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There But for the Grace

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The light speared past Sam’s screwed-shut eyes, deep into his brain. He heard sound, white noise, rising in pitch and intensity until he couldn’t stop himself from letting go of Dean and pressing his hands to his ears, even though that did nothing to protect him from the assault. Warm wetness on his face, streaking down over his cheeks and chin. It was his own blood—or whatever his blood was, not really his own since he’d been six months old, mixed now with other demons’.

He curled into himself as the light and the noise punched through him like bullets through glass, breaking him apart.

Somewhere in the chaos, there was a warm presence reaching out for him. It felt like comfort and concern and forgiveness, like everything he’d ever wanted from Jess, from Mom, even from Dad, but he could feel Dean’s absence and that overwhelmed everything else. The golden glow faded, chill seeping into his bones until he could feel cold stone underneath him, colder in patches where the blood had flowed and begun to congeal.

When he could stand again, he blinked to clear his vision, swaying onto his feet. “Dean?”

He knew even before he turned a full circle that he was the only person alive in the room. “Dean!” Yelling as if Dean was just in the hallway outside, taking a leak. As if he could make Dean return by demanding him back. “Dean!”

Voice raw, face a horrorshow mask, he searched for some sign of Dean’s passage, but there was nothing.

Lucifer was risen and gone. Dean was—

Ruby wasn’t around to tell him not to lose it any more, and anyway hers had been spectacularly bad advice, all told. Sam let himself slide to the floor, the blood he’d shed soaking cold through his jeans, and curled up, waiting for Hell to begin in earnest.

He didn’t know how much time passed, but his clothes were stiff with dried blood when Castiel dragged him up, one-handed, and shoved him back into the wall, palm jabbing hard into the center of his chest. Sam felt a stab of shame for the mess on his face, then realized there was no reason left to care.

“Where is he?” Castiel asked, his voice pounding in Sam’s ears like a waterfall. Sam had thought he’d seen righteous fury on angels’ faces before. He’d been wrong.

He guessed it wasn’t the first time Castiel had posed the question.

“I don’t know,” he said.

Castiel pulled back, and Sam flailed to stay upright. “There was light,” Sam tried to explain. “He was here, and then he was just—gone.” Castiel turned away, his coat swinging with him. “You’ve always been able to find us before. Can’t you—?”

But Castiel was already shaking his head. “He is not within my reach.” The angel’s hand twitched, as if he were trying to grab onto Dean, trying and failing. “He was our only hope against Lucifer.”

The angels didn’t care about humans any more than demons did. Less, maybe, since demons liked to toy with humans for sport. Possibly Dean was right and Castiel had some sympathy, but the rest of them had been playing a long game with Dean as much as Ruby with Sam. “That’s why you want to find him, so he can win your war for you.” He knew that he wasn’t entitled to the disgust in his voice, but he didn’t really care.

Castiel froze, and then looked back at Sam, anger mixing with something else for the first time. “Zachariah believes that Dean is vital to victory in the coming battle. He has never—Zachariah never deceived me. I do not know the precise source of his belief. But until now, everything he has told me has come to pass, including the rise of Lucifer. Without Dean, the Host has no plan for victory.”

Dean might be alive. Even if he was dead, Sam knew, there were ways around that. They just had to find him. And if they didn’t, Sam would already have Hell on Earth.

Sam made himself stop shaking. No one had time for his shame. “We’d better get started looking for him, then,” he said. Trust and mixed motives aside, angels were big mojo, and it made sense to pool their resources. If need be, Sam might even be able to use Castiel to bargain with Lucifer.

Apparently angels were enough like people to respond to certainty, no matter how little substance there was behind it. Castiel nodded sharply. “Where shall we begin?”

Track One

The light and the noise cut off like Dean had been shut in a box, except that when he blinked, he could see normally and they were in a completely different place, a motel room lit golden by a late afternoon sun. Sam was standing about five feet away, staring at Dean with stunned and hungry eyes, and if it hadn’t been for the white-eyed little girl forming the third point of a triangle with them Dean might have wondered for a moment if he’d gotten to go to Heaven after all, even after failing to stop Lucifer.

“There,” the girl said, tilting her head flirtatiously. “Done.” He could just hear her over the ringing in his ears.

“Dean,” Sam said, raising his hands as if he was afraid Dean would dissolve if he moved too fast. Then: “Christo,” sharp as a razorblade, scrunching up his forehead like he had an ice cream headache. The girl, who had better not be Lilith back from the dead, flinched and bared her teeth at Sam.

Dean boggled. “What the fuck?” he asked, quite reasonably in his opinion.

Dean,” Sam said again, like some barrier had broken inside him. He was still wild-eyed and strung-out, the same guy who’d wrapped his hands around Dean’s neck and squeezed—but for the first time in months, he was smiling like he remembered they were brothers.

“Okay, I don’t know what’s going on here,” Dean said. “But Lucifer’s up and at ‘em and so we’ve got to get on that, and do apologies later. So you want to explain who the demon chick is, or do you just want to ice her?”

“Apologies?” Sam repeated, slow, his face falling almost comically. There was something off about him, now that Dean got a better look. More off than even when Dean had stuffed him into Bobby’s panic room, which was beyond disturbing. But he’d said Christo himself—that had to mean he wasn’t fully demoned up, right?

They stared at each other, and the unfamiliarity of it made Dean’s skin crawl, when being back together on the same side should have been the easiest thing in the world. He could feel his expression turning dangerous, and he wasn’t even sure that was a mistake.

The little girl sighed. “I tried to find a happy version for you,” she said. “But the only ones who smiled a lot had taken so much brain damage that they were just very pretty carrots. I know!” she interrupted herself, sounding thrilled, “I was shocked there was any difference! But anyway, I figured you wanted a soulmate that could tie his own shoes, so, you’re stuck with the boo-hooing.”

“Sam? Sam? What’s she talking about? Sam!”

It was like he wasn’t even speaking. Sam kept turning his head, like he knew he should be watching the demon but couldn’t stop his eyes from being dragged back to Dean. Come to think of it, Sam looked five years older than he had since Dean had seen him last, about four and a half of those years sleepless. His skin wasn’t corpse-pale—Dean had that image burned into his memory—but it was sickly, like the blood wasn’t flowing right, like the sun cringed away from him. Sam’s eyes were narrowed, but Dean could see how bloodshot they were. His hair was—holy fuck, that was what was so different. Sam hadn’t slicked his hair back. He’d cut it, ragged.

Dean was pretty sure that wasn’t how it had been back in the crypt where Lucifer rose.

“I can tell when I’m a third wheel,” the demon cooed. “I’ll leave you two alone. For a while.”

She popped out of existence like they’d changed the channel on her.

Sam shook himself, like he’d been asleep on his feet, and swept Dean up into a hug that Dean was way too freaked-out to fight. “Sammy,” he said, and a huge shudder wracked through Sam’s body, “tell me what happened. Last thing I remember is the final seal breaking.”

Sam was shaking his head, which made his too-short hair brush back and forth against Dean’s shoulder. He smelled of sweat and herbs, and Dean couldn’t help closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. “Not here,” Sam said. “That didn’t happen here.”

“Here?” Dean knew Hell, and he knew Earth. He would have sworn he was on the latter, but maybe not.

Sam was speaking into his shoulder, his breath damp through Dean’s shirt and his words unintelligible. Dean thought about pulling away, but he figured that might slow down the explanation. “Uh, what?”

Sam didn’t move back, but at least he spoke up. “What do you know about parallel universes?”

Dean reconsidered the whole pulling away (and slapping Sam silly) thing, but he was beginning to think that his problems were too big to solve with yelling and punching. “That if you’re Evil Sam you oughta have a goatee.”

Sam snorted thickly, and Dean felt his mouth twitch in return. He brought his hand up to pat Sam’s back, just a little.

“Why aren’t you a demon, Dean? You went to Hell, so why aren’t you a demon?”

Well, that killed the mood pretty quick. Dean kept his hand moving, but it was artificial now. Sam sounded like he wanted a serious recap. Dean cleared his throat. “Because Castiel pulled me out of Hell before—” There was no way he could finish that sentence, because Castiel hadn’t come in time for anything worth saving. Especially after the angels got him to put Alastair on the rack, Dean had been pretty sure that all he was lacking was the black eyes, too weak even for that.

“Castiel?” Now it was Sam pushing him away, staring into his eyes with enough intensity that Dean kind of wanted the hug back.

Dean frowned. “Yeah, Castiel. Semi-friendly neighborhood angel? Resurrected me, pledged me to the service of God and His douchey angels, blah blah blah?”

Sam’s eyes were wide and near worshipful, reminding Dean too much of how Sam had been when he’d first heard Dean’s account of meeting Castiel. “Whoa.” Sam took a deep breath. His eyes were the same as ever, little slivers of gold among the blue and brown—every part of him so complicated. “Here, no angel came.”

Dean chewed that over for a while, turning his face from Sam so that he could clear his head even while Sam loomed over him. There was a lot to think about in those four words. But Sam’s presence was so familiar that he couldn’t quite wrap his mind around the situation, couldn’t worry like he should, and there was only one question he really needed answered. “What happened to my Sam?”

I’m your Sam,” Sam said immediately. He’d been prepared for that. “I’m him, but I’m here.”

Dean twitched, because his Sam—the Sam he’d left standing in Lilith’s blood—hadn’t been there for a while. “You know what I mean,” he insisted anyway.

“He doesn’t need you like I do,” Sam said with that total sincerity that got him even farther than his dimples and his kicked-puppy eyes. “That was part of my agreement with Lilith, that she’d go somewhere she wasn’t stealing you from me.”

And that was a kick in the chest; Dean felt the bruises Sam had given him in their last fight pulse with blood. Sam hadn’t picked up the phone. He’d grabbed at Dean at the end, but in all the excitement over Lucifer rising he probably would have hung on to Gordon Walker with just as much enthusiasm. Dean felt his shoulders slump as he turned further away and rubbed his hand across his mouth. “I don’t get this, Sam. Explain it to me.”

Sam made a small, lost sound, and Dean gave up: he sat down on the bed, patted the scratchy bedspread next to him. Sam took the invitation, sitting so close that their shoulders jostled for position. Dean leaned into Sam because if he hadn’t he would have been pushed over. Sam put his hands in his lap and stared down at them before he started talking. “After you—after you went to Hell I tried to get you out. I couldn’t. So I worked with Ruby until I was strong enough to bargain with someone who could.”

“Lilith,” Dean said.


Dean’s head was whirling. “But she didn’t get me out of Hell.”

“Yes, she did.” Sam let that hang in the air for long enough that Dean had to force himself to inhale slowly, fighting off the panic. “She brought Dean out of Hell.”

Dean closed his eyes, didn’t like what he saw, and opened them again. Sam’s face was blank, but his lips trembled. Dean swallowed and put it out there. “It was too late.”

Sam nodded.

“How … how long?” It wouldn’t help him at all, but Dean needed to know anyway.

“You were down there for a year and three months,” Sam said.

“And how long had I been—”

Sam twitched, his hands lifting from his lap as if he was going to lunge across the room, but thought better of it. “You said, a year, our time.”

Dean breathed out. Demons lied. Or maybe he’d just lost track. He’d lost track a lot, when Alastair had neglected to remind him.

He had to know. “Is he—back there?”

Sam shook his head. Dean wasn’t about to make him say what he must have done out loud. And Dean wasn’t about to say thanks, even though he should have.

“Okay,” Dean said. “So you went back to the drawing board, told Lilith to get you somebody a little less burnt-up. I get it. But, Sam, the seals are all broken where I was, Lucifer’s rising, and I—”

“I don’t care,” Sam said defiantly, like Dean was telling him one of Dad’s orders. “He had you long enough.”

Dean rubbed at his temples, because it was flattering that this Sam wanted him around, but his pretty words to Castiel about humanity wouldn’t mean shit if he couldn’t put the freaking rest of the world ahead of his own pathetic need for Sam’s attention. “You don’t get it, Sam, the angels said—” He stopped, because he didn’t want to tell Sam all over again that he’d gotten the shit end of the stick with the demon blood while Dean got to be, for real, on the side of the angels. It didn’t matter that angels and demons had turned out to be the same variety of suck: Dean remembered how Sam had been when he’d first met the angels, thrilled and grateful and respectful.

Plus, it wasn’t like Dean had reason to believe Zachariah, or whoever was pulling the strings behind Zachariah. The angels needed him for something, but saving humanity didn’t seem to be part of that plan. For all he knew, Zachariah’s next step involved having Dean be Typhoid Mary.

The more Dean thought about it, the less he was sure he was any kind of benefit to his world. Going back without knowing more could be like heading into D-Day except minus a couple hundred thousand fellow soldiers, and it was hard to keep Sam in mind when Sam was standing right in front of him, staring at him like he invented the internet.

And then—“Wait a second. So, here, what happened to the seals?” He already knew that the first had broken here, with him.

Sam tilted his head curiously. “A couple broke. Slowed down a lot once Lilith and I made our bargain. Really no point in going through a lot of effort if you know you’re not gonna get to score at the end.”

Dean shook his head. “Great. I got the party started, then Cas raised me so I could keep it going. Guess angels like us puny humans better here.”

“What?” Sam had that little frown line he got when he thought Dean was keeping secrets.

“Yeah, uh. Me stepping off the rack in Hell, that was the first seal, and I guess the angels brought me back to keep you on track, or whatever. When I got out, you decided that the only thing you wanted to do in life was kill Lilith. I thought—” he stopped and had to laugh at himself. “Fuck, I’m stupid. I really thought it meant something, Cas getting me to swear to serve God. I thought I had a mission, but I guess the angels just wanted to make sure you didn’t cut a deal with Lilith.”

“Swear?” Sam asked. “That’s twice you’ve mentioned some kind of oath.” His voice wasn’t pleasant. Actually it had an edge to it that reminded Dean of nothing so much as Azazel, and when Dean checked Sam out sidelong he thought maybe Sam’s eyes were changing color, though he’d convinced himself of that a few times before even after the ghost fever. He couldn’t trust anything else; why should his sight be different?

“Cas told me it was my only chance to save you,” Dean said, shrugging like it didn’t mean that much. “I don’t care how good your motives are, drinking demon blood just can’t be right.”

Sam flushed—more than his Sam would have done, Dean thought resentfully. “I don’t need to do that any more. After I—the powers are set now.”

After what, Dean wondered. He probably wasn’t going to like the answer any more than he’d liked the blood-drinking in the first place. “Okay,” he said. “So, seals are sealed, you and Lilith are at a standoff, that’s all awesome. Just—what do you need me for, then?”

Sam gaped like Dean had started diagramming sentences. He twisted on the bed, facing Dean. “Dean.” Like that was some kind of answer. Then: “I need to see you.”

And the sense continued to be missing. Dean gave his best what-drugs-are-you-on face, eyebrows raised and eyes wide.

“When you—Hell left marks. I need to see that you’re—okay.”

Whoo, did Dean not want to know the experience behind that one. Except that of course he did know. Now he was imagining what would have happened if demons had been the ones to drag him out of Hell. Even when he’d switched from victim to torturer, his body had still been hideous—as it should have been: form follows function, or so a high school shop teacher had told him once—some wounds never-healing and others scarred so bad that his flesh was as unfeeling as wood. Occasionally he’d be working on a lost soul and find that he hadn’t noticed when he’d sliced himself open along with his subject. Alastair had never ceased to find that amusing.

Dean swallowed and jerked his thoughts away from the past. He spread his hands out and tilted his face to show Sam how pretty it was. “I’m fine. Cas, he fixed me. Even got rid of the old scars. Only thing left was my tattoo. And his handprint.”

“His handprint?” Sam parroted.

Rather than use words, Dean shrugged off his jacket and his button-down and wrestled off his black T, edging back on the bed so that Sam could see the full Castiel body modification. His amulet bounced against his chest, warm reminder of a better time.

“Jesus,” Sam breathed, and flinched as the word came out of his mouth and his eyes plainly flashed demon-black, which was the worst news Dean had gotten since he’d arrived but not exactly unexpected. Then Sam was all human again, and Dean made himself ignore what he’d seen as Sam reached up to touch the red, raised skin. Sam’s fingers felt like brands against Dean, tracing the lines and making Dean shiver.

Sam’s eyes were locked on his hand, touching Dean. “Can you—what does it feel like?”

