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[personal profile] tekmessa
Supernatural | Dean/Sam | r | ~ 43,900 wc | spoilers up to and including 4.14 (Sex And Violence)
It doesn't matter if they know it or not, some things are bound to happen. Not pre-destined by a higher being or because of some kind of fate, but they are inevitable because of the way the human heart beats.




To Bear His Brother's Cross



"Okay," Dean says. He's pale, but he's looking straight at the angels in front of him, his gaze never wavering.

"You do not know what you are doing." Uriel's voice is hard and unforgiving. "There is no going back from it. You say 'yes', and it is done. Game over for you and it will not change anything. It will not save the world. Are you willing to risk it anyway? Are you willing to put the whole world at risk?"

Dean swallows, knowing Uriel isn't lying. He's only saying what Anna and Castiel have told Dean already. Still, Dean says, "Yes." His heart is pounding, but he won't change his mind. Not now, not ever. That has never been a question, never a choice, and he has no idea why the angels haven't realized it before because they always seemed to know about almost everything. But now they appear to be surprised, and Dean doesn't get them. He will do it, because it's the only thing to do. Nothing else matters, nothing else has ever mattered. Not to him at least.

Uriel smiles, but it isn't a nice smile. It never reaches his eyes. Whatever! Dean hasn't seen him looking at him with anything but rage, contempt or hate yet, so why should it change? There's no reason for it, and Dean couldn't care less. He doesn't need to understand Uriel, he doesn't even want to, so he looks over to Anna.

Looking at her is more difficult, because Anna seems to be pained. She's reaching out towards him again and for a moment he's afraid because he doesn't want to be touched. Not by her, not by anyone, who isn't his brother, but the fear of her touch in unnecessary because her hand drops to her side again before she reaches him. She shakes her head, looking so upset that he wishes someone would comfort her. He remembers that she has comforted him once when he needed it the most, but that has been a long time ago. At least to him it seems so, and he knows he couldn't even comfort her if he tried. Because he won't bow to them and he won't change his mind.

Castiel, however, doesn't show what he's thinking.
He never did, Dean thinks, and somehow it makes him feel less guilty for what he's asking the angels. Dean feels his lips curving into a smile looking at Castiel, for no other reason than gratitude. Because grateful he is. Either Castiel is damning him or he's disappointed in him, that's for sure, but Castiel won't show it and he won't tell Dean, if he doesn't have to, which has always made it easier for Dean to tell him 'no'. Whether or not Castiel wanted him to do something, he never made Dean feel guilty for doing whatever Dean decided to do. Dean knows that it wouldn't change anything for him now, even if Castiel accused him outright for being a selfish bastard (Dean knows he is, he knows it, but it doesn't matter, not at all.), but anyway, he's grateful that Castiel doesn't show it.

"Yes, I ask for it. You offered and I accept." For a moment he remembers. He remembers Hell and he remembers Earth. He remembers his father's words and his mother's voice. He remembers Bobby and Ellen and Jo and Ash and Cassie. And he remembers his brother. Sam. Sammy. Always Sammy. His dimpled smile. His hazel eyes. His comforting touch. His boiling anger. His helpless desperation. And his unconditional love. Sammy. "I accept," Dean repeats and closes his eyes.

"So shall it be," Castiel says calmly.

And then it happens. Dean shudders, weakens, drops to his knees and takes what he has been asking for.



And Sam wakes up, his heart pounding against his chest and cold sweat on his back. He feels Dean's gaze on him for a second, maybe even less, before Dean is looking back at the road. Sam shifts a little, and then he straightens, because he knows that Dean knows he's awake, and he also knows that Dean won't look in his direction anymore now. There's no point in pretending to be asleep. Furthermore, if he doesn't acknowledge Dean, Dean won't call him on it. He'll take it in silence, like everything nowadays, and Sam is afraid of what Dean might think because he can't read Dean anymore.

But he won't dwell on it, or so Sam tells himself, when he clears his throat and looks out of the window to his right. Something isn't quite right in the car, he thinks, but he isn't sure, because nothing has been right for a while now, so he could be wrong. He bites his lip, inhales. Then he turns towards Dean.

"How long did I sleep?" he asks, looking at a point a few inches away from Dean's eyes.

Dean's hands tighten around the wheel, before he relaxes, and Sam wonders how much of a conscious effort Dean is making. He shakes the thought away mentally and concentrates on his own features to keep them relaxed, too.

"Just a few hours. Any dreams?" Dean isn't looking over, even though there aren't any other cars anywhere.

"No," Sam lies, but not entirely, because the memory of his dream is already starting to fade away.

Once more Dean's hands tighten, and Sam's pretty sure that Dean's lips curl a bit, but he might be wrong because he blinks, and Dean is his relaxed self again.

"That's good," Dean says. He's silent before he adds, softer, "I guess."

"Yeah," Sam agrees and looks ahead, swallowing hard to keep the bile down that's rising in the back of his throat.

"You wanna drive?"

Dean's question startles Sam, and he looks over at Dean in surprise. Dean's face is a blank mask and driving seems to take all of Dean's attention, but he looks tired like he hasn't slept in days. Dark smudges are under his eyes.

Sam swallows. "Yeah."

Dean nods and brings the Impala to a stop. They change places, Dean getting out of the car and Sam sliding over into the driver's seat. He thinks Dean needs a second too long to get back into the car, but again, Sam might be wrong. He's thinking a bit too much about such things lately; so he doesn't comment on it. He wouldn't even comment on it, if he were sure, he admits to himself, and a bitter smile appears on his face.

Dean either doesn't notice it or he doesn't care, it's impossible to tell. He only asks, "You driving or not?" but the words are lacking any heat.

"I'm driving," Sam says softly. "Don't get your panties in a twist, Dean."

Dean doesn't react, and when Sam glances over at him, his eyes are closed and his head is turned towards the window. He might already be sleeping, but his breathing patterns aren't quite right. Sam sighs and reaches towards the radio before it hits him, and he suddenly knows what has been wrong. The silence. Dean hasn't turned on any of his music for a while.

Sam makes himself concentrate on the road. He knows that if he thought about it, he would remember the exact moment Dean stopped turning on his music, stopped commenting on Sam's behavior, stopped showing any emotion at all.

Sam presses his lips tightly together and drives.


--


They reach New York about three hours later, and at the time Dean is already awake. Or he has stopped pretending to be asleep, Sam doesn't know.

Okay, that's a lie. He does know. Dean fell asleep after an hour, stiffed ten minutes later and woke up but didn't move for the rest of the time. Sam even knows why, but he can't say anything, has no right to talk or ask about it anymore, and he hates himself for it.

"Okay, let's look for a motel," Dean says, his voice is rough like he isn't used to using it anymore, and Sam feels like screaming. But he keeps his mouth shut and only nods. He feels Dean glancing at him, before his brother looks out of the window. Dean doesn't say anything either.

Sam hates the world.


--


The room is like every other motel room, two beds, two chairs, a desk, a TV and a bathroom. Nothing is interesting, not even the walls, which are painted in a dark yellow color, the same as the comforters on the beds. Sam boots his laptop while Dean surfs the TV-channels. They haven't said anything since Dean got the key.

"Seven." One word and that was it.

Sam stares at the screen and broods somewhat absentmindly over the question whether the silence was louder when he was alone or not. He shakes his head. Not thinking about it, never again, he tells himself and wonders if he'll ever believe himself.

Finally Dean stops on some commercial that Sam hates. He isn't even sure why, why he hates this particular spot for a fabric softener, but he does.

"You want to talk about the case?" he asks after unclenching his jaw.

Dean looks at him now. But he still avoids Sam's eyes, only looks at some point a little left to Sam's nose. "Sure, why not?"

"There have been four murders by now."

"Four? I thought you said three?"

"Yesterday evening they found the fourth victim," Sam explains. "Mrs. Eliza Dean. Twenty-six years old."

"Like the others." Dean nods to himself. "No heart?"

"No heart."

"So, it's a werewolf." Dean looks down at his own hands resting in his lap, which are clenched together. Sam wants to know what he's thinking about, but he doesn't ask.

"Maybe, maybe not. The lunar cycle doesn't really match, as far as I can tell. Perhaps we should take a look at the corpses because the way it's written, it also doesn't sound as if the hearts were ripped out."

"Well, the cops won't advertise it to the press, if they can help it, Sam." Dean is still looking at his hands. "But I can go talk with the coroner, if you think it might be useful."

I. Sam bites his lip hard. I. Always I nowadays. Never we. Sam wants to ask Dean, if he has noticed it, too. He wants to ask Dean, if he hates it as much as Sam does. He wants to ask Dean, if he'll ever -

No! he tells himself. Stop thinking. There's a case. There are people you have to save. And there's Ruby. Sam swallows thickly. You don't have the right to ask.

"Okay," he says. "I'm gonna talk to Eliza's husband meanwhile."

Dean nods and stands up. He grabs the car keys and walks over to the door. Then he stops for a long second, just standing there with his back to Sam, and Sam stares at his brother, waiting, urging him to say it, to say anything to banish the deafening silence between them.

However, Dean only says, "Good. I'll see you later," and leaves.

Sam drops his head on his arms and wants to cry. But he doesn't. He can't.


--


It wasn't Dean, who found the case, but it wasn't Sam either, even if Dean believes it. Or he doesn't believe it, Sam can't tell. All he knows is that he's told Dean about it, because Ruby told him about the murders first.

"Something to do for the brother of yours," she said with a smile.

"He knows I'm meeting you, Ruby. He isn't stupid." Sam was so tired and all he could think of was the ghost of the cold blade he had felt against his throat less than twenty-four hours ago. The knife Dean was holding and threatening him with.

"Still doesn't mean that he likes what we're doing, Sam," Ruby said, looking at him with concern in her eyes. "I know that you want him to understand, but he doesn't -"

"He doesn't want me to lie to him," Sam interrupted. He wanted her eyes to be black and not to look so human, but he didn't say it. It wasn't important anyway.

"Sure, but he doesn't want you to use your powers either, Sam. And he doesn't want to go after Lilith. So, if I were you, I wouldn't hope that he would jump in joy, if you told him that you have a lead on her in New York. Or that he'd agree to going to New York at all, if you admitted to him that I told you about it. He doesn't like me, you know."

"He doesn't trust you," Sam corrected her.

For some reason his words made Ruby smile. "Same difference, Sam. But you do what you have to do. Maybe your brother will surprise us both. Or -" She hesitated, her eyes flicking away before catching his gaze again and holding it. "Or he tells you to fuck off and goes his own merry way with his angels."

His hands clenched into fists at the mention of the angels. Or maybe because of something else he didn't have the time to think about. "No, he wouldn't."

"Sam, I know you love your brother, but -"

And Sam wanted to shake her, because she needed to stop talking about Dean. Because talking with her about Dean made Sam feel even uglier than he did already, like he was betraying Dean.

And that's exactly what you are doing, isn't it, Sammy? a voice in the back of his head whispered, Dean doesn't know for sure what you are doing right now. That you are meeting her. That's betrayal, too.

"What, Ruby? What?"

He didn't know what he was looking like at that moment, but Ruby took a step back, before she moved right into his personal space.

"Sam, stop kidding yourself. You and your brother? You two have reached your breaking point. Give him a reason and he will leave you -"

"He won't," Sam said, stubborn, but Ruby ignored him.

"- but if you want to keep him -" A slight hesitation and a sly smile. "- by your side, then give him something to hunt. Something that shows him that you still want to fight next to him against monsters. And if you still want to go after Lilith, too, you better keep quiet about it for a while and don't ask him to choose you and your specialness as long as he's angry and hurt."

She was right; Sam knew it. He couldn't be sure of Dean anymore. And he couldn't stop hunting Lilith, either. Even just thinking about her made him feel nauseous, and anger and hate deep inside him exploded. Lilith had to pay for what she had done. And afterwards, afterwards everything would be right again. Or at least better than it was now, Sam believed because he had to believe it to keep himself moving.

"Okay, Ruby, tell me about it," he said.

And Ruby did.


--


Leonard Dean is young, good looking and full of despair. He doesn't know anything. He has married Eliza about a year ago in the St. John's Chapel and he shows Sam pictures of their wedding day and of Eliza – a young and beautiful dark skinned woman –, telling him exactly who else had been there, then his thoughts are drifting away and he shows Sam pictures of every date they ever had or, rather, every picture he has of Eliza, until Sam manages to get him back on topic to the present and her death. The end of their story is pretty short: Eliza became pregant and now she's gone.

Sam sits through his sob story and tries to make the right noises at the right time, but all he can think of is that he's wasting his time with this guy. Sam knows it wasn't always like this. Not even a year ago he has been able to feel sympathy with people like Leonard Dean, but nowadays he couldn't care less, because the guy isn't goning to tell him anything important and he's no one of importance to Sam, who is wondering whether the coroner is a man or a woman, and whether Dean decided to take the FBI badge or the reporter-ID. He worries whether the lead on Lilith will still be hot or not, and when Ruby will show up in New York to meet him.

At least this last question is answered when he finally leaves Mr. Dean's house, because Ruby is leaning against a red car, smiling at him. Even Leonard Dean in his grief notices it.

"That's your girl?" he asks. "Take care of her or something bad will happen. Suze asked, if I wanted to go shopping with her, and I said no. I said no." There are tears and guilt in his eyes again, and Sam wants to leave so badly already. "Don't let that guy get your girl, too. Don't let him take the one you love away from you."

And Sam nods, waves his hand and hurries towards Ruby to get away from Leonard Dean. He doesn't want to imagine how the guy would react, if Sam told him, 'Well, no, I don't care if they get her, because Ruby will just find another body, if she can't use this one anymore. It's no big deal at all. And for taking away the one I love, that has already happened too. More than once, more than twice even, and whenever I got the one back, it was never for keeps. So you have no idea what it's like to lose the person you love. Shut up and stop whining!'

Ruby slides into the car and starts it without any greeting.

"Funny coincidence,isn't it?" she chuckles suddenly, and Sam feels like strangling her, because he can't think of anything funny at all. Ruby goes on, "I mean, Leonard and Eliza Dean? Come on, tell me what your brother said when he heard that name."

It's just now that Sam realizes that he hasn't even noticed the name. That Dean hasn't noticed it, either. Or he did notice it and simply didn't share it with you, the voice in his head tells him, and Sam wants to strangle it, too.


--


Ruby drives him to his motel and assures him that she'll find him again in time, because they don't want Dean to notice their meetings. She hasn't told Sam anything new, but Sam is used to Ruby's ways and behavior by now, and at least he got a ride out of it, he tells himself.

He walks up to the door of their room and wants to open it when he hears voices. One is Dean's, and anger rushes through Sam when he discovers that the other voice belongs to Castiel. Sam presses his lips together and ponders if he should open the door and go inside. But instead of doing that, he stays outsides and eavesdrops their conversation.

"- not the time, Dean Winchester. There are bigger fish to catch and you know one of them."

"So what? You're suggesting that I ignore people, who need my help, and that I actually can help people now? You want me to sit around doing nothing?"

"You are so angry, Dean Winchester. You need to forgive yourself."

"Quit telling me what I need to do."

"You have gone through things no breathing man is supposed to go though and you survived. Maybe this should tell you something. There is a reason why you have survived it. A reason why the Lord helped you. You have a mission, Dean Winchester."

Sam's eyes narrow.

"Oh, lucky me!" Dean's laugh is bitter and so full of depreciation that even Sam flinches. "What's my mission, pray tell me?"

There's silence then, and Sam wonders if Castiel has vanished. Angels have an annoying habit to do so in mid-conbversation. He reaches for the door handle, but then Castiel says, "You are not ready, Dean Winchester. Not yet. But time will come, and there will be decisions you have to make -"

"Sure, and I'll change my mind about anything between now and whenever it is? Do you really believe that, Castiel?"

Sam hates hearing Dean using Castiel's name almost more than Castiel saying Dean's. And the angel is saying Dean the whole time, and each and every time Sam wants to grab Castiel and tell him to go away and to never come back. A part of him wonders, if that's how Dean feels when he sees Ruby.

"I believe you are already thinking differently from the way you used to, Dean Winchester. Experience changes men -"

"Shut up." Sam almost can't hear Dean's voice, it's so soft.

"- Hell changed you -"

"Stop, please."

"- and the brother of yours changed, too -"

"Castiel, shut up ..." Now his voice is sharper again, almost a warning.

"- and you have noticed it and he has showed you his true colors. He has told you what he really thinks of y-"

"I said SHUT UP!" Sam winces when Dean's voice volume suddenly increases, and he hears a slam against a wall. But before he can open the door to make sure that Dean is all right, Dean is talking again. His voice is low but dangerous now, and Sam has to strain his ears to understand the words. "Listen to me and listen carefully because I won't say it twice. Whatever happens between Sam and me is none of your business. Whatever we say to each other is not of your concern. You want me to do something for you? Fine, I know I owe you. But my debt only goes this far -"

"You sold your soul -" Castiel sounds a little off.

"Not for you and I didn't ask for your help either, now did I?" Silence. "See, you do what you think you have to do, but if you try to do that again - using him again -, you can throw me right back into the Pit as well, because everything will be off the table. You get it?"

Sam doesn't even breathe for a second there, shaken by the venom in Dean's voice. He wonders, what exactly made Dean so angry and whether this is the voice Dean has used down in Hell when he was torturing souls. The thought scares him and it makes him angry at the same time. He feels the urge to kill things and tries to slow his breathing down again. Right now it's too fast, it almost hurts.

"I get it, Dean Winchester, but you cannot hide from the truth. And your feelings -"

"That's enough, okay?" Suddenly Dean sounds defeated and tired. "I don't want to talk about it anymore."

"Sin, Dean Winchester, has to be committed willingly. Knowingly. The Lord's Son shouldered the sins of men and died for mankind."

"You trying to tell me something?" Dean's voice is back to where it was in the beginning. Dean must have moved back, Sam thinks absentmindly, astonished that Dean sounds almost amused now, but also resigned. "Because if you do, maybe you should just say it out loud."

"Guilt can be forgiven, if someone forgives. Sin can be taken away, if someone takes and carries it. It is up to you to ask, Dean Winchester."

There is a moment of silence, before Dean says, "There's always a price to pay."

"The cross a man bears is never heavier than he can lift. Think about everything, Dean Winchester, and ask yourself what it is you should go after. Ask yourself who it is you should believe in. Ask yourself what it is you should ask for."

"Aye, will do." There's a moment of silence. Then, "Or not." A bitter chuckle, and then the TV is turned on.

Sam blinks and wonders what it is exactly he has heard. Then he takes a step back. Maybe he should give Dean a bit more time before he goes inside.

Though, maybe Sam himself needs it, too.


--


"Castiel was here," Dean says instead of a greeting. His voice is void of emotion, and Sam remembers how many emotions Dean displayed with Castiel. He feels himself getting angry again.

"And you're telling me about it because of ... why?" he snaps before he can stop himself.

Dean's eyes narrow. "I thought you might be interested." He sounds even calmer than before.

Sam wants to shake him to get a reaction.

"Why should I be interested in what Castiel does? You two can do and meet whenever you want. I don't care as long as he doesn't ruin the hunt."

Dean flinches, and Sam's eyes widen. Suddenly he feels cold and only Dean looks warm and real, and he feels the need to touch him. But Dean's face is closed off completely again, and Sam is afraid that Dean will really leave - the room? New York? Sam? - if Sam even steps a little bit closer. He swallows his rising panic and tries to breathe.

"Dean -" he starts.

"Yeah, me too," Dean interrupts immediately. "It isn't a werewolf by the way."

"It isn't?" Sam blinks due to the sudden change of topic, but he goes along with it.

"Only if the werewolf is trying to throw us off by cutting the hearts out of its victims with a knife, then yes, it could be a werewolf." Dean sounds almost mockingly, but his voice still isn't right. He's trying too hard for normal, Sam realizes.

"So, no werewolves. Satanism?" Suddenly he wonders if Ruby's lead has something to do with it. But the thought is gone from his mind as quickly as it has come.

Dean shrugs. "There were no symbols carved into the corpses, but it was the first thing I thought about, too. However, cannibalism is a possibility as well."

Sam shudders. The idea of a human being – and not a monster – eating another person is a thought he hates to entertain. But Dean is right, he knows it, and their father taught them to cover all basics instead of coming to a conclusion too fast.

"Or a crazy killer. We're hunting someone human then," he says before he realizes it, and his eyes flicker to Dean.

Not a second too late, because Dean is looking at him now, too, sitting up a little bit straighter on his bed. Their eyes meet for the first time since Bobby left them, and the heat that surges through Sam is startling him. He has almost forgotten the exact color of his brother's eyes (almost completely green, but a bit brown, too) and the emotions he's always been able to read in them. Dean will lie with his words and his expression, but his eyes never lie. Not to Sam at least.

And for a second Sam believes that nothing has changed. That not even Nick managed to kill the connection that has always been between them. That Dean still loves Sam best and will never leave him, no matter what Dean does or says to Sam. No matter what Sam does or says to Dean. No matter what kind of freak Sam becomes, because Sam and Dean will always be brothers first. Because they will always be SamandDean first.

But then Dean's eyes shatter, something closes down, and even they become part of the emotionless mask Dean has been hiding behind, since Bobby stopped him from using an axe on Sam's head. His eyes are cold, almost dead now, and Sam feels like freezing, too. Dean has shut him out, completely and totally.

Forever?

The thought is there, all of a sudden, and Sam wants it gone. Wants it to never have existed in the first place. He wants to look away from Dean, but he's afraid to do so, because he doesn't know how far away the next time is that their eyes will meet. Even looking into Dean's blank eyes seems better than not being the focus of Dean's attention. And maybe, just maybe, Dean is feeling the same because he's still staring at Sam, never looking away, not once.

Sam has no idea how long he stands in the middle of the room, staring at Dean, who is sitting on his bed returning the stare, and Sam doesn't know what Dean is seeing. Suddenly that thought is frightening, because Sam doesn't know if Dean is still able to read him, if he can see all of Sam's darkness. All of Sam's new secrets. All of Sam's old secrets ...

Sam looks away. He hears Dean's breathing in the silence, and it seems too fast, too loud, too heavy, just like his own. He feels Dean scooting around a little on his bed, before Dean swings his legs over the edge, rests his elbows on his knees and takes his head in his hands. Only then Sam looks back at Dean, at his bowed neck, at his faintly flushed face hidden between his hands. Dean looks tired, but maybe he's upset, maybe he's angry. Maybe he's as lost as Sam is, and Sam wants to go over and touch him, so they can be lost together, because maybe they will find their way then.

But he's rooted to the spot and snaps his mouth shut, feeling alone and afraid and wanting to be found by Dean like Dean has always done when they were little. He can't remember a single time when he was lost and someone else found him. Never Dad, never his friends, always only Dean, always crouching down beside him, touching his face, his shoulders, his back, his arms or his wrists, and smiling. Dean always said something like, "Were we playing hide-and-seek, Sammy? I've found you, I always do," or, "I've got you, Sammy, don't worry no more. I've got you." And later, when Sam was older, closer to leaving for good, thinking about college and a safe life (but Dean didn't know it at the time, he never saw it coming or let himself see it before Sam said it out loud, Sam has seen that in Dean's eyes when he told their father about Stanford), Dean would sometimes ask, "Why did you go, Sammy?" or, "Will you come back again, Sammy?" but Dean's eyes were asking, "Was I supposed to follow you, Sammy? Or don't you want to be found by me anymore?"

Sam didn't realize all that stuff at the time; it was later with Jess in Stanford, when he left without any warning once, because he read about strange deaths occuring near Palo Alto and felt the need to take care of it. When he came back, Jessica was sitting on his bed, her blue eyes huge and worried and so startlingly similar to Dean's green eyes all of a sudden that it took Sam's breath away. He stopped in the doorway and expected her to ask him, "Why did you go? Where did you go?" like Dean always did, but all she said was, "I looked for you, Sam, but I couldn't find you. Didn't you want to be found by me? I was worried you left for good."

Dean never said those words, never told him that he was worried sick and that he was afraid he wouldn't find Sam one day anymore. That Sam might disappear and hide from Dean without wanting to be found by him. But Jess was honest with herself and with Sam, and her expression was familiar, it was Dean's, but she wasn't Dean, she wasn't, and therefore she hadn't been able to find him, because only Dean would always konw where Sam was.

Sam's heart hurt back then. Hurt for the girl, who loved him and who had been worried about him and them, and who didn't know the truth about him at all. Hurt for himself, because the life he had left behind wasn't as far away as he had wished, because he had gone hunting again against his own resolutions. But most of all it hurt for his brother, who had always, always, followed him, always found him, except the one time Sam told him not to look for him anymore without understanding the shattered look in Dean's eyes, and who Sam was missing so much that he sometimes thought it would be easier to stop breathing than to go on without seeing Dean for one more day. But Dean never broke the promise he had given Sam when Sam demanded it, until their father went missing, and Sam had never been more grateful for a broken promise, even if he had never admitted it to Dean.

"Yes, I guess we do," Dean says, and his slightly rough sounding voice cuts through Sam's memories.

Sam blinks, tries to remember what they talked about before his thoughts left the building, but all he can remember is the way Dean's eyes closed down and shut him out. His chest hurts, and he rubs his fist against it, trying to ease the pain somehow.

"Sam?" Dean looks at him, or rather, he looks at something slightly to his left. Sam knows there isn't anything, so he doesn't turn and look. "The case, Sam. It's most likely someone human."

