A/N: Well. If you decide to read this, you are in for a rather long and bumpy ride. Which includes Wincest. And angst. And Sam's path to ... well. You'll see. Read, enjoy, and review and tell me what you think please. All constructive criticism appreciated.

Also, what does everyone think of Season 3 so far? Although I live in the UK I have managed to sneakily watch the first two episodes! I liked them, but I don't like the fact that due to the new characters, Sam and Dean have less screen time together. Everyone else?

Warnings: Wincest, implied violence, violence, bad language.

Disclaimer: I own nothing, although I would love to.

Summary: 'How To Save A Soul' in five easy steps. Dean's unconscious path to self-destruction has led him into this mess, and Sam's determined to sort it out, no matter who he hurts in the process, including himself and his own integrity. 'How certain are you that what you brought back is 100 percent pure Sam?' Wincest.

How To Save A Soul

Step One: Do Some Personal Soul-Searching Of Your Own

Sam is pissed off.

Has been for a month now. Since when? Well, since his stupid idiot of a brother made a stupid, stupid deal with a demon to exchange his soul for his brother's life. Oh, so how long does he have? One year.

Yes, one year, one stupid, fucking year!

Sam has been going over this in his head almost non-stop for the past month. He's also been researching, refusing point-blank to go on any new hunts, despite Dean's protests of, "Dude, like a hundred demons escaped, you said so yourself! How the hell are we supposed to just do nothing?"

Dean has a point, Sam knows Dean has a point, knows that people will die, but hey, Dean is going to die, Dean, his big brother who's been looking out for him his life, the only family he has left, that Dean, is going to die in one year, and Sam is damned if he's going to let that happen. That kind of trumps the whole 'but innocent people are going to die' thing, in his opinion, anyway.

When Dean suggested going to a hunt in Oklahoma by himself on the first day after Sam came back, Sam almost punched him. He really and truly was this close to just smacking his brother across his stupid face and screaming, "You are not fucking going!"

But Sam had controlled himself and had said in a low and firm voice, his anger reverberating around the room, "Dean, you are not going to go on a hunt by yourself."

Dean's frown and petulant, "I'm twenty-seven, dude," only made Sam angrier.

"Can't you even wait a fucking year before you go out and get yourself killed?" Sam had snapped, and Dean had looked hurt and Sam had been sorry, but his anger was too fresh and raw after only twenty-four hours for him to apologise.

Now it's been a month and Sam's anger has settled, although he is definitely more irritable than he used to be. Not just with Dean, but with everyone else who crosses his path, not that many people do, due to Sam not leaving their motel room apart from when Dean forces him to get out and have some food.

Like the new waitress who spent so damn long writing down their order the other day, when all Dean ordered was a cheeseburger and all Sam ordered was a coffee with cream.

"Erm, so that was, um …" the young blonde girl had fumbled with the large paper pad and pen, simultaneously scratching the back of her head and Sam bit down the urge he had to sneer, 'it's not rocket-science, sweetheart' as she scrunched up her face and repeated for the third time, "a … cheeseburger, the one with, erm … beef, right, and uh, a … coffee with … cream, was it?"

Dean had nodded patiently, and had grinned a little, his trademark 'fuck-me' grin, and the waitress blushed, although she was only about seventeen, and that did not serve to improve Sam's mood.

"Yes," Sam had all but growled, causing Dean to raise his eyebrows.

The waitress had nodded, turning around to leave with their order, and Sam muttered, "Finally," only to have her turn back, a confused expression on her face as she began again, "Wait, wait, wait, so …you'd like a … a coffee with … milk, or cream, was it?"

That was it.

Sam yanked the paper pad and pen out of the girl's hands, and snarled, "I'll fucking write it down for you, we've spelt it out for you enough, why the hell are you even working here if you can't remember shit?"

He had thrust the order at the shocked girl, having written it down, and he remembered feeling guilty as her eyes filled up with tears and as Dean stared at him in utter shock from across the table.

"Dude," Dean said quietly, disbelievingly, when the girl left, trying not to sob, "what's your problem, man? That was harsh."

"My problem," Sam hissed, feeling more annoyed now that Dean was looking at him in that way, "is that I only have three hundred and thirty-eight days left to save you, and that girl was wasting time that I could have used researching on writing down the words 'cheeseburger' and 'coffee with cream'."

Dean opened his mouth to reply, to defend the girl, probably to say 'cut her some slack, she's new' or something, but Sam wasn't having it.

"You're gonna die, Dean, in case you've forgotten," Sam said bluntly and Dean flinched. "I'm sorry that I don't have enough in me to care about the feelings of some little girl who can't do her job properly," Sam said, although somewhere in the back of his mind he knew his words were harsh.

Dean had kicked him, a vicious kick rather than a playful one, and had said with a guarded expression on his face, "You've changed."

"I know," Sam wanted to say, although when the girl came back with their food, her eyes down and her mascara smudged, he felt suddenly and intensely guilty.

It's been one month since the deal kicked into effect, and although his anger had been kind of settling (although his anger with himself for not having found any information has risen to a whole new level of fuck-me-it's-all-my-fault), Sam is now as pissed off as he had been when he'd found out.

Because Dean isn't in the motel.

He'd asked Sam if he wanted to come with him to eat some food, to which Sam had replied with a shake of his head and then a nod at the screen of his laptop and said, "Nah, 'm not hunrgry,", after which Dean had said, "Whatever,", had shuffled about a bit, then had left.

And not come back. For two hours.

Sam knows what Dean is doing, as well, because five minutes ago he stopped researching, rubbed his tired eyes, and then realised the time and that the bag of weapons wasn't completely under the motel bed, where it had been for the past week.

Sam could have sworn that the bottom of his stomach had dropped out at that realisation.

He had checked the bag, and sure enough, the book of exorcisms was gone, and Sam curses now, again, "Shit, Dean," and tries not to worry himself into unconsciousness.

Sam is sitting stock still in his chair, facing the door, when Dean comes in one and a half hours later, his forehead bleeding, bruises on his neck and his T-shirt ripped.

Sam leaps to his face, hisses, "Dammit, Dean!" before enveloping his brother into a hug.

Dean looks as surprised about it as Sam feels – he hasn't hugged his brother in well over four years, not counting the time that Dean hugged Sam right after he sold his soul.

And just like that, Sam's anxiousness turns into anger.

Sam pushes Dean away from him slightly and Dean winces.

"What the hell?" Sam's voice is loud and angry. "What the hell are you trying to do, Dean? To yourself? To me?"

Dean looks at him defiantly, and drops his gun onto the bed.

"I'm doing my job, Sam, I'm saving people," he says.

"No, you're killing me, Dean," Sam snarls. "What the hell were you thinking, doing an exorcism by yourself?" It's not like Dean's never done that before, but it's different now, it's different, everything's changed and Dean is not allowed to put himself in danger like that.

Sam only has one year, not even that, now, eleven months, eleven frigging months to find a cure for this … this problem, and he doesn't need Dean getting into any scrapes that can speed up the process of the deal.

"Sam, you know how many demons got out, we haven't been doing anything for a whole damn month, I have to do something, man," Dean says angrily and now Sam knows what, exactly, Dean has been doing in the library – he's been doing his own research on all those demons he's planning to kill. Sam grits his teeth and Dean blinks and looks shocked when Sam shoves him into the wall, his hands on Dean's chest and Dean winces.

