Dean had actively pushed all thoughts aside on this; the last week of his life. He might not even had remembered it was his last week if the date of Sam's death hadn't glared at him from a Drug store sign that announced the last entry-date for a knitting contest. He hated the date with a vengeance and seeing it tied to something as mundane as knitting felt like a slap to his face. He remained staring blankly at the stupid sign long enough for the old lady behind the counter to cast a worried glance at him and Sam to take a fistful of his coat and drag him out of there. Talk about rude awakenings.

When they got to the Impala he had to lean his forehead on the steering-wheel and regulate his breathing. Sam was fretting at his side, asking how he was but Dean was unable to answer. All he saw before him was Sam alone, fighting for his life, Sam somewhere bleeding, nobody there to help him out. Sam dying on the muddy ground, alone in the rain.

The car door opened and closed but he didn't have the strength to raise his head. The memory of how pissed he'd been at his father for making the deal had him drum his head against the black Bakelite. Hoe he had ripped Sam a new one over even mentioning it, told him what he tried to do was too little, too late. And here he was, putting Sam through the exact same guilt-trip. Only sam had never really opened up about it. It was plain on Sam's face at times; the naked despair over what his dumb-ass brother had done. But Sam didn't open up like before, not when it came to himself. If Sam ever had? Seemed the dude was much more keen on making everybody else talk while he held it all in for as long as possible. Was that his fault? Had he forced Sam to grow this hard and independent in order to spare his big, stupid-ass brother? The one that was supposed to look out for him?

The door opened again and Sam stuck a bottle of water under his nose.

"Drink, you're kind of hyperventilating, man."

Dean found the force to glare at the smart-ass by his side. But the fear in his brother's eyes had him keep his mouth shut. Sam's eyes were dark, in stark contrast to the pallor of his skin, nostrils flaring and the tensed muscles in his jaw twisting nervously. In fact, if anyone was about to hyperventilate, it was Sam.

Sam's fingers held onto the water-bottle hard enough to make his knuckles whiten and it was with visible effort he loosened his grip.

Dean took a long swig and let his eyes rest on his brother. No, he didn't like what he was seeing and as if on cue Sam looked away and told him to drink all of it and move over.
Dean didn't; he drove them to the nearest motel and booked them for the night.

OO - oo - OO

That was five days ago; a wonderful spring day in Moquah, Wisconsin. And they never even made it out of the state since Sam was dead set on getting to Stone Lake and staying there on the premise of ridding the town of some Scandinavian water god. The Neck, or what the heck it was called had obviously lured a couple of childbearing, unwed mothers to their deaths. Or so Sam seemed to think. There really was no indication of foul play but Dean was not up to fighting with Sam about demons right now. Somehow it all seemed irrelevant.

Lately Dean had not bothered too much in the choosing of their next hunts. Sam would soon have to pick all his fights and face them by himself. Who was he to make any decisions any longer? After all, he had made his most important choice a year ago; he was going to hell and he didn't intend to bitch about choices made.

It wasn't that he wasn't scared; he was literally petrified but he'd make his last moments on earth as good as humanly possible. Good food, good beer and a last check up on his baby's engine before he left was, or had to be, enough. There was no turning back.

What surprised him was that the demons seemed to have laid off their hunt for Sam this last week. Not one skanky, black eyed creep had tried to get its claws into his brother. Not even Ruby had been around. It was odd because the hunt for Sammy had intensified week after week until some allusive point when all seemed to stop. That same point when Sam seemed to have found some kind of peace. First he'd grown more quiet and edgy, lashing out immaturely, showing a not before seen ruthlessness while hunting, then he withdrew even further than before, like if occupied with some inner battle, until he finally seemed to accept the inevitable and adjusted. Dean had tried to talk to him about what was going on with him but had received no answers, only shrugs and irritable negations about anything being wrong. He wasn't about to part with his brother fighting explanations out of him so he let the subject go. Then, a week or so ago, Sam settled and returned to his old self. Maybe a bit more taciturn, but without the black cloud that had hung over his head earlier. Dean was just relieved to see the old Sammy back that he decided not to prod and poke for answers. He was about to leave him all alone with a war going on, who was he to make demands?

And this was his last day in the life he knew. It had marched on in its usual pace, not slower or quicker like Dean had expected it to. This morning, Sam had woken first, like he'd done the last couple of weeks, gone out and got them a couple of greasy donuts and heavenly black coffees. He handed them over without a word, sitting on the bed and acting like this was a day like any other day. On some level Dean was relieved that Sam didn't make a drama of this day, but at the same time it puzzled him. They hadn't spoken about this day in ages, not since they somehow both understood that there was no way out of the deal and that which ever way they turned, one of them would pay a steep price.

So Dean didn't touch the issue, nor did he mention the fact that Sam's bed looked dishevelled on purpose and not slept in at all. These past few days, Sam's face looked greyish and drawn from sleeplessness. His brother would occasionally nod off in the car and never have any answers to Dean's questions about why he didn't sleep in his bed any more? All he got were hurt puppy-eyed pouts.

He looked over at Sam sitting on the bed, nibbling on his first donut while Dean had already gulped down two and started on his third. Sam had always been a light eater but this was ridiculous. "Man, you on a diet or something? You're so not normal."

"Coz I don't swallow them whole?" Sam queried with a stunned crease on his brow. "Why don't you just open your mouth and I'll use a shovel to aid you at your next meal?"

"You sayin' I lack table manners? This from the one that slobbered breakfast cereals all over the kitchen until he was ten?" Dean grinned at his little pain-in-the-ass brother; he'd never change. Even at sixty, he'd probably be able to pull off the five-years-old face of complete innocence.

"Did not! I'm sayin' you probably don't even know what they taste like. You're gonna have an ulcer or something from the way you stuff everything in like there's a world-wide famine or something." Sam finally finished the last piece and licked his fingers as Dean's eyebrows rose in surprise.

"Or a coronary at thirty-five, which is highly possible judging from the amount of fatty food you ingest on a daily basis."

