Disclaimer: See Chapter One

A/N: Again, thanks for the reviews! This is the last chapter of this story! The fight is on – will the Winchesters prevail? Ah, just read a few pages and find out.

Chapter Six: The Breaking

Dean raised his gun up and fired once into the demon. It allowed the hit to its chest and within a second self-sealed itself back up. Its bulky-veined wings already spread, the creature leapt from its position and shot straight into the air. It flapped its muscles majestically in the narrow room, kicking filthy dust up from the Earth below. It circled around the small area, the rock mixing in with the dirt from below creating a thick sand-like storm around the hunters.

Dean had entered on the left, Sam had entered on the right. Neither had gone very far but now their vision was totally obscured. Sam cracked his eyes to the left and thought maybe he could see his brother's dark form inching through the whirling silt.

" Dean!" Sam yelled out, but the drum from the thunderous storm drowned his voice out. Even to himself. Sam took a few steps forward, his glock held straight in front of him, steady. He watched for movement other than the swirling little particles. He raised his eyes up, hoping to catch sight of the creature flying above them but his vision was limited. He walked further into the stable. He squinted hard watching for movement, studying close. More than anything he didn't want to confuse his brother's body for the angel. The mixture of Earth slammed against his skin, thickening in his hair and pelted his eyes. Sam rubbed at them frenzied. "Dean!"

His older brother was farther ahead, but neither was aware of it. He had his pistol still pulled and aimed as well. The elements swarming around him were minimizing his search, abusing his body as it was his younger brother's. He stayed close to the stable doors, counting the beams as he proceeded forward. Dean was an excellent hunter. He didn't need just his eyes. Or his ears. He had natural instinct and that was something the fallen angel wouldn't be counting on.

The demon was enjoying the show. It had stopped flying moments before, after the first of the dirt had kicked up. Once the storm had began it could control it from basically anywhere. So it stood in the corner, watching through the debris, with predatory eyes, as each brother made separate paths, stalking into the burning rubble. Its skin curdled back again, muscles bunching under its sheath. Small finger-like bubbles bulged out, begging for release from its captor. Its black eyes suddenly blazed, turning red-hot and it strolled nonchalant into the twirling Earth. It had two prospects in front of it, two missions and it knew which had to go down first. It sauntered dead ahead for Dean Winchester.

The older brother had closed his eyes and shut off his ears as he continued to advance. He pushed back the roar around him and listened to his body, sensed the hairs on his arms, felt the temperature differences surrounding him and walked right into the path of the oncoming menace.

The swirling of the rock and dirt seemed to lessen as he continued forward and Dean noticed both the feeling of hot and cold running near him now. He lifted his lids through grit and grime and was immediately aware of the scratching of rocks against his sclera. The .45 in front of him hit resistance and he opened his blood shot orbs, staring straight ahead to where the angel stood. The barrel of his glock was pressed up against the demon's mighty chest. Its stature was mostly small in the legs, but the creature made up for it in upper body strength. Muscle upon muscle riveted down its torso, the width spanned double that of Dean's own impressive build.

"Patronus, sto sub." Its words hissed from its curved mouth.

Dean cocked his head… and his gun. The demon spread its arms out to the hunter, the skin rippling underneath, begging him to take the shot. Daring him.

"Capiam iucunditas in caedes vos."

Dean smirked. Kill him? Who did this thing think it was? Batman? Dean scoffed. "Not if I kill you first." He fired point blank into the chest and hit the angel. Its body yanked back, pricking as the bullet pierced its torso. Dean didn't give it a chance to think. He hit it again with his glock, aiming to where a heart would be. Deep holes screwed into its dark flesh, tearing at it like rubber balloons, not at all like flesh wounds. A thick grave reddish substance leaked from the puncture sites, trickling onto the rubbery blackness.

Dean blinked as the creature hissed something rather familiar to him.

"SSSSaaaammmmyyyyy."

The hunter's eyes constricted, his heart vaulted. For a brief second Gordon flashed in his mind. He saw his little brother blown up. Shot at. Bleeding. Dead. "You leave my brother alone!" Dean hit the most disgusting thing he'd ever seen with two more rounds. And then paused a second and hit him again.

The angel took the bullets in and seemed to mold them to its form. Digesting them. It ascended towards the older man. "Mei." It ferociously lurched at Dean, grabbing him again by the throat. It held on to his neck with one cold hand and started an airtight squeeze. The demon raised its other hand, bubbles rolling down the elbow chasing one another to meet at its fingers, compiling at the ends. They erupted together in pops of shooting black liquid to reveal razor sharp blades. Dean's head was reeling, shapes were contorting, images fading in and out. He wasn't sure which way was up and where he was anymore, but no way did Batman just turn into Wolverine.

