A.N.: Can we just agree that it has been WAY too long since I have updated and move on? We can? Thanks so much, I love you guys. So here it is, the last chapter, I hope it tickles your fancy, floats your boat and is your cup of tea. Thank you SO much to everyone that has stuck with me on this journey, I have appreciated and cherished every single word of encouragement and praise you have blessed me with. Sharlot, how the hell can I thank you for all you have done? There are no words that mean enough, but from the bottom of my heart THANK YOU. For your time, your support, your talent and most importantly of all, your friendship. :) Also another big thanks to Numpty for all of your kinds words and insight, your input made me feel like a million bucks today sweetie! Whatever thanks and gratitude I have left go to the rest of you, you wonderful, talented, fantastic people. Thank you! Thank you! THANK YOU! Enjoy! Happy Valentine's Day!

Disclaimer: I don't own anything other than my thoughts and ideas.

Dean stares in disdain at his unkempt reflection in the mirror, taking a moment to pause and scrutinize his appearance before he works one of his crooked fingers into the loose knot at the top of his tie.

"Hate these things." he mutters, wiggling the damaged digit back and forth until the tie gives and comes apart.

He huffs in irritation as he tries for the umpteenth time to get the damn thing to sit straight. He's always been terrible at this stuff.

He resists the urge to call out for Sam; the big moose has always been able to get these things on the first try, inexplicably better at all things 'normal.'

Dean decided a long time ago, that he would do any job on the planet that didn't require him to dress like a douchebag. He must have been six or so, and he was sick and tired of funerals and plays and every other damn thing that had him fighting with a tie like it was a mortal enemy.

Not like Dean didn't know how to tie a knot, he'd been practicing that shit since he was ten, able to make a sturdy hole in any piece of rope in under a minute. But a tie...

He frowns at his reflection once more waiting for the sight in front of him to stick out his crooked middle finger as punishment for the sheer amount of staring it has been subjected to in the last hour.

Why does he care so much? Not like he knew her...

He'd never had the chance.

His hands had been too busy choking the life out of her.

It left little time for introductions.

He freezes at the images flooding his brain, a simultaneous wave of guilt and dread clawing its way up into his throat from some hidden cavern deep down.

"Dammit," He mutters, turning away from the mirror.

He can't look at himself.

Hell, it's all he can do to live with what he's done.

Good thing he won't have to do that much longer.

Who knew the deal would end up being a good thing.

He chuckles at the irony, unable to help the waver that lingers in his voice.

He's so sick of this.

"Dean," a booming knock from the other side of the door jolts him out of his shame spiral and he comes back to reality with a tight gasp.

There is a stretch of silence before his baby brother's voice cut through the paper thin door. "Dean?"

"Yeah." His voice catches on the syllable as he clears his throat to try again. "Yeah, I'm in here."

Good, he almost sounds sane.

"Well, you've been in there a while man, you okay?"

Dean lets the question hang in the air before waving a hand through it. "Course. I'm fine. Just..."

"Just what?"

He swallows hard and damn if the concerned tone doesn't seep through the door and manifest as puppy eyes in front of him.

He sighs heavily, wrapping one of his hands around the knob, feeling like he physically has to force himself to pry the door open even a crack.

A crack is all that's needed as Sam's body fits in the space, his frame maneuvering into the small bathroom.

He eyes his brother with pity, quickly wiping the expression from his face when Dean glares at him.

"What's the problem, Dean?"

Oh you know, just your basic complete fucking meltdown here...nothing new.

He shrugs, the motion pulling on some indeterminable injury. "Having trouble getting this monkey suit to cooperate."

Sam spies the crumpled tie in his fist, his face splitting into a small smile. "What did the tie ever do to you Dean?"

Dean spins towards the sink and slams the object in question down in frustration. "Oh, it knows what it did."

"Here," Sam works the material from under Dean's palm, careful not to touch any of the healing fingers. "Let me help you with that."

He wants to protest, wants to refuse, wants to fight and bitch and moan, but already the tie looks harmless in his brother's hands and he isn't sure how much longer he can keep his shit together.

He mutters a halfhearted, "I didn't get you a corsage," as Sam works the material into a presentable display in no time flat.

Sam replies in kind with a "Don't think I'm the type of girl who's going to put out."

Dean chuckles, the sound raw and foreign in his mouth, the aftertaste of it bitter in light of recent events. "Prude."

"There." Sam steps back to admire his work.

Dean raises his eyes to the mirror, pain and regret flashing across his face in varying degrees.

Sam catches the flicker on his face before he can shove it back down.

"Dean," He starts his voice soft and subdued as if anything more will make Dean run screaming out the door. "You don't have to do this, you know."

Dean eyes his reflection, swearing that it nods in agreement at him. "Yeah," he runs his hands over his jacket. "I do."