"Good thing I'll ever reach thirty-five then, coz today I'm gonna eat me some pie, some chocolate ice-cream, French fries and burgers until I have them coming out of my ears. And you're not gonna bitch once about my taste in food, or table-manners, smart-ass!" His last sentence came out rather muffled since he stuffed the last half of the cream-filled doughnut into his mouth. The glare he sent his brother might not have been as poignant as he had wished. Rather hard to glare indignantly while you munch down that amount of deliciousness.

Sam didn't take the bait, instead he swiftly rose to his feet, turning his back at Dean like dismissing him totally. It struck Dean that Sam had started to avoid eye-contact a lot lately. There wasn't the same fire in their squabbles, not the same heat in their discussions. It seemed like Sam already had moved on. The fact that Sam had picked up his own evasive moves of feigning not to care, so perfectly in such a short time, stung like a bitch.

"Can we finally get out of this hole, Sammy? I wanna take my baby for a spin on the open roads and hear her purr."

"No can do, Dean, not yet." Sam seemed totally occupied with picking up various items from the floor. Tidying up the place suddenly seemed very important to him. Making a bee-line to the waste-basket he mumbled something that Dean wasn't able to catch. It did sound suspiciously like 'gonna drown in your own mess one day'.

"Huh?" Dean asked around his last mouthful of donut.

"Nothin' important, dude. I'm taking a shower."

"Sam, mind telling me what's up with this place? We checked around for days and it does seem the woman fell in and drowned, don't cha think? The other one probably committed suicide; multiple scars on her wrists would indicate she had something of a death wish, right? There's no indication of demon finger's twiddling around in the mess. Nothing at all. So why are you so dead set on staying here?"

Sam was busy packing his duffel-bag, his back again turned to hide his face. "Just not done yet."

"What's that supposed to mean? Done with what?" Dean rose and threw the empty Styrofoam-cup into the waste-basket in the corner. It was a perfect pitch.

"I just - I just have some things to, like - tie together," Sam mumbled and closed the bag.

"And you can't take care of that right now so we can split? What are you doing that takes you this long? Writing a novel about your sucky life on the road?"

Sam turned to him and let the bag fall to the floor. "No, just trust me on this one, Dean. Okay? I'll indulge you with everything else. Let's go and take that baby of yours out for a spin, you perv. I know this steak-house along route 63, near Barronett. You can stuff yourself with all your heart's desires and I'll even get the check. Deal? Who's gonna shower first, you or me?"

"You'll pony up? Man, are you alright?"

"What? You calling me cheap? I'm just being economical about things! It's called common sense."

The indignation in his brother's voice had Dean grinning.

"No Sammy, you live life like grandma Moses, bending every cent." Dean rose and stretched. A shower would sit just right.

"I don't think they had cents when Moses was around, Dean." Sam shook his head and smiled softly.

Dean rolled his eyes. "You're so weirdly fond of silly facts and you just have to spread 'em around, don't you? An' I'm showering first, coz you take forever with that girly hair of yours."

He jumped over the bed and slid into the bathroom while keeping his head low. Just as predicted, a pillow hit the door as he was pulling it shut.

"You throw like one too!" He mocked and flicked the water on. Today was one of those days he'd be taking his sweet time with everything. Just to drive Sammy nuts.

OO - oo - OO

They drove down the smaller roads slowly, letting the Impala warm up. Dean decided to take a detour and turned north towards Hayward instead of going straight south to Barronett. He'd just let the Impala stretch a little before they got to the steakhouse; she might need her battery charged after all the short stints they'd pulled lately. And he loved letting his girl loose on the highway.

The sun had already heated the leather upholstery enough to free the sweet scent of oil and leather; the perfect perfume on a spring day. They didn't talk, they just rode in silence. The kind of companionable silence that Dean had learned to appreciate at an early age. Wisconsin blurred past them; birch trees, evergreens and a cool freshness in the air that not even the stench of fertilizers could entirely destroy. They passed meadows of fresh grass waving in the wind, painting picture perfect postcards. Old telephone poles switched past them in an increasing pace when they turned onto broader roads and picked up speed.

When they reached Route 63, Dean pushed a cassette into the stereo and Steppenwolf's "Born to be Wild" drenched all other sounds. Dean floored it and grinned at the Impala's swift response to his orders. His baby was in perfect shape. She was able to creep silently along dark roads in the first gear, the second and strongest gear made her climb any mountain if asked and the third combined strength and pace perfectly as he overtook some shiny new car that simply was unable to keep up with his baby's speed. Gently sliding in the fourth gear and easing up the clutch had his baby stretch out and settle in his hands. She ran smoothly over the asphalt, sending soft vibrations from the tyres to Dean's hands on the steering wheel, like a content panther on the prowl.

"She's awesome, dude!"

Receiving no answer, he looked over at his brother and noted that Sam had fallen asleep with his head leaned up against the window. Mouth slightly agape he sagged in his seat, completely exposed and unaware. It struck Dean how young he looked like that, how vulnerable and defenseless.

Dean shook his head and sighed "Oh, Sammy."

He was going to miss this. The speed and the sensation of 155 horse-powers running obediently under his guidance. Sammy sleeping in the car, like the big baby he was. He'd miss looking out for Sammy.

Something burned in his eyes and he rolled up the window slightly, deciding it must be the wind. No way it could be tears.

He leaned back in the seat and let his baby run free and wild.

OO - oo - OO

Sam woke with a start when Dean deliberately let the right side tires run over the very bumpy shoulder of the road that he had turned onto a while back. He was hungry dammit and Sam kept on snoring. Until now – now he shot up into a sitting position so fast he almost banged his head on the windshield when Dean had to brake for a black cat that crossed the street. Dean mentally spit three times over his shoulder.

"Wha? Uhn, where – are we?" The last part of the sentence came out in a very accusing tone.

"I have no idea," Dean grinned. "Looks like every other place and I didn't really bother to memorize the name on the sign; could be Anywhereville for all I care. I'm too hungry to be bothered with trifles like that right now." He was keeping his eyes open for a burger joint or something of the kind.

Then he saw it and stomped down on the brakes. 'Miss Edna's Diner and pool'. The name was one of the most ridiculous one's he'd ever seen, and that was saying a lot.

