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The electricity kicks back on in the podunk little gas station outside of Pontiac just before noon, the sun high and blistering hot in the sky. The owner has long since called it a day, has headed home to his wife hoping to forget about the miserable affair with the electricity after an earthquake had trembled him and his shop down to their bones and wires. He marvels at the fallen trees he passes on his drive home.

The electricity comes back on just before noon, and with it the grainy security camera—just in time to catch a young man breaking in.

He’s filthy, the owner and his wife will keep saying as they rewatch the video, trying to understand what they’re seeing, covered head to toe in dry dirt and slick shined with sweat. When he’s stood directing under the camera, they see that his nails are almost black with the crud dug into them. Like he’s been digging a hole six-feet deep with his hands.

The man stumbles around the store, bagging up protein bars and water, before taking a long moment verging on vanity to examine himself in the mirror over the faucet. He touches his own shoulder, flinches, knees giving a little and mouth opening with a muted gasp, but then he does it again and holds it. Braced against the sink, he holds his hand there for a long time.

As he’s bagging the cash from the register, afterwards, he suddenly stills. Looks up. The lines of his body stiffen. The racks of junk food tremor.

The video cuts out again.

*

It should be noted that the drive from Pontiac to Sioux Falls, a straight shot cut through the miserable flat belly of Iowa, takes just over eight hours if you’re lucky.

Dean’s feeling lucky. Does it in a little over seven. The sun is barely just flushing low and orange when he shows up grinning on Bobby’s front stoop, dirt still caught between his teeth.

*

Bobby watches Dean. After he checks him over, after he hugs him so tight his spine cracks, after Dean’s kind enough to pretend Bobby isn’t sniffling and snotting all over him, after all of that, Bobby just—watches.

He has to browbeat Dean into the shower, cajole him to clean and cover his cuts, haggle food into him, and practically had to beg to get him to lay down on the couch for just a few hours of sleep before rushing off to find Sam, just a few hours.

Even then, in the dark, Bobby settles into his chair to keep watching. In the low lamp light, in Bobby’s spare clothes, with his fingers curled into the ratty throw blanket and breathing deep and even despite all protestation—Dean looks like a little kid. The same little kid who first slept in that exact same spot just about two decades ago after stumbling in after his father, dead on his feet but clutching his brother’s hand in a death grip. Bobby’s heart breaks all over again.

“It was good, whatever it was that saved me,” Dean had said earlier when he’d shown Bobby the shock of a brand on his arm, a raised raw pink welt, “and not just because it pulled my ass out. I remember it was good.”

“You remember,” Bobby repeated, dubiously.

Dean nodded. “I remember. Bits and pieces and it all sort of gets fucked up in the, uh, metaphysical translation but the important parts? I remember.”

Bobby gestured irritably. “Care to expand on that just a smidge?”

For the first time since he’d shown up beaming like a rockstar, Dean hesitated. He flexed his jaw, eyes flitting aside before he eventually shrugged in faux nonchalance. “I remember—being there. And then.”

“And then . . . .” Bobby cautioned when Dean showed no intention of continuing, eyes settling far off somewhere to Bobby’s right with a distant, bordering on dreamy look. Sharper now, “And then?”

Dean snapped to. “And then it saved me.”

Bobby tried not to get too riled up, took a deep breath before saying with exaggerated care, “How’d it manage that, then?”

Impossibly, Dean laughed aloud, an incredulous and delighted wheeze. Bobby startled. At least Dean had the good sense to rub at the back of his neck and look a little embarrassed when he calmed down before elaborating, “Christ, Bobby. He—it—it swallowed me whole.”

*

At some point during his silent vigil, Bobby must doze off. His dreams are foggy and anxious, and when he wakes it’s with a jolt, a crick in his neck, and a near heart attack when he finds the couch empty.

It takes a frankly commendable place among the honorable mentions for the worst moments of Bobby’s life, that split second staring at the couch thinking that he dreamt Dean coming back. Dean’s still dead and buried. Sam’s still AWOL.

Then he sees the rumpled old afghan. The backdoor still opened a crack.

Bobby creeps closer, not sure where the caution comes from exactly, but too old not to trust a gut instinct. He edges the door open a little more, squints through the rusty metal of the storm door and—

Bobby stares.

In the fluorescent glare of the porch light, under the starlit sky, Dean is pacing a furious rut into the dirt path. Back and forth, like a soldier, back and forth, muttering to himself all the while with his eyes shut. He gesticulates, occasionally.