Dean swallowed. “I don’t—it’s like a scar, I guess.” Smooth like a burn, alien when he’d used his own fingertips to trace it, the skin not sending back the message that it was being touched. After the first couple of days he’d kept his hands off, even in the shower. He’d been a torturer in Hell. It made sense that the touch of an angel would burn him, made sense that the boundary between his own flesh and Heaven’s mark would be uncrossable even when they were side by side. He deserved it more than he’d earned any of his old scars, all his previous screw-ups made trivial by his hand on the razor.

Sam’s fingers were hot where they slipped against Dean’s unmarked skin. Dean bit his lip and looked away. There was nothing of Sam in this room, no laptop open on the table, no duffel spilling out clothes, not even a pile of beer bottles in the trashcan.

“How’d you get those bruises?” Sam asked, interrupting his thoughts.

Dean clenched his jaw automatically, which just made everything hurt more. “Sam—you—beat the shit outta me when I tried to stop him goin’ after Lilith. Ruby got him so turned around, he thought. He thought he was saving the world.” As he said it, Dean got it a little better. Still didn’t make a lick of sense, why Sam was so convinced that killing Lilith would fix things, but he did believe it—liked believing it, so he’d have a good reason to get his revenge, even—and Dean knew that none of the angels had ever explained why not. Which was just more evidence, if Dean’d needed it, that the angels had wanted the apocalypse all along. Dean’d been Sam’s mechanical rabbit, dragging him around the track. No wonder it didn’t matter to them how broken he’d been on the inside.

“I’m sorry,” Sam said now, and his sad eyes were just the same as ever (at least as long as Dean wasn’t praying). “I—if he was still drinking demon blood, he might be—volatile.”

Dean had to laugh at that one, short and sharp as a gunshot. “And you? Are you ‘volatile’?”

Sam frowned, his mouth pursing up like Dean’d just emitted a socially unacceptable bodily noise. “I’ve got it under control,” he said, which was pretty much what Sam had said every time they’d had this conversation, and look where that had ended up.

But Sam was reaching out again, tentative, like he was the one who needed to apologize. (And hadn’t he said as much? Same guy, different facts, and Dean didn’t know if that made him responsible, but it sure made it hard for Dean to think.) His fingers brushed over the aching flesh of Dean’s neck. “I don’t understand,” Sam said, almost to himself. “How could I ever—?”

Good fucking question. But this Sam deserved the truth too. “We’ve been—I might not be black-eyed, but I’m. Broken. Weak, I guess. I couldn’t—I fucked up worse than letting you get killed. I couldn’t figure out what it’d take to stop you goin’ after Lilith, and after a while all you could see was her. And Ruby,” unable to keep the disgust out of his voice, the jealousy, because it was one thing to have lost Sam to a bright future and a smart, gorgeous college girl and another bag of chips entirely to have some skanky demon wearing a stolen body be more than enough to win Sam away.

“I’m sorry,” Sam said, and Dean didn’t think he could handle it, muscles clenching to stand. But Sam wrapped those gorilla arms around him, pulling him in close, letting him press his face into Sam’s chest so that Sam couldn’t see and so he couldn’t see Sam’s pity, and Dean needed it so bad that he barely resisted. Sam’s hands stroking down his naked back felt strange and wonderful at once, so different from being sewn up from a bad hunt. Slow and warm, intimate; almost nobody he fucked touched him that way, like he needed time or care or anything other than a place to stick his dick. Under the woodsy herb scent that was probably left over from summoning Lilith, Sam smelled of sweat and road dust and the near-pine of that shampoo he’d carried around through the entire lower 48. Almost unwillingly, Dean brought his own hands up, hanging on to Sam’s neck, hitching breaths so close to crying as almost made no difference.

Sam’s thumb rubbed up and down the back of Dean’s neck. He wasn’t quite rocking Dean back and forth, but he was making a little rumbling noise in his chest, greedy and satisfied at once, and God but Dean wanted to stay like this until Lilith and Lucifer and the rest of them rotted to dust.

Track Two

Sam was busying himself copying the design on the crypt floor into his notebook, on the off chance that it would give them some information, while Castiel made another sweep looking for any trace of angels or demons. Sam wasn’t sure what the third trip around the building was supposed to do, but then Castiel was the senior demon-hunter and Sam’s daddy issues weren’t pronounced enough to make him snark about Castiel’s choices under the circumstances.

He looked up when Castiel strode back in, still moving like he wasn’t quite used to having solid form. Castiel’s expression had no trace of satisfaction, and he shook his head for extra confirmation that there was nothing.

“We need to try something else,” Sam said. Dean could be … anywhere. He had to be somewhere.

Sam’s hands still ached from the throttling he’d given Dean, a lifetime of resentment at taking underexplained orders finally coming to a boil. But Dean had been right, and Sam’s punishment was that he’d lost Dean. Lucifer had taken his brother. Sam had betrayed him, and all he could think was that he needed to find Dean before he could start setting anything right.

Think, you freak. You’ve got a brain, and it’s obviously in better condition than your soul. How are you going to track the Lightbringer?

“Chuck,” he realized. “We need—”

Castiel was already putting his hand on Sam’s shoulder. Sam stopped trying to talk, too busy having his stomach turned inside out and backwards by the sudden transport.

"Omigod!" Chuck said, turning away from his computer. He wobbled in his seat, probably due more to the two empty bottles of Jim Beam on his desk than the shock of their arrival. "Castiel! You're alive!"

That distracted Sam from the conversation he'd meant to initiate. "What?"

"Castiel, well, he kind of blew apart protecting me, like tomato soup blew apart, fifty stories out a window blew apart, you know what I mean? I don't think I'm ever gonna be able to go in that room again—" Chuck gestured off to the side, and Sam briefly turned towards the kitchen. He could see through the open door that it looked like the back end of a zombie infestation, blood the least disgusting substance liberally coating the floor and cabinets.

Sam blinked and looked at Castiel, who seemed perplexed. "I do not recall how I came from the prophet's house to the convent," Castiel allowed.

Castiel's survival was interesting and probably deserved investigation, but there were more pressing matters. When Sam got Dean back he’d happily explore all the ins and outs of angelic resurrection. Right now, he didn’t give a winged fuck. He pushed his hair out of his eyes. "Okay, but where's Dean?"

"He's not with you?" Chuck looked more googly-eyed than usual. "In my vision you guys ended up on a plane just over Ilchester, don't know how, kind of a jump cut thing. But you were together. That didn't happen? Also, angel reassembly: what's up with that? I thought you guys were, you know, killable."

"It is of no moment," Castiel said, showing an admirable grasp of priorities. "We must find Dean."

"I don't know what to tell you," Chuck said after a long silence. "Right now, you and Dean should be stumbling out of the airport, trying to get back to Bobby Singer's. And you," he flapped his hand at the angel, "should be, like, recoalescing. You think it's divine intervention. You think God actually, finally, started paying attention to what his wayward children were getting up to. Except that none of that is happening. And Lucifer is most definitely out of his cage, ready to apocalypse it up. So if you can't figure it out on your own, then I guess we're all just fucked."

Track One

Dean turned the key and the engine roared to life, his foot already flooring the gas. Except the sound was wrong, she was about to tear herself apart, and he reached down to turn the engine off but the key was missing. He looked at his hand, at the empty space where the keyhole should have been, and heard the grinding sound of a rod being thrown.

He blinked himself awake, not sure when he'd fallen asleep. He was warm even with the air on his naked back, his side pressed into a warmer body. Crap, he hated passing out on a fuck.

But the smell, the size—

Dean rolled onto his back, blinking rapidly. Sam was propped up on one elbow, watching Dean and smiling.

"You been staring at me in my sleep?" Dean asked, and the question came out weird, rougher than Dean had meant it.

Sam shrugged, as best he could in the position he was in. "Perfect opportunity," he said.

From the way that the only light was from the lamp in the corner, Dean guessed that it was nighttime. His stomach rumbled, which meant—well, come to think of it, he hadn't eaten in about a day, so maybe that didn't mean anything.

"They have burgers in this world, right? Burgers and pie?"

Sam full-on smiled, and Dean couldn't look away. He wasn't sure the last time he'd seen those dimples, almost enough to make deals with demons forgivable. And wasn't that why he'd dealt in the first place? Sam following in his footsteps was—not okay, but not so much worse than anything else, not if he could still grin like that, brighter than an arc welder.

"It's good to see you, Sammy," he said, and meant it. He still needed to figure out what was up with his Sam, back in the other world, because he was pretty sure that parallel universes didn't excuse him from starting the apocalypse back home. But this Sam, so desperate for him that he'd actually crack open the world—it felt almost like he'd succeeded at something, no denying it. And there'd been way too much failure in his life in the last, oh, eleven years or so.

Sam was staring back just as hard, their faces less than a foot apart. He put his hand on Dean's shoulder, cupping Castiel's mark, the scar disappearing under his Bigfoot paw. Dean didn't exactly twitch, but something flipped over in his stomach, and he wasn't that hungry any more.

"Sam?" He didn't know what he was asking. Sam's smile disappeared, wiped away, and then there was just that look he got when he was hunting, ready and focused and something in the area was about to die.

“You still want to, right?”

“What?” Dean asked, and then Sam’s mouth was on his, tongue pressing in without waiting for Dean to get with the program. Sam grabbed his other shoulder, holding him in place as Dean squeaked like a bath toy and flailed his hands until he could shove Sam backwards.

Dean stared at him, panting. “What the fuck?”

Sam was flushed, his lips reddened and a faint sheen of sweat on his forehead. Dean very, very much wanted his shirt back now.

“When you came back,” Sam continued, as if Dean had just been talking about where he wanted to go for dinner or some other topic that Sam automatically tuned out, “you said you wanted this. Me.”

“Uh, Sam,” Dean said, careful as he knew how to be. “You know demons—”

“No,” Sam said, eyes gleaming as he shook his head confidently. “It was you, just—”

“Just evil?” And oh, it was so very plausible that Dean would have come out of Hell even more twisted than he’d been going in. Not like he’d ever practiced controlling his appetites much, even before he’d sold his soul. He could see it, how he would have taunted Sam by offering his body, double-daring him. Except that Sam didn’t seem horrified, not now (and how many demons’ worth of blood had he drained, here?). He put his hand on Dean’s leg. Dean scooted backwards on the bed until an invisible force shoved him onto his back. Sam was on him in an instant, braced above him. Dean had a moment to figure out that he couldn’t move his arms or his legs and then Sam was kissing him again, bruising his lips.

Dean did his best to thrash; he would’ve kneed Sam in the balls if he could have managed it, but Sam’s control was too tight. He could feel the scrape of Sam’s shirt against his chest, the press of his—holy fuck, his hard-on—through their jeans. He could’ve bitten Sam’s tongue, taken a chunk out of his face. But it was Sam.

Sam, who was crying, pawing at Dean, losing it in rough proportion to the firmness of his mental hold.

Sam had stopped kissing Dean, the better to wrestle with Dean’s zipper, which for some reason he was doing with his actual, physical hands. “I need to know you’re here,” Sam said, which made negative sense, except that even back in Dean’s world Sam hadn’t really seen Dean in a year, just some sort of weak and tender Dean-shaped blur.

“Sammy—” Dean didn’t have a clue what came after that.

His jeans and shorts were pushed down, and now Dean thought Sam was using his powers to help, because somehow his boots were going with them, naked as a jaybird with Sam propped up over him. “I need to show you,” Sam continued, and put his hand between Dean’s legs. Dean’s face felt cool where Sam had left trails of wetness on his skin. Dean’s thighs spread apart as Sam’s too-dry fingers prodded at him. His other hand pawed at Dean’s chest, and he was blinking, his eyes crystalline and spilling over.

Dean was not going to let Sam destroy himself. Not a second time.

“Hey, hey,” he said, as soothing as he could get while his heart was jackhammering. He managed to raise his head off of the bed, craning his neck so that he could just barely reach Sam’s mouth, brushing a kiss across it, light as a feather.

Sam stopped his frantic caresses and stared down at Dean, his brow furrowed with suspicion.

“It’s okay,” Dean told him. He closed his eyes and found Sam’s mouth again, only a slight pressure, moving slowly, coaxing Sam along with him.

Sam sighed and relaxed into the kiss. He was still pinning Dean’s arms and legs with his freaky mind powers, but Dean could live with that. Sam’s weight settled onto him, heavy as a collapsed building. Dean was decided: he wasn’t going to wimp out of this or give Sam any reason to think he couldn’t be trusted. Taking it up the ass wasn’t the worst thing he’d feared when he’d woken up this morning. Plus, Sam was still Sam, useless for anything else as long as some obsession was front and center, and this Sam’s obsession was painfully obvious (and a little—okay, a lot—gratifying, even if Dean was literally getting fucked because of it).

Dean forced everything else out of his head, settled deep into his body, and concentrated on convincing Sam that everything was fine using just his tongue and the little bit of leverage he had to rock his torso up and down, thrusting against Sam’s cock.

Now that he was really paying attention, the friction felt good, the first real pleasure he’d felt in weeks. Sam was kissing him with enough force to shove him deep into the too-soft mattress, teeth sharp against his lips. Dean’s arms came free from their restraint, though his legs were still pinned by more than Sam’s weight.

Dean ran his hands up Sam’s sides, over smooth hot skin interrupted by scars. It was yet another unfairness, that Sam had all the marks of this life he never wanted while Dean, who’d worn his own scars with pride all his life, had gotten them erased. But Dean couldn’t fix any of that, not now, so he slid his hands up and down, pressing his fingers into the tight muscles of Sam’s back, the curve of his ass. Jesus, Sam was built; it was different to feel it this way than to be choked, that was for sure.

Sam’s cock pressed into Dean’s stomach, big and wet at the tip, totally fucking terrifying if Dean let himself think about it. His own dick was starting to get interested at all the friction, because it was even more brainless than Dean’s big head, and he rolled his hips to improve the contact, making Sam grunt with pleasure. “Yeah, you want this,” Sam said, almost to himself, then ducked his head and started biting his way down Dean’s neck, a move that never failed to get Dean hot. Had Sam watched, even before Dean went to Hell? Sam snorted against Dean’s skin when Dean thrust up involuntarily, but went back to his work quickly.

After he’d spent long enough to ensure that Dean would have a line of hickeys like a collar, Sam pushed himself up on one arm, grinding his hips into Dean’s, and stretched out his hand. A tube of lube smacked into it a second later. Dean had seen a lot of objects move apparently of their own volition, but this was the first sex-related use of telekinesis in his experience, and he couldn’t help smirking.

“Open,” Sam ordered—another test, as if Dean was going to change his mind about how this was going to go down. Dean’s legs released. He pushed his knees up and out, wrapping his hands around the backs of his thighs, his ass tilting up. Sam watched with dazed, hot eyes, black only where the pupils had dilated.

“You ever done this before?” Sam asked, breathless.

Dean unhesitatingly gave the post-Hell answer: “No.” From the way Sam’s mouth twitched, Dean had chosen right. And when the head of Sam’s cock pushed in, he sure felt he was losing some kind of virginity. Dean grunted and Sam’s hips stuttered forward, fucking in another inch. He’d sure as fuck never done it with a freaking porn star, and how bizarre was it that he didn’t say that only because he didn’t want to give Sam the gloating rights?

It was all too much, too soon after Lilith bleeding out on the stone, Dean on the motel carpet where Sam had put him, swearing himself wholly to serve Heaven as if there was anything whole left in him. That other world had just been a different level of Hell, and if this one was too then Dean would take his pleasure where he could get it.

Dean closed his eyes, fighting to keep himself still, trembling with the effort of letting it happen. The air was humid, thick with the smell of them, Sam’s sweat and Dean’s, Sam everywhere, mouth hot against his neck, the skin of their chests sticking together, Sam’s dick spearing into him, Dean’s choked-off noises harsh in his own ears.

He could feel his thoughts shutting down, like lights going out in a power failure. Usually during sex he got a citywide blackout but this time—maybe because he needed it so bad—it was nationwide, senses retreating into his skin until there was nothing but black and sweat and sex, hands clenched in the bedspread beneath him, heavy weight on top, pressing him into a new shape that just for now didn’t hurt.

Track Two

Sam’s head was pounding and the words on the computer screen were starting to blur past the point of comprehensibility. He knew what that meant, but Ruby wasn’t going to come by and offer him sustenance, so he was just going to have to deal with it.