"Dude, you see that?" He tilted his head at the sign they'd just passed There was an arrow pointing ahead and right under the ridiculous 'Edna's Food 'n Pool'. "Now keep a looksie out for Edna!"

"Dean, these are old people." Sam remarked, looking through the side window, brow creased. "I haven't seen one under seventy in this place. You're not gonna trick some poor pensioner out of their savings, are you?"

"Hey," Dean cast his morally uptight brother and annoyed glance. "It's not like I'm pointing a gun at them."

"Like pointing a pool-cue at them is any better?" Sam shook his head but couldn't help grinning. "Wait, turn left, this is it!"

Dean eased the Impala into an empty parking lot and stretched before he got out. Looking around, he realized that Sam was right. The few people sitting outside the diner were all elderly women and they looked very appreciatively at them. All but the one male sitting on a worn plastic chair right at the side of the door to the diner. He was glaring daggers.

"Sam, whatever you do, don't hit on Edna!" He elbowed Sam when he walked by him, nodding in the old geezer's direction. "You'll never be able to take him down, you girl!"

Sam smiled at the ladies and boxed Dean's arm hard."Jerk!"

Dean rolled his eyes when the ladies all looked at Sam like they wanted to take him home and feed him cookies. He'd be needing a massive amount of pie to forget the sight of the one lady actually blinking at Sam and giggling when his stupid brother got all bothered.

He sincerely hoped they were talking about Sam when he picked up the words he heard being uttered as they passed the girls to get to the door. There was a limit to what he was able to imagine old ladies saying or doing and some of what he thought he picked up definitely crossed that line.

"Good thing you won't be playing the girls, Sammy." He told his brother. "They'd beat you blindfolded and then they'd eat you alive by the way they're talking."

"Yeah?" Sam threw him a side-looped smirk. "I heard one say she'd like to put butter on the blond one and dip him in honey. You can accuse me of everything bro, but I've never had a blond moment in my life."

"No? I can name quite a few of them," Dean wheezed through the corner of his mouth while smiling at the lady that was exiting Edna's with a paper bag stuffed under her arm with Sam courteously holding up the door for her. He received a white-toothed, million watt smile in reply and Sam got an appreciative look from top to toe.

"Maybe pool isn't our best option, I could rent you by the hour." Sam took a hold of Dean's collar and yanked him in.

Dean glared and adjusted his coat before pushing the chuckling heap of a brother further inside and toward the first empty table. "You're disgusting, bitch. Pimping your own brother?"

Sam just laughed.

OO - oo - OO

Sam nursed his coffee like a newborn baby, poking at his slice of peach-pie while Dean had a steady meal consisting of two double hamburgers with extra onions, a milk-shake and a heavenly slice of apple-pie. By the looks of it, he'd be finishing off Sam's pie too. His brother was such a girl.

Dean let his eyes wander over the premises again, looking for more money earning prospects.

Soon after they had arrived, the diner had suddenly filled up and there were a couple of men playing Snooker in the semi-dark corner that held the worn table. He'd been studying them for a while and had a pretty good idea about the way each of them played and how to beat them. There was a small audience scattered by the adjoining tables, offering up advice and snide remarks at missed shots. There had been money changing pockets and Dean was just waiting for the right moment to saunter over and lay claim to some of the bills. The entrance into the scene was of utmost important to get the upper hand and the timing had to be calculated. It was a question of getting them at their weakest moment.

When the winner of the game pocketed more green and the loser shrugged, Dean was on his feet.

"Sam, would'ya?"

Without even waiting for an answer, he applied his most cocky walk when approaching the middle aged biker, clad in worn leather pants and boots, with the customary chains hanging from the belt-loops. The man watched him coming and his face clearly signaled the challenge having been registered. This was going to be awesome!

He walked past the biker, close enough to invade his personal space and picked up the cue and weighed it in his hand, like a pro. With a small sarcastic leer in the man's direction, he rounded the table and looked at the biker. "Been watching you boys try to play the game of men. Up for some real competition?"

"And that would be you?" The man snorted derisively.

"Care to put a Benjamin where your mouth is?"

"Rack 'em up and stop yappin'."

"Race to three?"

"You won't know what hit you." Leather booths shuffles over the floor when the man went for the talc.

Dean had to bend his head to hide the victorious grin. This bud was too easy.

When Dean spotted Sam arriving with the beer, leaning up against the wall, careful to have full view of the table, he removed the rack and turned to the biker. "Your strike."

It was a good opening strike, not perfect, but good enough. This was going to be a game to remember.

OO - oo - OO

It wasn't until Dean had pocketed three G's that the man got seriously pissed off. He was walking around, muttering about foul play. Sam kept sending Dean warning glares to quit while he was ahead. By the look of the audience and the jittery energy in the room when more biker's suddenly showed up, Dean suspected he'd better end it and go out in style instead of getting a cue up his ass.

Another five Benjamins in his pocket and the man's buxom friends formed a wall by the side of the table, looking none too cosy. It was time to cash and run.

"Double or nothing, one frame, winner takes it all?" Dean looked over the sorry bunch and hoped the man would feel obliged to take the bait, or lose status with the fan-girls flanking him.

His opponent looked hesitant for a second then his buds moved closer and he had to cave under the expectations. Dean hoped Sam's gun was loaded, because this could end either way and he was not about to beg Sam for money in order to get out of a debt. He had started this to get Sammy some money, just to get him over the worst and not to dig a hole in their account. For the first time since he stepped into the joint, he doubted he was going to pull this off and cold sweat formed on the back of his neck.

OO - oo - OO

He was only up two points when three balls were left and the blue, five pointer, was in an almost impossible angle. Sucked that it was the one he had to pot or he might be seven G's up. It was a risk because if he lost it, there was no way to turn the game back in his favor; he'd asked for the all or nothing and this was it. His breath ran a little bit faster when he leaned in and aimed at the cue ball. A perfect kick shot and the hope that gravity was on his side was his only way out of the mess he'd created. And kicks were always tricky.