"How bad are you hurt?" Sam asks, his voice low.

Dean tries to shrug, but Sam slams him back against the wall and Dean's head thunks against it and he winces.

"Well, my head hurts, now," Dean snarls, but Sam's not having this bull and shoves Dean against the wall again and Dean winces again and says, "Alright, alright, only a little, no need to beat it out of me."

The cut on his forehead is bleeding and the blood is running down Dean's nose slowly, onto the top of his lip.

"Fuck, Dean, you can't do this shit," Sam says, and feels pathetic and angry and tired and he can feel his blood boiling underneath his skin and why doesn't Dean understand that Sam needs him here?

"Look, man," Dean says softly, and Sam's hands are still on his chest and his eyes are on the blood on the top of Dean's upper lip, "I've gotta do something, y'know? I can't just sit around for one year waiting for you to save me."

"I am going to save you," Sam says with conviction, and Dean sighs. "I will, I will," Sam has never been more sure of anything. "You've gotta trust me, man."

"It's OK, Sam, is what I mean," Dean says gently, and Sam shakes his head, vaguely acknowledging that there's a tear making its way down his cheek, "it's OK to let me hunt, we can hunt together, it's not like anything's changed."

"Everything's changed," Sam whispers, and he never wants to let Dean go.

"Sam, you don't have to save me," Dean sounds sad, resigned.

Sam pushes his hands against Dean's chest slightly harder and growls, "I am going to save you, dammit."

And then, before he even realises what he's doing, he bends his neck and licks the blood off of Dean's upper lip.

When he pulls away his hands don't leave Dean's chest, under which he can feel Dean's heartbeat speeding up, and he looks at his brother's face.

Dean is looking up at him searchingly.

Sam doesn't know what's come over him. All he knows is that his blood is boiling and Dean is solid and real and he needs to let Dean know how much he loves him, so he grinds his hips into Dean and feels a satisfied smile creep onto his face when Dean lets out a hot little half-gasp.

"Sammy," Dean says, and he sounds a little breathless. Sam doesn't say anything, but bends down and kisses Dean, kisses his brother, his tongue sweeping all around the hot, wet mouth, memorising it as best he can, and Dean kisses back, and the kiss is hot and dirty and both brothers are hard and breathless by the end.

Sam's hands creep down to the waistband of Dean's jeans. Dean's breath hitches.

"Are you sure?" he whispers.

"Yes," Sam breathes, and within five minutes Dean is naked and Sam's jeans are off and he's thrusting into Dean as hard and as desperate as he can, both of them ignoring Dean's bruises and cuts from his fight with the demon he exorcised.

Dean moans and Sam grunts when he comes, and they both fall on Dean's bed, tired and sated.

Dean is half on top of Sam, and Sam kisses the top of Dean's head.

"Dude," Dean says weakly, his voice all low and husky and I'm-all-fucked-out, a large smile on his face, "I dunno about you, but if I wasn't before, I am definitely going to hell for this."

Sam smiles back, stroking Dean's hair, and feels a warmth in his chest as Dean closes his eyes and leans into the touch.

When Dean is asleep on his chest Sam lets out the breath he didn't realise he'd been holding and closes his eyes only to hold back the tears.

Step Two: Hit The Jackpot

"Sam, what are you doing, it's, like, six in the morning," Dean calls sleepily from the bed.

"Just checking today's weather, I wanna take you somewhere nice," Sam says, trying to keep his voice steady so as not to make it too blatant that he is lying.

"Does that make me the girl in this relationship?" Dean says mock-grumpily, and Sam laughs, and to his relief Dean falls asleep again and doesn't call him on his lie, which isn't necessarily a lie, more like a half-truth.

He does want to take Dean somewhere nice, he wants to take Dean somewhere nice every day and do nice things with him every day and treat him and care for him and love him to make up for twenty-three years of almost-neglect, but he isn't checking today's weather.

In fact, Sam's computer and law-breaking skills are finally paying off, really paying off, because he's somehow managed to hack into the Darkest online library (yes, dark magicks could be found online aplenty, it's just that this one was pretty damn dark and took him a damn month and a half to find) and is desperately scrolling through pages and pages of spells and secrets that may hint to him about what he's looking for until he realises that he might miss something in his haste (these things take time, he reminds himself, even though his heart is beating so hard and his mind is constantly SCREAMING there are only three hundred and twenty-three days left, there isn't enough TIME!), so he scrolls all the way back up and reads through every single word carefully, attentively, to make sure he doesn't miss a single minute detail that may give him a clue about what to do or where to go.

Dean wakes up fully at ten, gets up, has a shower, then leans over Sam and kisses his neck.

Sam quickly closes the page he's on (Restoration and Protection), but not before bookmarking it, and pretends to have been looking at pictures of cows on a search engine.

"Dude, seriously," Dean laughs into Sam's neck and Sam's face just breaks out into a smile – he loves it when Dean laughs – but then just as quickly the smile disappears because he realises that unless he finds something now, well, at least soon, the only time he'll be hearing that laugh is in his nightmares (Sam doesn't have normal dreams).

Sam turns his head and kisses Dean on the lips before turning his attention back to the computer screen.

"Sam," Dean actually whines, and Sam glances at him, amused. "Aren't you gonna buy me breakfast after I put out last night?"

Sam laughs, only half-meaning it, and looks at the picture of the cow with the huge pink bow currently on the web page on the computer briefly, before switching the computer off and saying, "'Course I am, sweetheart, grab your coat and let's go."

Dean gives him this look and then before they know it they're back on the bed, and one hour later they're at the diner and Dean's shoving a burger into his mouth while Sam is drinking his coffee (he's never really been a big fan of breakfast) and rubbing his leg against Dean's.

Everything is all good and nice and peachy, it really is, and Sam almost (well, not almost, his mind is still reminding him 'less than a year, you've got less than a year', but that's better than what it usually tells him) forgets that Dean has made a deal with the crossroad demon to sell his soul, but then the waitress has to go breathing all over Dean and that is just not on.

Sam can't explain the sudden anger he feels when the thirty-something slut in a short skirt bends right over Dean, so her breasts are practically in his face, and puts a hand on his shoulder, but before he knows what he's doing and why, he reaches across and grabs the woman's wrist with his hand tightly.

"Ow!" she exclaims, shocked, and Sam glares at her and for one moment thinks 'if I break your wrist, there's no way you'll be touching Dean again', and is a bit shocked with himself, but since he only thought it for a moment (or two) he forgets about it.

"Don't touch him," is all Sam says, his voice low and possessive, and Dean is staring at him in complete shock before he seems to regain his sense and yanks Sam's hand off the waitress's wrist, leaving Sam blinking and feeling a bit confused.

"What the hell, Sam?" Dean snarls, looking genuinely pissed. The waitress leaves, rubbing her wrist and looking back at Sam fearfully, but neither brother really notices.

"I … don't know," Sam sounds a bit surprised with himself. He feels it, too. "I don't know what came over me."

"Neither do I! Dude, she wasn't doing anything wrong!" Dean hisses.

"She was touching you!" Sam snaps, and he realises that that's his explanation.

Dean raises his eyebrows and spreads his hands, all what-the-fuck-there's-no-problem, "And?"

Sam stares at his brother's slightly disgusted face and feels guilty.

"I really don't know, man. I just … I …" he pauses. "Dean," he makes sure his voice isn't too hesitant, "we're together, aren't we?"