They were holed up in one of those Americana specials that Dean seemed to locate as easy as breathing, Currier & Ives wallpaper peeling off the walls and curliqued lamps heavy enough to challenge an Olympic weightlifter. Sam didn't know whether Castiel had picked the place at random or whether Dean had convinced him that this was the height of traveling luxury. Anyway, the angel sigils now smearing the walls would probably require the place to redecorate after they left.

He didn't look over at the empty bed nearest the door. He'd gotten the double on autopilot. Maybe it was a good thing that they didn't have the Impala. If he'd had to look at Dean's duffle in the trunk, had to leave it there—

Sam rubbed at his face. His eyes stung like he'd been crying, but he'd been denied even that relief.

“You’re entering the first stages of withdrawal,” Castiel said from behind him.

Sam twisted around, nearly wrenching his neck. “What?”

In the yellow light from the cheap wall sconces, Castiel looked tired and nearly ordinary, a businessman at the end of a very long trip. “There is a physical as well as a mental dependence. Without further infusions, you will become very ill. You might well die.”

Sam swallowed. He had no right to live, not after what he’d done, but having Castiel put it out there like that was harsh. “How long do I have?”

Castiel stared at him. “We can’t afford the distraction of finding you another demon. It might communicate your location to Lucifer before we could incapacitate it.”

“I don’t understand,” Sam admitted.

Castiel shrugged off the trenchcoat, then his suit jacket. Sam spared a moment to wonder why it wasn’t dirty and torn; maybe Castiel regenerated the outfit every time he popped back into existence. But Castiel was rolling up his sleeve, baring his forearm, and this was beginning to look way too familiar for comfort.

Sure enough, Castiel brought out a knife. “Come here,” he commanded.

Sam closed his mouth but he was pretty sure his eyes were showing white all the way around (which, yeah, better than the alternative). “This is—”

“It is necessary. I can’t guarantee your survival if you simply stop.”

In retrospect, Sam understood that a plan involving drinking demon blood was probably inherently flawed from the outset. Angel blood didn’t have the same connotations. Nonetheless—“Are you sure this is a good idea?”

Castiel gave him what Dean would have labeled a bitchface, with bonus head tilt. “To the contrary, it is profoundly foolish. If you wish to continue searching for alternatives, I will only remind you that St. Petersburg was a city of a quarter of a million souls.”

Sam flinched. They’d woken up to the news. Even the reporters were using the term ‘apocalyptic,’ and they didn’t know how right they were. He nodded, conceding the point, and stood up. “How, uh. How do you want me to do this?”

Castiel frowned, as if only now realizing that Sam’s height meant that he’d have to raise his arm, which would minimize the blood flow. Without further comment, he sat on the edge of the bed. After a moment, Sam joined him, his pulse fluttering as he realized that they were actually going to—his mouth was watering.

Fuck, he was an addict. He’d never really believed it, not until now, when everything that mattered was lost to him. And if Dean had been standing on the other side of him, Sam was sickly certain that he still wouldn’t have turned away from the promise of blood.

When Castiel drew the blade across his forearm, Sam grabbed it before his tears could obscure his vision.

Ruby’s blood had always tasted just like blood, salty and meaty. He’d never been able to sense the sulfur. Castiel’s blood was the same.

The power hit him immediately. The feeling was more intense than it had ever been with Ruby, which Sam guessed made sense if demons were just ex-humans. Maybe Lucifer’s blood would have the kick of an angel’s. Sam made a noise that he was glad was muffled against Castiel’s skin.

It poured down his throat, hot and calming, puffing him up with strength. If he had to tear the world apart to find Dean, he could do it now. He could feel it rushing through his own veins, down the capillaries and into every cell, making him more than human.

Castiel was whispering. “Hic est enim calix sanguinis mei, novi et æterni testamenti,” like some sick priest. The Latin was mixed with something else, Hebrew maybe. Sam knew this was no sacrament, no matter that it felt like he was being lifted on great invisible wings. There was no transubstantiation here, because Sam hadn’t started with anything as innocent as wine. Maybe Castiel was just trying to make himself feel better about participating in this horrorshow. Or maybe, against all odds, the angel still believed that grace was some sort of possibility for them.

Nothing that felt this good could be right. And even so, Sam chased it, his nerves singing with the frenzied excitement of it.

“Stop,” Castiel said, and put his free hand on Sam’s forehead to reinforce the point. Sam made a muffled protest: this was the power of Heaven, so sweet and clear inside him, like he was being cleansed at the same time as he was strengthened. “Sam,” Castiel repeated, voice deepening. “You must stop. You are endangering my physical form.”

Sam forced himself still, no longer worrying Jimmy Novak’s body with his tongue and teeth. After a moment, he was able to pull back, flushed with shame and worse, and to relax the bruise-tight grip he had on Castiel’s arm. “Sorry,” he said, eyes still fixed on the weeping cut on the angel’s arm, the flesh around red with irritation.

Castiel covered the wound with his other hand, and when his fingers passed over his skin, it was unbroken again, healed completely. “This is temporary,” he warned. “I cannot feed you as you have been accustomed to be fed.”

Sam nodded. Whatever the pain of withdrawal, he’d take it, as long as he could function enough to find Dean. “What do we do now?” he asked.

Castiel frowned. “Lucifer will take a vessel,” he said. “Did you reject him?”

Thinking back, Sam couldn’t say he’d done anything consciously, but—“I might’ve. There was some sort of presence, and then it was gone.”

When he dared to look at Castiel again, the angel’s gaze had gone distant, seeing nothing of the dingy hotel room with its bad seventies wallpaper and pilled-up bedspread. “If what I suspect is true, then Lucifer will continue to seek you out, because you are his true vessel. You must continue to refuse him. Without Dean, there is no one to match him.”

Sam’s stomach lurched as he worked through what Castiel wasn’t saying. “Dean’s—he’s supposed to be a vessel, too?”

“My brother Michael,” Castiel said, with a sort of calm hunger.

A wash of red obscured Sam’s vision. He felt the coiled snake of power inside him flex, eager to strike. Angels were just the other side of demons, right? “That’s why you pulled Dean out of Hell?” he asked, his voice shaking. “Just so you could stuff him full of your brother?”

Castiel examined him like a bird trying to determine whether he was a twig or a worm. “I was not made aware of the larger plan when I was sent to raise Dean. And I am still uncertain in my conclusions. But it does seem likely that Dean was to be sacrificed to Heaven, as you to Hell.”

“And humanity just gets caught in the middle,” Sam concluded. He launched himself from the bed, unable to sit quietly while Cas was calmly explaining just how little people—Dean—meant to the angels. He wanted to kill every one of the smug, self-serving—

No. Revenge had gotten him Lucifer. Revenge had made him stupid. Well, that and the demon blood, but given his present condition, he was going to have to compensate for the latter.

He made himself stop pacing, though he couldn’t look at Castiel. “So, without Dean, Heaven doesn’t win the apocalypse. That means we’ve got a common interest in stopping Lucifer before he goes all the way.”

“I don’t think Heaven will see you as a potential ally, Sam.”

Sam’s fists clenched, but he forced them still by his sides.

He jumped when he felt Castiel’s hand on his back. Then there was a searing pain through his chest, worse than being choked. “What the—” he managed to gasp at last, tearing away from Castiel and spinning around, raising his hand like he could exorcise the angel.

Castiel didn’t flinch, though Sam thought there was disapproval in the set of his mouth. “Without Dean, the obvious move is to kill you so as to inflict an equal injury on Lucifer's plan, to force both sides to less suitable vessels. I incised Enochian symbols on your bones that will make it impossible for angels to find you, even when we leave this room. That might keep you alive for a time.”

“On my bones?” Sam repeated.

“Tattoos can be … excised.” Castiel had the look of someone who’d seen it done and wasn’t fond of the memory. Sam swallowed and accepted that for the moment.

But if Heaven was after Sam, then—“You’re sure Lucifer doesn’t have Dean?”

Castiel’s brow furrowed. “My brother’s sin was ever pride. I believe that he would want to confront Michael full-on, rather than crippling him by removing his vessel.”

“You believe,” Sam repeated. “That’s just fantastic. You also believe in God, right? So where is He in all this?”

If anything, Castiel got stiffer. Dick move, Sam thought, hammering on a known weakness like that, and for no good reason. And then, because Castiel was there and Dean wasn’t, Sam made himself open his mouth again. “Sorry,” he said, still tasting blood in his mouth. “I don’t—what are we going to do?”

Castiel turned away. “We will have to find a vulnerability while Lucifer is yet in an unsuitable vessel.”

But if Lucifer really needed some kind of human host to start the apocalypse, and if Sam was supposed to be that host, then there was an obvious solution. If he’d known Dean was safe, it would even have been a relief. “Does that mean that if I, if we let the other angels find me—?”

“There has been enough sacrifice!” Castiel barked. In an eyeblink, he was face to face with Sam, curling his fists in Sam’s collar, pushing him back in unsteady steps with a strength far more than human. “Each time, each death, has been a loss, not a victory! We have no idea what will defeat Lucifer. For all we know it may require the willing resistance of his vessel. So cease with your whining and consider where we might find any insight into Lucifer’s weaknesses.”

Sam closed his mouth. Then he sat down and reached for his phone.

Track One

Dean watched through the open bathroom door as Sam brushed his teeth. Dean was probably going to do that too, in a minute. He’d steal Sam’s toothbrush; it wouldn’t be the first time. He was so tired, though. The bed was easy to lie in. And with Sam here, smiling and content and not hiding anything from him, it was hard to remember that there was another Sam out there, alone against Lucifer. (Sam who’d choked him out and thought he was weak and hadn’t answered the phone because Ruby meant more to him; Sam who’d be so disgusted with what Dean had just done with this Sam. Sam who didn’t need Dean dragging him down.) Even the just-fucked feeling helped keep him down, loose-limbed and ready for sleep.

But Sam here had his vulnerabilities, too.

“Lucifer’s minions can’t be thrilled with you deciding not to play your part in Apocalypse Now,” Dean commented.

Sam shrugged, looking kind of rabid with a mouth full of foam. “Haven’t heard from them in a while.”

“Yeah, not that reassuring.” He remembered the months they’d waited for Yellow-Eyes to show up again, and how it had turned out that Azazel was just training up the other special children to compete against Sam in the final showdown. When Satan did show his hand, Dean guessed, it was likely to be aces high. "So what happened to Ruby when you decided you weren't gonna kill Lilith for her?"

Sam's tanned skin practically glowed against his white T-shirt, muscles of his arms standing out as he leaned forward, bracing his hands against the sink. Say what you liked about demon blood, it seemed more like steroids than heroin. Complete with 'roid rage, Dean remembered, resisting the desire to touch the bruises on his neck.

Sam took a sip of water from a flimsy plastic cup and spat again, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "She kept me alive while you were ... gone."

"And believe me I appreciate that, even if I'm not a fan of the whole 'releasing Lucifer' thing. But—" speaking over Sam's protest—"I know she made you think she was on the good guys' side. So what I wanna know is how you figured out you were being played." And why my Sam didn't, he added. Had Dean's presence been so distracting, his weakness so total, that Sam hadn't been able to listen?

“Dean told me,” Sam said, not looking at his reflection in the mirror. “She was there, sometimes, when he was being—and demons lie, but he wasn’t.”

Dean nodded. For all he knew, Ruby had been one of the demons Alastair outsourced to when he was busy elsewhere, since they’d rarely told him their names. If Dean had stayed down long enough he might’ve learned to recognize her particular curl of black smoke. Or maybe Ruby would’ve come later, and Castiel had interrupted all that. He tried not to invoke memories of what he’d done those last ten years, but this was an exceptional circumstance. “Tell me you killed her slow.”

Sam snorted and came back to the bed. Dean suppressed a twitch when Sam settled next to him—he was much more used to having his own bed, and he didn’t know if he could sleep with someone else, let alone with Sam.

“If it helps, she begged for mercy.”

“I can’t say I’m hating the thought of Ruby on her knees,” Dean admitted.

Sam’s brows scrunched up. He leaned toward Dean and opened his mouth just as Dean realized what he’d said. “Not like that!” he hurried, and Sam looked at him with his ‘bullshit’ expression. “No, seriously, Sammy, that shit ain’t right. I wouldn’t—” Of course his Sam would, and had. “Did you?” he asked, diverted by the thought of what his Sam had gotten up to with Ruby during his four months.

Sam ducked his head, but without his bangs to cover his eyes the move was less effective. “You were gone.”

Dean nodded, because it wasn’t like he had any right to bitch in the first place. He flipped the sheet off of himself and watched Sam’s face go slack. “I’m here now,” he said, and then there wasn’t much more to say.

Track Two


Sam turned over, grumbling, and opened his eyes just enough to let the light in.

Dean was sitting on the bed across from him, legs splayed, wearing Dad’s leather jacket, his hair in those stupid gelled spikes.

Sam bolted upright. “Dean!”

Dean grinned. “Sort of.”

Hunh? Sam looked around. This was the guest room he’d fallen asleep in. But there was no sign of Castiel, or of Sam’s research, which had been strewn around the room when last he’d seen it.

“Lucifer,” he guessed, and Dean’s eyes lightened further.

“No flies on you. I never liked that nickname anyway, Lord of the Flies. It’s insulting.”

“What do you want?” If Lucifer had Dean—if this was, oh God, a possession—Sam’s brain refused to process further.

“Isn’t it obvious, Sam? I want you. You are my chosen vessel. You will be mine. I’m just here to encourage you to say yes to me sooner, rather than later. Before things get bad.”

Things are already bad, Sam thought, and tried to keep his face perfectly still. “No,” he said.

“Come on, Sam,” Lucifer drawled in perfect imitation of Dean. “Your brother left you to rot, same as mine did. But I’ll never leave you.”

“No,” he said. Even if Lucifer was telling the truth, it didn’t matter. He owed Dean that much, not to compound his error and give in to the end of the world.

“You’ll change your mind,” Lucifer said, smug certainty in the curl of Dean’s smile, the crinkles at the corners of Dean’s eyes.

“Where’s Dean?” Sam demanded, not that he expected an answer. But even a denial might have a clue in it.

Lucifer shrugged. “I can’t find him. I’m not lying,” he said immediately, reading Sam’s expression. “I’ll never lie to you, Sam. But your brother’s flight isn’t my doing. Maybe you should talk to some unfallen angels instead.”

Sam sat up into the waking world. The thin blankets didn’t keep out the chill of a North Dakota predawn. Across the room, a mirror showed him a junkie’s pinched face. The wallpaper was faded roses; the vines looked like prison bars in the gray light.

He rubbed his hand across his face and headed downstairs to continue his research. There wasn’t much out there on what could hide a person from God’s prophet, but Bobby had pulled the most out-there references he could find. The only references he could find; same thing really when you started getting this esoteric.

Sam couldn’t figure it out. If Lucifer had Dean, it was obvious that the next step was to ask Sam for a trade, but there’d been nothing. (Sam refused to consider the alternatives for what Lucifer might have done to Michael’s intended vessel.) Castiel was convinced that Heaven was also in an uproar about Dean’s absence. It was hard to figure out a third party that would have intervened.

Oh, and there was the small matter of Lucifer not giving up on the End Times. But apparently Sam’s job there was simply to say no. That, he was willing to claim expertise in.

The sun rose; Bobby slid a cup of coffee next to his elbow, and at some point Sam must’ve drunk it. He ate, possibly; there was only half a sandwich on the plate at the edge of the table, anyway. His eyes felt like they were covered in velcro, almost as painful closed as open. So much apocrypha, so many ways the world could end, and he couldn’t figure out which was supposed to be his story.

Shadows stretched their fingers across the room. When he moved it felt like his bones had been glued into place, cracking as he stood. He pissed and washed his hands and didn’t look at his useless, demon-blood-drinking reflection.

There were still a few books to go. If he listened carefully, he could hear the clanking of Bobby working down in the basement—he recalled Bobby saying something about preparing anti-angel and anti-demon weaponry, but he was leaving all that to Bobby. When Bobby put a knife in his hand, he’d use it.

Sitting down again hurt. He was glad. The room was as airless as if he’d been alone for years. It wasn’t worse than when he’d known Dean was in Hell, but that was a curve that went all the way down.

The stack of esoteric texts continued to dwindle. When he reached the end—he’d figure something out. He had to.

