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He doesn't even realize what it is at first. It's just a piece of paper under the Impala's windshield wiper, Dean figures he'd been flyered, so he shoved the paper into his pocket before getting into the Impala. He's late to pick up Sam at the library and there are more important things to think about then a piece of paper. It isn't until two days later that he comes across the paper again while sorting his clothes for the laundry. Dean looks at it briefly, almost throwing it away, before noticing that it doesn't look like a flyer. Instead of the usual tissue thin paper that would leave ink smears across any windshield if left out in the rain, it was a thicker material, the kind of paper that felt expensive.

Opening the folded paper he doesn't even realize what he's looking at at first. It's like a physical punch to the gut once his mind processes what he's seeing. The strange scribblings resolved themselves into glyphs. A language so ancient there isn't any record of it on Earth. Alistair had said it was his native language, the first language of man spoken when the world was young and Lucifer had just rebelled.

It takes him a minute to work up the nerve to remember how to read the writing. It was something he thought he'd left in Hell. Something he'd never need to know again, only now he does and he's not sure he can do this. Drawing a breath he focuses on the glyphs, working them out like he had when he'd first learned them. Only this time there's no hot pokers waiting if he takes too long. Instead it's just the knowledge that Hell is staying with him no matter how hard he fights it.


You look better without the meat.

He doesn't know how long he stares at the paper. Eventually the sound of his own breathing reaches his ears, the heavy panting as he struggles not to panic filling the room. The idea of what the note represents is too much, it's too big for Dean to process. So he does what he does best and doesn't think about it, instead crumpling up the paper and throwing it in the garbage before grabbing all of his clothes and running out of the room. He can sort just as well at the Laundromat as he can in the room.

He makes a point to not think about the paper sitting in the garbage can. He also doesn't think about why nothing else gets thrown into that can. Instead he listens to Sam talk about unexplained heart attacks and makes plans for getting to Rock Ridge. He continues to not think about the paper up until Sam goes to sleep and he lies in bed staring at the ceiling.

As soon as Sam starts snoring he gives up pretending to sleep and not thinking about the paper. He pulls it out of the garbage can and carefully flattens the paper on his bed. The light isn't good enough to read it again, but the words are burned into his mind anyway. Looking down at the paper he traces where he knows the glyphs are, trying to pretend that it was anyone other than Alistair that left it, knowing it wasn't.

He wants to scream and shout and set the paper on fire. Maybe the entire room. Anything to deny that Alistair is out there and that he's not going to let Dean go. Only he can't because then he'd have to explain things to Sammy and the thought of doing that is worse then the thought of Alistair watching him. He's used to Alistair watching him, he's not sure he could stand the thought of Sam knowing about Hell.

So instead he folds the paper neatly into quarters before digging into the inner pocket of his bag to pull out the latest copy of Busty Asian Beauties. He sticks it in between the pages and shoves the magazine back into his bag. After that it's just a long, sleepless, night. Dean laid in his bed listening to Sam snore and trying not to remember how proud Alistair had been when he'd finally learned the fucking language. How honored he'd felt when Alistair told him how few creatures still knew it. Morning doesn't seem to come soon enough.

The next note doesn't show up until a week later. It's hours after Sam and Bobby stopped the ghost sickness and Dean's just tired from dealing with the dead Sheriff. The deputy had been able to sort everything out eventually, but it'd taken forever and now he just wanted to get the fuck out of Rock Ridge and never come back. He sees the paper before Sam has the chance to. It's tucked under the windshield wiper just like before. He slips it into his pocket before Sam can notice and it feels like a lead weight for the rest of the day.

He doesn't have the chance to look at it until after Sam falls asleep that night. The anticipation is the worst part, although he thinks he'd done a good job of hiding that from Sam. At least Sam has stopped commenting when he doesn't go to bed right away. It's just a matter of watching some crap on TV until Sam passes out and then he can go to the bathroom. Sitting on the toilet in the harsh light he carefully unfolds the paper. This time the glyphs are easy to read, almost no thought needed to work them out.


Did you think about me at the end there?
Too bad your brother figured out how to stop the ghost.
I was looking forward to working with you again.

Dean had tried to prepare himself for it, Alistair's clipped phrases digging a hole into his soul, but once again Alistair manages to surprise him. Because it was a good question. Why hadn't he seen Alistair at the end there? Why Lilith? It didn't make any sense, dying of fear, dying and going back to Hell. All of it said that Alistair should've been there. Instead he had a hallucination of Lilith, who well admittedly creepy, wasn't Alistair.

The idea tickling the back of his mind was a bit too terrible to think about. Standing up he splashed some water on his face before leaving the bathroom. A few seconds later he has the new note tucked away with the previous one and a brand new bottle of Jack to take outside. Opening the door he hears Sam shift on his bed, "Dean?"

"Go back to sleep Sammy," That seemed to be enough as Sam's snores resume shortly after as Dean slipped out the door.

A minute later and he's comfortably sprawled in the backseat of the Impala, sipping on the Jack. Only then does he let himself carefully pull apart the idea that has been playing in the back of his mind. If Alistair hadn't shown up as a hallucination there must be a reason. The obvious answer was that Lilith scared him more than Alistair did and that was a bit ridiculous. It wasn't like he'd ever seen her in Hell. She hadn't come back down there the entire time he'd been dead. Instead she sent people to check up on him to see how he was doing, how Alistair was doing.

Alistair had been the constant during his time in Hell. Alistair should be the one he's most afraid of. Only he isn't, because Alistair had been the only constant presence. He'd always been there, whispering painful truths or awful encouragements. And somehow the knowledge that he was still out there, topside even, was comforting. If that wasn't a good reason to get completely shitfaced Dean couldn't think of one. Pushing thoughts of Hell, Alistair, and dying again to the side, he set about making a decent dent in the bottle.

The next week Dean gets three notes. Only one of which he found under the windshield wiper. The second one was stuck to the door of the motel room and the third was on the Impala's steering wheel. He hasn't read any of them and he thinks that's probably why Alistair is become more and more persistent. Somehow he knows Dean isn't reading. Instead Dean's been shoving them into the porn mag with the other two, still crisply folded. It's only after Alistair stops leaving the notes that he finds a desire to read them.

He doesn't though. Instead he watches far too much TV and gets kicked out of every bar in town for hustling pool. The upside is that he managed to make almost a grand. Not that Sam seems to care about that. He was just pissed that the sheriff asked them to leave town before he was finished looking through the books at the library. So they find another town near by to hole up in until Sam's finished being a nerd or they find a new case. One of the two, and Sam makes him promise to stop hustling while they're there.

So instead of going out , or at least not allowed to do anything fun or bar related if he goes out, and doing something Dean's forced to stay inside and think. He tries to avoid it, but daytime television sucks. Soaps suck because just as you get into the storyline you suddenly have things to do during the day, like driving, and you miss everything. There are only so many talk shows a person can watch and the cable costs extra.

Being forced into inactivity leads to thinking about Alistair and the notes he hasn't read. Taking them out of his bag Dean lays them on the bed. He makes a point to not look at the other two, especially the second one. Instead he puts the other three on the bed, spread out in a line in the order he received them. He knows he's going to look at them, he's known that since he decided to keep them instead of burning them. The problem is actually doing so and he's never wanted a drink more, but Sam hasn't let him keep anything stronger than a beer in their room since finding him passed out in the backseat of the Impala.

With a shuddering breath he opens the first one. The glyphs almost look normal by this point. Another piece of Hell digging into his soul for keeps.


Was thinking about you the other day.
I've missed our time together.
Tore apart a girl just like you would've.
They don't last very long up here do they?

It's the conversational tone that kills him. Putting a hand over his mouth he makes a dash for the bathroom, barely managing to get to the toilet before losing it. He's not sure how long he kneels there for. Long enough for it to be nothing but stomach bile coming up at least. He can't help but think about that line, Tore apart a girl just like you would've and his stomach rebels again. Sam wants to know what happened in Hell, Dean's not sure how much longer he's going to accept the lies about not remembering, but Sam wouldn't be able to deal with what happened in Hell. Because Alistair can say he tore apart some poor girl just like Dean would've, but that doesn't really explain what Alistair did to her. There were any number of ways that Dean could have taken apart a soul. All of them big hits with Alistair.

It's hard not to try and think of the different ways of taking someone apart. He hopes the girl didn't last long. He hopes she died of shock or bled out before Alistair could really get started. Of course if she didn't that just meant Alistair picked a Dean Approved method that would give her a chance of living for awhile. Shaking his head to try and clear the thoughts he flushes the toilet and brushes his teeth. After that it's back to the bed. There are two more notes after all. He's not sure he can look at them. Each note has been worse then the last. Still, he sits down and picks up the next one, trying not to look at the one laying open where he dropped it. His hands shake as he opens it.


Hate the way it smells up here.
Where is the sulfur?
The blood?
Air should be heavy and stick to the back of the throat.

