockets, he soon found it: Dean's cell phone. He'd forgotten to return it.

He leaned against the wall, staring at it. Flipped it open; it seemed to have a charge. It took him until his bus was called to figure out how to access the missed calls menu.

Seven missed calls.

He settled into a seat and put the bag beside him, but it was a crowded bus and he soon had to give up the second seat to a middle-aged man who reeked of roll-your-own and Pepto Bismol. Despite his every signal to the contrary, Sam's ear was talked off for the rest of the trip. Worked out well in the end; Sam learned a few tricks for cheating at crib that he didn't already know. He didn't have to think about Niagara, about what had been left behind.

Seven missed calls, all from the same number.

When the phone rang again, the crib shark asked Sam if he was going to answer it. Sam shook his head, set down another hand, moved his pegs.

It was evening when they came into the Bay area, cresting the ridge, long slope to the ocean, bridges, the mountains dry and looming at their backs. The lights were stunning, made magnificent by the water, spangled across the hills like tears. Bright colors on the girders and beams, more exciting than any neon, than the flash of penny arcades.

Though he'd seen the Pacific on any number of occasions, it never failed to amaze Sam. It was vaster, somehow, than the Atlantic. It whispered of adventure, where the Atlantic was only about history. It was warm and the sand felt great between his toes.

He stood on a beach in June, phone in hand. He couldn't continue this, the not answering. He wouldn't hold out. He knew it was Dean, and that the break had to be clean. He'd lied to himself and said it wouldn't hurt as much if it was clean. That wasn't it, though.

If it was clean, it was possible. Nothing more, or less.

So he stood on the beach as the sun headed for Japan, staring at the horizon until his eyes streamed. A break was a break. Nothing clean about it. Tide going out, he thought, judging from the bracken strewn on the beach. Going out, sun sheeting gold, too bright to look at.

He threw the phone as hard as he could, far out into the Pacific, making the adjustment even as it flew away arcing silver in the fading sun, altered his world into a place where he was a singular person, no family, no ties. Alone, now, as the sun left him in a strange land lit with the dazzle of ersatz light.

Niagara Falls NY, November 2006

The older Sam got, the worse he got at keeping secrets. Or maybe Dean had just gotten better at spotting them, having been stung once, having been blindsided. Dean had known from the hitch in Sam's voice, Hey, wanna take a drive? From the soft eyes, the way he'd tried to smile and couldn't cover the sadness.

Dean knew they were going to the Falls and somehow maybe that wasn't a bad idea. Maybe there was a point to it. Maybe the misery in Sam would fade a little, saying a final goodbye. He hadn't had the chance five years ago.

Making sense of then was hard enough for Dean, let alone what had happened in the gym, when Sam had said that he'd go with the Demon-plagued Billy, that they'd work it out together. Sam was going to go with Billy and nothing had made Dean feel more exposed and terrified than that.

Save him, John had said.

Goddamn it, Dad, Dean whispered, aware he'd said it out loud. He didn't care. He'd seen what a boy was capable of doing when the Demon had gone deep and he knew that Sam would rather be dead than be another Billy, but that didn't mean Dean would be the one to end it for him. Dad, he pleaded. How could you ask this of me?

But even as he thought it, the fury slipped away, evaporated like the water falling from the cliff, atomized. He found no purchase on his anger, what had sustained him for these last few months. It wasn't fair, being angry at his father. John had carried it for years, this knowledge. Save Sam. Take care of him.

I can do that.

Where are you? he asked the roar of the Falls, not expecting any kind of answer. Where are you when I need you? He didn't require an answer; he already knew where John Winchester was, and that was also unfair. I don't know if I can save you, Dad, he thought, and that hurt, because he was supposed to take care of them all.

Even though he'd slept a lot in the last few days, it wasn't enough. Sleep was the only place it went away, the hollowness, the gaping hole. Sleep didn't erase it, didn't make him feel rested. It was just respite. Temporary shelter.

I'll come get you Dad. I promise. But I gotta look after Sam first. Dean had been in this position before, standing at a precipice, at a fork in the river, and he'd made a choice, the one that didn't involve gassing up and driving all the way to California.

Today, though. Today was different; things had changed.

He reached inside his coat to retrieve the tape. When Sam had gotten that look in his eye, the one that signaled 'unfinished business', Dean knew it was time. There was no reason to hang on to this piece of evidence.

He wasn't the guy on the tape; what had happened in the Tennessee convenience store was rage, pure and simple. The rage had vanished, and in its wake this awful exhaustion. Dad was gone in all the ways that mattered, and this was where the river was going now. With Sam.

Dean didn't so much throw the tape as let gravity take it, slipped into the froth of a river gone mad, disappearing forever. He stared into its maw, felt the pull, would always feel the pull, not quite over, over, over. But close. Always close.

Finally, after a long time, he looked up and across the river to Canada, saw the lights starting to come on, the night falling slowly. Bright. False. Turned, saw Sam standing at the top of the stairs, watching him.

Stupid idiot. It was freezing. He should have waited in the car.

Glad, suddenly, that he hadn't.


a/n: This has been a rather unlovable fic, dealing with a lot of messy and unpleasant things. I thank you readers for sticking with it. I'm a big fan of the happy ending, or at least one that hints at grace. So you get just a whiff of it here, in the end. The action in Dazzleland is positioned between two episodic bookends – I had to get the boys to how they are in Croatoan, how Dean ended up saying that he's 'tired of this life' rather than the anger and guilt over what deal John had struck with the yellow-eyed Demon, what we saw in Crossroad Blues.

So, next up? Sheer fluff.

Also? I'm going to Niagara Falls at Easter! I'm so freaking excited. I'll post some pictures. Might have been more timely had I done it before writing the fic, but what can you do? Dazzleland, here I come! I could use the distraction of brightshiny.