The moment the cue hit the intended ball, he knew the strike was off. His eyes followed the journey and he almost winced at the impossible angle. Then he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him because the cue ball seemed to change angle slightly and pick up speed, inching in between the two reds without nudging them and hitting the blue hard enough to pot it.

The silence that spread around the table was thick enough to be cut with a machete. That shot had been impossible, not even a curve ball would have hit the ball from that angle, nothing should have. Dean felt the hairs rise on his neck. Sam?

He looked at the biker and shot him his best cocky grin, waiting to be clocked out. "I'm awesome, aren't I?"

"You're a fucking cheat." The man spat and advanced on him. His bad-ass, bloodthirsty buddy-boys following his lead.

"Hey! No-one was even close to that table, it was a fucking beautiful strike and legitimate as few! Cough up the money, you dip-shit!"

Sam appeared at his side and momentarily stopped the mob with his size alone. "I was watching the game, I saw no cheating going on," he offered with his most scholarly voice. "I think you owe the man his dues."

"Oh yeah? And who are you, his girl?" One of the man's friends spoke up and took a step forward. Dean guessed they were both about to become the next ingredient in the meat-balls served with the macaroni.

And of course his stupid, pain in the ass brother had to take a step up to the big mouth and shake his head. "I'm just a keen observer and I saw noth-."

Sam's sentence was cut off by a hard fist to his cheek-bone which sent him staggering backwards, right into Dean, hard enough to make him loose his balance.

"For fuck's sake, you murdering maniac, you lost fair and square!" He bellowed and ducked as a chair came flying at him. Unfortunately it hit his slightly disoriented brother's head instead and had Sam bend over with a groan. Dean tried to get a hold of Sam to yank him up to his feet and get them out of here when a woman, who reminded him of Missouri, turned up with a six-shooter. Her eyes took in the scene and her mere presence had the bikers' club step back.

"What's going on here? Brad?"

His opponent looked duly chastised but got his bearing back in a split second. "He cheated!"

The finger was definitely pointing in his direction and Dean waited for the six-shooter to follow.

But the woman narrowed her eyes and walked up to the finger-pointing man. "Got any proof? Anybody see it?"

The mobsters shuffled their feet around and looked to the floor.

"Just as I suspected," the woman sighed. "How much is he up?" She asked in Dean's direction.

""Seven grands, Ma'am," Dean forwarded politely. Awaiting the six-shooter to unload right in his guts.
"Clarice!" the woman shouted over her shoulder. "Bring me seven G's and put it on Brad's tab!" Turning to the man mentioned the woman moved the gun to his chest. "You're repainting my house, Brad dear, starting from tomorrow at 6 A.M, sharp. Then you're painting my daughter's Pontiac and you will play around here until the work is done and approved of. Understood?"

"Yeah, Edna, I hear yah," Brad mumbled and looked to the floor.

"Yes who?" Edna insisted.

"I understand, Ma'am. Six o'clock tomorrow morning at your house. I got it."

A pack of bills were stuffed into Dean's lap and a woman pushed them towards the door. "Get the hell outta here, you two and don't ever come back!"

Dean decided it wouldn't be very polite to actually count the money so he turned around, gripped his brother's collar and dragged him out.

OO - oo - OO

They got to the shades of a tree when Dean was pushed up against the wall by his irate brother. He gulped for air from the assault and winced at the force with which Sam held him trapped.

"What the hell, dude?"

"Don't you fucking ever risk your life like that again, Dean. You just walk away, man. You don't start an argument with a bunch of inbred nitwits about money!" Sam growled.

Dean's head spun from the words. What the fuck was his brother on about? It wasn't like there was time for him to start any argument the few hours he had left.

"Aw Sammy, cut me some slack on this last night. I promise to be a good boy in hell." He wished his voice hadn't been quite as laden with sarcasm as it was.

Sam let go of him and stepped back. His eyes dark of anger and something unidentifiable as a shiver ran through him. He opened his mouth to speak but closed it again and turned away. "Let's get the hell outta here," he spoke quietly and his shoulders sank.

Dean fixated his brother when walking to the car and the alarm went off in the back of his head. Getting into the car he kept his eyes on Sam, wishing he had some way to pry him open and check what was going on inside his head. Because something obviously was cooking in there, threatening to boil over at any minute. He tossed the stack of bills to Sam who angrily threw them into the glove box and turned to look out the side window.

Dean waited for his bother to say something, chew his head off, call him a jerk or read him the riot act, but Sam didn't even move.

With a sigh Dean pulled out and set course back east while trying to figure out what the hell just happened with Sammy? This was all getting out of control and he was despairing at his brother's stubborn withdrawal after the earlier near melt-down. The silence in the car was everything but the companionable one he was used to. This was like the ones that would haunt him at nights. It was tense and full of secrets and lies.

OO - oo - OO

They never made it to Barronett. Dean just couldn't take the silence in the car and after a couple of hours, he spotted a Gas-station with a decent looking joint attached. He didn't want to continue where they'd left off so he decided to feign believing Sam had slept all the way.

Once parked, he leaned over and shook Sam's shoulder hard.

"Dude, wake up! You've been snoring for three hours. What's up with you?"

"Wha-? Nothing. I wasn't sleeping, really, I was just letting you have your day with your baby, you perv." Sam peeked at him from under his brow, the ridiculously long hair shielding his eyes effectively. But Dean didn't miss the pained expression and he wondered if it was from the punch he'd received or the fact that he was hiding something too big to handle from his own brother?

"Get your ass outta my baby and we'll have a chat about these sudden narcoleptic spouts. You're banging someone at night, right?" Dean eased himself out of the car and waited for his brother to rearrange his ridiculously long legs.

"What?" Sam looked at him from over his shoulder with an earnestly surprised face.

"Oh Sam, don't go all innocent on me! So what's wrong with this chick?"

He grabbed the back of Sam's coat and dragged him along. "Your track record when it comes to getting laid makes me nervous. What's so wrong with this one that you can't even fess up to doing her?"

Sam made a disgusted face at him and almost tripped over his own feet when Dean pulled him onward.