Dean laughs before he can stop himself, just a snort of amusement, but it's enough to make him stand up again in disgust. The thing is, it is funny. Funny in the way that no one who's never been to Hell, no one who didn't know Alistair, would understand though. Because Alistair thinks Hell is perfect, it's not Hell to him, it's Heaven. It's also funny because it was the air that convinced Dean that he really wasn't in Hell anymore. It was too thin, too tasteless to be Hell. Even the most hidden corners of Hell had a taste to the air. The air wraps around you and clings. Nothing up here could compare.

At least nothing he's seen. Although there are places, like that town on top of the burning coal mine, that make him wonder if they wouldn't have that feel. He thinks the air would have a physical presence there like it does in Hell.

Somehow the humor of the second one makes it easier to pick up the third. He places the one he just finished on top of the previous one and picks up the last note. He doesn't open it right away. He's not sure what it's going to say, but it won't be good. The last note was a fluke, Alistair sharing his hatred of being out of Hell. Which begs the question of what Alistair is actually doing here. The obvious answer is the Seals. They pulled Alistair out to help with breaking them. A part of Dean wants to think that Alistair came after him, the same part that had summoned Lilith as his nightmare vision.

With any trace of good humor long gone Dean finally unfolds the paper in his hand.


Where does your brother go at night?
Who is that tasty looking brunette that meets him at the library?
I must admit to more then a little curiosity on the subject.
She looks like she'd be fun to pick apart.

There's only one brunette Alistair could possibly be talking about and that's Ruby. Sam hadn't told him that she was hanging out at the library with him. Sam had in fact told Dean he'd prefer to research by himself the one time Dean had offered to go with him.

In less then five minutes Dean is out the door and staring at the spot where the Impala should be, but isn't because Sam had taken it. Gritting his teeth he walks down the road to the local grocery store. From there it's a just a matter of finding the right car and making sure there aren't any cameras and he's on his way. He's more relieved than he wants to admit when the Impala comes into sight. At least Sam really is at the library.

The library isn't too big, but it's old. One of those places that had been converted from an old Victorian house. It's filled with small cramped rooms and narrow passages. Because of that he almost walks in on them before realizing they're there. It's Sam's stupid feet sticking out from behind a bookcase that clues Dean in just in time to stop before they see him. Only it's too late anyway because Ruby can see him through a gap in the books and she winces before looking down, to where Sam's head is obviously laying in her lap. "Did you let Dean know I was meeting up with you yet?"

The only reply Dean hears is a snort of derision coming from Sam. Instead of looking happy Ruby gives him a little sad smile before looking back down at Sam. "You should tell him. It's not going to do any good to keep my being here a secret."

"Because Dean is so accepting of you when he knows you're around."

The sarcasm is thick and Ruby sighs before responding, "And what if he were to walk in and find us? There's nothing saying he won't. He's your brother Sam. You need to start trusting him again."

He doesn't stick around to hear the rest of the conversation. Once he's outside Dean breathes deeply for a few moments before walking back over to his stolen car and driving back to where he found it. He's become rather good at not thinking about things he doesn't want to think about. Instead he stumbles back to the hotel and digs out the emergency Jack Sam doesn't know about.

Once the first soothing gulp of Jack is down his throat he lies on the bed and lets the conversation he overheard play through his mind. It was absurd that Ruby was the one that was apparently on his side and Sam was the one that couldn't even be bothered to tell him the truth. Or at least not lie by omission. Not that Dean had a whole lot of high ground there, but he wasn't lying about things like running off to have afternoon cuddle session with demons. With strangely sympathetic demons who thought Sam should stop lying too. Dean doesn't know what to do with a Ruby that seems to want Sam to be honest with Dean. Even if it didn't come out the best for her.

It was easier to drink himself unconscious. That way he didn't have to think about Ruby sending him sad looks or of Sam lying and refusing to trust him and the fact that Alistair was apparently the most honest of them all.

He jerks awake a couple of hours later as his phone rings, fumbling he manages to answer it before it goes to voicemail. "What?"

"Hey, I'm leaving the library now. Were you sleeping?" Sam, it was Sam, and he had that bizarre mixture of annoyance and worry that only Sam can pull off without sounding stupid.

"Fell asleep watching TV." Dean managed to sit up and look at what was left of the bottle, about half. "What's up?"

He can practically hear Sam roll his eyes over the phone and it's enough to make him smile and forget how much the overheard conversation had hurt. "I was going to stop for dinner on the way back. Pizza?"

"Sounds good," Even though it doesn't, but eating is always good. He'll be hungry by the time Sam gets back. After hanging up it's a quick stumble to his bag to store the bottle, and then to the bathroom and into the shower to wash away the smell of alcohol.

Sam's back by the time he gets out and they watch a crappy sci-fi movie while eating pizza and it almost feels like old times. Almost, if he pretends not to see the edges of a hickey poking up over Sam's collar. Dean doesn't point out the obvious lies when Sam talks about the library. His brother always was a shitty liar unless working a case.

Luckily the evening news presents them with one. The town isn't that far away so they head out immediately. It also looks like witches which gives Dean something much more satisfying than Sam's behavior to complain about. Not that he would've talked to Sam about the library or his secret meetings with Ruby, but it's nice to have something else on his mind for the duration. Even if it does turn out to be a Seal in addition to witches.

It seems kind of bizarre to be in a good mood on the anniversary of his life going to shit, but Dean finds that he is. Rather than inflicting it on Sam, though, he heads out for the day. Sam tending to take the same approach to the anniversary these days as their dad had: refusing to think about it until walking up on November 2nd and then spending the day drunk off his ass.

Still, Dean has things to be happy about for a change. They saved the town, even if a Seal had been broken and Sam used his powers, there were twelve thousand people alive that wouldn't have been and that's enough for a good feeling. His conversation with Cas the previous day was playing in his mind as well, the angel had doubts, which was something. He wasn't sure if it was good or bad or neither, but it felt nice to be able to actually talk to someone and not have to pretend. Pretend to be Dean Winchester: Happy-Go-Lucky-Sleep-With-Anything-Fool. It was nice to not have to be that person.

It's a Sunday and not a lot is open in small town America, but he manages to find a diner with a nice selection of pie and spends an hour working through several slices. Filled with delicious pie and good feelings Dean barely stops long enough to grab the note stuck under the windshield wipers before getting into the car. He'd been sitting in front of the window facing the Impala, barely had the car out of sight long enough for someone to walk by it let alone leave a note, but Dean is getting used to how these things worked.

Sitting in the driver's seat Dean knows he should head back to the hotel to force Sammy to drink some water and take some aspirin, then wait until his brother was passes out again before reading the note. Or, better yet, wait until Sam is gone before opening it. Instead he figures his good day is ruined either way so he flips it open.


I know this is an important day for you Dean,
Just checking up on you.
Hope the pie was delicious.
Thanks for the Seal.

It's easily the most bizarre note Alistair has left him. Even stranger then the one about air. It feels weird to know that Alistair was checking up on him because he remembered the date. Dean isn't sure what to do with that, or the thanks for breaking the Seal. That hadn't been intentional, but it was likely Alistair didn't care either way. Tucking the note into the inside pocket of his jacket he starts the car. Time to go make sure Sam doesn't hate the world too much when he wakes up in the morning.

And if the idea of Alistair checking up on him makes him feel a little bit better rather than ruining his good mood, well, he's gotten good at not thinking about things.


§§§

Dean doesn't want to admit how much it bothers him that Sam doesn't ask about Hell anymore. It should make him happy, no chick flick moments and all that, but instead it makes him angry. He breaks down and actually tells Sam what happened and all Sam can do is look at him with pity on occasion. Sam doesn't ask questions, doesn't want to know about Alistair, not beyond what Dean told him, like now he knows everything.

Sometimes he'll make a comment about the thing they're not talking about, but he doesn't push. Dean can't tell if it's because Sam's afraid of the answers, for the first time in his life is actually respecting Dean's emotional boundaries or if for once Sam just doesn't care. Other times it almost seems like Sam has given Dean a nice safe label in his head and now Sam thinks he knows all the answers to the questions he kept throwing at Dean weeks ago. So, he doesn't ask.

He'll bitch about how Dean doesn't sleep, but he's been doing that since Dean got back from Hell. He'll complain about the number of cases they've been taking lately. The only thing he doesn't do is push and it makes Dean angry. All Sam has ever done his entire life was push, push, push, long past where anyone was comfortable, until Sam had the answers he wanted. Now he isn't and it's not because Sam has any answers, because Sam doesn't know shit. It's just that Sam thinks he has the answers. He has an outline of what happened, the bookends of Dean's time in Hell, but that doesn't fill in the gaps. As much as Sam thinks he knows what the gaps contain (because if he didn't he'd still be pushing) he doesn't have a clue. He doesn't know what it was like. The things Dean did, the things Dean let Alistair do to him, for him, with him.

Alistair is the other thing Sam doesn't ask about and Dean thinks that maybe he'd tell Sam if Sam would just ask, because it seems like Alistair is the only thing Dean thinks about these days. With the constant stream of Alistair related thoughts running through his head, Dean thinks being able to talk about some of them would be a relief. Instead neither of them mentions Alistair. Like Alistair is a non-entity when showing periodic concern about Dean's mental state. Instead of being everything that Alistair was. Torturer, teacher, lover, master, and so much more than Dean could ever describe, so he's not sure why it pisses him off that Sam doesn't ask. But he thinks it might be because he hasn't heard from Alistair since Anna got her Grace back.