He's struck by the awkwardness and discomfort he feels in the graveyard. He's been picking bits of dirt out from under his fingernails for as long as he can remember. This place is all part of the deal. But not like this. He's only been here for this a handful of times and more than he would like to admit.

Sam was always the one to go to these things, apologize to the family, offer his condolences as Dean buried himself in the next hunt.

After all no words of remorse were going to bring back those he failed.

No matter how sincere they were.

He stays in the back, Sam at his side, until everyone has dispersed, nearly losing it as the young girl who has the same eyes as her mother is guided away from Fiona's tombstone, her fist releasing a crumpled rose into the fresh dirt.

This is all because of you… The thought slithers into his brain and he has no truth to counter it. It is because of him. It's always because of him.

Sam's hand clasps onto his shoulder.

Fucking Sam…always here.

He's ashamed to admit it, but he's not sure in that moment if he loves him or hates him for it.

Sam pats him once more, muttering "I'll be in the car," before he leaves his side completely.

The light from the sun casts a sliver against the tombstone and the name glares at him like an accusation.

His feet take him up to the granite, cool to the touch as he lays a hand on it.

"I'm so sorry." He rasps, fighting a fresh wave of tears. "I'm so fucking sorry."

When he trudges back to the Impala an hour later, Sam surprises him by gunning the car and racing away from the graveyard as fast as his baby's wheels will allow.

He huffs a sad laugh as he deletes the voicemail from his phone.

"Bobby?" Sam asks around a lazy swig from his beer.

"Bobby." Dean confirms, dipping a finger into the simmering chili and licking off the contents.

"What did he have to say?"

"Oh you know the usual. It's not my fault, I need to stop beating myself up, he's going to kick my ass if I don't stop feeling sorry for myself, oh and call me back you idjit."

Sam snorts, popping a chip into his mouth. "Yeah, that sounds like Bobby."

"I'm guessing he has a whole new patch of grey hair thanks to this shit."

"Or another bald spot."

Dean chokes on the pull from his bottle, muttering. "That's not nice, Sam."

And suddenly the air in the room changes, the laughter petering off into an intense silence that Dean thinks might just drive him over the tiny cliff known as his sanity.

He snags the controller from his brother, desperate for meaningless chatter to fill the hotel room once more when Sam huffs out. "I killed five people."

The confession comes so quiet, so full of guilt and shame and all the other emotions that Dean has been carrying around for the last two weeks that he almost drops the remote in shock.

He can't even manage a response as he turns to stare at his brother.

"Five people. I didn't even remember the first three for a couple of days. I'll never forget them now."

He's ploughed through with a feeling of compassion and regret and as much as he hates it, relief. Relief that he's not the only one.

He never wanted this for them, for Sammy. Never.

Finally he manages a meek. "You never said anything." Suddenly curious about just how many things Sam has hidden from him.

Sam shrugs, his expression guarded, but his meaning so painful clear when he answers. "Neither have you."

They spend the rest of the night in a not quite comfortable silence as Dean tries to figure out what the hell this all means.

Sam's up early the next morning, his face determined, his stance rigid and Dean wonders why he looks like that. Looks like Dad.

"What's up?" Dean grumbles, wiping sleep out of his eyes as his brother whirls on him.

"Hey. Didn't mean to wake you up." His palms are fisted in agitation, his breath sawing out on him in one quick whoosh.

Something's wrong. He knows it, can feel it in the pit of his stomach where all of his other sins hide.

"Fuck. What is it now?" Please don't be Bobby.

Sam runs a hand through his hair, indecision lighting up his features as Dean watches him wrestle with what lie to feed him.

"Dude, spill it."

His brother pushes out a forced sigh. "We have to go somewhere."


Suddenly Sam's behavior makes sense. He's short with him and doesn't say much of anything as they drive up to the weather worn house, Dean can't believe he didn't realize just how close they were all this time.

Then again, he's had other things on his mind.

By the time his brother has put the car in park, he has determined that this is not a good idea and he must be out of his fucking mind.

He's about to say as much when the screen door creaks open and there she is.

The bruises on her throat scream truths that she isn't able to voice; she's lost the spark that Rafe thought was so damn sexy. In its place are fear and caution and hatred so strong that he balks in the heat of it.

"This was…a…" he stutters over his words. "This was a bad idea Sam."

Sam nods. "I know, but…" he trails off.

"But nothing, get us out of here." He turns to his brother, pleading with him. "Now."

Sam regards his brother for just a moment as Denise takes a teetering step off the front porch, starting her descent to the car.

"Please, Sam." Everything in him is breaking apart. Not now…not now…

"Okay," He pulls the shifter down into reverse, his foot meeting the pedal as he eases them out of the driveway.

