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Hard Row to Hoe (All by Yourself)

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If you wanna go and leave your man
Go on, I'll understand
But then the night gets dark, all is still
Pray for me, I know you will
Hard row to hoe all by yourself 
~!@#~!@#~

“Dean, it’s me! Don’t you see me?” Sam yells out the Impala’s window at the figure walking along the edge of the dark mountain road.

“Yeah, Sammy, course I do. Heard ya comin’. Why the hell are you here?” DemonDean asks, flashing his shiny black eyes in the glare of the headlights.

Sam tries not to flinch at seeing his brother’s eyes go black and concentrates on the fact that his brother is right within reach, after almost two months. He’s actually right there, walking and talking. Not dead in his arms, in the car, on his bed. He’s alive.  “I’ve come to get you out of this place. C’mon we don’t have long before Crowley will be back,” Sam says, worried about how long they have before Crowley or his minions notice that the Impala’s been stolen from their compound.

“Not goin’ anywhere with you little brother.  You’re safer without me around, glad you got the car back though, you’ll take better care of it than I was,” DemonDean says looking straight ahead and speeding up his still-bowlegged walk.

“Bullshit Dean! Get in the damn car!” Sam yells, wishing he could just get out and shove Dean into the car, but his brother is a powerful demon now. There’d be no way he could manage it, Dean has to come willingly.

“Can’t,” DemonDean says with that fatalistic finality in his voice, the one that means there’s no point in talking to him.

“What are you talking about?” Sam asks, voice going softer when he hears that Dean’s given up.

“It’s warded Sam, ‘member? Not goin’ anywhere ‘til you take off the devil’s trap,” DemonDean says.

“Oh, right. Forgot about that.” Sam pulls onto the side of the road and puts the car in park. He leans over to fumble in the glove compartment, coming up with a large knife. He scrapes briefly at the headliner and throws the knife back in the compartment, shutting it with a sharp bang. “Get in already.”

DemonDean rolls his eyes at his brother’s familiar impatience and gets into the passenger side door as slowly as he can manage. Just to see if Sam will take the bait or not.

“Close the damn door, we need to go.”

DemonDean slams the door and cackles loudly. “Same as it ever was, huh Sammy?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. More things change, more they stay the same. Does Crowley have any tracking type of things on you?” Sam asks as he pulls out onto the road, stomping down on the gas pedal until they’re both pressed back into their seats by the sudden acceleration.

“Not that I know of, don’t have anything with me besides the usual.” DemonDean pulls the First Blade out of its inside pocket deep in his new leather jacket. The one Crowley had given him last week. “Although he did give me this coat.”

“Take it off, give it to me,” Sam demands.

DemonDean shrugs out of the coat and hands it over. Sam takes one hand off the steering wheel and runs it along the bottom hem, stopping at one spot near a side seam. “Get the knife out of the glove box and cut it open right here,” Sam says, pointing at a small lump near the stitching.

“I’m not cutting up my new coat, Sam,” DemonDean growls with a warning implicit in its deepness.

“It’s gonna be a tracker coin, just like the one he put in this car, remember all those years ago when he could always find us?” Sam asks, instinctively trying to placate the obstinance in his big brother at being told what to do.

“Fine, but it’s not gonna be one of those, he trusts me now,” DemonDean says, deftly handling the knife to slice only the stitching apart, carefully sparing the elegantly distressed leather. A shiny coin falls out onto his lap, shutting him up. 

“He hasn’t done any spells on you or anything like that, right?” Sam asks, looking for what he knows is too long at the sight of his brother sitting there next to him after all these months.

“Naw, just given me bugged clothing I guess,” DemonDean says with a shrug that is anything but casual.

After an uncomfortably long pause where Sam thinks about how that shrug tells him that Crowley’s had more impact on Dean than he’d hoped, he finally asks, “How’ve you been Dean?”

DemonDean looks over at his brother with a sly smile. “Oh you know, same ol’ same ol’, killing stuff, hanging with the King of Hell, the usual.”

“Cut the crap, Dean, are you okay?” Sam persists, knowing this is going to be harder than usual getting anything out of Dean.

“Never better. Being a demon’s easier than I thought it’d be,” DemonDean says with his patented breezy nonchalance that has never hid a thing from his brother.

“You’re not one though,” Sam insists, chin going up stubbornly.

“Sure as hell am. Crowley’s even calling me a Knight of Hell now,” he says proudly, even though he knows how stupid that will sound to Sam. And that Sam will know he really isn’t proud of his transformation and what it had likely done to his brother.

“You are not a Knight of Hell, Dean. Cain made the Knights, he’s the only one who ever did. And he didn’t make you, he only passed on the Mark. And you’re not really a demon either. Not technically.”

“According to who?” DemonDean asks.

“Whom,” Sam can’t help himself correcting Dean automatically. “According to the Men of Letters. I finally found the book I’d been looking for, it was misfiled. Kevin found it actually.”

“Kevin? Like Ghost of the Prophet Kevin?” DemonDean asks.

“No, living, breathing, returned from the Veil Kevin,” Sam says, thinking of the Kevin that had returned to the Bunker, more surprised than Sam was at actually being alive.

“No shit, how’d that happen? God give him a do-over like he did Cas or something?” DemonDean asks, actually sounding interested in something finally.

“Nope. Cas brought him back once he got Metatron sorted out. Something about Gadreel’s sacrifice undoing the murders he’d committed. Didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I’m just happy he’s alive. So is he by the way and Mama Tran is out of control about it of course.”

“I wish I could have seen that. Tell him I’m sorry or somethin’,” DemonDean says.

“You’re gonna tell him yourself when he gets back from visiting his mom,” Sam says.

“No fucking way, Sammy, you’re not taking me back to the Bunker.”

“Yeah, Dean, that’s exactly what I’m fucking doing. We know how to get rid of it now,” Sam argues.

Momentarily surprised by the repeat of his own cursing, DemonDean finally asks, “Get rid of what?”

“Don’t play dumb with me, man. The Mark. Between the three of us, we figured it out. You just have to be there willingly,” Sam says, throwing in the little-brother pleading note he knows sometimes works, but who knows if it will work on this version of his brother.

“And?” DemonDean asks.

“What’s the ‘and?’ for?” Sam asks with genuine confusion.

 “There’s always an ‘and’ with these kinda things. So out with it, or I’m bailing out of the car right now.”

“Dude, we’re going like 90 miles an hour on the freeway,” Sam says, beginning to panic a little, because he just got Dean back, and he doesn’t want to lose him this quickly.

“Yeah, and I’m a demon. Or close enough to it. So fess up or I’m outta here,” DemonDean says, hand on the door latch release.

Sam’s eyes focus on Dean’s clenched hand on the door handle. “Fine. Like I said, you’ve got to be there willingly, you have to perform a mitzvah and you have to take some human blood.”

“Still not getting it, what’s a mitzvah, and whose blood and how exactly?” DemonDean asks, eyes narrowing in suspicion.

“A mitzvah is like a good deed; it’s the Hebrew word for it. An act of human kindness, to be specific,” Sam answers.

DemonDean considers that definition for a moment. “So it’s the human part of it then that does the trick.”

Sam’s phone chimes, he briefly looks at the screen and presses a couple buttons on the touch screen. Castiel’s voice suddenly booms out of the car’s speakers. “Sam. Do you have him?”

“Yeah Cas, you’re on speaker, say hi,” Sam says, smiling over at Dean.

“Hello Dean,” Castiel says, voice ringing in the small space.

“Hi Cas. Using a cell phone again, huh?” DemonDean says, rolling his eyes, with a small smile on his lips.

“Sam, your location?” Castiel asks.

“Uh, let’s see. Northbound, Highway number seventy-one, just past the outskirts of Crowley, Colorado,” Sam reports.

“Is that where I was? I kinda lost track lately,” DemonDean asks.

“Yep, Crowley’s hideout was in Crowley,” Sam answers, wondering what Dean means by ‘lost track’.

“That’s not obvious or anything,” DemonDean says with a snort of laughter.

“Well, we checked the even more obvious ones first, like Hell, Nevada for starters,” Sam says.

“You look well, Dean,” Castiel interrupts from the back seat.

“Ah!” DemonDean yells in alarm. “Cas! What have I told you? Make some goddamn noise first.”

“Sam, do you want me to take you two and the car back to the bunker?” Castiel ignores DemonDean’s protestations and asks the question he knows needs to be answered first and foremost.

“No, Cas, Dean and I need to talk for a little bit before we get back. But thank you,” Sam answers.

“I had predicted your answer. Here are your sandwiches. I will see you in approximately five hours,” Castiel says, handing DemonDean a crumpled paper bag and disappearing in a rustle of feathers.

“Thanks, Cas,” Sam says.

“Oh, he’s already long gone,” DemonDean laughs.

“He never stays long enough to hear me say thanks,” Sam says.

Castiel materializes again, just long enough to stick his head over the back seat between the brothers, “Of course I do. I always appreciate your thanks, Sam. You are most welcome.” And with that, he’s gone once again.

“I see he hasn’t changed much,” DemonDean observes.

“No, and he’s definitely stabilized quite a lot while you’ve been gone. He said taking care of me gave him something to focus on besides the travails of Heaven.”

“Glad to hear you’re not being that much trouble, Sammy.”

“Oh, but I have been though. He’s had to bring me back several times,” Sam says, voice trailing off to silence.

DemonDean of course notices that silence. “What do you mean ‘bring you back’?”