It takes a moment, but Bobby’s ears finally begin to pick up handfuls of words. “Come on,” Dean is saying, insistent, embittered, “come on. I know you can hear me. I know you can hear me. That was you, wasn’t it? The gas station? . . . Try again. Try talking again. I’ll hear you this time, come on . . . come on, I can take it. You can’t just leave me here after that. Come on. Come on.”

A chill racks down Bobby’s spine as he hears Dean say, quieter now and soft with reverence, very nearly a prayer, “Please.

Bobby doesn’t know what else to do but back away, slowly. To return and settle back into his chair. Pretend to be asleep when Dean wakes him up a couple hours later to start packing for the eight hour drive back to Illinois.

*

Sam and Ruby are ordering pizza the night that everything goes to hell. Comes back from Hell. Whatever.

They’re ordering pizza because that’s a thing they do now, ordering in and eating together. Ruby had kind of forgotten about the strange emotional bond that sharing food stimulates. She’d also forgotten how fucking good greasy food is. Funny the things you forget if you're dead long enough. She’s beginning to remember.

An extra large, then, half veggie for Sam and half everything for Ruby. She wants to see if she can put some meat on her new bones.

“Can you even do that?” Sam asks, genuinely curious.

Ruby shrugs. “Can’t hurt to try. First time in a hundred-some years I’ve had a body to myself.”

Sam flinches but tries to disguise it after. He’s very progressive like that.

“Anyways,” Ruby spares him, “it can’t hurt to keep up maintenance. Don’t want this body to die the second I slip out of it if I break it too badly.”

“Won’t it die anyway? Like, off of life support.”

Ruby smiles at him. “I think I can hustle back faster than it’d take your arms to give out doing chest compressions.”

“Gee,” Sam deadpans, “I better get CPR certified, in that case.”

Ruby snorts and dials the pizza place advertised in the hotel lobby. Sam rolls his eyes when she mocks his order but she knows, too, that he sort of likes it—reminds him of Dean.

“For someone who eats like a rabbit,” Ruby makes sure to tease, after she hangs up, “you sure do have some carnivorous habits.”

But Sam levels her with a flat look. Okay, so maybe he’s not ready to joke about the whole blood thing. Whatever. They’ll get there. Ruby hadn’t expected them to be joking around, at all.

The fucking, however, she’d been fifty-fifty on. Ruby is the first to admit her anticipated role as a kinda Hollywood femme fatale hadn’t exactly been fruitful at first, but it turns out subtle seduction doesn’t work on Sam Winchester as well as literally throwing yourself at him and hoping you keep failing upwards. Turns out, Ruby is fucking awesome at that.

She’s considering needling Sam into something before their food gets here but she also doesn’t want to piss him off too bad. The boy has got the thick skin of a peach and she doesn’t really want him to ditch her ass in the middle of this shitstorm.

There’s been crazy demon activity in Pontiac, crazy tremors, crazy power outages. A lot of crazy. They’ve mapped it out with pins, fudged with points and times until something like an event horizon began to crop up. Ruby ignores Sam’s look to bend over and study it now: the strange flowering starburst out from Pontiac, bleeding some into the wider Livingston County. Fucking crazy.

A glance out of the corner of her eyes reveals, yes, Sam has dropped the bitchface and is staring at her ass.

Ruby smirks at him but Sam just rolls his eyes, retreats to the bathroom. In his absence, Ruby lazes back onto the bed, giving up the guise of work. She doesn’t need sleep, doesn’t particularly want sleep, even, which is a plus since she can’t really afford to. But this? Sprawling out and taking a sec to decompress a little? This is nice.

She and Sam have been running non-stop this past month, driving straight from lead to lead, Sam taking the days and Ruby the nights. It took him a second to allow that, her driving, and though it’s clearly more of a necessary evil in Sam’s eyes than a grand gesture, Ruby recognizes the prerequisite trust for what it is. Knows it’s a “big deal”. She accepts the wheel without so much as a snide remark, though she does snicker a little in private while Sam snores away from his sprawl in the backseat at the thought of Dean Winchester rolling in his grave.

She can see it, clear as day: Dean in the deepest, darkest, most grueling cranny of Hell torturing his little heart out before stopping abruptly, turning to Alistair and saying, Oh, my bastard brother just let a demon tear up I-44 in the dead of night like a maniac and when he woke up outside of Joplin not only did he let her drive the rest of the way, he also jacked her off in record time once he was positive they left the toll roads behind in Oklahoma. I’m done now. I give up. Nothing you could ever do to me can possibly be worse than this.