“You should know,” Castiel said slowly, startling him from his work trance, “that I don’t seek to take him from you.”

A corner of the fragile page Sam was translating from French crumbled to dust under his fingers. “Fuck! Why—no, I don’t want to know.” That lasted about two seconds. He swiveled in his chair. “I’m not—you think I’m jealous?”

Castiel inclined his head, like Sam was the weirdo in the room. “Yes.”

Sam launched himself to his feet, filled with the desire to hit something. “Yeah, well. I used to think being on the angels’ side was better. That doesn’t mean I—I’ve seen how you look at him. You wouldn’t be the first to pick Dean. He’s not—He can’t give you what you want.”

“I don’t think you understand what I want.”

Well, fuck you too. Sam felt his shoulders rise, and only then realized that having his hands in fists was an improvement: before the last seal, he would have raised his palm to Castiel. He would have tried to see what his powers could do with an angel. The thought was deflationary, and he sagged back into his seat. “Explain it to me.”

Castiel’s expression never changed. “As the result of my mission to redeem him from Hell, Dean and I share a profound bond. My desire is to preserve that, regardless of the battles ahead. But Dean would deny it, for your sake, if he believed that was what you wanted.” Sam was instantly swallowing back his tears, because Castiel was talking as if it was obvious that Dean was just away for a while, as if it was unquestionable that Castiel was going to get his chance at Dean. Sam’s anger seemed very small and faithless compared to the angel’s confidence.

Inexorably, Castiel continued. “You believe he is broken, and there are ways in which that is true. But you are far from whole yourself. Yet you need not fear. Dean has a prodigous capacity for love, and no one will ever come before you in his heart.” Castiel said it simply, with total acceptance. Sam didn’t understand how that could be.

Maybe, he thought, that’s what grace is.

He turned his head, because there were some things it was too painful to admit that another person could see. “I’m still pissed at the angels. But you’re not a regular angel, and he’s not mine,” although there was a throb in his chest that said something else. “He’ll need all the friends he can get.”

“When we get him back,” Castiel prompted.

Sometimes Sam wondered just how much psychology Castiel really grasped. For a being who presented as barely intersecting with humanity, he sure knew just where to hit. “When we get him back,” Sam acknowledged.

Track One

“So, do we still kill evil things here, or what?” Not that Dean particularly wanted to get out of bed—Sam had been just as enthusiastic for round three in the morning—but as long as he was stuck here, he ought to do some good.

Sam gawped at him from over at the table by the window, where he was drinking coffee and not eating his egg biscuit. A folded-over paper bag with slowly widening grease spots on the table across from him indicated that he was trying to indulge Dean, which Dean could really get used to.

“I know you’ve been busy,” Dean conceded. “And I’m not sayin’ I like the idea of you hunting out on your own. But ghosts and vampires and shit didn’t stop killing people just because some lousy seals were breaking, right?”

“… No,” Sam said. “They didn’t.”

“Okay,” Dean said, drawing it out. “So let’s find a hunt.” Maybe some righteous violence could get Sam back onto a less Lilith-consorting path, plus if they worked well together Sam might help him contact his own original Sam. (But this was Sam too; he felt it in his bones, a familiarity that had his guard all the way down, without the post-Hell distrust that had crept through them like rust on a junker.)

He swung his legs over the side of the bed, suppressing a wince. “And I mean by that, you get with the research, Brainiac. I’m gonna take a shower. Think you can find a job before I’m done?”

Sam’s shoulders automatically stiffened at the challenge in Dean’s tone. He stared at Dean a moment longer—he knew Dean too well to believe that Dean was completely okay with this, especially with another Sam on the line—but Dean did want something simple to hunt, and Sam could read him well enough to get that.

Because some things couldn’t be changed just by swapping universes, Sam had a lead on an unquiet ghost by the time Dean was toweling his hair dry.

It was so easy to drive the highways with Sam beside him, and the fact that Sam was staring at him instead of examining the scenery wasn’t a problem. Reminded him of before he went to Hell. A little nervous-making, because Dean wasn’t ever sure what Sam saw, but at the same time it was like sitting out in the sun the first day of spring, warm all over and happy to be alive. He couldn’t say he’d felt like that in a long time, even aboveground.

Of course, they had to stop halfway through so that Dean could realign the Impala. Dean hadn’t said anything about Sam’s hurried cleanup before they got on the road, even though the seats needed conditioning more than Sam’s hair did. But there were some things that couldn’t be ignored, like his baby pulling to the right. In other circumstances, Dean would’ve had words for Sam about his carelessness. At least this Sam had thought better of the iPod jack before Dean had to rip it out for him.

They found a garage where the owner took a couple of hundreds to let Dean hang out in the corner and jack up the Impala. (Dean was sure he didn’t want to know where the cash had come from; at least Sam wasn’t whammying the guy.) The suspension was loose, like he’d suspected, and he lost himself in the simple pleasure of replacing worn-out parts. He’d be lying to say that having Sam watch him work like Sam was a kid again, impressed with everything Dean could do, was awful.

“C’mere,” he ordered when it was time, “time for a magician’s assistant.”

Sam rolled his eyes but went where Dean pointed. Dean had the chalk out of the trunk, from the same box they used back in his world, and he held it up as Sam spun the tire around, creating a perfect line around the circumference. “Hands of a surgeon,” he said with satisfaction.

“I’m not sure there’s enough room in this yard for you, me, and your ego,” Sam said, but he was smiling.

Says the guy who broke open the universe to get me, Dean almost said. Might be a sore subject though, so he just gestured Sam over to the next tire.

After a while, Sam went to get them lunch. That was good, Dean thought. Sam knew that there wasn’t any place here Dean would go without him. And then his attention was occupied by measuring, loosening the nuts, and adjusting the tie rods, which lasted just long enough for Sam to reward him with a meatball sub.

He chewed with his mouth open, just to see Sam grimace. He almost didn’t care whether this was some fever dream. Maybe he’d never made it out of the convent and this was a concussion fantasy, last few moments on Earth before Lucifer took everyone out, and his overstrained brain was letting him write his own happy ending. Okay, he wouldn’t have expected the fucking, but right now, out in the sun with his T-shirt sticking to his back and the slight ache in his arms and thighs from a job done well, Sam at his side and a beer in his hand, it was hard to see what else he would’ve changed. And honestly, he’d always been way too wrapped up in Sam. The whole world could see it and even people who only read about them got the message, so maybe the fucking wasn’t as surprising a part of the package as all that.

“You done admiring her?” Sam said, balling up his trash and tossing it unerringly into a can ten feet away. “You were the one who was hot to trot this morning.”

“Hot to trot every morning,” Dean shot back without thinking, and then felt himself turn red from his chest to his ears, much to Sam’s amusement.

The rest of the drive was uneventful, and the ghost was no problem to find. Dean did nearly swallow his own tongue when she appeared and lunged at Sam and, instead of ending up choked against a gravestone, Sam thrust his hand out like the world’s pissiest traffic guard. The ghost froze, like a crappy VCR tape put on pause, flickering a little but gaping just as much as Dean was, before he remembered he had a fucking job to do and dumped the rest of the lighter fluid onto the corpse.

Sam held his pose even as Dean dropped the matches in. His face was serious, but he didn’t look like he was straining—nothing like the effort he’d put in with Samhain or Alastair. Of course one pissant ghost was nothing against major demons like those, but Dean knew what Sam looked like when he was using a skill that’d become so ingrained it was second nature.

Sam glanced over at him as the ghost disintegrated. Dean shook his head. “That doesn’t even seem fair,” he said, keeping his tone light.

Sam snorted. “Death’s not fair.”

Dean couldn’t argue with that.

Track Two

Sam recognized the twitchiness in time to avoid total embarrassment. He told Castiel, not meeting his eyes, and Castiel agreed to feed him, to help wean him off the power in the blood without seizures. Angelic methadone, in its own way. This time, fighting with every ounce of stubborn Dad ever accused him of having, Sam forced himself to stop before Castiel made him stop.

“I’m pleased with your progress,” Castiel said once they’d separated. “It’s unlikely that you’ll die of withdrawal at this point.”

Dean would’ve laughed at Castiel’s tactless frankness. Sam appreciated the honesty, but not his brother’s absence. “So what’s next?”

I don’t know,” the angel growled. “I have no answers. I have no orders. I had thought of going in search of God, but I have no way to find Him.”

Sam sat down at the table where most of his research was spread out. He leaned an elbow on a tiny patch of wood not covered with books and propped his head on his hand. “What about a location spell?”

“For God?”

“For Dean.”

Castiel blinked at him. Apparently he hadn’t gotten the memo about the Winchester commitment to family. “If Dean were in Heaven or on this plane of existence, I would know it. A human soul has a distinctive pattern, a vibration through etheric dimensions, and Dean’s is more distinctive than most.”

“And what if Lucifer’s got him locked up in Hell?” He knew he’d asked before, but he was desperate, and maybe repetition would shake some key detail loose. That was how you worked a case. If Dean was a case, then there was hope.

Castiel shook his head. “After what I learned during my journey to rescue him there, I would also know.”

“Stashed in Purgatory, then,” Sam guessed.

“That’s not how Purgatory works,” Castiel said, and forestalled Sam’s queries by holding up his hand. “But the idea of locating God—if Dean were here, his amulet would burn hot in God’s presence.”

Sam sat up straight. “His amulet?”

“It’s a long story,” Castiel said. “In any event that’s not an option without Dean. Still, you’ve given me some ideas.” That was his version of goodbye, because he disappeared with that wingbeat whoosh that somehow never made the air move.

Sam sighed and pushed his hair off of his forehead with both hands, smoothing it behind his ears. Dean would’ve been humming ‘Don’t Know What You’ve Got ‘Til Its Gone,' if he’d been there. Or, really, he would’ve been sticking a knife in Sam, like he’d promised.

Sam owed Dean a chance to be the one who put down the monster he’d become. He still had a number of volumes to consult. He’d done despair before, and it hadn’t worked out well. This time, he was going to get it right.

Track One

Dean came to consciousness with the buzz of an unfamiliar phone. He blinked sleep-gummed eyes—nothing like getting good and dicked to let a man sleep without nightmares—and fumbled around in the jeans piled on the floor until he found the phone, since he could hear the water running in the bathroom and figured Sam wouldn’t mind him answering.


There was a pause. “Sam?”

“Bobby?” Shit, he hadn’t made Sam spread the news—hadn’t been sure that Sam was still talking to Bobby, what with the consorting with demons and all. He didn’t even know whether Bobby knew about Dean’s first return from Hell in this world.


Okay, this was going to turn into Who’s On First pretty fast. “Yeah, hey, Bobby. Um, if you want we can swing by and you can run all the tests, but long story short, it’s me.”

There was a pause, during which Bobby was surely calculating how many different monsters Dean might be and how long it would take him to get to Dean’s location. “Where’s Sam?”

“I’ll get him out of the shower,” Dean said, since that would save everyone time and energy.

He put Bobby on speaker and headed over to open the bathroom door. “Sam!” he yelled. “Get out here and talk to Bobby!”

The water shut off with a clunk and Sam stepped out, frowning. He grabbed a towel and wiped his face, but didn’t cover up, which was more than a little distracting.

“Hey, Bobby,” he said, not particularly friendly. “What’s up?”

“Why don’t you tell me? There’s demon sign all over the place, all of a sudden. Like demon Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And whether that’s Dean back or somethin’ else, I’m finding it hard to think that’s unrelated.”

They looked at each other. “It’s Dean,” Sam said, which was close enough to the truth that Dean didn’t feel much need to correct him. “And I don’t know anything about the level of demon activity, but we can look into it. You got some locations?”

There was a longish pause. Eventually Bobby must’ve decided that even an Evil Dean couldn’t do too much with the information Sam was asking for, and he began listing places—places Dean recognized.

Sam saw it in his face and held up a finger, signalling Dean to keep his fool mouth shut. That didn’t sit well with Dean, but they could fight about it after Bobby hung up.

“I have a couple of ideas,” Sam said. “Let us look into it.”

“You planning on explaining Dean as any part of that investigation, Sam?”

Sam closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath, his nostrils flaring. At least his eyes didn’t glint yellow. “I’ll tell you about Dean too, I promise. But this sounds important.”

“Yeah, and the return of the boy I practically raised ain’t?”

Dean couldn’t help but feel a warm glow over that. “Sorry, Bobby,” he said, because clearly he was going to have to be the peacemaker in this Winchester family too, which was kind of hilarious given how bad he was at it overall. “We will call, I promise. Even come by so’s you can throw holy water on me.”

“You better,” Bobby grumbled, but let them go.

“Those are all places where seals broke,” Dean said as soon as the connection ended. “I’m thinking the apocalypse is back on.”

Sam cursed.

“It’s me,” Dean said, sick certainty in his stomach. “Whoever wants this showdown, they know I’m back. There are angels making this happen, I know it.”

Sam shivered, and Dean didn’t think it was just because he was still wet. “How do we fight angels?” Yeah, that reverence thing Sam had going on got old even faster the second time around.

Then Dean realized: he knew somebody who might be able to help, and they could help her.

“Anna Milton,” he said.

Track Two

“You judge yourself too harshly,” Castiel announced.

Sam controlled the reflexive shudder. “Don’t,” he snapped, and turned a fraction further away from Castiel. “What do you know about it, anyway? You’re here for Dean, the righteous man.”

Castiel breathed out, and even though Sam knew the sound was needless affectation it still made him look over his shoulder to see Castiel’s serious face. “I know that those to whom evil is done do evil in return. And I know that Dean, the righteous man, sold his soul: the greatest sin of all, the voluntary submission to Hell. And then, because he had sold his soul, he chose to become a torturer. He was close to becoming a demon when I raised him. Not so different from you.”

Sam felt the tears slipping down his cheeks. Dean’s trip to Hell was his fault, his fault for turning his back on Jake, but it was also Dean’s choice. Dean had been raised to give himself for Sam at every turn, and he could have rebelled, could at least have let what was dead stay dead, but Dean never even let himself think that he had a choice. Sam and Dean, free will and destiny: Inextricable, bound together, and Sam had loved their closeness and hated it with every cell of his being for too long to even know who he was without Dean. “What am I supposed to do with that?”

“Repent,” Castiel said, even though Sam hadn’t really been asking him. “Forgive him, and yourself. Choose life, and make amends where you can. You have an opportunity very few humans have, Sam. You can make your repentance into a weapon to save this world.”

“What are you saying?” Sam whispered, though he was beginning to suspect.

Castiel knelt gracefully next to him, the trenchcoat puddling on the indifferently clean carpet, their heads at the same level. Sam thought, randomly, that Castiel’s five-o’-clock shadow could have been borrowed straight from Dean. “Perhaps—perhaps you and I are all that is left of Dean. Because of him, I have left my brothers and sisters. Because of him, you rejected the temptations of demons. There is a ritual Bobby showed me. Its purpose is otherwise, but I believe it could be modified to join the powers of a fallen angel and a risen demon. It may provide us with the strength to defeat Lucifer. It is extremely dangerous, and even if we succeed he will likely hurt us mortally. But I would do it. For Dean, in his name.”

Sam closed his eyes and concentrated on not collapsing from the pain in his chest. If Zachariah’s message that Dean was vital to stopping Lucifer meant only this—only that Dean’s memory was the necessary spur—then Sam was just about ready to let the whole fucking world burn.

Dean wouldn’t want that. But Dean wasn’t exactly represented in the discussion, so—

But of course Castiel was right. Saving people was the family business. He’d thought it was revenge for so long, revenge and self-defense, but neither of those things were worth getting up in the morning for. Letting other people love and lose, breathe and choose—that was what made the Winchesters hunt ghosts and monsters, protecting the world from the dangers it no longer believed in. This was just doing the job on a bigger scale.

“Hang on,” he realized. “You’ve—you’re a fallen angel now?” It made sense, he guessed, what with Castiel bringing Dean to him against orders. He just hadn’t thought—and Castiel hadn’t seemed afraid of being chased down by the other angels, like Anna had been. But Sam guessed that the remaining host was spending most of its time fighting the original fallen angel.

Castiel nodded confirmation. “And to kill Lilith required you to take on your demonic aspect in full. I believe that satisfies the definition of ‘risen demon’ used in the text.”