He doesn't know if Alistair is alive or dead, if he's back in Hell or on Earth and is pissed at Dean. There's been nothing from him since the barn. Dean thinks he might be mourning Alistair. Possibly. It's hard to mourn someone when you aren't sure they're dead. Alistair could just be pissed at him. Or he could be in Hell and having a grand time. It worries him how much he hopes Alistair is just hanging out in Hell.

Because Alistair can't be dead. Dean isn't sure what he'd do if Alistair was dead. Alistair had become his constant in Hell. He'd known Alistair longer then anyone else, longer than Sam or their Dad, and Alistair had been there each and every day. Forty years, give or take, of Alistair always being there, day in and day out. The idea of him not being around, of being dead, is just too big for Dean to really contemplate. So he doesn't.

Instead he hunts and makes bitchy comments at Sam and doesn't under any circumstances look at the notes hidden in his duffel. He spends two weeks barely sleeping, finding hunt after hunt, and avoiding Sam's judging eyes.

Sam doesn't say anything about picking up an extra hunt on the way to Bobby's place after bugging out of Nebraska. Of course he hasn't said much of anything since they stopped for lunch under the overpass. Just keeps looking at Dean like he's trying to make the pieces he thought he'd had in order fit together again. His neat little image of Dean's Time In Hell has been smashed to pieces and it's clear Sam has no fucking clue what to do with it. Now he's wiggling the pieces around and maybe he's decided he needs to ask questions to fill in the holes, to find those missing pieces, and suddenly he realizes that he should've done that weeks ago.

Dean turns up the music and drives.

It's typical for them that what should have been an easy hunt turns into a pathetic situation where no one walks away happy. Least of all the poor bastard who lost everything doing the right thing. Story of their lives. Still it seems like as good a time as any to get some brotherly bonding time in, even if it's depressing as fuck. Dean's even thinking of getting trashed enough to let Sam ask some questions. And considering how little time they'd spent together just hanging out since Dean got back it's a little painful to watch Sam walk out the door to "go for a walk" and he doesn't really think about it before following him.

It's somehow unsurprising to see the walk turn into a wait on the side of the road until Ruby pulls up. He doesn't go back to the bar. Instead he finds himself at the motel, digging into the side pocket of his duffel, and pulling out the copy of Busty Asian Beauties. The notes are right where he left them. It seems only right that if Sam's going to run off with Ruby for the night, Dean can let himself look.

Six little notes. It seems like there should be more. Dean keeps waiting for there to be more. Every time the Impala gets flyered he expects it to be a message from Alistair. There'd been a coupon for the local pizza place taped to their motel door three hunts back and Dean had practically ran to rip it off the door before realizing what it was.

Instead he re-reads the notes, traces the glyphs and remembers how he first learned the language. It's not a pleasant memory but Alistair had been so proud of him once he'd finally gotten it and it's easy to bask in remembered pride. Even for something like that, because he doesn't have a whole lot of it right now. He hears Ruby's Mustang pull up outside and manages to pretend to be asleep by the time Sam gets into the room. It's easy to track his brother's progress across the room and when Sam stops at the foot of his bed Dean wonders if he's going to say something, but instead Sam sighs and shuffles off to the bathroom.

That night Dean sleeps soundly and in the morning doesn't think about the way screams echoed through his dreams.

Going back to Truman High School is pretty far down on Dean's list of things he wants to do. There are other Hunters in the area, ones that don't have any previous connections to the place. Sam, of course, thinks their previous connections are the best reason for them to go. Dean doesn't have any good arguments for passing it along, not even that they've been Hunting non-stop for months because he's the one that's been pushing it. So they go back to Sioux City, Indiana and they find a couple of easy covers for being at the high school.

Ruby follows them there.

Not that Dean's supposed to know that. Sam apparently hasn't felt like it was information that he should share, but he'd also hasn't taken into consideration the fact that Dean doesn't sleep much anymore. It kind of hurts for Sam to think so little of him that he barely waits a half hour after Dean pretends to go to sleep before he's calling Ruby and heading out the door.

Dean finds himself spending the time Sam's gone looking at the notes and remembering Hell. Not the stuff from his nightmares though. Remembering Alistair and how it had been. How easy it had been to do what Alistair wanted. To be what Alistair wanted. How freeing it had all been. How comfortable it had become and just how nice it had been to have someone's praise for a change.

The couple of days they spend in Sioux City suck ass. Sam goes for nightly "walks" and Dean can't even bother with arguing. He's not supposed to know what kind of car Ruby drives so Sam isn't at all concerned that Ruby's staying in the same fucking motel as them. She's at the other end of the place, sure, but she's still there and Dean's having a hard time not slashing her tires.

He settles for making bitchy comments about, "the fucking ugly Mustang" parked down the row every time they pass it.

Their last night in Sioux Falls Sam doesn't sneak off, he just falls into bed, and Dean decides that maybe it's time for him to do the sneaking. A half hour later he's holding beer and pizza and kicking Ruby's door until she answers it, "Jesus, Sam, I thought you said you weren't coming over tonight."

The expression on her face when she sees Dean standing there is priceless and Dean can't help but smirk. "You gonna let me in?" He holds up his arms, "I brought beer and pizza."

She leans against the door-jam and looks at him, "What's on it?"

"Everything," Which was apparently the right answer for pizza because she backs up and lets him in, gesturing to the table.

Ruby doesn't bother to waste time, "How'd you know I was here?"

"Your car is fucking ugly." She blinks at him for a second before managing to look a little bit offended. "You want a beer?"

"Sam know you know?" The other obvious question and she sips her beer waiting for an answer.

Opening the box, Dean hesitates briefly before replying, "No, he doesn't. I figure it's up to him whether or not he trusts me."

Ruby nods before sitting down. She grabs a slice of pizza and bites into it, talking with her mouth full. "So, why are you here? Not that I don't appreciate the pizza."

He doesn't comment on her manners, it's nice to know someone won't be making faces at him for talking with food in his mouth for a change. "Why are you?"

"I thought you were going to wait for Sam to trust you?" Somehow she sounds sympathetic and it cuts him that a demon gets it. She finishes off her first beer and gestures for another. "Look, I want Sam to talk to you about this, but that's his decision. Besides I doubt you came over here to ask me about that."

He doesn't have an argument for that. Instead he finishes off his own beer and two slices of pizza before admitting she's right. He does have another question to ask. "Has Sam asked you about Hell?"

She's about to bite into a new piece when he asks, but instead sighs and puts it back in the box. "No, he hasn't. He told me what you told him, though."

That doesn't surprise Dean in the least. Sam was Sam and if he wasn't talking to Dean about it he had to have at least mentioned it to Ruby. "Did you offer any information?"

"You mean did I tell him any of the rumors I've heard about your time in Hell?" She smirks at him when she asks that and Dean felt his insides turn cold. She let's him wait for a second before shaking her head. "No, I didn't. I'm with you on Sam needing to decide to trust you."

It's a relief to know that. He doesn't have any clue what kind of rumors would've reached Ruby, but he's willing to bet they weren't any good. She opens new bottles for both of them, the last of the six pack. "I take it he hasn't asked you for any sort of elaboration then?"

"No, he hasn't."

It hangs there between them before Ruby tosses her crust into the box and goes to lie on the bed. "I'm not sure how much I heard was the truth, but what I heard wasn't anything good."

"Yeah, well, it was Hell." He finishes off the last of the beer and Ruby gestures to her bag. A little digging and he's pulling out an unopened bottle of tequila. He grabs the plastic cups from by the sink and pours them both some. "Did you know Alistair-"

"Gave you his undivided attention?" She finishes for him and sits up against the headboard. "That's what I heard. I was already half-demon by the time I died you know. I didn't get special attention."

Special attention. Fucking brilliant way of putting it. Sitting next to her, he puts the bottle on the bed between them and asks the question that's been in the back of his mind since they got out of that church. "Why didn't you say it was him? In the church?"

"Fuck," She grimaces and refills their cups. "I, shit, I heard you two were close. Fuck, I heard he took you under his creepy ass wing and-"

"Yeah," It was his turn to cut her off. If there's one thing he doesn't need to discuss it's just how close they'd been in Hell. "We were."

"Right." Taking a gulp of the tequila Ruby coughs lightly and continues. "Sam said you didn't remember anything, but I wasn't sure and if you did I had no idea what your feelings towards Alistair were. Last thing we needed then was for you to go hide in the closest with Anna, attack him like a complete idiot, or," and this time he doesn't cut her off, but she doesn't finish the sentence either. They both know what the,'or' was. Or get down on his knees and welcome Alistair like the lost lover he kind of was.

The really fucked up thing is that Dean can't blame her. If he'd known it was Alistair from the beginning he's not sure what he would've done. Hiding in the closet with Anna doesn't seem too far fetched. Neither do the other options. "Thanks."