Sam shakes his head to clear it. "Yeah." He hates those cases, because they aren't supposed to take a human life (and because they always remind them of their father's last words, but Sam isn't thinking about that, no, sir), but it always ended badly before, and he already knows deep in his heart that it won't be any different this time.

"Is Eliza's husband a suspect? Could it be the husbands killing their wives for some reason?" Dean stares at the wall, frowning.

"I don't think so. That guy couldn't even see straight; he was blinded with grief if you ask me," Sam says, running his left hand through his hair. He tells Dean everything he has heard from Leonard Dean and finishes it with, "But that doesn't have to mean anything. Maybe after talking to one of the others, we'll know more."

Dean nods. "Uh-huh. Who's on the list?"

Sam doesn't need to look it up or at his notes; he knows the names by heart already. "Anthony Evens. His wife Amy Evens was the first victim. Then Susan Deveraux was found, married to Robert Deveraux."

"Yeah, I've seen her corpse, too. She was blond and tall. Really a beauty, her being murdered is a shame," Dean says deep in his thoughts.

Sam looks at him, irritated, his lips thinning a bit, but he doesn't comment and goes on instead, "Tom Jaffords lost his wife next. Margot Jaffords. They got married a year ago, but their twins are already four years old, Lucas and Lydia. They lost their mother," he adds almost like an afterthought.

Dean tenses, and Sam wants to punch himself because Dean was four years old, too, when Mary Winchester died. He opens his mouth to say something, anything, but Dean is faster.

"And last and hopefully least Leonard and Eliza Dean, right? So, you talk to Evens and I take Deveraux?"

No, Sam wants to say. Let's go to them together. Let's make sure we don't miss anything. Don't make us split up again, Dean, please don't. But his head is already nodding, agreeing to Dean's plan, because if they split, he might get some information on the demon activities in New York as well, and maybe he'll find Lilith and end this nightmare. There's nothing more important than killing Lilith.

You sure, Sammy-boy?

He ignores the voice in his head and grabs his jacket instead.

"Meet me at the diner down the street afterwards?" Dean sounds like he isn't sure, like he's afraid and not like Dean at all, so Sam turns around immediately. But Dean is looking down to the floor again, his head still in his hands, and he doesn't say anything else.

"Sure." Sam tries to smile, but it feels like a fake and he doesn't even know why he is trying. Dean won't see it anyway; he isn't looking. "But I don't know how long it's going to take me."

Dean nods without lifting his head. "Me too, Samm-" He presses his lips together and falls silent.

Sam stands there and stares. He wants to know if Dean wanted to say something more or if he wanted to call him Sammy. Sam hasn't been called Sammy for two days already and it shouldn't feel weird, because sometimes Dean doesn't use the nickname for more days and sometimes he uses it all the time. He doesn't seem to have a pattern, except that he always calls him Sammy when he's worried. But now it does feel wrong, because Sam hasn't been Sammy since Nick. Since the siren. Since they said all those hurtful things to each other, and even if they agreed that it was just the siren and not really them (and Sam isn't even sure they really agreed, he only wants to believe it), it doesn't change the fact that he and Dean don't seem to be able to look at or to talk to each other anymore.

Sometimes Sam hates Bobby for killing Nick because he wishes he was the one, who had the pleasure to do it. Maybe then Dean wouldn't shut him out and Sam would be able to breathe again.


--


Anthony Evens is an arrogant jerk, who believes he knows everything and anything. He's sure he could find the murderer faster than the police if he only had half as much information. He believes he knows what everyone should be doing and what everyone is thinking, and that Sam is here because he wants to become famous. Sam has no idea what gave the guy this particular idea, but he keeps himself from rolling his eyes and tries to stay polite.

"Where did your wife go?" he asks.

"Shopping. I don't know. She loved food and cooking," Anthony Evens waves his hand through the air in a dismissive way, "it's boring stuff, and I wouldn't have gone with her, even if I had been at home. Which I wasn't because I had to go to work." Sam opens his mouth, but Evens rambles on, "I can see what you are thinking, but do you have a wife, Mr. O'Connell? Or a girlfriend of more than just a few weeks?"

Sam fakes a smile and doesn't say anything. It isn't necessary anyway, because Evens seems to like to hear his own voice and doesn't care whether Sam answers or not.

"If you have one, then you do know that you cannot be with her all the time. You would drive each other crazy. You would go mad. Believe me, you don't want to know everything about someone you love. If you did, you would hate her within a very short time. Because no one's perfect and no one can live up to the expectations of someone else. You ever tried it? Let me tell you, it doesn't work. Therefore it's the best thing you can do to simply let go. You fall in love? You accept it, start the relationship and take care that you never ever spend too much time with her. Look at me. I knew Amy since I was eleven. Our first meeting – even back then it was just Amy and me. But – and now listen carefully, my friend, that's important – the amount of time we spent with each other as lovers was not higher than the time we spent together as friends before. And when we were married last year by Father Marten," he points towards the cupboard, and Sam sees a picture of Anthony Evens and his bride, a pretty looking redhead, standing in front of a small church and smiling, "both of us knew that we would live our lives next to each other for the rest of time, but that our lives would never be just one life."

The smile on his face starts to hurt, and Sam doesn't believe that anyone would think of it as real anymore. This guy is too smug and maybe the death of Amy was the best thing that could have happened to them with the life they led, Sam thinks disgusted.

"Are you saying that you have no idea what your wife did, when you weren't with her, Mr. Evens?" he asks, trying to get the man away from his endless monologue.

"Exactly. When we started dating at the age of nineteen, she would sometimes come to me and try to tell me about her day, but I always reassured her that I trusted her and that I didn't care what she was doing as long as we were on the same page about the important things. So, no, I really don't know where she went and if she planned to meet one of her friends or not."

"Are there any people who might have thought ill of your wife?"

"Of Amy? Why would anyone dislike her? Amy was Amy."

Sam looks down on his note book, pretending to think about his next question.

"I know what you're thinking, Mr. O'Connell, and it's okay. You envy me because of my perfect relationship with Amy and you feel bad for me because I've lost her, but neither of it is necessary."

Sam looks at the young man, hoping for real information now. Like Leonard Dean, Anthony Evens isn't much older than Sam. But while Leonard Dean had been desperate looking and seemed younger than his years when he tried to explain his loss and pain to Sam, Anthony Evens always looks at Sam as if Sam isn't good enough. Sam is pretty sure that it isn't his fault, but that Mr. Evens always thinks to be better than everyone. Sam feels the burning need to put him down, to show him that he's nothing more than anyone else. Evens' intuition, with which he's priding himself, doesn't exist at all, he just believes in it, and Sam wonders how Anthony Evens would react, if he were confronted with a demon or if he saw Sam exorcising one.

Maybe his stupid face would lose this smug expression and he would act like the humble human being he's supposed to be, the little voice in his head sneers.

Anthony Evens doesn't notice any of his thoughts, though. Instead he's drinking his coffee, maybe going for a dramatic break in his speech, but it isn't working.

"My life goes on. Of course I wish Amy were here, that she were alive, but she isn't and I can live with that. Everyone always talks about the inability to go on after losing someone they love, but guess what? Everyone survives. Death is part of living, so I can deal with it. Have you ever lost someone you love, Mr. O'Connell?"

And Sam has to refrain himself from shouting, 'That's none of your fucking business! You don't know me anyway!' Instead he stands, smiles his fake smile and tells Anthony Evens that he was really helpful and to call him, please, if he remembers anything important. He won't, Sam already knows, because Anthony Evens is a fucking asshole, who can't get his head out of his ass, but Sam doesn't care anymore, because he needs to get the fuck away from him, before he does something stupid like strangling this idiot.


--


It's already getting late, but the diner has almost no guests, and Sam easily finds a booth by the window. Dean isn't here, and Sam wonders for a moment whether Dean has forgotten about meeting him or just decided not to come, before he tells himself to stop being stupid. Dean is meeting Robert Deveraux and there's no way to tell what kind of a person this guy is. If he's anything like Leonard Dean and Anthony Evens, he'll talk as long and as much as possible and not be helpful at all in the end.

Sam shakes his head annoyed and watches the cars driving down the street in front of the window.

"Hi, sugar," the young waitress greets him. She looks tired and worn, but she's still quite pretty with her long blond ponytail and her gray eyes behind her glasses. Her nametag says "Honey" and Sam pities her for her name. Parents can be cruel.

"Hey. I'll take the chicken salad and a coke, thank you." He smiles and her smile brightens, and Sam knows that he could sweet-talk her into anything without any difficulty. Dean would do it, Sam thinks, but Sam doesn't. He just watches Honey turn around, heading towards the kitchen, before he goes back to watching cars. Silver, blue, black, black, red, blue, blue, blue -

Dean slides into the booth across from Sam a few minutes later, muttering some greeting and shaking his head. Sam glances at him and notices the tired lines around Dean's eyes and the way he presses his lips together. His hair looks strange; Dean must have pushed his hand through it several times in the last hours. Robert Derveraux seems to have been pretty bad, if Dean is still that wound up. If Robert Deveraux is the reason for Dean's weariness, that is.

"You ready to order?" Honey is back with Sam's food and looks at Dean with her tired smile.

The change in Dean happens immediately. He sits up a little straighter and his smile lightens up the whole room. Sam notices the way the waitress blushes deeply, and Dean hasn't even opened his mouth yet. Sam rolls his eyes and ignores the sting deep inside him.

"Well, darlin', I'm always ready." Dean wiggles his eyebrows, and Holly can't stop a short giggle from falling from her lips.

Sam huffs annoyed. Dean and Heather don't notice, because Dean orders, always choosing words with heavy innuendo. When Hillary finally leaves, Dean is smirking while he watches her go, and Sam isn't even trying to keep the disgusted frown from his face. Then Dean turns towards Sam and the smile slips from his face. Sam expects Dean to tease him for his childish behavior, to make some sleazy comment about Haley and to tell Sam that he's going to stay a little longer, "don't wait up, little bro'." Sam honestly doesn't know how he'll react to such thing, but he knows it's coming. It always does.

But he's wrong.

"Found anything?" Dean is back to the case.

Sam's heart drops. For a moment – as long as Dean was flirting with Helen – it was like having Dean back. But now the pod version of Dean is sitting across from him, looking everywhere but at Sam and not even trying to get back into the comfortable banter between siblings. A stranger could sit across from Sam and it wouldn't be any different from now, Sam realizes with a sinking feeling, and he clings to the edge of the table, trying not to show Dean that he feels as if he's falling without knowing when he'll hit the bottom.

"Aside from Anthony Evens being the most arrogant guy in the whole city? Nothing." Sam shakes his head and starts eating his salad. He doesn't want to have to look at the stranger in front of him and eating seems like a good reason to keep his eyes down.

"So you've had fun, yes?" Dean's voice is dry, almost normal, but it's the 'almost' that keeps Sam's head down when he tells Dean about his conversation with Mr. Evens.

Dean snorts a few times and shakes his head disbelievingly, and he even opens his mouth to say something now and then, only to snap it shut again. Sam ends his story with, "So I don't think he killed his wife or one of the other women. That would have taken too much effort for someone like him, who believes he's the only one, who knows how the world works, and who has mastered his life already."

"But crazy he is," Dean mutters. "There's just no way a sane person would say shit like that with a straight face."

Sam frowns.

"What, Sam? You agree with him?"

Sam's eyes cut to Dean, surprised that Dean actually mentioned something that isn't completely business. Something that concerns only Sam.

But Dean is watching him now, not meeting his eyes of course, but his face, like he's trying to figure Sam out. It's almost like before, when Sam has been able to feel Dean watching him almost all the time, some of it even openly without trying to hide it from Sam. Sometimes Sam has even wondered, if the mockery and the teasing Dean's expression displayed then was not the real reason Dean was watching him, because it didn't always reach his eyes. But this time Dean's face is still mostly empty and his green eyes carefully guarded. Sure, Sam can see slight interest (the case), slight satisfaction (his burger with the fries he keeps shoving into his mouth) and slight mockery (Anthony Evens) lurking on Dean's face, but nothing that indicates what he's thinking or what he's expecting Sam to answer.

"Let's talk about Robert Deveraux, all right?" Sam replies finally, because he doesn't want to give the wrong answer.

But Dean's lips curl a little down anyway, so it wasn't the right one after all.

And Sam is tired. So freaking tired that he can't even care about it anymore. He doesn't know what Dean is thinking ("I don't know when it happened. Maybe when I was in Hell, maybe when I was staring right at you, but the Sam I knew? He is gone.") and he doesn't know what Dean is expecting from him ("It's not the demon blood or the psychic crap, it's the little stuff. The lies ... The secrets ...") and all Sam wants is ("Lilith's head on a plate. Bloody.") that everything goes back to how it's supposed to be, even if he doesn't know anymore how it is supposed to be. And therefore he has to use his powers and he has to kill Lilith, and why doesn't Dean ("You're too busy sitting around feeling sorry for yourself. Whining about all the souls you tortured in Hell. Boo-hoo.") try to understand? Why is it only Sam ("You're holding me back. I'm a better hunter than you are. I'm stronger. Smarter. I can take out demons you are too scared to go near."), who is trying to keep them together? Why is it Sam's job to wonder, if they are broken? Why does Dean accept everything suddenly and doesn't talk to Sam anymore? ("You are hiding things from me. What else aren't you telling me?" - "Not your business.")

Sam closes his eyes and turns his face towards the window. It's dark outside, and he can see their reflections. "Let's talk about Robert Deveraux, Dean," he repeats.


--


Robert Deveraux is a nutcase, if you ask Dean. He's all about fate and destiny and a bigger picture in the long run, so Sam is told.

When Dean talked to him about his dead wife, Robert Deveraux showed signs of regret and misery for losing her, but he stated at the same time that there was nothing to do about it anyway. Life is all about fate, which has to be accepted. If Susan Deveraux was supposed to die (and according to Mr. Deveraux' point of view she was, because she wouldn't have died, if she hadn't been), then there was nothing that could have changed it. Contrary to Leonard Dean's opinion, Robert Deveraux didn't see a point in wondering about the what-ifs or in dwelling in self-reprimands.

"Your wife was murdered. If anyone had been there and stopped the killer -" Dean had said, but Deveraux had interrupted, "But no one was there, Mr. Williams, because it was her fate to be killed. Life happens, you can't change it. You can't influence it. Your fate is set in stone."

Robert Deveraux went on about how there's nothing you can ever do, if it isn't your fate, and that everything happens the way it's supposed to be. If people try to fight against it, it's part of their destiny to fight against it. If it wasn't part of their fate to fight against their fate, they wouldn't do it. Easy as pie for Robert Deveraux.

Dean's head, however, has hurt at that point, he admits to Sam, because he was frankly flabbergasted how anyone could see life that way.

"He didn't even seem to care that someone's out there, killing people," Dean scoffs with disgust. "'It's fate, if the killer is caught, and it's fate, if he isn't, and there isn't anything to do about it, so why worry about it at all?' That's what he said and then he compared it to his marriage with Susan, because – and I quote, Sam – 'if we hadn't been meant to marry last year, I wouldn't have asked her.' Just how crazy is that?"

Sam watches Dean's hands, moving in an exasperated way through the air. His ring reflects the light of the light bulb above their table. Sam doesn't look away.

"If you believe in destiny, Dean -" he starts.

"Destiny is crap, Sam," Dean argues, his voice angry. But he still isn't looking at Sam directly, instead he's watching the people in the diner, Sam notices when he glances at Dean. "There's no such thing as destiny. That's just an excuse of people who don't want to take responsibility for their actions."

Sam stares down at his own hands, thinking about demon blood running through his veins and being tainted by something at the age of six months without being able to stop it from happening. He doesn't think Dean gets it at all.

"You don't always have a choice," he says softly.

"Things don't just happen, Sam, someone is always responsible. If women get killed, there's a killer. And this killer is responsible for their deaths. Not some vague fate or destiny. If the killer is stopped, he can't kill anymore. If he isn't, he'll go on killing, it's easy like that." Dean's fingers around his cup of coffee tighten. "If everyone believes in fate and leans back and waits for things to happen, they are responsible for doing nothing. Deveraux just doesn't want to be responsible for what he's doing, not even for getting married to Susan in the St. John's Chapel. He thinks that he'll never be guilty because he can blame everything, really everything, on his fate. That's bullshit, Sam. Whatever he does or doesn't do, he's responsible for it, no one else. Nothing else."

Sam looks at Dean, who is now staring out of the window into the dark. He can see the freckles on his brother's nose and cheeks, and he wants to touch all of them to be sure Dean is real and with him. He curls his fingers in a loose fist instead and lets his gaze drop to the table.

"You think that he's the killer?" he asks.

Dean shakes his head. "No, not really. He loved her and their unborn child. Even with all his fate-crap, his feelings were real that much I could tell. Elizabeth – that's the coroner – said that Deveraux was obviously devasted when he was told that his wife had been pregnant. Two months in, she said, and Deveraux mentioned that he hadn't known about the pregnancy, that his wife hadn't told him before her death."

"If he didn't know about it ..." Sam shrugs. "If he's the killer, maybe he wouldn't have killed her, if he had known it. I'm just saying."

"Yeah," Dean says, a far away look in his eyes. He opens his mouth to say something - Sam can hear the 'but' already -, then closes it again without speaking.

Sam shredders a napkin to little pieces, biting the inside of his cheek, and he keeps his mouth shut. The silence between them becomes deafening once more.


--


Sam returns to the motel alone. Dean has wanted to go to a bar, drink some beer and maybe hustle someone at pool if given the opportunity. He's even asked Sam if he wanted to come along. But Sam has shook his head and said that he would head back immediately. He hasn't wanted to sit around with Dean right now, not with the silence between them and his anger boiling inside him. Furthermore, he is pretty sure that he couldn't take it to see Dean flirt or go with some girl outside or smile brightly at everyone, who isn't Sam. It has always been hard enough at the best of times and it's impossible now, with Dean's face always completely closed off whenever he looks at Sam. It hurts too much, and Sam is afraid that he might grab his brother and punch him at some point. His temper is always flaring since Nick, which is strange, because before the siren, Sam has had himself under control all of the time. But now Dean's control is like steal and his silence is deafening, and somehow this is making it harder for Sam to keep himself closed off from his brother. Maybe he can't take it that Dean is keeping anything secret from him, even if it's just what he's thinking and feeling.

Sam makes a face at himself. Whom is he trying to kid? That's exactly what he can't take. That's pretty much the only thing he can't take at all, aside from losing Dean again. Or from Dean leaving him.

He shakes his head, telling himself to quit brooding about the fucked-up situation he and Dean are in and to focus on other things. Lilith for example. Or the hunt. Or even a few hours of sleep, if Ruby doesn't call to meet him.

He strides through the motel room into the bathroom where he showers, thinking only about his training and the way it's becoming easier again to exorcise demons with his mind. In the beginning it has hurt more than the visions and he has gotten headaches and even nosebleeds more than once. Then, after months of training, it has had become easier, no nosebleeds and almost no headaches and he has had believed he would even be able to go against Lilith.

Until the moment Dean had watched him exorcising the demon Samhain. Sam still doesn't know why, but when he had seen Dean's face, everything inside him had come to a sudden stop. Although he had managed to exorcise Samhain and to send him back to Hell, using his powers has hurt like it has had in the beginning, and Sam had never been more exhausted in his life than afterwards.

Sam also doesn't know why he hasn't been able to exorcise Alastair, but now he believes it has been because of a lack of training. Ruby has told him so and, since he has agreed to do it her way again after the case with the magicians, he's back to his best. That relieves him, because he needs to control his powers, he needs to be able to be faster and stronger than anyone else, so he can defeat Lilith. It's the only way to get rid of Lilith. Ruby has said so, and Sam believes her.

He gets out of the shower when the water is getting cold, dries his body and steps into his boxers. Then he leaves the bathroom, only to stop dead when he looks at Dean's bed. Someone is sitting on it, but it isn't Dean.

It's Uriel. His vessel is still the dark skinned man from their last meeting and he wears a suit as if he's a businessman attending to an important meeting.

The color drains from Sam's face and his eyes narrow immediately. Uriel is always bad news.

"Uriel," he says, the anger inside him growing. "What do you want?" He isn't polite, but he doesn't care. He wants Uriel gone immediately.

Uriel shows his teeth in a farce of a smile. "Sam Winchester, I think it is about time for us to talk."

Sam raises his eyebrows. "Indeed?" He keeps his voice nonchalant and light, and goes over to his bag. Somehow he feels more naked than he actually is, wearing only his boxers, and he thinks shortly about dressing himself again in his jeans and four layers, but decides against it. He's going to go to bed as soon as Uriel gets bored with him anyway, so why bother?

He dresses in sweatpants and a shirt, before he turns around to face Uriel again. However, he can't stop himself from jumping and stepping back, when he finds the angel standing behind him and a little bit too close to him. He hasn't heard him moving, which isn't at all surprising, really, because it isn't the first time that an angel has moved without making any sound and faster than he could see with his eyes, but it startles him nonetheless. Sam curses himself for his reaction, because Uriel's grin tells him that the angel has expected it, even provoked it most likely, to show his superiorness.

Sam swallows his anger, not wanting to give Uriel this satisfaction too, and smiles instead as sweet and bright as he manages.

"Sorry, you're not my type. Maybe try it with someone else, who can appreciate you fully." He steps around Uriel and pushes his hands through his hair.

Anger flashes in Uriel's eyes. Sam doubts it's because of the statement itself, but more because of the lack of respect he has shown. Sam feels a wave of satisfaction and smirks at Uriel.

"Do you think of yourself as funny, Sam Winchester?" Uriel is once more in Sam's personal space and again, Sam hasn't seen him moving. Sam forces himself to stand still and not to break the eye contact. Everything with Uriel is a challenge, and Sam won't back down or away, no matter what happens.

"Maybe. Think I should become a comedian?"

"If your audience happens to be demons, you can at least force them to laugh, can you not, Sam Winchester?" Uriel snarls. "You have used your demon given powers again, even after you have been warned about them. You use them almost every day now. Do not think that we do not know what you are doing."

Sam grows cold inside. He hates that he doesn't know what the angels know about him, hates even more that they are able to tell Dean everything about it. Still, he keeps his smirk in place.

"That's a good thing. I guess, I won't have to waste time telling you then."

"You are so arrogant, Sam Winchester, you cannot even see what is right in front of you. You are not afraid, are you? No. I guessed so," he says when Sam shakes his head. "You think you are brave, but not knowing when to back down and to stop is not a sign of bravery, it is stupidity. Pride is a sin, Sam Winchester, and you stink of all the sins you have already committed. Of all the sins you want to commit. You. Are. Disgusting."

"I aim to please," Sam says through gritted teeth, his smile hurts already, and he wants nothing more than to smash in the angel's head. It's hard to keep a grip on himself but he manages it with only crossing his arms in front of his chest.

But Uriel isn't done. He doesn't even seem to notice Sam's interruption and, unlike Anthony Evens, he knows how to do a dramatic pause. Because his next words make something in Sam break.

"Just like the brother of yours."

Sam sees red and throws a punch without even thinking about it first. Uriel is slammed back, stumbles a few steps, but stays on his feet.

"Don't you dare to talk about Dean!" Sam spits, his vision clouding red around the edges because of the anger burning deep inside him, and he follows the angel with the intent to beat him into a bloody pulp.

But that's just what he plans. What actually happens is a different story.

When his fist almost connects with Uriel's jaw, it freezes in the air. Uriel has held up his right hand, his dark eyes blazing. Sam fights to get the control over his body back, but to his terror it is impossible. Before he can even blink, he finds himself with his back against a wall, and Sam doesn't know how it has happened, or when. He wasn't slammed back, Uriel never touched him, and he hasn't felt his body moving at all. The wall is simply suddenly there, as if he had been standing with his back against it the whole time.

Uriel smirks. "Do you like it, Sam Winchester?"

Sam scowls, baring his teeth.

"Being helpless for a change? Not being in control anymore? Having to hope for mercy?"

"Fuck you," Sam spits.

"And here I thought I was not your type." Now Uriel is smirking. "Are you still considering yourself as funny, Sam Winchester?"

"I didn't harm anyone. I'm saving people. You? Are doing nothing. Not me. I'm not waiting for evil to destroy the world," Sam seethes, unable to hold back. The hate and anger against the unfairness of his situation overwhelm him once more. "What are you doing, huh? Sitting around with your thumbs up your ass, wanting to smite a town full of people without any care? Chasing a harmless girl, who hasn't done anything evil? Nothing else!"

"Anna was a traitor, and you have no idea what it really means to the world when an angel cuts their grace out. You are arrogant and selfish, just like your brother." Sam hisses but is ignored. "You, Sam Winchester, are talking about things you do not understand. You are using powers you will never comprehend. You are harming the world without any care, so do not tell me anything about you being innocent and inherently good. You are so far from innocence that you will never find your way back."

"If the way back is the way to you, I don't want to find it."

"Because you like it better to play with the abomination by your side?" Uriel scoffs.

"Ruby is less evil than you."

Uriel slams his hand against the wall next to Sam's face and maybe Sam would have flinched, but his body is still frozen, so he doesn't.