With quick precision the angel swiped sadistically at Dean's abdomen, red darkening his already black t-shirt, soaking through to dampen Ozzie's face. The angel smiled greedily. The wounds weren't made to kill, just to amuse. It gleefully scrutinized as Dean's eyes watered and his body bucked against the pain. It pressed its silvered index finger to the hunter's lips as Dean gurgled a sound.

"Shhh..." Its throat sizzled.

The demon traced a path from his mouth down the older brother's neck, pausing a moment on the weakening heartbeat and down to his chest. The sharp knife quickly tore through the flimsy fabric of the tee, exposing flesh. Dean's chest heaved anxiously, his clammy white skin was drenched with cold sweat and it goose-pimpled as the razorblades scratched against him. The angel tickled its prey, jiggling the points of his blades over Dean's pectorals, flicking his nipple. The hunter attempted to swing back, bring his legs up and kick again, but his energy was draining fast. He looked down just as the angel turned up and their eyes met, repulsion for each other spilling over. The demon sliced into Dean's skin, scarlet spurting out as its finger artfully drew a bloody heart over his chest. Dean's legs flailed, his arms twisted and he watched as the hand came forward again and settled over the dripping heart. Its bony fingers curled staging itself over his aorta and started to press in. Dean could feel the swimming of his skin under the coldness of the fingers. It seized into white-hot pain. Melting into his skin. The smell of his own burning flesh rushed up in small clouds of smoke to reach his nose. He felt the world around him shift and spin, topsy-turvy, the colors of the stables blending, the air leaving his lungs, his heart thumping, beating slower and he thought maybe he was starting to… succumb.

The angel also hadn't counted on Plan B – Sam Winchester. Sam couldn't see, he couldn't hear but he could feel. When it came down to it, when Sam allowed himself to really concentrate, the ties that bound him to his brother was probably stronger than any other sensastion he had. It was a fierce intensity, a sixth sense. He felt a rush of need, a cry of despair. He felt the life leaving his brother's body and he turned. The blinding swirl of dirt thickened as he forced his way to where he knew – where he felt - his brother was.

They had saved Timothy together. They hadn't seen any of the horrifics occur with the other killings and Sam wasn't about to start now. Mr. Tell may have been right, Dean may be his Protector but nothing had stopped Sam before in protecting his brother right back. He may not be able to see a destiny pre-told or a future created just for him but he could now see his brother. Red. Bloody. Breathless. Choking to death.

Oh, God, not this way, Sam breathed. It was a hundred Tuesdays all over again. It was day zero, only seconds to spare. It was his life halting, skidding on asphalt without a seatbelt. Without protection.

Sam raised his glock and shot it directly into the side of the animal's head, through one ear and out the other. It shrieked at the zipping sound, the force throwing the angel off balance, releasing Dean in a thump on the ground. Sam's eyes flicked once to his brother's motionless slumped form and then back to their avenger.

Its eyes ran up and down Sam's lanky body and the saliva it was producing multiplied. It slurped strings of spit, reached out knarly fingers to the younger and stroked his face. It gazed with passionate sight, searching the hunter's blue-green orbs for his sign. Waiting for his permission. It smiled at Sam, fangs oozing, rancid breath warming his mouth and then it spoke to him.

"Mei." Its eyes shimmered, gleaming red. "Nostri."

Sam's eyebrows cramped together, his face-hardened. Unable to wrap his thoughts around the words, Sam mustered up the only thing he could think of to say: "No." He shot it with his gun again and again, ripping the bullets into its chest, its body twitching back with the motions. Sam reached back and grabbed his machete from his back swinging it around his body. The creature's reflection glistened back in the shiny blade. Catching glimpse of its own sight, it barreled back into the weakening dirt, hissing and sputtering as it disappeared.

Sam dropped to the ground and grabbed at his unresponsive brother. "Dean." Sam tapped Dean's tepid face lightly and his brother slowly stirred, rolling his head forward, his chin falling to his chest. Green slits lifted and greeted Sam's.

"Where is it?" Worse than sandpaper, but still harmonious to Sam.

"It's still here. I… I think I scared it off for a minute."

Dean made a face at that. Scared if off? What the Hell did…

Sam felt his hesitation. "It saw the machete and got scared."