Ruby muffles her laugh with the palm of her hand, watching herself shake in the mirror over the bed. She likes this body, she decides for the hundredth time. She likes it a lot. It doesn’t give her a creepy out-of-body feeling when she hears her own voice—it fits. All of it just fits. Maybe not perfectly, but Ruby’s no Cinderella and she doesn’t mind being a tad snug for the time being.

Sam’s ipod shuffles from a nice streak of her own personal picks (cheesy synth-punk and 2000s bubblegum pop) to some of Sam’s more unfortunate choices (ie: whiny white guy alt-rock). It’s growing on her, though.

Muse and Thom Yorke. Yeesh, she’s getting soft in her deep cover.

But whatever. She’s had a pretty shitty year, lofty aspirations aside. She deserves to be able to enjoy the little things.

Like, for example, cajoling Sam into letting her fuck him under the mirror ceiling later tonight.

And that’s the last pleasant thought she has for a while because she hears—beyond Sam humming in the other room, beyond the mumbling of the guests in the surrounding rooms, under the low rush of traffic—the low drawl of the late Dean Winchester talking to Bobby Singer on the sidewalk outside.

When it rains it pours. In the following five minutes there are more tears and attempted fratricides via stabbing than Ruby’s seen all year and the next thing she knows, after a round of passive aggressive improv work, Ruby is out on her ass without a single slice of pizza to show for her trouble. Things only get worse from there.

*

The surreal thing is that Sam has had this dream before. Not a psychic dream, either (which have tapered off, weirdly enough, but he guesses reality can rarely follow the strict rules fictional stories are meant to keep in order to stay compelling—that would be too easy) but honest to God dreams. Dreams where Dean shows up out of the blue, alive, and Sam is so, so fucking happy . . . but then he’s gotta hustle Ruby out of sight and oh shit he has to lie and lie and lie through his fucking teeth about what he’s been up to and when Dean asks him if he made a deal to get him out, Sam will have to explain that no, Dean, I couldn’t even do that, couldn’t even offer an ounce of what you gave to me.

Okay, so, maybe they’re nightmares. But that’s super fucked up to admit. This situation is fucked up enough without admitting to the fact that he wakes up from those dreams stricken and miserable and so lonely that it feels like he’s adrift in the middle of the ocean . . . but also a teensy tiny little bit relieved that he will never have to defend his actions these past few months to Dean.

Yeah.

So first comes the exhilaration, the tears, and yeah, Ruby ducks out of there slick as anything, but then oh, boy—here it comes, he’s gotta explain to Dean now that no , he didn’t, he couldn’t—

“I wanna track down the thing that pulled me out,” Dean says, point black once the three of them have settled in, Sam sitting on the bed under the mirror he so knows Ruby wanted to fuck him underneath and oh God

Wait. Sam blinks. “The thing—”

“That saved me,” Dean confirms, easily. There’s a touch of steel behind his words, though.

Sam stares. When Dean doesn’t budge Sam turns to Bobby, cross-armed in the corner and watching Sam with the same poker face he’s been holding since he got here.

But if you didn’t sell your soul, and I didn’t sell my soul, Sam tries to communicate to Bobby with only his eyes, who the hell flew my brother out of hell?

“Uh-hu,” Bobby says, “that’s about how I took it, too.”

*

Before they leave for Bobby’s friend Pamela’s, Sam catches sight of Dean’s hands. His broken nails.

“You had to dig yourself out,” Sam surmises, numbly.

Dean cocks a grin. “Full on George Romero.”

Sam hesitates. Struggles with it. Then, unable to hold it in, he says, “If this thing was powerful enough to pull you out of Hell, to rebuild your body, why’d it bury you back in the ground?”

Dean stiffens but recovers his enthusiastic optimism in spite of Sam in record time. He ignores Sam when he asks about the glass cuts on his hands and face, too.

Sam shares another look with Bobby.

*

Once they’re on the road, Sam braces himself for the third degree. He works himself up into a defensive bristle before it begins, Of course I haven’t used my powers, Dean! How can you even ask me that? Do you trust me that little? Of course I respected your dying wish! And who? Ruby? Must be dead or back in Hell, how would I know, Dean? He’s fucking pissed, he’s fucking ready, Dean can sling him any question he wants to, he’s game, but then Dean just . . . doesn’t.

