"Are you asleep?"
Dean thought about not answering, pretending that he was, but he had a fair idea that Sam already knew he was awake and was just giving him the option.
It was an answer, but not one that invited deep conversation. Sam was used to those though and ploughed on regardless.
"I've been thinking. About what Ruby said."
Dean sighed. He really wished sometimes Sam would just take the hint.
"I'm happy for you."
Sam grimaced slightly in the dark, recognising it was going to be one of 'those' conversations. No matter. This was important and whether Dean liked it or not, they couldn't just ignore what had happened.
Or the implications it had for them.
"What if she's right?"
"But what if she is?"
"Sam, she's a demon, ok? Yeah, she helped us out – once – but that does not mean we trust her. She may not have a problem with killing a few humans to win the war but we do."
Sam thought about it, uncomfortably aware that he didn't have quite the same black and white view on this that Dean clearly did.
"But look what happened when we tried it our way, Dean. Everyone still died. If we'd let Nancy volunteer then maybe most of those people would still be alive."
Dean sat up, leaning on one elbow and trying not to pull his stitches.
"Yeah, or maybe Nancy would have died, we'd have allowed a human to be killed, and Lilith would still have showed up and toasted everybody. You really think that this mega demon only showed up because we managed to get away on our own terms? She was coming, Sam, coming for us. And we wouldn't have been there when she arrived whether we'd followed Ruby's plan or not."
Sam considered the point.
"Alright, maybe this time it wouldn't have made a difference. But what about next time, huh? If this Lilith is gunning for us then we've got more to worry about than hunting – we're the ones being hunted now. And if she keeps pushing and pushing us into situations like tonight, where do we draw the line? If we really are supposed to be some great hope for humanity then what use are we gonna be if we get ourselves killed?"
Dean gave up lying down altogether, sitting up and switching on the lamp between the two beds. Sam blinked at the harsh light then looked at Dean, his gaze as troubled as Dean had expected it to be.
"I'll tell you where we draw the line, Sam. We draw it at becoming what they are. Dad raised us to do the right thing, to know the difference between right and wrong. Yeah, ok, sometimes the lines are a little blurry. But killing a human? Letting innocent people die just to give us the advantage? That's not blurry, that's crystal clear. We start resorting to Ruby's tricks then we are no better than she is and I for one refuse to believe that. We are going to fight, and I hope to god we are going to win, but in the meantime we do what we've always done. The right thing."
Sam scooted up the bed so he was resting against the headboard and brought his knees up, looping his arms round them.
"What if the right thing isn't so clear cut anymore? We have to win this, it's not just about us like it used to be. We've got responsibilities, to all the innocent people out there. And we can't afford to hesitate and screw things up. We just can't."
"Oh, so what? We turn into cold blooded murders instead? Tell ourselves it doesn't matter as long as the end result is the right one? That's bullshit, Sam! You're using the excuse of every dictator that's ever lived and I don't care how you look at it, the end does not justify the means. Not if you're talking about murder."
"Maybe this is what Dad was talking about then. Maybe you should have done what he asked. Cos right now, all I can see is that we tried to do the right thing and all those people still died."
Dean swung his legs over the bed, fixing Sam with a look that blazed with anger and something else Sam couldn't quite identify.
"Don't you dare pull that crap again, you hear me? If you're gonna start going on about how all this makes you just like Ruby then I swear, I am going to smack you silly. You are not like her. You are nothing like her. Your problem is this chick has you under some kind of spell. She talks about being able to help us win the war, about being able to help you save me, and you're so desperate you believe her. Well she's lying, Sam. She's lying about all of it. You think she doesn't have her own agenda? Everyone we've come across since this whole thing began is in it for themselves! The only people we can trust are ourselves, and Bobby. Everyone else is just playing an angle."
"So why did I hesitate then? Why did it seem like it really was the only way out back there? You didn't. You keep thinking and came up with a plan. A crazy ass plan, but it worked in the end. Or it would have done, except for Lilith. Point is I was ready to follow Ruby. What does that make me?"
"I'm serious! You've always wanted to see the best in people, Sammy. Ever since you were a kid. Me and Dad, we were always suspicious. Always looking for the angle. But not you. This is no different. You want to believe that Ruby is on our side, that she can help us. But she can't, and I'm not sure she ever really was able to. I'll tell you something else too."
"If it had come down to it? If Ruby had really tried to go ahead with that spell of hers – you'd have stopped her."
Sam shook his head.
"How can you be so sure?"
"Because I know you. You couldn't stand there and watch an innocent girl get butchered anymore than I could. I don't care how desperate you are, you're not that guy. And you never will be."
There was silence as Sam thought about that.
"I might be." he said softly, after a moment.
Sam didn't let him finish.
