Title: Sine qua non

Rating: PG-13 for violence, language and disturbing moments

Category: AU Short Story

X-Posted: Delphi Forums Supernatural Board

Author's Note: To all the wonderful reviewers who wanted a sequel to "Quid Pro Quo," this is for you. I'm just sorry it took me so long to get this one up and around.

Disclaimer: The following characters and situations are used without permission of the creators, owners, and further affiliates of the Warner Bros television show, Supernatural, to whom they rightly belong. I claim only what is mine, and I make no money off what is theirs.


"Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides." —Lao Tzu

"The courage of the tiger is one, and of the horse another." –Ralph Waldo Emerson


One

A crack of lightning tore across the earth and thunder pounded the world with its unforgiving fist. The earthbound brother tumbled to the ground as the earth rolled beneath him like an enraged beast. He clutched the dry blades of grass between his fingers even as their paper-like texture cut into his flesh. Fierce wind slashed at his clothing and tore at his skin, while the world around him began to fade into darkness. He pressed his face against the ground, trying to stop the dirt that flew into his eyes and caked the inside of his mouth and nose. Far away, a man was screaming, and he realized as he lay in the powerful storm that raged across the foreign land after his brother had crossed the void between life and death, that he was that man.

If later asked, he would be unable to remember how long he had lain against the ground, fearing that he would be lifted away in the tempest. He would only remember how less than a day ago a man, dressed in black with perfectly articulated words, came to the two brothers. He was, he said, the god of the underworld. Having control of the souls of the dead, this man would be willing to give them their mother back under one condition: A brother would have to go in her place so that she could leave the underworld freely.

A soul for a soul.

It had not been an easy decision to make, but it had been made nonetheless. One of the brothers had gone, not out of hatred for his sibling, but out the purest of love with the knowledge that his death would give his brother their mother back.

And now one of them was gone forever.

What seemed like hours later, the wind died down and the sky slowly lightened as black storm clouds crept away. In the distance, a building that seemed to resemble the restaurant in which the two brothers had eaten breakfast so long ago began to emerge out of the fog. The brittle dry grass of the deity's prairie started to turn green and fleshy, as a black asphalt parking lot moved around the restaurant like unbridled water. Small piles of ashes on the ground slowly twirled upwards, carried by a gentle breeze, where they swirled and danced, creating recognizable humans. The black dust formed into glowing flesh and blowing hair, as the people blinked, confused as to why they were standing outside. They could not remember the scene in the restaurant where two young brothers had ran for their lives from a man in black. The people looked around for a moment, waking from an intoxicating dream, and then they returned to their business, blissfully unaffected by everything they had played witness to.

Across the slowly emerging street from the restaurant, the remaining brother still laid prone in the grass, breathing heavily as he struggled to control the tears and screams that had racked his body for so long. A trickle of water could be heard as an ornate park fountain rose out of the rich grass between the tall trees that were growing without limits. The brother, ignoring the growth around him, watched his fingers in front of him clench and unclench the strands of grass spasmodically, dirt crusting under his short nails and over the bloody cracks in his fingers. Part of him still foolishly believed that he would turn over onto his opposite side and find himself in a cheap motel room with his brother sleeping on the other bed across the room.

But when he rolled over onto what felt like a bruised rib he found himself facing a pair of white slippers. His heart caught in his throat, and he struggled to breathe as he craned his neck up. Standing above him, dressed in a flowing white nightgown with lustrous golden hair was his mother. A strangled sob escaped his parched lips as she knelt down next to him, and he pushed himself into a sitting position. She smiled at him, slightly confused, but seeming pleased to see him nonetheless.

"M-om?" his voice came out as a crack.

She nodded, eyeing his cuts and bruises where the wind had beaten against him after his brother left. Slowly, she lifted her pale feminine hand and touched the side of his face, prickled with the hairs of a man she had never seen on her son before. He inhaled sharply, struggling not to recoil under her human touch that he had not felt in decades. His heart dropped into the acidic pit of his stomach, and he felt the hot tears begin to rise to his eyes again.

"You're my son," she stated, as if reaffirming this more to herself than him.

"Yes," he replied. He fought to restrain himself from throwing his arms around her and burying his face into her soft curls. His brother was dead, gone forever, and in his place, this sibling had been given their mother back.

A life for a life.

"Where is your brother?" she asked, a slight frown across her delicate features.

The young man did not know what to say. He thought of all he could tell her. How they had been given the option to save her from death, and how one of them had gone. How they had both cried when they left the earth, and how they were now separated for all eternity. Despite everything, though, he did not want to see her hurt when he told her that one of her sons was now dead.

"He left," is all he said.

"Left?"

The brother nodded faintly. He did not want to explain this to her now. It was too much pain too fast. Too many unleashed emotions wrecking havoc on his body in this short timeframe. If his heart didn't burst, surely his head would.

"Where is your father? Where is John?" she asked.

"He's been out looking for you."

Again, that beautifully confused look that nearly broke her son's heart. "How long have I been…" She paused, and it was the first sign that showed she had some understanding of what had happened to her. "Gone?"

"Nearly twenty years."

She sighed heavily at that and looked away from him across the street. As a warm breeze began to stir across the land, lifting her hair, the familiar scent of her rose water caressed the son seated beside her. It was too much of that comforting fragrance, and he could not stop himself. In a flurry of unfamiliar emotions, he threw his arms around her, burying his face in the soft skin of her neck. She stiffened slightly as he pulled her tight against his damaged body. He began to cry, great racking sobs that shook his body then, crying not only for the brother he had lost, but the mother he had gained, and the life that would change so much like it had before. He cried for all the moments he had denied his pain for twenty years. As he wet her skin with his tears, she stroked his hair softly like she had when he was a child, and she whispered quieting words to him.

"Momma…" He was simply unable to stop himself from the powerful emotions surging through his body. Regardless of his physical age and the infinite number of horrors he had faced without a blink, he wanted more than nothing to be held by his mother at that moment.

She rocked his body gently, like she had done with he was so small and so tender years ago, as they knelt together. She kissed his tears and caressed his wounds, both those seen and those within his heart. "It'll be okay," she whispered. "I'm here now. It'll be okay, Dean."