Dean watches the road. He’s locked in. Just a cursory bitch about the ipod and then—nothing. Dean edges just over fifty in a thirty-five, and Sam aches to tell him to knock it off. Slow down. Talk to him. But he doesn’t; Sam just keeps his mouth shut and thinks that maybe that just might be in both of their best interests. If he’s going to be a liar to his brother, he won’t be a hypocrite too. Not until he has to be.

Dean speeds ahead through the dark.

*

Pamela’s cool. Sam itches to tell her that it’s in her best interests to kick them off her premises. To reiterate: that’s not psychic talk, that’s life experience and a spotty track record.

Dean does some cursory flirting with Pamela and Sam is shocked when he abruptly realizes it’s just that—cursory. Almost like it’s for Sam’s benefit, bizarrely. Dean’s still got that locked-on-the-road look in his eye, keeps saying shit like, “Let’s get this party started,” and “How fast can we get this seance up and running?” Pamela is indulgent but diligent in her set up, cracking jokes about eagerness but clearly dead set on taking her time.

Sam pulls Bobby aside as she’s finishing up, Dean hovering over her and her candles.

“Bobby,” Sam whispers, “what the fuck?”

Bobby gives him a big, bewildered shrug. “Hell if I know.”

“You think . . . .” Sam starts but fails to finish. He doesn’t even know what he thinks.

“The boy might have a screw loose,” Bobby tells him. “What’s gone and don’t stay gone has a habit of coming back a little kooky but I just don’t know what to do about it besides what we’re already doing.”

Sam nods, trying not to panic. “What did he tell you, exactly?”

“Nothing he didn’t tell you, I’m bettin’.”

Still, Sam checks. “Real big?”

“Real big, real bright, real non-Euclidean,” Bobby confirms, then scrunches his nose and adds in a dramatized, love-sick voice, “and good. Real good.”

“Yeah,” Sam nods, surer. “Knight in shining armor, good. Rebuild Dean from scratch, good.”

“Scramble his brains, good,” Bobby wagers.

“Maybe.”

Bobby adds, as an afterthought, “Swallowed him.”

Sam rears back. “ Swallowed—!”

Bobby hushes him with a sharp hiss, flapping his hands. “He just said it the once. Said it swallowed him whole out of Hell.”

Vaguely nauseous, Sam wavers. “I’m not really, y’know, really liking the sound of that.”

“Yeah,” Bobby snorts, “‘cause I’m loving the vibe that this thing is putting down with the caveman cattle brand and the vore.”

“The,” Sam reels, “what .”

Pamela calls from the other room. “We’re ready!”

*

It’d be funny if it weren’t so very, very fucked up—all that eager energy leaves Dean the moment Pamela invites them all to take a seat.

“You, uh, sure we’re all set?” Dean inquires, chewing at the corner of his lower lip. Bobby and Sam stare.

Pamela fixes him with a wry grin. “Do I tell you how to do your job?”

“Yeah, sure, no,” Dean affirms, looking somewhat abashed, but, “I just wanted to make sure.”

Pamela laughs at him. “Look at you, you’re as nervous as a virgin on prom night.”

Nobody else laughs for an awkward half beat. And then Dean snorts, moves in to take the chair to Pamela’s right. Sam and Bobby tentatively follow suit. Pamela lowers the lights and drops the black out curtains until the glow of the candles casts their shadows long and crooked over the floor. Sam swallows and takes his brother’s hand in his.

*

Let the record show: it takes a helluva lot to scare Sam. His entire life could be a compelling case study in systematic desensitization.

So when he says he’s terrified as they’re leaving Pamela’s, watching the ambulance carrying her and Bobby scream away, he is not saying it lightly.

It wasn’t the Poltergeist static or the flares of candle flames. Not the splatter of wax that jarred his eyes open just in time to see a woman’s eyes burn out of her skull as she screamed, and screamed, and screamed until his ears rang with it. Until she was sobbing doomsday rhetoric, clutching at Bobby’s hands.

No, that’s just a regular Sunday stroll for Sam. What scared him, what chilled him to his bones as Bobby pleaded with Pamela to stop pushing was how when Dean heard Pamela say a name he echoed it back, the demand bursting loudly over the rumble shaking the floorboards, “Castiel?” and again, “Castiel? ”  and then, the flames. Like a sick call and response. An answer as equally enthusiastic.

They get back into the car. Sam’s ears are still ringing.

*

“It was an accident,” Dean insists, as soon as they hear from Bobby. They’re sitting at a diner halfway back to the hotel room and these are the first real words Dean has spoken. “I know it was. He didn’t mean to.”

Sam stares at him. “He?”

“Castiel?” Dean says, shrugs. “Boy name, right?”