"If you're not there. We talked about this before, I'm different when it's just me. And stuff like that, like Ruby's plan making sense? If I do find it so easy to get confused then who's the one who makes me realise it's wrong, huh? You are. So what happens if you're not there?"
Dean sighed, feeling the familiar pang when Sam spoke about a future that might not include him.
"Well I'm still here now, so I guess you got nothing to worry about."
Sam let out a humourless chuckle.
"That's not an answer and you know it. You being here now is not gonna last, is it? We're running out of time."
"I know." said Dean, quietly. And he did.
It was hanging over them, every minute, every hour. Each sunrise brought them nearer to the finish line and what had seemed like price worth paying all those months before was gradually becoming a weight that was pressing down on both of them.
"I haven't given up." said Sam and Dean looked at him. "I'm not giving up. But you keep telling me we have to consider the alternative and that's what I'm doing. If you hadn't been there I'm not sure I have as much faith as you do that I'd have stepped in and stopped her."
"Then you'll just have to trust me and my faith, won't you?" said Dean, making it sound easy.
"And if I can't?"
"Then try harder. Hendrickson asked me if I thought we could win. And I told him the truth – I don't know. But what we are gonna do is go down fighting. Which means we follow the same rules we always have. We're not going to become the people they want us to be. Not for any price. Maybe we can't save everyone. And maybe we are stupid to try. But I'd rather be stupid than one of them."
Dean forced himself not to flinch when he said that part. He still hadn't told Sam about Ruby's bombshell, about what creatures like her were before they became demons. And he wasn't going to. Besides, if the worst did come to the worst then he would fight that too. They'd spent their whole lives beating the odds and he wasn't about to quit now. Hell or no hell.
He glanced over at Sam and saw that his brother was considering everything he'd said. This was partly the problem with the difference in their personalities. Dean dealt with things and moved on but Sam had a tendency to dwell on stuff, to overanalyse, and then tie himself in knots afterwards. Dean had to admit he'd been a little shocked when Sam hadn't protested Ruby's plan but that didn't mean he thought Sam was evil. He was just too influenced by the so called 'good' demon and Dean was determined to break that influence. And he didn't care what she said about being on their side.
Sam for his part wanted to believe what Dean said, he really did, but it just wasn't that simple anymore. The nearer they got to Dean's time being up, the more enemies kept crawling out of the woodwork – each new blow just added to his desperation and made him look at things differently than he would have done before. He appreciated his brother's faith in him but he couldn't help but wonder if it was misguided.
"Maybe you're right. But I'm not so sure. Not these days." he said in the end and Dean sighed.
"Well I'm sure enough for both of us, so why don't we just leave it at that."
"Alright. It still doesn't solve our other problem though."
"Lilith. She sounds way more powerful than any demon we've encountered before and more importantly she's gunning for us in person. She went to all the trouble of tracking us down and then killed those people, just for the sake of it. We're already dealing with the regular hunts, plus looking for a way out of your deal, and now this. If every demon we come across is gonna give her a heads up on our position what chance do we have?"
Dean shook his head.
"Not every demon will be working for her, Sam. Some of them are just out for themselves or maybe even on your side. And don't give me that look, I'm not saying you're going to lead some demon army but it doesn't change the fact the YED put out the word that you would and that maybe some of his 'disciples' are gonna stand by that."
"So what, I should start calling in favours from those demons who want me to lead them?"
"No! I'm just saying that they won't betray our position to Lilith before we smoke their asses, that's all."
Sam wasn't totally convinced.
"Maybe that's true, but there are probably plenty out there who will. Bobby was right – this is a demon army we're talking about here. A full on war. And there's just you and me. We don't stand a chance."
"Come on, don't sound like we lost already, Sam. There are other hunters out there, people like Bobby. They're fighting the good fight too. And if you remember, we thought the YED couldn't be defeated and look how that turned out. All the times we've thought that was it, all the times we've killed something they said couldn't be killed - this is what we do. It's who we are."
"What if that's not enough?"
Dean ran his hand over his face and gave Sam a weary smile.
"It'll have to be."
Sam leant back against the headboard.
"So. What do we do now?"
Dean gave a one shouldered shrug.
"What we always do. Look for the next hunt and hit the road. Least the one good thing to come out of all this is that we don't have to worry about the whole Most Wanted thing anymore."
"Yeah, because we're dead. Most people wouldn't actually call that a good thing you know."
"Most people lead boring lives, Sam. Think of it as a fresh start. Besides, I feel pretty good for a dead guy don't you?"
Sam rolled his eyes.
"That's so not funny."
"Come on, it's a little funny. Seriously, it's one less thing to worry about and right now we need all the help we can get."
"I guess. What are we gonna do about Lilith though?"
"What can we do? We've told Bobby all we know and he's checking the books but other than that we'll just have to wait until she makes her next move. All we can do is try and be ready."
"You make it sound easy."