"Defending a demon's honor? This is actually ... pathetic." Uriel leans forward and Sam can feel Uriel's breath on his face. "You want to talk about evil, Sam Winchester? Okay, let us talk about evil. The little abomination you fucked? It is leading you on, making you become exactly what they want you to become. But this is fine, it is a demon. It cannot help it. You, however? You are not a demon. You still have a soul. Do you know what a soul is, Sam Winchester?"

Sam clenches his jaw and tilts his head, smile still in place. He concentrates hard, reaching for the powers inside him.

"Your brother sold his. And do you want to know something else? For selling his soul he should still be down in Hell, if you ask me." Sam's eyes are burning with hate, glaring at the angel. "He is just like you. Arrogant. Believes he knows everything better than an angel. Unable to listen to reason. Just like you. Sinning in deed. Sinning in word. Sinning in thought especially. Oh, yes, his many sins ... Just like yours."

"Don't talk about my brother," Sam hisses, hating that he can't do anything, that his psychic powers aren't working on the angel, that his attempt on it has been useless.

Uriel steps back and turns around. He walks a few steps away and shakes his head. Sam follows him with his gaze, tries to move, but realizes it is still impossible. Uriel's force is still holding him in place.

"But that is not what we wanted to talk about, right?" Uriel says suddenly and faces Sam again. "The brother of yours is not important right now anyway. He will learn to obey. He will do what he has to. Give it time, and he will break. Again. He broke once already, did he not? The pathetic loser, who is holding you back. Did you not call him that?"

Now Sam's eyes drop, before they snap back up at Uriel, and Sam hates himself a little bit for giving Uriel that reaction. But Uriel smirks satisfied. Sam wants to kill him really bad right now.

"Fuck. You," he growls.

"I am an angel. It might be a surprise for you, but I am not into sinning the way you are. The way your brother is."

"Shut. Up. About. Dean!"

"Right. You are the only one, who is allowed to call him on his shit. To tell him exactly what he is." Uriel snorts. "But fine, let me tell you something. I actually do agree with you on that one. He really is a pathetic loser, who is only whining about torturing souls and who is holding you back." He stops, takes a few steps closer again and then smiles nastily. "But maybe, just maybe, this is something you should be grateful for. He is holding you back, yes, but if he did not, you would be lost to the dark already. It is useless anyway, of course. You should see your soul now. You would be surprised. It is black, Sam Winchester. All the taint and stains from your sins. And you have sinned. Whoa, boy, you would not believe it."

"I don't." Sam doesn't. Uriel is just trying to break him. Sam won't. He can stand his own against the angel. He's sure of it. Really.

"And your arrogance is unbroken, I see. It does not matter in the end, Sam Winchester, and I will tell you something." Uriel is right in front of Sam, and once again Sam hasn't seen him moving. Uriel takes his chin between his fingers and forces Sam to look at him. And his presence becomes even bigger than it has been before. Sam can't see anything but Uriel's eyes, and he can't hear anything but Uriel's voice. Sam doesn't like this feeling, not at all. "A soul like yours? Tainted and black? Still sinning every day without regretting? It will not be saved. Once you die? You will go straight to Hell, Sam Winchester. Forever. And there will -"

"Leave my brother alone, Uriel!"

Dean's voice breaks the spell somehow. Sam blinks, Uriel blinks, and then Sam looks over Uriel's shoulder and sees Dean standing in the doorway, keys still in his hand. His face is pale and his eyes are blazing with fury. But it isn't directed at Sam.

"Dean Winchester. It is always a pleasure to meet you," Uriel sneers sardonically. He hasn't moved or turned around to Dean, he's still right in Sam's face. And Sam still can't move, no matter how hard he tries.

"Yeah, fuck you, too," Dean says without missing a beat, but he steps inside, slamming the door closed behind him and dropping the keys next to the door. "I think that I told you to leave. Sam. Alone."

"You know, your brother has asked me to fuck, too," Uriel says conversationally and seemingly not bothered at all, "sadly, I have to tell you the same as him. No."

"You step away from my brother, Uriel. Now." Dean's voice is dangerously low and he moves closer to them.

Uriel licks his lips and exhales slowly. Sam can see the undisguised anger and the seething hate in the angel's eyes, both having grown stronger since Dean made his presence known. But then Uriel takes a step back from Sam and lifts his hands in the air in mock-surrender.

"See, Dean Winchester. I did not do your brother any harm," he scoffs.

Sam tries to move, but he still can't.

Dean's face is dark and he walks around Uriel to get to Sam. With his back to Uriel his expression shifts into worry and something else. Sam feels warm suddenly.

"You okay, Sam?" Dean lifts his hand and touches Sam's cheek. It's the first touch since their fight, and something heavy lift from Sam's soul. Sam wants to nod as an answer, but shakes his head instead. Dean frowns. "What -?"

"I can't move," Sam admits, almost embarrassed now. "He – Uriel did something."

Dean's face becomes stormy and he whirls around to Uriel.

"He has thrown the first punch, Dean Winchester," the angel says shortly.

Sam is surprised that Uriel almost sounds like a petulant child and barks a laugh at the idea that Uriel might be defending his actions to Dean. It's a ridiculous thought.

Uriel glares at him.

"I don't give a shit about that!" Dean snaps angrily. "Let him go!"

"Maybe you should start seeing him as what he has become, Dean Winchester. A monster you should hunt."

Dean is at Uriel's throat before the angel has finished his sentence and slams him up against the door.

"You are not telling me what to do! You will release my brother now! And you won't touch him again or I? Will kill you!" Dean's hands are clenched into fists in Uriel's jacket and his voice is cold and filled with anger.

Sam isn't very surprised that he blinks and finds Dean a few feet away from Uriel again, who is leaning against the door as if he was bored, as if the whole thing never happened at all. Therefore, Sam really doesn't expect it that his body actually obeys, when he tries to step towards Dean. But maybe Uriel is bored with him, now that he can mess with Dean.

Dean seems just as thrown about the turn of events. He's shaking his head and looks confused for a second about his new position. But when he notices Sam coming to stand next to him, a brief relieved smile lightens his face. Sam can't help himself and smiles back.

Uriel snorts, and they turn towards him as one. He looks even more disgusted watching them both than he did before. That's actually an impressing feat, Sam thinks, considering that Uriel always seems to be full of disdain, when he's around.

"You still want anything, Uriel?" Sam asks softly.

"Maybe you better leave," Dean adds, his voice hard.

Uriel shakes his head. "I will, do not worry. Just let me tell you something, now that you are finally here, Dean Winchester. It is about time the both of you understand what is actually happening when you, Sam Winchester, play around with those demon given powers."

Dean's shoulders slump a little, and Sam feels anger flare inside him again.

"Oh yeah? Bring it on," he challenges.

"We don't need your lies, Uriel," Dean sighs, but he sounds defeated and tired. Sam wants to kill Uriel for it.

"I do not need to lie, Dean Winchester," Uriel claims, but his presence is getting stronger again, filling the room and making Sam uncomfortable. "Not about that. The truth is more horrible than any lie could ever be. Do you remember your lessons in physics? I know that both of you do. I know that you were taught that energy never vanishes. It is true. Energy will transform itself and do different things, but it never becomes more or less, no matter what happens on Earth. The energy, which is needed to destroy something, is taken from another place, and after the energy has done the deed, it goes somewhere else again. But you cannot destroy energy itself. And you cannot create energy itself."

Sam frowns, wondering what Uriel wants to tell them.

"Yeah, fine. So, what?" Dean asks.

"Your powers, Sam Winchester, were given by a demon. A smart person would know that they are not meant for a human being then, because if they were, you would have been born with them. But you were not," Uriel says, staring into Sam's eyes. "So, where do you think the energy you are using for your little tricks comes from?"

Sam's throat is dry, but he manages to snark, "I guess, you'll tell me any moment."

Uriel's eyes narrow, but he doesn't rise to the bait. He doesn't react or become angrier. "Other human beings. Your powers, given by a demon, take away life, strength and health from other people. People all over the world, who will die suddenly for no reason, who will become ill without an explanation, who will loose all of their strength without any warning. What happens then, what do you think?" He pauses, looks at Dean, then at Sam. "There is death. There is grief. There are accidents. There is disbelief, desperation and darkness in the human hearts. People's faith weakens, their hope is destroyed, their love is lost, and they turn to whatever will help them in short time notice. Not in the long run, because humans never think that far; they are shortsighted morons. They will call for help, and demons will offer theirs. And then there will be deals. And more darkness. More desperation. More evil. More demons among the human race because people are inviting them into their lives. And it goes on. And on. And on. Every time you use your powers, Sam Winchester, someone else suffers the effects and the darkness grows stronger, both in the world and in your soul."

Sam knows his face is pale, his heart has slowed down, and he feels ill. In spite of all that he stares at Uriel. "You. Are. Lying," he says, but his voice is toneless.

"I told you that I do not need to lie, Sam Winchester. You are weakening the balance of good and evil by using your powers in favor of the demon side, no matter why you use them. People are suffering thanks to you using them and they do not know it. And you just do not want to see or believe it, blinded by your own pride." Uriel doesn't even smile anymore. His face is cold, and his eyes are hard and unforgiving. "And furthermore, that is surely not everything, because you do not know if there is not another reason why Azazel has given you these powers. But whatever, right? Go on! Use them! Destroy the world in your arrogance and go on thinking you are saving it!" He looks at Dean again. "So maybe you should start thinking about it, too. Because if you do not do anything, you can share the guilt, because you would rather let the world go down than stop one single monster. A monster you brought back to life in the first place."

Dean looks like he has been slapped, and Sam would say something, but he can't find the words. His blood is rushing through his veins, telling him to shut Uriel up at any costs, but he doesn't know how. Everything is odd and incomprehensible to him suddenly.

He looks at Dean, who is standing next to him, but it feels like they are miles apart from each other again. Dean's hands are trembling and he's swallowing four more times, before he speaks up. And Sam is honestly surprised that Dean even manages to get the words out.

"Get out of here, Uriel."

Uriel shakes his head in something that actually looks like sympathy. But his eyes are still cold with disdain and contempt when he looks at Dean.

"Telling me to leave does not change anything, Dean Winchester. It does not change the world's suffering. It does not change your guilt. It does not change your brother's tainted soul."

"Out," Dean repeats, his voice barely a whisper.

Sam touches his brother's sleeve, unable not to do it, and Dean looks down at his hand in silence. Sam holds on and doesn't even glance at Dean's face.

Dean doesn't pull away.

The room is completely quiet.

When Sam finally looks up, he isn't surprised at all to find that Uriel has vanished into thin air.


--


They don't talk about it; it's the patented Winchester Way Of Life. Dean decides to take a shower, and Sam lies down on his bed, closing his eyes. He deliberately doesn't think about Uriel's words. They were lies, anyway. Just lies. They had to be.

He falls asleep.

At some time of the night he thinks that someone – Dean – touches his hair and watches him sleep.

But when he's awake enough to open his eyes, Dean is on his own bed, face turned toward Sam, but his eyes are closed. However, Dean's breathing patterns are wrong. Dean seldom sleeps – never long or deep, anyway – since he has come back. Lately even less, like it's impossible for him to let his guard down anymore.

Sam looks at him, feels the distance between them and their beds like a physical thing, and thinks about reaching out, but doesn't do it. Instead he forces himself to go back to sleep.


--


Sam is gone. He doesn't know where Sam is or when he has left, only that Sam isn't with him anymore. And it hurts more than Dean wants to admit. But he shouldn't complain. He had it a long time coming. Maybe he has known it since the siren. Maybe longer. It doesn't matter now, because it's too late to do anything about it. But Dean is afraid of what will happen next. Anyways, he knows what he's going to do. He just has to wait and ask for it when the time comes.

"This is how we meet again, Dean Winchester."

Dean doesn't turn around. He knows Uriel's voice already and he isn't really surprised to hear it. Uriel has always loved to see him go down.
Why? Dean doesn't know. He never cared about it, either. Maybe he should have cared, but it's too late to regret it, so Dean doesn't even try. But he still doesn't want to see Uriel right now. He has hoped it would be Castiel. Castiel would have made things easier. But, okay. You have to take what you get and make the best out of it.

Dean breathes in to calm himself down.

"What happened to you, Dean?"

However, Anna's voice does shock him, and he turns around. He's never thought he would see her again, so looking at her is surprising. She looks the same as she did the last time they'd met, and he wonders if he's supposed to ask her why her human body still exists. But he doesn't care about it, so he keeps his silence and just stares at her.

Anna smiles and steps forward, but Dean raises his hand and stops her. He doesn't want her close, doesn't want anyone close anymore, now that Sam has left him again.

"Dean Winchester, I think, you know why we have come to you."

Now Castiel is here, and Dean turns towards him. It was Castiel, who had raised him from perdition. It's Castiel's sign that is still burnt into his skin. It's Castiel, who has come to him on many occasions, telling him everything and nothing, never judging him, never caring about him, always only doing his job.

"Castiel," Dean greets the angel.

Castiel studies him, his gaze becoming concerned, then steady and calm. He doesn't say anything at all for a long time.

"The Lord has a mission for you, Dean Winchester," Castiel says finally.

"A mission," Dean repeats, his voice void of emotion.

"Will you do what He asks you to?" Uriel's face is dark and he doesn't even try to appear as benevolent. "Or will you screw up like you did so many times before because you cannot see the danger in him?"

"Do I have a choice?" Dean asks. He only looks at Castiel.

"The Lord has given mankind free will. So, yes, you do, Dean." Anna is smiling. She trusts that he's going to do the right thing, Dean knows, but he's pretty sure that she will be disappointed in the end.

"Castiel, do you remember what you told me once?"

Castiel frowns. "I have talked to you many times, Dean Winchester. I believe that I do remember it, but I honestly do not know what it is exactly you want me to repeat."

Dean knows that the angel is thinking about the one time he tried to confide in Dean, when he told him about 'having doubts'. Maybe Castiel is getting nervous, maybe he doesn't want the other angels to know about it. If it's like that, it's Castiel's lucky day. Dean couldn't care less about Castiel's doubts or the angels' politics, so he won't talk about it.

"You said something about sin."

For a moment Castiel shows relief, and then he's back to his otherworldly self. "I said,
Sin, Dean Winchester, has to be committed willingly. Knowingly. The Lord's Son shouldered the sins of men and died for mankind."

"Sin, of course." Now Uriel is smirking. "Does it weigh heavy on your soul, Dean Winchester? What you have done? What you have said? What you have thought about?"

Dean licks his lips and makes eye contact with Uriel for the first time since he appeared. "I don't regret loving my brother. I never will."

Uriel's hands clench into fists. "No repent, no forgiveness, Dean Winchester."

But Dean ignores him. He has already got the important part across, so he doesn't see a reason to argue with Uriel about it. When he looks back at Castiel, he notices that both Castiel and Anna look aghast. Dean doesn't wonder if they now know what's going to happen, what he's going to ask for. It doesn't matter, if they know it or not, some things are bound to happen. Not pre-destined by a higher being or because of some kind of fate, but they are inevitable because of the way the human heart beats. Because of the way Dean's heart beats. Now. Always. Forever.

"You told me something about forgiveness, Castiel."

"I said,
Guilt can be forgiven, if someone forgives. Sin can be taken away, if someone takes and carries it. It is up to you to ask, Dean Winchester," is Castiel's answer. He's calm and doesn't pretend not to know what Dean is talking about. He makes everything easier, and Dean is grateful for it.

"And I said that there would be a price to pay. What was your answer, Castiel?"

Anna shakes her head. "Dean, why are you not asking about your mission? It is important, and you know that mankind is at risks."

Dean ignores her completely. "Castiel?"

"
The cross a man bears is never heavier than he can lift. Think about everything, Dean Winchester, and ask yourself what it is you should go after. Ask yourself who it is you should believe in. Ask yourself what it is you should ask for. This is what I have said," Castiel repeats his own words, never breaking eye contact with Dean.

Dean smiles. "True, thank you, Castiel. And now that I know what I want to ask for, am I allowed to ask?"

And here's the risk. The angels could say no, the possibility exists, and Dean could lose everything. But he doesn't think that they will deny him to voice his plea. He knows Castiel and the others by now, and he has the inkling of an idea how the angels might work. He doesn't know everything about them, sure, but that isn't necessary, he believes. He knows that they want him to be their pawn, but he's pretty sure that they can't force him to become it without his consent. They can only ask. Just like him. Mankind has been given free will. The angels can't take it away from him and they know it. That's the reason why he met Anna and Uriel, too, not just Castiel. Because every angel tries to make Dean accept his 'mission' with a different approach. Castiel's calmness and matter-of-factness, Anna's understanding and forgiveness, Uriel's demands and threats, everything just to make Dean do what they want.

"It is not up to me to deny you that right," Castiel answers slowly. His eyes are as unreadable as ever. "But be careful what you wish for, Dean Winchester, and allow us to tell you what it is exactly that you ask for, if we believe that you might not know it."

"You do what you think you have to, and I'll do what I have to."

"You have a mission, Dean," Anna interrupts, but it's Castiel, who lifts his hand and orders her to quiet down.

"So ask, Dean Winchester."



Sam wakes up, feeling an odd numbness and detachment of everything in the world – provoked by his dream, he guesses. However, its memory is already drifting away before he can grasp it. But at the same time some kind of resentment against thinking about it settles deep inside him anyway, so he doesn't mind and opens his eyes.

Light is shining into the room through the window. It's the morning sun, and the smell of coffee is strong in the air. He finds Dean already up and sitting at the table, looking at some newspaper, tapping with a pencil against his lower lip, a frown on his face. Sam feels strangely relieved to see him.

He gets up, goes to the bathroom and dresses before he sits down across from Dean.

"New murder?" he asks, worried because of Dean's frown.

Dean looks at him and shakes his head. "No, at least it isn't in the medias yet."

Sam nods. "That's good." He smells at his coffee before he drinks, thinking about what he should say next. He knows that they should talk about what Uriel told them last night, whether or not they are on the same page about it. But Sam has no idea how to do it. There's so much unresolved tension between him and Dean already that the thought of another blow-up comes to his mind immediately when he even just entertains the idea of talking about it. He's pretty sure that one thing would lead to another if they disagreed about anything, and he's afraid of the consequences of another fight, of what they would say to each other once they got started; afraid of what could happen, if either of them explodes; afraid of Dean leaving him.

Before Dean met the angels (That is the way Sam thinks about it, because it hurts too much to think, 'Before Dean went to Hell'.), Sam had never been able to even imagine that Dean could ever walk out on him, no matter what happened. But now it has changed, and he can't even blame it on the siren or get rid of the nagging feeling – panic – that has settled down deep inside him the very moment when Dean caught him with Ruby and threatened to leave because Sam had been using his powers and hadn't told him about it.

Therefore, Sam would prefer it to shove the whole thing under the rug, like so many other things, and ignore it.

"So, I thought about it -" Dean starts, and Sam's head shoots up.

"Wh-what?" he stutters, incredulous that Dean is the one, who wants to talk about it.

Dean raises an eyebrow in question and watches him intently. Sam wonders why, but guesses, maybe because of the squeak in his voice. He feels his face going hot and swallows hard. He doesn't know what to say and keeps his mouth shut.

"What what?" Dean asks, and then shakes his head, averting his eyes for a second. "You know what? Never mind. What I tried to tell you is that either you or I need to talk with Jaffords, and the other one should check out the places where the chicks were murdered."

"No," Sam says before thinking.

Dean's eyes narrow instantly.

"I mean, yes, you're right," Sam hastens to explain, "we need to do this, but -" He hesitates, but carries on, "- I think that we should talk to Jaffords together."

Dean blinks, and Sam watches the parking lot outside nervously.

"Why?"

It's a simple question, but a week ago Dean wouldn't have asked it. Hell, a week ago Dean wouldn't have let them split up the whole time while working on a case. Now and then, sure, if they had to or if it was sensible, but mostly they always investigated together, both talking to the victims or their families, and both looking at the crime scenes. Sam doesn't like their new way of handling things, because he can't think about anything but Dean and the distance between them the whole time, and that's not helping the hunt at all.

But he struggles to find a suitable answer, because he isn't sure Dean wants to hear that. Or rather, Sam won't risk Dean telling him straight away that he can't stand to be with Sam for longer times anymore and that he doesn't want it either anymore.

"Four eyes see more than two," Sam says, glancing at Dean.

Dean taps his pencil against his lower lip again, and Sam can't help himself, his gaze drops to Dean's lips, looking soft and inviting and -

"Yeah, okay."

Sam's eyes snap up at Dean, surprised how quickly his brother agreed. But now it's Dean, who isn't looking at him. He has dropped the pencil and appears to be deeply engrossed in the papers. His head is bowed and his neck is slightly flushed.

Sam wonders why, but he knows better than to ask. He's just grateful that he gets to spend some time with Dean like they are (Or does he need to say 'like they were'?) used to. Maybe everything will go back to normal if they try hard enough.


--


TOm Jaffords doesn't hesitate to invite the private investigators in. He doesn't even seem to care that he has already given his statement to the police or who is paying them to find the murderer. He just wants revenge, the killer behind bars at least, and he wants it bad.

Sam knows that feeling.

"They killed my wife and my son. Whoever it is, I want this fucker to go down. I want them to bleed and I want it to hurt," Mr. Jaffords rages.

Sam and Dean share a look.

"Your son, Mr. Jaffords?" Sam asks, hoping that his eyes look soulful and compassionate, but nowadays he's never sure if it works. "No one mentioned that your son was killed. Only your wife, Margot Jaffords."

"She was pregnant. Seven months in and the baby was a boy. We wanted to name him Alex," Tom Jaffords says, his voice breaking a little.

"We are very sorry, Sir," Sam soothes him, his voice low. "That's horrible and -"

"Yes, it is. He was already a little person. Our little guy. That's what Margot called him. Our little guy." Jaffords rubs his face with both hands. "Lucas and Lydia were so happy, when we told them they would get a baby brother, and now I had to explain them that they won't ... that their mother won't come home anymore. That some fucker killed her. Killed their mother!"

"Daddy?"

The three adults turn around, surprised and shocked to see two little kids standing next to the piano in the living room. Neither of them has noticed them coming in, and now they don't know what they heard.

Sam bites his lip and looks at their father. Tom Jaffords looks ashamed and struggles what to do. He cannot hide that it's too much for him to handle the situation he's in.

It's Dean, who reacts. He goes over to them and crouches down in front of them, smiling softly. Sam's heart lurches, he knows that smile. It's the one that Dean reserves for kids only, soft and friendly, almost open and honest, and it never fails to calm them down. Never failed when Sammy had been the kid Dean directed it at.

Lucas and Lydia stare at him, not coming closer, but they don't back away either.

"Hey. I'm a friend of your daddy. You can call me Russ."

Lydia sticks her thumb into her mouth and smiles around it. Lucas watches him, his eyes wide.

"Why did Daddy tell you 'bout Mommy?"

Tom Jaffords swallows and opens his mouth.

"Me and my partner Chris -" Dean points at Sam, and Sam manages a smile and a wave when the children eye him. "- we were asking your daddy some questions about her, because we wish we had the time to get to know her better. She was a wonderful person, wasn't she?"

Lydia nods, her whole head bobbing.

"You should ask me 'n' Lia. We know her best. We know everything about her. Even if she's not here. Daddy says that Mommy's in Heaven with the angels," Lucas tells Dean, his voice hushed. "Mommy's happy there and she still watches over us."

Dean pales slightly, but his smile doesn't waver. He reaches out towards them, but lets his hand hover in the air instead of touching them, giving them the option to take it or to leave it.

"Would you do that? Would you tell me about your mommy?" he asks.

"Uh-huh," Lydia pulls her thumb out of her mouth, "We've pictures, too." She looks proud.

"Daddy, can we show him?" Lyman hops up and down, excited.

Tom Jaffords looks at Dean, sees him nodding and smiles thankfully. With his agreement his twins take Dean away to their room.

"I showed them our photo albums yesterday. And the day before. I want them to remember her," he explains to Sam.

Sam nods, remembering the few pictures he and Dean have of their parents. They are somewhere in the trunk of the Impala, and Sam suddenly wants to take a look at them again.

"You think, it's okay that your partner has to look after them now? It's not polite that I'm using you as a babysitter, but the twins are pretty difficult and it was always Margot, who took care of them. I worked and so I saw them less often."

"Don't worry, De- ... uhm ... Russ likes kids. He's good with them. And it's better if they don't listen to our conversation," Sam answers and Jaffords agrees. "So, we were talking about your unborn son," Sam says, when his mobile phone buzzes. "Oh sorry. Would you excuse me -?"

Mr. Jaffords nods and leaves, heading for the kitchen.

"Ruby," Sam says, his voice very low. "That's not the time -"

"Yes, it is, Sam. Listen, I know where some of the demons will be today." Hearing that, Sam's breathing slows, his expression hardens. "Wrap your conversation, get rid of your brother and meet me in half an hour. I know where you are, just look for me, I'll get to you."

Ruby ends the call before Sam can say anything. He looks at the phone, his hand shaking. He knows that he shouldn't get his hopes up, shouldn't get excited, because Ruby has found many demons already and almost none of them provided useful information about Lilith, but he still can't help himself. Maybe, so he hopes, it's it this time. Maybe he'll find Lilith today.

Then he remembers Uriel's words.

His hand around his phone tightens, and he shoves it back into his pocket. He doesn't have the time to think about Uriel, he's on a time limit now.

"Mr. Jaffords?" He follows the guy into the kitchen. "Can we talk?"