"Admit it Sammy, your choices have been rather, uh, eccentric when it comes to whose bones you've jumped. So what's wrong with this one? She butt ugly? Old enough to be your Grandma? Into whips and leather? Slightly demonic? What?"

"Dean, I'm not doing anybody!" Sam protested gruffly when he was pushed up the steps that lead to the door.

"No? Don't tell me you're sitting outside some chick's window, watching her take her clothes off. The last time you scratched that particular itch, it really didn't end well." Dean yanked the door open and tried to analyze Sam's reaction. "Don't tell me you've found another demon?"

Sam stumbled inside and spread his hands in a dejected gesture. "Dean, please, I'm not doing anybody!"

The girl taking the orders by the nearest table threw the tall man an inquisitive glance while Dean patted the broad shoulder. "Desperation so don't become you, Sammy!" He couldn't help smiling in the waitress' direction. She turned back to her note block and blushed.

Sam rolled his eyes at Dean's antics and folded his body into the nearest booth with a heavy exhale.

Dean pulled the menu off the neighbouring table and sat down opposite his, currently very grumpy, brother. "You're putting it all up, right?"

Sam was still organizing his body into a comfortable position when his face suddenly split in a huge grin. "Uh, Dean, I don't think you're giving the lady the right idea here."

Dean's head snapped around and took in the waitress' slightly shocked expression.

"For the food! He promised to pay for the food! Everything I want!"

Sam snorted with laugher and Dean kicked him hard under the table.

"Shut up, bitch!"

Which of course was rewarded with a hysterical cackle from his pain in the ass little brother. And Dean felt his heart surge; a truce had been negotiated and he would not risk the peace again. He would not part with his brother in anger.

OO - oo - OO

It was late when they finally finished their meals and Dean stumbled out, groaning and leaned over the hood of the Impala. Maybe the last beer and tacos combined with ice-cream sundaes hadn't been his brightest idea. He'd never be hungry again, of that he was sure. Considering the hours he had left, he'd be inclined to bet a nice sum on it.

"Hand me the keys, Dean." Sam placed his hands on the hood and leaned in over him.

"No way, Sammy I wanna spend this last hours with my baby." The moment the words slipped out of him, he wished someone would have put a sock in his cakehole. There was no need to remind Sam about his demise. No need to destroy what had turned out to be a perfect day of high speed, fatty food, reckless gambling and teasing his geek of a brother about his whacked up sex-life.

"Oh, make me cry, Dean! You can cuddle her all you want to la-. Just hand me the keys!"

Dean peered up at Sam and wrinkled his brow. What was he on about? Sam knew that it was a matter of hours before the Hellhounds would come for him, howling. "Huh?"

Sam didn't bother debating but stuck his hand in Dean's pocket and fished up the keys before he eased Dean up to his feet and shoved him towards the passenger seat. He didn't say a word when he opened the door and tucked Dean inside.

Dean would have said something witty if he weren't so full and oddly compliant all of a sudden. He felt like all the fight had left him. "You treat my baby right, you hear?" He turned his head to watch his brother fold himself into the driver's seat.

"Yeah,yeah." Sam replied and turned the key. "Buckle yourself up!"

Dean laughed. "Yeah because if we have an accident and I get killed it would be such a pity, right? Maybe they haven't had time to light the festive welcoming fires in hell yet?"

"You're drunk, Dean." Sam huffed and reached over him to pull at the seat-belt and buckle him up.

"Me? No way. I'm not the one who starts dancing on the tables after a couple of beers." Dean grinned.

"Actually, you are." Sam noted when he pulled out of the parking lot and set route north.

"I'm awesome, ain't I?" Dean stretched his legs in front of him. "But seriously, remember to check the oil and the brake-fluid, I made you a list dammit!"

"Yeah you did," Sam nodded.

"No dude, really. Not kidding here." Dean craned his head in Sam's direction. "If you don't take care of my baby, I'll haunt you."

"I know you will." Sam turned briefly to watch him and something in the dark eyes had Dean's alarm go off all over. "You're gonna sell her and get one of those new shiny things, aren't you? One of those drive and toss, plastic, girly cars?"

Sam groaned. "Would you ease up with this friggen car already?"

"Nope, she's my baby and I need her taken care off." Dean boxed Sam's arm rather hard. "And while on the subject; who is she? Or is it he?"

"Again with with the 'doing' someone?" Sam groaned and rolled his eyes. "That's your department, Dean."

"But see, I've never had me a demon. Well yet, guess that's gonna change tonight." There, he'd said it out loud again. What the fuck was wrong with him? It was like he had to twist the knife over and over just in case Sam had forgotten. He really needed to shut up already.

He watched his brother intently from the side, feeling like shit for deserting him like this. Leaving him all alone in the middle of a war. He hated what he was doing to him but there had not been any thought about this day on that night when he held a horribly dead Sam. Or the morning when he watched him on the bed, pale and not breathing any longer. Lips bluish and the stillness making Dean go stir crazy. He hadn't been able to go on without Sam, and now he was letting him down all over.

"Sam?"

His brother glanced briefly in his direction, just fast enough to check if he was alright, but never meeting his eyes. Sam had become so closed up, so fenced off to the world lately. Like he were just going through the motions of getting the job done. It just wasn't the Sam he knew.

"Is there something you're not telling me, Sam?"

"If you want a chick-flick moment with me telling you that I love you, you're not getting it. I mean - I do, kinda love you but you're not getting me to – aw hell. Dean, you know that you piss me off to no end at times, that you're a major pain in the ass most of the time. But if you ever doubt that I wouldn't do anything for you, or care – you're a certified moron."

Dean stared. Where did this come from? That wasn't what he had asked, was it? "Sammy, all I mean is that, well you know if there's something you wanna tell me, oh fuck it. You're the one with the brain, you should know what I mean without me having to draw you a fucking map!"

"Yup," Sam said and fixated his eyes on the road before he flicked the stereo on to drench any further conversation.