“Uh, a few times I tried some stuff to find you that maybe wasn’t too advisable, and then I just didn’t care too much anymore when I was on a few hunts,” Sam admits with reluctance, partly because he’s not sure that Dean will even care at all, something he doesn’t want to know for sure.

“Shit, Sam! I thought I told you not to try and find me!” DemonDean yells.

Sam yells back, with a huge cloud of relief breaking over his head, even through the haze of frustration with his brother. “You told me to let you go! Hah! Like that’s ever stopped either one of us.”

DemonDean crosses his arms over his chest. “It’s worked on you before.”

“When has it ever worked?” Sam asks.

“Purgatory,” DemonDean answers, as if that one word covers everything to say on the subject.

Sam shakes his head. “No. It really didn’t. I just never told you.”

“Told me what Sam?”

“What I did to find you. See, this is why I say you’re not really a demon. A demon would either not even care enough to ask or be able to just look at me and see everything if they wanted to. Maybe it’s just you and you really don’t want to though,” Sam says quickly, hoping that Dean will let him change the subject.

“Crowley said I’m just still new at it,” DemonDean says, looking out his window.

“You believe everything he’s selling these days?” Sam scoffs.

“No,” DemonDean says, puffing up in indignation. “Of course not, it’s Crowley, ‘m not stupid.”

“I know you’re not. But he’s got you believing you’re a Knight of Hell, a demon without demon powers and who knows what else.”

“Sam. I don’t want to go back to the Bunker. I can’t.”

“Is it seeing Kevin or going back home?” Sam asks.

“That what you’re callin’ it? Now that I’m not there?” DemonDean counters.

“Fuck you,” Sam says with intensity.

“What? You never did, not even when I was around making you hamburgers and watching that Game of Thrones shit,” DemonDean complains.

“I did too. Just not out loud, or not where you could hear me. And give me a break, you loved Game of Thrones as much as I did. We have season four to watch, by the way,” Sam says, hoping that will give Dean something to look forward to.

“Already watched it,” DemonDean says like he’s won something important.

“Let me guess, with Crowley?” Sam asks, stomach sinking at the thought of his brother lounging around with Crowley watching the continued adventures of the denizens of Westeros.

“Yeah, he really loves Arya for some reason; says she reminds him of you. Calls her mini-moose,” DemonDean adds.

“Hilarious. But I’ll take it as a compliment at this point. Arya is a total badass,” Sam admits.

“You know nuffin’, Sam Winchester,” DemonDean says in his best Ygritte imitation, smiling over at Sam with his traditional lascivious grin.

Sam’s face wrinkles up like he’s been gut punched, remembering all the times Dean had whispered that into his neck while they had laid entwined on his memory foam after another marathon of Game of Thrones. The desperate love story of Jon Snow and Ygritte had made both of them argue over who was right to leave whom, or whether she missed her with her arrow on purpose or not. All of the arguments had been settled with even more inspired sex, because if anything Game of Thrones had engaged a lot of their fantasies.  Not the least of which had been doomed epic romance.

Sam finally is able to say quietly, “That’s not fair.”

“I’m sorry Sammy. I didn’t mean to…” DemonDean says.

“Yeah you did. Maybe you are more of a demon than I thought,” Sam says, mind going blank with fear that maybe his brother is too far gone to bring back.

DemonDean doesn’t have an answer for that. And Sam is too sad to say anything more about what they’d lost, or what he was still missing. They’re quiet for an hour or so, until they have to stop for gas.

“You won’t run away or anything, right?” Sam asks as they both get out of the car.

“No Sam, of course not. I’ll pump the gas. You go get some snacks, hit the head.”

Sam nods, silently accepting the demon version of his brother’s apologetic look over the top of the Impala. He tosses the keys to Dean and stalks off towards the back of the station.  In the bathroom, he locks himself into a stall and sits down to let himself cry for a few minutes. Tears of loss, and pain and fear flow out of him without stopping. He hears someone come into the bathroom and stop at the doorway.

“Sammy, you okay in here?”

“Yeah, uh, give me a sec, I’ll be right out,” Sam says in the most normal voice he can manage when his voice is choked up after all the crying.  The footsteps recede and the door closes with a quiet snick.  He flushes unnecessarily and comes out of the stall to wash up and sees a silent Dean leaned up against the wall with his arms crossed.  Dean hands him a water-soaked wad of paper towels without a word. Sam presses them against his eyes and wills himself to not start crying again.

“I’m sorry, Sammy.”

Sam throws the sodden wad of paper into the trash and looks at his brother. “I know you are. That’s why I have to fix this. It’s why I want you to help me fix it.”

Dean’s eyes flash black briefly, as if the demon part of him wants to say no, but they come back to green, and he says, “Okay,” and opens his arms up wide.  Sam falls into his brother and lets himself be held close in that achingly familiar way he can never do without. They don’t move for a while, Sam’s tears soaking into Dean’s shirt.

“You don’t even smell like you anymore,” Sam mumbles against the cold skin of his brother’s neck.

“I know, it’s awful isn’t it?” Dean jokes, it seems like he’s trying so hard to break the lousy mood that Sam is stuck in, as if seeing his brother hurting so much is really hard to take, even for a demon.

Sam laughs this horrible, broken sounding thing that isn’t really a laugh. But it is somehow better than continuing to cry. 

“I got you some licorice whips and a diet coke,” DemonDean says, pulling them both out of the bathroom and back towards the car. “Hey, I’m gonna drive the rest of the way, you get some rest.”

Sam swallows more tears that suddenly well up in his throat. Hope surges that his brother really isn’t gone for good. Not yet. Not if he still had anything to say about it. He hands over the keys and gets in on the passenger side, absurdly grateful to get to ride in this car at least this last time. He falls asleep watching Dean drive, like he has countless times, adding this memory of his beautiful brother steering them towards where they need to go to the list of the ones he definitely wants on repeat in their shared Heaven.

~!@#~!@#~

You hit the city, it swallow you whole
You got no friends darlin', to satisfy your soul
And then the sidewalk ends, lights all red,
You say to yourself, you're better off dead
Hard row to hoe all by yourself 

~!@#~!@#~

After Sam wakes up from a short nap filled with images of Dean’s eyes turning from black to green and back again, the rest of the drive is filled with Sam catching Dean up with what Cas and Kevin have been doing, what exactly a mitzvah is and whose blood he’ll be consuming.

“So I don’t have to drink your blood, right?” DemonDean asks, sounding like he is torn between relief and regret.

Sam tips his head sideways, considering what Dean could regret about not having to drink his blood, is it possible he wanted to, is he really that much of a demon now? “No, you’ll just inject it like we did with Crowley.”

“You know I’m still not a big fan of needles, but I’ll do it,” DemonDean says.

“Good, and the mitzvah. Have you thought of what you’ll do?” Sam asks.

“I’m gonna go get Meg back for Cas,” DemonDean answers with firm conviction.

“Wait, she’s not dead? And can you actually do that?” Sam asks with real surprise.

“Yeah, I even saw her a couple months ago. Crowley killed her and brought her back because he thought she’d be useful if he had to bargain with Cas at some point. But he’s got her stuck in one of the deep backwaters of Hell. I know how to get in and out quick.”

“You sure Cas really wants her back?” Sam asks.

“Yeah. Based on what she told me, Jon Snow and Ygritte have got nothin’ on them,” DemonDean answers, eyes glittering black for a moment.

Sam ignores the renewed pain of that particular reference. “Why would you do that for him? Or her for that matter?”

“If I was human, I’d do it for Cas, because he brought you back to me, more than once, when he didn’t have to. And I’d do it for her because she kept him around long enough to fix you in that mental hospital,” DemonDean answers.

“Seems like two good reasons. I think that’ll count,” Sam says, impressed that Dean’s put so much thought into the decision.

They are silent as they pull up to the garage entrance to the bunker.

“So am I gonna be able to get in and outta here? I assume you’ve re-demon-proofed to keep Crowley out,” DemonDean asks.

“Yeah, we have. Hold on here outside the door for a second,” Sam says, unfolding himself from the car, stretching briefly and then disappearing into the garage. He flips the lights on and comes back with a can of spray paint and a knife. He scratches at several devil’s traps painted on the cement floor, and the door, then waves at Dean.  Dean pulls the car in and Sam re-paints the symbols, slamming the garage door shut.

“So I’m stuck in here now huh?” DemonDean asks.

“Uh huh. Sorry. When you have to leave, I’ll let you out. I promise. But we gotta keep it locked up for now in case Crowley comes looking for you,” Sam says, walking towards the stairway that leads down to the rest of the Bunker.

Dean growls in the back of his throat, eyes going black, hands clenching into fists. Sam hears the growl and looks up in surprise. Before he can do anything else, Dean has Sam pinned against the garage wall, forearm against his throat. “Of course he’ll look for me. It’s why I shouldn’t even be here, you idiot.”

Sam tries to respond, but can’t get any words out. He is terrified and his airway is completely cut off.  He struggles and claws at Dean’s arm, twisting to get away from his brother, who maybe really is a demon.

“Now do you get it, Sammy? You see what I am?” DemonDean sneers, bottomless black eyes shining out of the familiar face. He emphasizes his words by pulling the First Blade out of his back pocket and running it up the side of Sam’s face until a small trickle of blood drips onto its surface, absorbing into the porous old bone.

Sam mouths the words silently at him Dean Stop Please Dean, begging with his eyes.