She nods her head and accepts the top off of her glass. They drink together quietly for a bit before finding themselves slumped against each other. Dean can't help but think that her hair smells really good. Ruby's the one that kisses him though. After a second he pulls back, "Have we had enough tequila for this?"

She holds up the empty bottle in response and that's a good enough answer.

The next morning is almost awkward in how completely it fails to be awkward. They wake up to Ruby's phone ringing and after sharing mutual looks of horror they break down laughing as she answers the phone. Things sober up after she looks at it and hisses, "Sam."

Dean sorts out his clothes while she talks, unashamedly listening in. "Okay, but I think I should sit this one out. Hey, my car isn't exactly subtle and your brother's not a complete idiot. I like my car. Besides it'll give you two some bonding time. Or something. Whatever, I reek and need a shower. I'll catch up with you later."

She hangs up the phone as Dean finishes putting on his boots. "I'm not a complete idiot?"

"No, you have a couple of good points." She tosses the phone on the bed and walks over to the bathroom. "We're not telling Sam about this right?"

"God no," They stare at each other for a second, sharing the pain of that imagined conversation, before laughing again. "You two aren't exclusive or anything, right?" That would be all extra awkward if they were and Dean might feel obligated to tell Sam.

Ruby snorts and walks into the bathroom, calling over her shoulder, "Not even close." The shower turns on after that, ending the conversation. Dean grabs his coat and carefully checks to make sure Sam isn't hanging around outside before heading out. It's a quick walk back to their room and he takes a second to make sure he has his 'I just spent the night having awesome sex and you didn't' grin on before walking into the room.

Sam looks up from the TV and rolls his eyes. "Think I found something weird in Bedford, Iowa. Figured we could head out and make it there by tonight."

"Awesome." Dean throws his coat onto the bed and makes a beeline for the bathroom. "Let me take a quick shower."

Sam has coffee and convenience store breakfast sandwiches by the time Dean gets out of the shower. He sips the coffee in-between pulling on clean clothes. "You are an awesome brother."

"So you won't mind making a stop before heading out?" Sam asks and Dean doesn't bother fighting it. It's not like it'll take them long to get anywhere in Iowa.

A half hour later they're headed out, back to the school of all places, but apparently Sam has some more unfinished business there.

Dean barely waits for Sam to disappear into the building before he moves. He doesn't think about what he's doing, he just heads down a hall opposite of where Sam's going. It's only a matter of minutes before he's breaking into the chemistry closest and a quick search shows him what he's looking for. The jar is actually pretty big, so he empties out a tin of something else to use to hold the yellow powder. The smell almost overwhelms him when he opens the jar, the sulfur filling the air. He doesn't think about why he's doing this, doesn't think about how comforting the smell is, or how nice the faint traces of it in Ruby's kisses had tasted.

Instead he scoops out some of it into the tin and puts the jar back. It's a quick run back to the car from there. By the time Sam gets outside the tin is safely in the inside pocket of his jacket and he's leaning against the Impala. "Find what you were looking for?"

"What?" Sam asks, confused, as he walks up to the car.

Dean shakes his head before sliding into the drivers seat. "Whatever you dragged us here for? Did you find it?"

Sam looks a bit lost as he sits down and looks out the window. "I don't know. Maybe."

Dean starts the car and pulls off. He thinks that if he hadn't just stolen sulfur because the smell is comforting (like Mom's tomato and rice soup) and if he hadn't slept with Ruby last night, or if Sam had bothered to be open about anything in the last month, he might bug Sam into talking about it. Instead he shakes his head and with a muttered "whatever" turns up the radio. They've got a long drive ahead of them.


§§§

It would be amusing if it wasn't so pathetic. The way Sam wants to pretend that what he said while under the siren's influence wasn't real. Like it came out of nowhere. Only, Dean knows better because everything he said was the truth. Sam has to know that on some level too, and that's probably why he's pushing so hard to convince Dean he didn't mean it. Then they can go back to pretending that everything is okay.

Right.

It's typical Sam too. That's the really tragic thing. It's just like that asylum years ago. Sam saying a lot of things and then pretending it was all the supernatural freak's fault. Dean can't help but wonder if the hypocrisy makes Sam's head hurt or if he just doesn't see it. Mr. Let's-Talk-About-Our-Feelings refusing to acknowledge his own.

Either way, what's done is done, and at least Dean knows just how Sam really feels. He wishes he didn't because it's so much worse than anything he had imagined. It was one thing to think Sam just didn't understand. That Sam had no fricking clue and didn't realize he had no clue but it's another to know that Sam thinks he's weak. Weak for giving in, weak for breaking, weak for still feeling the pain of what he did in Hell. Every single reason he had for not telling Sam about Hell had been proven right and Dean isn't sure how to deal with that.

He just feels tired. Tired of trying to be the Dean from before Hell because clearly that isn't working. He's tired of putting up with Sam's bullshit and just tired of pretending he isn't angry at Sam. Because he is. He's furious that Sam thinks forty years in Hell is something you just get over. A couple of talks on the side of the road and everything is supposed to be all better. No more nightmares, guilt or soul deep pain, just supposed to be all better and back to being Dean.

Only, Dean's never actually figured out how to be mad at Sam. Not really. They've had fights over the years, but Dean's never been able to stay mad at Sam. Even when he knew he should. So now he's in a place where being mad at Sam would probably feel real nice and instead he's just numb. Numb and tired and without any clue how to deal with it.

It's probably for the best that Bobby throws them a case. Even if Dean can't help but wonder when he became the optimist and Sam became the cynic. Two years ago he would've been the one arguing that nothing good was happening in Greybull, Wyoming. He can't help but wonder if Sam even notices the change in their stances. Still, it's nice to concentrate on a case again. Even if it does end up being another fucking Seal.

Despite everything sitting in the graveyard almost feels like old times. A nice brotherly argument that doesn't really mean anything and a soul to rustle up. At least until Sam starts talking about how they'll never be normal and then it's all Dean can do to keep from laughing because once again they've completely changed sides on that argument. It's an old argument but he's usually on the other side of it and now he doesn't know what to say, what his lines in the script are and Sam seems to be just as lost. For the first time in forever they're on the same page.

It's almost a relief when they get interrupted.

If anyone were to ask Dean what his first thoughts on seeing Alistair again were he wouldn't be able to say. Not because he doesn't know what his first thoughts were, but because he would never tell anyone that they were, "Oh, thank fuck." If someone were to ask him what he first felt then he honestly wouldn't be able to say. There was a confusing mixture of horror, shame, happiness, relief, terror, and a number of other things he doesn't want to think about. So instead he does what he always does with emotions he doesn't want to deal with. He crushes them into a tight ball and shoves them down as far inside himself as possible.

It's then that he realizes he's having trouble breathing and it feels like that ball of emotions got lodged somewhere inside his lungs. Knowing he has to say something, that both Sam and Alistair are waiting for him to say something, even if Sam is just staring at Alistair, he chokes out "Alistair" trying to come off derisive and uncaring. From the way his voice breaks he's pretty sure he's failed and from the way Alistair grins he knows at least a little of what Dean is feeling.

He does better with his next attempt, "I thought you got deep fried. Extra crispy." This time his voice is even and he manages to hit the sarcastic tone he was originally going for but from the look Sam throws him he knows something isn't right. That's when he realizes he's leaning in towards Alistair.

Smiling Alistair steps in closer, leaning in explain, "Just the pediatrician I was wearing." And then he laughs, just a little bit, just enough for Dean to know that's he's being included in the joke. "His wife's still looking for him. It's hilarious." Then he turns away to look at Sam and Dean has to clench his fists to keep from demanding Alistair's attention back because it's fucking unfair that he's been alive for the last month and he hasn't done anything to tell Dean. "No time to chat. Got a hot date with death."

Dean's almost happy to be flung through the air. Only he knows it'll leave Sammy alone with Alistair.

Waking up his head hurts enough that's he's just happy Sam's okay. That and the fact that Sam saves the post-being-knocked-unconscious-checkup until they get back to the motel. It gives him time to not-think about Alistair still being alive and instead he grills Sam on what happened. Later, after Sam heads back to the graveyard, he lays on the bed and thinks about it. Alistair was alive and hadn't told him. Hadn't sent any notes or even a mutilated corpse.

He's ashamed of how relieved he feels. He's also ashamed for being ashamed about why Alistair hadn't told him he was alive. That reasoning was obvious. He'd disappointed Alistair back in that barn. He'd turned on him and if Dean had turned on him why would Alistair spare him any thought?

I am so disappointed in you Dean. That's what Alistair had said after Dean hit him with the tire iron. Dean still isn't sure why he did it. Sure Cas wasn't the worst angel around and sometimes Dean thought there might actually be something about him worth liking, but not enough to attack Alistair. There was a whole knot of emotions that Dean wasn't even going to think about because he's somewhat afraid that he's mad at Alistair for letting Castiel take him. And if that isn't the most fucked up thought around, Dean isn't sure what is. So he doesn't poke at his reasons for hitting Alistair.