“Are you insane?” Sam blurts out.

Dean frowns as though in deep thought. “You think it’s a chick? Be kinda weird.” He shrugs again, throws on a phony lecherous smirk. “Might be kinda cool, sorta hot,” Dean says, then soberly adds, “pretty sure it’s a dude, though. Felt like a dude.”

Sam is speechless.

Dean nods, like it’s decided.

“Dean,” Sam hazards, under the clatter of forks and knives on ceramic plates, gripping his knees hard to try and keep his voice calm and collected. “Dean, I think there’s something wrong.”

Dean frowns at him. “What’d’you mean?”

“You, Dean, there’s something wrong with you,” Sam says. He does it as gently as he can but cringes as it registers, even to him, as condescension and something shutters behind Dean’s eyes. A twisted, bitter part of Sam wants to snap, don’t like getting called a freak? Grow up. Instead, he hurries to say, “I just mean, what d’you want here? What’s the game plan?”

“We have a name, so we summon the thing,” Dean says real slow-like, like Sam’s the one acting like a dumbass.

“Okay,” Sam agrees. “Ignoring the fact that we just watched someone’s eyes fry from just looking at this thing: okay. And then what?”

“And then what, what?”

“Dean, come on!” Sam pleads. “Think about this, man. You wanna—what? Shake it’s hand? Give the knight-errant a kiss thank you?”

Dean’s gaze hardens. “We summon it.”

“You know how crazy you sound?” Sam feels a little like he’s itching out of his skin. His head hurts like a bitch, temples pounding. 

“Sam, he saved me,” Dean says. “I know what this looks like and I don’t care. You don’t understand.”

“Help me understand, then,” Sam says. His nails dig through the denim of his jeans. I don’t understand? I don’t understand? Are you fucking kidding me?

But Dean’s jaw is clamped shut, a flush high on his cheeks, and the next thing Sam knows a demon is sitting down at their table, threatening his brother. They end up walking out hungry but without a drop of blood spilt, because Dean has the dumbass perception to roll up his sleeve and show off the welt of a hand print.

“If you could take me, you would,” Dean says, low, spitting right in the demon’s face. “I’m protected. Ain’t that right? I’m protected by something that scares the everloving hellfire out of you.”

Sam—who has never heard Dean claim to be under anyone’s protection before beyond their fucking dad, is too fucking insecure with his dick size or whatever to admit such a thing—is not exactly relieved.

*

In the car, he tries one more time. With feeling. Just one more time.

Dean drums his fingers against the wheel over and over. He’s gnawing on his lip.

“Tell me what happened,” Sam says. “Maybe I’ll get it better if you tell me what exactly happened.”

Staccato over the Impala’s rumble: tap-tap-tap-tap, tap-tap-tap-tap as Dean doesn’t quite ignore him, more looks like he’s figuring out the words he wants and Sam tries not to get frustrated. It’s not a new thing, Dean struggling with his words when he’s overwhelmed, but right this moment, Sam just wants to snap, fucking say it!  

When Dean notices Sam noticing his fingers, he stops. Grips the wheel hard.

“There’s no way to—” Dean cuts himself off. Sam waits him out, is rewarded when Dean works his jaw open and begins anew. “I thought that was it, Sam. Like, that was it . I gave up. No last calls, no second chances; no saving nothing there, not anybody or anything. Didn’t think there was anything worth saving, neither.”

He swallows thickly, visibly. His eyes are shining and his teeth are clenched like they can stifle the bounce of his chin, his lower lip. Sam stares. When he'd asked Dean what Hell had been like, Dean had said that it was all a blur—this doesn’t sound like a blur. This sounds . . . bad.

“But he did,” Dean bites out. “Sammy, he fucking saved me.”

There’s an awkward spell that Dean apparently has no intention to break. Sam’s legs kick awkward and anxious in the footwell, reflexively trying to hit the brakes as they slow to a halt at a red light in the middle of nowhere. Dean, in a historic first, keeps his eyes fixed on the road.

Eventually Sam says, “Yeah, I’m getting that,” slowly and yeah, a little peevishly but come on, “I am, Dean. But what, like, actually happened.”

“You don’t get it.”

Oh, for fuck’s sake—”Dean, you really don’t think I don’t understand feeling an inexplicable connection to something beyond myself? Me?”

“This is not the same—”

Sam has to laugh. “Isn’t it?”

Sam.”