Oh. Dean scrambled his legs under him trying to push himself up. Large hands reached down and pulled along with him. Together they could breathe life back into the older brother. Together they could defeat a fallen angel. Maybe together was still enough.

"It still has its wings?"

Sam nodded, resting Dean against a stable beam. "I think it knows that we… know how to kill it."

Dean's gaze snapped up, visually examining his brother. "Did it hurt you?"

Sam though of the cold dead-like hands touching his face, almost tenderly. "No."

"Good." Dean started to push away from the beam, clutching his chest through his torn shirt.

"I think it… wants me." He thought twice about saying it. It scared him. But it was out in the open now. Sometimes not seeing things the way he was suppose to see them was, well… safe.

"Yeah," Dean answered. "Me, too. Like Tom Cruise jumping on couches wanting." He was unwavering. Confident. Heroic. No doubt in his mind this thing would not win. No one, nothing was taking Sam.

There was a ruffle in the dirt storm behind them and Dean found adrenaline to be his friend again. He pulled his machete out and motioned Sam with a flick of his sore neck. "Get behind me."

Sam stared a second. His older brother's breaths were deep but coarse. His ribs near his collarbone were visibly retracting. He was sucking in air, his lungs damaged, his throat most likely burnt. Blood was dripping from his chest, raw skin was visible where the burns had occurred. The brow of his forehead was peppered in tiny beads of sweat. Sam watched as the hunter shook his head a minute, clearing his mind, bringing him back to the job at hand. Sam winced. "Dean…"

"I'm the shepherd, Sam." Dean shoved his brother behind him.

"Protector," Sam mumbled.

"Whatever."

They didn't move forward. Sam doubted Dean could even walk if he tried. So they waited, machetes raised over shoulders, eyes searching from the ground up.

And an air raid was the preferred method of attack. The angel came from above. One flutter was all Sam heard when its pidgeoned feet hit Dean in the face, toenails clawing at him. The aim was for his neck, the swipe was deep above his chin but superficial against his Adam's apple. It bobbed as did Dean's head. He narrowed his eyes. "Is that all you got?" he hollered out, blinking heavily, repositioning his hands on the blade's handle. "Come on!" It hadn't bested him.

Sam knew it would hit his brother again. It had to take the Protector out to claim its reward. Sam watched as Dean leaned forward in a swaying motion. He shifted his weight and balanced himself from falling forward. He wobbled twice, catching himself from kissing the dirt both times. His body swung from left to right, his eyes darting all over the dirt filled stable. He was exhausted, too tired physically and mentally. The older brother was spent and in no shape to fight, let alone take another hit.

Sam took a few quiet steps to the left, creating space between Dean and himself. Another step, baiting himself on a pole for the monster to claim. "Come on." His voice a whisper, only for himself to hear. "Adeo mihi."

Sam waited for it to pounce again because he knew something Dean didn't. He could feel the angel, too. There was a winded hiss, a ruffle of wings, a rattle like a snake and the animal charged in from the whipping dirt. It flew to the younger hunter and grasped him with its large hands, gripping him to its wide chest. Dean watched in a fear-filled horror as the bat-thing took Sam into the air, turning to steer them away.

"Sam!" There was fright he couldn't hide in his voice this time.

And Sam heard it. He reached his hand to his side, the ground below rushing from him, the black rubbery skin pressed tightly against his cheek. He grabbed hold of his boot knife and pulled it out, gripping it tightly in his fist. He swung it around mid-air and then plummeted it into the beast, carving it deep into its back. The angel curved itself back and screamed. It started spiraling down in a frantic spin. Its horrendous hands let go of Sam and funneled back for the blade that it could not reach.

The younger Winchester fell from above toppling quickly in a heap of legs and arms to the dirt floor.

"Sam!" Dean was already hobbling towards his brother. His legs were weak from lack of oxygen, barely holding himself up. His lungs still gasping for puffs of air while flashes of lights and sparkles danced behind his lids.

Sam was already on his feet, though, and looking up. Devil-red eyes glared down at the hunters from the darkness. It swooped without hesitation, wings pulled back taut against its back. All of its energy directed towards Sam.

Dean shoved his little brother back down to the ground and loomed over him. The animal hissed crying out at the older Winchester. "Patronus!" It swooped around defiantly. It teased Dean, mocked him. It wasn't all talk, though. It was preparing for a deadly swipe.

"You can't have him!" Dean called out. "He's not yours!" Protect Sam. Save Sam.