"When have our lives ever been easy?"
Sam tried to stay serious but ended up grinning slightly as well. Dean had a point and yet somehow he always seemed to make things seem better than they were. Like whatever they were about to face would be a piece of cake. It was something he'd taken for granted in the past but he was starting to develop a whole new appreciation for that element of his brother's personality.
"Ok. I guess you're right. And don't say it." he warned, cutting Dean off before he could get out the first word. Dean just grinned, knowing Sam had heard the words as clear as if he'd said them anyway, and got back under the covers.
"It's true. Anyway, far as I can see the best thing we can do right now is get some sleep. We'll hit the road again tomorrow, put a little more distance between us and Lilith. Hopefully the fact we did manage to waste all those demons might make her a little more cautious about coming after us head on."
"Maybe. We can hope anyway."
Sam nodded, sending up a fervent prayer that Dean was right on this one.
"Alright, we'll head out early. And yes, that does mean before midday." he said, ignoring Dean's glare.
"Whatever. Just remember you wake me up before there's actual daylight and you won't have to worry about Lilith or this coming war."
Sam just smirked.
"How's the shoulder by the way?"
"Still hurts. How's the head?"
"The same. Maybe we should wait a few days for the next job, just to be on the safe side."
Dean shook his head.
"Come on, it's only my shoulder. Not the first time I've been shot there."
"And that so doesn't make it any better, Dean." said Sam, looking unamused.
"Alright, alright. Don't start. We'll take a few days off, ok? Not like we're trying to fend off the apocalypse or anything."
"Thanks. I feel so much better now."
"What I'm here for. So, can we actually get some sleep now? Or did you want to braid some hair and have a group hug first?"
"You're hilarious. Really. You should think about going on stage, if we actually make it through all this."
Sam easily ducked the remote that flew in his direction and lay down again, reaching out and flicking off the lamp. He waited until he heard Dean get settled before he spoke again.
"For the love of – why do you always do that? Just when I get comfortable and think it's safe you decide you got one more thing." he grumbled.
Sam grinned, knowing Dean couldn't see him.
"Cos it's so much more entertaining."
"Yeah, well you need to get out more. Go on then, what can't possibly wait until morning?"
"It's nothing really, I was just thinking about Hendrikson. After all that time he finally realises the truth and comes down on our side, and Lilith kills him."
"Yeah, I know. Kinda sucks actually. I never thought I'd hear myself say this but he was ok, once he stopped insisting we were homicidal psychopaths."
"Would have been handy, having someone on the inside who could have helped us."
"Yeah, it would but since he's dead there's no point dwelling on it. At least he helped us in the end – if it hadn't been for him we probably wouldn't have made it out of there."
There was silence again, briefly.
"What about Bela?" said Sam, eventually, and he literally felt Dean's hackles rise.
"Oh she definitely dies this time. No question."
"I thought we weren't killing humans?"
"She's not human, she's the devil in disguise. If that bitch had had her way you and I would be on our way to a maximum security jail for the rest of our lives. So far she's shot you, towed the Impala, stolen the Colt and now this. The woman has not one single redeeming quality, Sam. So yeah, I'm totally not gonna lose sleep when I smoke her ass and get the Colt back."
"Fair enough. Course we gotta find her first."
"Bobby's on it. Don't worry, we're getting that gun back. Whatever it takes."
Sam nodded, even though Dean couldn't see him. Bela was one person even he couldn't see the good in. Not after this. The thought that if the demons hadn't arrived then he'd have ended up in solitary somewhere, not even able to save his brother or see him again before he died - that was just the final straw as far as he was concerned. She'd crossed the line and there was no going back. Not for any reason.
"So now are we done?" said Dean and Sam pretended to think about it, letting his brother's exasperation build a little.
"Yeah, I think so."
Dean was almost at the drifting off stage when he heard Sam's voice again, quieter this time.
"I swear, next time I'm just handing you over to the demons and making a run for it."
Sam ignored the threat.
"I'm glad it's both of us. This whole war thing. I'm glad we're in it together."
Dean turned his head to face Sam, even though he couldn't really see him in the dark. That was his brother, always going that extra step into Hallmark territory. Still, it didn't hurt to hear that stuff out loud occasionally.
Even if he didn't have to admit that to Sam.
Dean had been quiet for so long that Sam wasn't sure if he'd fallen asleep again but then he spoke.
Sam smiled to himself and turned over, getting comfortable for real this time.
They'd had a horrible preview of what the coming months were going to be like, and they'd solved one problem only to be handed a new even bigger one. But despite that, despite his own fears about how far he was willing to go these days, when it came down to it Dean was right. All they could do was their best and face each battle as it came.
And as long as they did it together, then maybe they stood a chance after all. Because sometimes, it was the little things that really mattered.
And not even the apocalypse could change that.