It’s that—the low warning shot fury of just a single syllable that brings Sam up short. It’s—fuck, it’s how Dad used to say their names when one of them talked back or hesitated and he needed them to acquiesce pronto . Sam grew an immunity to it but never outgrew the skipped heartbeat, Dean never seemed to outgrow it at all. Dean’s tried that tone with Sam before too, probably doesn’t even realize he’s doing it—but this is the first time it’s ever stuck its landing. 

Sam. He feels like Dean’s struck him. Distantly, he sees in its glow on Dean’s face, the useless light overhead turns green.

“Isn’t it?” Sam repeats, relentless, all at once, not without anger but hinged mostly on anxious frustration, a touch desperate, fists balled and white knuckled, “Dean, you need to listen to me: this here? You, here, breathing, driving, talking to me? This is a gift. A gift. And a fucking amazing one at that, okay?”

“I know—”

“No, listen. It’s a gift, and it’s yours, okay? Just yours. It doesn’t matter—like, it couldn’t possibly matter a modicum less who the hell gave you this gift. Got that? It doesn’t matter because it’s yours now. It’s not who gave it to you, it’s what you decide to do with it.” Sam takes a deep trembling breath. “Got it?”

Dean’s jaw muscle twitches so hard his eye actually starts to tick a little.

Another stoplight and Dean still does not look at him as he asks, tightly even, “Sammy, you got something you wanna tell me?”

Sam blanches, staring at Dean helplessly. “What?”

Slowly, Dean turns his head to look him in the eye. “Do you have something you wanna share, Sam?”

“I’m trying to tell you I understand and—”

“You don’t,” Dean interrupts, hard. “Sam.”

Sam glares back out at the road. “No,” he says, honestly, “there’s nothing I want to tell you.”

*

Words obfuscate things, Sam thinks as they re-enter the city. He had enough credits that he’d been considering going for a double major in psych as well as history, but just about everything he learned in school is contrary to this and absolutely useless in dealing with Dean. They can communicate emotions and anticipate movements with simple glances and twitches; that kind of understanding has always been baseline. Maybe that’s the problem. The both of them are too damn good at just making their own assumptions up in regard to the other.

*

He has to wait for Dean to fall asleep first in order to sneak out of the hotel room; this necessitates Sam pretending to fall asleep before Dean.

Sam lays head to foot with Dean like how they used to in twin beds as kids, the way they haven’t in a long time, while Dean pours over Bobby’s trunk library of lore with single-minded literary focus he usually reserves for Dad’s journal or Goodwill paperbacks which, when their old man was still kicking, Dean only ever read when Dad wasn’t around—Sam doesn’t quite know why exactly, had never heard Dean expressly forbid or mock such a thing. Nevertheless, at a gut level, he understands the secrecy.

Sam had had to talk him down from calling Pamela’s extension at the hospital by insisting that yes, Bobby would’ve asked her this or that already and he would’ve told them if he’s learned anything new. Besides, it’s kind of bad taste to demand answers interrogating a friend who’d just gotten burned doing them a favor. 

Literally. In her eyes.

“Alright,” Dean had groused, and resigned himself to research.

After helping for an hour or so, Sam had thrown in the towel, pleading a migraine that he was not quite exaggerating. Dean huffed but allowed it.

That stung too, somehow—that Dean allowed it. Fuck, if Sam wasn’t suddenly right back in the passenger sear, with all it’s lack of blame, all it’s lack of control.

Still, laying there with his calf brushing his brother’s alive, breathing side, on the bed he had intended on sharing with Ruby (a reality which grows more and more dreamlike as his new one solidifies into fact), Sam is overwhelmed with relief. The relief in being angry with Dean. The relief in being resentful. It’s a twist ending finale to the grieving process.

He nearly dozes off himself, in that warm haze of thank fuck, you dumb shithead; Dean must think he already has because he mumbles, low and drowsy, “Castiel, buddy, I’m here. I’m here.

Sam’s eyes fly open but he stays as still as a corpse. A shiver whips down his spine but he stifles it.

“Castiel,” Dean repeats, slurring a little, “Cas. Come on, man. Come on.”

A long silence. Sam struggles to keep his breath even.

And then, Dean snores.

Go fuck yourself, Castiel, Sam thinks, viciously, and then spooks himself in thinking it. He hurries the fuck out of the hotel room before Dean can wake up and stop him.

*

After a long, nostalgic night and day of trailing Sam and dodging former coworkers skulking in back alleys and basements who would love nothing more than to see her rat head on a pike, Ruby luxuriates by allowing herself a gut call. She meets up with Sam at the diner where she finds half a dozen demons scorched and Sam inching ever so closer to straight-up jonesing.

