"Once you give in? The learning curve is like that. All the switches that just flip in your head." -- Ava, AHBL1

"See that Ava girl was right. Once you give in to it, there's all sorts of new Jedi mind tricks you can learn." -- Jake, AHBL2

"Why do you think Lilith is so scared of you? If you wanted, you could wipe her off the map without moving a muscle." -- Ruby, NRFTW

Sam didn't know how long he knelt there on the floor, crying over Dean's body. Long enough for the blood pooling over hardwood to congeal, for flesh to slowly lose warmth and start to stiffen. He was vaguely aware of someone peeking in, whispers and gasps, before they disappeared. Then a hand gripped his shoulder, not tugging him away, but he curled protectively over Dean anyway.

"Sam," it took him a moment to recognize Bobby's voice, gravely and broken with restrained grief. "Sam, c'mon. It's over. We need to leave."

Sam shook his head. Yes, it was over, and he'd failed. He didn't want to leave, didn't want to move. His world had ended, limp and blood-drenched in his arms. If he moved, everything that was left inside him would shatter. There was nothing to go on for.

"Sam," the hand shook him a bit, and he shrugged it off, the movement seeming to sap all his energy. A soul-deep fatigue exacerbated by sorrow weighed him down, heavy as the lifeless shell before him, until he wasn't sure if he even could move. He failed. His brother was dead. He was alone.

Yet despite his physical numbness, his mind couldn't stop spinning. Why he survived Lilith's attack, the same power that had flattened a police station and everyone in it, yet couldn't save Dean? Was he really so intrinsically selfish that he could only save himself and watch everyone he loved die around him? Was he so tainted that everything he touched was doomed?

Sam knew how he survived Lilith's attack. He'd felt the power within him awaken, rousing from the dormant state Ruby had said it was in, stirring in the back of his brain. Not like before, with the visions, uncontrolled and chaotic. No, this had potential, could be harnessed, if he so chose. He shied away from it, fearing its dark origins, what it had done to others like him, what it could do to him.

Drained, his sobs stopped even though tears continued to fall. They dripped off his cheeks and chin to baptize Dean's face, eyes staring blankly upward, mixing with the blood splatters to creep in salty pinkish trails down pale skin. The house was eerily silent, still as a mausoleum, disconcerting after all the frenetic action beforehand. Sam could even hear the whir and hiss of the sprinklers outside, idly wondering if the demons were still out there, or if they had seen Lilith flee and followed her.

It was kind of funny how a few words and creative thinking could create a barrier that could hold back a demon horde. Staring down at Dean's blank face, wiping absently at blood droplets, he remembered how it had lit up with vicious glee at the sight of the sprinklers dousing demons with holy water . . .

Something clicked.

Holy water. Salt. Blood.

Life. Death. Power.

Choice.

It came down to choice. Isn't that what Dean had always said? He didn't believe in destiny. It was about free will, the ability to choose. He'd always chosen to put others before himself, to sacrifice so that others, especially Sam, could have. He chose to sell his soul to give Sam back his life. Selfless and selfish.

Like Nancy. Sweet, innocent Nancy, who'd chosen to remain a virgin, and as a result of that would have also chosen to sacrifice herself to save everyone she could. It was her choice, and the only reason they didn't take her up on it, why Sam didn't let Ruby rip her heart out, was because Dean chose to try another way. Because any other choice was preferable to him than to let an innocent die, no matter the odds of success.

Sam remembered the research he'd done after Wyoming, the demonology he'd dug in to. Yellow Eyes wasn't a run of the mill demon. Azazel was Fallen. Once an angel, but had chosen evil and was punished for it. He was one who, according to mythology, could not bow down before humans. The ones created as children, in God's image, with free will.

Sam was human. Free will was his birthright. He could choose. Ava and Jake had both been presented with options, laid out black and white by Yellow Eyes, and chose their own survival and their power over other's lives. But what about the others? Lily had chosen to flee, to avoid hurting anyone with her power. Had Andy chosen before Ava sicced the Acheri on him?

Azazel had chosen, but did it change what he had once been? Once good, once evil. Angel and demon.

Could this power only be used for destruction? Or could he choose how to use it? Deny it, or make it work for him?

Choose good. Choose evil.

Choose creation. Choose destruction.

Choose failure. Choose chance.

Choose life. Choose death.

CHOOSE.

Sam made his choice.

The switch flipped.

Taking a deep breath to settle himself as the fatigue fled, Sam gingerly pulled Dean's body to his and scooped him up in his arms. He stood, cradling the body, meeting Bobby's red-rimmed stare for a second before stepping over Ruby's empty shell as they left the room. Bobby stuck close, but paused when Sam, instead of turning towards the living room and the front door, made for the stairs.