Dean lets him go with a sardonic laugh that echoes through the cavernous garage. Sam crumples to the floor, gasping in big gulps of air. He feels the soreness of his bruised neck and looks up at this creature standing above him and sees very little remaining of his brother. But it is still there, in the part of him that has released his hold and let him live. If that is all he has to work with, it will have to be enough.

Sam stands up, unsteady at first, but then holding onto the wall for balance. He meets Dean’s black-eyed stare with all the conviction he can muster. “Yeah, I see what you are, I do. But I know you’re still in there, Dean. Otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to stop just now. C’mon, let’s go see where Cas is upstairs.”

Dean enters the main room in what can only be described as a prowl, skirting the edge of the tables and peering into all the reading nooks. “Where’s Kev at?”

“He’s not here, he’s with his mom. Something about how she can’t let him just go when she just got him back. Plus I don’t think she likes him being here with us. Unsafe and everything,” Sam says.

“Yeah, I can understand that, I did get him killed after all, and you let Crowley have at him for a year,” Dean answers.

“Now you’re just being a jerk for no reason,” Sam says.

“Demon, remember?” Dean jokes.

“I’m going to make something salty tonight for dinner, just for that one,” Sam answers.

“Bring it,” Dean says, following Sam into the kitchen.

Sam opens the commercial sized refrigerator to find that Castiel has filled one of the enormous shelves with more sandwiches. Hopefully not all PB&J again.  “Oh goody, looks like we’re having sandwiches again,” Sam says with sarcasm, pulling a couple out and setting them on plates at the small table.

Castiel comes in when he hears their argument about whether the sandwiches need banana added or not.

“Hello, Dean, I had no idea you cared so much about bananas in your sandwich,” Castiel says, clapping Dean on the shoulder.

Dean looks up at his friend and grins.

“I don’t. Just messin’ with Sammy.”

“So, Cas, help me tell Dean how this is all going to work,” Sam says, biting into his sandwich with deliberate ferocity to stop himself from commenting.

“We will begin with an initial ceremony, where you must declare your intentions and you must express your willingness and desire to give up the Mark of Cain. This will likely be much harder than you would think. You will have to struggle against your demon nature to even say the words.”

“I’ll be there though Dean, I’ll help you do it,” Sam says when he sees the unsure look cross his brother’s face.

“What’s next,” growls DemonDean.

“You must perform the mitzvah,” Castiel says.

“Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m gonna go get you your girl back,” DemonDean says.

Castiel doesn’t answer, just looks across the table at Dean, uncomprehending.

“It’s Meg, he’s going to go get her out of Hell for you, Cas,” Sam says.

“I will gladly accept this mitzvah, I have missed her presence greatly,” Castiel says. “It will be a great risk for you, Dean. For you to travel into Crowley’s domain is much too dangerous. Here on this plane you can defend yourself from him, but in Hell, he reigns supreme.”

“Don’t worry about it buddy, got it covered,” Dean says, leaning back against the kitchen wall and putting his boots up on the table.

“Are you sure you cannot choose something that is less risky?” Castiel asks.

“No Cas, this is what I want to do. Sammy said it had to be an act of human kindness. Obviously you’re not human and neither is she, but it’s something me as a human would offer to do. For you.”

Castiel’s eyes search Dean’s face for a few long moments. He finally answers, “I am deeply touched, Dean, thank you.”

“I haven’t actually done it yet, wait until you see her, huh? Might not be much of her left,” DemonDean says with a shrug.

“What is your human phrase? It is the thought that counts. That is it, correct?” Castiel asks.

“Yeah, Cas, you got it,” Sam answers.  “Finish telling him, the last step. I’ll be right back,” Sam leaves the kitchen abruptly.

“The blood, you will need to have injections of human blood, once per hour, for nine hours consecutively,” Castiel explains.

“Why nine?” Dean asks.

“It is some sort of numerology. I admit I have forgotten if it was Babylonian or earlier. You add the number of the beast, 666. Six plus six plus six equals eighteen. You add the digits one plus eight and get nine. Which is of course, one of the holiest and most significant of numbers.”

“That’s a lot of blood, who’s it coming from?” Dean asks.

“Well, it must be of the same blood type, and you and Sam are A+, so Sam is the likeliest source,” Castiel answers.

“What about his demon blood? Will that affect this at all?”

“That is all out of his system completely. Between the purification of the Trials and the presence of an angel’s grace for all this time, all traces of demon blood are completely gone from Sam’s system.”

“He know that?” Dean asks.

“No, I don’t believe so.”

“He’d probably want to, you should tell him,” Dean advises.

“Will he think it is a good thing?” Castiel asks.

“Yeah, obviously. He said he’s felt unclean his whole life. I think he’d probably be pretty psyched about it,” Dean answers.

“Psyched about what?” Sam asks, re-entering the kitchen holding a large leather-bound book.

“You are completely free and clear of all traces of demon blood, Sam. So your blood will be perfectly fine for use in this demon cure for Dean,” Castiel says.

“Oh, uh…that’s good to know, thanks, Cas,” Sam says, sitting down at the table and placing the book in front of Dean.

“I told him to tell you, so you’re welcome,” DemonDean says, wanting credit for Sam now knowing something he’s always worried about is no long a problem.

“Thanks, it means a lot to just know it. It’s hard to explain, and neither of you could probably imagine why, so I won’t bother.”

“Whatever, Sammy, just aren’t you so happy you get to shoot me up with your blood? It’s kinda like the reverse of your sucking on Ruby,” DemonDean teases.

“No, Dean, I’m not happy about it. I’m happy that this is maybe a chance to cure you. And leave Ruby out of it,” Sam answers with controlled anger.

“Depends on whether I really want the cure though, doesn’t it?” DemonDean challenges.

“Yeah. It completely depends on it. We shouldn’t bother unless you’re sure,” Sam says flatly. He can’t imagine this not working, he won’t let himself go there.

“The first step, the ceremony will tell us that,” Castiel says.

“We need anything special?” DemonDean asks after a prolonged silence where the three of them look at each other like they’re expecting the others to say something.

Sam opens the book to the page he’s bookmarked and starts reading over the ceremony requirements. He points at one item until Castiel takes notice.

“We require more holy oil. I shall return,” Castiel says, disappearing with a swoosh of feathers.

“He still does that? I’ll never get used to it,” DemonDean says, standing up and pacing the room.

“At least he doesn’t do the invisible creeper thing anymore,” Sam says, eyes not leaving the page of tiny handwriting.

“How do you know?” DemonDean asks, peering over Sam’s shoulder at the miniscule words.

“He told me, and I believed him,” Sam says, his shoulders hunching up protectively because his brother who almost killed him a few minutes ago is standing so close behind him.

“He’s told about as many lies as Crowley, why do you believe him?” DemonDean asks, sitting back down on his stool.

“He’s our friend, one of the only ones we still have,” Sam says.

“If he’s what you call a friend, then I know I’m even more right about not needing any. I still don’t get how you can forgive him so easily, what he did to you, leaving your soul in hell, taking down the wall,” DemonDean says.

“That’s my business isn’t it? It’s not up to me to try and explain to you what friendship is. And it sure as hell isn’t worth it while you’re most of the way to being a demon,” Sam says.

“True. Just, I don’t trust him,” DemonDean says.

“Fine. I do. He was there for me, Dean, the night you left me on that dock. He was the one that helped me get rid of Gadreel’s grace. And he’s the one who stopped me from going too far to get you back,” Sam says.

Dean doesn’t answer, just gets up with a growling sound coming from the back of his throat and stalks off into the depths of the bunker.  Sam is momentarily angry that he’s left and blown off the conversation, but then he realizes, this isn’t really his brother he’s talking to, so there’s not much point in pursuing this. His Dean probably wouldn’t talk about this either, but he does wonder if the real Dean feels this way about Cas, still mistrusting him and not forgiving him for what he’s done to Sam. It makes Sam pause a little and reconsider, does Dean or even Demon Dean have a point about Cas?

After everything they’ve seen and experienced, calling an angel a friend is a risk. But there’s always been something about Cas that’s different than the other angels. He’s like a glitch in their system, which is fascinating to an observer like Sam. But Sam’s always felt like they had such similar motivations, doing the wrong things to try and accomplish the right end goal, and failing spectacularly. And it doesn’t hurt that Cas has saved them more than a few times. And now Sam feels closer to him after the whole Gadreel experience, especially remembering Castiel’s dead human body, and his hands funneling the angel’s grace to bring Cas back to life. Cas and he seem to have more of a connection, especially since Dean hasn’t been himself.

Hasn’t been himself - understatement of the century, Sam sniggers to himself, my brother’s a demon, he reminds himself. And that’s what this ceremony is all about.

“So tonight, we’re going to do the ceremony. You still up for it, Dean?” Sam asks as he enters the main room.

“Yeah sure, first you gotta have a drink with me,” Dean says, sliding a more than half-full crystal tumbler across the table. Luckily Sam is paying attention and snags it just before it goes off the edge. He remembers missing that beer bottle Dean threw in this room not so long ago. How they’d argued over who had to clean it up. He settles himself down in one of the chairs across from Dean and sips the whisky as his eyes roam Dean’s face. He’s hard to figure out, this demon version of his brother, his face is almost always set in a smirk. And not the one that always promised some sort of annoying mischief, it’s trying to be that one, but knowing that his brother the demon no long sees any point in stopping at mere mischief, the smirk is not a tease but a promise of chaos.