It sickened Dean how much it hurt to know that he'd disappointed Alistair. It's almost a relief when Sam walks back into the room and he can poke at the holes in Sam's story.

Because there were holes and Sam had always been a crappy liar. At least when it came to lying to him. Only now he's developed a stupid not-quite-sneer that he uses when lying about his powers and Ruby. Like Dean couldn't possibly understand and Sam couldn't believe they were being forced to talk about this again. It was pathetic. Both in the fact that Sam thought he could lie to him and that he let Sam get away with it.

Considering Sam's general opinion of him though it probably shouldn't be that surprising. It's more then a little satisfying to be the one to come up with a solution to their problem.

Pamela thinks they're crazy, but agrees to help them. Dean can't help but wonder why she even takes their phone calls anymore. Becoming ghosts is easier than Dean thought it would be, finding the kid turns out to be pretty easy as well, so it really shouldn't be that big of a surprise when he remembers Tessa. Karma had to kick in eventually after all.

It's nice being able to talk to her, talk to anybody, but Tessa's probably one of the few people around that he can talk to anymore. It's a fucked up life when talking to the supernatural creatures is easier then talking to a human. Tessa always was easy to talk with. Dean can't even bring himself to be surprised though when the lights start flickering. It's been that kind of day.

"Are you doing that?" Tessa's small head-shake at his question is not what Dean wants to hear. The demon smoke coming in the door isn't what he wants to see. Crouching down is going to be useless, but they all do it anyway.

As the smoke clears he barely has time to register the change in locations before it feels like he's being torn apart. Everything blinks out of existence and his entire being burns like it's been dipped in acid. And then it stops and there's the clink of a chain. It takes about two seconds to realize he's trapped behind iron, a circle of chains at the front of a room. Looking out at the floor of what could only be the funeral home he sees Tessa and another Reaper lying in a magic circle of some kind, "Tessa! Tessa wake up!"

"Don't bother, Dean," The statement is followed by the cocking of a shotgun and Dean barely has time to see the trigger being pulled before he's being ripped apart again. Once the burning stops he can see just what had happened. Alistair, it could only be Alistair even if he's wearing different meat, is holding a gun and looking satisfied with Dean's reactions. "She'll remain unconscious in that circle until I say otherwise."

"Fuck," Dean doesn't mean to say it, but it slips out anyway, "Rock salt?"

"I simply had to give it a try," Alistair smiles as he walks over to the chain, "By the way, it's good seeing you again, Dean."

And there it was. That flicker of happiness in his chest. Alistair is happy to see him. He has to force himself to stand still. The urge to lean into Alistair is stronger now than it had been in the cemetery. "That why you grabbed me?"

"I thought we could talk," Alistair nods as another demon comes into the room carrying a chair, "I have several hours to kill before I can get this show on the road."

"Killing death?" Saying it made the concept even more ridiculous.

"No, killing death twice. It takes two to break a Seal," Alistair says as he sits down in the chair, waving the other demon off, "It's not as implausible as you'd think. Just need the right rituals and location."

"Great, that's just great," Looking around Dean can't help but start to pace the area Alistair has chained off.

"Tessa," The name stops his pacing and Dean turns to look over at Alistair. He's looking right at Dean with a bit of a smile on his lips, "That's what you called one of the Reapers. How do you know her?"

"She was my Reaper," he finds himself saying without thinking about it. Alistair raises an eyebrow and Dean clarifies, "After the car crash, when I was in the hospital and my Dad made his bargain."

"Ah, clever Reaper doing her best to get you to come along quietly," Standing up Alistair walks over to squat next to her, "You should be happy she's going to die then."

"No!" Dean practically yells it and Alistair turns to look at him again, "No, I don't want her to die. She was-"

"I see," Alistair sits back down, putting the shotgun across his lap, "You like her. Something like a friend I take it?"

Friend isn't the right word, but even if Dean was just going to sit back and watch a Seal get broken he owed her. She'd been nicer to him then she'd needed to be, "Something like that."

"How about a deal then?" Alistair laughs and gestures for Dean to walk closer to him, "You know I always keep my bargains."

Dean moves to stand directly in front of Alistair, as close to the chain as he can get. It was true, Alistair always kept his bargains. He wasn't big on searching for obscure loopholes either. Not that he wouldn't, but he considered them cheating. Alistair liked to win by the rules. Knowing he'll probably regret it, he asks the question, "What're you offering?"

Leaning back, Alistair manages to look mildly hurt at the skepticism in Dean's tone, "Nothing you can't give. An exchange of sorts. I'll let the two Reapers go if you answer a few questions."

"That's it?" Dean doesn't bother to even try and hide how much bull he thinks Alistair is shoveling, "You'll let a Seal stay safe for a few questions?"

"I expect full and complete answers. No half-truths or lies by omission," The gleam in Alistair's eyes is predatory and so familiar to how he'd looked when torturing souls in Hell, "If you are unable to answer a question simply say so."

"How many questions?" Just because Alistair likes to play by the rules didn't mean he won't fail to tell you some of them.

"At least five," Setting the shotgun down on the floor beside him he leans forward. "Five, one hundred percent, honest answers, and the Reapers go free."

Dean snorts and turns to pace again. He can wait for Sam to come running to the rescue. Or he can play Alistair's game. He wasn't naïve enough to think that this was going to be easy. One of the first things Alistair had taught him in Hell was that while lies were nice and could hurt, the truth was so much worse. You can't hide from the truth. Once it's been pointed out you were stuck with it, forever. That's what made it so terrible. Stopping he turns and walks back to Alistair. He can't wait for Sam, who was going to come, but might not make it in time, "Okay."

"I will, of course, be allowed to ask follow up and clarification questions," Alistair waits for Dean's nod to continue, "I will let you know when we are done with one question and ready to move onto the next."

"Deal," Taking a deep breath that he really doesn't need Dean tries to prepare himself for what is to come. He knows it won't do anything. Whatever questions Alistair is going to ask will cut deeper than any blade could hope to but he tries to make himself ready, "Let's get this party started."

"Now Dean, tell me," Alistair leans forward, eyes intent on Dean's face, "How do you feel about Sam drinking demon blood?"

"I, wait, what?" It's just a jumble of words that Dean doesn't really understand. How does he feel about Sam drinking demon blood? That doesn't even make sense.

"You didn't know," There's an amused undertone to Alistair's words and Dean forces himself to focus on Alistair, "How do you think his powers have become so much stronger? You're smarter than this, Dean."

Sam has been lying to Dean about that. About anything to do with his powers, really, but especially about how he was getting stronger. Case in point earlier today he'd asked how Sam had been able to keep off Alistair. "Drinking blood?" It's almost a whisper and Dean knows he sounds like a kid looking for reassurances.

"Yes, but you don't have to take my word for it. I'm sure you'll find other ways to confirm it," Looking at Dean he seems to find whatever he's looking for, "We'll go onto the second question now."

He wants to protest, to keep talking about this whole blood drinking thing, but he knows that's not how this game works. This game is Alistair's questions, not Dean's and it's already hit places Dean didn't even know were there to be hit. Crossing his arms over his chest he nods for Alistair to continue.

"Second question, this one will be easy," Eyes never leaving Dean's face Alistair is almost gentle, "Did you keep my notes?"

"Yes." It's too simple of a question.

Alistair doesn't disappoint, "Why?"

"I couldn't throw them away," Dean doesn't want to answer this next question, doesn't want to hear Alistair ask it because then he might have to think about it. He rushes to fill in the space the next why is making in the air, "I don't know why. I, I just couldn't get rid of them."

Alistair narrows his eyes like he knows what Dean's doing, but he allows it, "That's okay. I did say it was okay to say you didn't know."

"I re-read them," The words just come out of Dean's mouth. In the air before he can really think about it, but not wanting Alistair to think Dean was trying to get out their bargain. Alistair's eyes open wide in surprise and then narrow again, this time in pleasure. Dean tries to ignore the way it makes him feel, happy to have both surprised and pleased Alistair.

"Third question," No assurances of ease for this one. Instead he leans forward and carefully enunciates each word, "Why did you hit me in the barn?"

Despite knowing it was coming Dean still feels the question like a razor to the eye. He sits down on the ground, bringing his knees up to his face, "I don't-"

"Of course you know Dean," Alistair's tone was one of disappointment that Dean would try to lie his way out of this question. There was an understanding there as well though, "Pick it apart."

He keeps his face pressed into his knees. He can't do this if he has to look at Alistair. "I was angry. Really, really, angry," He swallows an hysterical giggle because he knows that Alistair will want to know why he was angry, "I was mad at you for hurting Cas. I was mad at Cas for being able to be hurt," He stops, the next bit is too hard.

"Cas, that's the angel that took you?" Dean nods in response, all he can do and apparently enough. "So you were just angry at me for hurting your savior?"

"No," It comes out a whisper. Barely there, but unable to be taken back, "I was mad at you."

"Of course you were. After everything I did to you in Hell." There's so much understanding in Alistair's voice that it hurts because it's not true, not completely.