Sam remembered how it had been. His senses had been both sharper and flatter: he could see in the dark, smell human stench from yards away, hear around corners. But beauty had been nothing more than paint over decay, and even Dean’s voice had rubbed against him like sandpaper over a fresh welt. The world had been hateful to him and he had hated.

He shuddered. “I don’t want to go there again. I don’t want to be what I am.”

Castiel put a hand on his shoulder, warm but not quite as warm as Dean’s. “You should not need to return to consorting with demons in order to perform the ritual. If you are willing.”

Sam clenched his jaw, swallowed. “Yes,” he said. “For Dean.”

After a moment, Castiel squeezed his arm, deliberate but also reassuring. All Sam could think of was Ruby, how horrible and wonderful she’d felt against his skin. How it had all been a lie, and how she’d really believed that he’d be happy when he became the monster she’d always seen in him. Castiel had betrayed Dean too; angels seemed no better than demons. Which was reason enough to keep them from fighting their stupid proxy war.

Sam coughed and leaned back, jerking his head over to where the books of prophecy were stacked on the dresser. “So,” he said, “when do we start?”

Track 1

Just like it’d been at home, Anna Milton was at Connor Beverley Behavioral Medicine Center, for her own good. Only here, she hadn’t heard anything about him until a few days ago, when it was all, “Dean Winchester is returned.” That wasn’t any less creepy the second time around, but at least she recognized his name and was open to listening to two random strangers who claimed to know what was up with her better than her doctors.

After Sam gave him the nod indicating that he agreed that she’d be useful, Dean said, “We need to skedaddle to get your grace before the demons catch up—it’s in Kentucky.”

“My grace?” Anna repeated.

Dean remembered that she hadn’t yet been reacquainted with her true nature.

“Fuck, we have to stop for a hypnotist. I know just the one.” At least Pamela wouldn’t be so rightfully pissed with the Winchesters this time.

“Hypnotherapy?” Anna said, dubiously.

He looked her straight in the eyes, took her hands, and told her, “Trust me. You need our help.”

“A hypnotist?” Sam asked, just as disbelieving, when they signed her out.

“Actually, she’s a psychic.” He explained about how Pamela’s been a big help back in his old life, where the seals were breaking and the angels were a bit more active. Of course, given the way he naturally described her, that meant he ended up having to hiss at Sam how no, he hadn’t screwed Pamela (more’s the pity).

Anna sat in the back seat, thankfully Rubyless this time around, and listened to them give the barest possible outline of the stakes. The story must’ve sort of matched up with what the angels singing in her head had been saying, because she didn’t open the door and roll out at sixty miles per hour, even though honestly it might’ve been safer. He tried to make it sound like they had God on their side or whatever, though when she did get re-badassed she was going to see through that pretty quick. For now, she seemed willing to go along with the demons-and-angels-are-after-you flow.

He also had to dodge Sam’s pointed questions about Anna, asked at rest stops when Anna couldn’t hear them. The girl’s been hearing voices, he said. There’s names for dudes who do that.

In point of fact, he didn’t know what to do about the fact that he’d slept with her alternate universe version. He had a hard enough time dealing with girls he’d actually fucked, and that wasn’t even getting into Sam’s reaction to Anna, like a drug dog alerting to a trace of sexual interest in place of pot. Sam had even shouldered him aside when he’d tried to open the back door of the Impala for her, and he could tell she was nervous at Sam’s glowering scrutiny.

The demons didn’t seem to be after her yet, but they might not know she was in play again. While Anna slept, slumped to one side and flickering in and out of Dean’s vision in the rearview mirror as they passed the random lights on the highway, Dean told Sam more of what he’d heard in the angels’ green room.

“Brothers,” Sam said.


“Michael and Lucifer, they were brothers. They’re each other’s family.” He stared out the window for a while, then slammed his hand down on the inner sill.

“Hey!” Dean protested his baby’s mistreatment.

“Every one of Azazel’s ‘special’ children had a sibling. I never thought anything about it because they weren’t all born at the same time or anything like that—there were even the twins, remember? But if they’re looking for a matched set to possess, maybe—”

“Shit,” Dean said with great feeling. Then he realized that, with Lucifer risen and him gone, things might be even worse on the other side. Except that, unlike before, the angels would have a very strong incentive to push back the apocalypse, if their chosen warrior was going to be unavailable. “So we’re like a two-pack of archangel condoms.”

“It makes sense,” Sam said, and Dean had to admit that, of all the terrible things he’d heard recently, this at least had the virtue of being marginally logical.

They made a pit stop for caffeine and sugar. Dean made sure to buy Sam a fruit cup and shove it into his hands; after a while, Sam got really into telling Anna about his theories about supernatural evolution, forgot it was food, and ate it. Dean smiled to himself; the kid couldn’t be left on his own, and that was a natural fact.

Unshaven and unslept, they finally arrived at Pamela’s. The door opened before Sam could knock. Pamela stared at the three of them, and it was both freaky and awesome to see her eyes. Her eyebrows climbed the longer she looked at them, which was much less awesome. Dean cleared his throat. “I’m not exactly from around here.”

“Yeah, I get that. You’re not a ghost, but you’re not right, either.”

Pamela didn’t look like she minded, and it wasn’t anything Dean didn’t already know about himself. Still, Dean felt Sam’s frown, and he reached out to put a hand on Sam’s forearm. “We’re trying to save the world, I swear to you.”

“Oh, well, then no worries,” Pamela drawled, which was fair enough. “You all had best come in and explain yourselves.”

She let them walk past her, checking out the rear view. Dean just hoped that Sam would stick with embarrassed, like he’d been in the good old days, instead of getting jealous. Fortunately, Sam didn’t seem to be paying much attention to Pamela’s appreciation.

Once they’d seated themselves in her living room, Dean explained the basics: Anna Milton, fallen angel, needed to remember who she was.

“You don’t ask for much, do you?”

“It’ll work,” Dean said, with a confidence he usually had to fake. It was really nice to not be talking out of his ass, just once, even if the overall situation sucked.

“Hmph,” she said, but she did the job, sending Anna down almost immediately. This was a psychic who really knew her shit. Dean hadn’t appreciated that enough the first time around, but he was a fan of competence even more than of 34-Ds. Pamela coaxed Anna backwards in time until Anna came flailing awake, eager to escape the angels she now understood were coming to kill her.

She looked at her hands in wonder. “I don’t regret it,” she said, mostly to herself. Then she looked up at the trio of humans hovering over her. “We need to move fast,” she said. “They don’t understand how much you know, Dean, but they will soon.”

“Wait,” Dean said, when Anna looked like she was about to leave them and start running towards Kentucky if they didn’t get a move on. “Somebody else we’ve got to get in touch with.”

He elaborated: Castiel, angel of the Lord, eyes burned out and eardrums exploded without proper precautions. “And you need to talk to this jerk why?” Pamela asked when he faltered to a stop.

Sam’s hand on his wrist made it both harder and easier for Dean to keep his face still. Dean spoke what he knew to be absolute truth: “He needs to take a host so we can keep Lucifer from destroying the world. That good enough for you?”

Pamela leaned forward—whoa, Dean had totally forgotten how nice that rack was—and looked first at Sam, then at Dean. “You’re really confident that this is all going down unless you get in touch with your angel, but the Jolly Green Giant here doesn’t seem as excited to be here.”

Four fucking inches, Dean thought grumpily, and not even where it counted. Pamela winked at him as if she’d read his mind, which, he kind of hoped not.

Dean shifted uneasily. “I’ve seen what happens when all the seals break. Do you really think that a fallen angel with a breeding program and a thirty-year plan has only one option when it comes to icing Lilith? Lucifer is close to rising, and Cas—my Cas—he didn’t want that, and my guess is we could use his help. Angels are like nukes—having just one might not get the job done.”

“I agree,” Anna—Anael—chimed in, somewhat to Dean’s surprise. “Castiel was the best warrior in the garrison, and the most honest. He would not go along with a scheme to trigger the End Times.”

Pamela frowned. “So your plan is to get a message to him, and then what?”

“We tell him to take a host first, and then get his ass down here so we can figure out what to do next. And not Jimmy Novak,” Dean remembered. “Somebody who isn’t leaving anybody behind when they agree to be wrapped around an angel.”

“Fine,” Pamela sighed. “I can already tell I’m gonna regret this. You wouldn’t consider sweetening the deal a mite, would you?” Her leer made clear what she’d consider sufficiently sweet.

Dean felt real regret when he shook his head. Then, to his considerable surprise, Sam said, “You can watch.”

“She can what?” Dean demanded, but Pamela was already shaking her head.

“I’m a hands-on type of girl.”

They set up the séance with a minimum of fuss, Anna taking the place Bobby had the first time Dean had been to this party. The air got heavy quick. Dean wondered what Anael thought of humans ordering angels around. She’d seemed on Team Human, but they probably shouldn’t push it, especially given Sam’s little eye-color problem.

“Castiel,” Pamela said, this time more confident (probably too confident, since Dean had skipped the part where he’d convinced the other her to blind herself for his benefit). “This is a message from Dean Winchester. You need to get a vessel without a family and come on down, because we’ve got business to discuss.”

And like that it was over, quick as turning off the TV. “All right,” Sam said as they all stood up, “we’ve got some grace to find.”

Dean stayed behind to thank Pamela extra, because the last thing they needed was to lose the goodwill of a psychic who had their scent, or whatever it was psychics tracked. She grabbed his ass, which he figured meant he’d done okay.

Track One/Track Two

They were in a hotel room. Sam—Dean’s own Sam, messed-up hair and everything—was asleep. On the single bed.

He hadn’t bothered to get under the covers; Dean approached and looked him over. He was pale but whole. Dean didn’t see any bruises or new scars. He looked a lot like Sam-here. Or maybe that should be Sam-there, because they were visiting Sam’s reality. Dean frowned in confusion and decided to ignore the question.

“Sam,” he said, and Sam’s breath came hot in his ear: Sam had stepped closer, his shoulder nudging against Dean’s back.

On the bed, Sam’s eyes popped open and he jerked upright. It was a little like watching a doll, mechanical and creepy.

He barely glanced at Sam, saving his death glare for Dean. “This is a dream,” he said, flat and not even disappointed.

“Uh, kinda. I think.” Dean closed his eyes for a second, then steeled himself. “I, uh. I’m here to check in on you.”

“Yeah,” Sam said, and hitched a laugh that was as far from amusement as Dean was from Dad. “So you’ve said before.”


“Taking his face makes me hate you more,” Sam said conversationally.

“Sam,” Dean said slowly. “Whoever you think I am, I’m not. It’s me. I dunno how holy water and silver work in a dream, but you gotta believe me.”

Sam stared at him for what seemed like years, sparing only a confused glance at Sam beside him. Then his eyes narrowed and he pushed the covers off of his legs. “Are you—if you’ve been around all this time, just watching—”

Dean had an idea of what Sam suspected. But he’d given up on an epic destiny when Castiel had told him to torture Alastair. He’d known then that wings weren’t ever going to be part of his skill set. He shook his head. “They didn’t make me an angel or anything. I was gone.”

Sam’s hand clenched on Dean’s upper arm. “I’m still gone,” Dean corrected. “I just—I needed to see you. To make sure you were all right.”

“If you’re not just my dream,” Sam said, each word slow and careful, “what happened to you, and who the fuck is he?”

Dean swallowed. “He’s you. Kind of. He, uh, it’s some kinda parallel world thing. His Dean wasn’t around, so he made a deal with Lilith to get me.” No way was he discussing the fate of that other Dean. “What happened to you? Looks like the world didn’t end.” Without me, he didn’t say. Just one more thing that Castiel hadn’t been telling the truth about. He’d needed to see Sam, but he thought maybe he was just about done with this version of the world, the one where he was always a day late and a dollar short and it was all in the service of somebody’s fucking grand design.

Sam stared at him, then rose from the bed, stepping almost close enough to touch. “You disappeared,” he said. Sam pressed even closer against Dean’s back, like maybe he thought Sam was going to try to grab him back. “I thought—Castiel swore it wasn’t Heaven that took you. So I—” He looked down, then his jaw firmed and he glared at Dean again. “We’ve got a plan against Lucifer. Castiel and me. We’re going to do it. And then I’m—”

Dean spoke before Sam could say anything that might trigger the other Sam’s possessiveness. Not that it was likely that Sam would really stake a claim on Dean, weak and mewling as he’d seen Dean last, but it wasn’t worth the risk. “Then you’re going to get out.”

“Don’t you want to come back?” Sam asked, the pain so raw in his voice that Dean leaned back into Sam’s shoulder just to keep himself from rushing over to try to fix the problem. Having Sam sound like he wanted Dean with him was as seductive as picking up the knife in Hell had been, an equal relief, but a return wasn’t in the cards.

“One-way trip, Sam.” He didn’t want to lie, but he needed some truth that would keep the Sams from a cage match. They were already down far too many Winchesters. “But you don’t need to worry about me. Lucifer’s not out, here.”

“So that’s it?” Sam demanded. “I have to save the world and you’re just—gone, forever? That’s my reward?”

Dean shook his head and squeezed Sam’s hand harder, reassuring him. “You know that’s not how it works, Sammy. Not for us. Anyway, once you put Lucifer down you can, you know, get on with your normal life.”

Sam looked at him like he was speaking Portuguese. “That’s not—it’s not going to happen.”

Dean leaned forward, willing Sam to pay attention. “You can. I’m out of your way—”

You are my way!” Sam yelled, and only Dean’s hand kept Sam from stepping forward; Dean could sense how every muscle in Sam’s body was clenched, one misstep away from pulling him out before he’d said everything he needed to. “Dean, I—I know you think I’m a monster. I know I don’t deserve to live. But—”

“Oh, that is some fine bullshit right there,” Dean snapped, even though he’d meant to keep his calm. “You deserve to kick Lucifer’s ass. Yeah, you fucked up, it’s the Winchester way, but you just told me you were gonna fix it. So fucking fix it.”

“If I’m not a monster, why are you so tight with him?” Sam demanded.

Dean stopped with his mouth open, because he didn’t have the first clue what to say. Sam decided for him by sliding his hand around Dean’s hip, possessive and nothing close to subtle. “Because he’s mine now,” Sam said, and then his mouth was sharp on Dean’s neck, biting wet and sloppy.

Dean shoved him away, but the damage was already done. Sam, the marginally less fucked-up Sam, was staring at them both in horror. Dean felt himself about ready to lose it. “’Bye, Sammy,” he managed, before his vision blurred and then went dark.

Track One

“She said she wasn’t taking you away from him,” Sam said. This wasn’t an argument he was having with Dean, even if he thought it was. This was Sam trying to talk himself out of his guilt. Dean didn’t tell him the fundamental truth about demons, because Sam already knew, and because he’d spent too much time tonight trying to convince Sam to let him reach out to his other Sam, using their soulbond, or whatever, the same way Lilith had found him. Please, Sam, he’d said. If it was you, you’d want to know. If it was me, Sam’d said, he’d never have let you go. But Dean’s persistence had worn Sam down, and now Dean owed him big. Big enough to forgive the jealous shit he’d pulled with Sam, anyhow.

“Doesn’t matter,” Dean said, because he couldn’t watch Sam tearing himself apart and not want to help. “I’m here.”

Sam took a deep breath. “Yeah,” he agreed. “And I’m going to take care of you.” The light in his eyes was the same determination he’d had before Dean went to Hell. Dean couldn’t let him down again. So when, ten minutes and a lot of pieces of clothing later, Sam asked, “Do you trust me?” Dean didn’t hesitate before nodding.

When Sam tied him to the bedposts, Dean made himself remember that these weren’t the hooks of Hell; they were repurposed ties from Sam’s FBI outfits. This was all for fun, and no one was going to get hurt. As he watched Sam strip down, his heart slowed down some, and he started to notice the way the cool air of the room ran over his skin, tightening his nipples and giving him goosebumps.

Sam bent over him, a wicked smile curving his lips. "Too tight, big brother?" Dean shuddered. He’d always liked the nasty girls a bit too much for his own good, and it turned out that it was the same with Sam.

Sam’s expression said he wanted an answer. “No,” he said, though Sam had no business asking him; the knots he knew were all designed to immobilize for real. Didn’t matter, because Sam was straddling him now, covering him up. His hands came down on Dean’s shoulders, extra hard over the handprint, and the warmth where his knees touched Dean’s hips made him feel even more exposed to the coolness of the room everywhere else.