--


Less than half an hour later, Sam and Dean find themselves in the front of Tom Jaffords house.

"So, I guess -" Dean starts.

"You know," Sam interrupts him, "you should check out the places where the murders happened. I have a theory and I need to go to the library to check it."

Dean snorts, but he doesn't sound amused. His eyes have dimmed a little. "You don't tell me about it before?" he asks, his voice dry.

Sam looks the street up and down, hoping he isn't obvious in his behavior, but unable to help himself. "Nah, I'm not sure and it sounds a little crazy, so -" He shrugs. "I'll go to the NYU, so meet me there or call me, all right?"

"You won't go after the killer without me," Dean states. It doesn't sound like a question.

"No," Sam hurries to say, relieved that he isn't even lying. He's hunting Lilith now, not the killer.

"Good." Dean walks towards the Impala, and Sam watches him running his hand over its roof, before he opens the door.

When Dean drives away, Sam notices that Dean hasn't even asked Sam, if he should drive him to the library. Sam feels a stab of disappointment in his chest, but denies the feeling. He tells himself that he isn't upset about it because it's better this way. He couldn't have driven with Dean anyway and he couldn't have told Dean why.

"Hi Sam."

And that's the reason.

Sam turns around to Ruby, who is smiling at him.

"Let's go," he says.


--


The demons meet in some old, closed down building, which has been a drug store long time ago. Inside there's no furniture any more and the paint has faded. Sam wonders when the last person stepped inside the house, or rather, the last unpossessed person.

He circles the house first, trying to look inside through the windows, but they haven't been cleaned for so long that it's impossible to see anything. He slides inside through the back door eventually, which doesn't make a sound, and Ruby smiles. Sam raises his eyebrows in question.

"What do you think where I was, when I called you, Sam?" she whispers, standing a little bit too close to him, but he doesn't complain. Somewhere inside the building are demons, and he doesn't want them to be noticed too soon. "I checked the location and prepared the door. I don't want anything to happen to you."

Sam feels uncomfortable. He doesn't know, if Ruby is in love with him or not, but she's behaving like she is, that's for sure. He doesn't like it. The idea that something like a demon could be in love with him creeps him out, even if it's just Ruby. And since she came back from Hell, she has changed and he knows that she isn't happy that he stays with Dean, because it means that she can't be around with Dean hating her guts and everything. Sam has tried to change that – not because he's in love with Ruby, but because Ruby is useful and he owes her – and therefore he has told Dean almost everything that Ruby has done for him. Sam remembers that something flashed in Dean's eyes when he told him that Ruby said to him what Dean would have told him, but Sam still doesn't know what it was exactly. It looked like anger, maybe hurt and then even resignation, but why would Dean feel any of this?

Sam shakes his head to get rid of these thoughts. They aren't important, not right now and not even later, because this conversation has happened long ago and is closed, and whatever Dean had felt back then has most likely changed anyway.

"Sam?" Ruby breathes into his neck because she's too short to reach his ear when he isn't hunching down.

Sam glares at her and makes a hushing noise, before he sneaks towards the stairway. The demons must be upstairs. Ruby follows him in silence.

Upstairs he hears voices, even if he can't understand the words. For a few seconds he just stands there, concentrating, and then he's sure that at least three demons are inside the room to his left.

Ruby looks at him, a question in her eyes.

Sam waves her a step away and motions her not to come closer. Then he pulls out a piece of chalk and draws a Devil's Trap on the floor in front of the door. He has gotten pretty good in drawing them, so it takes him less then two minutes to finish it. Only then he steps inside, careful not to disturb the lines and knocks at the door.

Ruby grins.

It becomes silent inside. Then he hears a male voice and footsteps. Sam doesn't wait any longer and slams the door open.

Whoever wanted to open it is smashed between the door and the wall. An old woman and a rather young man are standing in the middle of the room, their faces turned towards him in surprise. Their eyes widen even more when they realize just who he is.

Sam feels a surge of power and might rushing through his veins and smiles.

"Sam Winchester," the woman hisses, and her eyes turn black.

Sam, very slowly, raises his hand.

"No! He wants to send us back!" the man shouts, and both of them rush towards Sam to stop him before he can use his powers.

Sam only backs away shortly before they reach him. Needless to say, once they step into the Devil's Trap, they are both captured. The woman bares her teeth, the man clenches his hands into fists.

"You little fucker!"

"Uh-uh," Sam shakes his head, "that's really not the way you should talk to me considering your situation." He feels gleeful and giddy, and laughter is bubbling inside him.

"Tell me, where's the brother of yours, Sammy?" the woman asks a smirk on her face.

She is exorcised before Sam even realizes what he's doing. The body of her host drops to the ground, and the young man screams in horror.

"Okay," Sam says amiably, but inside him there's just coldness, "I thought that you demons got it already. No one gets to call me that. No one!"

The man backs away, but he doesn't get far because of the trap. He raises his hands in surrender.

"Not calling you that, never did." His face is the farce of a smile. "'M not your brother, so not -"

Sam's hand is in the air before he has finished speaking, and the demon cowers in fear as far away as possible. Ruby, however, slides towards Sam, never touching him when he's using his powers, but still close enough to make her presence known.

"Sam, didn't you want information?"

Sam hesitates, his fingers itching to do it again. It's always hard to stop once he has started, and it's getting harder every time. But Sam ignores it; it isn't the time to think about that right now. Ruby is right. He has to find Lilith.

"Talk," he says through gritted teeth, fighting hard to keep self-control.

"Sure. Whatever you want. Everything. What you want. I tell you. It. You know. What you want to know. No problem. Sure. I -" The demon is babbling.

"Shut up," Sam growls. He lets his arm drop to his sides and closes his eyes. He concentrates on breathing, to calm down and to sort out his thoughts. "Okay," he says finally, "tell me about Lilith."

"L-Lilith? I ... I don't know -"

"Don't. Lie. To. Me! Don't you dare to lie! I want to know where Lilith is, and I want to know it now!" His arm is stretched out in front of him, and the demon screams, but Sam isn't exorcising him but the black smoke that tried to leave through the window of the room. Sam guesses that it's the third demon, the one he crushed with the door and one that is clever enough to attempt to flee. But Sam is faster. Better. Stronger. When the smoke has vanished, he turns back to the young man. "So, what did you want to say?"

The demon swallows. Sam has never understood why some of the demons act so much like humans. Sometimes he wonders, if it's because of their meatsuits and if the demons can't help but mash with their hosts. Maybe that's the reason why Ruby was a bitchy, snarky teen when he met her first and is now such a tamed version in the body of the coma girl.

"Lilith." Now the demon seems eager to help him. "We were talking about Lilith. B-but I don't know wh-where she's right now." Sam moves his hand towards him. "Waitwaitwaitwait! Not Lilith, but another one – one of Lilith's confidants – here in town – someone really important, I promise -"

"Tell me."

"He's strong and everyone's afraid of him and – and -"

"His name."

"H-his name. S-sure ... His name ... it's Alastair."

Sam's expression hardens, his eyes only slits. Alastair. Dean's Alastair. The demon that broke Dean. The demon that tortured Dean for thirty years. The demon that made Dean torture souls. Alastair.

"Yeah!" The young man grins suddenly, his behavior having changed completely within a second. Gone is the scared, pleading, submissive guy and visible is the true nature of the gleeful, evil creature. "That Alastair. Your brother met him once. It's common knowledge among us. Everyone talks about it down in Hell. It's great fun! Dean Winchester on the rack, he was called, just like a drink. Dean was Alastair's pet proje-"

This demon is exorcised with conscious effort and anger, because Sam wants the thing to feel it, wants it to go through every single second consciously until it reaches Hell, and Sam is shaking afterwards, struggling to push his powers back deep down inside him, which is even more difficult than usual. He's breathing hard, when he gets out of his own head and takes in his surroundings again. There are two bodies on the floor, and even if he tried, Sam couldn't care less, whether they're alive or not. He steps over them and sees a third body behind the door, but Sam doesn't check on this man either, he just turns around and leaves the room.

Ruby hasn't moved and is just watching him, an assessing look in her eyes.

Sam stares back.

"You alright?" Ruby asks finally, her expression melting into worry and affection belatedly.

Sam crouches down and drags his hand through the chalk lines. "Take care of them," he orders.

"Of course."

Sam stands and starts going down the stairs.

"Sam!" Worry or something else is still evident in her voice.

Sam stops, but doesn't turn around. "I want you to find Alastair. If he's in New York? You find him. And you tell me immediately."

"Sam -"

But Sam keeps going and leaves the building.

--


He knows he needs to calm down before he meets Dean, or everything that has happened will be transparent on his face. And that's nothing he wants to risk because he has already decided to take care of Alastair before Dean meets the demon again. This is what he's really afraid of, that Alastair might be in New York because of Dean. But Sam won't let him get to Dean again. No demon will ever touch his brother again, he has promised himself.

Sam decides to go for a coffee first and to head towards the library afterwards. He still needs to think of something to tell Dean, some theory that sounds sensible or at least believable.

He's just stepping into Starbucks, still deep in his thoughts, when he runs into someone. Typical, he thinks annoyed and mutters an apology, not really caring about the accident.

"Sam? Sam Winchester?"

It's not even the name, it's the voice that rips him out of his thoughts. He turns around, his eyes widen, and he shakes his head in disbelief, looking at the person in front of him.

"Sarah?"

He knows, it's Sarah Blake; she hasn't changed too much. Of course, her hair is shorter now, only reaching her chin, and she wears a business suit, but her dark eyes sparkle in joy and wonder, and her smile is incredulous, but still charming. She holds her hands over her lips and doesn't seem to fathom that it really is Sam. She reaches out and touches his arm.

"You think that I'm a ghost?" Sam jokes.

"It's really you. Oh, thank you, God."

Sam doesn't understand her reaction, but she has already thrown her arms around him and is hugging him like she hasn't seen him for years.

Which she hasn't, yes, but the point is that they haven't been that close. The only living person, who should hug Sam like this, is Dean, a part of Sam thinks, and he carefully puts a little space between them, trying not to be too obvious about it.

Actual tears are glistening in Sarah's eyes.

Okay, that's really strange. Sam admits defeat and rests his hands on both of her shoulders.

"What's wrong?" he asks.

Sarah shakes her head, still tears in her eyes, but her smile is genuinely happy. "What's wrong? Oh Sam, how can you ask -" Her voice dies, and she suddenly appears to be alarmed. She looks around as if she's expecting someone to watch them, but no one cares about two people meeting in front of Starbucks. Why should anyone?

Sarah, however, grabs Sam's sleeve and looks up. "Do you want to drink a coffee with me?" Her voice sounds insistent and Sam is pretty sure she wants to talk with him about something serious.

He nods. "Sure."


--


They sit down on a park bench, watching children with their parents on a playground. Sam looks at his watch and is not really surprised that it's a little past 4pm. It has taken him over one and a half hour to get with Ruby from Tom Jaffords to the building with the demons and almost two hours to come into walking distance of the New York University. He knows that he should go to the library soon, and he wonders, if Dean has checked all of the crime scenes already.

Sarah just sits there, sometimes looking at him, seemingly at peace with the world. Sam really doesn't understand her, but she's a woman and he has learnt with Jess that he'll never really understand the way girls think. He can only ask them to explain what is going on with them, if he needs to know. So that's what he finally does.

"What's up, Sarah?"

She turns her head. "I believed you were dead."

"Huh?" Sam blinks. Of course, hunting monsters is a dangerous job and, yes, he did die, but he can't imagine that Dean would have called Sarah to tell her about it before he sold his soul.

Thinking about Wyoming, Ava, Jake and Dean's deal still sends hot shots of anger and not just a little bit of guilt through his veins, and his fingers tighten around his coffee. He realizes it soon enough to stop himself from squashing the paper cup.

He forces a smile on his face. "Why would you think that?" he asks her.

"It was on television?" Sarah replies, her voice confused. "You couldn't have missed it. They said that you and Dean were captured by the FBI in Monument, Colorado, but that you were killed in an explosion together with FBI agents and the sheriff's department there before they could take you elsewhere."

"Oh. Yeah, right." Sam remembers now, remembers Hendriksen and Lilith's army last year and that it had been the first time Lilith had been that close to him and his brother. "We escaped a few hours before the explosion happened."

"No big deal, huh?" Sarah deadpans, and Sam makes a face but stays silent, watching two little girls fighting over the question, who is taking the next turn on the swing.

Sarah sighs. "I didn't know it and therefore I believed it, Sam. Can you imagine how I felt at my own wedding the day after, thinking that you and your brother had died merely hours before?"

"Wedding?" Sam can't hide his surprise. "You're married?"

Sarah blushes. "Yes." She holds up her right hand and, fair enough, a golden wedding band gleams in the afternoon sun. "I'm no longer Sarah Blake. My name's now Sarah Miller."

Just for a moment Sam can't help himself and wonders what would have happened, if he had stayed in New York three years ago. Maybe it would have been him, who was married to Sarah, maybe she would smile and blush like that, happy and open, because she was thinking of him.

It's a nice thought, however it doesn't stick with him. If he's honest with himself, he can't even imagine what he would have been doing, if he had stayed, what it would be like to spend his whole time with someone, who isn't his brother, and he remembers that it wasn't any different back then, when Dean asked him if he wanted to stay. He really tried to think about it three years ago, but he couldn't.

It's nothing new.

He has never been able to imagine any future without Dean, not even when he started to think about going to college. Somehow he had always believed Dean would come with him. And when he hadn't – maybe because Sam hadn't dared to ask him –, Sam had believed Dean would always come around, just showing up and implying that Sam could and should come along with him again. Even when he had asked Dean to stop his visits at Stanford, Sam had never believed Dean would keep his promise. Not even falling in love with Jess had changed that. A part of Sam had always been waiting for his brother to come back to him and get him, even when he had thought about asking Jess to marry him or told himself that it was necessary to move on.

But he hadn't.

He had never moved on. Not even when Dean died. Not even when Dean stayed dead. Neither of the times.

Both times he had shut down, the first time focusing on the Trickster and praying to get a second chance (or a third or a fourth or a hundredth chance, it doesn't matter) with Dean, and the second time with Ruby by his side, just training to kill Lilith. Both times he had stopped living, only his body hadn't stopped moving and had always carried him towards the next monster, the next demon, until he got Dean back.

He doesn't feel any jealousy when he imagines Sarah smiling at some faceless guy.

"Congrats," he says. "He's a lucky guy, this -"

"Jordan Miller." Her voice is soft and she's looking at the ring on her finger, a smile playing around her lips.

"Yeah. He makes you happy?"

"Yes."

And there's so much happiness in her eyes that it almost hurts to look at her, and Sam has to look away. Now he does feel jealousy, but only because he thinks of himself and Dean and the way things are between them. The heavy silence, the hurtful words, the shuttered eyes.

Sam rubs his face and looks at the sky. A plane is disappearing behind a cloud high above them.

"Are you happy, Sam?" Sarah asks.

Sam laughs, bitter. He remembers his teacher Mr. Wyatt asking him the same question a few weeks ago and how he struggled back then with the answer. Right now the answer is easy.

"No."

He feels Sarah's eyes on him, and one of the children is crying, because he fell and hurt his knee. Sarah touches his wrist.

"May I ask you why?" He doesn't turn his head. "Do you want to talk about it?"

No. No, Sam doesn't. He really doesn't want to talk about it.

He tastes blood in his mouth and realizes that he has bitten the inside of his cheek too hard. He licks over it, thinking about blood, the demon blood and demon powers and demon torture, but also about his mother and father and the blood he shares with his brother. The blood they'll always share.

His heart hurts.

"Maybe you need to talk about it," Sarah mentions, her voice low and soft. She sounds so reasonable and sympathetic, almost like Sam did three years ago.

He drops his face into his hands, his elbows resting on his knees.

"You told me that you were looking for your father," Sarah says carefully. "Did you and Dean find him?"

Something inside Sam breaks. He looks at her. "Yeah. Yeah, we did. And then he sold his soul for Dean." His mouth snaps shut, when Sarah's eyes widen, and he looks back towards the playground where the mother of the crying boy is leading him away.

"He – what does that mean?" Sarah asks after a moment of silence.

Sam knows that he should keep his mouth shut, knows that he shouldn't tell her anything else, knows that he has already said too much, but he can't. He needs this. He needs someone to listen to him, without being afraid that they'll leave him or judge him or betray him. With Sarah it doesn't matter too much. They aren't too close, so if she's going to hate him afterwards, he doesn't really care, not like with Dean or even Bobby; and he knows she likes him and is a good person, who isn't involved in the whole thing, not like Ruby, who is a demon and shouldn't be trusted by him, but he does kind of trust her anyway. And he's pretty sure that he will have to pay for it when the time comes, but he still hopes that it'll be after he got his revenge against Lilith. So he'll worry about it later and not yet.

Sam rests his head back in his hands and sighs.

"Dad made a deal with a demon after a car accident. His soul for Dean's life. And that was only the start." His voice sounds hollow to his own ears. "Or better, a start. Next Dean sold his soul for me, not even a year later." He hesitates, hears the unspoken question in the silence. "I got myself killed."

Sarah gasps, slapping her hands over her mouth.

"Doesn't matter, how it happened or who did it. ... Dean just – he had been so angry with Dad ... and then he did it himself. Stupid idiot." He shuts his eyes tightly, old fear and anger and guilt and helplessness washing over him. "And then ... I had a year with him ... and then he – he died ... went to Hell for me ... and no one wanted me ... because my soul is black and tainted. Uriel told me. An angel."

"An angel?" Now Sarah does interrupt him.

Sam laughs, it sounds less than happy, only broken, even to him.

"Oh, yes, an angel. You know, when Dean was in Hell, I worked together with a demon. Still do." He looks straight into her eyes. "And an angel pulled Dean out of Hell and still follows him around. Isn't it great?"

Sarah's lips are moving, but she doesn't say a word.

"It gets even better. Angels don't like me, because demons – well, some of them do. And Dean doesn't trust me and ... and we can't ... it doesn't work ... we don't work ..." His voice drifts away.

His face is wet, but he doesn't know when he has started crying, only that he can't stop the tears, so he buries his face in his hands.

"Oh, Sam."

"Don't pity me," Sam hisses, his jaw clenched. "That's not everything." He can't stop. "A siren – you know what a siren is? Doesn't matter anyway. The only important thing is that a siren made us say everything to each other." No, not everything, maybe he should feel grateful for that little mercy, but it was still too much. "He told me that I'm not ... I'm not his -" He can't say it, just can't. "And I said horrible things. We – we were -"

At least he has stopped crying by now, a deep coldness settling back in him.

Sarah is silent.

Sam watches the children. There are only five of them left and two mothers. One of them is pregnant, her right hand resting on her belly.

"Can't you just -" Sarah shrugs. "- I don't know, apologize?"

Sam barks a laugh. "We are guys, not girls, Sarah. We don't hug and kiss all the time."

She rolls her eyes. "Fine, buy each other a beer, grunt something and make up. Or out."

"Wh-what?" Sam splutters, feeling his blood coloring his cheek.

"That was a joke, Sam." Rolling her eyes, Sarah shakes her head. "A stupid one, true, but yours about girls wasn't better." But Sam can hear the smile in her voice, so she isn't angry. "I know you two are brothers and not in big, gay, incestuous love. That would be ridiculous and wrong, and you are neither. You are a good person, who knows right from wrong."

Sam keeps his eyes trained on the playground. "Uriel told me that my soul is black and tainted. Maybe he is right."

"You saved me, Sam, and you save people every day. Just like your brother. You risk your life and you do it because it's the right thing to do, and not because you will become rich and famous. Sam, you are good. Don't let anyone tell you anything else."

"Uriel is an angel. And I'm fighting side by side with a demon. And the angels want Dean and me -"

"Sam, if I had to root for someone, I'd root for you," Sarah says, firm, catching his gaze and holding it. "It's easy for me to say, of course, because I never met a demon or an angel, I know, but I met you and your brother. I believe in you. Both of you will do the right thing, don't you think so, too?"

"You would root for demons?" Sam says disbelievingly.

"Honestly? No. But I won't root for angels that claim that you are tainted, either."

"But Dean – they want him for something."

"I don't know Dean like you do, but if he's anything like I think you are, I wouldn't worry about him if I were you."

Sam looks down on the grass. He wants to argue, but he doesn't because he wants to believe her more.

"Jesus, it's late. Sorry, Sam, but I've to go. I'm meeting Jordan at 5pm, so ..." Sarah is already standing.

Sam stands up, too. "It was nice meeting you." He smiles.

"You wanna exchange numbers?" she asks, and he agrees without thinking.

"Thank you," he says afterwards. She looks surprised and a bit confused. "For believing in me. It's ... nice that someone does." He feels stupid and embarrassed by himself.

But Sarah smiles warmly. "I'm pretty sure that I'm not the only one, Sam." She winks and leaves.


--


When Sam asks the librarian where the books about occultism, magic and rituals are, she looks him up and down and asks, "Are you Sam?"

Sam tilts his head in surprise. "Yes."

"Dean -" She giggles, and Sam immediately knows that she met Dean, that Dean was flirting with her, and Sam feels a familiar surge of anger because really, the woman is at least fifty years old and Dean doesn't need to flirt with everyone. He's so angry that he misses what she tells him. With an apologetic smile he has to ask, "Sorry, could you please -"

"Sure. Dean asked me to tell you that he's in the last room to the left where we store the old newspapers in case you want to know."

Sam swallows. So Dean is already here. Maybe that's not surprising, given what Sam has already done today, but it still isn't good news. Sam had hoped that he could pretend having been in the library all day, but now ...

Sam takes a breath, straightens and walks over to the door. He doesn't hesitate to pull it open and to step inside.

Dean is sitting at a table, newspapers all around him and one of them in his hands. He sets it down, when he hears the door, and looks at Sam. The frown on his face shifts into an unreadable expression and his lips curve slightly.

"Coffee break?"

"Starbucks," Sam says, walking towards the table. He's glad that Dean offered that excuse, even more so because he's even telling the truth.

Dean scrutinizes him, and then he looks at the table. "So, your theory ...?"

"They were all pregnant," Sam says, surprising himself, because he hadn't made the connection until he said it. But suddenly it seems clear to him. "Eliza Dean, Margot Jaffords an-"

"Okay, no, sorry. I really can't." Dean slams his hands suddenly down on the table and stands up so hastily that his chair tips over.

Sam stares up at him in shock.

Dean paces a few steps away, shaking his head violently. "I tried, Sam, I really did, but I can't." He turns back to Sam, behind his back is the window, and Sam can't see Dean's expression clearly. "What did you do?"

Sam tells himself to stay calm. "What are you talking ab-"

"You weren't here, Sam," Dean interrupts him, his voice sharp, and Sam freezes. "You haven't been in the library at all today."

"I wa-"

"No! I talked with Trudy when I couldn't find you! You haven't been here! Where did you go?" Dean's voice is getting increasingly louder with every word.

"Hush," Sam hisses, gazing towards the door. They're alone in here, but he's pretty sure that it won't stay like this for long, if Dean starts shouting.

Dean shoots him a glare, but he drops his voice. "Where did you go, Sam?" he repeats very low and dangerous.

Sam stands up without looking away. "I told you, Dean. Starbucks."

Dean's stance is becoming more rigid. "For more than two hours?"

"Wh-what?"

"I came in here more than two hours ago, almost three, I think. It didn't take me long to look at the scenes of crime, all right? And you weren't here. You haven't been here at all," he hisses.

"Star. Bucks," Sam grits out, stepping closer.

Dean glares at him, fists his hands. When Sam pointedly – accusingly – looks at his brother's fists, Dean looks down, too, his expression shifting as if he's surprised by what he is doing. He loosens his fists again and crosses his arms in front of his chest instead. He doesn't back away.

"Stop lying, for God's sake, Sam." His eyes are burning into Sam.

Sam thinks about the demons he exorcised, he thinks about Alastair, who supposedly is somewhere in New York, and he thinks about Sarah and what she said. He doesn't step away either, towering over his brother instead.

"I. Don't. Lie. Dean," he spits.

"Sure." Dean almost laughs. It doesn't sound amused. "You never do."

Sam doesn't flinch. "You should believe me, Dean."

Dean stares at him. Logically Sam knows that Dean is shorter than him, that Dean has to look up to him when Sam is looming over him, but he still can't fight the feeling that it's the other way round. As if Dean is still taller than Sam and bigger than life itself, and even when Dean has to tilt his head up to look at Sam, Sam can't help himself and feels smaller. It's stupid and it makes Sam unreasonably angry.

"You're supposed to trust me."

Dean's hands grip Sam's jacket and pull him down a little, so that their eyes are at the same height. Dean's eyes are really green, Sam thinks for no reason, unable to turn away.

"Trust, Sam? What do you call 'trust'? Tell me, how can you trust someone, who is always, always, lying?" Dean asks, his voice bitter.

Sam rips Dean's hands away from his jacket, shoves his brother up against the window and glares at him, anger flowing through his veins, red and hot. Dean is completely still, not moving at all and never breaking eye contact, but Sam still can't read anything in Dean's eyes, except maybe disappointment. He really doesn't want to see that. Dean's breath, however, is hot on Sam's face, and Sam feels himself starting to shake. He wants to lean forward, wants to rest his forehead against Dean's, wants to breathe Dean in, wants to feel Dean's lips against his own, he wants – he just wants.

