this was written as for a prompt on live journal. a note to everyone who has been reading When Heroes Go Down. i AM still working on the story and it will be finished. sorry to be so slow and thank you for your patience. also: this fic was unbetaed, so any mistakes are mine.

Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you 'grave for me:
Here he lies where he long'd to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

--by Robert Louis Stevenson

Even before he opens his eyes he can feel the weight of the dirt. He can feel the earth's clay hands against his face. He thinks, I'm dead. This is what death feels like. This is where he belongs. Alone, in the dark, with the whispering of regret in his ears.

But no. He's not dead. Not anymore. Dean made a deal. Brought him back. But from where? Here? The dirt presses close but doesn't suffocate. He can breath. Barely. Something crawls across his forehead and Sam swallows. He tastes the metallic tang of fear. And blood. And dead men don't bleed.

His arms are pinned against his sides. With effort, he pulls one arm away and reaches blindly. His fingers claw through the dirt and the earth shifts and falls away. A piercing light stabs his eyes and he groans. There's someone else nearby, he can hear them scrabbling, crying, choking, muttering half-formed prayers. It takes him a full minute of digging to realize the sounds are coming from him.

He blinks desperately, eyes watering. He's in a narrow basement. A single bulb illuminates the room. It feels like the sun. From the looks of it he's been thrown into a shallow grave and covered with loose dirt. He wonders briefly if he did something wrong, if Dean's nearby with the salt and gasoline, waiting. "Dean?" The word scrapes against his throat, bleeds from his mouth.

And then Dean's there, peering over the edge of the hole. His eyes are round with fear and Sam would laugh if he wasn't so fucking terrified. He opens his mouth to ask if Dean is saving him or trying to push him back down. I call a do-over, Dean said once, and maybe he still means it, maybe he's finally realized he's going to die in nine months, maybe he finally realizes it's time for him to put Sam back where he belongs, put him in the ground for good. Sam opens his mouth to ask, and he chokes on dirt. He spits and coughs and waves of dizziness pull at the corners of his vision. He feels his legs give way and he doesn't care, he's glad really, Dean deserves his life, to live. The grave yawns open and Sam's eyes slip closed.

And then the teeth—like needles—clamp onto the soft part of his calf he realizes he's not alone.

o o o o o

Dean is fucking pissed. He's pissed at Sam sure, but he's always pissed at Sam on some level. The person he's really pissed off at is himself, although Tallulah Jenning's got pretty high marks too. Next time Sam says, That pattern on the ground looks like an incantation of a black dog, Dean will not roll his eyes and say it looks like boobs just to annoy Sam. He's listen and he'll tell Sam he's right, he'll say, it looks like Stanford paid off after all. And Sam will roll his eyes and snark, I read it in one of Bobby's books, dickweed. Just think what you could learn if you opened a book.

Dean thinks all of this in a flash as his hand wraps around Sam's wrist and pulls. Tallulah's crumpled in a corner where Dean's fist said howdy! to her face five or ten times and now he's kind of sorry because it's a good bet that bitch could get her dog to fucking heel, already.

"Come on," Dean grunts and pulls like his life depends on it. Which, frankly, it does. Because let's face it, annoying or not, Sam is his life, and if Sam dies, so does Dean. Been there, done that, moving on. He's got plenty of time left and he's going to spend that time with Sammy at his side being a giant emo girl because that's what Sam is. But Sam is his giant emo girl, which apparently, the fucking black dog doesn't quite get.

Sam's eyes are closed and his face is smeared with dirt and blood and all Dean wants in the world is for Sammy to be out of this hole. Sam was buried. Sam was buried alive. Dean snarls, and part of him likes to think his snarl is way more badass than the mutt from hell. He pulls the gun out and grunts "Why don't you play dead," and fires. The dog drops without a sound. It's eyes open, twin yellow moons. "I got you Sam," he whispers, "I got you."

It takes forever to get Sam out because the dirt keeps crumbling and Dean's hands are slicked with sweat and Sam's head is bobbing. Cold panic grips Dean's ribs, jabs his heart. He's seen this before. Jake's voice rings in his hears: His spine was severed clean through. No. No. "Sam!" He shouts Sam's name and Sam stirs, claws at the dirt, lifts his head. His eyes aren't focused, but he's crawling, crawling up out of the dirt like a fucking zombie and Dean wants to bleach the image from his brain.

As soon as Sam's shoulders clear the hole Dean's got him and drags him across the floor. Sam's leg is a bloody mess and there's a gash over his right ear, but he's alive. "Shit, you think that thing had rabies?" Dean asks with a shaky laugh.

Sam blinks up at Dean, rubs his eyes with grimy fists. "I thought I was dead," Sam says. "I thought you buried me."