Sam stood up behind him, towering over his ailing sibling. He grabbed his shiv and threw it towards the flying form as it plunged towards them. It was a swift strike to its neck, sinking it to the hilt.

It tried to scream out but the blade counteracted its reaction and it let out a throttled sound. It fell and railed to a raging stop. It reached up with urgent hands trying to pull the knife out.

Dean's glock hit the demon in the head just as the knife ejected. It jolted. Another bullet punched it again in the chest. It stumbled back. Deep, dark red blood oozed out of the creature from every opening, the scarlet turning black as it hit the dirt below. Dean circled in front of the demon. Sam took the back. They brought up their machetes each on either side of it. Sam stole a quick look at Dean. He gave him a half-nod and silently hard-wired within both brothers, they counted…

One. Two. Three.

Their blades came down off rhythm with one another and struck. Sam hit first, slicing into the butt of the right wing. The angel's shrill rocked the stable doors. It cried out, turning its body away from the younger and towards the older. Dean's blade was already coming down as he slashed the left wing. His arms were like noodles, though, and he didn't have the strength to cut deep. He pulled the machete off the dark appendix with a low grunt.

The creature pulled inward, bringing its wings as close as possible. Sam pulled out and up and hit it again, the right wing falling off to the ground, black liquid spilling from its case. Dean hit the left again and again. The muscles of the angel bouncing and jumping as the blade made contact. The left wing was dangling by mere tissues as the angel started to twist. Dean raised his blade, watching the injured animal twirl and rotate, looking for the best opportunity to strike. There was a muffled gasp and the brothers eyes widened as the final fiber ripped from the demon's body, the wing falling to the ground. The black juice spilled from the left, as feverishly as the right, drenching the soil and Dean's boots in the process.

The angel stilled, curled in a protective ball. All was silent. The dirt storm fell to the ground, whisking close, hovering the Earth below. Brown swirls of silt and rock crept past the hunters and started wrapping itself around the creature. The angel's ankles engulfed in a tenacious tornado of soot, climbing up to its legs. It strangled its way up the muscular body, suffocating the beast from the outside in. Its eyes shifted, the pink dying out to charcoal black. It closed them briefly and then monstrously snapped open and looked to Dean.

"Patronus… sto… sub."

The ghostly wraith of dirt pulled the demon to the ground and started pulling it from between the brothers. Dean stole a glance over Sam's shoulder and saw a whirling hole in the Earth, funneling down, seeming to have no end. A bottomless pit. The monster shrieked as it was yanked by the unseen mucky forces, it's fingernails digging into the dirt. Claw marks dug deep into the ground, its hands mudding with purchase.

"MEI!"

Dean's eyes flew to his brother standing off-center next to the angel. Before the older man could even register a plan, the demon initiated its own. It reached out and grabbed hold of the younger hunter's ankle and dropped him in a perplexing tailspin with it. Sam's arms flailed, thrashing at his sides. He tried to grab at something, anything that would stop him, keep him in the stable, keep him near his brother. The angel had both hands wrapped brutally around him now and it slowly ascended Sam's body, hanging on to his calves as they quickly increased their speed towards the swarming dirts of death. Sam could feel the power surge through him as the invisible forces pulled its two captors towards it, preparing to reap the reward.

"Sam!" He heard it once and then felt a crushing pressure on top of him. His eyes closed tightly as he was pulled into the unknown. The animal's hands released and his legs were his own now. His body stiffened. He was surly hurtling into the strange and unidentified. He had fallen with the angel and the Earth had swallowed them both whole. He clutched his hands severely and prayed, wishing for the strength to open his eyes.

Dean watched as his little brother's body lashed out violently as the angel ripped him from his side. He watched heartbreakingly as they barreled towards the sinkhole. It would be pointless to shoot. He certainly couldn't throw his blade. There was only one thing he could think of to do. He ran. He charged with all he had left inside of him and threw himself on his brother's flogging body. He hit the demon with his fist as he rocketed forward, pounding its head back. He grasped the cold hands and wrenched them off Sam's calves. "Mine!" Dean yelled and he pushed the creature back with the last bit of strength he had. The angel howled at him as it was pulled from the hunters, its hands stretching across the dirt to try one last desperate attempt… if… it… could just… reach…

Dean turned himself around and wrapped his body around his still tumbling brother. He felt Sam still being pulled from him and he ducked his head down bracing both of them. Holding. Grabbing. Clutching. Seizing. White knuckles losing all feeling. His boots skidding into the rock and dirt. His biceps shaking with effort.