He closes his eyes to stop himself; his own breath comes too fast and his heart beats too hard against his chest.

"Answer me, Sam." Dean's voice is hard and cold, emotionless.

Sam opens his eyes again and feels exhausted and tired when he locks eyes with Dean, and he doesn't try to hide it. He can't stand the coldness and the distance between them anymore, but he doesn't know what to do or to say to change that. He knows that Dean could shove him away easily, that Dean could free himself from Sam without too much trouble – something else he has always known but forgotten after Dean went to Hell and had to relearn during the incident with the siren. Dean isn't any weaker than Sam; he's at least as strong as Sam, no matter if Sam is taller and bigger. When they fight, Dean still can take him down, if he wants to.

A part of Sam is glad about it; he can't stand the idea of a weak or submissive Dean, because he needs him strong and determined. Maybe that's the reason why he had said all those horrible things to Dean under the siren's spell, Sam thinks now. Maybe he's really selfish enough to be afraid that a broken Dean probably wouldn't be able to stand by his side, to fight next to him against demons, because if Dean did and wasn't strong enough, Sam would have had to dread losing Dean the whole time. Maybe deep inside Sam had only thought all of that because he had wanted Dean to prove him wrong. Sam doesn't know, but it is possible.

But he doesn't understand why Dean doesn't fight him now, why Dean just waits without any struggle, like he has given in, has resigned already, and maybe that's worse than being shoved away or punched by Dean.

Sam's grip on Dean's jacket slackens.

"I'm your brother, Dean. You should trust me." Sam steps back. His eyes drop to the floor and he feels the space between them growing wider with every step.

Dean is silent. For an endless second he doesn't say anything and Sam just can't look at him.

Then Dean is right in front of him, touching the back of Sam's neck with his right hand, warm and firm and there, and says, "Okay."

"Okay?" Sam repeats, not understanding what exactly is okay, but he doesn't want to lose Dean's touch. It's the first time Dean touched him, since Uriel's visit last night when Dean was worried about him. However, this time he has no reason to believe that Sam had been hurt by anyone, but he still touches him – and not even in anger –, and therefore it means probably more to Sam than it should.

He looks up at Dean, and the exhaustion he's feeling is mirrored in Dean's eyes.

"Yeah. Okay. It's enough." Dean is trying to smile, but he's failing.

"Enough?" Sam wishes that he wouldn't just stand there and repeat what Dean is saying. He wishes that he could say what Dean wants to hear, what Dean needs to hear, because Dean is trying so hard for him. But Sam just doesn't know what it is.

"It just has to be." Dean steps around him and sits back down, pushing the papers around like he needs to do something with his hands.

Sam stands there a few more seconds, feeling a bit colder where Dean's hand has been and wishing Dean's warmth back. Then he sits down, too, looking at the newspaper in front of him. The page is displaying wedding and birthday announcements and congratulations.

Dean rubs his neck, before he glances at Sam.

"You said that they were pregnant," he prompts.

Sam remembers their conversation and nods. "Leonard Dean told me about it and Tom Jaffords did so, too. And you mentioned that Robert Deveraux hadn't known that his wife had been pregnant. I'm pretty sure that Amy and Anthony Evens were going to have a baby, too, even if he didn't mention it. Maybe he didn't know, maybe he didn't think that it could be important. He's too self-centered anyway to care about anything," Sam adds.

"Hm." Dean frowns. "I could ask Elizabeth about Amy Evens, but I think you're on to something. So, why would someone – or something – cut out the hearts of pregnant women at the age of about twenty-six?"

Sam pushes his left hand through his hair and licks his lips. "A ghost?" he offers.

Dean shakes his head. "What could be the pattern then? The city is too big. The victims aren't related, they don't live close to each other and they weren't killed at the same place. And I think that they were at different stages of their pregnancies. Margot Jaffords was seven months in, Susan Deveraux not even three."

Sam nods, agrees. "Black magic then?"

Dean lifts his eyebrows in question.

"Infants and unborn children have always been powerful sources for spells and potions," Sam explains. "A pregnant woman's heart has to beat for two, if you kill her, you kill her baby, too. The magic is stronger."

"And here I thought that witches prefer virgins," Dean says with a disgusted sneer at the thought of human sacrifices.

"Virgins are supposed to be pure. Their innocence is what makes witches interested in them. Innocence and purity are powerful ingredients but, like so many times, the younger, the better. And infants and unborn babies are the best. I think that it has something to do with the purity of their souls, not only their bodies." Sam falls silent, remembering Uriel's words once more. "A soul like yours? Tainted and black? Still sinning every day without regretting? It will not be saved. Once you die? You will go straight to Hell, Sam Winchester. Forever."

"Sam?"

Sam looks up and meets Dean's gaze. He tries to smile, but his attempt is as weak as Dean's has been. He drops his eyes back to the table and shuffles with the papers in front of him.

"A newly born or unborn child hasn't sinned, Dean, so their souls are pure and innocent. Even a virgin, who has never been touched by another person, doesn't have to have a pure soul. A virgin can be a horrible person, too, like a killer or something else. And a pure soul beats an untouched body by far when it comes to magic. It's superstition to think that a virgin, girl or boy, is the best sacrifice, just because they've never had sex. The best sacrifice is always someone, who has a pure soul, with or without having sex."

Sam presses the palm of his right hand flat against the table and stares at his long fingers, wondering if that's the reason why Dean had been saved by an angel. Is Dean's soul really that pure and white and innocent?

Sam swallows thickly. It isn't that he wants Dean to go to Hell again, that's the last thing he wants actually, but he's afraid of what that means for him. When they both die, will Dean go to Heaven while Sam has to go to Hell, like Uriel told him?

It's pretty simple; Sam fears Hell. He's always been afraid of Hell, because he's believed in God, Heaven and Hell, even before his father made a deal, even before he met an angel and even before Dean told him about his time in Hell. But some part of Sam – some arrogant part maybe – believes that he could deal with being in Hell, if Dean was with him. Sam dreads the possibility of being separated from Dean for all eternity far more than Hell itself.

Thinking about that Sam shivers, his fingers trembling, and his lips curve downwards.

Something bumps against his left foot.

Sam startles, but he doesn't move away when he realizes that it's Dean's foot shifting under the table. Maybe Dean is uncomfortable the way he's sitting, Sam explains to himself. But he can't help feeling relieved and grounded because of the touch, even more when Dean's movement stills with his calves pressing slightly against Sam's.

Hesitantly Sam looks at his brother, but Dean has a far away look in his eyes and seems to be as lost in his thoughts as Sam has been. Dean is a bit pale, his freckles standing out darkly, and he's biting his bottom lip. Concern and worries are written all over his face, and Sam wonders whether Dean is worried about the case or something else.

Suddenly Dean snaps out of his thoughts, blinking fast and glancing at Sam before he trains his eyes on the wall behind Sam. He neck flushes oddly pink.

"Black magic or sacrifices, then," Dean says, sounding a bit rough.

"That's what I think, but that doesn't narrow down who or what is killing them. It doesn't tell us anything about who is going to be the next vic-" Sam falls silent when the door is opened.

"I'm sorry to interrupt you," the librarian says to them, "but we'll close soon."

Sam shares a look with Dean, and then they leave.


--


They return to the motel and order pizza because it's easy and neither of them wants to go out. They sit between their beds across on the floor, their backs leaning against their beds facing each other, and eat in silence, but it isn't too uncomfortable.

"It's the church," Dean says suddenly, his mouth is full with pizza, and Sam has to tell himself not to stare at it.

"The church is what?" Sam asks, nibbling at a piece of pizza. He isn't really hungry, but Dean has pushed it towards him, and Sam imagined Dean bitching about Sam not eating enough like he has done so many times already. Sam hasn't wanted to find out whether Dean would still comment on it or not and ignore it, so he's taken the piece instead of shoving it back.

"The connection between the victims. The St. John's Chapel. When I was in the library," Dean fiddles with his piece of pizza, never taking his gaze off of it, "I looked it up. The wedding announcements. They were all married there last year."

"And who married them?" Sam asks, excited suddenly. They're that close to the solution of the case, he can feel it.

Dean shakes his head. "Wasn't in the newspapers. We could go there tomorrow. Ask around, you know?" He shrugs casually.

Sam sets his pizza down. It's the first time that Dean used 'we', that Dean didn't say they should split up. Sam doesn't know, if it's because Dean, too, doesn't want them to spend so much time apart, or because Dean doesn't trust him to go on his own without lying to Dean. The first option would make Sam happy, but the thought of the second alone stings.

"You can ask Sarah," he blurts out, before he can stop himself.

Dean's eyes snap up, confused. "Sarah?"

"Yes, Sarah, you remember her? The haunted painting three years ago?"

Something like recognition crosses Dean's eyes. "Yeah," he says slowly. "We burnt it and it came back. Sarah Blake, right? She -" Dean hesitates and licks his lips, his eyes averted again, "she liked you."

A bit astonished due to Dean's choice of words, Sam rolls his eyes. "We kissed, all right?" He expects Dean to tease him about his awkwardness around Sarah back then, but Dean only picks at a hole in his jeans with his fingers and keeps his mouth shut. Sam frowns in confusion and looks at the comforter on Dean's bed. "Anyway, her name is Sarah Miller now."

He feels Dean's eyes on him immediately. "Married?"

"Yeah. Sound and happy it seems." Sam smiles. When he gazes at Dean, he can see him wrinkling his nose a bit. Dean stays silent for a moment, stealing glances at Sam.

"So ... what should I ask her?" Dean sounds a bit too casual.

Sam lays down the rest of his pizza. "Whether I was at Starbucks or not. I met her there, you know. So if you still don't trust me -" He can't hide the anger in his words.

Dean's eyes snap up to him. "What?"

"I have her number," Sam tells him bluntly. "She can confirm that I was there and that I wasn't lying to you."

"Jesus, Sam!" With a shout Dean is on his feet, glaring down at him. "I told you, it's enough already!"

Sam narrows his eyes. "So, you trust me, Dean?" Dean doesn't say anything for a second too long, and Sam shakes his head with a bitter laugh. "Yeah, I thought so." He brushes his hands over his lap as if he was trying to clean it from pizza crumbs. Actually, he couldn't care less about crumbs right now.

"I said, it's enough," Dean repeats, his voice almost quiet now. The shutters have closed down behind his eyes once again. "I'm gonna go piss." He leaves the room and shuts the door firmly behind him. It isn't a slam, but it feels like one.

Sam sighs and leans his head against his bed, looking at the ceiling. He's tired and doesn't know whether he wants to fight with Dean more than he is afraid of fighting with him. It really seems like they can't have a single conversation anymore without one of them exploding.

Sam closes his eyes. He feels guilty and alone. It's not a new feeling, not at all.


--


Night finds the Winchester brothers lying in their beds in silence, both of them pretending to sleep, both of them knowing that the other is awake and both of them knowing that the other knows it, too.

Sam, resting on the bed further away from the door just like so often, has his back turned to Dean and stares at the thin curtains in front of the window. He's counting the spotlights of the cars driving by to keep himself from thinking about anything. He doesn't feel like sleeping, because the last few times he slept, he didn't feel rested afterwards, he felt rather worse to wear. He can't remember his dreams exactly, but, Dean had been in them, he thinks with uncertainty, just not in a good way. Sam thinks that Dean was unhappy in Sam's dream, which is too bad, because Sam knows that Dean doesn't have a good time in his own dreams either. Not that they'll ever talk about Dean's restlessness again after everything. Sam bites his lips and thinks about killing the siren once more.

It has been at least two hours and eighteen cars by now.

The silence is numbing and uncomfortable.

When the nineteenth car throws its spotlights onto the ceiling of their room, Dean clears his throat.

Sam freezes and grips his blanket a little tighter.

"Sam?" Dean's voice sounds loud in the silence, even if it's nothing more than a whisper actually.

Sam doesn't move, just closes his eyes tightly. He isn't sure if he wants to talk now, at least not without having proof that it won't start a fight again.

"I ... I wanted ... Samm- ... I'm ..." Dean breathes, just breathes, and Sam strains his ears against his will. He can hear Dean shifting under his blanket. Clearly, Dean doesn't feel comfortable either, and that just adds to Sam's anxiety.

No car passes the motel. No distraction anywhere.

"I ... I shouldn't have said that," Dean says in a rush and falls silent again.

Sam knows that he should go on pretending to be asleep, but he frowns, rubs his cheek with two fingers and pinches the bridge of his nose. Then he turns around.

Dean is lying on his back now – a telling sign that he isn't even trying to sleep. One of his hands is under his head and buried under his pillow. Sam doesn't need to be a genius to know that Dean is gripping his knife. His other hand clenches the blanket on his stomach a little too tightly though. Dean's face is turned towards the ceiling; his eyes are open and bright in the dusky room.

"What are you talking about?" Sam asks, watching his brother through squinted eyes.

Dean bites his bottom lip.

Sam pulls his own blanket closer to himself. They never apologize or ask for take backs after arguments like the one they had today. "I mean ... there wasn't anything ..." Nothing big at last, nothing he hadn't already known, nothing Dean should feel the need to apologize for because – and Sam hates to admit it – Dean is right with not trusting him. Sam is lying to him, and if Dean says he's sorry now, Sam will feel even shittier about it and he doesn't want to.

Sam really hates himself for his selfishness sometimes.

"No, not today," Dean keeps his eyes trained on the ceiling, "it's about -" He closes his eyes, then opens them again, but he doesn't turn his head. "Madison."

Sam's spine stiffens and his throat is dry. "Madison?" he echoes.

"Yeah, I ... I shouldn't have said what I did. That she was a monster you fu-"

"It was the siren," Sam interrupts him. He doesn't want to hear this. "It was just the siren, I know."

Dean's eyes close again; his breath is loud and heavy. He swallows.

Sam starts to turn away, to go back to sleep or whatever, but Dean's voice stops him.

"No, it wasn't."

"What?" Sam stares at him, can't help himself. He doesn't want Dean to admit that he could have meant what he said to him for two reasons. One, because it would tell Sam that Dean believes that Sam meant what he said to Dean, too, and two, because Sam doesn't want to believe that Dean really thinks his Sam could be gone. Please, he begs in his mind, please, Dean, don't say it again. He just can't stand the thought.

"When I called you -" Dean is staring hard at the ceiling. "- I wasn't under the siren's spell. That happened later."

On the one hand, Sam is glad about that statement because their fight can still be explained away with the siren, but on the other hand -

"You think I'm a monster fucker!" Sam's voice is cold and too loud, and Dean flinches. Sam feels furious. "Go on, just say it, Dean!"

Dean's grip on his blanket tightens.

"Look at me and tell me that's what you think of me!"

"I told you that I shouldn't have said this stuff about Madison," Dean repeats, his voice toneless now, but he turns his head ever so slowly towards Sam.

Sam barks a bitter laugh. "Yeah, Madison. But Ruby and Cara? Are you going to say that you're sorry for that part, too, or not?"

Dean sits up suddenly, his blanket pooling around his waist, and even without light Sam knows that Dean's eyes are burning holes into him. He can feel it.

"Dr. Roberts wasn't a monster, fine, but we were on a hunt and you risked your fucking neck when you fucked her," Dean spits out angrily. "She could have been the fucking siren, trying to turn you into some kind of a slave, and you fucking know it."

Sam laughs mirthlessly. "So that makes it okay, Dean?" He shakes his head. "Nice to know what you are thinking of me. Only monsters can be attracted to a freak like me, right?!"

Sam misses the horrified self-recrimination, the shame and the guilt that flashes through Dean's eyes, because Sam is to hurt to see it. Dean doesn't move, though, even after Sam turned his back to his brother and pulled his blanket close around himself. For a few seconds there is only silence.

Then Sam says nastily, "Not everyone gets to fuck angels. Not everyone is as perfect and pure as you are, aren't you, Dean?"

Dean makes a strangled noise, but he doesn't respond.

Sam knows that jealousy is coloring his words but he's too hurt and angry to care. He's too busy to hate himself for his reaction to Dean's words and even more for his unhealthy attraction to his own brother that is sick and wrong on so many levels. And even when he's used to tell himself hundreds of reasons why it's never going to happen and why it's better that way anyway, it's still hard to add that argument to the list as another reason; that he would never be good enough for Dean anyway, even if they weren't related. Because Dean is touched and loved by angels, and Sam is just the sick, dirty guy, who is tainted with demon blood and his own desires. How Dean is able to just look at him without feeling nauseous is beyond Sam and maybe Dean can't anyway. Maybe Dean is just that good in hiding his disdain and disgust and hates Sam in secret already. Maybe Dean can't even love him like a brother anymore.

Sam tells himself to stop acting like a six-year-old and to start being a sensible adult again, but it isn't easy with the memory of Dean's words in his head.

"I don't know when it happened. Maybe when I was in Hell, maybe when I was staring right at you, but the Sam I knew? He's gone."

Sam closes his eyes like he can hide from the pain that way.

It doesn't work.

There's no sound from Dean either, just silence.

Sam tries hard not to cry until he is finally claimed by sleep when the twenty-third car drives by.

--


"So ask, Dean Winchester."

"My brother's sins."

"Dean, no!" Anna interrupts.

Dean ignores her. "I want his sins. To bear my brother's cross or whatever."

"We cannot take his choices away from him," Uriel sneers, "and we cannot make the demon blood inside him disappear, Dean Winchester, so it is up to him to use his abominable powers or to stop."

"That's not what I'm asking for." It's strange. Dean has never been that calm before. He's staring straight into Castiel's blue eyes, even when he's replying to Uriel's words. "I'm not asking you to change him. I'm asking for the taint. You told us about what's happening, Uriel, whenever he uses his powers. The weakening of the balance. The rising darkness. The pain that is suffered by people we don't know because evil won't make their champion suffer the consequences of his actions but someone else. But their suffering still stains his soul. That's the part I want. Let me be this person."

"Dean." Anna's eyes are shining; tears are glittering in the corners. "Please, do not do this. Stop and do not ask for more."

Dean smiles, knowing that Anna has already understood what it is exactly he's asking for. Once she was a human girl, not everything is forgotten. Uriel, however, hasn't, Dean thinks, when Uriel speaks.

"Do you think you are doing any good by asking for it, Dean Winchester? Do you think this is the way to save your brother's soul and the world? Newsflash, Dean Winchester, it will not change anything. The brother of yours will not stop using his powers, the darkness will win inside him, and your brother's soul will be damned forever. Just like the world." Uriel's words are full of condescension and hate. For Dean, for Sam or for mankind, Dean doesn't know.

"I said I want to bear my brother's cross," Dean repeats softly, still looking at Castiel, willing him to understand. "If Sammy ever sinned in thought, word or deed, rest the guilt for his sins on my shoulders and let me carry it for him."

"So, his soul shall be purified, while yours shall be stained? He shall not go to Hell, you shall go there instead when time comes?" Castiel clarifies.

Hell. He had been there once. And after he had been pulled out, he had believed he would never ask to go there again, for nothing in the world. Not for real at least, because he remembers. He remembers everything. The torture he's suffered and the torture he's made others suffer. The pain, the angst, the darkness, the loneliness, the cold, the despair, the self-loathe, ...

His heart clenches in fear. He doesn't want to go to Hell again.

But here he is, standing in front of three angels, who are waiting for him to take his words back, to back down and to accept his mission, because they know how much he fears Hell. And while Dean would be ready to beg and to bow to everyone and everything if it meant he would never be sent back to Hell, there's one thing that's more important than staying away from Hell. One thing he can never give up.

His pride? No, Dean doesn't think pride is anything important.

His morals? No, Dean isn't even sure that he has any, at least not the same as the rest of the world because of the forbidden way he loves his brother too much.

His feelings? No, Dean has never believed his feelings are something that needs to be spared by anyone or anything. If you fight against monsters, you learn pretty fast that they don't fight fair, that they use everything against you.

But asking him to stop believing in his brother, that's not in his cards. Asking him to fight against Sam is nothing anyone should ever do. Asking him to condemn Sammy to an eternity in Hell –
No! Not in a million years! Never!

And really, that's what the angels want, no matter what exactly his mission is. In the end they would ask him to turn against his brother in one way or the other and to let Sam go to Hell, Dean knows it, and that's something Dean simply can't do.

"Yes." Dean's lips are dry, his voice is rough, and he has to clear his throat.

Uriel snorts, disgust is written all over his face. He steps forward, placing himself to Castiel's left, watching Dean with undisguised loathing.

"You made a deal with Hell, Dean Winchester."

"I did." There is no point in denial.

"And now you are trying to make a deal with Heaven?"

"I do."

Uriel snorts again. "Stupid, Dean Winchester, so stupid. What is it you hope to gain? Eternal pain? - No, I remember! You enjoyed being down there." His voice sounds gleeful now.

Dean's lips curl into a cold, little smile, which is almost painful to look at. But he doesn't let himself be distracted. "You offered me a choice. I agreed to make a decision. That's what I'm asking for."

"But if you go to Hell instead of Sam, you will not be with him either, Dean. He is human. If his soul is purified thanks to you, he will not go to Hell and you will not ever see him again, do you understand?" Anna hits Dean's weak point easily. "Is that what you want, Dean? Really? Dean! This is insane," she's almost shouting now, "and it will not help anyone! It will not save the world! Are you that selfish, Dean, are you?"

"Yes." He is, even if the thought of being separated from Sammy for all eternity makes him more afraid than the memory of Hell.

"Castiel, talk to him! Perhaps he will listen to you." Anna turns towards the angel to her left.

"She is right. If you accept your mission, you can save people, maybe even the world. If you do not – and let us face it, that is what you are doing right now, Dean Winchester – you will not save anyone. You will not even help anyone," Castiel states as the matter of fact that it probably is.

"I'll save Sammy."

"Not his life, you will not, because you do know that we will have to take care of him. If you do not stop him, we will," Uriel is seemingly happy to tell Dean.

Dean closes his eyes and allows himself to fear for Sam one last time. He wishes he could do anything to keep him safe, to give Sammy the life he always wished for, to make sure Sammy is happy. But that's impossible for Dean, so he'll have to settle and do the only thing he can. He swallows.

"I might not be able to save my brother's life, but I can still save his soul."

"What you are doing is not selfless, if this is what you believe, Dean Winchester, and no one will ever thank you. No one will ever know. And your brother's arrogance will be unbroken, because you sugar-coated him once more and did not let him feel the consequences of his own actions." Castiel waits for an answer patiently, but Dean stays silent. "And this time, there will be no one who pulls you out of Hell, giving you a second chance. No forgiveness. You will stay in Hell forever and atone for your sins. Yours and the sins of your brother, too."

"Okay," Dean says. He's pale, but looking straight at the angels in front of him, his gaze never wavering.

"You do not know what you are doing." Uriel's voice is hard and unforgiving. "There is no going back from it. You say 'yes', it is done. Game over for you and it will not chan-"

"Hello, Samuel."

Sam turns around, suddenly himself again and not Dean any longer, even if he hasn't known that he isn't Dean, as long as he was Dean. It's a dream, he knows now, and he has dreamt to be Dean and to -

"Not a dream, Samuel, even if you are dreaming right now."

He looks around, but he can't find the owner of the voice. He can't find anything, because he isn't any longer in the room Dean was in when the angels came to him. Everything has faded and is white now, and there's nothing above his head and nothing under his feet. Just white.

Sam feels nauseous and more afraid of the unknown than he has been for a long time.

"Do not worry about it, Samuel. Do not focus on your surroundings and you will not even notice it."

"Where am I?"

"Nowhere. Somewhere. Everywhere."

"That's not an answer!" Anger rises in him.

"But the truth."

"Who are you? Where are you?"

"Not a friend, but not an enemy, either, Samuel. And I am here with you, but do not strain yourself. You are not able to see me."

"Why not? What are you?" Maybe it's a monster. Or a demon trying to trick him.

"I am not a monster, Samuel. I am not a demon."

The owner of the voice can read his thoughts, Sam realizes and feels a sudden rush of fear. He isn't used to being the one who has fewer powers anymore, isn't used to something that he can't fight or defeat. And he knows that he can't do anything against this thing as long as he doesn't know what it is, where it is. Maybe he couldn't do anything against it even if he knew.

Sam inhales, trying to calm down. "Okay. Why am I here?"

"To understand."

"To understand what?"

"That is the wrong question, Samuel."

He can't even detect where the voice comes from. It's to his left, to his right, in front of him and behind him. It surrounds him and is inside him. He feels uncomfortable and self-conscious.

"What do you want?"

"I want you to see."

"Okay, fine, forget it. If you won't tell me anything, send me back!"

Silence. Seemingly it was the wrong thing to say. Sam tries to keep his anger at bay and closes his eyes. He forces himself to calm down and focus. Why is he here? What is he supposed to understand? What does he have to see?

It's not the owner of the voice. Whatever it is he's talking to, it doesn't seem to think of itself as important. Therefore it isn't important to Sam, either, at the moment. There has to be something else. But what is it? What was it that the thing said?

And then he remembers.

"Was it real? Did it happen? Did Dean -" His voice breaks.

"It is real, Samuel, even if it has not happened yet. But it will."

Sam turns around. It's stupid and unnecessary, but he tells himself that maybe he's looking at the thing now.

In fact, he isn't.

"When? Why?"

"The time will come that the angels will need him to accept his mission."

"What's his mission?"

Silence.

"Do you know my brother's mission?" His voice is sharper now.