Denise tears after them, yelling something but all Dean can hear is his heart beating in his ears and her soft breath gasping as he pushed down harder and harder and…

Her hand slams into his open window her wrist curling around the side of the door.

"Wait!" she cries as Sam presses on the brake.

"Go." Dean begs. "Go."

He watches as he shoots an apologetic look to his brother, turning the key so that the car becomes stationary.

He's going to lose it. Right here. Right now.

The cross from the rosary twisted around her fingers swings in front of his lowered eyes as she mouths a soft 'thank you' to Sam.

Yeah, thanks for nothing.

He's got to get out here. His hand moves to the door handle, ready to knock over anything and everything to escape.

"Bobby told me everything, about demons and monsters and I…" her words flow past him in a jumbled mess, none of them landing long enough to mean a damn thing.

"Dean, did you hear her?"

"I have to…" One push and he's home free.

"Thank you."

Her words stop him cold. Wait, what?

"I know I'd be dead if it wasn't for you. You stopped that thing," she flinches. "From killing me. Thank you. Thank you so much." She has tears in her eyes and her lips part in a tiny smile.

Dean's struck motionless, the monster in his chest dazed by her words.

"It's so horrible and I know, after what Bobby said about you, I know you would never do something like that. I didn't even…" she breaks off, tucking a loose lock of hair behind her ear. "I can barely even look at you." She confesses a tremble working through her bones.

He knows the feeling.

"But I know in my gut you saved me…I saw it in your eyes." She releases the door with a shaky breath.

He meets her gaze, watching her fiddle with the beads of the rosary, nervousness and caution exuding from her like bittersweet perfume.

She would be prepared next time…God forbid there was a next time.

"Denise, if there is anything we can do," That's Sam. Has he been here all of this time?

She chuckles softly. "No, you can't. I have to…to find a way to move past this." Her shoes crunch on the gravel as her hand comes back down by the door, moving quickly to pat Dean's clenched fists. "And so do you."

He looks up at her, wants to take her hand back, do something other than stare at the damn floor but she is reclaiming her space and safety and muttering goodbye as she flees back towards the house.

"Dean, are you…"

"Just drive Sam. Please, just drive."

He insists on getting behind the wheel about two hours later, needing to feel the rumble and roar of his sweetheart underneath him…needing to feel like Dean again.

Sam has finally given into the pull of sleep, his breath fogging up the window as his head dips and lulls in the seat beside him. He'd tried to apologize about Denise, tried to explain that him and Bobby were just trying to help, but Dean couldn't tell him that it was a bad idea, or a good idea or what he needed just that he wants to stop feeling like his heart is imploding on itself.

Her eyes were so clear, one hand scrubbing her neck as if the mere contact could make the scars fade away. But she'd thanked him. Thanked him! How fucked up was that?! Thank you for almost choking me to death….girl has issues.

'Thank you for saving me.'

Other people hadn't been so lucky. But she…she was alive. She was going to be able to put this all behind her… someday.

He grasps onto that shiny truth with all of his might, needing the hope it's currently providing.

And for just a second, just a moment in time as he watches the white lines bleeding on the asphalt, he feels like himself. Like an older brother and a hunter and a hero.

He shakes his head with a snort, taking note of the small town he is passing through.

Suddenly he knows, knows where to go, knows what to do, knows that Denise's gratitude has granted him a much needed break. He eases his baby onto the dirt road, dropping off onto a back road.

He knows it's stupid, but he feels like he might just have left some of the load he has been carrying on that highway.

It feels good.

"I don't get to make decisions anymore." He mutters, shooting Sam a nervous glance. "This was a terrible idea. Why did you listen to me?"

Sam chortles. "You didn't say anything to me dude until we were about 15 minutes out."

"Shit. That's right. Well why in the hell didn't you sense something and talk me out of it? Aren't you supposed to be all obied kanobied?"

Sam laughs. "What's the worst she can do? Shoot you."

"Don't even joke about that." The door looms in front of them and with an exaggerated eye roll his baby brother leans in and swings the door open.

Several pairs of eyes swing up to scrutinize whoever walked through the door and Dean suddenly feels like he's made the biggest mistake of his life.

That is until her eyes crinkle with the beginnings of a smile and she nods at both of them. "Boys."

Sam takes the initiative and steps in front of him, favoring the woman with a smile of his own. "Hey Ellen."

Dean follows behind like a kid that isn't quite sure if he is out of trouble yet.

She pulls out a beer from behind the bar, placing it in front of Sam with a sigh.

Sam tilts the bottle towards Dean.

He feels like he might be sick when Ellen grumbles. "What, is it the wrong brand?"

He feels lighter as he chuckles. "No, it's great, thanks."

She snorts as he tentatively takes the bottle from his baby brother, chancing a light pull from the rim of the bottle.