Dean stares. "What? Sam. No." Dean hears the words, but they might as well be Swahili for all the sense they make. Why would he bury Sam?

"Thought you were gonna salt and burn me," Sam says. His face crinkles like he's trying to smile but the sound that comes out of his throat is nowhere near laughter. Dean shivers and pulls Sam's closer.

"What the fuck would I do that for?" Dean demands. He doesn't like the way Sam's eyes roll, and he likes the shit Sam's saying even less. "You're annoying, but you're not that annoying."

Tallulah's voice drifts across the room. "Because he's dead. You always got to bury the dead, boy." Her voice is the sound of dust, of graves, of cockroaches.

Dean's still got the gun and he's thinking it's about time Rover spent some quality time with his master.

o o o o o

The minute Tallulah Jennings opens the door, Sam knows something is wrong. Tallulah's face is young, but her eyes are old. Her smile is a little too sly, her words a little too smooth. As soon as the door closes behind them, the dog is there, black as night, eyes glittering, a mouthful of teeth like broken nails. A move of her hand tosses Dean into a small room off the parlor. Sam hears the click of a lock followed by Dean's furious pounding. Sam's eyes shift from Tallulah to the shelves around the room. Each shelf contains bits of roots, dried bones, tiny glass bottles filled with multi-colored mysteries. He's not exactly sure what all the ingredients are for, but he knows it can't be good.

"I been waiting for you, boy. I could feel you all the way across town. You don't belong here. You a dead man walking, and it's time for you to rest."

Now, in the basement, Tallulah uncurls from the floor like smoke. She glances at Dean. "I got no quarrel with you, boy. It's the other I been wanting."

Sam twists out of Dean's grasp and onto his knees. His leg is an agony. It feels as if the black dog chewed through his bones. The pain radiates up his body and into his chest. It fits a steal band around his head. "I'm not dead," Sam says, his eyes locked on Tallulah's. Her eyes meet his gaze without blinking, without fear. Her eyes belong to something old, something forgotten. Something not human.

Her lips curl and her head tilts. "Maybe not right now. But you been dead. You wear death like cloak, boy. It sits heavy on you, eager to have you back. It's getting tired of waiting for you. I can hear death calling, boy. He's impatient."

"And so am I," Dean bites out. "Shut the fuck up, you old hag."

One black eyebrow lifts at Dean. She almost smiles. "You don't know what old is."

"Shut up." Dean says again, louder this time. He rises to his feet, pulls Sam up with him. The gun is still in his hand, and he raises it like a warning.

Now Tallulah laughs, shows a flash of teeth. "You think that's my only dog you killed? I got a whole army. They do what I tell them. Maybe I'm gonna tell them to drag you both deep down, eh?" She lifts a hand toward Sam. A black ribbon binds each wrist. "I put you back in the ground where you belong. And the next time you come out you be dead all the way. No more of these shadows around you." Something shifts behind her eyes. "And when you come out, you going to be mine."

o o o o o

Dean aims the gun but Tallulah gestures and it sails out of his hand. It clatters off the stone wall and thumps to the dirt floor. He glares. "Son of a bitch! I am getting really tired of that shit." How many times has some freaky supernatural asshole sent his gun flying? The shovel is still on the ground near the grave. Maybe he can reach it. He grabs Sam's arm, ready to push his brother behind him. Gun or no gun, it's time to put this bitch in the ground.

Sam shrugs off Dean's grip and stares at Tallulah. "What shadows?" he asks hoarsely.

"The shadows of regret. Of failure." She takes a step toward Sam. "Of pain. Of knowing you don't belong here."

"Neither do you," Sam blurts.

Tallulah tilts her head, watches Sam. "Don't remember saying I did." She closes her eyes and begins to unwrap the ribbon from her left wrist. There's a glint of metal in her right hand and Dean flashes back to the stain on the sidewalk. Blood. Smeared in the shape of a dog.

"Sam," Dean warns. "We've got to—"

The rest of the words never leave Dean's mouth. Sam's already got one hand around Tallulah's thin arm. His eyes are dark with something Dean can't (doesn't want to) identify. Sam's forehead creases, his nostrils flare. "No," Sam hisses and his free hand encircles the woman's neck, shoves her against the wall. A spider crawls out of the way. "I'm not dead," Sam says. His voice is dangerous, no longer weak and full of dirt. Now his words are steel, hard and unyielding. "I'm alive."

Tallulah chuckles softly and Dean is keenly aware of the bead of sweat rolling down the nape of his neck.

"You keep telling yourself that. Maybe one day you believe it, eh?"