"Sam," he began, but Sam interrupted him.

"Bobby, go get me a rosary, the blessed oil, and the herb bags out of the car." Bobby looked ready to argue, but Sam glanced over at him. "Please, Bobby." Apparently the soft note of begging persuaded him, because after a moment, he sighed and left, and Sam carried his burden up the stairs.

He ignored the stench coming from the one bedroom and headed for the master bedroom with the en suite bathroom. Just as he thought, it had a large whirlpool tub big enough that with a little effort Dean could be fully submerged. Setting the body on the floor, Sam gently pulled off the boots and socks, placing them in the corner. The jacket was harder, as limp dead-weight and broken arms were uncooperative as a doll's.

By the time Bobby returned, Dean was wearing only the shredded jeans and t-shirt. Stopping up the tub, Sam started the water running, the rushing thunder filling up the silence. Bobby gave Sam a hard stare as he passed over the supplies, clearly trying to evaluate his mental state. "Whatcha planning, Sam?" he asked gently, as if talking to a frightened kitten.

"Just trust me, Bobby." Sam picked up the rosary, running the worn wooden beads through his fingers before wrapping them around once and staring the blessing, Latin flowing smoothly over his tongue.

He dropped the rosary into the water, added a sprinkle of salt, a handful of herbs from the bag, a measure of oil. Then he withdrew his pocket knife, and with a quick muttered prayer dragged the sharp edge along his hand, adding a few drops of his blood to the mix.

With Bobby watching silently, Sam picked Dean up and carefully lowered him into the water, maneuvering limbs until the entire body was immersed. The water quickly turned pink with blood. Sam ran his fingers over Dean's face and neck, lightly scrubbing the spilled blood away. Beneath the water, Dean looked peaceful, serene, nearly angelic through a rose-colored mirror.

A reluctant smile twisted Sam's lips even as a couple more tears plopped down, sending small ripples over the surface, briefly distorting the image. Baptism -- to die and be reborn; a passage; cleansing.

Hope.

Sam reached inward, looking for the door in his mind. Before it had only been cracked open, letting out little uncontrolled trickles of power, until it had jammed shut at Azazel's death. With Lilith's light show, he had felt it blow wide open, and now he embraced it. Not as Ava and Jake did, but as he chose to. The same power that had saved him would now save his brother.

Hands on either side of Dean's neck, Sam breathed in deep, once, twice, then released that power.

Let my will be done.

As Sam watched, his hands glowed golden. The gaping wounds shimmered lightly, rippling under water, then began to close. Bone popped back into place, muscle shifted and mended smoothly. Rips sealed with unmarked flesh, pink and whole.

A body without a soul, however, is incomplete. Sam's right hand drifted down to the amulet still around Dean's neck, where it had hung faithfully for sixteen years, ever since Sam had given it to him. Finger tracing the familiar spikes and whorls, he called for his brother's soul. Dean, he thought, reaching deep, Dean, come back.

A mental jerk, a twitch.

Then with a splash and a huge gasp like a newborn about to announce his presence to the world, Dean shot upwards, water streaming down over him.

The tidal wave soaked Sam, splashed the rugs on the floor and lapped at Bobby's feet even as he jumped back with a startled curse. Dean coughed, choked briefly on inhaled water, and spit, eyes blinking rapidly. He inhaled deeply before breathing out incredulously, "Sam?"

Sam laughed, joy bordering on hysteria, and pulled Dean to him, not caring as more pink-tinged water slopped over the edge to soak his front. He hugged him tight, the same relief from the end of endless Tuesdays swamping him as he felt the steady heartbeat against his.

Dean clung right back, shaking minutely, whether from the chill of the water or the after-effects of even a short time in Hell, Sam couldn't tell. Either way, he'd help Dean through it. Pulling back slightly, he slumped and leaned his forehead against Dean's, closing his eyes with a sigh. The fatigue was back with a vengeance. But then again, so was Dean.

They stayed like that, breathing each other's air for a while, until fears calmed and assurance was had. Then Dean's lips quirked in a tiny smirk. "So . . . forever didn't last as long as I'd thought."

"Yeah," Sam sigh-laughed.

"Sam, what did you do?" Dean's voice was serious, concerned, the big brother resurfacing. Sam welcomed his return, even when mostly unneeded. Sam wasn't going to go evil. Not now.

"I remembered what you taught me." With a tired smile, Sam hauled himself to his feet and held a hand out to help Dean climb out and join him. "I made a choice."