Then all motion seemed to stop. All noise dissipated. Fear seemed to lift. Dean felt his heart thump loudly in his ears, in his neck, in his chest. He felt the heat pouring from his skin, felt the nausea in his stomach. But he didn't see Sam. He didn't feel Sam.

He opened his eyes and looked down, the brown dirt glaring back at him. He raised his body up onto his elbows and looked underneath him. Brown. Hair. Shaggy. Oh, God. Dean closed his eyes again and whispered it over and over. "Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, God." His Sam.

Dean took a quick look behind him, watching as the Earth, kicking at his heels, slowly closed up, sealing itself in a fuss of mud and clouds. Dean turned to roll off of Sam and felt sudden resistance. He glanced back at his younger brother and saw a stunned Sam. His eyes were shut tight, his lips pale, one hand was fisted in his brother's shirt covering Dean's heart, the other fisted over his own. Dean felt a lump in his throat and swallowed it thickly down. He pulled back over his brother, still propped on his elbows.

"It's gone, Sam."

Sam didn't budge. He heard his brother. And then that registered with him. He heard his brother.

"You okay?"

His voice. It was his brothers voice. Sam felt a shift above him and sensed a lub-dub. One that didn't belong to him. Dean's heartbeat. How could he have missed it?

Sam shook his head.

Dean gulped and felt the blood drain from him. They had seen a lot of blood lately. He nodded towards his brother. "Yeah, okay. You need another minute?"

Sam needed a lifetime more of minutes.

"Sammy?"

He gave him a quick nod.

Good, Dean thought. Because in all honesty, he needed a minute, too.

Sam felt his brother shift down towards the younger hunter. He heard the fall of weapons on the Earth below and his body was slowly lifted into watery arms. The smell of sweat and guns and oil filled his sinuses. His cheek rubbed against the thin black fabric and he could hear the beating of Dean's heart now. His senses were being filled again with what he knew best in his life. What he knew best in his World. He felt Dean's chest heave and he spoke to him, "It's gonna be okay," he promised the younger and then he paused. A final word escaped him sarcastically, honey-coated with a hint of love, "Baby."

And Sam's stillness was replaced by a silent, uncontrollable quaking.

Dean rubbed the back of his little brother's head, messing his hair up even more and the ground below the older started to blur. No way was this soldier losing his composure. Dean blinked his eyes quickly. Probably the rock and grit rubbing against them, he told himself. His eyes did hurt. Hell, he hurt. He hushed his brother and soothed him, giving himself as Sam needed him to. But he was tired. He let his body sag a bit and his head fell forward, finding a spot in the crick of Sam's neck. It was okay to let go sometimes. He closed his eyes and forgot about being a Warrior and a Protector and just let himself be... soothed.

WWW

It was snowing again. The boys were more than ready to get out of South Dakota. The fallen angel was long gone. The Winchesters had sent it back to where it came from, without its wings. With everything they knew, that meant the angel was in for a lifetime of, well, Hell. Lesser devils and demons would make it pay. Coming back in such disgrace and after reigning over them, the angel would indeed be one of Hell's Most Popular Bitches.

Jolly Rogers and his family, what was left of it, were safe. They were grateful to the brothers. Clancy had hugged them repeatedly, thanking them through tears and smiles. She had her brother and her father and her children. With so much lost, there was still so much to be thankful for. She wrapped up day-old cinnamon rolls for the boys for the morning, her hips swishing as she walked briskly to and from the kitchen.

Jolly tried to approach both hunters but it was an abrasive reunion. Dean couldn't make eye contact with the bastard. Sam couldn't stop staring. Two boys had ultimately died from the decisions Jolly had made that terrible day. Two brothers were lost to a cold South Dakota Lake. Never to know what their lives might have been. What each may have become. One brother giving his life for the other. Or maybe to the other. It's difficult sharing a life with a sibling. Sharing your food and room. Sharing your thoughts and dreams. Sharing your heart. Because when one half of a whole sinks before your very eyes the other plummets and drowns. Jolly had to live with his decisions, his secrets for the rest of his life. Kind of like the heroes of the story.

Timothy was quiet. He shook the boys hands, kept his face down, his mouth hiding smiles that would one day reappear when he least expected it. They all carried wounds now that would never be healed. There wasn't enough pills or therapy or even time to make it all better. There are just some things that are unacceptable in life and haunt us all forever.

The old Lakota was dead when the boys returned to the teepee. Nothing bleeding or Supernatural seemed to be present, although the brothers knew it was masked. Made to look like he went peacefully and naturally. Incognito. Would have probably happened whether the angel finished its wrath or not, Dean explained to Sam. Conjuring up a powerful demon like that, you'd better be prepared for the bite that comes at the end.