Silence.

"Why did you show me all of it?" Sam asks after a while.

"Because
you are the reason, Samuel."

Sam opens his mouth and shuts it again. If he doesn't want to waste his time with this thing, he needs to choose his questions more carefully. It won't answer just everything, and he can't force it to. The thing wants him to understand something. If he finds out what it is, he can pretend to agree. Most likely it'll send him back, and then he can work out how to kill it.

"You will not be able to lie to me, Samuel, and it will not be necessary anyway. I want you to see, but what you do with what you learn is up to you. Your choice. Just like your brother has a choice."

Sam flinches, because now he remembers everything clearly. The dreams he had fit together like a puzzle, and the picture he gets isn't a comfortable one. It's rather ugly and painful to look at.

"He chose Hell," Sam says slowly.

"He did."

"Instead of even asking what his fucking mission is, the fucker chose fucking Hell!" The anger boiling inside him is getting hotter. He can't believe that Dean would ask to be sent back to Hell. That he would not even try to get out of it. That he would make another deal. A deal with Hell, Uriel had said, and now a deal with Heaven.

"Remember the reason, Samuel."

For no reason. Only because -

Sam's thinking process comes to a sudden stop.

Because of him. Sam. Dean's brother.

Dean was going to Hell because of him again?

"You have to be kidding me! I'll kill him myself, before he makes the deal!"

But that's not the point, and Sam knows it. He can't lie to himself, not here, not now. Yes, Dean made a deal in this dream or vision or whatever it was, but even Heaven called him on it. Dean wasn't doing it because he was selfless, but because he was selfish. He was doing it because he wanted one thing more than he cared about the angels or the safety of the world or anything else. He was doing it because ...

Because ...

"He wants to save my soul?" Sam asks with uncertainty. "He damns his soul to save mine? Is that possible?" It shouldn't be possible, Sam thinks. Suddenly he feels small and alone.

"Love is a strange thing, Samuel, but powerful, too. Your brother is not the Messiah, he is not the Savior; he is just a man. And he will have to choose one day to fulfill his mission or not."

"He'll choose me." Sam knows it. He knew it even before he was shown, even before he was Dean, if he's honest with himself.

"He will have to make a sacrifice, Samuel."

"I don't allow it. He can't take away my sins, he can't!"

"The brother of yours is what he is, just like you are. He is not you, Samuel, and you are not him. He has options, just like you, but they are different from yours. He was gripped by Castiel and raised from perdition. You were given demon blood by Azazel. The angels were ordered to obey him. You were given psychic powers to control demons. He was told that God has a mission for him. Azazel made plans for you. But he has free will, just like you have. And therefore it is his decision to agree to his mission or to decline."

"Okay, fine. But he can't ask them to ... to ..."

"He went to Hell for you once. Hell made a deal with him when he asked. He can go to Hell again. Heaven can grant him his wish if it is requested out of love."

"I can follow him! I'll follow him! I have powers -"

"You will not be able to follow your brother to Hell, when Heaven allows him to bear your cross instead of you. Not if your soul is purified, Samuel."

"You don't understand! I'm powerful! More powerful than anyone else!" Sam tries to laugh, because that has to be true. Ruby has told him so many times.

"More powerful than any human being, that is likely true, yes. Maybe more powerful than demons, maybe even more powerful than an angel, all of that is possible. But you are not more powerful than the Lord. Pride, Samuel, is a sin."

Sam wants to yell, but he can't because he sees the truth in the thing's words, even if he doesn't like it.

"Pride?" His voice is nothing more than a whisper. "How can I stop it?"

Silence.

"Please," Sam is willing to beg, if he only gets an answer, if he can only save his brother, "please, tell me how to stop it! How to stop Dean! He can't do this! You need to understand! I'm doing this for him! I'm using the powers only to keep him safe! To fight against Lilith! I'm trying to save the world! I'm ... I'm not selfish! I promise! I'm not selfish! Listen to me! Answer me! I'm not evil! My powers aren't evil! They can't send Dean to Hell, because I'm not doing anything evil! I'm not! Therefore it wouldn't be fair to send him to Hell! Why would he go to Hell! I'm not a sinner! I didn't choose to get demon blood! I didn't choose to have powers! You can't let them send Dean to Hell! You can't! I'm not evil! I'm not -"



"Sam!"

"- doing anything evil ... I'm not evil ... Listen! I'm -"

"Sammy, wake up!"

"- not evil ... I promise ... I'm -"

"SAMMY!"

He shoots up, gasping and staring around, wild and panicked. Slowly he notices his surroundings. There isn't the endless white, he's back in the motel room, and Dean is sitting next to him on Sam's bed with his eyes wide open. Dean's left hand clings to Sam's arm and his right hand rests on his neck. And Dean's eyes -

His eyes are unguarded, displaying so many feelings so fast that Sam can't even detach them all when the spotlights of a car passing by lighten the room. He isn't used to see them anymore. A handful of days with Dean only looking at him when his face is mostly void of emotion, and now Sam wants to drown in Dean's eyes because there's worry and concern and fear and pain and love. So much love that Sam can't believe that it would be possible to hide it, but it has to be because Dean has managed it.

But then the room is dark again, and Sam remembers the last days – the last night – and the way he was always full of doubts, anger and hate himself, so maybe it wasn't that difficult for Dean to hide, because Sam hadn't looked. Or he hadn't looked carefully enough.

Sam doesn't know it and he doesn't care, because this is his brother right in front of him, and there's no doubt whether or not Dean hates him. He should have never doubted Dean at all.

"Dean." It's almost a sob. His own voice sounds choked and broken to Sam. "Dean."

And then he clings to his brother, both arms around Dean, fisting his hands in the fabric of Dean's shirt, pressing his face to Dean's neck, and he breathes Dean in. Dean is warm and alive, and Sam can feel Dean's heart beating too fast through both of their shirts – or maybe it's his own, it's hard to tell.

Dean is slow to hug Sam back. His touches are careful and hesitant, and he's clearly unsure, but he doesn't shove Sam away and that's what counts, because Sam is pretty sure he couldn't take it right now, if Dean did.

"Sam. Sammy. It's okay," Dean says softly, tangling one hand in Sam's hair, stroking it, and holding Sam close to him. "It's okay, Sammy. It was just a nightmare."

Sam shudders, presses his eyes tightly together and shoves away the last remnants of his dream. He can't and doesn't want to think about it right now or he will go crazy, he's sure of it. So he lies to himself that he doesn't remember a thing and focuses on Dean's soothing voice and warmth.

It seems like they're sitting like this forever, holding on to each other, but when Sam calms down and Dean starts to pull back, it's still too soon for Sam. He closes his fingers around Dean's arm.

"Don't." It's a mere whisper, the voice of a frightened child in the dark.

"Sammy, we should go to sleep. Tomorrow -" Dean starts, but Sam tightens his fingers a little.

"Stay?" he asks quietly, thankful for the darkness that hides his embarrassed flush from Dean. "Please, Dean. I ... Just stay."

He can't see Dean's expression clearly, but his brother seems to be anguished. Then, suddenly, Dean comes to a decision. Without another word he shoves Sam back onto his back and lies down beside him with Sam willingly shifting closer to the edge to give Dean space. The bed is too small for two grown men, but they manage to deal without any real touching aside from Sam's hand that is still curled around Dean's wrist.

"Thanks," he says, turning his head towards Dean.

"Go to sleep, Sammy," is everything Dean says, and the way he's holding himself seems to indicate that he's trying not to take too much space. It can't be comfortable, but he doesn't complain.

Sam smiles a little and closes his eyes. When he falls asleep, his fingers are still wrapped around Dean's wrist.


--


He wakes up with the heavy weight of Dean's right arm slung over him and with Dean's steady breath in his hair. At some time in the night Sam must have curled his huge body into a ball and shifted closer towards Dean like he had done when they had been kids, sleeping in the same bed, because they're facing each other now, turned on their sides. Or rather, Sam is facing Dean's chest and Dean's face is buried into Sam's hair. It should be uncomfortable or strange, but it isn't. Dean is actually sleeping for once, and Sam feels more rested and content than he has been in a long time. In fact, thinking about it, he can't remember the last time he felt at peace. Certainly not since the hellhounds killed Dean and left Sam in shattered pieces behind.

Sam breathes the smell of his sleeping brother in deeply, before he uncurls his hands from Dean's shirt and slides out of the bed, careful not to wake Dean up. Dean deserves the rest, he needs it even, Sam knows. And even if Sam would like to stay in bed with Dean as long as possible – the rest of their life seems like a good idea to Sam – and ignore the world, Sam doesn't want Dean to feel uncomfortable, when he awakens. And surely, waking up with his little brother in his arms would freak Dean out, and certainly it would be a bad start for the day.

Hence Sam slides out of bed and moves to the bathroom. When he turns back towards his brother, Dean has shifted to Sam's former spot and onto his stomach, and his right arm is twitching and moving ever so slightly like he's searching for something missing.

Sam tells himself not to read anything into his sleeping brother's behavior and takes a shower. When he jerks off this morning, he tries hard to keep his mind blank and not to think about anything.

It doesn't really work.

It seldom does anyway.


--


When Sam comes back with breakfast, Dean is in the shower. He hadn't been sleeping anymore when Sam was done showering, but he had pretended to, and Sam had played along and left after writing a note. It hasn't taken him more than a few minutes to go to the diner down the street, order and come back, so Sam hopes that Dean won't think he has met Ruby. Sam really doesn't want to fight with Dean anymore or even lie to him the whole time, that much he's sure of by now.

Dean comes out of the bathroom fully clothed and with damp hair, and he flushes a little when their eyes meet.

"Coffee," he grunts, grabbing the paper cup, and, "Thanks."

Then he's busy with his breakfast, and even if the atmosphere is a bit strange between them, it's not entirely uncomfortable, and Sam counts that as a win.

"Are we going to the St. John's Chapel?" Dean asks when he's finishing his coffee.

"Yeah," Sam agrees. It seems like they're not going to talk about last night or the morning. Sam can live with that.


--


The chapel is new, which surprises Sam even if it probably shouldn't, because he hasn't really spared a thought on it before at all. But somehow Sam has expected the building to be old, heavy and maybe a little spooky anyway, instead of this little thing with tiny windows. The architect doesn't seem to have put a lot of work into it. The St. John's Chapel can't compete with the building of Pastor Jim's impressive church and certainly not with the old church, where they found Anna.

Dean snorts, his hands still on the wheel.

"Maybe inside it's cozy," Sam offers half-heartedly.

"You think?" Dean drawls, eyebrows lifted.

They look at each other.

"No."


--


They're right. The inside is not impressive either. It's dark because of the little windows, the cross behind the altar seems too big and heavy, and the paintings and statues of Saints and Apostles are rather clumsy and ugly.

The atmosphere, however, is heavy and solemn, and when Sam looks at Dean, he can see him shifting uncomfortably from one foot to the other, rubbing the back of his neck with his hand. Dean looks out of place in here, which is exactly how Sam is feeling. Sam really wants to get the information they're hoping to find and to get away.

"Can I help you?"

They really must have given some impression, Sam thinks, when he turns towards the nun, who has approached them. He smiles awkwardly at the old woman, who kind of fits in this church because she's really tiny. Sam feels like a giant next to her and Dean's facial expression agrees with him.

"Uhm ... Yes, I hope so." Sam gives her his best 'I'm a nice guy and totally don't have demon blood inside me, so you can trust me, promise'-smile. "We were looking for some information about the church, for people who have been married and such stuff."

Under the scrutinizing gaze of the nun Sam hardly gets the words out and he's strangely glad that he didn't have to lie, because he's not sure if he could have lied to her.

The nun tilts her chin up to him. "Why would you do that, young man?"

"We're private investigators." Dean doesn't seem to have any trouble with lying. "I'm Russ Williams and that's Christo ... – I beg your pardon, his name is Christian O'Connell." Dean rolls his eyes in self-mockery, but his fake mistake has already revealed that she's at least no demon because she hasn't flinched.

Sam makes a face at Dean, partly because of his brother's clumsy attempt at being subtle and smooth, and partly because it's right to be pissed at your partner, if he doesn't get your name right. Why Dean felt the need to make sure that the nun isn't a demon though, Sam doesn't know.

Dean smirks and the nun just looks at them with reserved interest, her expression now a polite mask. She doesn't appear as openly friendly anymore to Sam.

"There were a few murders in the last weeks and the women, who had been killed, hadn't been married that long. So we wanted to talk to the priests that married them, in case that they had noticed anything off in the behavior of the husbands," Dean carries on. "Anyone is a suspect right now."

"Of course." The nun motions them to follow her into the back room. "But don't you think that they wouldn't have been married, if not both men and women had seemed ready to take that step?"

Sam feels even more uncomfortable, because she's right and their story is bullshit. They've already abandoned the idea that the husbands could have done it, and Sam had hoped that they could have taken a look around without being noticed first, before they moved on to the interrogations. But it's too late to change their cover story now.

"Sometimes people only notice things after they've thought about them," he says carefully.

Meanwhile, the nun is searching through a cupboard full of notebooks and files, and Sam uses the time to look at his surroundings. The room is tiny – no surprise here – and mostly neat. A desk is standing in front of the window with a chair next to it, and papers and a few pens are covering its surface.

"If you do the work of God, you have to look into the hearts of people and trust what they tell you. A marriage is holy and binding, if it's closed with God's blessing," the nun says with a pinched face, "so it's a big responsibility for a priest when he calls a couple husband and wife. Priests don't just bless anyone."

"Yeah, right," Dean waves the words away, stepping towards the window, "and what about all those fu-" Dean snaps his mouth shut, when Sam coughs and glares at him, but not for long. "There are dozens of people, who are cheating on their spouses, and many of them are married. There are guys that beat their wives and children. And yes, murder happens in families, too. Sure that your priests know what they do? Sure they listen to Him?" He points to the ceiling, and Sam wants to die in embarrassment.

"Dean," he hisses a warning under his breath. Even if Sam himself is struggling with his faith since he's met angels, he doesn't want to believe that Dean would talk like this to a nun. Only that he knows it better because it's Dean.

Dean just shrugs his shoulders and looks mostly innocent.

The nun turns around though, and disapproval is written all over her face. Sam smiles, but it's too late for that already.

"There are always black sheep among mankind, young man. Not everyone can be blessed with faith or grace. You're someone who doesn't understand that, but with your philosophy of life I shouldn't be surprised at all," she snaps and the walls behind her eyes drop, and Sam can read disgust and disdain in her expression. "Sinners like you two shouldn't have been allowed to walk on holy ground anyway."

Sam's eyes widen, and Dean's body stiffens. "What?" they ask at the same time, both horrified and agitated by those words.

"It's forbidden for men to lie with men," she spits out, "to sin and stain body and soul by doing so."

Sam doesn't know whether to laugh or to scream when he gets what the nun is exactly saying.

"Hey, lady," Dean barks, frowning, and Sam knows he has figured it out, too. But Dean doesn't get the time to say anything else, to explain to her that they are not lovers.

"Be quiet and don't even try to deny it. I'm not blind, young man, not at all. It's written all over your face. Your impure thoughts, when you look at each other. Your sinful desires, when you talk. Your sick want," she breathes, her eyes filled with revulsion, and even though she isn't shouting, neither Dean nor Sam are able to interrupt her, both frozen to their spots. "You're damned for what you're doing and thinking, and if you don't repent your sins and step away from the ungodly path you are on, you'll go straight to Hell."

She steps forward and throws two files on the desk.

"I'm giving you those for the reason that I care about the world and I want that justice is done to a person, who kills someone, just like Cain had to face his sins after he murdered his brother Abel. I'm not standing in the way of justice. But that doesn't change anything." She glares at them, now almost with pity, which freaks Sam even more out than anything else. "It doesn't change the wrongness of what you are and what you're doing. Repent or burn in Hell for all eternity."

She turns to leave, but stops in the threshold. Sam and Dean are still staring at her.

"No desire ... no man is worth it to go to Hell for him."

And then she's gone.

Sam swallows and casts a look at his brother. Their gazes meet, and then both avert their eyes. Sam isn't sure if the right reaction is to curse that even a nun thinks they are screwing each other, or to laugh it all off. But the nun's prophecy of where they're headed – and to Sam it doesn't matter that they don't have sex with each other or that he wouldn't be opposed to it – has hit a bit too close to home. Going to Hell isn't just a phrase to them anymore; they both have reasons to fear it. Dean because he has been there and knows what it is really like, and Sam because an angel told him that his soul is black and tainted.

Dean reaches out and takes a file. "It's a list of everyone, who has been to church for any reason, dude. The couples, who've been married, are written down here with the dates of their marriages and the names of their priests among everything else," he says looking down at it.

"Oh. Good. Sounds useful." Sam sits down on the chair and takes the other file.


--


It's not too much work, because the lists aren't long. The St. John's Chapel exists less than two years and only two priests take turns in reading messes, marrying people, baptizing children and burying those who die. Mostly it's Colin Marten when it comes to christenings and burials, but there's also Don Raynold, who seems to take care of most of the marriages.

"Got them," Sam says finally.

Dean looks at him and stands up. He has been sitting on the floor, reading his file. Now he crosses the space between them to look at Sam's file. Sam points with his fingers at some names.

"Tom Jaffords marries Margot Hosacks. Above them, Robert Deveraux and Susan Dorian. Then Anthony Evens is married to Amy Walker. And here, see. The next marriage is between Leonard Dean and Eliza Holmes."

"Wait," Dean interrupts. "What about the couples mentioned between them?" He points at the names of some women. "Why not Therese Berghammer or Marguerita Munoz? Why were they spared?"

Sam tilts his head to look at his brother. "I guess it's the priest. Father Marten married each woman to her husband. None of the four was married by Father Raynold."

"Or -" Dean frowns. "-it has something to do with their pregnancies, like you said yesterday."

Sam shrugs, but he doesn't think so anymore.

"So, what shall we do? Ask where he is?"

Sam wants to nod, but then his eyes skip to the next couple that has been married by Father Marten. His heart stutters.

"Dean!" Without thinking he grabs his brother's wrist and moves his hand down. "Look!"

Tensing slightly Dean obeys, and Sam can hear and feel his sharp intake of breath.

"Jordan Miller married to Sarah Blake," he reads out loud.


--


Sam is out of the church and on his phone a moment later, impatiently waiting for Sarah to take his call. He paces a few steps, ends the ringing, glares at the phone and makes another call.

It's a sunny day and it's pretty silent in front of the church. Not many cars pass by.

She doesn't answer.

Sam swears under his breath, feeling the urge to smash the phone, because it isn't helping. He has to talk to Sarah. He has to tell her that she needs to stay with her husband or her family or her friends or anyone she knows who isn't Father Marten. Maybe he doesn't have to worry, maybe Father Martenisn't planning his next kill right now, maybe he and Dean will find him before anything happens.

But maybe not. Maybe Father Marten is right now on his way to Sarah Miller to cut her heart out.

Panic surges through Sam. Yesterday he's seen her. Yesterday they've talked. Yesterday she has told him that she believed in him.

Damn it, I can't let her die! Sam screams in his head.

A hand falls on his shoulder and grips him tight. "Sammy." Dean turns him around. "Look at me, dude."

"We can't let her die, Dean." Sam grabs both of Dean's shoulders hard. "We have to save her." He can see his knuckles getting white. His grip has to hurt Dean. Maybe it will leave marks.

Dean doesn't seem to care about his skin. His hand moves to the back of Sam's neck, and he holds eye-contact with Sam.

"We will, Sam, okay? But you have to calm down. First, we find out where he is, and then we take care of him if he's the killer."

"But how are we supposed to find him?" Sam ignores Dean's suggestion that they still can't be sure whether Colin Marten has really committed the murders or not. "He could be -"

"We ask the nun." Matter of fact. No emotions are behind Dean's words.

"Yeah, because she'll tell us anything," Sam snaps.

"She will." Dean's voice is hard and not amused. His palm is flat against Sam's neck, his thumb makes a short stroking movement, and then he takes his hand away. "Let's talk to her. Or you can try and call Sarah again while I do the talking. Just stay calm, dude, and don't freak out."

Sam's neck feels cold.

"I'm not freaking out," Sam calls after him, but Dean just waves him off and vanishes inside the church. Sam stares at the door, and then he calls Sarah again.


--


Sam lets his hand drop, when Dean joins him again. His brother's face is serious and concerned, and Sam knows immediately that nothing is well.

"What is it, Dean?"

"Father Marten was invited to a charity auction sale today."

Sam can't see the problem. "Where?" He wants to go after him.

Dean swallows. "Not where, by whom, Sam. Mr. Blake invited him."

Sarah's father. Sam stiffens. "I remember where they lived three years ago, Dean. Let's go." He turns to the car, but Dean grabs his arm. "What?"

"You go," Dean says, dropping the car keys in Sam's hand.

"What?" Sam repeats. "Why?"

"The nun said that Father Raynold would come to the church soon. We've to make sure that he isn't the killer, tricking everyone. I stay, you go. Keep calling Sarah. Tell her that she should -"

"- stay with a few people she knows until I'm with her, I know, Dean." Sam isn't happy that they are splitting up again, but he understands Dean's reasoning. They're hunting now, not investigating, and they do whatever they have to do.

Dean nods. He's biting his lip, looking as upset with the decision as Sam feels.

Sam's fingers curl around the hard keys, and he pulls his arm away from Dean, before he starts walking towards the car. He's several steps away, when Dean calls after him, "And don't do anything stupid!"

Sam rolls his eyes and ignores him in favor of slamming the door of the Impala closed behind him. When he drives away, he sees Dean in the rear-view mirror turning and walking back towards the church door.

Sam feels anxious.

He really doesn't like to split.


--


Sam hasn't driven far or long when he finds himself already in a traffic jam. While he holds his phone to his ear, he wonders if he rather should have walked. Most likely he would be faster, if he left the car somewhere and did it.

He presses his lips tightly together and honks.

When he stops calling Sarah for a moment to grip the wheel with both hands, his cell phone rings. Without looking at the display because he expects the caller to be Sarah, Sam takes the call and feels a rush of relief.

"Sarah!"

Silence is on the other side of the line, then he hears a huff. "No. Ruby."

Sam makes a face due to Ruby's pissed voice, and he honestly couldn't care less about whether or not he hurt Ruby's precious feelings. He has other things on his mind. Dean, who is back at the church. Sarah, who might be getting killed right now. He really doesn't have the time for Ruby.

"Listen, Ruby, not now. I -"

"Listen, Sam," Ruby interrupts him bluntly, "exactly now. You want to know, where Alastair is? Right now at the moment? I can tell you, if you ask."

Sam stares hard at the car in front of him. Sarah is in danger. Father Marten could take her outside right now to cut her heart out. Dean trusts him to save her. Sam really should concentrate on the case.

"Where is he?" But his obsession with Lilith and Alastair overwhelms him once more.

And a second later, when his heart stutters and stops, when his hands go cold and his knuckles turn white, and when he forgets how to breathe, he's glad that he has asked.

"At the St. John's Chapel -"

Ruby goes on talking but Sam doesn't listen to her anymore. He doesn't see the road anymore either. He only hears his own heartbeat. He only thinks one word.

Dean.

Sam knows what he should do. He should trust Dean not to get into trouble, or he should call Dean and tell him to get away immediately, to come to him because he, Sam, is in trouble. He should just tell Dean anything to get him away from Alastair and to save Sarah from Father Marten at the same time. Because Colin Marten might think about cutting Sarah's heart out right at that moment.

Ruby is still babbling something. It sounds far away.

But Sam doesn't care. Not about Ruby. Not about Sarah. Not about any of Father Marten's victims.

When everything comes down to it, Sam only cares about Dean.

He ends the call without another word, stops the car in the next parking lot – Dean is lucky that there is one, because Sam would have left the Impala on the road without looking back, if not – and starts running.


--


It takes Sam nine minutes and thirty-seven seconds until he catches sight of the church again. It's still tiny and small, and the day is still sunny and bright, but Sam can only see the closed door and no Dean outside. If he listened, he would hear the sound of cars in the distance, but he doesn't because his blood is rushing too loud through his veins and his feet are pounding too hard on the street.

Sam knows that he needs a plan, that he can't just slam the door open and trust everything to go the way he wants, that is for Alastair to die painfully and for Dean to be sound and safe and not having been harmed physically or emotionally by the demon in the time Sam hadn't been there. That's simply not how life works, or at least not the way the life of a Winchester works. Sam knows it, but his brain is stuck on, DeanDeanNoDeanDeanDeanDeanDeanIWon'tLetItHappenDeanNoOneWillTakeYouAwayDeanNoOneWillHurtYouDeanNoOneDeanDeanPleasePleaseBeOkayDean... It doesn't work the way it's supposed to be. All his coldness and perfection have fallen away from him, and he can't bring himself to do anything but to keep running.

When he's close, he entertains the thought of breaking and entering through a window, but the idea is immediately abandoned again when he takes a closer look at the size of the windows. There's just no way that someone like Sam could manage to squeeze himself through it and certainly not fast. So he doesn't even have any options, for there is the door and nothing else.

The smart way to do this would be to try and sneak inside, maybe drawing a few Devil's Traps in advance, and then to lure Alastair out and into one of them. Sam's success-rate is pretty high at the moment.

It would just take a little bit more time, but it would be the smart way, and Sam is a bright guy.

It's just that Dean is most likely inside with Alastair.