"Yes and no," His voice is gaining strength. If he's going to say this then he can say it at a decent volume at least, "I was mad at you for letting Cas take me."

Alistair takes in a sharp breath. Stunned silent for once and Dean can't help but feel surprised that Alistair didn't see that one coming, "Do you think I didn't fight for you?"

That's exactly what Dean thinks and it's so easy for him to be angry about it now that he's spoken it out loud. But this is a conversation of truths, "Did you? I don't really remember." He doesn't. He remembers everything else about being in Hell, but Cas coming for him is just light. All-encompassing light. Light that had burned through everything. Then his coffin.

"I tried to get to you in time," There's real sincerity in Alistair's voice, the kind Dean learned to listen for when in Hell, "I was delayed."

The last bit comes out bitter and ugly. Looking up he can see the anger in Alistair's face. Anger that he was delayed in getting to Dean in time. It shouldn't make him feel better, but it does and Dean drops his head back down to his knees.

"Fourth question," It's said with a distracted air, like Alistair is pulling himself back to the conversation at hand. "What was your favorite part of Hell?"

Dean sucks in a breath at that one, it doesn't hurt like the last question had, but it still gets inside him in ways he'd rather not think about. Not that he has a choice about that at this point. It's an easy question to answer and that's part of the problem really. "The freedom. I could do anything I wanted," It was true he could do absolutely anything he wanted in Hell, except leave, as long as he did everything Alistair asked of him. He'd never had that kind of freedom before. Alistair's expectations were always laid out clearly. Never hidden in code words and half understood rants. There weren't any hidden traps in them. Just do what Alistair said. No second guessing if he was doing the right thing, the right way, because Alistair would tell him if he wasn't.

In return he got complete freedom to do what he wanted. No worrying if he would somehow fuck things up by doing something for himself, no wondering if he was somehow messing up orders, nothing like that. Just freedom.

Sneaking a look up he finds the smile has come back to Alistair's face, "Fifth question and then we're done."

"Hit me," He looks at Alistair, waiting for the worst.

Alistair stares right back, "Have you missed me?"

"Yes," It comes out half strangled as Dean tries to remember how to breathe. Of course he's missed Alistair. How could he not? It doesn't make him happy to think about but it's there. In the back of his mind, in the way he desperately searched for signs of Alistair's presence after Anna left. A constant ache that calls for Alistair.

Alistair stares into his eyes for a minute before standing up. He walks over to where the chain is latched and unhooks it, pulling it back so Dean can leave his prison. "That's five questions Dean."

It's a struggle to get back to his feet. His entire world is spinning. Alistair managed to bring up all sorts of things he didn't want to think about. Things he'd been carefully not thinking about, but it was the price he'd accepted for Tessa's life. He could live with it. Somehow. He walks over to the break in the chain and stops right in front of it, Alistair's blocking his way. Reaching out Alistair trails a finger down Dean's face. Alistair can't really touch Dean, not like this. His touch is a bit like one of those lighting globes. The finger goes down his neck and across his shoulder, opposite of Cas's handprint, before stopping just above the elbow. Alistair smirks before stepping back and gesturing for Dean to leave. Dean follows him into the room and looks at Tessa and the other Reaper, "You going to wake them up?"

"Of course, we have a deal here Dean," Alistair walks over to the circle, stopping briefly to pick up the shotgun. It's over in one quick moment. The butt of the shotgun slammed into the floor and through it. The Reapers wake up immediately and look from Alistair to Dean in confusion. Alistair just steps back and gestures at all of them, "Best be leaving now. Before I change my mind."

Tessa and the other Reaper look at him before disappearing. Dean stares at the spot where they were for a second before shuffling towards the exit, arms wrapped around his body. He can feel Alistair's eyes on him the entire time. He saved a Seal and he should be happy about it. Instead he feels like he's been cut open and had his nerves scrapped raw. Everything hurts. Thinking, moving. He's not sure what he's going to tell Sam. It won't be the truth but he has time to make something up.

Once outside he takes a deep breath and tries to figure out where exactly he is, but gets distracted by the outside of the building. It's lit up like Vegas, "Can no one see that?"

"No." The voice comes from next to him and he turns quickly to see Tessa standing there, "Only those beyond the veil."

"What is it?" He doesn't see the other Reaper, but that doesn't mean anything, "Shouldn't you be gone?"

"My associate left town for the night. I thought I'd walk you back to your body." She gives him a small smile and starts heading down the street, "It's warding against Angels."

It takes him a moment to figure out that she's talking about the writing on the walls, "Angel proofing?"

"Yes," Again there's that small smile. It disappears quickly though, "Thank you."

She doesn't elaborate on it and doesn't ask for what he had to do to get them free. He'd kiss her for that if he thought he could stand to touch anybody right then. They walk in silence, Tessa leading the way and Dean's grateful. He's not sure why but her presence is helping him get a hold of himself. By the time they reach the hotel he's walking with his arms by his side, "This is my stop."

"Do me a favor?" She looks as self possessed as she ever does but Dean can't help but feel that there's worry lurking in her eyes. He nods his head, not sure what sort of favor a Reaper would want. "Stop lying to yourself, Dean."

"What?" The entire night has been curve balls and it looks like it's going to continue.

She walks to stand in front of him. "The angels have something good in store for you? A second chance? Really? Trust your instincts Dean."

And then she's gone. The nerves that were finally feeling soothed flare up again and he takes a moment to lean against the wall of the motel. He knows exactly what she was talking about. The angels need him for some reason and it probably isn't good. He's been telling himself that wasn't the case. Tonight was a night for truths it seemed. Sighing, he walks into the motel.

"I can't penetrate the script outside the funeral home," He can hear Cas's voice from outside the door to the room. He sounds pissed.

"Then what good are you?" Sam is practically yelling. Sounds like someone got back into their body already.

The scene in the room is almost funny. Pamela is sitting down next to his body, legs stretched out next to him, apparently content to sit back and listen to the fight unfolding. Cas is standing at the foot of his bed, Sam attempting to crowd into his space. Dean could've told him that wouldn't work. You need a sense of personal space before you can get intimidated by someone invading it. The funny part is the way Cas is the domineering one of the two despite Sam towering over him.

He only has a few second to appreciate the scene before Cas sees him and calmly walks around Sam. "How did you escape?"

Sam is looking at Cas like he just lost his mind but the way Pamela sits up straight means she's probably figured it out. "Magic circle holding the Reapers broke," It's the truth, just not all of it. "Can Pamela put me back in my body now?"

"Of course," Cas steps back to let him pass.

"What's going on?" Sam has an epic bitchface going and it actually manages to make Dean laugh a bit.

"Your brother's back is what's going on. Give me a second Grumpy and we'll all be able to talk to him." Pamela leans down to whisper into his ear. He can't quite make out what she's saying before he suddenly finds himself lying on the bed, looking up into her face. She smiles at him, "Good to have you back."

"How did the circle break?" Cas looks confused and Sam seems to have finally caught up with the rest of the class.

"Don't know. Alistair must've messed up something," Okay, that was a blatant lie but he just wasn't up for anymore truths tonight. "Reapers hightailed it out of town until tomorrow."

"Then the Seal is safe?" Cas barely waits for his nodded acknowledgement before taking off. Clearly done talking with the humans for the night.

"You okay, man?" Sam is looking at him in concern and he figures he's probably showing some of the effects of his conversation with Alistair.

He doesn't bother to even sit up, "Just tired."

Pamela does get up, "You get some sleep then, and Sam can drive me home."

It somehow doesn't surprise him that it takes three days before anyone bothers to tell him that Castiel had been behind their whole involvement in Greybull. Not that Cas has been around since then.

They pick up a quick case over Christmas. A nasty poltergeist and it's almost like old times. Sam's there and he's not acting like the case is a distraction from something more important. Dean forces himself to not think about the drinking blood thing that Alistair had mentioned, instead focusing on the case and Sam and not Hell. Which lasts all of two days before the stealth phone calls start back up again. Dean figures it's Ruby on the other end. Not that it's a big leap in logic. Who else would Sam being having secret discussion about demonic omens with?

It was only fair then that Dean gets to make his own secret phone calls. It was really the only thing he could do as a loving older brother when Sam left his phone sitting on the table. It wasn't hard to figure out which number it was, the only one not to him or Bobby. Their social circles sucked.

Ruby answers almost immediately, "Hey, Sam."

"Guess again." Dean smiles when he hears her fall completely silent, "Did you know that Sam doesn't even have your number saved in his phone?"

There's a soft snort and a sigh, "Dean. Why are you calling me? On Sam's phone."

"Just wanted to make sure you're the only one Sammy's making secret phone calls to," It's weird how easy it is to talk to Ruby. "You know his idea of a private place to hold a call is in the bathroom right?"

"Seriously?" They both share a laugh over how completely Sam that is, "Sam going to be gone long?"

He was just getting dinner down the block, "Probably not."

"Well, you've got my number," And with that she hangs up. He's not sure why he does it, but after putting down Sam's phone he pulls out his own and programs Ruby's number into it. Sam comes back shortly after and they actually have a nice enough dinner while watching crappy movies on the free cable.