“I’m drinking, see,” Sam says, lifting his tumbler and swallowing down a good amount of the whisky.

“Noticed you drank almost all of my stash, Sammy,” Dean says.

“Yeah, I did. So?” Sam answers, lifting his chin a little in defiance. “Why do you care? Did you want me to pine away and drink herbal tea?”

Dean just laughs, a darker version of his usual full-body guffaw when Sam’s really hit him with something hilarious.  “Never change, Sammy, never change.”

“Don’t plan on it. I’m planning on changing you, though. And that’s tonight by the way,” Sam says. “Unless you’re going to try and wimp out on me or something.”

“Naw, I’m down for the attempt. Why not? Doubt it’s going to work though. A lot of the stuff Crowley tried on me failed since I’m not just a regular demon. But I know you gotta do what you gotta do.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence. I get it that you don’t care one way or the other if this works. But I do, I’m caring enough for the both of us.”

“I know, Sammy. Not a surprise. Pretty pointless though.”

“Dean, if this doesn’t work. We’ll figure something else out.”

“This is why I left you that note, tellin’ you to just let me go. I don’t want you spendin’ your life tryin’ to fix me.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot, only you get to do that for me. Just shove it, Dean. If you don’t get it by now that it’s a two-way street as far as that goes, there’s no hope in me ever getting you to believe it. Especially while you’re like this.”

“Like what? A knight of hell?”

“Yeah. Or whatever you are, but you won’t be, not for much longer. And then when you’re back to being just my brother. We’ll try having this conversation again.”

“Whatever. Won’t change anything.”

Sam leaves the room at that point. There’s nothing left to say when Dean’s like this. Feeling like he’s been hitting his head against one brick wall after another has left him exhausted and heart sore. It might not be an actual thing to be heart sore, but that’s how he feels at the moment.   He lays down on Dean’s bed for a while, just closing his eyes and trying to convince himself that it still smells like him, even though that’s faded weeks ago. He misses Dean so much it hurts, and it’s even worse having the demon version of him here in the Bunker. Sam falls asleep remembering all the times they’ve held each other in this bed, after bad hunts and good ones, after amazing sex and angry sex, and it all blends together into a seamless quilt of images and sensations and feelings that makes him deeply recall why he’s even still trying to save Dean.

DemonDean pauses at the doorway to his room and sees Sam curled up on his bed, hugging one of the pillows in his big, gorilla arms. He leans against the doorframe and just watches Sam sleep, fighting within himself to not go over and curl up with him. It’s not what Sam wants from him, not now. And it’s not what he can really give Sam, without hurting him even more than he already has. That he cares about it is his biggest clue that this gambit of Sam’s might actually work. Just being around him this past day has reawakened the human side of himself that he’d been pushing down while he was out howling at the moon with Crowley.

He lets his eyes click to black while he thinks of how to best take revenge on Crowley. If this doesn’t work tonight, that’s the first place he goes when he busts out of here. And if it does work, well then, he’ll have to stall Sam long enough to go take care of one last demon-related errand. Sam will understand. He’d probably even want to come along. DemonDean comes back to himself and notices that Sam’s awake and watching him with a strange smile on his lips.

“What’re you lookin’ at,” DemonDean growls, angry at being caught staring.

“Could ask you the same thing,” Sam says, stretching on the bed in that slow sinuous way he knows always gets Dean’s attention.

“Cut it out, Sammy, you really don’t wanna mess with me when I’m like this,” DemonDean hisses, and stomps away, his angry footsteps pounding up the stairs.

Sam hears some glass breaking and hopes it isn’t one of his favorite library table lamps, they’re already down a couple. They’ve always been hard on lamps, it’s a thing with them. Two big guys in usually small motel rooms, stuff gets knocked over. But in this big place, you’d think they’d be able to not break the damned lamps, which as far as he can tell are actual, legit Tiffany. He sighs to himself as he gets up, tucking the things he’ll need from this room tonight carefully into his pockets. As he leaves the room he looks back one last time at Dean’s room where they’ve shared so many nights, he closes his eyes in silent prayer to any and all deities that might be paying attention, Please Bring Him Back to Me.

~!@#~!@#~

Walk out on me, walk out on him
You need no man to do you in
But if the night gets dark, all is still
I'll pray for you, you know I will
Hard row to hoe all by yourself
~!@#~!@#~

Castiel arrives back in the kitchen, clutching two clay jugs of holy oil as well as a basket full of pomegranates.  He sees that Dean is sitting at the kitchen table, cutting a sandwich into many unnecessarily small pieces with a large butcher’s knife on one of the gold embossed Men of Letters china plates.

“What’s all this?” DemonDean asks, pointing with the knife at the red fruit tumbling out of the basket.

“The worshippers at the temple where I obtained the oil insisted I share in their bounty,” Castiel answers.

“I have no idea how to even eat one of these things. I mean, they are edible for humans, right?” DemonDean asks.

“Yes, Dean. These are pomegranates, the fruit that Persephone ate in the underworld, the red seeds inside are sweet, tart and quite full of many nutrients humans require,” Castiel answers, pulling out a small knife and cutting board. He slices into one of the plump fruits and shows Dean the cut half. “See, these seeds are removed from the membranes, try one.” He places one on Dean’s outstretched tongue. His eyes click over to black while he tastes it, some instinctive protective maneuver no doubt.

“That hurt, when you touched me,” DemonDean complains. “But the pomegranate is pretty good.”

“Yes, it hurt you, because I am an angel, and you are a demon,” Castiel says, sounding pretty sad about that fact.

“I didn’t want to end up like this you know. It just seemed like the only way at the time.”

“I have been in your shoes, as has Sam. We both understand,” Castiel says.

“Thanks for not giving up on me; guess you must have a thing for demons,” DemonDean teases.

“Just one in particular, but you are still tolerable as you have not fully become one,” Castiel says.

“Crowley said I was,” Dean retorts.

“I am not surprised that he would lie to you about that, as he has to all of us about so many things,” Castiel says, sounding weary of thinking about all the deceptions that Crowley has pulled on all of them.

“It’s just, it’s hard to tell who I am anymore. I don’t feel like my old self, obviously. And I kind of cut loose there for a while with Crowley. Did a lot of stuff I don’t ever want to talk about. But being back here, with you guys, it’s so familiar, making my skin crawl just being here remembering it all,” Dean says.

“You are not just a demon created out of years of torment. The Mark has been remaking your soul within your own mortal body. This takes some amount of time, and usually there are some precipitous events that are required.”

“Precipa what?”

“Normally, you would need to kill the person closest to you, either a blood relative or a lover,” Castiel says.

“So that’s why Crowley was pushing me towards killing Sam when he first woke me up with the Blade, I was wondering about that. Guess he really did want me to Hulk out all the way. Bet he’s pissed. Good.”

“I am also glad that you did not kill Sam,” Castiel says.

“Oh yeah, that’s right. You guys are buddies now,” DemonDean says.

“Yes, we have become much closer in your absence,” Castiel answers.

“He needed someone, and it couldn’t be me. You got stuck with him this time,” DemonDean says.

“I do not consider myself stuck with him. I consider it a privilege and an honor, as should you. He has redeemed himself many times over, and I regard Sam as an example,” Castiel says.

“So that must make me the warning then, huh?”

“At the moment, yes. Previously, no,” Castiel answers.

“Aww, you miss human me, huh?” DemonDean teases.

“Yes, your presence is missed. By some of us more than others,” Castiel says.

“How bad has he been? Since I’ve been gone,” DemonDean asks.

“It has not gone well with Sam. But he will want to share that with you himself I’m sure,” Castiel says. “You are lucky that Sam is so forgiving. I do not believe most humans would be able to forgive what you’ve done.”

“It’s time guys,” Sam calls from the main room, interrupting DemonDean’s thoughts on Sam’s endless capacity for forgiveness that he’s tested the limits of so many times. Something inside him glows a bit at being reminded of this fact of his life.

“Keep your hair on Frances, we’re comin’,” DemonDean hollers.

“Who is this Frances?” Castiel asks as they walk through the kitchen door together, Dean staying far away from the jars of holy oil.

“No one Cas, just a thing I say sometimes to piss Sam off, it’s a girl’s name,” DemonDean says.

“I have never understood that. Why calling him a girl, or a girl’s name is a bad thing. I was under the impression that you liked women just as much as men, Dean,” Castiel says.

“That didn’t come through loud and clear when Metajerk downloaded all the pop culture for you huh? It’s too hard to explain, I don’t really mean anything by it, just a thing for trying to get Sam mad,” Dean says.

“Why would you want to make Sam mad though? Isn’t harmony something you strive for in your relationship?” Castiel asks.

“Uh, no. Harmony’s never been on our to-do list. Breaking the bed from awesome sex, yes. But harmony, nah, boring,” DemonDean answers.

Castiel blushes at the demon version of Dean’s more direct than usual answers and shuts up until they find Sam in the dungeon, arranging nine candles around the edge of the Devil’s Trap painted on the floor.

“This dungeon sure has come in handy huh? Glad the place came with it; should have been highlighted in the real estate ads,” DemonDean jokes.

“Dean, I know you’re nervous, but you need to start getting serious here; we’re about to start,” Sam says, a pinched look on his face. Dean can see how worried his brother is, so he just nods.

“You go stand in the middle, Dean,” Sam says, pointing at a spot right in the center of the Devil’s Trap.