And Dean was left staring at his brother's profile. He had seen small changes, imperceptible to the ones that didn't know Sam well, happening for the last couple of months. It was like his brother closed in on himself even more. Oh, he was clearly there on the surface, but somehow Dean got the feeling there was something new and big cooking underneath. Like three weeks ago. On a hunt involving a group of demons squatting an old house and wreaking havoc on the peaceful community in a rural area of Oregon, he had moved an old Victorian cupboard from thirty feet away. At the moment Dean had thought he'd bought it when he saw the massive wooden construction come sailing down towards him. Then it had just lifted and crashed into the opposite wall. If he hadn't seen Sam staring at it, he wouldn't have believed his own eyes and blamed it on some demon playing tricks with his mind.

Sam denied it ever happening.

Then he had to go visit Jess' grave and spent a couple of hours just sitting there, staring at the headstone. It creeped Dean out totally, the way he just sat there, perfectly still and seemed to talk to the headstone without ever uttering a word. And that wasn't even enough, they had to swing by Lawrence and spend a couple of hours by their mother's grave too. By that point Dean's fingers had been itching to dial the regional psych-on-call.

But then the brooding had stopped and an air of silent resolve had appeared, together with the nightly disappearances. Sam had tried to hide the fact that he sneaked out at night the best he could. But every now and then Dean had woken up and found Sam gone. He'd always go for his cell and the moment Sam answered, he always had an excuse. Mostly lame ones but they were never stupid enough for Dean to totally freak out. No, he'd had to freak out in silence. And watch for signs of his brother slowly disappearing, or dissolving or something that Dean didn't even have a name for. Because every time he had tried to get Sam to talk, his pain in the ass brother had feigned total surprise at Dean's worry and used the puppy eyes of doom on him to get away from the questions.

Sam had become the master of inconspicuous avoidance.

He sighed and leaned back in his seat. Darkness was falling fast and the headlights from oncoming traffic were few and far between. It wasn't that he didn't trust Sam's driving capabilities, he just wanted to keep his eyes open in case. But damned, all that food had made him sleepy. The fried onions rings had been delicious though, and they had been the perfect last meal. And Sam would take his baby home safe, Dean knew that. It was now two hours to midnight and Dean reckoned that the Hellhounds would make their appearance around that time. He had yet to decide how much of a fight to put up. All he knew was that he had to get away from Sam. He didn't need his baby brother to watch what was about to happen. He wanted Sam to be spared that.

He really didn't want to think about that and closed his eyes, willing himself to relax. As if on cue, Sam changed the cassette to R.E.O Speedwagon's 'Wheels are Turning'. Dean grinned and shook his head. He should have shot Sam for finding it while getting gas in some godforsaken hole that still carried cassette tapes. His obnoxious brother couldn't stop laughing at the lucky find.

Damn, he was going to miss Sam!

He shut off all thoughts, couldn't bare any more memories right now and concentrated on the music. His baby ran smooth under Sam's hands and the purr of her engine was transmitted to his bones, serving like the age old lullaby he was used to since childhood. Sinking into a strange sense of safety, he decided to hold onto the moment and make believe this was just another trip between hunts. He'd lived with the knowledge that he could die any day for a long time. The day had now arrived and there was no use fretting over things to come.

This was just like any other night. He had to hold on to that.

OO - oo - OO

He woke, totally disoriented when the engine stopped humming. A brief glance at the clock told him it was 11:52 PM and his day was officially ending. His eyesight was bleary from sleep and he angrily rubbed his eyes, not believing that Sam had let him sleep his last hours away.

When he re-opened them and got a clearer look, he noticed they were parked not far from the shore of a vast lake. The sandy banks illuminated by the moon, the woods surrounding them were dark and looming around the vast expanse ahead of them. Dean was sure they had never been here before.

"Where the fuck are we, Sam?"

He got no answer and turned to his brother, royally pissed off. Sam was watching him, eyes dark and misty. "For fuck's sake Sammy, not now! Scoot over and let me take you back to your motel."

"No." Sam replied softly, turning away and getting out of the car.

"No?" Dean barked. "What the fuck you up to, Sam? You've been acting strange for weeks now and this night of all, you decide to go freakin' nuts on me?" He scrambled out of the car with a speed that almost had him stumble head first into the loose sand under his feet. Breathing hard, he hung on to the door and tried to calm down. The rage he felt at Sam's avoidance made him want to take a swing at him and that was not the way he wanted to part with his brother.

"I'm talking to you, man!" The words came out harsher than he had intended.

Sam was rummaging around for something in the back seat and didn't even bother to look at him. When he found what he had been looking for, he calmly walked up and placed his duffel-bag on the hood. "Don't make this any harder than it already is, Dean, please."

"This what, Sam? Where are you going? What's with the bag? I'm not gonna need a fucking change of underwear in hell, dude. What the hell are you up to? And if you're not going to spill, I'm fucking going to beat it out of you."

He lunged hard at Sam and managed to throw him off balance for a moment. "You bitch!"

"Dean, we don't have time for this. Not now. Please! I didn't want to tell you because I don't know -."

"Don't know what?" Dean yelled at the top of his lungs. "We don't keep secrets Sam, secrets can kill you in our line of work. What the fuck, Sam?"

That was all he had time to get out before he found himself on his knees in the sand with Sam draped all over him, holding his wrists.

"You son of a bitch," Dean growled.

"I'm sorry, Dean, but I couldn't tell you. I have to do it this way." Sam pulled him to his feet. "And since you're not co-operating I'll have to tie you up."

Dean couldn't believe his ears. His little brother, the fucker he had watched grow up, the one he had risked his life and sold his soul for, was tying him up and serving him to the Hellhounds? It was nauseating. If Sam thought he was going down without a fight, he had a rude awakening coming to his face, hard and fast. When Sam's tight hold eased, Dean held his breath and placed his elbow right in his brother's solar plexus with enough force to send Sam coughing.

Sam stilled and fought for air but his arms were hard as steel around Dean. That was when Dean realized that Sam's changes were more profound than he had imagined. Normally Sam would have gone down but now the strength in his arms never lessened, not even for a fraction of a second. And that was just inhuman.

"Jesus, Dean," Sam panted. "You sneaky devil."

