Notes: The title is inspired by a Sara Slean song that my sis did a SPN fanvid for, entitled "Weight." And the story itself is inspired by a dream she had about SPN. (The dream and the story are nothing alike, only the part about Dean going to Hell is the same.) ;)

Timeframe: You could either put this (sometime) after "Mystery Spot" or "Jus in Bello."

- o -

"Breathe Again"

Dean was dead.

Sam was going down bad paths, and neither of them had a clue where the other was. They'd lost touch. Touch. That's how it'd started. They'd stopped touching first, then finally, when all the arguments were worn thin, they'd stopped talking too.

Then they'd stopped looking at each other, and Dean had celebrated the end of his one year with a bang. He remembered, for the first time in months, Sam watching, watching him from any place in the bar.

He'd avoided that anguished gaze. He hadn't wanted to face the truth--he could've found a way to save himself. He just hadn't wanted to.

And now...

Hell wasn't what he'd thought it'd be. Neither his worst nightmare nor the fiery pit he'd half-learned from someone else's Sunday school lesson. And it wasn't what the demons had said either... It wasn't like Constantine's nightmare wasteland, or like anything he'd seen in any other movie.

It was just there, and he was there, and he was empty. He was alone, and his soul was the only thing with him. He heard crying, and demons' sibilant anarchies, spoken in languages he couldn't even grasp the syllables and consonants of, let alone understand.

A little girl came and tugged on his hand. She looked up, and he saw that her eyes were grey, like a blind-person's, but no evidence of there ever having been an iris or pupil, or anything. He yanked his hand away, and she whined, "Do you know where my Mommy is?"

"No," he told her, voice all gruff and hoarse. He was thirsty because there was no water here. It wasn't hot. It was just barren.

"Help me," she begged, "Help me find them...?"

"No," he said again, but this time it sounded more like a request. She went away.

The sky was like fire, even though it wasn't hot... it wasn't cold either, but the sky burned. The sun was black.

He tried to find the way out, but there wasn't a beginning or end to it. Only the middle that stretched on forever, no color, just grey, with the red sky and the ghosts with blank eyes.

The demons looked like shadows--grey again. Smaltine, silver... metallic, like the taste of nickels or blood. Sometimes they shifted and moved like smoke or fog, sometimes they shattered in and out like the flicker of a spirit. They never bothered any of the others. Dean thought it was because they just wanted out as much as the rest.

And then something caught his hand, and he thought of the little girl, but this time, he found a familiar, black-eyed creature. "Dean," she said, "Your brother and I have a plan. Come on... I don't have a lot of time, so hurry your sweet, ethereal butt up."

Ruby. He remembered her name now. He remembered he'd felt threatened by her, that he'd hated her and found hope in her, at the same time. He remembered that she was strong and weak and hateful and complicated. He remembered he'd seen just that much of himself in her. That tiny bit that had made him so much afraid.

He let her pull him... she pulled him up... Into the bloody sky, into the black sun.

- o -

"Dean? Dean!" Sam was yelling, and Dean's eyes flickered open. He sucked in a sharp breath and whimpered.

Wait. That hadn't sounded right. "Oh--Oh, God!" Sam said, and held him, kissed him, strange as that felt, smothered him near-to-death.

"Sam... Sam, I can't breathe," he said, and heard a voice, familiar, but not his own.

Sam looked at him, as he drew back, something like hurt--no, guilt, in his eyes. He started untying Dean's wrists, and Dean looked down, at feminine hands, breasts. He couldn't figure why the t-shirt reminded him of some girl he'd known, but it just did.

"Sam...?" he asked, hoarsely, and Sam darted away, returned with a glass of water. Dean drank it down... while Sam loosened the ropes around his ankles. "Why am I a chick?" he asked.

Sam looked up, relief breaking into short, huffy laughter. "It's uh... just temporary," he said, "Until we can find you another body."

'What... the...?'

Dean could only stare and drink the rest of the water.

Bobby's house, Bobby moving around in the background, where he hadn't seen him at first. He looked ticked, and he wasn't saying anything, like, "How are you, Dean? Nice to have you back!"

Dean couldn't blame him though. He'd come back from Hell. Didn't that make him a demon?

He got up, wobbled a bit, not used to the legs for some reason. He couldn't tell whether it was because he'd been wandering around the underworld without them, or because these didn't belong to him, originally. He tried to go to the bathroom, but Sam was being a busy body.

"Let me--!" he protested, and Sam backed off. He stumbled a little bit, but made it into the little room okay, shut the door, leaned against it a sec before taking care of business.

Then he looked in the mirror.

Ruby. "What the..." He stopped when the lips started moving. "Oh, heck no..."

'I don't have much time,' she'd said. She hadn't said, 'By the way, I'm gone as soon as you take my place.' What had happened to her? What had Sam done?

When he came out, he asked that question. Sam didn't answer, he just said, pleading, "Dean, I did what I had to do... You're back, that's all that matters."

"What the heck did you do?" Dean thundered, and winced at the different quality to his blasting full-volume.

"I tricked her," Sam said, suddenly calm, calculated, like he didn't give a crap. "I told her you'd both be in there until I could find another body for you. It knocked her out all the way, only tied her to the body for as long as it took to find you. Then the rest of the spell put you in and sent her back to Hell."

Dean sagged against the nearest wall. Cold... Hell wasn't hot or cold, and coming back to ice was hard. Coming back to pain and fear and confusion was worse, and this... this man that stood in front of him, with that hard look in his eyes. He was the demon. He was the one who'd come back from Hell.

- o -

She cried. Sam tried to soothe her and found himself punched and kicked and elbowed for his efforts. Bobby faired better. He told Sam to get out, to go count amo or something, and so Sam left.

When he came back into the house again, she was asleep, twitching every now and then like she was having a bad dream. He still couldn't decide whether he should call Dean 'she' or 'he', so he was going with the sex and not the gender identity.

Bobby was angry with him--for doing what he'd done. One, it was unnatural, he said, another, it was a double cross, which didn't sit well with him, and for a third and grand finale, Dean was gonna have to deal with bein' a girl now, he said.

Sam hadn't cared about any of it. He'd just wanted his brother back. He'd been on the border, on the line. If he'd found a way to do it by killing someone first, he probably would have. But he'd come to this solution first, and it hadn't involved killing. Ruby had helped him fine-tune it, and he'd managed to keep his intentions from her.

She probably would've stabbed him through the heart with that knife of hers if she'd known.

And Dean... he'd be happy with that knife. So that was a plus. He couldn't wait to tell him... to start joking around again, like old times. He couldn't understand why Bobby was so miffed. Dean was back and not a demon. His brother was alive.

So why wasn't anyone happy about it but him?

- ending -