Sam brushed his lips across Dean’s collarbone. “You’re gonna let me take care of you this time,” he said.

“Yeah, Sammy,” he said, and being tied up made it that much easier to let Sam tell him what to do. He hadn’t been able to protect anyone, not Sam and not even himself, but this, this he could do, close his eyes and beg and take whatever Sam gave him.

Sam had just pulled back enough to slip out, and by the way he was looking down at the mess on Dean’s belly he wasn’t planning to let Dean get cleaned up any time soon, when the door blew open. Sam was instantly on his feet, dick still wet but a knife already in his hand, and Dean fumbled for the razor blade he’d stuck into the headboard (he was willing to play along with Sam, but he wasn’t stupid), even though he wasn’t going to get out quick.

The person who came through the door was a Chinese girl, five foot nothing if she’d been in high heels. In fact, she was barefoot and wrapped in a cheap blue robe; she wasn’t obviously wearing anything else.

Dean knew that expression, the scientist examining a weird new bug through his microscope. “Cas? Castiel?”

“You summoned me,” the angel said. “Why are you fornicating with the abomination?”

Dean winced—that lovely nickname was another thing he’d left out of the story he’d given Sam—and managed to say, “Cut me free, Sam?” When he felt Sam relax fractionally, he raised his chin and looked Castiel in the eye. “We got a lot to talk about, Cas. Where I’m from, you and I are—” He couldn’t quite make ‘friends’ come out of his mouth. “You got me out of Hell, and you’re trying to stop Lucifer from ending the world, even though Zachariah and a bunch of other angels think that’s a fine idea.” The snick of Sam severing the ties was reassuring, and sitting up gave him the ability to flip a sheet over his pornographic torso. “We need you to do the same thing here.”

“Who are you possessing?” Sam asked before Castiel could react. Maybe Dean’s stories had soured him a little too much on angels and Heaven. (Or maybe it was all the demon blood that had done it.)

“As you requested, this vessel left no one behind to mourn. She was being held in a brothel.”

“In China?”

“In New Jersey,” Castiel corrected. “Your assumed national superiority is grating. There is a reason that my brothers and sisters are weary of humanity.”

“So you got the memo.” Dean wasn’t sure whether that was a good thing. If Cas had never plumbed Hell for Dean, would he have been able to see why a plan that the very first demon backed was not a good idea?

“I’ve spoken with Anael,” Castiel said. Dean relaxed a little. “She is a rebel and now a traitor.” He unrelaxed. “However, she is not wrong.” At this rate, he wasn’t going to need any demons to kill him; his heart would give out first.

Castiel stepped forward, closing the distance between them. Dean flushed further, knowing what he must smell like. He—she—put her hand on his shoulder. “This is my mark,” she said, solemn and troubled like Cas always was.

“I told you so,” Dean said, because how often did he get to surprise an angel? “Stamped my Hell passport when you got me out.”

Sam was glowering at them like he expected Dean to react to the busty Asian vessel instead of the angel wearing her like a prom dress. At some point, Dean was going to need to pull him aside and explain how there were people inside, just like there were with demons, though on second thought that might not be the best point to start with given how protective Sam was being.

“Look, I know we’re on a deadline and all, but could you give us a few so we could get cleaned up? It might not matter to angels, but if we’re talking apocalypse, I’d like to have my boots on.”

“I don’t see the relevance of footwear,” Cas said—yeah, that was Cas in there for sure—“but I will return in the morning, after I have made further inquiries.” Dean barely managed to shut his eyes before she blinked away. He knew from bitter experience that watching an angel demanifest gave him a headache.

“Well, come on,” he said, hustling into the bathroom and wetting a towel to give himself a hooker’s bath. Sam was going to want to talk, so there wasn’t enough time for a real shower. “If you don’t want me to be real distracted, you gotta get some pants on, man.”

He heard Sam moving around the room, thank fuck, and by the time Dean was rooting through his bag—the clothes still musty from being carried around for months in the trunk with no airing, ugh—he had even put on a couple-three shirts.

“I don’t know if I want an angel up close and personal,” Sam said, his arms folded as he stared at the door, which he must’ve propped back into place while Dean was cleaning himself up.

He could have been talking about his demon steroids, but Sam never did like to share his toys; he’d had few enough of them. Come to think of it, Dean suspected the demon steroids had pumped up that aspect of Sam’s personality. "Dude," Dean said, wonderingly. "You're jealous of Cas?" It probably didn't bear mentioning that, yeah, Dean had thought about it, back before he'd known that there was a person trapped inside the angel. "That's a real live girl there, and I'm pretty sure she didn't sign up for any funny business when Heaven came calling."

Too late, he realized that he probably should have made a different argument than one that acknowledged how hard he’d hit that under other circumstances. Sam's eyes flickered, blackout, and Dean very carefully didn't flinch. Not that being tough had ever helped in Hell, but this wasn't Hell. Sam wouldn't believe him if he said straight out that he didn't want anyone else (especially not now, after he'd started wrong footed), so he had to get them past this some other way.

"Sorry," he said, which surprised Sam enough that some of the tension went out of him. "You know me, my mouth runs faster than my brain sometimes."

"Turtles run faster than your brain," Sam said, but he was smiling.

"Weak!" Dean declared, lunging for him, and they were sparring. Sam was snake-quick, arm up to block Dean's punch, and Dean had to dodge to avoid getting knocked over first thing.

This was also maybe not the smartest idea, since Dean remembered too well the last hotel-room fight he'd had with Sam, and it made him both over and under cautious, swinging when he should've pulled back and dodging when he should've taken an opening. It quickly became clear that Sam was basically just playing with him—to give him a real workout, Dean would have needed to be willing to go a lot farther. But Sam's lips were peeled back in a grin, and Dean was pretty sure Sam wasn't thinking dangerous thoughts about Cas while he was ducking and dodging and finally flipping Dean onto his back.

Dean hit the floor with an unhappy 'umph,' breath knocked out of him, and before he'd had a chance to fill his lungs again Sam had dropped his full weight on top of him, pinning Dean easily.

"You got me," Dean conceded as soon as he could wheeze out the words. "Now whattaya gonna do with me?"

Sam's eyes flashed, pure human in his amusement, and if he knew he was being played he didn't make a big fuss about it. "Depends on how nicely you ask, I guess."

"In that case," Dean managed, pressing his luck, "I'd really like you to blow me. Pretty please with sugar on top?"

Sam chortled. "It's actively astonishing that anyone ever agreed to sleep with you."

Dean blinked and gave his best model face. "Mostly they don't want me for the talking," he pointed out, which Sam seemed to think was a good point, judging by the way he ground down on Dean's crotch. And then he bent to kiss Dean, hot and wet, and just as Dean expected there was no more talking.

Track Two

“He picked the other one,” Sam said numbly, his story finished. And then the numbness burned off like he’d been soaked in gasoline. “He left me.” He had to fight hard to keep from punching a hole in the wall, or something more fragile. He could feel the demon in him crying to come out. Even if Dean wasn’t here to strangle, there were others to hurt.

“Did he?” Castiel had been impassive throughout Sam’s monologue. Now he seemed puzzled at most.

“He isn’t trying to get back!” Sam ran his hands through his hair.

“And if it were you? If it were you, Sam, in his position, which Dean would you stay with?”

Impossible to imagine. “That’s not fair,” he snapped.

Castiel nodded. “Of course not. Which one would you choose?”

For the first time, he stopped and tried to think past the relief and the insult and the incredible hurt. God, he wanted a drink. “Uh. I’d stay with the weak one. The one who wasn’t strong enough to make it on his own.” It stung to say, not least because Sam had spent way too much time blaming Dean’s weakness for his own corruption. But it was the closest to the truth he could get.

When he made himself look at Castiel again, the angel was waiting, hands folded calmly on his lap.

“That doesn’t make it any better, you know,” he said, but even as the words came out he understood that they were a little bit of a lie. “Also, that other Sam? He was fucking Dean.” Whoops; hadn’t exactly intended to explain that part to Castiel. He definitely wasn’t going to elaborate on how he’d woken, hard and aching, and jacked off furiously with the image of Dean’s neck stretched as he surrendered his mouth to the other Sam.

Castiel’s eyes widened, which was his equivalent of Sam’s tantrum. “Is that …?” He clearly had no idea how to end that question.

Sam shook his head. “Honestly? It’s not the most fucked-up thing we could’ve done, but no. We never did. But I—” He stopped, because the greater implications were catching up with him. Castiel had brought Dean out of Hell, meaning that Sam hadn’t needed to bargain with Lilith for the same result, meaning that Ruby’s plan to release Lucifer had come to fruition. Meaning that the angels, no less than Ruby, had conspired to break all the seals—well, Castiel had been an innocent, but the angels pulling his strings had chivvied them very carefully into position. Ordering Dean back into the torturer’s ring, making Sam see how broken he was, convincing Sam that he had to press on with the demon blood to take that burden off of Dean.

“I think,” he said slowly, “Lucifer isn’t the only angel I’ve got a mind to hurt.” He didn’t need to turn to a mirror to know that his eyes were shining like oil slicks.

Castiel didn’t chastise him. Maybe he’d followed Sam’s reasoning to the logical conclusion. “Revenge can’t be our priority,” was all he said. And it was enough of a reminder of what had gotten Sam to this point that Sam sighed, stuffed down the demon powers, and tried to remember what ought to come next in the hunt for Lucifer.

Track One

After Dean gave Castiel a recap of what had happened in the other world and their theory of why the seal-breaking had restarted here, there wasn’t much to say. Castiel’s expression didn’t change, but she did believe them enough to carve angel-invisibility sigils into their bones (less painful than it sounded, though it would almost have to be) so that the other angels wouldn’t be able to find them without their consent.

Dean gave her a cellphone so they could stay in contact. “You trust me that much,” she said, looking down at it like it was a particularly unusual cockroach.

“I dunno,” Dean said. “Seemed like you cared, in your freaky way. I know you don’t think it’s right to wipe humans off the face of the earth. You went against your own kind to help me try to stop Lucifer from rising. So yeah, we trust you.”

Not all the way, though, because after Cas bounced, Dean told Sam about the angel-blowing-away sigils Anna and Cas had used, and how they could be drawn with blood. Sam practiced in pencil until he could do it without thinking. Then he offered his own addition: apparently, demons had keep-out symbols for angels, like inverse devil’s traps. Dean didn’t ask which demon had taught him that.

“I don’t know if it will work on people, but our tattoos are modified devil’s traps, so it’s worth a try.”

“A little help for people who aren’t complete geeks?” Dean said, but Sam was already tugging at his shirt, pushing him down onto the bed.

“Stay there,” Sam ordered. Pain seared across Dean’s shoulders and back, and he bit down on a yelp. “I’m putting Enochian sigils on you—it might at least slow down any angel coming at you.”

Dean understood that half of this was Sam reacting to Castiel and Castiel’s handprint, but it wasn’t a terrible idea.

Dean grunted as the burn punched deep into his muscles, though he had to trust Sam wouldn’t cripple him. “You gonna do this to yourself?” he asked. “Even if it’s me they want while you’re doin’ Lucifer’s work, the best way to get to me is to get to you.”

“Maybe later,” Sam said absently. The pain eased off, the raw heat turning to cold. Dean shivered as Sam’s fingertip traced the lines he’d made.

Sam rumbled, deep in his throat, a sound Dean doubted he knew he was making. “Proud of your work, hunh,” Dean said, but it didn’t come out in the joking way he’d intended.

“They’re not going to take you,” Sam said, ripping at his jeans, nails scoring Dean’s skin even as Dean hurried to help him. The jeans were still tangled around his ankles when he heard Sam spit. He widened his knees, knowing that was all the help he was going to get. The thick blunt head of Sam’s dick hurt like road rash going in, until the heat of Sam’s skin and the warmth of his mouth on Dean’s shoulder, over the fresh scars, started to loosen him up. Dean kept saying yes, yes to everything, Sam’s hands clenching on his biceps like strangling ghosts, Sam’s breath panting in his ear. Sam’s too-sharp hipbones grinding into his ass. Dean tossed his head back, the only part he could move, and said Sam’s name as he came, clenching down so hard that it must’ve been painful for Sam.

Afterwards, Sam couldn’t keep his hands off of Dean, roving hands stroking not just the angel sigils or Castiel’s handprint, but all the fresh unmarked spaces on Dean’s skin, where the scars Sam remembered had been. Fluttering touches not enough to rev Dean up again but enough to keep him from sleep, and he would’ve grumbled except for the wonder on Sam’s face, like Sam used to look when he talked about God. And then Sam slid his fingers down Dean’s crack and into where Dean was already loose and wet, and then he scooted down and used his mouth, which was nastier than any girl had ever gotten with him and took him from zero to sixty in a time that would’ve impressed sixteen-year-old Dean.

“Wow,” he said into the pillow the next time he could catch his breath. “Damn, if I wasn’t in another world already, that would’ve sent me there.”

Sam sniggered. “That is the cheesiest line I’ve ever heard you use,” he said, voice thick with affection and fatigue.

“Worked on you, didn’t it?” Dean pointed out, feeling pretty sleepy himself.

“Let’s get some rest,” Sam said with finality. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Track Two

“I can give you peace,” Lucifer said, sounding so very reasonable. “No one else can give that to you. No one else wants to. I can even give you Dean, or something very much like him, in your own private dream world.”

Sam knew better than to get into a dialogue with evil. If he deserved peace, the Devil wouldn’t be offering to give it to him. “No,” he said, and bit his tongue so hard he woke up.

Castiel was sitting beside him, which made him bolt upright. “Dean’s right,” he said, willing his heart to slow from its techno beat, “that’s creepy.”

“I couldn’t rouse you,” Castiel said, brow furrowed.

“Yeah, Lucifer-gram. He sends dreams, it’s not a big deal.”

“All right,” Castiel said, since he still had no emotional intelligence. “My plan is this: we open a portal back to Lucifer’s Cage. We push Lucifer through, using the power we have generated with the ritual that joins us.”

Sam blinked a few times, wondering if he was still dreaming. “Okay, right. How do we open the portal?”

“We collect the four rings of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Together they can be used as a key to his prison.”

Of course. Why hadn’t Sam thought of that? He suspected that sarcasm would be lost on the angel. “We can do that?”

Castiel paused long enough to make clear that, while he didn’t necessarily notice lies, he was considering telling one. “It’s not impossible,” he said at last. “And it’s the only thing I’ve found. Also, Heaven is unlikely to interfere, so long as Dean is missing. As you pointed out, Heaven shares your goal of recaging Lucifer until a like vessel is found for Michael. If the Horsemen can kill you, they will be satisfied. If you achieve the Horsemen’s rings and bind Lucifer, that will also suffice.”

“Awesome,” Sam said, and knuckled sleep out of his eyes. “Well, let’s start rounding up Horsemen.”

Track One

Bobby called. This time, Sam answered, and after a bit of back and forth about how they were all in agreement about fighting demons now, he put the phone on the table between the two of them. Bobby’s voice through the speaker was mistrustful, and not just of Sam. It hurt more than Dean would’ve thought.

After more grumbling, Bobby got to the point: “I don’t know whether this is part of the bigger demonic plan, but it sure ain’t natural: People have stopped dying in Greybull, Montana.”

Alastair. Dean froze, every memory crashing back like it was happening right then, right then and forever. Ten years in Hell is one month above but it’s eternities when you’re bleeding, and Dean had been, himself and all those other lost souls while Alastair smiled, always smiling even when the body he was using had nothing left but gums and bone. Dean thought he might be shaking; was pretty sure he wasn’t breathing; remembered how it had felt to stick a knife inside Alastair—no good at all, and a trick besides, all his fantasies about revenge dispelled for Uriel’s plot.

Sam was saying something—Sam didn’t know, not this Sam. Sam could kill Alastair, and Dean wouldn’t even mind being the weaker one, infirm and needier than Sam at six months old, if it got him Alastair gone, erased from existence.

Then Sam looked up and saw him. “We’ll check it out,” he said and cut Bobby off, which was going to make trouble later but Dean couldn’t care. “Dean?” He was already moving, his hand landing firm on Dean’s back, rubbing up and down. “Deep breaths, Dean, okay?” He kept talking, reassuring nonsense, as Dean tried to banish the memory of Alastair’s smirk and his twinkling eyes.