Dean nods hesitantly, looking unsure about where this is going.

"I don't know, man, I just … I felt …" Sam struggles to explain what he felt when he grabbed the waitress' wrist like that, although he doesn't really know himself. "She was touching you," Sam's voice came out quietly, "and I just, I … I don't want anyone else touching you." He feels himself flush slightly – what a thing to say, and to Dean, especially.

Surprisingly, though, his brother looks a bit mollified although his expression is still quite severe.

"I mean, especially now, now we've gotta …" Sam's voice wavers and his chest clenches so painfully and his fingers twitch like he's got to type now, "gotta make the most of our time."

Dean's expression softens immediately, and he nods and puts his hand on Sam's face.

"Yeah," he agrees, and the incident is forgotten.

When they get back to the motel room, Sam goes back on his laptop.

He's getting closer.

"Wanna go out somewhere tonight?" Dean suggests, but Sam refuses.

He can feel it.

After almost four weeks of almost solid research ('Just looking for a simple hunt,' Sam claims when Dean remarks about all the time he spends on the computer and in the library – he only lets Dean go on one hunt per week, even if it only takes a couple of hours, and usually, Sam insists on being there with Dean), Sam turns to Dean with a wide smile on his face.

"We're going to Arizona," he announces.

Step Three: Know The Right People

Sam approaches the first one on a Wednesday.

He knows she's the right one straight away because he's heard about her, read about her, asked around.

Also, her picture was on the ad for the Psychic Fair in town, the one just outside Phoenix, this week. The math, which had always been one of Sam's favourite subjects when he was at school, really wasn't that hard to work out.

Luckily for Sam, she's quite young, about his age, and pretty, not that her looks really matter. He sees the pentagram straight away, the silver contrasting with her lightly-tanned skin, and makes a note to himself to remove that first. His chosen method is the good old my-place-or-yours scenario, which is way more preferable than the other possible scenarios that Sam has thought about, thought about in great detail and prepared for, but isn't too keen on carrying out.

He hasn't had much practice with this, but he's actually been trying out his charm for the past few days, a few seedy bars here and there in the few hours while Dean relaxes and watches television, claiming he's going out to get them some good food or whatever.

It never leads to anything, of course, but Sam needed to be confident, and he needed to get confident quickly, and hey, practice makes perfect, right?

"Hello," he greets her, sitting alone at a table, a glass of wine in her hand, clearly waiting for someone. "Mind if I sit down?" he asks.

He's found that it's best to figure out who he's dealing with before he starts making the moves, whether the girl is into cockiness or shyness or brains or brawn, because then he knows who to pretend to be and that makes this so much easier, because he can tell himself that it's not him, it's someone else, someone else who's doing this.

She looks up at him, smiles politely, and his first impression is that of Bambi, what with the huge brown eyes and the caramel-coloured hair on this girl.

"Well, actually, I'm kind of waiting for someone," she says apologetically, shyly, not quite meeting his eyes.

"Oh, right," Sam says, makes his voice hurried and nervous, "of course you are, I'm so sorry, I should've known a girl as pretty as you would have a boyfriend, sorry, I'll just, erm, go," he sounds embarrassed and unless he's very much mistaken, he is blushing right on cue.

"Oh, no," the girl says quickly, and blushes herself at Sam's compliment. "I don't have a boyfriend, I'm just waiting for a friend." She looks hesitant, but says quietly, "Erm, I'm sure she won't mind if you keep me company while I'm waiting. Have a seat if you like."

Sam smiles at her and sits down opposite her. She smiles back, rather shyly, her eyes falling back to the glass of wine in her hand. Sam feels a twinge in his chest. This girl seems so innocent … shy, quiet, not very confident … how could she be one of them, how could she command so much power? He guesses she's probably unaware about what she's dealing with, too naïve to bother finding out what she's getting herself into.

Oh well. There's no other way. The first one has to be her.

"So, what's your name?" Sam enquires politely.

"Andrea," the girl answers, and finally looks him in the eye.

"I'm Sam," Sam keeps his voice quiet and fairly shy, and the girl gives him a small smile. "Hey, I saw your picture on the Psychic Fair poster," he says, trying to make conversation.

Andrea blushes.

"It's a nice picture," Sam says, deliberately making his voice quiet and dropping his eyes down to the table, as if he's shy. He needs to connect with this girl, and this is how, by making her feel like she can relate to him.

And it's not too hard, really, if he can just make himself forget what he has to do tonight. He can just tell himself it's make-believe and pretend to be someone else, just like he used to when he was five and Daddy would move them to a new town for a few days and would tell Sam and Dean to say that their names were Tommy and Jack Stringham (Sam was Tommy and Dean was Jack) and when Sam asked why, Daddy just said that it was kind of like a game of pretend for a few days, because he wanted his boys to have some fun without repercussions.

Well, there sure are a hell of a lot of repercussions now, but maybe pretending to be someone else when he was little is helping Sam a lot now.

When he looks up Andrea is full-on smiling at him.

"So, what do you do, Sam? Do you live around here?" she finally ventures to ask him something, and he smiles, partly because he's playing the part and partly because this means that she wants to get to know him, is intrigued by him, may start to trust him (hey, people are stupid).

"Well, I'm studying to be a paediatrician," Sam lies because, well hey, this girl seems sweet and as though she'd appreciate something like that, and he really needs to get her on his side, get her to listen to his words and trust him, "and no, I'm just passing through," he says truthfully, because it's unnecessary to lie about something like that.

Her smile falters momentarily so Sam says quietly, shyly, rubbing the back of his neck to give an impression of awkwardness, "Although you kind of make me wanna stay here a bit longer, y'know, just to get to know you."

Her eyes are wide and bright and her blush is rather adorable and Sam feels the guilt smack into him with full force, so hard he thinks he's going to be sick even though nothing's happened yet, so he reminds himself, for Dean, for Dean, this is all for Dean and he feels the tiniest little bit better.

"You're sweet," Andrea laughs airily, though a bit nervously, clearly trying to play it cool because apparently nice guys don't usually hit on her.

"Can I buy you a drink?" Sam asks, although she's already got one in her hand. "And are you sure you don't mind if I sit with you until your friend gets here?" he adds nervously; he doesn't want to come across as too forward, especially not with this girl. "I don't wanna be, you know, sleazy, I'm not, like, gonna try anything, I just … I dunno, you look like you'd be nice company."

The girl looks a bit unsure, so Sam smiles and cocks his head and makes his eyes all bright and big and realises he's making the look he usually uses on Dean when he wants to watch something else on TV, the look he usually uses on people they're interviewing when they're on a hunt in order to convince them that they really are environmental scientists or veterinarians or expert butchers, the look he used to use on his dad when he wanted to stay in whatever town they were currently in a few more days, just a few, the look that works every single time, and this time is no exception.

Andrea's face relaxes and she nods, so Sam orders her a drink, asking her what she'd prefer, of course, and orders a beer for himself to try to calm his nerves (not that one beer will do much, but still) while he talks to her and occasionally compliments her and as she gets through her third glass of wine, she starts complimenting him back, telling him that he's cute and sweet and is he sure he has to leave tomorrow?

Sam's lucky that Andrea is one of those people who like to be early for everything and her friend is one of those people who can't help being late for everything, so Sam has almost two hours to gain Andrea's trust and flatter her without making himself seem like he wants something in return, so when her friend gets there, she's sad to see him go (and a little drunk).

