Four

"You son of a bitch!" Dean bellowed and turned back around, ready to chop off the bastard of a ghost's head. If silver bullets could make holes, it would be interesting to see the man talk without his head attached. Except when Dean reached the upholstered chair, he was launched into the air and tossed multiple body length's away. His knives toppled out of his hands, and Sam leapt from the couch, assuming that the blades had impaled Dean in his fall. The dark man rose to his feet in one smooth motion, as the chair disappeared beneath him and the glass in his hand vanished into thin air.

"You were saying?" he asked, eyeing Dean, who unhurt, was rising to his feet.

"Don't you dare talk about our mother, you asshole!" There was spittle flying from Dean's lips as he rose to his feet and approached the deity, finger pointed towards the chest where he had fired a deadly round of bullets only moments before.

"If you can actually believe me for one moment, I'm not here to bring you further pain in your mortal lives. I'm here to relieve it. I want to help you."

"Bullshit."

The man sighed, slowly stroking his chin like an exasperated parent talking with a stubborn child before crossing his hands behind his back. "You've returned a large number of ghosts, essentially sending the souls back to the underworld. This assists me a great deal, you see, because their souls are supposed to come to my world, and if they're not with me, then there is a problem. You boys are helping me with that, and I want to help you by giving you something that I know means very much to you."

"It's not possible," Sam whispered. His face was blanched, and although he carried the same weapons as Dean, he was not nearly as threatening. Dean pulled out the guns from his belt and clutched them with white knuckles, wiping away the sweat on his brow and spit on his lips. Sam cradled his weapons with loose fingers, trembling in the knees and in the heart.

"Oh, but it is. Very possible indeed. It is not something that is frequently executed, but it's not a common occupation either, to do what you boys do."

"So, all we have to do is just, what, agree and you'll send Mom back?" Sam asked.

"Not quite. You see, there is a small catch."

"How small?" Dean snapped. He wanted the man dead, he wanted to do anything but stand there like a scared child and listen to the man ramble and speak of their mother. But, the idea of having his mother back was so tantalizingly rich he could not leave.

Dean had been gut punched for his wildest dreams.

"Small as in I cannot allow souls wander out the underworld without a proper trade. I release one soul, then I'm short, and if I'm short, that disrupts the entire balance as you know it of life and death. I cannot magically start decreasing the number of souls in my world. It just doesn't happen. What I can do—and here's the clincher—is accept one of you and allow your mom to return to this world, free."

"What will happen to the other brother, though?" Sam questioned.

"The one that goes with me?"

"Yes," Dean clarified, understanding Sam's thoughts. "The one that gets to play with you in happy Hell-land."

The man shrugged, a small simplistic motion that seemed not to be affiliated with the idea of a human's life. "He will cease to exist in this world. In my realm, he'll merely be a lost soul, bound forever to me."

"He can never come back then?" Sam said, brushing a lock of brown hair out of his eyes.

"Highly unlikely. To term it in your modern language: This isn't a 'try it and see how you like it' deal. It's a 'now or never do it again' deal."

"Will he be in pain, the brother that goes with you?" Dean asked, his voice slow and drugged now. His eyes were distant, brooding and comprehending, and his weapons were dangling between his fingers instead of gripped with burning joints.

"No, it's a very lucid state of existence. He will not realize he is dead once he comes with me. His thoughts will simply end, and his soul will wander the underworld for eternity, relieving the moments of his life. Pain? You'll be dead, boy."

"And Mom?" Dean said. "Will she be in pain?"

"She'll appear here, same as the day she left. No scars, no blood, just the radiant beauty that was your mother. It will be as if she never left."

Dean swallowed hard. There were tears welling in the backs of his eyes, and he was standing next to Sam's crib again, the heat of the flames pressing hot against his chubby cheeks. His father was yelling at him, and Sam was in Dean's young arms. "I think we need some time."