When he was able to make sense of the world again, he was sitting on the motel bed, Sam’s arm tugging him nearly into Sam’s lap, surrounded by Sam. He couldn’t meet Sam’s eyes—Daddy’s little girl broke—and Sam wasn’t trying to talk any more, just rocking him back and forth. “It’s okay,” Sam kept saying. Even though Dean should’ve manned up, and his inability to do so kept him flushed with shame, he still leaned into Sam’s bulk, so grateful that Sam was there and strong enough to take Alastair down.

He didn’t know how long it took him to calm down enough to speak. “Sorry,” he said, cheeks hot and wet, as if to remind him he had no dignity to lose.

“No, no,” Sam reassured him. “Don’t worry, Dean, we don’t need to go there. I’ll tell Bobby—”

“No,” Dean said, his voice gravelly. “We have to take care of it. You have to take care of it.” Haltingly, no easier the second time around, he explained who Alastair was and what the plan in Greybull likely was. “Maybe it’s not Alastair this time,” he concluded, since the timing was different.

He felt more than heard Sam’s next words, thick with rage and the ozone bite of power. “It had better be.”

Sam had told him the truth since he showed up here. If he hadn’t seen Dean at his worst, well, that was even better. Dean swallowed. “If we find him,” he said, tasting salt in the back of his throat, “I don’t want any speeches. I don’t care if he knows why he’s dying. Evil overlord shit like that makes people dumb. Just gank him, okay?”

Sam made a sound that was neither agreement nor refusal.

“I’m serious,” he insisted, forcing himself to meet Sam’s eyes. Sam’s look of tender concern made him shrivel even more inside, but he clenched his fists and went on. “There’s no payback for what he did to me, not if I spent a hundred years with him on my rack. This can’t be revenge. It has to be pest control.”

Sam took a while to process that. Even before the demon blood, vengeance had been at the top of his to-do list. Dean had never known how to divert him from that. He reached for Sam’s cheek, until he was mostly sitting in Sam’s lap, and then he gave up all dignity and full-on straddled Sam, cupping Sam’s sharp-stubbled jaw in his hand.

“He doesn’t deserve better,” he said. Sam’s eyes were kaleidoscopes, shards of green-brown-blue, changing with every shift of the light in a way that was one hundred percent human, one hundred percent Sam. “Sammy,” Dean said, and leaned in to kiss him.

This was the slowest time yet, Sam’s frantic urgency muted into a languid, honeyed pace. Each move melted into the next. Sam’s huge palm splayed over his neck and the side of his head, pressing Dean’s face into the bed, as he fucked Dean, his hips moving with the relentless motion of an ocean tide. Dean’s fingers opened and closed on air, little ‘ah’s escaping him every time Sam bottomed out. Dean was pinned under him, unable to do more than rock a fraction of an inch into Sam’s thrusts. Little nylon threads from the cheap bedspread needled his skin, but that didn’t stop him from using the friction to get off, groaning as Sam’s rhythm stuttered and Sam followed, the hot pulse of him so deep inside that even Alastair couldn’t have carved it out.

“Okay,” Sam said afterwards.

Sleepily, Dean wondered whether he’d need to fuck Sam silly every time he needed to convince Sam of something. Compared to ordering him around, it seemed more effective and a lot more fun.

Track Two

They cornered War in a sleepy town, courtesy of Castiel’s ability to see through minor illusions like fake black eyes, and ripped the ring off of his finger.

Famine was more difficult, since Castiel apparently didn’t have total control of his vessel’s bodily functions. Sam ended up facing him down alone.

“I can feel how hungry you are,” Famine crooned; Dean would’ve said he looked like a zombie Hugh Hefner. “Here you are,” he waved a claw at the demons flanking him, “a buffet to sate even your hunger.”

Sam shook his head. Yes, he’d drank from the first few who’d tried to stop him, but he had a different need. Drinking demon blood would never sate the emptiness inside him. There was only one thing that would, and he was unreachable, off fucking another version of Sam. Sam raised his hand.

From the way Famine reacted, vomiting out a bunch of demon essence hurt. That was gratifying, and almost worth the crash thereafter. Castiel said it didn’t matter much, that the ritual would cleanse him and that residual nonhuman blood in his system might even strengthen the effects, yet another reason Castiel had tried to maintain him on angel blood rather than making him go cold turkey.

Pestilence was vomit and muscle aches and Castiel using Ruby’s knife, his remaining angelic powers allowing him to drive the vessel’s body past what any human could’ve done. Sam wondered whether Jimmy Novak lived or whether Castiel was riding a dead body around like a demon might, but he didn’t ask.

After the first three Horsemen, Sam had expected to have to fight Death himself. Castiel made a side bargain with a truly annoying demon for the location, and Sam went to Chicago.

He walked into a restaurant full of the dead, slumped at their tables.

“Over here,” a bright voice said, neither malicious nor particularly friendly. Sam turned to find a sharp-nosed, hooded-eyed old man in a black suit and coat, diligently sawing away at a piece of deep-dish pizza.

“I know why you’re here,” Death said.

“You can kill me, I know that,” Sam said, his voice steady despite the hailstorm rhythm of his heartbeat. “But I need to put Lucifer back. After that, you can do anything you want to me.”

“I’m not interested in sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice, Sam,” Death said, and took a bite. “My concerns span galaxies. You’re not a big eater, are you? Too bad. The pizza’s delicious. Sit down.”

It wasn’t a request, and Sam sat. The smell of the food turned his stomach, but he kept the nausea out of his expression. He didn’t want to offend Death while Death was still being polite.

“I’ll give you what you want,” Death continued, “and you will release me from the insolent child who’s bound me here.”

Unlike the first three, Sam realized, he wasn’t helping Lucifer voluntarily. And it made a certain sort of sense: Death wasn’t a mechanism of destruction; he was the whole thing. The alpha and the omega, different in kind from the others. “That’s the plan,” he said, not mentioning his own uncertainties.

“Very well,” Death said. “Now listen carefully.”

Track One

The way it went down with Alastair was that Sam summoned him and did the Darth Vader hand thing, pinning Alastair in place until he crushed the demon inside, just like before. Start to finish, the whole thing took three minutes, fifteen if you counted the time spent on the summoning.

Dean didn’t mind the lack of drama. He’d tried to get closure before, and that ended with him bawling in a hospital bed. Much better to cut to the chase.

After he extinguished the summoning candles so they wouldn’t accidentally set the place on fire, he put in a call to Castiel and the angel arrived in a wingbeat. Changing the vessel hadn’t changed her habit of standing way, way too close.

“You stopped the breaking of one seal,” she said without preamble. “But there are too many options for you to stop them all, most of them not even on this continent. Our advantage is that we know the identity of the final, necessary seal.”

“Lilith,” Sam said, icy hatred making the name sound like a curse.

“Lilith’s death,” Cas specified. "You could simply refrain from killing her, but that’s not a long-term solution. We need to make sure that Lilith cannot be killed. Though Sam is the sole remaining abomination of his generation, there will be others." Dean remembered the kids whose mothers were dying in mysterious fires, back when they thought all they had to worry about was one yellow-eyed demon with a hard-on for Sam.

“Wait a second,” Sam said. “A seal is just a condition, right? Do this or that, and the seal breaks. So: we make Lilith unkillable, and Lucifer never gets out.”

Dean gaped at him for a second. “A, makin’ an immortal demon seems like it might have one or two downsides. B, can you even do that?”

“Okay, so we don’t need to make her unkillable,” Sam continued, his voice gaining enthusiasm as he went. “We need to make her unreachable, like Lucifer is now. Her death is the key to Lucifer’s cage. We make Lucifer’s death the key to her cage.”

Dean had to think that through. “Could that even work?”

Castiel was doing her statue thing, needing only a pigeon crapping on her shoulder to complete the picture. Dean waved his hand in front of the angel's face. "Hello? Earth to, uh, Heaven?"

Castiel reached out and grabbed Dean's wrist in a grip like cabled steel. "Sam’s idea, while inelegantly expressed, has potential merit."

“It’s a recursive loop,” Sam insisted, as if that ought to convince them.

Cas released him and frowned, looking like she was reading from a screen Dean couldn’t see. “Keeping a demon alive forever—”

“Even in a cage, that doesn’t sound like the smartest move,” Dean concurred.

“I was going to say,” Castiel said, “that keeping a demon alive forever would require powerful magic. A great sacrifice. I must consult with others," she said, and disappeared. Every time that happened, Dean felt like his ears ought to be popping, but maybe Cas swapped out the air where she went so that there was no vacuum. It was still freaky as fuck, different than a ghost. With ghosts there was always a sense of presence—that was what ghosts were, so even if they disappeared it wasn't like the world had been wronged. What Cas did, it was more like what had happened to Dean, flip of the switch and he was in a different world.

The angel reminded Dean of this book he'd read once where everyone was 2-D. When real, 3-D people showed up they looked crazy weird, expanding and shrinking as they passed through the range that the 2-D folks could see. Cas seemed understandable enough at any given moment, but she/he was nothing like human, and the different meat suit was just like Castiel turning around, showing a different side.

Dean sure hoped Jimmy Novak knew what a good deal he had in this world.

"What do you think?" Sam asked, startling him out of his contemplation. Dean had forgotten how it was for Sam to want his opinion. Felt pretty good, actually.

"I think we've got one more chance than we had yesterday." It wasn't much, but compared to the crap hope he'd been living on before, Dean was prepared to call it a serious improvement. "It'd be nice to do the right thing, that's for sure."

Sam was staring at his own feet. "Getting you was supposed to fix everything, not start it up again."

"Hey, no," Dean hastened to say. "That wasn't what I meant. There was no way you could've known."

"Yeah," Sam said, and his smile was painful to see. "That seems to happen a lot."

"Being jerked around by demons isn't your fault," Dean said, certain, like he should have been all along. "You just need to listen to me once in a while." He needed to lighten the mood. "Whaddaya say we grab a beer before Hot Wings there comes back?"

Sam frowned, and Dean thought that he was upset with Dean's incipient (okay, maybe already arrived) alcoholism. But Sam's glower wasn't the Dean-you-don't-know-what's-good-for-you look that Dean had seen so often lately.

“Sammy,” he said, grabbing Sam’s bicep, the solid Winchester strength of him making something in Dean’s chest relax even now. “Listen to me, okay? I don’t cheat. Not when I’m with someone,” he said before Sam could start in on irrelevant high school shenanigans. “Castiel, Angelina Jolie, Dr. Sexy—none of ‘em. You hearin’ me? Because we need to keep our eyes on the prize here.”

Slowly, Sam nodded, some of the rigidity going out of his stance. “Yeah,” he said, and pushed nonexistent hair out of his eyes. “It’s just—hard for me to believe that you’re really here, with me. I’ve lost you too many times.”

“Yeah,” Dean agreed. “But you gotta know—you’re everything to me. You or the world, it’s you every time. Maybe that's not how it should be, but it's not gonna change.” He felt fevered by the time he ended, so flushed he could’ve melted into the floor to get away from Sam’s scrutiny, but it was nothing but truth.

He returned Sam’s rib-creaking hug with gusto, leaning his head against Sam’s shoulder. They stood like that for a long time, gathering strength from each other.

Track Two

They went to Detroit, lacking any better means to find Lucifer and not wanting to attempt coercion before the very last moment, when it would truly be needed.

The walls of their squat were covered with Enochian, carefully drafted to keep out anyone but Lucifer. Sam watched Castiel finish the last of the lines. He wiped his sweaty palms on his jeans. Only one thing left to get right. Time to see if he was an inadequate monster, or an adequate one.

Castiel turned to him. When he began to speak, it was as if he were reaching out to a greater audience. “We are part of a cycle, Sam. The low become high and the high low. I will draw the remaining demon blood from your system. It will be extremely painful. As I have fallen, you will rise, and we will meet.”

Sam nodded. At Castiel’s urging, he offered the angel his arm, and Castiel slit it open with an angel blade. Sam looked like a suicide in progress, which maybe was true. Castiel rolled his sleeves back and presented his own forearm; Sam cut it with Ruby’s knife, deep and straight.

They clasped each other like some parody of a secret handshake, blood to blood, Sam’s fingers clenched at the bend in Castiel’s elbow. Castiel’s blood felt no different from anything else’s. Castiel began to chant. For a moment, there was nothing but his voice and the familiar sting of a bleeding wound.

Castiel screamed, and Sam nearly released him in shock. And then the pain hit.

His blood was acid in his veins, eating through his flesh. His bones were molten glass, searing him from the inside out. He was sliced, grated, segmented, something sticky and dark dripping from him, collecting at his feet in a puddle of filth. The world was white pain and the desperate grasp of Sam’s fingers on Castiel’s ice-cold flesh.

The pain pulled back a bit, like a false dawn, and Sam could hear Castiel’s panting breaths over the roar of his blood in his ears.

“You decorated for me,” Lucifer said cheerily. “I’m flattered.”

Sam opened his eyes. He didn’t think he’d passed out. Lucifer was here, face covered in sores.

“Now, Sam,” Castiel said. Lucifer flicked a hand at him and he was silent.

“It’s so sweet when family comes for family,” Lucifer said. “Castiel, I never would’ve pegged you for such an up-and-comer. Such diligence. For that, you can watch. I’ll even give you a chance to join up when it’s over.”

Sam couldn’t make the fingers of his free hand work. Lucifer in reality was overwhelming, like standing next to a nuclear bomb.

“What, the rings?” Lucifer asked, merry with disregard. “You aren’t strong enough. I made sure your whole life that you never would be strong enough.”

Sam didn’t have the breath to disagree. His back teeth were buzzing with discomfort. And at the same time the energy from being joined with Castiel was almost pleasurable in a painful way, like coming dry, like picking at scabs if the scabs had been on his soul.

Now or never.

He tossed the rings out and began to speak. The wind was roaring around him, inside his head, through his blood. He was icing up, rusting in place like the Tin Man.

Lucifer’s plot had cost him everything and more. Mom, Jess, Dad. Dean.

The power was whipping around inside him like an untethered firehose filled with corrosive venom. He could feel it eating away at him, dissolving parts of him into bloody shreds.

There was nothing left in the world for him, but for everyone else—

Lucifer was standing in front of the whirling vortex, hands in his pockets, but Sam thought he saw some tension in his shoulders.

“You might be able to open the door, but you and my little brother there can’t push me through, Sam. You know I’m telling the truth.”

If he’d still been drinking demon blood, he could’ve tried a psychic hammer blow. But the spell Castiel had performed had leached all that out; the only power left was in the ritual itself. Beside him, Castiel was frozen in the act of reaching out.

This can’t all be a waste, he thought. And then he thought: screw magic and demonic psychic powers. He was a Winchester, and there was one thing Winchesters knew how to do better than anything else.

He released Castiel’s arm and tackled Lucifer, hitting with all his two hundred pounds. Lucifer had half a second to look surprised as they hurtled backwards, into the portal, and then he disappeared. Sam had too much momentum to stop himself. He was in a maelstrom, every color and none, on the edge of a hole that went down into forever.

He felt a tearing pain in his ankle, like he was being ripped limb from limb, and consciousness disappeared.

Track One

“Are you disappointed in me?” Sam asked.

Dean raised his head from his pillow, then levered himself upright, scratching his head, on the theory that this was going to be a conversation best had while awake. “Of course not.” It was raw truth: he might’ve hated some of Sam’s choices, but he could never be disapointed in Sam.

“I made a deal with a demon. I was weak.”

“I started first,” Dean said. “I just wish you had something else, Sammy.” He sighed. “I wish you didn’t need the powers. I wish we could be the heroes I thought we were when we were kids.”

Sam sat down beside him, emitting not a watt of sexual intent. “We can be. At least, we can try.”

“You know something I don’t?”

Sam shook his head, smiling, not taking the opportunity to mock. “I heard from Castiel. She says it’s a go. We can do the spell this morning, if we want.”

“This spell,” Dean said, suspicious of Sam’s good humor, “what exactly does it do?”

“Like I said, it creates a recursive loop. Only killing Lilith can break Lucifer’s cage. When we’re done, only breaking Lucifer’s cage can kill Lilith. Like a paradox, kind of.”

“And what kind of juice is this spell going to take?”

“Not more than I have,” Sam said, shoulders relaxed and eyes clear. “They called me the Boy King. I’ve got enough mojo to take on Lilith—after all, that was the whole point. We’re just going to do it differently than they planned.”