"Sam, why don't you stay?" Andrea offers, smiling widely. "I mean, I know we just met, but I'm sure Melinda won't mind, will you, Mel?"

Her friend gives Sam the once-over, but is apparently unimpressed, because she snorts, says, "Andrea, honey, how about we do this tomorrow? Sam can take my place for tonight," and then she lowers her voice, "and maybe even go round to yours," she waggles her eyebrows, laughing at Andrea's embarrassed expression, slaps Sam on the shoulder and says, "Be safe, man."

Sam's really, really lucky that Andrea's friend is one of those people who like to embarrass their friends and then leave.

"I am so sorry about that," Andrea sounds mortified and is flushed, although that may be because of the alcohol. "Really, I mean, I'm not … that kind of girl, really, I don't know why Mel said that … Sam, I really am sorry."

Although Andrea's politeness and shyness is good because it makes this that much easier and he can take advantage of it, Sam thinks it would be better if she were rude, annoying and cruel, because at least then he could convince himself that he hates her and it doesn't matter, it really doesn't matter, but she's not, she's a nice girl, and she's apologising to him, how ironic, Sam thinks, and tells himself not to laugh or cry (he's not quite sure which he's closer to), Sam should be the one apologising to her.

But the first one was always going to be the hardest, he knows this.

"It's OK," Sam forces a smile, and puts a hand over Andrea's small, shaking one on the table. "I don't mind."

Andrea smiles back at him with such trust that Sam almost balks, seriously, really and truly he almost just gets up and walks right out of there before he thinks no. Dean. This is for Dean.

So instead of chickening out, like Sam half-expected himself to do, Sam leans in slowly, making sure he speeds up his breathing slightly, and whispers in Andrea's ear, "I know this is kind of forward of me, and we haven't known each other for that long, but would you like to go for a walk with me? Now? We could, I dunno, walk around and look at the stars, and then maybe you could, I dunno, maybe, come round, for a coffee, I mean, if you want?"

He holds his breath when he pulls back, unsure whether Andrea is drunk enough to say yes or sober enough to slap him, he's unsure and nervous and his palms are sweating and he's really, really hoping that she's willing because if not, he'll have to use an alternative method that he really doesn't feel like using.

She blinks at him, and is silent for the longest few moments of Sam's life, and Sam's worried that he got her all wrong and she'll somehow see through his ploy and she'll gasp and slap him and leave, and Sam will be shocked that he can't do anything apart from sit there in silence, and let his one and only chance slip away …

A hesitant smile breaks out on Andrea's face and she nods, somewhat coyly, and that's all the answer that Sam needs.

He takes her small, dainty hand in his large, sweaty one, and leads her out of the bar with his head held high and his mind steeled for what is to come.

There's nothing he wouldn't do for Dean.

The second one he approaches on a Tuesday, in North Dakota, and this is one is surprisingly easy to convince to leave with him.

She's a tall blonde who looks nothing like Jess, a few years older than Sam, dressed in a long, dark purple dress, the pentagram shining above her cleavage, and she is giving out a party-vibe and seems to like the look of Sam because the moment he says, "Hey, do you mind if I sit here?" she winks at him, stands up and presses her body against his and says huskily, "No, gorgeous, but I'd sure mind if you didn't buy a girl a drink and then come round tonight."

Sam grins, both relieved that it's so easy this time and a little terrified because that means the next part will come so much quicker than it did last time and he won't have any time to prepare himself for it, but says boldly, because he's always been one for taking chances, in a voice he must have learnt from Dean, "Well, sugar, if you're offering, why don't we head out right now?"

The blonde looks impressed, says breathily, "Great plan, lets just do the quick introduction thing, I don't like leaving with strangers," as though finding out Sam's name and what he does would mean that she knows him. She clears her throat, although it doesn't really help, because her voice is still husky when she says, "I'm Lisa and I'm an accountant."

She looks at him expectantly and Sam swallows because his throat is dry because he knows what he has to do in about five minutes, ten if he's lucky.

"I'm Sam and I'm a … lawyer," he lies, because it's a hell of a lot easier than saying the truth.

"A lawyer, huh?" the woman looks thrilled, so Sam swallows his fear – she shouldn't be trusting a stranger so fast, anyway, it's all on her, really – as the woman practically drags Sam out of the door, and that's that.

The third one is the hardest to convince so far, and this one he approaches on a Wednesday, after he's had quite a time convincing Dean that going down to southern Mississippi after they'd only spent a few days in North Dakota is a good idea.

First of all, she's quite a lot older than Sam, about Ellen's age, and she's surrounded by both male and female friends, all having a drink after work or something judging by the abundance of suits and pencil skirts, and when Sam tries to talk to her when she goes to the toilet she looks annoyed and sneers at him.

He also can't see a pentagram anywhere on her, he realises when he remembers to look for one, which might be a problem, although he's pretty sure he'll discover it, one way or another.

Yes, he decides, after he asks her politely if he can buy her a drink and she sneers patronisingly, "Aren't you old enough to buy your own, sweetie?", that he isn't adverse to using his other method on this woman.

He wonders vaguely why he wouldn't care that much, and then decides it's because she's a fucking bitch and she deserves it, a thought which comes after she sees two cowboys kissing on the dance floor and says loudly, derisively, "So that's who's bringin' the AIDS down to Mississippi," and all her friends burst out laughing.

After a couple of hours of trying to get her alone, he manages to corner her when she leaves the bathroom and she says to him in a cutting voice, "What are you, my stalker? Stop following me around, go back to school."

"Look, I really need to talk to you," he makes his voice urgent, makes sure he looks anxious. She looks back at him with a cool gaze. "It's about …" he looks around, deliberately making himself surreptitious, and then whispers, "magic." He makes sure the expression on his face is earnest, and not that of a stupid guy who's talking random bullshit.

He is mildly surprised when she nods understandingly, and asks, "What's your name, kid? What's this about?"

"Tyler," Sam lies, because he's tired of using his real name and he also used to want to change his name to Tyler when he was a kid, and now he wants to know what it sounds like, see if it'll give him a bit of a kick, "and I'll tell you, but not here. Outside?" Sam isn't particularly nervous this time, because the woman was so rude to him before.

She agrees, and Sam finds out that she keeps her pentagram wrapped around her wrist as a bracelet.

The fourth one he approaches in a diner in Idaho, and, man, wasn't that an effort trying to convince Dean to go there, although in the end Sam kind of gave up and just drove them there when Dean was sleeping in the car.

Dean was pissed, still is, in fact, but Sam kind of doesn't care. It's for his own good.

And Sam kind of wants to know what the fourth one is like.

So this fourth one, she's with a guy friend and two girl friends, and Sam struts over, gives her a big smile which gets even bigger when she eyes his form appreciatively, and says, "Hey there. Mind if I sit?"

The dark-haired guy sitting next to her glowers as Sam deliberately squeezes on the bench next to the girl, although there's hardly any room for him. The guy must be her boyfriend or something.

Sam doesn't even feel that sorry him. Sure, he thinks briefly 'sucks to be him', but mostly he thinks about playing his cards right so he can do what he needs to do.

The girl's a loud-mouthed red-head called Cindy, he finds out, and doesn't quite catch her friends' names but they're not important so it doesn't really matter. Sam doesn't really like Cindy but pretends to enjoy the way she bad-mouths strangers the moment they walk past because every time he laughs she gives him this flattered look, as if she'd hand herself over to him on a plate if he keeps it up.