The crack is louder than Dean expects. The sound of Tallulah's neck breaking reminds him of Thanksgiving at Pastor Jim's. It's the sound of a wishbone breaking, but there are no wishes here. Sam heaves Tallulah's body into the grave and she lands on her back, one outstretched hand on top of the black dog. She smiles up at them with empty eyes.

Sam stands still at the edge of the pit. His face is blank now, all rage gone. He blinks once at Dean, then twice. He doesn't speak. His hands tremble.

Dean takes one step and then another. He pulls Sam away from the pit and this time Sam doesn't resist.

o o o o o

What Dean doesn't understand is that he's always crawling out of a grave. He's always coming back to life. Or trying to. He's different, he can feel it. Tallulah was right and it scares him. A part of him knows the right thing to do is to lie right down beside her, pull the dirt back over his head and close his eyes. Dean did this to him. Dean. Why did Dean do this to him? How could he? But Dean doesn't know, he doesn't realize, all he sees is Sam, breathing and alive and he thinks that's all there is, that it's enough.

He can feel Dean's arms around him, feel Dean's heart beating right through his shirt and he thinks, I have that. I have that too. And then the floor buckles and the walls press in and he realizes the whole basement is a grave, a coffin, and he runs.

He makes it the front lawn before the pain in his head forces him to his knees. He vomits into the peonies and fresh tears leak from his eyes. He'll never tell Dean that Tallulah was right, that he can feel the shadows, sometimes. That when he's almost asleep he can see them from the corner of his eye. He doesn't just see shadows. He is one.

His stomach rolls again and he dry heaves, desperate to get the darkness out. He can still feel Tallulah's neck beneath his hand, hear the snap. He thinks, Jake did that. I killed Jake and I am Jake and I'm dead but I'm not. Fuck. Fuck. His hands pulls up chunks of wet grass and dirt and there's no where to go, nowhere to be but here.

"Sam? Sammy?"

Dean's voice is close and Sam feels a warm hand on the back of his neck. It's the feel of comfort, of safe. Dean's always pulling him back from the brink, bringing him back from the dead. Sam's hand scrabbles to find Dean's arm and he squeezes. Dean is the only good thing left, Dean is all he has. He's not enough. He's everything.

Sam drops onto one elbow, rolls onto his back. He stares up at the stars. A thousand burning candles flicker back. Dean's hand moves from Sam's neck to his shoulder. "Are you okay? You want to go the hospital?"

Sam shakes his head. He's afraid the doctors will know, they'll take one look at him and they'll know he's not quite right. That he doesn't belong. He's not dead, he's not alive. He isn't anything at all. Sam looks up at the candles, wonders if he can blow them all out.

"Sam?" Dean presses. He tries to sound casual, but Sam knows the sound of Dean's voice. He knows the sound of Dean's worry with or without words.

"No," Sam says. "I'm fine. I might need some stitches in my leg though." He adds, as an afterthought, "It hurts."

"No shit," Dean says with a grin. And then the smile fades. He shifts next to Sam, uncomfortable. "I'm sorry," he says softly. "I should have known it was a trap. I should have listened to you." His voice drops even lower. "I can't…I can't imagine what that must have been like. Going through that."

Sam shuts the apology down. "It's okay, Dean. I'm okay." He turns his head to see Dean's face. "Really. We got out in one piece." He shapes his mouth into a smile. "More or less."

"Another day, another demon, right?" Dean's laugh waivers, tips. Rights itself.

"Yeah." Sam props himself up on his elbows.

Dean pulls the car keys out of his pocket. "I think...I think we better salt and burn her, just in case."

Sam nods. "'s good idea." He holds out a hand and Dean pulls him up. He walks gingerly, pain grinding through his leg.

Dean gets the gasoline can and the salt. Sam trails behind, stops at the front porch. He can feel the weight of something in his pocket. He pulls out a clump of dirt, holds it in the palm of his hand. He stares at it. This is where you belong, his mind whispers. Buried and gone.

Dean glances back over his shoulder. "You okay?" He hesitates, gas can swinging against his leg. "Do you want to wait out on the porch?"

Sam reaches for the salt. "Dude. I'm fine. Let's get this over with, huh? I'm starving. You owe me dinner. And that means someplace with chairs and tables. Not a vending a machine."

Dean rolls his eyes and makes a crack Sam doesn't quite catch. He listens to the sound of his brother's voice and follows him back into the basement. Sam will get through this hunt, and then the next, and the one after that. He'll find a way to save Dean. He'll do everything he can for Dean and then he'll do more. But the one thing he will never do, not ever, is tell Dean the truth.

Sam will never admit that he was glad to die, that he was relieved. He will never admit he doesn't want to be here, didn't ask to be here, that every breath he takes feels like a betrayal, another small death.

He loves Dean more than life itself. And more than death. So he puts the truth in a grave of its own and buries it down, down deep.