"Looks like you got rid of that asshole roommate of yours." She states as he pulls a slug from the beer.

Sam shoves him on the shoulder. "Yeah, we didn't really see eye to eye. He had to go."

Dean has a smart ass comment just begging to push out from his lips, but the back door opens and he sees her blond hair swing in front of her as she maneuvers a crate of alcohol and suddenly he can't speak.

Her eyebrows go up on her forehead as she spots him, the blond lines keeping her healing scar company.

He chokes on shame, the beer suddenly bitter in his mouth.

Ellen and Sam turn their bodies to face whatever has made Dean falter.

He sucks in an unsteady breath as she shuffles the load in her arms on the floor.

Run, run, run.

"Dean, are you okay?"

Not now Sam.

She's in front of him now, adjusting her hair so it covers more of her scar, nervously fiddling with a bar rag on the counter.

Ellen and Sam seem to be watching the two of them with trepidation, both of them waiting for the other one to speak.

There is nothing you can say to make this right, nothing you can say that will make her forgive you, you're worthless.

She stares him down for a moment, flicking the top of the bottom with one of her slender fingers.

"You planning on paying for that or freeloading like last time?"

His mouth drops open in a startled 'O" as he stutters out "Huh?"

She rolls her eyes at him. "Last time, it was on the house, chaos ensued, remember?"

How could he forget?

He swallows, unable to do anything more than grunt in response.

She chuckles, the sound light and carefree and more forgiving than any words she could offer.

"I think it was karma, it's not right to just go through life not paying for things."

When Dean doesn't answer she looks around, trying to figure out if the game she is playing with the damaged hunter is just too much for his psyche.

He wants to say he's sorry, wants to beg for forgiveness…

"Are you just not talking to me now?"

"Jo," he coughs to clear his throat. "I'm so,"

"Thirsty?" She chirps in. "Sounds like you have something caught in your throat."

"No, I,"

"Take a hint Dean." She whispers, plopping down another cold one in front of him. "But that's the last free one you're going to get."

Ellen smiles towards her daughter. "Do I look like I'm running a free bar here?"

Jo colors under the statement. "Sorry Mom."

She smiles and pushes Jo back towards the crate. "Get the rest of the inventory put up Jo and then have a seat."

"A seat?"

The elderly woman grins and pats Dean on the shoulder. "Yup, next round's on Dean."

It's a suggestion he is more than happy to oblige. "Yes ma'am."

He feels better than he's felt in months, and maybe it's the buzz from the beer or the tight and full hug that Ellen gave him at the door, but for the first time, in a long time, he feels good.

Good enough to crank up the tunes on his baby and belt out one of his favorite songs.

Off key by the grimace on his brother's face.

"What Sam?"

Sam hides a smile into the palm of his hand, like he knows a secret that Dean hasn't been made privy too.


"No, what?"

Sam beams at him for a second longer than he's comfortable with.

"It's good to have you back is all."

Dean grins in response, gunning the engine.

"Hell yeah it is."

How the hell does he end up in these situations?

"Just relax, Dean."

It makes him a saint for not punching his smug little brother in the mouth, right?

"How many times did you say you've done this?" He stutters, shifting his body farther away.

The tattoo artist smirks before replying. "Before you was peeing standing up little man."

Sam snorts and Dean throws a glare over his shoulder.

"Why the hell am I going first anyway? It was your terrible idea; shouldn't you be the guinea pig?"

His younger brother bends down and reaches for the unopened bottle of Jack Daniels. "You said you wanted to get this done and over with man."

Dean shudders before snatching the peace offering from Sam. "Yeah, you're right. Dammit, I hate when you're right."

He wrenches the cap from the top of the bottle, shooting a weak grin to his brother before downing a large swallow.

The tattooist mouth turns down in a grimace as he grumbles. "You're not supposed to be drinking in here. Put that shit up."

Dean looks at the man. "You mean I have to do this sober?" his voice reaching an almost whine.

"Fraid so." He replies, taking the bottle from the elder hunter and placing it on the table behind him.

"Son of a bitch." Dean mutters.

The burly man chuckles lightly as he revs the needle. "Alright boys, you ready for this?"

Dean squints his eyes shut and leans back in the chair with a grimace.

The needle touches him on his collarbone the same time as his brothers' hand wraps around his.

"You don't need to do that." Dean grouses, biting back a groan.

Sam sighs and Dean feels his head touch the back of the chair. "Yeah, I do."

He can't help the genuine smile that lights up on his lips from that.

"I expect you to do the same for me though." Sam instructs.

Dean grins into the squeaky fabric of the chair. "Whatever you say, Sammy."

A.W.: That's all she wrote guys! Thank you again for everything, see you next time! :)