"Cindy," one of the girls simpers, "where did you get that necklace from, it's gorgeous?"

Sam's attention is drawn to Cindy's necklace, and as he now has an excuse to look at it, he sees that there is a pentagram hanging there amongst all the different coloured stones and talismans.

Cindy is a bitch, and in the least cool way, Sam decides, when Cindy laughs loudly and brashly at the question (the dark-haired guy – Clive? Bill?) next to her joins in, his eyes constantly flicking to her, and she says, "Like you could even afford the chain, Kiki, so there's no point in me telling you, is there?"

Rich bitch, Sam swallows the urge to sneer, and instead leans into Cindy and says in her ear, "Meet me outside?"

He pulls back, smirking slightly, and Cindy looks quite smug, but she says in a low voice, "Sorry, Sam, but my boyfriend's right next to me," and her boyfriend is right next to her, clearly unhappy that he can't hear her and Sam's conversation, "so what will you give me that he can't?"

Sam keeps his smirk on his face although he wants to snarl just come with me, you dumb bitch he whispers sensually in her ear, "A good time."

He pulls back again and is pleased that she looks a little more convinced, but then she says quietly, teasingly, "I really don't know, Sam, I mean …"

"Oh, but baby," Sam says and grins, leans in and traces the shell of her ear with his tongue; her friends sitting opposite giggle, although Cindy's boyfriend is still right next to her and must know that something's up, "you're so gorgeous." This time, the lie isn't necessary, but Sam still delivers it; this time, Sam lies because he feels like it.

Cindy bites her bottom lip in a blatant come-hither manner. Sam stands up, and so does she.

"I'm going to the restroom," Cindy announces, barely sparing a glance at her boyfriend's hurt face – her eyes are only on Sam.

"I'm going, too," Sam announces loudly, and follows Cindy out of the diner.

Her pentagram is a bitch to get off the chain, Sam finds out.

And now that he's done with her, all he needs is the last one.

Sam finds himself smirking, feeling strangely empowered.

"Dude, what's so funny?" Dean nudges his arm gently and leaves his own arm there, right by Sam's, his fingers stroking his brother's thigh.

"Oh, nothing, man," Sam smiles absently, and changes the television channel to some sort of game show. "Hey, I thought we'd go to Wisconsin next."

Sam feels his brother stare at him, and remembers that Dean is still a bit pissed about the whole taking-him-to-Idaho-while-he-was-asleep-in-the-car thing.

"Sam, we are not going there," Dean says plainly.

Sam raises his eyebrows and turns his head to Dean. This is the first time in four weeks that Dean has told him 'no' (to anything).

"Why don't you want to?"

"I …" Dean begins, but then apparently changes his mind because he shakes his head and gives Sam a half-grin, quipping, "Why are you so set on this state, man, you've been dragging me all over America."

It's clear that Dean's been having issues with this from his strangely tense tone of voice, and something in Sam's stomach twists briefly, uncomfortably.

He turns his head back to the television and suspects it's indigestion.

"I just wanna take you to different places, y'know, exciting places," Sam smiles weakly, because the line is not delivered quite as truthfully as he wanted it to be, and convincing Dean is his easiest option.

His eyes dart to Dean and he sees a muscle in his jaw twitch, but his brother still jokes weakly, "Like down South with the cows?"

Sam merely smiles, because he knows they're going to Idaho. They have to. Sam is so focused on this he may have even been getting back to his old ways and neglecting his brother, but only slightly.

But it's all for him, so it doesn't matter, Sam reminds himself. It's all for him.

"Look, Sam, seriously, Wisconsin? We've been there before, man, it ain't that great. So why do you wanna go there now?" Dean's voice is serious, and his fingers stop stroking Sam's thigh.

Sam bristles.

"Dean, we're going," Sam tells him, his voice colder than he meant it to be, "and that's that."

Dean retracts his hand completely.

"Why?" he doesn't sound happy. "Seriously, Sam, I wanna go to Florida," and now he sounds like the petulant child he has never sounded like before.

But things are changing, a lot of things are changing. Dean, Sam, everything around them.

Time is running out, and they're running on a tight schedule. Why doesn't Dean understand this?

"I said no," Sam snaps, and Dean blinks.

"Why not?"

Now he is grating on Sam's already high-strung nerves (they've been strung for the past three and a half months, ever since he found out about Dean's stupid deal), so Sam does what he knows Dean hates because one of his greatest fears next to being alone is being ignored.

He says in an icy cold voice, "I don't feel like it," and turns his head deliberately away from Dean, although that way he can't see what's on the television.

"Sam, why?" Dean sounds slightly desperate, and Sam tries not to wince. He keeps his head turned away from Dean, a pissed off expression on his face. "Sam," Dean says, and puts his hand on Sam's knee. Sam stands up and moves to the chair by their bed (they always get a double now).

He knows Dean feels the rejection and tries not to smirk when Dean's voice is hurt when he says, "But I really wanna go to Florida."

Sam keeps up his silence for twenty minutes until Dean finally gives in and says, trying to sound like he's pissed, "Alright, fine, we'll go to stupid Wisconsin."

Sam turns his head and smiles and Dean, big and bright the way he knows Dean likes, and he makes up for ignoring his brother by fucking him.

When they're done and Dean is asleep, Sam stays up, stroking Dean's hair and face. A phrase on the television catches his attention, and he focuses his gaze on the news, turning the sound down so that it won't wake Dean.

Sam sets his jaw and watches grimly as the news anchorman talks serious about there having been, "four utterly horrific murders, all in different parts of the country. The federal government believes that the same person is responsible for each murder. The victims do not seem to have any known connection, but each one died in exactly the same way. Their hearts were cut out and their bodies abandoned in a most callous way. The victims are also believed to have been robbed of some of their possessions. These are no random killings. The hearts are believed to be used in a ritual of some sort, or for cannibalism. If there is one person responsible for each of these murders, he is moving across the country in a kind of circular, or possibly pentagonal, shape, and experts predict that he will target Wisconsin next. So, folks, keep an eye out for any strange goings-on and do phone the emergency services if you see anything suspicious in that area."

Dean stirs and Sam suddenly feels like he can't breathe.

His brother turns his head sleepily, and Sam quickly switches the channel.

"Why are you still up?" Dean's voice is laced with tiredness.

"Just watchin' TV," Sam whispers, his heart thudding in his head. "Go to sleep, Dean."

Dean does.

Sam approaches the final, most powerful one, on a Friday in a bar in Wisconsin.

"Is this seat taken?" his voice is deliberately low, husky, because that's always the best way to start, and the kohl-lined eyes look up at him and flick up and down his body appreciatively.

The guy cocks his head and grins, drawling, "Naw, sugar, it's all yours."

Sam sits down, slightly closer than necessary, and smiles right in the guy's face. He's always been pretty good at figuring out people, and this guy is clearly in the need of someone forward, someone willing to take control.

Rather surprising, considering the amount of power the guy has.

"I'm Sam, and you are?" Sam keeps his voice clear, but his tone confidential, as if not many people get the privilege of being introduced to him.