"You don't have time. I will only come for you this once, and if you do not answer me now, you will never be asked again. I am a just deity, but I am not a patient one. You know what you desire, what you both desire. You've known since the day she died what you would sacrifice to have her back, and now you can. I can see it in you. So, make your decision."

Sam turned to Dean, looking down at him, hard to believe that his older, cocky brother was more placid than him for once. "Let me go. You knew Mom longer than I did. You miss her more than me." Dean shook his head weakly, refusing Sam's words. He rubbed at the corner of his bloodshot eyes with the edge of his hand. Sam continued, "No, don't act like this. You should be the one to be able to spend time with Mom. I went off and left the family. I don't belong here anyway."

Dean, as if suddenly realizing that his younger brother would be going where no man could touch him, inhaled sharply and retracted his emotions. Fiercely, he clutched Sam by the shoulders and looked him directly in the eye. He was struggling not to cry. "No, you belong here just as much as I do, so don't you dare start pissing out on me now, Sammy, all right? You never knew Mom. You should be able to. If I go, you'll know Mom now because you never did."

"Stop talking like this!" Sam said, panicked and wild-eyed. He didn't want to hear this; he didn't want to hear that Dean was going to leave him. Suddenly, watching Dean, who he thought was infallible, begin to break down, Sam felt his own strength start to give way. His heart sank in his chest, pressing a heavy weight against his lungs, so that when he spoke, his tone was rasped and harsh. "I'm not going to let you go, okay? Dammit, Dean, you're the only family I've got. Let me go, let me give you Mom back."

"So what, you're going to be the one to leave?"

"Yes, you have Dad, and you'll have Mom. You leave me behind with them, I don't even know them! You'll be putting me with a bunch of strangers!"

"No! They're your family, goddammitand they loved you!" Dean exclaimed. "There's no way in hell I'm going to let you go off to god knows where, thinking you can get Mom back. You deserve to have time with her. You deserve to have the family you never got. I at least got it for a little bit, you never got it at all. You deserve it now, more than ever, Sammy."

They continued arguing until both became silent. There was no right or wrong answer, no test that would prove who should go and who should stay behind. Neither of them wanted to go for themselves; they wanted instead to go for the other who would remain with the joy of their mother, which would bring their father home and reunite the family at long last. Each brother, despite all of his shortcomings, knew the deep seeded pain felt in each life's losses, and each was willing to step into the realm of hell to end it for the one that would stay behind. He could not bring himself, however, to hurt the other brother by leaving him after all they had shared together through their long journeys into the shadows and back.

There was no painless solution.

Without words, one of the brothers stepped forward and walked towards the dark man. He spoke only two words, but they were two words that changed his life for eternity: "Take me."

The man did not hesitate long. He was there for business and that is all he had. He smiled towards the remaining brother who, realizing what was going to occur, lunged for his brother to hold him back. The dark man, using only the power of his mind, held the man who would stay behind, leaving him to bellow and scream, pleading for his sibling to return, not to make a rash decision. He struggled against the invisible bonds that held him fast and far, and he screamed until he could not longer hear anything but the echo of his own voice inside his head.

Both of the young men were crying, one in a fervent rage to bring his sibling who had reunited with not so long ago, back to him, and the other silently, with slow tears dribbling over his cheeks, not wanting to hear his brother crying behind him, begging him to come back. This is for you, he silently thought.

Just before the brother and the god disappeared in a blinding flash of light, leaving behind the other sibling in his own misery and fear, waiting for the arrival of their mother, the young man turned around and faced his earthbound brother. Their eyes connected and tears glazed over both sets of trembling eyes. They had hated each other, fought with each other, but above all, they were brothers, they were a family, and they would sacrifice for the other. A strong ripple of pain passed through each sibling's heart, knowing that after such a short time together, they would be torn apart forever. The prospect of their mother soothed the pain, but only for an instant, as nothing could compare to his brother. The departing brother mustered a smile, more for the sake of his grief torn sibling, and he whispered ever so faintly, whispered his last words in the flesh, and whispered the words he would be remembered by: "Make sure to tell Mom 'hi' for me, okay?"

End