It would've been great if Sam wasn't sneaking peeks at his phone every ten seconds, "Waiting for a call?"

"What?" Sam's wearing what he seems to think is an expression of honest confusion, but is actually something closer to worry and annoyance at being caught, with maybe a dash of paranoia thrown in.

Dean turns back to the TV. If that's the way he wants to play it, "You keep looking at your phone."

"Oh, yeah," Now here's the part where Sam fumbles for a lie. These things would be easier if he bothered to think up the lies in advance, "Gave my number to a girl."

"Looking at the phone won't make her call quicker," He doesn't bother to even try to pretend he believes what Sam's selling. Instead he stands up and heads to the bathroom. "Whatever, I'm going to go to bed."

The next morning Sam suggests they take a break. Rest for a bit. It seems like a good idea up until he spots Ruby's car at the gas station on the corner. Probably just got into town. When Sam's suggested break turns into, "That girl called and we're going to go out," somehow Dean can't even pretend to be surprised.

Instead he tosses Sam the keys to the Impala, "I don't want to see you till tomorrow."

Dean waits until he can hear the Impala drive off before moving to his bag. In a matter of seconds he's grabbed the tin hidden behind Busty Asian Beauties in the side pocket. Next he makes sure to grab one of the hex bags Ruby's left them. It would be bad to have any angelic interruption during what he has planned. From there it's a few short steps to the bathroom where he's left the crappy heat lamp going all morning.

The bathroom is small, barely enough room to kneel down between the bathtub and the wall. The heat lamp gives everything a red tint, more so once he turns off the other light. Dean opens the tin carefully, making sure nothing spills out. The smell of sulfur is strong, but he lifts the tin up to his nose anyway. He inhales deeply, almost breathing it in, so the scent will linger once he puts the tin down.

The next step is the reason he hasn't done this before. Even though he's been thinking of it since the last time he saw Alistair. Sam would ask too many questions but the hunt the previous day ended with the both of them battered and bruised. More importantly, Dean had received a long gash along his forearm when the poltergeist flung him into a dresser. It was shallow enough to not need stitches, but deep enough that if it takes a bit to heal Sam won't question it.

After taking off the bandages it's easy enough to re-open the wound. The smell of blood fills the air, mixing with the sulfur. It's not quite right. The heat lamp isn't hot enough and the sulfur and blood don't permeate the air around him, but it's close. It's so close.

Especially once he closes his eyes. If he tries hard enough Dean can almost imagine that he's in one of the far off corners. A cave maybe, where the screams and cries are distant. If he tries hard enough he can almost feel Alistair standing next to him. Breathing in the air, the blood and sulfur mixing together. He can almost believe he's back there.

His phone breaks the illusion. Shatters it into a million pieces as AC/DC blares in the confines of the bathroom. Dean swears as he digs it out of his pocket, for his own stupidity at not thinking to turn it to silent and for whoever is calling. The number isn't one he recognizes, but he answers regardless, "What?"

"It tingles when you think about me," The voice is unknown, but the speaker is not.

The name catches in Dean's throat before he manages to say it. It's whispered almost reverently, a broken prayer to his former god, "Alistair."

There's silence for a moment and then a slight chuckle and anything that Alistair might have said after that is cut off by Dean practically slamming his phone shut. He very carefully doesn't throw it against the wall, but only because that isn't something he wants to explain to Sam. Instead he tosses it into the sink before looking around the bathroom. Suddenly it's too hot and closed in and before he can really figure out what he's doing he's outside the bathroom, outside the room, and standing in the parking lot staring at the space the Impala should be. Where it would be if Sam wasn't off doing whatever the hell it is that he's doing.

A slight itching on his arm brings him back to himself. Looking down he can see the blood slowly sliding down his arm and dripping onto the blacktop of the parking lot. With a sigh he turns around and goes back into the room. It's matter of moments to re-bandage his arm. The bathroom clean up takes a little bit longer and he finds himself staring at the tin of sulfur, looking at it while standing over the sink. Debating whether or not to wash it down the drain. In the end he puts the top back on and grabs his phone from the basin before heading back into the main room.
Somehow he finds himself sitting on his bed, back against the headboard, staring at his phone. Flipping it back and forth in his hand, over and over, stopping to open it and stare at the number of the last call, before snapping it closed and returning to flipping it. It all seems so damn stupid now. He's not sure what he was thinking, thinking about Hell like that. It's been almost like being in a trance ever since talking to Alistair.

Two days later and he still can't stop thinking about it. When-ever he's alone he finds himself staring at the phone, Sam even catches him at it once. He almost deletes the number a dozen times and he almost calls it half as many again. Something's got to give and Dean's a bit worried it might be him. Breaking into a million pieces all over again because he can't decide what to do with a stupid phone number.
It's Sam that eventually decides it. Not that Sam told him to call the number or anything, but he flings one of his stupidly transparent lies in Dean's direction before heading out the door to meet up with Ruby. Something snaps, quietly and without making much noise, but Sam is barely out the door before Dean has hit the send button.

It only rings once before Alistair answers, "Dean. I'll admit that I wasn't sure you'd call."

"I almost didn't. Almost deleted the number," It's the truth and it feels weird, but familiar, to be having a conversation with Alistair. One
without predetermined guidelines.

"So, tell me, Dean," he's never figured out why Alistair likes saying his name so much, "what can I do for you?"

That wasn't a question he had been prepared for. Not that he'd been prepared for anything, but it still takes him by surprise. Sam's gone and the lies hang heavy in the air. Alistair's always given him this and he can't help the plea that escapes him, "Tell me something true."

Alistair laughs, warm and welcoming and without a hint of mockery, "Something true? I can do that for you Dean. Tell me, have the angels ever told you about the first Seal?"

They hadn't, somehow he's just assumed that the Witnesses had been the first. "No."

"It's a good story, you play a starring role," Dean can feel his breath catch at that. "You see the first Seal was very important. Without breaking that one we wouldn't be able to break any of the others. We could go through the motions, summon the right things and do the right sacrifices, but no Seals would break. Can you guess what the first Seal was?"

"No," He's breathing faster now. Whatever Alistair is about to tell him won't be nice and it won't be pretty, but he knows it'll be the truth so he keeps the phone pressed to his ear.


§§§

It takes him days to fully process what Alistair tells him. And it is written that the First Seal shall break when a righteous man sheds blood in Hell. It's almost too much to take in, but somehow he does. Somehow he keeps from falling to pieces when Sam's around or maybe Sam doesn't notice. One of the two and Dean's really not sure which it is.

It all suddenly snaps into place when they stop at Bobby's for New Years. It's a little past midnight and Bobby's turned in but Sam is out on the porch. Grabbing the last two beers he goes to join him when he sees Sam talking on the phone. His shoulders are hunched up and he's standing at the corner of the porch facing the piles of junk cars. He hasn't even noticed Dean standing at the door. Suppressing a sigh he takes both beers in one hand and pulls out his own phone. One picture making it's way to Ruby later and he heads to the back door. Let her deal with Sam's inability to be subtle.

Once out the back door it's a quick walk to one of the abandoned shells sitting in the yard. It's easy enough to find one that's still got windows, doors, and upholstery. It's unusually warm for winter in South Dakota, but usually warm is still pretty fucking cold and getting out of the wind is never a bad plan. A quick scroll through the phone and he's got Alistair's number pulled up.

There are two rings before Alistair answers. Dean can hear gentle crying in the background, "Dean."

"Hey," He's not sure what to say. Instead he drinks from one of the beers, "You busy?"

"I'm never too busy to talk to you, Dean," He can hear a door closing and the crying is cut off. "How are you doing?"

Suddenly he knows exactly what he wants to talk about, "Can I ask you a question?"

"Always," And it's true, Alistair has never denied him the right to ask questions. At least when he was able to talk.

"Why wasn't my dad the righteous man?" If anyone would've been righteous it was his dad. He's desperately afraid of finding out that John Winchester didn't break in Hell, but he has to ask.

"John." There's a soft noise, almost a tisk of disappointment, "John was a pain in the ass. Not literally," He waits for Dean to laugh before continuing. "It was supposed to be your father. The great John Winchester. Only the bastard didn't break."

That's exactly what Dean hadn't wanted to hear. He didn't want to know that he was so much weaker then his father, but he had to know at the same time, "I see."

"Probably not," And then there's a smidgen of indulgence in Alistair's tone, "I didn't give good old John much attention to be honest. After all he wasn't exactly righteous."

"What?" Of course he had been righteous. He was John Winchester.

Now there's laughter over the phone, a soft sound full of promise if Dean will just listen. "Do you really think that spending twenty-two years on quest for vengeance creates righteousness? Not to mention how badly he fucked you and Sam up, Dean?"

"He did his best," It's a token protest these days.

"He did, but he also knew what he was doing to you," There's a pause and Dean can almost see Alistair waving his hand in the air, "On some level anyway. Dean, he was a crappy father and nothing close to righteous. Doesn't mean he wasn't still a hero."

He finishes off the first beer before asking, "What am I?"