“Wait a second, I have to get into the trap? You never said this was part of it, Sam,” DemonDean protests. “How do I know you’re gonna let me out?”

“You only have my word on it,” Sam says, looking Dean straight in the eyes, even though they’ve gone disconcertingly black again.

Dean doesn’t say anything, just growls under his breath and stalks into the center of the trap with his arms crossed.

“We’re ready. You start, Cas,” Sam says.

Castiel pours the holy oil around the edge of the Devil’s Trap in a careful circle, and then lights it, the flames leaping up in an even, unbroken circle. He nods at Sam and steps back into the gloom.

Sam steps closer to the ring of fire and begins a prayer and invocation that makes Dean hiss, the words hitting his skin like Holy Water.

“What’re you doin’ to me, Sam? That shit hurts!” DemonDean complains, rubbing at the skin on his arms frantically.

“Almost done, get ready for what you’re going to answer,” Sam whispers as he begins a chant while walking clockwise around the burning circle of flames.

Sam reaches into his belt behind his shirt and pulls out a wickedly sharp and gleaming silver knife. Slicing into both palms, he squeezes his blood out onto the circle of flame, as he continues his clockwise circling. “The demon within this circle that I wish to sanctify, his true name is Dean Winchester. I, Sam Winchester, pledge my life for the return of his unsullied soul. My life will be forfeit if he does not succeed at his mitzvah. I swear it by the offering of my blood.”

“Sam! You didn’t tell me!” DemonDean protests, shaking his fists in anger.

“I knew you wouldn’t have done this. You’ve got to now, Dean, it’s binding me to your actions from here on out. Your turn now, go,” Sam says.

Dean grumbles and curses for a few moments, looking at both Sam’s encouraging eyes and Castiel’s more wary ones. “Fine. Whatever. I, Dean Winchester, being a demon, and a Knight of Hell. I do hereby swear and affirm that I wish to….” He stops, mouth opening and closing in silence. He shakes his head, like he’s trying to clear out the cobwebs. He mouths I can’t at Sam, his eyes turning green for just a moment.

“You can do it, Dean, I’m here for you. Not going anywhere,” Sam says.

DemonDean nods at Sam, impressed at his brother’s strength and stubbornness. He tries to start again, “I wish to give up the…” And his words fail him again, his eyes go black and he puts his hands around his own throat, choking himself until the skin goes white on his fingertips. The Mark of Cain glows an alarming red on his forearm.

“Dean! Stop! Please stop,” Sam yells.  “Listen to me. You can do this, you’re stronger than it is, I know you are, you have to do this. You have to come back to me. Look, look at us, remember us, please,” Sam begs, holding the two pictures up that he’d taken from Dean’s room. One is of them as small children, Dean holding a tiny baby Sam proudly on his lap, the other a more recent one in the garden at Jody’s house in North Dakota. She’d taken it of them when they were helping her prune her apple trees. Dean is on the ladder so that he’s at the same height as Sam and they’re looking at each other over the bare branches of the apple tree like they’re the only things they can ever see in the whole world.

DemonDean looks between his brother’s face and the two pictures, at his friend the angel, still in the room even though he’s a demon and forces himself to try to speak one more time. Dean has to fight against his demon nature every second, it feels like it’s something else separate and alive within him. But he locks eyes with Sam and thinks of everything they’ve ever shared, what they have together, and it brings him back, just like it always does.  This is what he wants, the only thing he’s ever wanted.

“I wish to give up the Mark of Cain and return to being a human. I pledge it by the offering of my blood,” DemonDean says all in a rush before his demon self can stop him, savagely biting into his wrist with sharp teeth and dripping blood to join Sam’s in the circle of flame. As soon as he’s made it around the entire circuit, the flame goes out and the room is dark except for the candles.

DemonDean asks quietly, “So, did it work?”

“Yes. The flame would not have gone out unless you were truthful in your statement,” Castiel answers, stepping closer to both of them, his face lit strangely by the flickering candlelight.

“Thank you, Dean, for not giving up,” Sam says, scratching at the paint of the Devil’s Trap to let him out. DemonDean steps over the circle and into Sam’s open arms. He can’t say anything, not now after that embarrassing display, he almost couldn’t do it, he almost failed Sam.

Sam holds on to his brother tightly, trying not to breathe him in too deeply to preserve the illusion that it’s really just his brother, but the stench of sulfur breaks through. Finally he lets go when he feels Dean’s shoulders tighten up again.

“Guess I better get on downstairs, huh?” DemonDean asks.

“You are not traveling alone, Dean. I am accompanying you,” Castiel says, reaching out for Dean’s arm to wrap a clean white handkerchief around his still bleeding wrist.

“The hell you are!” DemonDean retorts, pulling his arm out of Castiel’s grip.

“I insist, I must go with you. I’ve been to Hell, Dean. Twice already for the two of you. I think this third trip is a necessary one for me,” Castiel replies.

“It won’t count if you help me, ya doofus,” DemonDean says. “Sam said it had to be big and worthwhile and meaningful. It ain’t gonna mean much if you go with me and do most of the work.”

“You will be doing something I cannot, Dean,” Castiel says, lifting his hands outstretched towards Dean. “I cannot carry Meg out, it would kill her.”

“You carried me out, before,” Dean counters.

“That was different, you were Heaven’s Protected, even when you were in Hell. But Meg is not, she will burn up if I hold her for too long there in that plane. You must be the one to carry her, as I cannot.”

“So you’re only going to what, protect us?” DemonDean asks.

“Yes, that is my plan,” Castiel says.

“Fine. Let’s go before I change my mind,” DemonDean says.

“You two better both make it back,” Sam says.

“We’ll be home soon, honey,” DemonDean says, patting Sam on the back.

“Shut up and get out of here already,” Sam says, holding Dean’s hand briefly for one last touch.

“See ya, Sammy,” DemonDean says with an almost sad looking smirk. “Don’t miss us too much. You better get a bed ready for Meg and Cas.” 

Castiel coughs, sounding almost embarrassed, and Sam just shakes his head. Even as a demon, Dean’s jokes are still pretty damn lame.

“Goodbye, Sam, I promise you; we will return,” Castiel says with a solemn nod.  He grasps Dean’s elbow and they vanish together.  Sam snuffs out the candles and leaves the dungeon, slowly walking upstairs. He feels more alone than he has in his whole life. He collapses into the overstuffed chair behind him, automatically reaching for the bottle of whisky and the crystal tumbler on the lamp table next to him. He fills it half full and slings most of it back, coughing as it burns its way down his throat.  He knows they’ll be gone for a while, and when they get back, he’s going to have to start drawing his blood to inject into Dean. Might as well up the alcohol content for him, give him what he likes, Sam snarks to himself.

~!@#~!@#~

Castiel lands them in an unfamiliar part of Hell that even DemonDean’s never seen.

“Where are we?” DemonDean asks.

“This is one of the deeper places, where Crowley hides those he wishes to not be found,” Castiel says, peering into the red gloom ahead.

Even with his demon eyes, DemonDean can only see about five feet in front of them. “Cas, can you see better than me in here?”

“I am unable to see much past the point at which you stand,” Castiel admits.

DemonDean whistles. “Guess I’m your eyes then. What’re we looking for?” He looks around through the shifting darkness, vague shapes move suddenly against impossibly high, smooth walls. The silence presses down upon them like a lowering ceiling.

“There will be a symbol, the one that Crowley uses to sign his orders. It is the Seal of Hell. It will be upon the door, which may not look like a door,” Castiel says.

“Yeah, I’ve seen that thing, it’s like a messed-up star with horns, right? And I’m not seeing any openings in these walls, door or other-wise,” DemonDean answers, startling at the touch of Castiel’s hand on his shoulder, the angel’s grip is tight and stings even through his layers of shirts and leather jacket.

“I do not wish to become separated,” Castiel says in answer to the silent question.

“Yeah, this sure ain’t Purgatory, where you ditch me immediately,” DemonDean snarks.  They both stop walking when they hear screaming, it sounds inhuman, and impossibly loud. “You smell that?” he asks quietly, referring to the sudden overwhelming stench of an un-cleaned zoo, animal and fetid.

The footsteps they hear approaching are a hairy shuffle, then two hooved clops, slowly and heavily repeated as whatever it is passes them by, thankfully not slowing to investigate their presence.  The dim red light that reaches them from above is completely blotted out as it pauses near them. After a few moments where they don’t breathe for fear of discovery, the footsteps retreat and the smell slowly fades.

“Whatever that was, I’m glad it didn’t introduce itself,” DemonDean says with relief. He hadn’t encountered many of the creatures of Hell during his last time here, Alastair had mostly kept him away from anyone except those he was meant to torture, and Crowley only took him to a few specific places he chose to show him off.

“As am I. Do you see any way in?” Castiel asks, beginning to sound worried.

DemonDean’s eyes scan the smooth walls, they gleam like the exposed white of human bone when the flesh has been boiled off. He searches for any imperfections or marks and finally spies some in a vaguely ovoid shape.  He points it out and Castiel’s fingers trace the shape on the wall, the light of his grace overwhelming in the gloom.  The door opens with a hiss and a groan, the space beyond the wall appearing to be without any limit. Endless rows of cells, the bars on the front of each made of a shining metal, solidly impenetrable. Thousands of eyes are on them as they enter the hallway between the cells. A roar of noise begins as all the souls contained start voicing their excitement at the possibility of release. As they walk down this horrible path the begging, cajoling and cursing exceeds what even Dean’s demon ears can process. 