Then Dean was being dragged, like a rag doll, over the dunes. He tried to get loose but it was like fighting a brick wall. When Sam stopped. he wasn't even out of breath, it was like he had taken a leisurely stroll.

Sam gripped his face and turned it toward his own."You're gonna stay here till it's over."

That's when Dean saw the Devil's Trap made from different colored stones, laid out on the sand. The form was mirrored by a wooden construction towering over it. It wasn't a traditional Devil's Trap; this one seemed more intricate. It must have taken ages to build, or someone with inhuman strength and speed had made it. Shivers ran down Dean's spine.

"Who the hell are you?" he asked.

"You can't keep jabbering all night long, Dean." Sam replied. "I'm not so sure sure I can concentrate properly if you're calling me bitch and sending me to hell. And you won't shut up if I ask you to, will you?"

Dean was forced down to his knees again, a gag placed in his mouth and ropes tied around his wrists and ankles. Then Sam pulled him to the middle of the circle and secured his limbs by tying the ropes to the poles. Dean couldn't believe this; he was being sacrificed like a fucking lamb. He tried to read Sam's eyes, but his brother never looked back at him, not once.

The moment Sam rose, Dean tried to work on the ropes but Sam was good at this. There was not enough room for Dean to wriggle out of the restraints. The ropes were tied in a perfect manner; not hard enough to hurt him but not loose enough to give him room to free himself.

Sam returned and placed the rolled up blanket they kept in the back seat under his head. The same blanked Dean had used to drape his little brother in when he was cold or just snoring away in the night. The nausea rose and settled in a lump in Dean's throat.

He closed his eyes and let his head fall back on the blanket.

Then he heard the howls and his heart dropped.

He craned his head enough to see what awaited him, he didn't want to go blindly.

Sam was standing before him, like on watch. Feet planted firmly in the sand, eyes downcast, hands fisted and shoulders trembling slightly.

Dean strained his neck to see despite the pull of the ropes that dug into his wrists when he moved. The howls now close enough for him to sense the Hound's fowl breath and still he wasn't able to see them. But Sam obviously was seeing them clear as a day. He raised a hand and the pack quieted; only the sound of paws over the stones disturbed the stillness of the night. His brother made a growling sound and all went still, even the rustling of the leaves stopped and the moonlight seemed to dim.

Dean blinked, doubting his eyes and Sam's broad shoulders moved as he raised his head and looked at some point in the far. There was something in the moment that had Dean's heart run cold and he held his breath.

An eerie silvery glow appeared in front of Sam, making his body's contour contrast sharply against the light that fluctuated like it was living and breathing.

"You're not the one," Sam spoke in a toneless voice.

"I'm the only one you're going to have the pleasure of meeting." A voice replied from behind Sam's shielding figure.

Sam lifted his eyes to the sky and rain started to fall.

The glow in front of him dimmed and a flash of green lighted the shore, making the Hellhounds wince in chorus.

"I don't think so," Sam spoke hollowly "I think you've misjudged me."

He looked up again and the rain stopped falling. "It's going to hamper your plans considerably if you have to operate in a constant drizzle of Holy Water."

"You've changed." The voice spoke again, with something akin to respect in the timbre.

Sam looked to his left and smiled grimly. Dean was able to see the curve of his lips and the white of his teeth and something was so very different with this Sam that Dean broke out in cold sweat. The earlier so mild night had turned chillingly cold. Then he watched how a dark cloud rose off the ground, accompanied with a howl of pain when it twirled in a black circle around the silvery light, caressing whatever stood in front of Sam, making the shadowy figure twitch visibly.

"Bring it here." Sam ordered.

"Or?" The shadow snorted. "And he doesn't like being called it, he prefers to be called Michael."

"You're on a first name basis with the archangel?" Sam laughed hollowly. "But he didn't warn you?"

The scene was suddenly filled with howls, black smoke and rain, as all motions slowed and for an instance. Dean saw the Hellhounds gape in despair, the white of their eyes gleaming as the rain set their furs afire.

Dean's eyes wouldn't close. He didn't want to see this, didn't want this to be his last memory but his eyes would not close as his heart hammered away and not one sound escaped him despite the 'no' he felt ripped from his lungs. All of a sudden everything was clear to him. Every last little piece fell into its place and the truth mocked him and taunted him. He was unable to stop what was going on before his eyes. One time he might have been able to prevent this, but he hadn't been able to bring himself to do it. And now it was too late.

The silver light vanished and the moon crept out of it's hiding place as Sam turned his face to watch the winding bank of the lake.

Dean's eyes followed Sam's and he saw nothing at first, nothing but trees and stones bathed in the light. He looked back at Sam, trying to will his little brother to look at him, just once meet with his eyes so Dean could tell him to stop this. End it here and now and let Dean go. He was prepared for that, had prepared himself for a long time. But this, this was unthinkable.

Then Sam smiled anew, that eerie ghost of a smile that made his silhouette grotesquely set in defeat and disdain.

The figure that walked up to Sam seemed a mere caricature of a human form, a long white cape covering the body's shape, no face, no human traits visible, just the hint of something underneath the torn and dirty shroud. It stopped a few feet in front of Sam and took on a human form that had Dean's breath hitch.

His finger dug into his palms when the picture of their father appeared on the shore.

"Nice trick, M," Sam snorted. "But the Freudian theory is out of fashion. You really should keep up to date on your tactics."

The image of their father smiled and it was so achingly alike the real thing that Dean's throat constricted painfully.

"You've come to negotiate?" The figure asked with their father's voice. "What do you think you can offer that I don't already have?"

"You wouldn't be here if you weren't interested," Sam replied with a tilt of his head. "Let's not start playing silly games, let's get to the point. It's really beneath you to feign disinterest or assume that I don't know what you want. Because I know you know. I'm not one of the chosen ones without reason."

Demon-John smiled. "The last of your generation, Sammy. I'm impressed. You've grown tougher than nails, Sam. Didn't think you had it in you because it took you long enough to find it."

"And that's where you're wrong," Sam replied quietly. "I found it when I needed it and you know it. And that's why you need me and why you will let Dean go."