"Friends call me Lacey, but you can call me baby," the guy drawls in a Southern accent, and Sam finds himself wondering how on earth the guy seems to be fairly well adjusted and lacking any visible scars, considering the fact his hair is dyed black, he has numerous piercings on his face, a huge pentagram hanging off his neck, and a lot of make-up covering his skin. Sam thinks that folks don't appreciate that kind of thing on the Bible belt, particularly the tattoo of a skull on the guy's neck, and then reminds himself that it really doesn't matter, he doesn't care. The guy could be from Australia with a fake passport and smuggle drugs in his spare time, he really, really doesn't care, and is surprised that this time, he believes himself.

Because in the end, it makes no difference. He does what he needs to do.

This guy is a sleaze, or at least he seems to be judging by the way he's staring at Sam as though he wants nothing more than for Sam to bend him over the bar and give it to him good.

Sam ignores his urge to wince and instead grins and leans into Lacey.

"Alright, baby," he makes sure his voice is husky and his expression is lustful, "how about I buy you a drink?"

'Lacey' looks like his luck is in, which is pretty ironic, Sam thinks, but all the same he buys the guy a whiskey shot.

"So what's a hot guy like you doing in a place like this?" Lacey is nothing if not cliché, Sam decides.

"Well, actually, I work in a bank and on my days off I'm a porn star, I'm filming something tonight, actually," Sam tries not to laugh as he lies; this time, Sam lies because he wants to have fun.

Lacey's look of surprise, fast turning into delight does make Sam laugh, and Lacey's hand on his thigh makes him force himself to stop laughing and try to look at least semi-serious. He does, after all, have a job to do.

"You know what, Sam …" Lacey says in a low tone of voice.

Sam feels an immense surge of triumph, no disgust with himself, and he knows he's well in there when the guy – the last one, the most powerful one, the last one and he will do this and Dean will be saved – bites his lip ring unconsciously and leans in and kisses Sam.

Unfortunately it is at this moment that Dean walks into the bar.

Step Four: Do What You Must

Sam pulls away and opens his eyes, trying not to smirk too smugly.

This is it. This is finally it.

But then he turns his head and can't stop his jaw from dropping because standing just a few feet away from him and Lacey is Dean.

His beautiful green eyes are wide and his face is so hurt and open for some of the longest moments in Sam's life before Dean's expression closes and he says quietly, "Oh, I see," and turns around.

Before Sam even realises what he's doing (for the first time in a while he's possessed by sudden, uncontrollable feeling – and a lot of it is guilt, although automatically reminds himself that he has nothing to be guilty for, it's all for Dean), he's up and by Dean's side, grabbing his shoulder and spinning him around and saying, his voice desperate and honest, "No, Dean, it isn't what it looks like!"

Dean stares at him in a hollow sort of way for a few moments, and Sam half-expects his brother to punch him, but Dean does nothing of the sort.

Dean turns around, and leaves.

And Sam almost follows him.

But then the rational part of his brain starts working and tells him that Dean will be fine, he'll go out to a different bar and get drunk, then get back to the motel after a few hours, as would Sam, and then they'd … talk it out, or … something.

If Sam leaves now, he will almost certainly blow his chances with Lacey, and that would mean he wouldn't be able to …

Sam doesn't even finish that thought. In fact, he's not even sure how he would finish it. It's a bit of a toss-up between 'do this for Dean' and 'do this for himself'. He returns to his seat, the eerie calmness he's been sporting around other people for the last few weeks back, and smiles apologetically at Lacey.

"My boss," he says, by way of explanation, and Lacey nods, happily and naively and dumbly accepting, but that's not Sam's problem.

"So … wanna get out of here?" Lacey proposes, licking his lips.

What a slut. Sam didn't even have to ask.

He grins and nods, fingering Lacey's pentagram lightly.

"Oh yeah, baby."

When he goes back to the motel room, Sam feels strange. On a bigger high than ever before. Exhilarated. His brain is whispering it's done it's done it's almost almost done and he feels excited. He really is going to do this.

But then he sees that although the lights are off, Dean is still up.

He gets off the bed and walks over to Sam. Sam notices Dean's eyes are red, but apart from that he has no other signs of sadness, anger or drunkenness. Sam waits for Dean to explode, and explode he does.

"What the fuck, Sam, have you been playing me all this time?" is what Dean opens up his tirade with, and goes on for a bit, saying utterly ridiculous things that make Sam think if only he knew, but then he finishes off with, "…finding a replacement for me when I'm gone?" and Sam can't believe he'd even suggest that.

As opposed to Dean, whose voice is fiery and wild, Sam's voice is controlled coldness when he says, "Don't you fucking dare. No one could replace you, no one could even come close."

"Then why, Sam, tell me why?" Dean yells, getting all up in Sam's face. "Is that what you've been doing these past few weeks, all those times you said you were going out to research a minor hunt for us to do, or get us some food, or give me time to sleep without interruption, is this really what's you've been do-"

Dean breaks off suddenly and Sam realises his brother has gone pale, and his eyes have travelled down from Sam's face to his shirt collar.

"What? Dean, what is it?" Sam asks, concerned.

Dean opens his mouth, but doesn't say anything. After a few moments he swallows, then looks into Sam's eyes.

Dean's voice is oddly tight and controlled when he says, "You're wearing his necklace."

Sam's eyes widen, and he looks down at his neck. He's wearing the pentagram and his collar is splattered with blood.

He looks at Dean.

There is silence and Dean is utterly still, but then he turns around quickly, about to make a run for it or fetch some holy water, Sam doesn't know, but what he does know is that he can't have that, so he grabs Dean's shoulders, turns him around, and punches him across the face three times in quick succession, huge, powerful hits that leave Dean unconscious and sagging in Sam's arms.

Sam had been hoping to use sleeping pills, because no way would Dean let Sam take them anywhere he wanted to go after this, but he guesses that this is maybe almost as good.

"Sorry, Dean," he whispers to his brother, and kisses him on the forehead quickly, "but we're running out of time."

That night Sam puts Dean in the backseat of the Impala, takes all their stuff (he is meticulous about getting all of his stuff, the stuff he really needs), and begins the long, long drive down to Arizona, back to the exact same place he met that very first girl called … Amy? Allison? Joanna? … Sam can't even remember … five weeks ago.

Sam makes sure to cut right across the middle of the country, because Nebraska is where they need to make a quick stop, Nebraska is right in the middle,and so they do, Sam punching Dean again when he started to wake up (he's sorry but Dean will see how worth it it all is in the end), and getting out of the Impala alone, leaving his unconscious brother in the car.

Sam buries the small velvet bag with the picture of Dean along with something that means a lot to him – Dean's ring, he wrestled it off his unconscious brother's hand – and smiles, satisfied, before getting back in the car and driving them down to Arizona.

Making sure that Dean is still out cold and hoping briefly that he doesn't have a concussion when he wakes up, Sam leaves Dean in the car once again, and goes to the abandoned house which he visited five weeks ago after meeting the first one in the bar.

Shoveling the dirt in front of the house with the stained glass windows (it used to be a church) in five different places before he gets it right, Sam grins when he finds the last place, and drops to his knees.

Pushing the thin layer of dirt to the side, Sam's grin widens when the strong rotting smell hits his nose and he presses the now-thin muscle with his fingers softly, experimentally. It's completely black now; looks hardly anything like it had done five weeks ago.

But a lack of a human body to provide it with blood and oxygen could do that.

Fascinating – Sam's always liked a bit of biology.