“It’s cosmic,” she tells Sam, who has spent all of one whole day with daddy’s little repressed monster and has apparently rediscovered the stick up his ass that Ruby’s spent the past four months slogging through the muck uphill to remove. Cool. Not like Ruby’s spent her day relearning existential horror or anything, don’t mind her. “Nothing like I’ve ever seen before.”

“Dean says it’s good.”

Well, if Dean says it, Ruby wants to mockingly whine like a snot nosed kid. She almost does, but then she catches the underlying tone of Sam’s voice. Oh. Oh.

Ruby nearly laughs in his dumb, sweet face. Sam doesn’t even believe it—maybe he’s playing devil’s advocate just so that he can hear someone else argue his point, maybe he just wants her honest opinion. “Good,” Ruby tells him, obligingly, “is a four letter word, Sammy.”

*

Bobby finds Dean, practically in fetal position, muttering incoherently and shredded to ribbons by glass. The hotel room looks like a twister just blew through.

“Bobby,” Dean grunts, when he sees him, wobbling upright. Bobby lunges to steady him and startles to see that Dean’s bleeding from both ears.

Fury overwhelms him. “Dammit, Dean, this thing—”

“Bobby, I swear.” Dean clutches at Bobby’s arm as he finds his footing, glass falling from him and shattering further. “I swear it on my life.”

“Well you never put much stock in that old thing before,” he snaps as they stumble over to the couch. “Why should it mean a lick more to you, now?”

“Sam, then,” Dean blurts, eyes wild. Almost feverish. “Bobby, I’m so sure, I’d swear it on Sam’s life.”

But Bobby shakes his head and Dean falls into a miserable, despondent silence.

*

When Sam’s phone rings, he answers it, even though Ruby was mid-sentence. She makes a face but holds her tongue, listens with intent as Sam's face goes white.

“Dean’s gone,” Sam says, pointlessly, “he stole Bobby’s car.” And yeah, Ruby knows when to cut her losses.

*

Bobby says he knows a spot. Knows where Dean would go if he needed a wide, enclosed space near Pontiac.

“How can you possibly know that?” Sam demands. He’d picked Bobby back up in the Impala and now they’re speeding down some back country road praying to God that no cops are pulled off in the dark just waiting for some dumb suckers like them to blow by.

“We saw it on the way in,” Bobby says. “Big place. Perfect for putting up as many sigils and signs you can think of when you ain’t got a clue what the hell it is you’re wrangling with.”

Sam is trying desperately not to panic. He just got his brother back, this can’t happen now. “Don’t think Dean’s exactly looking to kill this thing.”

Bobby shakes his head in the corner of Sam’s eyes. “Not what most sigils do.”

“Oh, what, ‘sigils don’t kill monsters, people kill monsters’?”

“Exactly,” Bobby says, ignoring Sam’s tone.

And then it hits Sam. “They trap things.”

Bobby makes an affirmative noise.

“He’s making sure that it stays once he summons it,” Sam says, numbly. “Oh, Christ.”

Bobby snorts. “Not to sound like a pessimist, but I don’t think the Christian Messiah pulled Dean’s ass out of the friar.”

“Fuck, Bobby! Can you be serious for two seconds!”

“Don’t take that tone with me, boy,” Bobby snaps. “Not like I was the one on watch duty.”

Sam grits his teeth. “Not like I was the one with him when he snuck out.”

He floors the gas and they drive in silence until the barn rises into view with the wrap of the road. Three a.m. has just rolled around. Bobby visibly glances at the clock and snorts.

“Great.” He’s already going for his door before Sam has even hit the breaks.

“Hold on, hold on,” Sam mutters. He shifts into park, the car jerking forward with an aborted roll of its tires. Dean would kill him if he saw Sam do that. Sam is so going to kill Dean first.

Outside, the night seems somehow darker. The temperature has plummeted. Sam shivers, goosebumps cropping up all over his arms and the back of his neck.

Bobby shoots him a look as the wind starts to pick up, hands him a sawed off shotgun from the back as well as a pistol for him to tuck into his waistband, and takes another shotgun for himself. Sam’s hair is whipping into his face, his flannel snapping around his waist, as they make a break for the barn.

Over the howl of the wind, Sam shouts Dean’s name. No use. Too loud.