"It's not going to be that easy, Sammy. If I let him go it comes with the stipulation that you remain loyal or Dean dies and goes where he's destined. You must have figured that out already. Are you sure you are ready for what's coming? It's not going to be pretty and it's not going to be fair." The image of John tilted his head to the side and looked at Sammy the way their father would when he was particularly proud of them both.

It ripped Dean's heart in two.

"No it's not. But Dean's going to live through it and have the life he deserves. No-one is going to touch him or his loved ones. He's going to have the life he wants, with whomever and where ever he desires. And you'll see to it that it happens. Or hell will get another surprise." Sam's eyes rested on their fake-father's, never twitching, never sliding away until the disguised spoke again.

"What if the two of you meet further down the road? Which one of you will bite the dust?"

Sam said nothing, just kept his eyes glued to the demon's and Dean already knew that steely look. The unwavering kind that said all and nothing at the same time.

And finally the demon caved and shook his head. "I'm giving this up far too easily, Sammy. But I like you."

Sam smiled chillingly. "No, you need me. Now let me say goodbye and I'll meet up with you. Let this be our first and only test. I'm not going to do a good job if I have to double check on Dean all the time so let this be the it. If anyone of us fails, the deal is off."

"You are good, Sammy! You always were the first choice and you've proved us right time after time."

"Another thing, M," Sam paused for emphasis. "It's Samuel."

The figure let out a raucous laugher. "Understood. Now say your goodbyes, time is of the essence." The demon changed form back to its barely human shape and slithered into the dark night, leaving only the scent of sulphur behind.

When Sam turned to face Dean, the ache in Dean's chest was unbearable and the tears that finally broke free, scorched his skin.

Sam fell to his knees by his side and loosened the ropes restraining Dean's wrists. " I can't let you go Dean, you'd be hot on my tracks the moment I let you free. This is going to be it." Sam pulled Dean up into a bear hug and buried his face at the crook of his neck.

"We don't have much time, Dean. Bobby's coming to free you in a couple of minutes. I can feel him near already. Please, don''t hate me for this, Dean. I - I couldn't let you go. Not because of me. You've already sacrificed everything for me, this I just couldn't allow to happen. When you finally go, I want you to tell Dad and Mom that I'm sorry for what I did. I know I had choices but this is what I choose. I couldn't let you go down there. Tell Jess I still love her, I still remember how she laughed when I tickled her. I still remember her kisses. And most of all, Dean -." Sam's voice broke and Dean fingers dug painfully into his palms while his tears dimmed his eye-sight. He was without words at this point, somewhere deep inside there was a desperate wail working itself free. Dean felt it constrict his lungs, wrench his guts and tear at his heart.

Sam's body tensed when he pulled himself together.

"Take care of yourself and watch out. Try not to floor it in every curve just to see how fast you can go, you freak. Stop the hunting and get yourself another life, something better than this. Just don't hate me Dean, please. " And then Sam let go and rose to his feet, looking down at the still sitting Dean. "Thank you, for everything. I love you, bro."

Dean wasn't able to see Sam's face clearly, but the tenor of the voice was clear enough to make Dean's heart explode into a thousand sharp shreds. He wished he'd die, right here and now. He prayed the Hellhounds would return for him, that Lucifer himself would embrace him and take him to the burning hell. He'd give anything for that to happen. Anything.

But all he saw was Sam's large figure bend to cut the rope that held his wrist prisoner and pick up the duffel-bag before he turned around and jogged down the bank until he vanished in the silvery night. His steps quieting as the sound of small waves licking the shore drenched the last of Dean's hopes. The moon broke free again and the silver gave room to a pale blue that made the night-owls cry out. One tidal wave rose and washed Sam's footprints away and Dean let his head fall back and screamed through the gag until his throat hurt. Screamed until there was no air left in his lungs.

Breathing hard around he gag he flet a hand on his shoulder, gripping hard and shaking him out of his hazed daze.

Bobby's eyes bore into his. Hands freed him from the ropes and the gag before gripping his neck to turn his face to meet his eyes.

"You alright, Dean? Where's Sam?"

Dean had no words any longer, no thoughts or hope for redemption. All he had was a burning hatred for the entire world that seemed to suffocate him. His face twitch with anger when he met with Bobby's eyes.

Bobby must have understood because he looked away into the woods and swallowed. "We'll find him, Dean! We'll find him and bring him back. Whatever it takes, Dean, we'll find our Sammy."

And it was those words that had the last of humanity leave Dean. He literally felt all consideration for anything or anybody vanish and leaving him an empty shell of what he'd once been. There would be nothing standing in the way of finding Sammy. Not death, nor hell or pain, his or others'. He was ready to sacrifice it all. Life, sanity and even the entire world if it came to that.

Just like Sam had.

Sam had turned his back on everything he believed in to save Dean. And that was worse than death.

He got up to his feet and stumbled toward the lapping waves, trying to find any signs of Sammy. There was nothing left of his footprints along the bank, nothing to be seen in the dark woods surrounding the lake. No glimmer of light, no sound of Hellhounds or demons, there was nothing at all.

Sam wasn't going to hell for what he'd be forced to do to save the one person that should have been looking out for him. Dean would see to that. Sam would meet Mom and Dad when his time came, he'd be able to see Jess and tell her all the things he wanted when the end came. Dean would see to that, whatever it took. However broken and destroyed his brother was, he'd find him and get his Sammy back. His pain in the ass little brother with puppy eyes that made anyone cave and spill their hearts and confess their darkest secrets was coming back to him. His big goofy geek of a little brother who brooded and pouted enough to drive him out of his mind. His stupid, self-sacrificing bitch of a bother who'd turned his back on everything he considered holy just to give Dean a second chance would not be lost.

Dean screamed his brother's name over the rippling waves and the echo responded him with a rumbling, broken sound that died out with a whimper.

Tears still burned in his eyes when he looked over the lake with the white-topped waves bathed in the pale light. Hearing the sound of leaves rustling in the warm wind and the night birds chirping in the distance, he realized what a mockery this all was. All the beauty of this horrid night that had taken everything from him and Sam.

And Dean realized that he had ended up in Hell after all.