Sam kicks the door open.

He can change the 'most likely' to 'actually' because the first thing to see is Dean.

"SAMMY, NO!"

Then Sam is already inside the church.

And finds himself hanging in the air with a rope around his neck.

Well, damn.


--


Later, when Sam has had time to think about everything, he will know that Alastair had expected him to show up at some point – maybe not as soon as he did, but expecting Sam Alastair did – and therefore he had installed a trap for Sam. And since Sam's immunity against some of the demonic powers is common knowledge around the demons by now, Alastair had set up the simplest trap ever, a trap that could have been made by anyone. Just a rope, catching someone Sam's height around the neck when he steps over the threshold, which is pulled up, so that the prey finds itself dangling in the air with its feet just a little bit above the floor.

Now insert Sam for prey and you have Sam's current situation.

Sam sure isn't happy with it. Not at all.

But he's alive, even if he doesn't know whether he's supposed to thank his father's training that gave him his reflexes and made his hands grab the rope instinctively in time, so he isn't strangled yet, or Alastair, because Sam is pretty sure that the trap would have been more deadly if Alastair actually wanted him dead in any case. The perfection of the trap tells him that Alastair has known exactly what he was doing.

So, Sam is alive. But he can't do anything, because he needs his strength to keep himself alive and breathing, and he can't try and reach inside himself and use his special powers because of his little breathing problem, but also because he's in no position to do so without attracting Alastair's attention.

Everything is made worse by the fact that Alastair is standing in front of him, gloating and smirking, before he turns away from him.

Alastair, Sam notices, has a new meatsuit, but it's pretty similar to his last one. Again it's an elderly man, but this time he's clothed like a priest, so Sam can guess that Alastair is wearing Colin Marten's body. The demon hasn't said anything to him, just his eyes have flashed white, but Sam hasn't needed that to recognize him. In a weird way everything about him screams Alastair, and Sam just knows that he's neither Lilith nor any other demon with white eyes.

Alastair steps away from him towards the curtain.

That's the next thing that Sam will only figure out a little later. When he found himself swinging in the air, he saw the curtain that hadn't been there before and that hides the bigger part of the church, including Dean, from his view. He doesn't know when it appeared exactly, whether it was before he was caught in the trap or afterwards, but he understands that Alastair has planned that part, too.

The demon vanishes behind the curtain, without allowing Sam to see anything on the other side.

Sam has the desire to kill Alastair - it burns inside him.

"Well, well, well. Now, let the show begin." Sam doesn't know the voice, but it sounds like it may belong to Father Marten's body. "How are we, Dean? Everything still fine?"

It sounds like something is ripped off.

"You son of a bitch, what did you do to my brother?" shouts Dean. "Sammy?"

Sam wants to answer really badly, because it's impossible for him not to hear worry and panic in Dean's voice, but he only manages a choked gasp.

"Don't worry, Dean. I'm keeping him alive for a little while. I think we do need him. But not now, a little later maybe? When I'm bored, he can take over, yes? Yes."

Sam has no idea, what Alastair is talking about, but it can't be good, and he wonders whether it would be better for Dean, if Sam were dead already, or not.

"Don't you fucking dare to touch my brother!"

"Language, Dean."

There's the sound of a slap, but Dean doesn't make a sound, so Sam hopes that it hasn't hurt too much. However, the slap makes Sam focus on his situation again and he forces himself to calm down. He has to get free.

"You were doing so great, and then you simply left. That wasn't nice of you, Dean. Really not. Remember, we had a deal."

Sam's head snaps up, a movement that hurts really badly, but he can't help himself. Another deal? That can't be true, can it?

"Oh fuck, how could I forget? I'm really, really sorry, let me buy you a beer." Dean's voice is heavy with sarcasm.

"Our deal, Dean -"

Sam strains his ears when Alastair pauses.

"We really don't need to discuss this now, right?" Dean sounds a bit nervous.

"Why not? I'm sure you told little Sammy everything about it, didn't you?"

Silence. It weighs heavy on Sam, because he starts to think that Dean has forgotten to mention something, when he told him about Hell ("You're too busy sitting around feeling sorry for yourself."), he wonders whether Dean was ever going to tell him about it ("Whining about all the souls you tortured in Hell. Boo-hoo."), and he's pretty sure that he cannot blame Dean for not saying anything most likely.

Sam really hates Alastair.

"You promised me to torture them all until I would tell you to stop, didn't you, Dean?" Alastair smiles, Sam can hear it in his voice. "Because you didn't want to get tortured anymore."

Sam knows that part, understands it even. Everyone has a breaking point. Being tortured for thirty years non-stop, until one breaks, is longer than Sam can imagine to stay strong.

"Mommy and Daddy and Uncle Bobby and Pastor Jim and cute, little Cassie. Caleb and Jo and Ellen and Ash and -"

"Yes, I remember, okay?" Dean interrupts, but his voice is void of his previous cockiness.

"They hurt you. I allowed you to hurt them back."

What?

Sam's eyes widen.

"To twist the knife in them like they did to you."

Sam feels like he's frozen. He doesn't even notice his own problems, shocked as he is. Could it be that Dean really had so much anger and hate inside him that he wished to torture ...

NO! Sam tells himself. Alastair is lying. I know my brother.

"And you agreed, Dean. No one forced you to make this decision."

Dean snorts, but it sounds choked.

"Anything you want to share with the class, Dean?"

"You said ..." Dean falls silent.

"Oh, Dean, you have to understand that Sammy wanted to have fun with you, too."

"Stop it."

"Hush, Dean. Close your eyes and remember."

Sam's skin crawls when there's just silence, except for some sounds that don't tell Sam anything about what's going on with Dean and Alastair.

And then ...

"Dean."

Sam blinks. It's his voice, but he hasn't said anything because he's still strangled by the rope. But how could he ...

"I have waited a long time for this."

His voice sounds cold, emotionless. Almost like it did when he was under the siren's spell.

"You've no idea how much I wanted to skin you alive -"

"You aren't Sam." It's Dean's voice that frees Sam out of his stunned stupor, because Dean sounds so sure. "Don't even try it, Alastair, I don't have to see you to know -" Dean screams suddenly in pain.

"That's right, Dean. You don't want to see the truth, that I took the chance, when Alastair offered it to me. You don't want to accept how much I hate you. How much I resent you. Tell me, Dean, how many times do I have to leave you behind until you understand that I don't want you to follow me?"

And all of a sudden, Sam understands. Alastair can somehow copy his voice and most likely he has blindfolded his brother, to make Dean believe that it's the real Sam who is talking to him. And that's the reason for the curtain, too, because he didn't want Dean to see earlier in what kind of situation Sam is.

Sam lets his right hand slip out from under the rope, which immediately tightens around his neck. He really can't breathe anymore now and his vision starts to go black around the edges.

"That one before, Dean? That was for Jess. The next is for Ruby. Always taking me away from the girls I love, just because you are jealous. Pathetic."

Dean gives a strangled cry. Then, "You are not Sam."

Sam finds his short knife in his back pocket. His fingers are trembling. He really needs oxygen.

"You know the words, Dean, just make the deal and I'll make Sammy stop. But please, don't hurry with it and take your time; I want Sammy to have fun, too," Alastair says with his own voice, before he goes on with Sam's, "He deserves it for getting in my way, for slowing me down. I want to use my powers, you know that, Dean? I don't care, if they send me to Hell, I -"

Dean screams the moment Sam drops to the floor. He has experienced pain when he cut through the rope, because he also cut into his neck, but he doesn't care about it. He can feel blood dripping down and onto his shirt, but he can also breathe now, and Sam concentrates on it for a moment, before he hears his own voice - Alastair - saying, "- I'm the prince of Hell -"

Sam gets up. Breathing hurts, his neck hurts, and he can't stand straight, but he stumbles forward and towards the curtain.

"You're nothing, Alastair," he rasps, ripping the curtain down. It takes more strength than it should, but the adrenalin rush comes in the next second when he sees them.

Dean is pinned to the wall next to the altar, and his shirt is cut to pieces and blood-soaked. His eyes are hidden behind a piece of fabric, and Alastair is standing in front of him with a knife in his hand. Marginally Sam notices the old nun lying on the floor across the room.

"Sammy?" Dean questions.

Sam's hand is already in the air and he's focusing on his powers.

"Look what Sammy's doing, Dean," Alastair smirks, ripping the cloth from Dean's face.

Sam can feel the powers inside him growing, can feel them flowing through him, can feel them getting stronger and stronger.

Alastair is just standing there, watching. Waiting.

Dean blinks.

Sam feels his powers, he feels powerful and right.

Dean looks up.

Sam concentrates on Alastair, can't wait to see him going down and to let him pay for everything he has done to Dean.

The eyes of the brothers meet. Dean smiles in relief. Sam feels light again.

Then Dean sees Sam's hand in the air, directed at Alastair.

Dean's expression shifts from relief to something else, and for a second Sam expects to see horror or disgust on his brother's face. But instead Dean displays worry and concern, and something like a memory flicks through his eyes. And Sam might not be able to read Dean's mind, but the connection is there, and Sam knows suddenly what it is that Dean is remembering.


--


"Your powers, given by a demon, take away life, strength and health from other people. People all over the world, who will die suddenly for no reason, who will become ill without an explanation, who will loose all their strength without any warning."

"Every time you use your powers, Sam Winchester, someone else suffers the effects and the darkness grows stronger, both in the world and in your soul."

"People are suffering thanks to you using them and they do not know it. And you just do not want to see or believe it, blinded by your own pride."

"Telling me to leave does not change anything, Dean Winchester. It does not change the world's suffering. It does not change your guilt. It does not change your brother's tainted soul."



--


Sam stares at Dean wide eyed, waiting for the damnation and rejection that has to follow the memory, because even Sam himself is starting to feel unsure about his powers. When he was with Ruby, he had nothing on his mind but revenge, and it was easy to deny the possibility that Uriel could have spoken the truth. However, now with Dean around it's not that easy to ignore what might be happening if he exorcises Alastair. But Sam wants it and it isn't about the rush of the power floating inside him, but about his belief that, if he defeats Alastair for once and forever, he'll help the world. Isn't Alastair's death worth its price?

Sam himself is tainted and damned anyway. Damned if he does, damned if he doesn't.

Dean swallows and doesn't break eye contact with Sam, but disdain never shows on his face. There is concern, fear, hesitance and then determination in his eyes, before he nods a little, expressing his agreement with Sam.

But it's the determination that brings Sam to a sudden stop, because Sam somehow knows that it isn't there, because Dean is determined to let Sam use his powers and to be alright with the price Sam and the world might have to pay for it, but because Dean has come to a decision.

And other memories come back to Sam, the memories of his dreams.


--


"We cannot take his choices away from him and we cannot make the demon blood inside him disappear, Dean Winchester, so it is up to him to use his abominable powers or to stop."

"I'm not asking you to change him. I'm asking for the taint."



--


"The brother of yours will not stop using his powers, the darkness will win inside him, and your brother's soul will be damned forever. Just like the world."

"I said I want to bear my brother's cross. If Sammy ever sinned in thought, word or deed, rest the guilt for his sins on my shoulders and let me carry it for him."

"So, his soul shall be purified, while yours shall be stained? He shall not go to Hell, you shall go there instead when it's time?"



--


But it hadn't been real, it had just been a dream. ("It is real, Samuel, even if it has not happened yet. But it will.")

His hand starts shaking and it isn't because of his powers.


--


"He damns his soul to save mine? Is that possible?"

"The brother of yours is what he is, just like you are. He is not you, Samuel, and you are not him. He has options, just like you, but they are different from yours. He was gripped by Castiel and raised from perdition. You were given demon blood by Azazel. The angels were ordered to obey him. You were given psychic powers to control demons. He was told that God has a mission for him. Azazel made plans for you. But he has free will, just like you have. And therefore it is his decision to agree to his mission or to decline."



--


Dean wouldn't! He couldn't!


--


"He went to Hell for you once. Hell made a deal with him when he asked. He can go to Hell again. Heaven can grant him his wish if it is requested out of love."


--


Out of love?


--


"We used to be in this together. We used to have each others backs!"

"There's no such thing as destiny. That's just an excuse of people, who don't want to take responsibility for their actions."

"I might not be able to save my brother's life, but I can still save his soul."

"I don't regret loving my brother. I never will."



--


It's too much, too fast now, and he can't hide any longer from understanding what he has shoved away from him as long as he could. He has ignored it out of pride ("Pride, Samuel, is a sin.") and self-righteousness ("I'm your brother, Dean. You should trust me.") and anger ("Nice to know what you're thinking of me.") and hurt ("Only monsters can be attracted to a freak like me, right?!"), so that he couldn't see or hear what Dean has been telling him all along ("I ... I shouldn't have said that." and "Sam. Sammy. It's okay."), what this voice – his subconscious maybe? – has been trying to tell him ("I want you to see, but what you do with what you learn is up to you. Your choice. Just like your brother has a choice.") and what Sarah has told him outright.


--


"I believe in you. Both of you will do the right thing, don't you think so, too?"

"Thank you. For believing in me. It's ... nice that someone does."

"I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one, Sam."



--


And now here he is, standing in front of Alastair and wanting nothing more than to exorcise the demon, but he can't, because his hand is trembling in the air and his heart is thundering in his chest. Still, he knows he could make it right, he could use everything Ruby taught him and get rid of Alastair forever. Ruby told him he was strong enough. Maybe he should do it.

It's just ... the price has changed.

"I want to bear my brother's cross."

However, Sam isn't sure that he can stop with all of it. The demon blood will still be inside him and the powers, too. Maybe he has no choice and has to use them simply because he can.

"Whatever he does or doesn't do, he's responsible for it, no one else. Nothing else."

Okay, fine, maybe Sam doesn't want to stop using his powers because they feel good.

"You are a good person who knows right from wrong."

And maybe Dean will change his mind in time and not make some stupid deal.

"Sure, and I will change my mind about anything between now and whenever it is? Do you really believe that, Castiel?"

Maybe, just maybe, Dean will be saved again by an angel, even if he makes a stupid deal.

"And this time, there will be no one who pulls you out of Hell, giving you a second chance. No forgiveness. You will stay there forever and atone for your sins. Yours and the sins of your brother, too."

Surely, Sam can follow him to Hell then.

"You will not be able to follow your brother to Hell, when Heaven allows him to bear your cross instead of you. Not if your soul is purified, Samuel."

Or maybe Sam simply has to make his own choice now.

"And don't do anything stupid!"

Dean's last words, before Sam drove away, echo in Sam's mind.

Sam looks at Dean, smiles, and then he lets his arm drop to his side.

Dean's eyes widen in confusion. Alastair frowns. The nun is slowly starting to move.

Sam sees everything, but he doesn't wait for them to do anything. He pulls out his gun, directs it at Alastair and shoots.

Alastair staggers back, but Sam knows that it's just the surprise and in no way any kind of defeat. Putting bullets into its body can't kill a demon. But Sam has nothing else. The holy water is too far away and maybe not even blessed, because no one knows how long Alastair has been possessing Father Marten already, and there is no time to make salt circles around Sam and Dean. Therefore Sam can only rely on his gun and an old fashioned exorcism.

Just for a moment Sam wonders if he is still able to do an exorcism.

Then Latin starts spilling from his lips.

Alastair looks shocked, even pained, before he rushes towards Sam with inhuman speed and slams Sam up against a wall, before Sam can even think of ducking away. Sam's head bangs against the solid stones behind him and pain explodes behind his eyes.

"Sammy!" Dean's panicked yell comes too late as well.

Sam blinks the darkness away and wants to raise his hand with the gun, but at some point he must have dropped it. That's okay, kind of, Sam thinks, because what could he have accomplished with it anyway? Instead he opens his mouth to complete the exorcism, but Alastair presses his forearm against Sam's already sore throat. Another explosion of pain follows, another second of panic that he's being suffocated, and Sam really wishes everyone would stop trying to strangle him.

Dean is shouting something that Sam can't understand and Alastair is blabbering something Sam is not even remotely interested in understanding, because the demon's crazy gaze is telling him everything anyway.

"Dean," Sam croaks, gazing over Alastair's shoulder at his brother's panicked face. His vision is becoming blurry around the edges.

Maybe Sam could still raise his arm and exorcise Alastair with his mind. Maybe he wouldn't even need to raise his arm. Maybe.

But Sam has made his choice and he sticks to it. He just hopes he has picked the better one of the two equally bad options he had.

He lets himself fall into darkness and doesn't expect anything. Maybe it's time for everything to come to an end, and somehow it seems right the way it is.

--


Dean has always been the beginning and the end of Sam's world. Dean is Sam's first memory, Dean's name has been Sam's first word, Sam's first step was towards Dean and the first person in the world Sam loved was Dean.

It has been more than twenty-six years since Sam was born, and Sam has so many memories of Dean that he sometimes wonders how it's possible for him to remember anyone else. He's glad that it is possible because he wouldn't want to miss the memory of Jess or Dad or Bobby or anyone else he does remember, but it still seems kind of strange to him.

It's similar when it comes to his first word. Sam has used Dean's name more often than any other name, and sometimes Sam gets the feeling that everything he says is always only his brother's name. And maybe that's true because Sam was always walking towards Dean since his first step, too. Even when he was walking away, Sam was still trying to get closer to Dean, to become equal to Dean and to become someone Dean could be proud of. Dean's approval has always been important to him and it still is because Sam has loved his brother for longer than he can remember.

As a matter of fact, Dean was the first person Sam loved, and that in itself shouldn't be odd or a surprise to anyone, because a child always loves the person, who takes care of them, first. It's almost impossible to do not love that person. And Dean had been the caretaker of Sam since Sam was six months old, not Mary, because she died, and not John, because he couldn't do it and gave Sam to Dean. So how could Sam have not loved his brother?

However, the crux of it is that Sam has not only loved Dean first, but that Sam loves Dean so much that Dean has become Sam's world, that he has become the beginning and the end, and every time Dean died, Sam's world just stopped. Sam still moved in it, sure, but like a robot on autopilot, and the world around him could have disappeared without Sam noticing it.

So, there's something poetic in the situation that, again, Sam's last memory will be of his brother looking at him, his last word will be his brother's name and his last step will be towards Dean, metaphorically speaking.

The love part doesn't matter when drawing a comparison between his firsts and lasts though, never really did, because Sam has loved, will love and does love Dean most, first and last and in-between, now and then, always and forever.


--


"Sammy."

It's his brother's voice saying his name that pulls him away from the darkness once more, and it's his brother's face he sees when he blinks and his vision clears.

"That's good, Sammy." Dean sounds relieved.

Sam doesn't get why and he can't really focus on it, because he has trouble to see straight. He has a bad case of headache and he has a hard time to breathe. It hurts like Hell, and his brain isn't as quick on the uptake as usual, so it takes him a few seconds of blinking at Dean before the memory of what has happened comes back to him.

Shocked Sam wants to sit up and look around, but he can't, because Dean is holding him tight around his shoulders with one arm and stroking his left cheek with his other hand.

"De-" Sam rasps, and speaking hurts even more, and Sam really wants to know why he's the one who is always getting strangled.

"Don't worry, Sammy. Everything's all right. - You are okay, right?" Dean's eyes are huge and bright, and Sam can feel Dean's stroking hand shaking.

Sam nods slightly. "Dean ... Al-" He licks his lips – Dean's eyes tracking the movement – and tries again. "Alastair?"

"He's gone." Sam's eyes widen. Gone like gone? Dean can read the question in his eyes and shakes his head, saying, "No, he just left. He -" He makes a face. "Listen, we should move. Are you able to -?"

Sam rolls his eyes, which turns out not to be his brightest idea because he feels a little nauseous afterwards, but at least Dean grins in answer, and that actually makes Sam feel better.

"Then come on, dude, and stop playing the delicate flower." Dean pulls him up, but his careful touches and movements belie his words. "Always fainting like a little girl," he grumbles.

"You're the girl." Sam's voice is still raspy and low, and he coughs and shoves Dean a little.

Dean staggers, but his grip only tightens around Sam. "Shut up," he mutters.

Sam curls his hand in the fabric of Dean's shirt, holding on, and spares a look around, while Dean maneuvers him towards the door. He can see Father Marten on the floor, but the nun is nowhere around.

"Dean?" he questions.

Dean shakes his head. "Later, Sam."

But Sam remembers Dean's words about Alastair and digs his heel in. "Dean. You didn't -" He feels a surge of panic. "You didn't make a deal with him, right?"

Dean stares at him. "No! Why would you -"

"You did before ... because of me." Sam's voice is soft and quiet.

Dean bites his lip and sighs. He looks upset, pained even, but when he faces Sam again, his expression is open and honest. "I didn't make a deal with him today. I promise."

Sam watches him. "But you made one before." He isn't talking about the one with the demon at the crossroads now.

Dean swallows, his throat working. "We really should go, Sam. We can talk later, if that's what you want."

It's always a bad idea to beat around the bush, but Sam trusts Dean and he knows that they should be far away from the church before the priest's body is found by the cops.

He nods.


--


By the time they're back at the motel, Sam can breathe a little easier and his headache is only a throbbing pain in the back. He doesn't feel like close to dying anymore, but he must still look pretty bad because Dean casts worried glances at him more often than not. Sam, however, has time to study Dean's pale face and to notice his blood soaked shirts again. He remembers what he has heard behind the curtain, strangled by the rope, and thinks about how bad Dean might be hurt underneath the pieces of his shirts.

"Maybe we should leave town," Dean mutters when he parks the car.

"No," Sam replies. No way Dean is in any condition to drive and Sam doesn't trust himself with the car right now, either. Dean glances at him, obviously sharing the opinion about Sam and therefore not arguing.

Dean unlocks the door to their room and they get inside.

"Shirts off," Sam orders immediately.

Dean looks at him, hesitating, but Sam's expression tells him everything he has to know, so he shrugs off his jacket first and then both of his shirts.

Sam takes in a sharp breath when he sees the bloody mess Dean's chest is. There are cuts carved deep into his skin, looking to Sam like Alastair was maybe starting to paint some kind of symbol, but maybe he wasn't. Sam can't be sure, but he can tell that most of them will need stitches.

"It isn't that bad," Dean offers.

Sam glares at him. "Right, it's worse. Get the first aid kit and sit down." He goes to the bathroom.

"Don't be such a pansy," Deans says, before adding a muttered, "And you were the one that nearly died."

Sam stares into the mirror above the sink. His neck is already covered in black and blue, marked and bruised by the rope and Alastair's arm, and Sam hates it. He raises his hand to hide the marks behind it and the little cut, too, but he still knows they're there. When he touches the back of his head, he can feel a bump, but at least no blood, so that's something at least.

He wets some towels and leaves the bathroom again.

Dean is sitting on his bed, his body slump, and Sam can tell that Dean has lost a lot of blood. He's pretty sure this is the reason why Dean has only talked but not shouted when they were talking while being in different rooms. Blood is still dripping from the cuts, running down his chest and tainting his jeans.

Sam swallows. He doesn't like it when his brother is hurt.

"Lie back."

"Careful, Sam, or I might get the wrong impression here," Dean quips, but obeys.

Sam doesn't answer and cleans his brother's torso with a wet towel. Dean hisses.

"Knew that you're the pansy," Sam mutters. "Always projecting, Dean."

"Shut up," Dean grits out, his jaw clenched.

Sam smiles and starts to sew his brother's wounds. He doesn't notice his pale skin or the freckles that are everywhere, or Dean's closed eyes with his long, girly lashes - or so he keeps telling himself. Sam bites his lip and really needs some distraction to get his mind off of his brother's body under his hands.

"Tell me about it," he says and feels Dean's muscles flexing and tensing in reaction.

"About what?"

"About what happened in the church for starters."

Dean opens his eyes and looks at the ceiling. For a few seconds Sam works in silence while Dean is thinking.

"I didn't recognize him in the beginning," Dean says finally, and Sam looks at his face, but Dean is still staring at the ceiling, frowning, like he can find answers up there. Sam could tell him that he won't because Sam has stared at more ceilings in his life than he can count and never got any answers. But he doesn't. Instead he bows his head again and busies himself with stitching the cuts.

"The nun called him Father Raynold, so -"

"Raynold?" Sam feels guilt, when he remembers that he hasn't thought about Sarah and Father Marten at all. But he has believed that Alastair had been possessing Colin Marten, so -

"Yeah, but Alastair was the killer, too, so don't worry about Marten." Dean reads his mind without any problems. "He gloated about his plans and schemes, and about how much fun it was to kill the girls to lure us here." Dean's lips tighten. "But before, he acted like a priest. Holier than Thou and everything. I really thought he was just Don Raynold." He snorts without humor. "But then he started to say stuff he couldn't know -"

"What stuff?" Sam can't stop himself.

Dean waves his right hand in the air, before he throws his arm over his eyes. "Just stuff, you know demons."

And Sam does know demons, better than he likes to admit, but the blush that is spreading over Dean's neck and chest makes him a little bit curious.

"And when I Christo'd him, it was pretty much over. He slammed me up against the wall and -" He frowns. "- he moved around the church. I guess he set up the trap for you; I wasn't sure at the time it happened. Then he said the usual bullshit and admitted in between that he killed the chicks to lure us to New York. Don't know why, maybe he's still pissed because of Anna and the angels."

Maybe he's still pissed because you were pulled out of Hell, Dean, Sam thinks and starts stitching the last cut.