DemonDean hopes that Castiel has some idea how the hell to find Meg in all of this mass of former humanity and whatever else is contained down here. It seems impossible that she’ll still be here, but his demon senses tell him that she is still what passes for alive for their kind.  Slowly he realizes that as he thinks of her more precisely he can sense a slight pull inside him leading him forward. She’s drawing him in somehow.  

He grabs onto Castiel’s elbow and drags him along more quickly, feeling the urgency that Crowley will have been alerted from all the noise and carrying-on the inmates are creating. Surely someone in the upper reaches of Hell will have heard this racket by now. They race down the corridor until Dean feels Meg more strongly and clearly. He slows their progress and then stops in front of one cell. 

Silently he points into the dark corner of the cell where there is a huddled figure.  Castiel nods and places both hands on the bars, his grace flares up again and the bars fall to the floor with a loud metallic clang that echoes off the non-existent ceiling.  The noise of all the inmates increases when they realize that someone is actually getting out.  Castiel steps into the cell and touches the head of the figure that hasn’t moved in their presence yet.  Meg’s ruined face looks up, her eyes focusing on Castiel’s face briefly. She drops her head back down and pulls herself into a tight ball of misery.

DemonDean pushes past Castiel and lifts Meg up roughly into a fireman’s carry. She doesn’t weigh anything, all her solid strength used up in surviving the rigors of her confinement in Hell’s dungeon. Castiel touches her face again and the brokenness disappears, her face righting itself into its former loveliness. DemonDean starts walking as quickly as he can manage down the hallway, past all the hands reaching out towards them. The inmates getting more and more frantic the closer they come to the opening at the end. He can feel Castiel right behind him until he’s not. Then he hears Crowley’s voice booming out from everywhere all at once, all the other voices going instantly silent. “Castiel, how do you even dare?”

Dean turns to look back and sees Castiel’s body being pulled back down the hallway as if being tugged back on a bungee cord. He lunges to reach his outstretched hand and barely clasps his fingers. DemonDean plants his feet wide and pulls his friend back towards him, against the enormous weight of Crowley’s will. Crowley materializes holding Castiel’s other hand, he’s being stretched between the two of them and will soon pull apart.

“Dean let him go; you can have the bitch, I’m done with her,” Crowley says.

“No, I won’t,” DemonDean says, pulling harder on Castiel’s hand, working his grip up to hold his forearm, drawing him closer. “You can’t have him, Crowley!” He can feel the First Blade glowing white hot at the excitement of being close enough to kill something as powerful as Crowley. DemonDean lowers Meg down until she crumples at his feet on the floor. He reaches into his jacket and pulls out the First Blade, brandishing it at Crowley’s face.  “It wants you, Crowley, it really wants you. I’d let him go if I were you,” DemonDean taunts.

Crowley’s eyes widen in fear, and then narrow in anger as he lets go of Castiel’s hand. Castiel falls into DemonDean almost knocking them over on top of Meg.  Never taking his eyes off of Crowley, Dean leans down to scoop her up in one arm, throwing her over his left shoulder. He holds the Blade in his right hand where Crowley can see it. “Let’s get outta here, Cas.”

“This isn’t over, Dean! You owe me!” They hear Crowley scream as they disappear from Hell’s depths in a deafening sound of flapping angel wings. The bunker dungeon has never looked so good to Dean.  Through closed eyes he hears Sam come bursting into the room. He’s dimly aware that they’re all piled in a heap, two demons and an angel, smoking of the sulfurous remnants of Hell.

“You made it back to me,” Sam says, wiping away whatever is covering Dean’s face. He kisses Dean to welcome him back, his strong arms wrapping around Dean and holding him close. Dean forgets himself for a moment and kisses Sam back, accepting the welcome without remembering he’s a demon. They separate and Sam wipes the all-too familiar taste of a demon’s kiss from his mouth. He pulls Dean up into a seated position and turns to see to Castiel.

Castiel is wrapped around Meg’s still form, he’s whispering to her, and stroking her hair gently.

“Cas, is she okay?” Sam asks in a quiet voice.

Meg groans and pushes her face into Castiel’s chest further. “Yes, Sam, I think she will be.”

“Thank god. You were gone for so long,” Sam says, sounding desperate even to himself.

“How long, Sammy?” DemonDean asks, leaning against Sam’s shoulder because he’s too tired to sit up by himself any longer.

“It’s been four days,” Sam says in a forlorn, lost voice.

“No wonder I’m starved,” DemonDean says.

“See, this is why I say you’re not actually a demon yet, they don’t have to eat,” Sam points out, standing up and reaching down to hoist Dean up against him.

“Who’s a demon?” Meg asks, her voice strange and hoarse sounding from un-use, or overuse from screaming.

“That’d be me,” DemonDean says over his shoulder as Sam is forcing him to walk out towards their room.  They hear Meg’s broken laughter float down the hallway and Castiel’s urgent voice quieting her. Sam gets them to Dean’s room and closes the door.

“So it worked, you gonna start injecting me now Sammy?” Dean asks

“I thought you might want to rest first,” Sam answers, settling Dean down on his bed.

“Naw, I’m a demon remember? But if you want to lay down with me for a while, I wouldn’t say no,” DemonDean answers.

“What was it like, Dean?” Sam asks, once he’s got himself wrapped around his brother’s body. The one he missed like breathing for these long four days. He buries his hands in Dean’s hair, scritching at his scalp in a long familiar pattern.

“What? Hell’s Dungeon? ‘Bout what you’d imagine; Crowley tried to stop us, all I had to do was threaten him with the Blade and he backed off. Took us a while to find her though,” DemonDean answers, forcing himself not to purr at the awesome head treatment Sam’s giving him. He can feel how tense Sam is, how tired from the days of waiting and worrying, so he makes himself soft and pliable. He lets Sam move him where he needs him to be. Doing the reconnecting hands-on thing they’ve always done. It isn’t something Dean would admit to needing at this point, but he knows Sam needs it.

“After a few days, I thought you wouldn’t come back,” Sam says.

“Sammy, I always come back to you, eventually,” DemonDean answers.

“I know, but it was Hell, and Crowley,” Sam continues, starting to sound agitated.

“We’re back, you feel me here, right? Do I need to say this is real?” DemonDean asks, sounding very tender even to his demon ears.

Sam can feel his brother’s body in his arms, the long length of it, the familiar arms and legs wrapped around him, even the breathing pattern is the same. Not the smell, but almost everything else. “Yeah, I know, thanks,” Sam finally says, breathing out in relief.

Dean’s hands start moving like he’s trying to arouse Sam. “Not gonna happen, Dean, not yet,” Sam says.

“Can’t blame a guy for tryin’ right?” DemonDean says, grinning up at his brother.

“No I really can’t. Can you just stay here with me, I think I need to sleep before we start the whole blood thing,” Sam asks.

“Course, Sammy, I gotcha,” DemonDean says with a smile that doesn’t look quite right to Sam.

Sam falls asleep quickly, all those days and nights he’d spent awake, drowsing off at the library table over cups of stale coffee and empty bottles of whisky.

~!@#~!@#~

Sam wakes up alone, unsure whether it’s another day or week. He stumbles into the shower room and cleans himself up. Soon, he’s in the kitchen hunting for something to eat, vaguely noticing how hungry he is. He might have forgotten to eat a few of the days that Dean and Castiel were gone. It hadn’t seemed very important.

Castiel is in the kitchen attempting to make some tea. He already has a tray with a sandwich on a small plate, PB&J of course. A small glass of orange juice. “Does the tea go in first? Or the water?” Castiel asks, sounding frustrated.

“Yeah, tea in first. You boiled the water, right?” Sam asks, stepping towards the counter.

“Several times, it is well-boiled,” Castiel says. Sam notices how ruffled up his hair seems to be. More than usual, and he’s not wearing a coat, trench or otherwise.

“How’s Meg?” Sam asks, since he knows she’s likely the one messing up their angel.

“She is recovering, and very grateful,” Castiel answers, blushing a deep pink.

“Aha, that’s why we haven’t seen you. I didn’t know that angels could even blush, Cas. I’m just glad you guys are okay.”

“Dean saved us both, he resisted using the Blade on Crowley, it was quite something to see, Sam,” Castiel says, appearing to be grateful that Sam’s changed the subject.

“He around somewhere?” Sam asks, gulping down some warmed up coffee that tastes fresh. Dean must have made it for him.

“I believe he is in your television room. I heard the noise of dragons and warfare,” Castiel says, concentrating on pouring honey into the steaming mug of tea.

Sam finds Dean on the couch in their TV room, watching Game of Thrones, of course. “Heard you were in here.”

“Sssh, this is the good part. Sit down and shut up,” DemonDean says, eyes not leaving the screen where Jamie is forcing himself on Cersei in the church, Dean pats the couch next to him.  Sam sits down and leans into him slightly.

“We’ve got to start the blood injections this morning, you know that right?” Sam asks after the scene changes onscreen.

“I know. I was just killin’ time ‘til you got your bony ass up outta bed,” DemonDean drawls.

“Bony? How would you know if it’s bony? You feeling me up while I was sleeping?” Sam kids.

DemonDean blushes a bright pink that reminds Sam of Cas just a few minutes ago.