“Okay,” Dean said, still worrying that this was all too easy. Yeah, he’d come with some useful information, but so far their luck had been Powerball good when Winchesters usually got seven broken mirrors’ worth.

“Castiel will be here soon,” Sam said. He leaned in to kiss Dean, then backed away at the last second. “And you have worse morning breath than a three-day-old corpse. Go brush your teeth.”

“Vile slander, Sammy,” Dean said, cheerful at last, and flipped Sam off as he headed to the bathroom, grabbing yesterday’s jeans on his way. He splashed water on his face and wished he had time for a long hot shower.

Sure enough, the angel was waiting when he came out. “We’ll need your blood,” she said immediately.

“Hello to you too,” he said, but Sam was already pulling out a needle and tubing. “Awesome,” he said and made his way to a chair in the little kitchen area. “Any chance you could pop out for a cup of coffee and a donut while I bleed for the cause?”

“I don’t want a cup of coffee and a donut,” Cas said, straightfaced.

Dean opened his mouth, then closed it, ignoring Sam’s snigger. He rolled up the sleeve of his flannel shirt and laid his forearm out on the table. “Okay. Trying again: would you mind getting me a cup of coffee and a friggin’ donut, so I don’t faint from hunger and blood loss in the middle of your freakin’ spell?”

“No,” Cas said.

Sam had stopped his prep because he was laughing too hard, albeit silently. Dean smiled, the way he smiled at teenage boys who were pissing him off. “No, you wouldn’t mind, or no, you won’t—?” There was something familiar in the tilt of Cas’s head, the unamused set of her mouth. “Are you fucking with me?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Cas said primly, and disappeared.

“Angels,” Dean growled, and waited out Sam’s hysterics. By the time Cas returned with coffee and an assortment of twelve different donuts, he was already down half a pint. Having so many tasty choices did a lot to make up for Cas’s twisted sense of humor. Dean had a maple frosted, a Boston cream, and an apple fritter thing that was like a slice of pie, but fried. Sam, of course, didn’t eat anything, since calories would hinder his concentration or whatever.

At last, Cas declared that they had enough human blood, and Sam took the bowl he’d been using and started to draw symbols on the floor, consulting with Cas occasionally on placement. Dean sipped his coffee and thought about having another donut. He could’ve helped—he’d done more with less blood—but Sam seemed to have things in hand, and explaining to Dean would probably take longer than doing it himself.

“Okay,” Sam said, exhaling hugely. “Here we go.” He began reciting guttural words, sounding more like a garbage disposal than a person. Almost immediately the lights flickered and dust drifted from the ceiling. Sam kept going until there was a deep rumbling boom, like a distant gong. Lines of fire leapt from symbol to symbol. Sam was surrounded by overlapping circles, triangles, and pentacles.

Sam looked up and met Dean’s eyes, then looked over at Cas. “You know what I want,” he said.

“If you succeed, I’ll follow the soulbond back and return Dean to his reality of origin,” Cas said.

Dean leapt to his feet, Ruby’s knife in his hand. “What the fuck!”

“Your Sam needs you,” Sam said, like it was the simplest thing in the world.

“So do you!”

Sam’s smile was watery. “Dean,” he said. “If this works, I’m not going to need you at all.”

Dean felt like he’d taken a horse kick to the chest. “No,” he said, and strode forward to knock some sense into Sam. At the first circle, he was stopped in his tracks, and Ruby’s knife bounced off the invisible barrier like it was made of rubber. “Get a new plan, Sam!” He was going to kick Castiel’s ass for this, going behind his back with Sam’s stupid idea.

Sam shook his head. “Magic this strong needs a powerful sacrifice. That’s what I am.” His mouth trembled. “I finally have a chance to fix this. To do something good with the life I never should have had. I got a chance to be with you, and it was perfect, but it's not what I deserve. I just want to know that somewhere, there’s a me who has you. Even if he doesn’t understand what he has.”

He began to recite again, ignoring Dean’s yelling and his fists pounding the hard air keeping them apart. When his knuckles started to leave smears of blood hanging in the air and he felt he might faint, he stopped thrashing and put his palms flat on the barrier, leaning so that his forehead touched too. “Please don’t do this, Sammy,” he choked out. “Don’t leave me.”

Sam looked up. “This isn’t your world,” he said. “It’s mine, and I have to do this.” He went back to his incomprehensible chanting.

The light began to build in the circle, shooting upwards like the bars of an intangible cage. Sam’s face glowed, and for the first time in years, Dean saw what Sam looked like happy.

“It’s okay,” Sam said, his voice just audible over the growing hum. “Even if it’s not in Heaven, I’ll be where Dean is.”

Dean knew he was telling the truth—distinguishing his Dean from Dean, now, at last.

“I love you,” he said, because he needed to say it, even more than Sam needed to hear it.

“Thank you,” Sam said. The hum turned into an avalanche roar, and the light became unbearable. Dean didn’t look away, but his vision disappeared, overwhelmed. The last thing he saw was Sam, looking upward, palms up like a man ready for the Rapture.

Track Two

“Hey,” the annoyed voice said, in time with the prodding at his shoulder. “You can’t sleep here.”

Dean startled awake, his body stiff with sleeping on what turned out to be the bench of a picnic table. He shook himself and blinked up at the park ranger, whose hand was drifting towards his gun as he got a better look at Dean.

Dean’s first attempt to speak didn’t go well. On the second try he managed, “Sorry. I’ll—go. I’ll go.”

He felt like he was a thousand years old. There was a road to the ranger’s left. Dean forced himself to his feet and started walking towards it. Something was wrong with his right thigh, but he ignored it.

“Are you okay?” the ranger said, more conciliatory now that Dean had demonstrated a willingness to obey.

He turned and couldn’t make the ‘sure’ come out, so he nodded weakly, hunched his shoulders, and tried to make good time even with his sore leg.

He didn’t need to call Bobby to know that he was back where he started. Castiel had sent him away. That meant that Sam’s crazy plan to build the bars of Lilith’s cage out of his own life had worked.

In the end, Sam had chosen being good over Dean. That was the right thing; even Dean knew he never should have made the deal that started all this, and Sam was putting right what had been done wrong. But he was the same selfish asshole as ever, and it turned out that, whether Sam was making stupid choices or good ones, he didn’t want to keep Dean.

Dean looked around to see if he could find any road signs and just like that, Castiel was there, not six inches away.

“Dean,” Castiel said. “Dean.”

He didn’t know what that meant. So he smiled into Castiel’s familiar-unfamiliar face, pale skin and dark stubble, blue eyes bright as the lights on a cop car, smiled even though it felt like his whole body was going to come apart like a shattered windshield. He didn’t know how to do this anymore, how to live here. How to live without Sam.

Cas grabbed him—biceps, not the shoulder, and Dean was pretty fucking grateful for that. “You returned.”

“How did you find me?”

Cas’s face twisted in what looked like a memory of pain. “My—counterpart—notified me of your general location when the breach between our realities opened. Even brief coexistence was extremely unpleasant. The resonant vibrations between us threatened to tear us both apart.”

“Uh, sorry,” Dean offered.

Cas ignored the apology. “Sam told me what happened to you.”

That made sense, if they’d been working together to save the world, but was also—weird. Castiel had always been his, the way Ruby’d been Sam’s. Not that Sam owed him hands-off, especially not after Dean had busted into his dream. But still, it made Dean’s stomach twist a little, thinking about them working together the way he and Sam used to do.

“Is Sam—?”

“Sam is whole,” Cas said, not quite meeting his eyes. Sam was alive; Dean could figure out Cas’s dodginess as soon as he had the highlights.

“And Lucifer?” he asked, nausea rising at the thought of having to do this all over again. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. Making his deal had been wrong, no doubt, but if there was no other way than Sam sacrificing himself, then Dean was too much of a coward to watch, or even to be in a world that would force him to let Sam kill himself again, even if the only way out this time was eating his own gun.

“Contained,” Cas said, completely certain this time, and Dean sagged with relief.

“What happened?” Cas continued. He was so close that Dean could feel the heat of his breath. His fingers were like steel bands. “Your body—” He must be feeling the angel-repelling sigils, even unactivated. He was lucky Dean hadn’t cut himself shaving, or he might not have gotten within a mile. “Who did this to you?”

Dean swallowed and met his eyes. “You know what happened.”

Cas’s grip loosened. “The other Sam is dead, then.”

Dean couldn’t keep his face under control with that. Fuck Castiel for being so smart, for understanding it all immediately the way Dean never could.

“I am sorry,” Cas said. Dean believed him, even if angels were liars same as demons. Castiel tugged, and suddenly Dean was dampening the fabric of the angel’s ridiculous trenchcoat. Dean tried to divert himself wondering where Cas had learned to hug, but he probably knew, and the thought just made him miss Sam more.

“I don’t know how—how’m I supposed to do this again?” he asked, shaking. Cas had already seen him at his worst, soul stretched out on the rack before him and him standing ankle-deep in blood, so it was nothing that he was crying openly, weakly. “He should’ve—”

“He never should have taken you,” Cas said, with the same confidence he always had. “I will bring you to Sam, and –”

No,” Dean told him, fisting his hands in Cas’s coat. “He saw—I’m poison, you get that? If it’s over here, then all I can do is make Sam miserable. He deserves—”

Cas’s hands cupped Dean’s face, forcing it up until their eyes met. “Sam told me everything. The only monstrous decision would be to conceal yourself from him, to deny him that choice.”

Dean felt his skin heat with shame. So there was further left to fall.

“Your love grew twisted, I will not pretend otherwise.” Cas’s eyes were so intense it was like having his body plunged into icewater. “But answer me this: did your presence with that Sam do evil, or did you reclaim him for the side of humanity?”

Dean swallowed a couple of times, then licked his lips. “Sam … he never meant to be on any other side,” he tried to explain. And if he’d made bargains, well, Dean had taught him that in the first place. It had been Dean’s fault Sam’s vision had narrowed so tight he couldn’t see the Hellfire surrounding him. Twisted, yeah, even before the sex.

“If there’s anything I’ve learned in my time on earth,” Cas said, serious but also with that twinkle of desert-dry humor that Dean secretly chased, “it’s that one’s worst choices can’t be reversed. They can only be dealt with. I believe that Sam understands that truth. Will you allow me to show you?”

Track Two

Bobby’s poorly-named living room was as good a place as any to recharge and try and figure out what came next, even or maybe especially with Bobby out on a rugaru hunt in Colorado.

Sam was vaguely thinking about getting himself a beer when he felt the subtle derangement of the air that signalled an angel invasion. He sighed and put down the book he’d been reading. Fiction, even. He’d thought he’d earned a break, maybe even a retirement, but he doubted Castiel had swung by for a casual chat.

But when he crossed the threshold into Bobby’s kitchen, there were two people waiting for him.

“Heya, Sammy,” Dean said, his smile twitching between real and anxious.

He turned to Castiel. “Did you—?”

Castiel shook his head. “Dean is returned,” he said.

The dam inside him where he’d put all his anger and his grief cracked. By the time he had control, he was simultaneously hugging and yelling at Dean, Dean’s hands scrabbling ineffectually against his chest. He couldn’t even see Dean through his tears, but he knew the weight of his brother, the smell, and this was Dean. Somehow he managed to let go long enough to let Dean push a few inches away, but he clamped his hands around Dean’s shoulders so he wouldn’t go further. “How?

Dean swallowed and looked to the side. “He sent me back,” he said. “And I—I had to see you. Let you know I was okay. I’ll get out of your hair whenever you want.”

Sam felt like his heart had dropped five stories. So Dean had come back, not for a reason, but merely for a while. Whatever Dean had gotten from the other Sam was too much for him to be content with this lesser version.

His suddenly numb fingers uncurled, and Dean stepped back. Sam hadn’t noticed Castiel leave, but they were now the only ones in the room. After a moment, Dean cleared his throat. “So, uh, what happened, man? Cas was real light on the details.”

“We opened a gate to the Cage and pushed Lucifer back in,” Sam said, aware that he wasn’t being much more explanatory. He thought that pulling up his jeans and showing Dean his new scar, the handprint from where Castiel had dragged him back out through means both physical and metaphysical before the portal closed, wouldn’t amuse Dean as much as it might’ve under other circumstances. They weren’t exactly a matching set; but then, they’d never been.

“What about you?” Sam said, poking at the scab.

“He, uh, he. Fixed it so that Lilith can’t get ganked. No final seal, no Lucifer rising. But he didn’t—yeah, he didn’t make it. So.”

“Well, at least you got second prize,” Sam said, and enjoyed Dean’s flinch.

“That’s not—” Dean said, helpless. “It wasn’t like that.”

“What was it like, then?” Sam demanded. “You found some version of me that wasn’t a monster, okay.”

Dean’s incomprehension was too total to be faked. “He was you,” he said. “Different things happened, but he was you. Bent on savin’ the world—” His voice cracked and he stopped. “You’re a better man than me.” Tears slipped down his cheeks unheeded.

“You said I was a monster,” Sam said.

“What? No.”

“In your message, before—” He dug his phone out of his pocket and poked at it, until Dean’s voice came out, except it was spewing poison.

“Sam,” Dean said, sounding sure of himself for the first time. “That wasn’t me. Douchariah using my voice maybe. I said I was sorry, Sam. I said we were family.” Dean took a breath and put his hand on Sam’s forearm, barely touching, as if afraid he was going to get shoved away. “I didn’t want to go.”

Sam was going to need a while to reassess his worldview, after so much time thinking that message was the last true thing Dean ever said to him. Dean’s explanation was a bandage on deep cuts, but the cuts were still there. That was probably why he sounded angry when he asked, “And fucking him?”

Dean turned red, but he didn’t withdraw his hand. “That’s why I said I’d get out of your hair. I know you wouldn’t—”

“You don’t know anything!” Sam snapped, his fist in Dean’s shirt. He shoved Dean up against the wall so hard that the glasses in Bobby’s cabinets rattled. Dean’s mouth was open, panting, but he wasn’t struggling. Wouldn’t defend himself against whatever Sam wanted to do.

When Sam kissed him, Dean gasped and then sank into it, his hands wrapping around Sam’s neck. Sam was grinding against him, wanting to get so far inside him that no one could ever take him away again. He bit at the line of Dean’s neck, needing to make marks. Dean dug his fingers into Sam’s shoulderblades in just the right place to make him even harder, and there was only one way Dean could’ve known immediately about those spots. Sam saw red, and without conscious thought he was shoving Dean across the floor, pushing Dean down by the back of his neck so that he was bent over the table.

“Dude,” Dean said, though his voice was shaking, “we eat here.”

Sam didn’t bother to opine about the grossness of the couch or the smallness of the guest beds. Dean lost his right to negotiate location when he tried to walk away. He unbuckled Dean’s belt and shoved at his jeans and shorts until Dean started helping, which allowed Sam to attend to his own fly. There was a half-used stick of butter on a dish near Dean’s elbow, and he reached for it.

He could feel Dean drawing breath to speak, so he preempted that: “Say Last Tango or call me Marlon and all you’re getting is spit.”

He studiously ignored whatever Dean might have mumbled in favor of slicking his fingers. Dean opened for him easily, of course, and Sam couldn’t wait any longer. He guided his cock to Dean’s ass and pushed in, moving steadily until he was all the way inside. He wiped his buttery fingers clean on Dean’s bunched-up flannel shirt, ignoring Dean’s protests, and then he began to fuck Dean in earnest.

Dean’s head was turned so that he could see Dean’s profile. He wanted to taste every freckle he’d thought he’d never see again. “Did he give it to you this good?” he demanded, pumping his hips as he reached around to circle Dean’s dick, hot and surprisingly silky in his hand.

Dean surged against him, speeding the rhythm, fucking himself and then fucking Sam’s hand. All he could say was Sam’s name, which Sam was going to take as a ‘no.’

He lasted just long enough to bring Dean off, coming with a shout that drowned out Dean’s own lower groans. He slumped over Dean, resting his weight on his brother, who didn’t protest beyond a grumble when Sam’s dick slipped out and trailed wetly across his thigh.

“I hope you know, you’re cleaning this up,” Dean said, but his tone said something else entirely.

“Yeah,” Sam said, and reached out to where Dean’s hand was still resting beside his head. He covered Dean’s hand with his own, entwining their fingers. “I know.”