"Anyway, you showed up and you know what happened." Dean is trying to skip important parts, Sam knows it, but he allows it for now. He'll ask later. "I'm not sure, when it was exactly that you slipped into unconsciousness, but at some time the nun started exorcising him. Or just praying, I don't know, because I couldn't understand her words. Alastair dropped you and rushed toward her and – I have really no idea, Sammy." Dean takes his arm away and turns his face to Sam, who's cleaning Dean's chest and stomach with a new towel. "He wanted to kill her, but he was exorcised before he could do it, I guess. Father Raynold went down and a smoke cloud fled through an open window out of the church. The force that held me pinned vanished with Alastair and -" Dean shrugs.

Sam knows what happened after that anyway. It's been the same as it is on every other hunt that Sam gets hurt. Dean comes to him and takes care of him, coaxing him back to life. Sam doesn't ask how bad his condition was, Dean wouldn't tell him in any case. If it hadn't been bad, Dean would have made much more fun of him already.

"You asked the nun about it?" He stands up and carries the towels to the bathroom where he drops them in the sink, before he returns. Dean sits up and meets his gaze.

"Yep. She told me that sinners couldn't understand. She has faith in God and no evil can ever hurt her as long as she stays true to Him. She just prayed and asked for help." Dean's mouth curls a little in mockery before his shoulders sack a little.

Sam nods and shrugs his shoulders at the same time. He feels just as tired as his brother is looking.

"She told me to leave and that she was going to call the police. That's it." Dean looks down on his hands.

"Do you think she'll claim that we killed Father Raynold?" Sam thinks about the bullets he put into the man's body, and wonders if he killed the man or if Alastair had already managed to kill him before that.

Dean shrugs and lies back down, closing his eyes. "Don't know. Don't care." He opens them again, casting a look at Sam. "You?"

Sam thinks about the question for a few minutes. How likely is it that the nun saw the Impala? That she memorized the number plate? That the police could find them due to the description she could give? Then he contemplates Dean's loss of blood and his own aching head and sore throat, and he has to agree with Dean.

But when he looks at his brother, Dean is lying motionless on his back and a wave of panic surges through Sam. Before he can stop himself, he's next to his brother and puts his hand over Dean's heart. It's still beating, steady and even now, though maybe a bit slower than Sam likes, and Sam calls himself a moron because he could have noticed that Dean's chest is heaving ever so slightly, so of course, he's still breathing. However, Sam doesn't move his hand away or leaves Dean's side. Instead he gives in and lies down next to his brother. Just for a moment he wants to count Dean's heartbeats, just for a moment he wants to find peace.

Sam closes his eyes.


--


It's late in the afternoon, when Sam wakes up. This time he's alone in the bed, sprawled out. He feels better than before, but when he touches his throat, it still hurts, so maybe his body has just gotten used to the pain already.

Sam sits up and his eyes search for his brother immediately. Dean is not difficult to find, because he's sitting at the table, Sam's laptop open in front of him. Sam would think that Dean is reading something, but Dean's eyes are not moving. He rather seems to stare into the space, lost in thoughts. Sam notices Dean's still far too pale skin, the unhappy set of his mouth and the lines on his forehead. Sam wants to reach out and smooth them away.

Instead he curls his hands into the sheets around his waist and clears his throat.

Dean blinks. "So, I guess, there's something wrong with your bed," he says casually, his gaze glued to the screen.

Sam feels a blush spreading over his face and his eyes dart towards his own untouched bed. "You stayed with me last night. Your bed shouldn't become jealous," he mutters, knowing full well that he is talking out of his ass.

But Dean snorts and closes the laptop. Then he turns back to Sam. "Feeling better?"

"Uh-huh." Sam shrugs a little. "You? Stitches alright?"

"Peachy." Dean rests his hand above his shirt and Sam's eyes track the movement. "I ordered Chinese," Dean blurts out.

"Oh. Good." Sam feels hungry, now that Dean has mentioned it. "So -" He drops his eyes to the floor, wondering why it always ends with him saying, 'We have to talk.' Why is it never Dean? Sam really doesn't want to be the one again. So, he bites his lip and swallows the words down.

Dean fidgets, before he grabs the remote and sits down at the edge of the bed. He turns on the TV, casting a quick glance at Sam, and is seemingly relieved when Sam doesn't keep talking.


--


They're sitting next to each other on Dean's bed, leaning against the headboard, and in the middle of eating, when Sam speaks up again, "So, what was the deal?"

Dean's hand freezes in the air, Sam can sense him tensing, and the comfortable silence between them vanishes immediately.

"Huh?" Dean makes a non-committal sound, while he keeps his eyes glued to the TV-screen, and he drops the box of take-out he has been holding on the bed.

"I heard what Alastair said, Dean, I was right behind the curtain."

Dean's lips curl into a sneer, but his mouth stays tightly shut and he still denies eye contact. The commercial seems to capture his attention completely.

Sam sighs, grabs the remote and turns off the movie. "Dean."

Dean turns his face towards Sam's former bed and the tension that is radiating from him seems to increase. Sam waits in patience, knowing that he can only push Dean so far before he snaps.

"I don't want to bore you," Dean says finally.

For the first time since he spoke up, Sam looks directly at Dean. Or rather, at the back of Dean's head. "What? You don't -"

"It happened in Hell, okay. We don't need to talk about it," Dean snaps, crossing his arms over his chest.

Sam stares at him for a long moment before he understands.

"God, Dean. I ..." He doesn't know how to say it, how to explain, how to tell Dean that he's sorry for what he has said under the siren's spell. "I didn't mean ... the siren -"

Dean waves his hand in the air dismissingly, and Sam knows Dean wants him to can it, but he can't. They can't go on like this.

"I'm sor-"

"Why didn't you use your mind-mojo on Alastair?" Dean interrupts him.

"-ry for what I sai- ... what?"

"You want to talk, Sam? Fine. Tell me why you didn't exorcise Alastair with your powers!" Dean turns towards his brother, his eyes blazing. "Tell me why you risked your life and almost got yourself killed, instead of using your fucking powers!"

Sam gulps. Dean has turned the tables fast, and he can't deny Dean the answer if he wants Dean to be honest with him. Sam knows that he tends to ask and want and take from Dean, and that the times he answers or gives to Dean in return are far fewer. Sam isn't stupid. He knows that the reason why he's acting like this is that he's scared shitless that one day he's going to be or do something that scares Dean away, something that Dean can't forgive him for. But maybe, Sam is starting to realize, he needs to stop lying and keeping secrets and running away, and to start trusting and confiding and believing in Dean.

"Yeah, I thought so," Dean scoffs and makes a grab for the remote. But Sam curls his fingers around Dean's wrist – and really, Dean's wrist seems so small in his large hand – and stops him.

Dean's eyes widen, and then they narrow again.

"Okay," Sam says softly. "I'll talk."

He lets go of Dean's arm, and Dean slowly pulls back. He casts a look at Sam, before he faces the wall again.

"Then spill." Dean really isn't going to make this easy for him.

Sam breathes in. "I won't let you go to Hell again."

Dean's head swirls back to him. "What?"

Sam catches his gaze and holds it. "Tell me, Dean, that you aren't thinking about asking the angels to let you atone for my sins, if I keep using my powers and damn my soul in the process."

Dean's eyes dart away. It's every answer Sam needs.

"Of course not," Dean lies too fast to be believable, and Sam snorts a laugh. Dean glares at him, but that actually helps Sam to regain eye-contact with his brother.

"Liar," he says and shakes his head. "You believed what Uriel said and what Castiel told you about how someone can carry the sins of another person. And once more you decide to play the martyr and sacrifice yourself! You could have just told me that I should stop using my powers, but no! You're planning to go back to Hell instead of talking to me when I'm right here!" Sam doesn't know when he started shouting, but he can't stop himself.

Dean looks shocked and his mouth is hanging open, and Sam finds himself with his hands fisted in the fabric of Dean's shirt. Another move Sam can't remember to have made. A part of his brain reminds Sam that Dean has new stitches, that he should be a bit more careful, but it's hard to listen to that voice, when Sam's fears and anger are exploding inside him.

"I never sai-"

"Of course you didn't! You never say anything!" Sam lets go of Dean's shirt and buries his head in his hands. He needs to calm down.

Dean's expression is blank again. "You told me that it's not my business what you do," he says coldly. "And you never listen when I say anything anyway, so tell me, Sam, why should I bother?"

Sam's hands drop away from his face and he looks at his brother incredulously.

"Because I care, Dean?" Dean opens his mouth, but Sam doesn't give him the time to reply. "You always think that you have to make the big decisions for the both of us! You don't stop to think about what it is that I might want! That maybe I don't want you to burn in Hell for me! That it killed me, when you died and left me behind! That you're going to separate us FOR ALL ETERNITY! AND NOW YOU JUST WANT TO DO IT AGAIN!" And, yeah, Sam, nice job you're doing with the calming down thing. Want to give it another try?

Dean's mouth snaps shut, and Sam lets his head drop against his chest and hides behind his hair. The silence between them is loud and heavy.

Dean coughs, but Sam keeps his eyes trained on the bed. When Dean talks again, his voice is hesitant and quiet. "I don't want to go to Hell again, but, Sam, you are my brother and I can't ... no, I won't let Hell get you."

Sam keeps his silence this time and shakes his head.

"I was down there, Sammy." Dean's hand is gripping Sam's shoulder now, warm and solid and real. "I can't let you -" His voice dies.

"And you are my brother, Dean. Ever noticed it?" Sam looks up at Dean. "I can't let you, either. You're not allowed to make such a deal. Neither with Hell nor with Heaven. I can't go through losing you again."

Dean's expression crumbles. "But I can't just watch you risking your soul -"

"That's exactly why I stopped, Dean. Okay? Do you understand?" Sam grabs Dean's arms. "It took me a while, but I get it now. I do. I won't use them ever again if you just promise not to ask for my sins. Fuck the demons! We got rid of them before, we can do it again. And it doesn't matter to me what the angels tell you or order you to do, as long as they don't send you back into the Pit. Just don't ask to go to Hell for me again. Don't ask to go to Hell instead of me, Dean."

"'S funny, Sammy, you know?" Dean whispers finally. His hand moves from Sam's shoulder to his cheek, and then Dean meets Sam's gaze with bright green eyes that look suspiciously wet and shiny. Sam can almost see Dean's walls breaking down and he doesn't even dare to breathe. "They're angels. They're supposed to be the good guys, right? So, the mission they have for me is a good one, a heroic one, huh?"

Sam frowns. He isn't sure what Dean is trying to say.

"And we're the good guys, too. We save people, want to save them. Saving the world should be important to us. Important to me." Dean laughs silently with a little bit of self-loathing coloring the sound, before he sobers up again. Yet he looks almost embarrassed. However, Sam still doesn't understand.

"It is, Dean. We're going to -"

"And then I think about it – about the angels and what they're saying about you and about saving the world," Dean says without acknowledging Sam's words at all, "and all I can think of is, 'Fuck them! The world can save itself or go to Hell for all I care. I wanna keep Sammy safe and by my side!'" Dean's palm presses against Sam's cheek and Dean shakes his head in despair and self-disgust. "I always call you selfish, but the whole time you're trying to do good things with what you have. How could you be any more selfless than you are? But I? I'm just selfish and want things that are wrong and -"

And Sam simply can't take it anymore. He can't watch Dean tearing himself to pieces and he can't listen to him calling himself selfish and wrong and Sam selfless and good at the same time. It hurts Sam to see Dean hurting, and he wants to make it better. So it's that or maybe it's temporary insanity that makes Sam pull Dean closer, lean in and put his mouth against his brother's.

Whatever it is, it shuts Dean up.

Time freezes. Or maybe it's just Dean, who stiffens and doesn't move or breathe, just stays still. Sam doesn't know what his brother is thinking, doesn't know what kind of expression his brother is wearing. He has his eyes closed and only feels Dean's lips under his and his own heartbeat inside.

When Sam pulls back, he doesn't know if it counts as a kiss, because it has been nothing more than dry lips pressed against each other, but he's pretty sure that Dean got the message that it wasn't an accident because it went on far too long to be one. All of a sudden, Sam feels shy and nervous, when he opens his eyes, his lips still tingling, but he forces himself not to touch them with his fingers.

Dean is staring at him with wide eyes, his body still frozen and rigid. Sam notices only now that Dean's hand still rests lightly on Sam's skin – never left it, not even when Sam did what he has done – but Sam's movements have made it slip from his cheek to the side of his neck, lower than where his bruises are.

Feeling flushed and a little bit embarrassed Sam lets his own hands drop from Dean's arms to the bed and tries to smile at Dean. He wishes he knew what Dean is thinking right now, because he wonders whether he should apologize or explain or just wait and see.

Not surprisingly Sam chooses the last option.

Seconds tick by, the brothers staring at each other.

Dean swallows, licks his lips, and Sam can't look away, feels himself blushing deeper.

"Why did you -?" Dean stops, raising his eyebrow. His voice is telling Sam nothing.

"I -" Sam feels himself panicking, his hands clench in his lap. He wants to tell himself that it doesn't matter anyway, because he can't surprise Dean with anything anymore, since kissing your brother is a pretty spot-on give-away about your state of mind, but it would be a lie. Sam knows he could still pretend that it was an accident, and most likely Dean would simply play along. But Sam thinks Dean deserves the truth, and maybe Sam wasn't imaging everything before just because he wanted to read it into Dean. "You're not the only one who wants things he maybe shouldn't, Dean," Sam admits softly.

Dean stares at him, still expressionless, and Sam drops his eyes back to the bed. He wants Dean to say something, anything, but the longer the silence stretches between them the more stupid he feels.

Then Dean's hand slides farther to the back of his neck, up into his hair, tightens a little and pulls him closer. It's not like Sam's own move, fast and hurried and not giving anyone time to think. Dean is slow, hesitant and obviously waiting for someone to stop it.

His heart beating fast, Sam closes his eyes, but he doesn't lift his face. It's up to Dean where this will go, because Sam can't risk doing anything that could either make Dean run away from Sam or make him think that he has to do it to keep Sam with him. Sam needs Dean to be sure about what he wants for himself and what he does for real. It isn't always the same with Dean, rather the opposite.

True enough, the pull stops when Sam can already feel Dean's hot breath on his lips. There is no need to open the eyes, Sam knows that the space between their faces could be bridged within no time, but it feels like the Grand Canyon to him, just because it still exists, and Sam thinks that he can sense Dean reconsidering everything, remembering just how much he is – they are – risking if the space in between is closed.

Dean never does anything to risk the two of them, to risk what they already have. Never.

Desperate Sam screws his eyes tighter shut and forces himself to stay still. It's one decision he can't take away from Dean. He just has to accept it.

"Sammy." It's a mere whisper. "Please -"

Please? Please what? Sam doesn't know. If Dean wants him to close the space, Sam can't do it. He did it before; if he does again, he'll always wonder if he forced himself on his brother. So he stays motionless and waits.

Dean's hand is still in his hair, Sam's hands are clenched together in his own lap to stop himself from reaching out.

"Just -" Dean sounds somehow younger when you don't look at him, Sam thinks. But maybe it's just because of the situation they're in. "Just look at me, Sammy."

Sam hears the words, but he needs a moment before he does what Dean asked for.

Dean's face is blurry because of their closeness, but his eyes are green, huge and so, so full with struggling emotions Sam could drown in them ...

Before Sam can finish that thought Dean closes the space and kisses him with his eyes wide open.


--


It's good.


--


Okay, fine. At first, it's pretty strange.

Not the brother thing. Sam has worked himself through all stages of denial and realization about his feelings for his brother long ago, and he can sense that it had been for Dean a long time, too, since Dean accepted what it is that he wants and feels for Sam.

The thing is rather, that neither of them trusted to believe or allowed themselves to see before that it really is a two-way street. So, yes, it is strange to kiss someone and know that he's the one you wanted to kiss far longer than you will ever admit and that it isn't just your imagination.

That kind of strange is pretty awesome, Sam decides.

But then there's the whole thing about being two guys involved, too, and Sam isn't used to it. Sam might have fantasized about Dean before – and Sam has sworn long time ago that no one will ever get him to admit it – but aside from Dean he never was interested in another man. Therefore stubble rubbing against his skin and a body with hard lines instead of soft curves pressed against him is new to him, but definitely something Sam can get used to with Dean.

But even stranger is not being able to control the kissing and that's maybe what surprises Sam the most.

Sam has gotten used to hard, passionate kisses that get him fast to the next level with the girls he had been with in the last years. He had always known that he wouldn't stay, that in the end the kisses meant next to nothing, and the women had known it just as well. They hadn't known him as a person, however; they had only seen his body and his strength, and Sam had always gotten the feeling that they didn't want to be treated like glass from him because of it and the way they were looking at him. So he had given them what they wanted; he had shoved them up against walls and windows, kissed them hard and wild, and fucked them pretty much the same way, him in control and them surrendering to him and wanting it.

With Dean Sam can't take control. Every time he thinks he does, Dean does something with his hands, his lips, his tongue, his freaking breath, in retaliation, and Sam has lost control to Dean again before he even notices it. Furthermore, Sam likes it more than he would have ever thought. Somehow it reminds him a bit of his time with Jessica. But thinking about it, it shouldn't be surprising at all because he had been in love with her then, so their relationship had been between equals and about love, not just a quick fuck.

And Sam has never not been in love with Dean, so of course it's similar now. The idea of him dominating over his brother seems to him as ridiculous as the opposite, Dean dominating over Sam. And, no, Dean isn't in control either, that much Sam can tell from Dean's reactions to everything Sam does.

It just happens between them.

It feels right.


--


It's better than it possibly should be.


--


Of course, it's a bit awkward, partly because neither of them has been with a guy before, but partly because they're both hurt, too.

When Dean's hand slides deeper into Sam's hair for example, Sam can't stop a sound of pain escaping his lips, because Dean has pressed his hand where Sam's head had collided with the wall thanks to Alastair. Dean, of course, flinches back immediately, panicked and afraid to hurt Sam. It's not easy at all to convince him that Sam isn't hurt to badly, and to keep going.

But Sam, too, can't help being slightly unsure when his hand slips under Dean's shirt and his fingers touch stitches on Dean's skin; the new stitches that Sam has finished only a few hours ago, and it really can't feel good to Dean when Sam touches those. Now it's Sam who wants to pull back, because hurting Dean is a big no-no in Sam's book, but he's stopped by his brother.

"Stop thinking, Sammy. I'm okay," Dean mumbles against his neck, where he starts biting and licking and sucking, carefully avoiding the places where the rope has strangled Sam. It's pretty distracting.

And Sam willingly lets himself be distracted.


--


It's definitely the best thing that Sam ever had and Sam will keep it forever.


--


It's later, afterwards, when they're sated and tired that Dean says, "Not you."

"Hm?" Sam only makes a sleepy, questioning sound.

"The deal I made in Hell with Alastair."

Now Sam lifts his head and rests it on his arm, looking at Dean, who's watching him in return. Dean seems a bit embarrassed and rubs his neck with his hand.

"Down there – I'm not sure how to explain – you can never tell what's real and what's not. The demons can take any form and body or make you believe they took it, I don't know." Frowning, Dean stops and Sam moves his arm to Dean's waist silently. "That's how they torture you ... you think they're someone else, someone you know ... not at first, but later. If it goes on for years and they know everything about you and them, lines start to blur. You start to forget what happened for real and what didn't."

Sam strokes his hand over Dean's smooth skin and he can feel the muscles beneath tensing and flexing. "That's what they did? Alastair said Mom and Dad -"

"Yeah." Dean's voice is a whisper. "I tried to distinct between real memories and Hell, but -"

But it hadn't worked, Sam knows. Dean is only human, and Sam hates what the demons did to Dean, because now he remembers that Dean really was behaving differently around Bobby when he saw him after Sam and Bobby killed the ghost that made Dean sick with fears. Dean tried not to show it, but in retrospect Sam remembers the way Dean never talked with Bobby alone, the way he kept his distance to Bobby, too.

Sam's hand slides down Dean's arm until it rests on Dean's hand that is fisted in the blanket.

"They didn't use you – your face – your personality – didn't use you for thirty years ... and I was so glad about it -" Dean's lips twist a little. "Then Alastair said you wanted the next turn, so if I didn't -" Dean swallows.

Sam tightens his hold on Dean's hand.

"I knew that you weren't in Hell, I knew it, but ... I -" Dean looks down. "I couldn't stand the thought of forgetting, of you -"

And Sam knows what happened, understands the mindfuck the demons did to Dean. First, they took away every person Dean loved but Sam. Then they threatened to do the same with Sam. If they had sent 'Sam' to Dean sooner, in the first or second or tenth year, Dean would have accepted it and not broken, Sam wants to believe. But after having lost the trust in everyone else, Dean has held on to his brother and has been too afraid of being tortured by him, too, to lose him to a memory-destroying demon. That was the reason Dean agreed to become a torturer.

"So, I agreed ... I asked only for one thing. If they didn't let you torture me and if they didn't tell me to torture you, I'd do anything they wanted. Torture everyone they want." The shame in his voice is only surpassed by the guilt. "I tortured them, too, Sammy. I tortured Mom and Dad and Bobby and Cassie and ..." He breathes. "I tortured them all, and then they gave me people like ... like Bela or ... or that Bender guy ... or maybe souls looking like them, and ... I thought, 'At least these guys deserve to be in Hell.' ... God, Sammy, I enjoyed it! I enjoyed torturing them."

"It was Hell, Dean." Sam links their fingers together. "What happened there -"

"- is still my responsibility," Dean interrupts him. He tries to pull his hand away, but Sam doesn't let him. "Sam, I did it. It was wrong, no matter what they have done to us, and I could have refused, I should have, I -"

"I would have done the same, Dean!"

Dean goes still.

"I wanted to make a deal, too. The only reason I didn't? The demon refused." Sam looks at their joined hands, and now Dean is squeezing his. "Whatever you did, Dean, I would have done the same to keep the memory of you. To have something that isn't tainted. You." He sighs. "If Ruby had told me that destroying the world would bring you back to me – no, that it would bring you back at all, I would have done it in a heartbeat. That's my responsibility."

"But you didn't and I did," Dean argues.

The stupid idiot always wants to bear the guilt alone, Sam thinks and shakes his head. "We pray, 'Sinned in thought, sinned in word, sinned in deed.' Thoughts count, Dean. They count even more because they're mentioned first. You might have done the unthinkable in Hell, but I was ready to do it on Earth."

Silence stretches between them and Sam can see Dean thinking. He hopes that Dean understands, that Dean will learn to forgive himself, or at least to live with it without hating himself. But if he doesn't, Sam will keep on trying.

Finally Dean looks up, a tiny smirk playing around his lips. It still isn't the real one; it's still partly fake and only for Sam's sake, but Sam will take what he gets and work with it. One step at a time.

"Well, we are both sinners then. But we've established that already today, I think," Dean says with a leer.

Sam rolls his eyes, feeling the need to show Dean that he isn't funny at all, before he crosses the distance between them and kisses him hard.

Yes, they definitely are both sinners.


--


They leave New York the next day in the Impala.

Sarah has called in the evening, asking what Sam had wanted. Sam lied and told her that he had just wanted to say goodbye, because they had needed to leave the city in a hurry. There was no need to tell her about being in danger anymore. Alastair was gone and the killer with him. Sarah was safe and happy. Sam hoped that she stayed that way.

Now he's riding shotgun next to his brother, Metallica filling the air, and every so often Dean will look over at him, his expression open and happier than since he had come back, or closed and mischievous and it'll only be seconds before he does something to tease or annoy Sam, mostly being successful.

Sam, however, can't help the grin on his face, the giddy happiness inside him and the strong feeling that they're right in a way they haven't been for a long time, maybe never have been before.

Of course, he knows that their problems aren't solved.

The demon given powers are still inside him, waiting for him to use them again, and Ruby is still out there, not knowing about his recent decision, just like the angels are around with their still undefined mission for Dean. The Apocalypse is still in the waiting and Lilith is working on the Seals to free Lucifer. Alastair could be pretty much everywhere, doing whatever his crazy, evil mind is telling him.

Sam doesn't know what his soul looks like, doesn't know what Dean's looks like. He doesn't know if they will be forgiven for what they've done in Hell or were willing to do on Earth. He doesn't know if what they have now should be considered as a sin. To him it isn't and he knows that Dean will never ask anyone for forgiveness for it either.

The future is still in front of them though, just like the road, and Sam doesn't know what is going to happen. The possibility of him using his powers again and of Dean asking the angels to let him bear his brother's cross instead of Sam and of them being separated for all eternity still exists. It always will.

But Sam believes that the voice in his dream has spoken the truth and that there is a choice. For him and for Dean. They're making the decisions for themselves and no one else can take that away from them. So if they want it (them. to be together. forever.) enough, they can make it happen.

"Stop thinking, Sam, if it hurts your poor, thick head. Your face is all screwed up and not attractive at all." Dean makes a face, an exaggerated imitation of Sam's expression.

Sam punches his arm with a scowl. "Well, thank you, Dean. I seem to look just like you do most of the time then, really."

Dean snorts. "You are the brains, I'm the beauty, Sammy."

Sam rolls his eyes and Dean turns back to the road, a smile on his face.

Yes, they'll make it happen.


"I want you to see, but what you do with what you learn is up to you. Your choice. Just like your brother has a choice."



The End


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December 2011

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