Bobby knocks into him with the force of a particularly vicious gail. Sam has had brushes with tornados before, especially when he was little, but there was always a motel bathtub to curl up in with Dean or else a cellar to break into. Sam has no point of comparison for this : slamming up against the barn so hard he sees stars as all the trees within view crack and heave over, splinters scraping him bloody as the direction of the wind changes and he staggers to the side.

It puts him in reach of the door, though, and he grips it with one hand and grapples Bobby with the other, forgoing the shotgun which whips off into the dark. Together, they haul themselves into the barn.

The door slams hard behind them. It catches Sam’s whiteknuckled grip. It fractures at least two of his metacarpal bones. Sam cries out, sees red, as Bobby pulls him fully inside and bolts the door behind them.

*

Dean is at the far end of the barn looking like he’s been left at the altar. He stares at them blankly for a second like he doesn't quite understand what it is he’s looking at, then he scowls.

“Have you lost your damn mind, boy?” Bobby roars over the clatter and band of the overhead shutters. The barn groans all around them like it’s about to be sucked up into space. Beside him, Sam is clutching his hand to his chest, sickly pale.

“Dean,” he manages. All in all, it’s pretty scathing. Dean has to clench his teeth against it.

“You guys gotta get out of here,” Dean says as they crowd in on his space. “He’s coming, he’s—”

And then the doors bang open. The wood barring them shut splinter with a crack like a gunshot.

The lights overhead fritz and fizz and pop sparks alight in the sudden dark as the shadows elongate, thunder roaring outside, inside, like a furious animal, and there, it approaches; it approaches and the air warps electric like before a lightning strike, heaving in and out and—

Christ, Bobby thinks, it looks like a man. A frumpy man, walking as stilted as a corpse on strings with a face pulled so inhumanly blank that it registers as uncanny—every bone in Bobby’s body is screaming at him to run away now .

Bobby shifts in front of Dean, the horror of him empty handed, and points his shotgun at the thing and fires. Sam, with his nondominant hand, does the same with the pistol he still has. Sam gets the stomach and Bobby gets the chest. The thing keeps walking.

“Stop!” Dean bellows. “Stop!”

Another round—it doesn’t drop. It doesn’t even flinch. The lights flare and drop over and over, painting the thing in sharp angles.

Dean shoves between Sam and Bobby, the next two shots waisted punching maws into either broad side of the barn. And he doesn’t stop there.

Bobby, cursing and spitting, raises his gun again only to realize Dean has put himself between them and the thing, arms spread wide.

“Dean,” Bobby cautions.

“Fucking move!” Sam snarls out.

But Dean shakes his head, chin set and eyes hard. “Can’t do that, Sammy.”

The lights scream alight one last time, sparks raining down on them as they’re all set in high contrast—the high arch of the room, the resilient fortitude on Dean’s desperate face, the thing—the thing with its bright terrible eyes set on Dean looking—looking like—like—

The lights crash and die with but a whimper into the plunge of darkness. Outside, the night settles. There’s an uproar of crickets.

The battery operated lantern that Dean had brough and the moon high over them pooling light in through the shutters are their only source of illumination at the thing stills but a breath away from Dean’s back, like a shadow, not a step away from upright spooning. It’s eyes glow blue in the dark, fixed still on Dean’s back. Bobby’s blood runs cold.

But Dean just exhales gustily into the silence. He stares sightless past Sam and Bobby, arms lowering limp to his side. He is, Bobby realizes with a dawning nightmarish horror, shaking.

“It’s you,” Dean breathes out, and he turns to face the thing that looks like a pencil pushing accountant but isn’t. “It’s you.”

The thing cocks its human head to the side.

Sam actually gasps out loud when Dean lunges to hug-tackle the thing, but Bobby saw this coming. Saw this coming a mile and a half away; this, his boy clinging to the shoulder of some strange creature which does not or simply does not know to hug him back, trembling with heaving sobs as he chokes out his thanks over and over again.

Bobby watches as the creature twists its head at an unnatural, bird-like angle to speak in a low, gravelly voice. He watches Dean laugh strained and incredulous, slumping further into the body he’s slung himself over.

The thing glances almost thoughtlessly over at Bobby and Sam, its eyes dimming to a less radioactive blue. Sam, he thinks, is going to try his luck and fire his gun again at the head and hell, maybe Bobby is too; but the thing raises a hand and with a delicate flick of the wrist they are hitting the ground out cold.

And Bobby knows, he knows, just from the look in the damned thing's eyes staring at Dean, that Dean has made a vital misunderstanding all this time he has insisted that the thing is good. Bobby knows it, even as he drops: Dean has mistaken love for goodness.