Sam takes off the huge pendant he got off Lacey and places it over the muscle. He then gets out the four other pendants from the inside pocket of his coat, and likewise places them over the muscles, and then buries it all again, a small mound there to symbolise what he has done.

He stands, brushes the dirt off his jeans.

He really, really can't stop his grin from spreading even further across his face.

It is done.

Step Five: Reap The Benefits

When Sam struts (yes, struts) back to the Impala, he's vaguely interested in how although he feels a sense of relief, he doesn't really feel much else.

Certainly not the ecstatic happiness he'd been expecting to feel a few months ago if he'd done it then, but he is satisfied.

However, when he gets to the Impala, he realises Dean isn't there.

Sam turns around, Dean's name on his lips, when Dean smacks him across the face.

"Shit, Dean," Sam isn't even pissed, and smiles at the sight of his brother, bags under his eyes, purple bruising around one of them, and fuming.

"What. The. Fuck. Sam?" Dean hisses. "What the hell is going on?"

"Nothing, there's no hell going on, not for anyone," Sam says brightly, and tries not to laugh when Dean's expression turns extremely confused.

Dean punches Sam again, harder, and Sam winces and rubs his nose, which seems to be bleeding.

"Dude! Dude, what is going on? What have you been knocking me out for? And where the fuck are we?" Dean demands angrily, and Sam has an amusing image in his head of Dean dressed in a maid's outfit, for some reason, nothing to do with anything. Maybe he should play that kink out.

He has the time to convince Dean to do it, now, at any rate.

"We're in Arizona," Sam says conversationally.

Dean's eyes widen almost comically (why is Sam suddenly finding everything so funny?) and he says, "You drove me all the way to frigging Arizona?"

"Yep," Sam nods and grins.

Dean shakes his head, disbelievingly.

"Shit, man," he says, and his voice is now without conviction, just plain upset. He looks directly into Sam's eyes and says, "Christo."

Sam merely blinks, then throws his head back and laughs. Dean looks at him.

"Dean, really. I'm not possessed. Why would you even think that?"

"Well, for one thing, I saw you with some guy and then-" Dean's frowning now and stops, apparently thinking better than to finish what's on his mind, and changes track quickly, "you knocked me out, and every time I woke up you just kept hitting me, and now we're in fucking Arizona, and …"

Sam smiles.

"And?" he prompts.

"Dammit, Sam!" Dean yells. His eye is bruised, but he still looks beautiful. "First Arizona, then all the way up to North Dakota, then back down to Mississippi, then Idaho, then Wisconsin, now back in Arizona …" Dean trails off, and looks at Sam like he doesn't know him. "Do you think I'm stupid, Sam? Did you think I wouldn't realise?" he demands in a broken voice. He seems to have abandoned the idea of Sam cheating on him for the past five weeks, which is just as well, because Sam is sure he'd probably just laugh if accused, because no one can even come close to Dean, and hadn't what he'd done proved that?

"I know you're not stupid, Dean," Sam tries to say, placating, but his brother looks angry.

"Then why the hell couldn't you just admit it, couldn't you just tell me what the hell you were doing?" Dean yells, and Sam tries not to wince. His voice is rough and loud and starting to grate on Sam's nerves. "A fucking pentagram, Sam, a devil's trap, a fucking protection symbol we've been driving out. Who the hell are you trying to protect, huh?" Dean's voice is getting even louder, and he sounds crazed as he says, "Is it me? Is it me, little brother, is it me you're trying to protect? What the fuck are you doing, Sam, and I know you're doing something!"

Sam just stares at Dean silently. He'd really like to know what else Dean will come out with.

"Was it you?" Dean's voice is suddenly so tiny and quiet that Sam has to strain his ears to hear. "Was it you, Sammy?" his brother's voice is shaken and he looks betrayed, his eyes wide open with pain shining out of them like a beacon, and now his voice is a whisper. "Did you kill those people?"

"Dean," Sam says calmly, and feels no guilt and no shame. "What are you talking about?"

Dean shakes his head.

"Fuck, Sam, I heard the news! Girl dead in Arizona, woman in North Dakota, woman in Mississippi, girl in Idaho, guy in Wisconsin …" Dean's voice starts off angry, but ends up almost pleading, "all in the last five weeks … I … you … you were so anal about us going to all those places … all in the last five weeks …" Dean sounds as though he's begging Sam to say something, anything to deny the accusation, deny it all, reassure Dean, 'no, dude, are you crazy, of course it wasn't me'.

"What are you trying to say?" Sam goes for stupid, and feels a bit amused at the sound of Dean's voice.

"Shit, Sammy, please, just …" Dean's eyes are pure torture and Sam thinks Dean's going to start to cry, "just tell me … tell me it wasn't you. Please. Just … just one word, that's all I need. Just say no."

Dean makes it sound like he's asking Sam to give him the world, the entire world in that one word. What he doesn't understand is that Sam's already given him his world back.

Sam stands there in silence and Dean's face crumples.

"Dammit, Sam!" he yells, tears falling down his face. Sam just looks on. "How could you? How? They're … they're people, innocent people, they've done nothing to anyo-"

"Witches," Sam interrupts him, his tone factual. "Witches that practiced Black Magic. Frequently." He smiles a little and Dean looks horrified, but Sam doesn't know why. "Alright, I guess a couple of them didn't really know what they were getting themselves into, but … it's all the same in the end, isn't it?"

Dean is still crying and not doing anything, not moving, not running, which Sam guesses is a good sign, but Dean is looking at him like he doesn't know him, which is a bit bothersome.

"Why?" Dean says, and looks like he's about to throw up. "Why, Sam, dammit, why? Whoever they were they were human! No matter what they did, they-"

"Oh, really?" Sam snaps, his tone cold. He's bored of this same old excuse, it just gets so tired after a while. "I seem to recall you not particularly caring in the past, you were always suggesting it, that biker asshole who beat up everyone within ten feet, remember what you suggested we do to him? And Max Miller, remember him? I practically had to trick you so you wouldn't waste him!"

"But I didn't!" Dean screams, actually screams at Sam, and Sam blinks in surprise. "The point is that I didn't! We're meant to be the good guys, Sam! You … you … we're not meant to waste people!" the tears are falling harder but Sam doesn't see what the problem is.

"They weren't amazing people," he says calmly, truthfully, "some of them were sluts, some of them were cruel, some of them were just bitches. It's not like it's a great loss, is it?" This is how Sam feels.

Dean's eyes widen and his tears fall even harder.

"Don't you understand, Sam?" his brother sounds so panicked and desperate, but Sam still can't see what he's getting at. "You're not you, man! You're not … you're not Sammy, not my brother." Sam blinks. "Not really," Dean's voice is small.

Sam slowly raises his eyebrows.

"Then who am I?" his voice is bland, as bland as he feels now that the situation isn't as funny, what with Dean getting all freaked out and emotional.

"I don't know," Dean confesses quietly. "But … dammit, Sam, don't you see?" he whispers, and he's looking at Sam like he's expecting some sort of epiphany.

Sam shrugs.

"See what?" he thinks he should maybe kind of fear the answer, because that seems like the appropriate thing to do, but … he just doesn't seem to be able to, he can't make himself feel.

"You came back wrong."

Sam stands there, blinking at Dean, who just stares back, waiting for some sort of reply.

Sam shrugs his shoulders.