“I’m making angels and demons blush this morning. C’mon, we’re starting,” Sam says, hitting Dean’s knee as he stands up and walks out.  DemonDean turns off the TV and stands slowly, jaw setting in a hard line of resolve. He walks down to the dungeon, only stopping when he can hear Castiel and Sam’s voices.

“Do you believe he will he go through with it?” Castiel asks.

“He has to. It’s the only way. That’s why I put myself on the line,” Sam answers.

“He will be angry with you, when he is no longer a demon,” Castiel observes.

“He’s angry with me now. He’s always been angry with me about something. I don’t know what I’d do if he wasn’t for whatever reason, it’s just how we are a lot of the time,” Sam says.

“Your relationship is one that I have not seen the like of before,” Castiel says. “There is much that I do not understand, and much that I envy.”

“I don’t understand it most of the time to be honest. But it’s the only thing that matters to me anymore. You really envy us, Cas?”

“I most envy that you are soul mates,” Castiel says, looking at Sam in that unblinking manner that is still so disturbing even after all these years. “I have no soul of my own. And Meg’s is, well it is burdened.”

DemonDean hears all this while he stands in the filing room behind the false shelves, and his eyes go green and stay green for a long time. His memories of Sam and all they’ve done flood through him, the lives they’ve lived, almost all of it side by side, together through everything. Even this. He squares his shoulders, determined to overcome whatever he needs to; Sam’s worth it. Even as a demon he knows that.

Sam looks up when he hears his brother enter the room and sees the familiar green eyes sparkling. He smiles at Dean, that he’s there willingly seems like a very good sign at the moment. Dean smiles back, without the smirk, looking almost normal for a moment, then he catches sight of the needle marks on Sam’s forearms, and the vials of blood arrayed on the table. His eyes tighten and start to go black, but he makes himself stop. Sam’s doing this for him.

“Got started without me huh?” DemonDean asks.

Instead of answering, Sam gestures at the chair in the center of the devil’s trap. His hands rub at Dean’s shoulders briefly as he sits down. Then silently, Sam begins to tie him to the chair. The demon proof handcuffs the last addition. Sam crouches down in front of Dean, hands on Dean’s thighs. He brings his face close to Dean’s and breathes him in for a moment, his eyes closed in concentration. His eyes flutter open and meet Dean’s for a few beats.

“This is going to work, Dean, I know it is,” Sam says, all the emotion he’s holding in visible and present in the small space between them.

“I trust you, Sammy. Go for it,” DemonDean says, taking heart once again at the unbelievable faith his brother possesses.

Sam leans in and brushes their lips together briefly, then stands and busies himself at the table, drawing out one more vial of blood from his already abused arm.

“Okay, that should be enough. Every hour for eight more hours, you’re getting three of these,” Sam says, pointing at the ruby red vials shining in the case.

DemonDean licks his lips and nods. He decides not to acknowledge how nervous he is, not even bothering to crack a joke.

Sam approaches with a syringe and two more vials, he taps the needle after spraying a bit to clear any air bubbles, then presses it to Dean’s forearm, plunging the handle down until all the red blood has cleared the tube.

“First one down, so far so good.”

Demon Dean stays silent and still as Sam injects the next two vials. Sam looks at his watch and writes down the time in the margin of the official Men of Letters log book they’ve been using. He also takes the time to quickly set an alarm on his smartphone.

“It will get harder to rein in your demon-self very soon, Dean,” Castiel says from the shadowy corner where he’s leaned up against one of the supply cabinets.

The brothers look up in surprise, they’d both forgotten Castiel was still there in the room with them.

“Yeah, I know,” DemonDean says.

“Thanks for the reminder, Cas,” Sam says, glad that there is someone else backing him up.

Sam paces for a while until Dean growls at him to either leave or sit down. He makes a quick exit, leaving Cas to watch after Dean. They don’t talk, DemonDean mostly just tries not to think, and feels Sam’s blood running through his veins, fighting with the demon blood throughout his body. He loses a little time imagining the battle being waged. Eventually Sam returns with a couple of beers and a paperback book tucked under his arm.

“That for me?” DemonDean asks hopefully.

“Yeah, they both are,” Sam answers.  He sets it all down on the table and picks up the syringe and two more vials.

“You got a straw?” DemonDean asks with a laugh.

“Nope, gotta use the needle sorry,” Sam answers, injecting the first one quickly before Dean really notices.

Dean flinches at the pinch of the needle and the burning flood of Sam’s blood into his vein.  Sam is quick and does the other two before Dean can work up to a good freak-out. 

“I meant a straw for the beer,” Dean points out.

“No straw, but this should work,” Sam says, tipping the bottle up to Dean’s lips. “I’ve had to do this for you before, remember?”

“Oh yeah, the hand thing, when I burned them both on that hunt with the arsonist ghost,” DemonDean says, leaning back in the chair, savoring the taste of the beer, bitter on his tongue, but made sweeter by the fact that Sam brought it to him and helped him drink it down. “I remember, you bitching about having to wipe my ass.”

“Dude, that sucked, a whole week of that. You are an awful patient,” Sam says with a laugh.

“Yeah, but think of all that time we got to lay around in bed together,” Dean teases. “All that stuff I tried on you without using my hands.” Dean can feel Sam’s blood coursing through him even more strongly now, it’s making the demon part of him fight even harder, like it knows it’s going to lose.

Sam flicks his eyes to the corner where Castiel had been standing, but he’s gone.

“He went to check on Meg, otherwise I wouldn’t have said that,” DemonDean says.

“Even when you weren’t a demon, you still liked to push it with him,” Sam counters.

“True. It’s not every day you get to embarrass an angel of the Lord,” DemonDean laughs.

“I made him blush today, about Meg. Apparently she’s rather, uh, thankful for the rescue,” Sam says, turning a little pink himself.

“Our nerdy little guy is finally growing up, Sammy, how ‘bout that?” DemonDean jokes.

“Had to happen sometime I guess,” Sam answers.

“Never thought when we first met him that he’d end up shacked up with a demon, but then you know how that goes. Come to think of it, you kinda still are,” DemonDean says.

“We’re not exactly ‘shacked-up’, not at the moment,” Sam says, ignoring the gibe about Ruby.

“Too bad, Sammy. You should’ve taken me up on trying out the demon strength in the sack; it surprised quite a few people,” DemonDean brags.

“I really don’t want to hear it, Dean; you’ve been a bad boy, big deal, not impressed,” Sam says with a shrug.

“Aw, I know you’re curious what I got up to with Crowley all that time. Saw a whole new side of that asshole, he’s made good use of that trade of his soul for those three inches, knows how to use it if you know what I mean,” DemonDean says, wiggling his eyebrows to get more of a reaction from Sam, suddenly feeling a burst of the freedom he’d been enjoying as a demon. No restrictions, no limits on what he could say or do, just chasing pleasure, not ever caring who got hurt.

Sam just looks at him, stone-faced for a moment as if he’s struggling not to picture Crowley, or Crowley with Dean. He sighs and stands up.

“Look, I know you’ve got to say this shit to try and get to me. It’s not a surprise. But Dean, it’s not going to change anything for me,” Sam says.

“You mean I coulda been fucking Crowley the whole last month and you wouldn’t give a damn? Really? Kind of hard to believe, I know you Sammy, you are the definition of ‘the jealous type’. You even used to mess with my high school girlfriends.”

“I didn’t think you knew about that,” Sam says in quiet surprise. Dean waits for him to say something about his comment about Crowley, but apparently Sam is skipping that. For now.

“Course I did, thought it was cute. You didn’t want to share me. But then you left, Sam. And you lost your chance on keeping me all to yourself forever and ever or whatever the hell it is you thought you wanted.”

“What do you call the last ten years then?”

“A waste of time. Where have we gotten? More messed-up, and twisted around each other, year after year. Neither of us able to ever let go, move on. Hell, you tried with that Amelia chick, and you left her as soon as I came back. Now you’re standing here telling me you’ll take me back no matter what I’ve done as a demon. We’re hopeless.”

“I wouldn’t call it that,” Sam says in this dead-sounding voice, as if he couldn’t possibly be hurt any further.

“What would you call it then?” DemonDean sneers when he sees he’s finally gotten under Sam’s skin.

Sam leaves then, unable to speak, clearly holding back tears. Castiel soon replaces him, standing silent against the wall, eyes never leaving DemonDean.

“Where’d he go?”

“He is in your room. I believe he is attempting to remind himself why he’s sacrificing himself for you again,” Castiel says, sounding like he’s both disapproving and resigned.

“Well that won’t take him long. I’ve got him wrapped around my little finger. But you already know that. I can see you thought you could take my place. Why do you think I brought Meg back for you?”

“Dean, you are mistaken. I know that no one could take your place in Sam’s heart. Even though he should have given up on you many times, he has not, and he will not. I am still grateful that you brought Meg back to me, no matter your true reasons,” Castiel says.

DemonDean strains at the ropes holding him to the chair.

“If I could get out of this chair, I’d come after you, you half-wit, junkless, traitor.”

“Dean, stop,” Sam says, re-entering the room with a container of Holy Water that he splashes on DemonDean’s face. DemonDean hisses and screams in pain as it sizzles against his skin.

“No way, Sammy, not gonna stop. You’re stuck with me, man, this is what you’ve given up your whole life for. Being stuck with this, what I’ve turned into,” Dean taunts.

“Yeah, well you’re stuck with me. And that means I’m gonna keep doing this every hour until you shut the hell up,” Sam says, jabbing Dean with the syringe and pumping the blood in, quickly switching them out until all three are emptied.