Again there's the laughter, "You're mine."

The possessiveness in the voice wraps around him and Dean can almost believe it. He was Alistair's and that meant all sorts of things. Things from comfort and security to unbelievable horrors, but it felt nice to pretend to belong to someone, "I need to go back inside."

"Of course. It's cold in South Dakota this time of the year." Alistair hangs up after that. Again the comfortable feeling of belonging to someone engulfs him. Of course Alistair knows exactly where he is. Dean doesn't find that scary anymore.

Dean heads inside quickly his fingers are going numb and his toes have been for some time. Once inside he waits for his fingers to warm up before going to Alistair's number and saving it. Alistair's name seems to fit nicely at the top of the list.

The next week is quiet, spent mostly on research and then driving to the next case. Dean pretends not to see Sam sneaking off to take phone calls from Ruby and uses the time to send text messages to Alistair. Nothing big, just status updates; things he's read, shows he's watched, the fact that the new pizza place in town sucks. Little things he would've told Alistair about if they'd still been in Hell. In return Alistair offers his opinions and asks for Dean's. Only Alistair's questions are along the lines of, knife or razor, feet or hands, left or right, sight or sound? And somehow Dean can't bring himself to care that there's a real person on the other end of those questions.

Sam doesn't notice his upswing in texting and Bobby doesn't comment. Castiel doesn't show up to offer an opinion. At night his dreams fill in the blanks of Alistair's questions. He hasn't slept this good since long before he went to Hell.

Eventually they leave Bobby's, heading towards a salt'n'burn in Arizona. It doesn't surprise him in the least to see Ruby's car sitting outside the hotel when they pull up. Still, it's an opportunity to prove Alistair's talk of blood drinking. He'll just have to be careful about it.

Sam provides the opening, going for walks every night again, but it's Ruby who gives him the go ahead. He gave Sam enough time to get from their room to Ruby's before following. He's not quite sure what his plan is, but it turns out he doesn't need one. Ruby sees him walking over from where she's standing in the window. He raises an eyebrow at her and she smirks at him, closing the curtains. Only not completely, leaving a gap. Big enough for him see through without drawing too much attention from passersby.

At first it just looks like sex and he's about to leave, but Ruby pulls out a knife and drags it across her forearm. Dean doesn't think he's ever seen Sam look that hungry before, like a nicotine fiend looking at his first cigarette in three hundred miles. He waits until he sees Sam clamp onto Ruby's arm before walking away.

He doesn't call Alistair that night. Instead spending the time re-reading the notes Alistair had left.

He runs into Ruby at the coffee shop the next morning and ends up standing behind her in line. She looks awkward, like she's expecting him to pull out the demon-killing knife and stab her in the middle of the store. "Look, Dean-"

"Thanks," He cuts her off and it's clearly nothing close to what she was thinking he'd say, "For letting me know."

"Yeah," The silence between them is almost painful while they place their orders and wait for their coffee. Once Ruby gets her drinks she looks at him again, like she's at a loss for anything to say. Taking sip out of one of her cups she appears to steady herself, "I'm gonna get back to Sam."

"Let him know I'll be over here for a bit," He wasn't planning on staying, but now he thinks he should. Sam should know that he knows Ruby is here. Better for Ruby to relay that message. Instead he'll hang out, drink his coffee, eat a donut, maybe even read the paper. Have a nice relaxing morning.

"Sure," She heads out the door, looking over her shoulder briefly like she just wants to make sure he's not going to sneak up behind her with the knife.

The morning is honestly pretty nice. Relaxing even. Dean figures he should've seen it coming then, but it's a complete shock to walk into the motel room and see Sam holding Alistair's notes. He freezes in place, letting the door swing shut behind him, fighting down the urge to go and knock Sam on his ass for daring to touch them, "What are you doing?"

His voice must have adequately conveyed his feelings because Sam's back goes up the way it only does when they're about to fight and he's sure he's in the right, "I was looking for some socks. Found these." He waves them through the air just to make sure Dean knows what he was talking about, "Ruby says she can't translate them, but that the language is something only demons speak."

"Actually I can read them," They both look at Ruby and she shrinks into herself at the sudden attention. Sam looks pissed, but she ignores him to smile slightly at Dean, "Thought I'd respect your privacy."

"Thanks," Sam looks at them like they're insane and walks around the bed. Finally close enough for Dean to reach out and grab the notes out of his hand. He makes sure they're not damaged and looks at Sam, "I don't keep my socks in the side pocket."

Sam looks confused for a second, like it's just occurring to him that he might not have the moral high ground for this conversation, "I don't think that's the point. You have messages written in some demonic language."

Dean pushes past him to reach his bag, carefully tucking the notes back in. "So, I get a few notes of demonic origins and it's a big deal?" Dean keeps working as he talks, packing up his stuff. Not that he'd unpacked a lot, "You go around drinking blood and I'm not supposed to care."

"What? I don't-" Sam looks ready to launch into full denial mode and Dean just doesn't have the energy to deal with it.

"Is it any demon or just Ruby?" That shuts Sam up quick and he glares at Ruby, she just shrugs in reply, "She didn't tell me. I saw the two of you."

Now it's Ruby's turn to look confused. As far as she knew she had been the one to tell him and rather than explaining he gives her a vicious smirk and he thinks maybe she gets it. At least her expression says that she's probably figured out that it was the same demon that left the notes. Closing his bag he picks it up and pushes past Sam again to reach the door.

"Where are you going?" Sam sounds confused, utterly confused that Dean isn't bothering to fight with him. No yelling, no punching, just packing up his stuff. Dean's gone off script and Sam is fumbling to figure out what's going to happen next.

"I'm done, Sam." He stops at the door and reaches up to grip the amulet hanging around his neck. A quick tug breaks the knot and it comes loose in his hand. Turning around he tosses it to Sam. He catches it easily. His expression of disbelief would be comical under different circumstances, "See you around."

He doesn't bother to put his bag in the trunk. He just tosses it into the passenger seat and starts the Impala. He's already pulled away by the time Sam makes it out the door. Dean watches him for a second before looking back at the road. He's not sure where he's going, but that's not the important part.

It's dark by the time he pulls off the freeway to find a motel. He pays cash for the night and for the first time in what feels like forever he gets a single. He doesn't bother to turn the lights on, just lays on the bed in the dark, staring at the ceiling. The sound of his phone ringing breaks the silence and he pulls it out of his pocket in annoyance. The display reads Bobby and he silences the phone in disgust.

His voice mail is full so he doesn't even get a full minute before the phone rings again, this time it's Sam. If he hasn't answered the last twenty times they've called he's not sure what makes them think he'll answer this time. Or that waiting an hour after the voice mail filled up before calling again was going to change anything.

They'll give up sooner or later, of that he's sure. In the mean time though he turns the phone off, tossing it onto the bed next to him. He isn't sure why he's kept it on to begin with. Reaching over he grabs the motel phone off the nightstand and dials quickly. It ring several times before picking up, just as Dean's starting to worry that he wouldn't answer.

"Dean," It wasn't a question, just a statement. Different phone number and he still knew. Dean can't help but wonder if he's the only person with Alistair's phone number.

"Yes," he managed to say around the sudden lump in his throat. It was a Hell of a time to get a case of nerves, but all of his carefully planned speeches flee his mind as he waits for Alistair to say something. Anything.

There was a laugh on the other end and Dean smiles in relief, "Are you ready to come back to me?"

"Yes," Same answer, but this time it was the longing that keeps him from saying more. The knowledge that very shortly he'll be back where he belongs. Where he's always belonged but been too stubborn to accept. Back where the lies don't hang heavy in the air. Back where someone appreciates him. He grabs the motel notepad and pen and quickly scribbles down the address Alistair gives him, "I can be there in two hours."

"I'll be waiting," The line goes dead and Dean carefully puts the phone back and stands up. He heads for the door, only stopping briefly to look at his phone sitting on the bed before turning around and opening his bag. It's easy to find all of his fake IDs and fake credit cards, and toss them on the bed next to the phone. A quick trip out to the Impala and his bag is safely stored and the IDs that were in the car land next to the rest of the debris on the bed. Turning around he leaves.

Dean manages to make the drive in an hour and a half, pulling up outside the warehouse Alistair had directed him to. The doors open quickly and he drives in, the doors closing behind him. Alistair stands in the middle of the floor, lit up by the Impala's headlights. Dean stops the car and gets out. The walk to Alistair filled with silence. He knows there are other demons in the building but he doesn't care. The only one that matters is the one standing in front of him. Alistair pulls him into his embrace once he's close enough, letting Dean hold onto him for a time before pulling back, "I'm so glad you decided to return to me."

"Me too," It's not a lie, just the truth. Alistair smiles as Dean brings his hands up to trace the lines of Alistair's borrowed face. Alistair's hand finds it's way to Dean's hair, gripping it painfully and pulling his head back. Dean shudders and leans into it, submitting to Alistair's tugs. With one more tug Alistair pulls him in, lips sealing over his own. He moans as Alistair pushes his tongue in, eagerly sucking it in.

Finally he feels like he's come home.