"So?" he says. "Who cares? I'm here, you're here, we're both here …" he smiles suddenly. He wonders how Dean will react when he tells him. He hasn't told him. Sure, Dean knows about the witches Sam had to kill, but he doesn't know why.

Dean wipes his eyes and stares at Sam with disbelief.

"Why did you do it, Sam?" he whispers.

Sam's smile widens.

"For you."

Something seems to crack in Dean's expression – for a moment he looks like he'll start crying again, but he doesn't. He looks … defeated. Strange.

"I did it to save you," Sam explains, thinking that perhaps Dean doesn't quite understand what he means. He grins a toothy grin. "You don't have six months left, big brother. You have your whole life ahead of you. Who knows how long? The deal's off, I found the loophole, I fixed it, I saved you," Sam announces proudly.

"God, Sam," Dean whispers. "Why?"

Dean always did have little self-worth. Of course his first question would be 'why did you save me?'. Sam decides to explain the unasked 'how' first.

"Found it on the net, would you believe," he laughs a little and doesn't notice Dean flinch, "had to search for weeks for it, too, then research after it, research everywhere, I practically rented out the whole library," Sam laughs a little more. "It was simple, really. All I had to do was plan the route, in the shape of a devil's trap, the five points being the places where I had to do what I did, then put you under protection in the middle, which is why I took your ring."

Dean's eyes flick to his right hand momentarily; Sam guesses he perhaps didn't realise he was missing the ring in all his anger and then sadness.

"So that's why I took you up and down the country, in and out of those five states. Had to find the most powerful witch in each state, which took a lot of research, by the way, but hey, I've always been good at it," Sam chuckles and Dean flinches again, "then I had to find them, take out their heart," Dean looks sick, "bury it in that same state, then take their pentagram. I did it for each one of them, which is why you saw me kissing that guy. I was trying to get him to go outside with me." Dean looks sicker.

"And now … you're safe, Dean. I saved you," Sam smiles earnestly. He hopes Dean is grateful. "You know there's no one for me but you, baby," he adds softly when Dean doesn't say anything.

Dean drops to the ground and throws up, big, dry heaves, because he's been unconscious for the past day, and Sam looks down at him sympathetically and waits for him to finish.

Dean must have caught a bug, or something.

"So …" Dean's voice is as dry as his throat must be, "you saved me," he states, his voice oddly emotionless. Dean gets up to his legs, looking shaky but keeping sturdy. He looks right into Sam's eyes and says, no emotion in his voice, "But what did you do to yourself?"

Sam tilts his head, confused, and Dean cocks his head to the Impala's mirror, his expression blank.

Frowning, Sam approaches the car, bends down, and looks at his reflection.

His eyes are completely black – the irises and the whites.

When he straightens and looks at Dean, Dean has a gun pointed at his head.

"Shit, Sam," Dean says, "I mean … fuck, you're not him anymore!" he yells angrily. "Look what you've done to yourself! You are not you, you're not … not him, not Sammy!"

"What?" Sam asks, surprised. "Dean …" he starts. It must be a trick of the light, the black eyes, a reflection of the Impala, yes, on the parts of his eyes that are meant to be white, too …

Dean's hand, the one holding the gun, shakes.

"Did you even read the fucking protection spell or whatever it was you were doing?"

"Of course I read it," Sam snaps, "why would I risk sending y-"

"Did you read what it would do to you?" Dean yells.

"Well, no, Dean, I was rather more concerned with my brother, who only had one fucking year to live, if you recall …" Sam says angrily.

"Fuck!" Dean screams, and he's crying again and his hand (the gun) is shaking harder. "I told you not to save me, not to bother, I told you! And look! Look what you've done to yourself now!"

"Dean, I haven't done anything," Sam tries to explain. He is not a demon. No way. Just because he killed those people and enjoyed it and would kill more and more for Dean and to appease the tiny voice in his head singing 'destroy destroy destroy', just because he now has black eyes (like a demon), just because he has demon blood in him that …

Oh. The demon blood. He still hasn't told Dean about that.

For some reason, Sam isn't very worried about the gun his brother is pointing at him. It seems so trivial, more like a not-so-threatening finger being waved at him rather than a weapon.

"How certain are you that what you brought back is one hundred per cent pure Sam?" Dean whispers through his tears.

"What?" Sam frowns.

"The Demon. That's what he said. That's what he said after I brought you back and you killed Jake. I thought … I thought that was just a one time thing, I thought …" Dean's voice trails off pathetically.

"Dean, calm down," Sam says, putting his hands on Dean's shoulders so that the gun is digging into his forehead. It's quite ironic, Sam thinks, in normal circumstances it would probably be Dean telling the guy whose life is in more danger now to calm down, but Sam is plenty calm for the both of them. "I'm still me."

Dean shakes his head and his tears fall harder.

"You're not. You're not Sam. I want him back. I want him back!" Dean yells.

"Dean, come on," Sam says calmly, trying to get his brother to see reason, "are you really gonna shoot me?" Why can't Dean just be happy that he's alive and well and here, and so is Sam? Why does he have to make this so difficult?

Dean shakes his head and his mouth scrunches up in that way it does when he's going to do something reckless.

"No," Dean whispers, then puts the gun to his temple.

There is a bang and Dean's body falls to the ground and Sam screams, "NO!" as he's covered in blood and suddenly feels like he can't breathe.

He falls to his knees and grabs Dean's shoulders, pulling him up to his knees and says, "No, no, no Dean, dammit, Dean, no, what did you do, what did you do?" and he can feel, he can feel.

Then Dean blinks suddenly.

Sam almost drops his brother in shock.

"Fuckin' headache," Dean groans, and Sam's eyes widen as the wound in the side of Dean's head heals. Just … heals.

Just like that.

"Sammy?" Dean says, sagging in Sam's arms. "You're back?" he whispers.

"Huh?" Sam asks, too focused on the thought devil's trap protection spell devil's trap protection spell devil's trap protection spell.

"Your eyes," Dean whispers. "They're green again."

Sam smiles and realises there's a tear falling down his cheek, something that hasn't happened since he started his journey to get Dean's soul back.

"You're back?" Dean repeats, sounding hopeful.

"Oh, Dean," whispers Sam. "I never left. And you're still here. Still safe."

He hugs his brother to him, feeling the fear and horror seep out of him, leaving the strange nothingness that has become familiar over the months and Dean whispers against Sam's neck, "Why?"

They stay like that for ages, in complete silence, until Dean pulls away and looks at Sam with this heart-wrenching look that would wrench Sam's heart if Sam could feel any more than he did (which is hardly anything at all).

"Your stupid protection spell," Dean says tiredly, factually. "It protects me. From everything."

Sam nods.

"Forever," he says. And then that little voice is back in the back of his mind saying destroy destroy destroy and Sam blinks a few times. He doesn't want to destroy Dean, would never destroy Dean.

In any case, due to his protection spell, he can't. Not unless he goes back to Nebraska and digs up Dean's picture and ring and destroys them, of course.

Dean nods again, looking more tired than Sam's ever seen him look before.

"My picture's buried in the middle of America, then?" Dean enquires, his voice flat and uninterested.

Sam nods.

"Nebraska," he elaborates, for some reason, although he really shouldn't be telling Dean. Who knows what crazy ideas he'll come up with?

Dean nods once more, and Sam suddenly realises what the look in Dean's eye is – resignation.

"I'm sorry, Sammy," Dean whispers, lifts his gun, and-

The End.