Title: Endings &
But All Endings Are Also Beginnings
The graveside was empty and Sam stood alone by the freshly dug hole, eyes on the smooth white coffin now laying at its heart. The mourners had departed, the priest had patted him on the shoulder and walked away with Jess's family.
Sam was alone.
His friends had taken his arm, tried to ease him away. "Come on, Sam," they'd murmured gently. "Let's go."
But Sam had pulled away, shaken his head mutely. Go where? Jessica had been his home, his future. His whole damn life. Where the hell was he supposed to go now?
The low growl of a car in the road behind him filtered through Sam's grief. Fresh anguish stirred in his chest and he pressed the back of his hand to burning eyes. Now his mind was playing tricks on him as well. That low throb of engine, that rattle-shake as it shut off. Even the squeak of that old door...
Sam spun around, breath catching in his throat.
The sun shining incongruously onto the green cemetery glinted off the chrome and immaculate black paintwork of the classic Chevy Impala. And lit the subtle streaks of gold in his brother's hair.
"Dean?" Sam whispered.
Dean was leaning back against the door of the car, looking just as he had the last time Sam had seen him. Dusty jeans, dark blue shirt, worn leather jacket. It was as if he'd stepped right out of Sam's memory.
Sam's feet seemed to move of their own volition. He strode across the grass, pace quickening until he was almost jogging as he finally skidded to halt by the side of the access road. Dean hadn't moved a muscle, just watched him approach, lifted his head a little as Sam stared at him in disbelief.
"Dean," Sam whispered again, and then he was striking out, lightening fast punch whistling past Dean's ear as his brother ducked swiftly to the left.
"Still telegraphing your punches, Sammy," Dean said quietly.
"You son of a bitch," Sam grated out. "Four fucking years? And now you turn up? Now?"
Dean lifted one shoulder. "Just came to pay my respects."
Rage bubbled up in Sam, familiar, helpless. "Nice," he bit out. "I would have liked to do the same thing for my father. But you didn't even have the courtesy to tell me about his god dammed funeral!"
Dean dropped his eyes, jaw tightening. "Yeah," he acknowledged. "Sorry about that. Caleb told me you came to see him."
Sam shook his head bitterly. "I dropped everything," he spat. "I called everybody before finally talking to Caleb. You couldn't have called me, man? You had to tell me my father was dead in a fucking text message?"
"I was hurting, okay? I didn't want to talk... to anybody."
Sam smiled bitterly. "For two freaking years? And since when am I just anybody?"
"Do we have to get into this right now?" Dean said, looking past his brother to the grave site. Workers were carefully lifting away the fake grass, preparing to fill the hole in and bury Sam's past forever. Tears filled Sam's eyes and he faltered, rage dying, buried under a fresh avalanche of grief.
Dean's hand caught his arm. Squeezed.
"Get in the car, Sammy," he said gently.
Sam groped for the passenger door and Dean pulled it open and closed it behind him. He peered in the back for a second, then circled the car and climbed into the passenger seat. With a low growl the car started up and Sam closed his eyes, feeling the rumble of it up his spine.
Four years since he'd sat in this car, heard that throb, smelled the familiar scents of old leather and gun oil.
"Dean? What happened to Dad?"
Dean set his jaw, eyes firmly on the road. "I know what you know. Caleb found him collapsed at his front door. Something had sliced him up pretty bad."
Sam swallowed hard, remembering Caleb standing in the dusty meadow, telling him the story. Another graveside, another chapter of his life closed forever.
"Caleb called the paramedics, but it was too late. Dad... bled out without regaining consciousness."
"And you still have no idea what did it? You never found out?"
Dean shrugged. "Dad and I hadn't worked together in months, Sam. I was out of the loop."
"Why? What happened between you and Dad, Dean?"
Dean just shook his head and Sam leaned his head back against the head rest wearily. His eyes were swollen and sore, he felt as if he'd shed a million tears already this week.
"I can't believe they're both gone," he said numbly. "I can't believe this damn thing has shown up again after all these years, and Dad isn't alive to see it."
Silence ticked by as Dean negotiated the narrow access roads through the cemetery. White tombstones gleamed, occasional angels with sad, bowed heads caught the eye. They swept past another crowd of mourners and Sam had to look away.
"So that is what killed her," Dean finally said. His voice was even, but Sam still knew his brother well enough to read the pallor of his skin, the tight grip of his hands on the steering wheel. Dean shot a glance at his rear view mirror.
"Yeah," Sam said dully. "I came home and found her... pinned to the ceiling." He broke off, voice shaking, fresh tears burning his eyes.
Dean nodded tightly. "I wondered. The date. The fire." He shook his head, glancing at his mirror again. "I hoped I was wrong..."
"How did you hear anyway?" Sam began, then almost jumped out of his skin at the low mewl coming from just behind him. He twisted in his seat and gaped.
There was a baby capsule strapped onto the back seat. A pink blanket stirred, a tiny fist emerged and the low cry sounded again.
"Dean," Sam said blankly. "There's a baby in the backseat."
Dean shot him a glance. "Yeah, I know."
"Dean?" Sam couldn't take his eyes off the small fist, the cap of fair, silky hair. Little pink face crumpled. "Why is there a baby in the backseat?"
Dean cleared his throat. "Because it's not safe to put a baby capsule in the front seat."
Sam tore his eyes from the crying child and gaped stupidly at his brother.