DemonDean pulls and twists, but is stopped by the demon handcuffs.

“You’re gonna regret this. I’m gonna make you regret this, you’ll see.”

“I will never regret saving you from yourself Dean. Never. Do you hear me?”

Dean spits at him, snarling and snapping his teeth when Sam’s the closest. Once he sees Sam is staying clear he stops, but an ever present growl is coming from the deep back of his throat. A warning growl that says he wants to tear everything apart, piece by piece, with his teeth. Eventually Dean falls into a near catatonic state, and Sam takes advantage, laying his head down on the desk and napping. He wakes up, drowsy and unsure where he is when his phone alarm chimes. He picks up the syringe and two vials and approaches Dean.

“You gonna behave, or do I have to stick you in your neck?” Sam asks with real wariness.

Dean bows his head forward, chin tucked into his chest, baring the unprotected nape of his neck. Sam places a warm hand there where Dean’s hair is shaggy and uneven where it usually is straight as a ruler, not a hair out of place. DemonDean stops himself from pressing back into Sam’s touch. Just barely. He tilts his head to the side and relaxes his shoulders.

“Hurry up, do it,” Dean growls, but not quite as menacingly. Soon enough his brother’s warm hands are gone and just the blood remains. Still separate within him, being fought off, and fought hard in his body. He’s tired. So very tired from this fight. He doesn’t even care which side wins at this point.

“What was the book for?” DemonDean asks, weakly nodding his head at the book Sam had left on the table. He’s curious to see what reading material Sam’s brought in to pass the time.

“Brought the book you were last reading, thought you might want to finish it,” Sam says.

“How am I supposed to turn the pages?”

“I’ll read it to you. If you want me to,” Sam offers.

“You’re gonna read me Vonnegut? Out loud, like some messed-up bedtime story?” DemonDean asks.

“Just thought I’d offer, that’s all,” Sam says.

“I’d rather just talk,” Dean says.

“Not if it’s more of the same, really not interested,” Sam says.

“Don’t blame you. I just wanted to tell you some stuff about Crowley that you should probably know, just in case I…”

“Don’t start thinking or talking like that. Go ahead, tell me about Crowley,” Sam says.

“He’s still part human. Whatever your blood did to him really stuck. And I’m pretty sure he was an angel originally, but he might have forgotten. He’s more confused than he’s ever been, and that makes him that much more dangerous.”

“Anything else?”

“His minions aren’t all his like he thinks, a lot of them are still Lucifer or Abaddon types, some even still are in the Meg camp if you can believe that,” Dean says.

“So weak, confused, unprotected by those who appear loyal? Sounds like our kind of gig,” Sam says. “Cas said you had a chance to take him out when you were down there.”

“Yeah. I did. The Blade wanted him, it was hard to not just take his head off,” DemonDean answers.

“What stopped you?” Sam asks.

“I…had to finish. Your life was on the line,” DemonDean says.

“You make a pretty crappy demon, you know that?” Sam says, sounding very touched by what Dean’s just told him.

The hours crawl by, the last few interrupted only by Dean’s ranting apologies for everything and his increasing crying jags. Dean doesn’t care anymore who knows that he’s sorry for all of it. He can’t hold it all back and take in Sam’s blood too. He isn’t big enough to contain it, Sam is too strong within him now, forcing his way through, getting his way like usual. Setting things right because he’s the one with the still mostly functioning moral compass. 

“You know I admire you, right, Sammy?” Dean slurs, head hanging low.

“No. I don’t know that,” Sam answers. “Pretty sure it’s the opposite, Dean.”

Dean manages to lift his head up enough to see his brother’s sad eyes. He’s so certain about this.

“You’re so wrong, you don’t get it? Why I do all this stupid shit?”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“’s why I even keep trying. Keep tryin’ to be someone you c’n be proud of. I always fuck it up somehow.” Dean feels all remaining strength flow out of him in a rush with that admission. He never thought he’d admit something like that to Sam, and he can’t take it back. But the blood, it’s insistent, demanding that he let all this out to make room for it. It feels like it’s expanding within his veins, growing impossibly larger, like Sam is actually inside of him.

“Can feel you in me, Sammy. You’re everywhere in me now.”

“I know, Dean. That’s the idea, it’s gonna work, you’ve just got to hang in there for one more round,” Sam says, the note of pleading back in his voice.

Dean can’t say anything, he can barely nod to acknowledge he’s not giving up. But he clings to Sam’s words, taking them inside along with the gift of his blood. His brother, bleeding for him once again. His innocence and strength wiping all the darkness away. Hell’s never stood a chance against Sam. Not his Sam, always the one full of light and life and goodness.

Sam grips his arms and whispers in his ear. “Dean, stop talking, you gotta save your strength, okay?”

Dean looks up at him through bleary eyes and tries to smile. Good, he’s glad Sam heard all that. Maybe once he’s dead and gone, Sam will be able to look back and remember him in a good way. It wasn’t all bad, they had some really good times. When he’s gone, Sam will be happier.

“You’re not going anywhere, Dean. I’ve got you.”

Dean doesn’t know anything else except Sam’s voice, his world narrowed down to a pinprick of consciousness left. He hears Sam talking excitedly with someone else, a low deep voice that hurts his ears. Must be Cas. That idiot, still hanging around them for some stupid reason, why he bothers, Dean never understood.

“Because you are my friend, Dean. And this is what friends do for each other. You and your brother taught me that,” Cas says, his strong hands, gentle on his head.

Dean wishes he could say something, thank him for being there for Sam at least, but he can’t find any words inside of him. They’re all gone, all washed away by the blood, by the pain of transformation. Who knew turning back into yourself would be more painful than becoming a demon? But he’s got to do it, he can’t give up, not after what Cas and Sam have done to get him here. He vaguely hears their voices, low and encouraging as the needle enters his vein once more.  The sweet sweet blood of Sam pours through him, wiping all the pain away. It’s just the weight and reality of Sam, his Sam moving through him, smoothing down all the jagged edges of anything demonic still inside. Until there’s nothing but Sam and him, then it’s just plain him.

Dean opens his eyes and sees the top of Sam’s head, buried in his lap, he can feel Sam’s arms wrapped around his legs, can feel the wetness from Sam’s tears soaked through his jeans.

“Sammy?”

Sam looks up, face filled with joy, hope, surprise, fear.

“Is it really you?”

“Yeah. Think so,” Dean manages to say, before all he knows is darkness.

~!@#~!@#~

 “I never thought I’d see this again,” Sam says with a note of wonder in his voice.

“What? This?” Dean asks, lying stretched out on his bed, clad only in a smile.

“Yeah, this,” Sam answers, approaching the bed carefully, like if he moves too suddenly Dean will disappear like a mirage on the horizon. “You’re really here, aren’t you?”

“Come find out, Sammy,” Dean says, rolling onto his side and patting the bed next to him.

Sam takes his clothes off without breaking his locked gaze with Dean. He lays down with him, without touching yet, only tracing his form with his eyes.

“Can I touch you yet, Sammy?” Dean asks, sounding hesitant.

Sam doesn’t seem to be able to speak, overwhelmed with the moment, he just nods slowly.

Dean’s hand first traces his face, brushing over his eyelashes, the tip of his nose, lingering on his lips. Sam’s lips part and his tongue flicks out to taste the skin of Dean’s fingertips. Dean can see him breathe in deeply.

“What’s wrong?” Dean asks.

“Nothing. Not a thing.  You just smell and taste right again, it’s really you,” Sam says with a smile that’s threatening to break his face.

“I keep telling you to find out, Sammy; c’mon, you touch me now,” Dean urges.

Sam lifts a hesitant hand to trace Dean’s collarbones, feel the fluttering pulse in his neck, the softness of the skin behind his ear. Dean lets his head’s weight sink into Sam’s hand.

“I can’t believe you came back to me, Dean.”

“I always will. I promised, remember?” Dean asks.

“Yeah I know, but this was different. I’m just…well thank you, for what you did. I know it probably would have been easier to just stay a demon.”

“No, that’s not how it was. The hardest thing was staying away from you all that time. Crowley had to work real hard to distract me.”

“I don’t want to hear about that, what you did with him. Unless you need to talk or something,” Sam admits.

“No, what happened with Crowley can stay with him for all I care, not something I need to dwell on. You on the other hand, you are what I’m all about right now, Sammy,” Dean says with that languorous purr that is his tell, his I’m-so-turned-on-I’ll-do-anything tell.

“I’m okay with that idea, as long as I can be all about you,” Sam answers, rolling Dean over and slipping them both together into one hand, moving and pressing their hard lengths until he hears Dean make the noise that means you better keep going or else. Sam’s hand speeds up, and both of them thrust into the slick, grasping tunnel he’s made. Dean’s hand grips onto Sam’s for more strength and friction and they spend themselves against each other in a wild few moments of bliss that no one will clearly remember. They wipe their hands off on their discarded shirts and pull the blankets over their bodies, snuggling down into the bed.

“Cas is happy having her here, you did a good thing, Dean,” Sam says as they’re slipping off to sleep, finally together.

“Never thought we’d be roomies with a demon by choice, but yeah, she’s good for him,” Dean agrees.

The sounds from down the hallway don’t quite reach their ears enough to bother them. Later, as night falls, the bunker goes quiet, the two couples wrapped up in each other and ignoring the rest of the world. At least for one night.

~FIN~