"She's my daughter, Sam," Dean told him, and pulled the car over to the side of the road.
Sam felt his mouth opening and closing, and was pretty sure he wanted words to come out. But all he actually did was stare as Dean climbed out of the car, opened the back door and fumbled in a carrier bag.
New details fought for control of his mind - pink bag. Bunnies printed on it - but Sam shook them away, unable to process this fresh information.
Dean pulled a pacifier out of the bag, popped the plastic lid off and eased it gently between soft lips. Little hands wavered, tiny fingers flexing as the baby drew on the object in her mouth. Eye lashes fluttered and dimpled cheeks smoothed out.
"That'll only hold her until I can get to the motel and get some milk down her neck," Dean said gruffly, jumping back behind the wheel. "So if you have any questions, now's the time."
Sam had questions. His gaze swung between the baby and his brother. Soft fluff of golden hair to the bristles of Dean's buzz cut. "I have questions," he agreed. "But honestly, man? I'm not sure I can take any more right now."
The lines in Dean's forehead eased, and his lips quirked as he shot his brother an understanding glance. "Where are you staying? I got a motel room with a spare bed."
Sam nodded and pulled out his phone. Zach answered on the first ring, his voice anxious.
"Sam? Where are you? Do you need me to come pick you up?"
"No, man, I'm okay," Sam told him. "My, er, my brother showed up."
"You have a brother?" Zach exclaimed. "Really?"
"Yeah, I have a brother."
Dean's brow rose.
"I'll see you tomorrow, okay? Zach?" Sam drew a shaky breath. "Tell Jess's parents I'm sorry. I just can't..."
"Sam, it's okay," Zach broke in. "Everybody understands."
Sam nodded, tried to make himself believe it, couldn't really let it get to him. A part of him was already pulling away, from these friends, from this life. For all the mixed feelings he had towards his brother now, for all the questions...
He was so glad to see him. Sam already felt as if he could start breathing again. As if he actually now had a reason to go on.
"What's her name?" he said as they pulled up in the forecourt of a motel.
"Madeline." Dean shrugged apologetically. "I didn't name her."
Sam stood behind his brother and watched curiously as Dean unbuckled the safety capsule.
"Here," Dean said, thrusting the soft quilted bag into his hands and Sam found himself gazing again at happy smiling bunnies. Dean straightened and smirked. "I didn't buy the bag either."
"But you did actually father this child?" Sam said as Dean unlocked the motel room door one handed and shouldered his way inside.
"That I did," Dean confirmed. "Sam? There's a bottle in the bag, it's in one of those styrofoam warmer things. Get it out for me, will you?"
Sam rummaged through the bag, pulled out a pink romper and a blue teddy bear before locating the plastic covered case. Dean was unlocking a strap and Sam paused and watched as his brother's big hands slid gently under the tiny little body and eased her up. One hand cradled her butt, the other her narrow back and bobbing head as Dean brought her up to his shoulder. A square of toweling covered his leather jacket and he nestled the baby against it, smoothing over the soft cotton of her little suit.
"Wow," Sam said. "You really know what you're doing."
"Didn't have much choice," Dean said briefly. He sat on the edge of the bed and reached for the bottle. Then he curved the baby into the crook of his arm, eased the pacifier from between rosebud lips, and quickly replaced it with a bottle as her face creased in annoyance.
Instantly rounded cheeks began to work and little hands flexed in satisfaction.
Unable to resist, Sam reached out, stroked one tiny hand, drew in a surprised breath as long, thin fingers wrapped around his own larger digit.
Dean was watching him, one hand holding the bottle to the baby's mouth. The sight of his brother, perched on the end of a motel room bed, confidently feeding a baby...
"I can't take this in," Sam said, still feeling dazed. "Where's her mother?"
"Honestly?" Dean shook his head. "I have no idea. She took off about a month ago." His lips twisted. "Apparently it was all a little too 'real' for her."
"Still got great taste in women," Sam observed.
"What can I say? Maddy here was the result of too much tequila and a busted condom." Dean jiggled the feeding baby gently. "Sorry, kiddo."
"She's beautiful," Sam said sadly, and he couldn't help wondering. What would their babies have looked like, his and Jessica's? Would they have had a soft cap of fair hair like their mother? Or dark, like him? The little hand holding his finger squeezed and inconsequential details struck him. How tiny and perfect her fingernails were. How sweet and clean she smelled. How Dean did look older, now they were up close. Lines fanned out from his eyes, creases in his cheeks.
Gentle knowledge in his eyes as Sam finally met his brother's gaze.
"I'm sorry, Sammy," Dean said, and tears welled and ran down Sam's cheeks, blinding him.
"She's dead, Dean," Sam said brokenly, covering his face with one hand, hunching his shoulders. "Because of me, because she loved me."
"No, Sam," Dean said firmly. "She's dead because of the thing that killed her. The same thing that killed Mom. Hell, that might have killed Dad too, for all we know. The thing we're gonna find, the thing we're gonna kill."
Sam sniffed and rubbed at his eyes. "How?"
Dean gazed down at the baby in his arms, suckling contentedly on her formula. "I don't know," he admitted. "I just know that neither of us has a choice. Maddy will be six months old in eleven weeks."
Mom died when he was six months old, Sam remembered. November the second. Exactly six months old. Eyes widening in sudden realization, Sam looked from Dean's grim face to the baby. His niece. Madeline Winchester.
"Oh god," he breathed.