The doors of the Impala shut at the same time and the Winchesters were silent, save their breathing. Sam took the wheel, Dean checked his watch – 12:30 a.m. Day number eighty-three. "Let's cross a border and find a bed, Sam," he coughed out. He hated South Dakota. Cold Oak. The badlands. And now North Sioux City. Dean needed to get out, he needed to recuperate and they both needed to sleep.

Sam easily agreed. It'd feel good to lay his head down. Shut his eyes and make another fruitless attempt to find the sandman. Before this hunt, before fighting an avenging angel and meeting a Native Healer gone bad, Sam thought all that mattered was saving his brother from the pit. With everything he knew now, though, he realized after they succeeded in that minor task, there were bigger plans ahead for them. They weren't just fighting a war against demons they had inadvertently released, they were major players in a war still to come. There were still plans to unfold. And if Sam didn't save Dean, he knew he was going down. In a big way.

The car gave a jolt underneath him and Dean's head smacked onto the Impala's glass. "Sam!" His brother barked out.

The younger man adjusted his grip on the wheel and the Chevy glided them in the snow to Iowa.

WWW

Sam ran in and paid for the room while Dean rested against the windowsill. The snow fell so quietly, so beautiful. It was an odd thing to see after such monstrous activities of late. That was how Heaven and Hell worked, he guessed. They each had to give their take on the World for others to see what the afterlife might bring. Scare them one minute and warm them the next. Even if it was with snow.

The room was very Disco. 1970's décor and not old, it was new and intentional. The beds were soft, the comforters were fluffy, the pillows smelled good. Crisp. Clean. Fresh. The bathroom was bigger than normal. The shower had lots of hot water and a massaging pressure nozzle. The TV turned on and off with the click of the remote. All in all, it was a great room, the nicest they had stayed at in weeks. Silently they were both grateful.

Dean had stripped in the bathroom, checking the scratches on his abdomen. He threw his Ozzy t-shirt away with a curse and started removing the makeshift dressing from over his chest that Sam had doctored up in the Impala. They were red and raw but he'd live.

A soft knuckled rap on the door stopped his wounded self-evaluation.

"What?"

"You okay?"

He sighed. "Yeah." He rubbed lightly over his braided neck. Still hurt to swallow. Talking was worse. Breathing was harsh.

"I'm walking down to the gas station on the corner. Want anything?"

God, yes. "Beer."

There was a chuckle from the other side of the door. "Be right back."

Famous last words. Dean would have to make a note of that in their "unofficial rulebook." No more using that phrase. He almost called out to Sam and told him to wait, that he'd go with him, but that was childish. Overprotective. Sam could run to the gas station by himself without finding trouble or without it finding him. This was, indeed, Iowa. The birthplace of John Wayne, covered Bridges… and those damn ghosts out in the field at Kevin Costner's farmhouse.

The shower felt amazing. His muscles relaxed under the spray. His bruises felt battered and pacified at the same time. He turned his face towards the water and he let it wash over him. Let it cleanse him. His mind wandered, though, to the coming days. Almost done with the eighties. Dean laughed to himself. Maybe they were looking at this all wrong. Maybe they needed to go in a totally different direction. They could find a DeLorean, make a time machine. Or just a way to freeze time.

He shut the water off and let the wetness drip from him. The drops seemed to move in slow motion. Maybe today was his lucky day. He stepped from the shower and dried off, reassessing his wounds. He grabbed the first aid kit and rummaged through it blindly. He patched his abdomen and redressed his chest with exceptional flair. The t-shirt pulled as he rounded his head, his arms tightly finding the holes as he yanked it down over him. He stepped into his sleeping pants and tugged on the drawstring. Everything on him ached and burned. Outside and in.

Steam rolled out of the bathroom as Dean stepped out of the door and he felt heart thump a couple of slowed beats. He cased the room swiftly, protectively, but not wanting to be obvious. It was a good thing because his rhythm returned at the sight of his younger brother. Sam sat at the small round table near the corner, a twelve pack of Sam's Winter Lager parked in front of him.

Dean smiled and joined him, sinking into the uncomfortable cheap chair next to him. Sam reached over and twisted the top for his brother, pushing the bottle to him. Dean graciously accepted. He took a long drink and let it burn down his throat, stinging his eyes in the process. Dean buried his thumbs into his sockets and blinked a few times, noticing a spread of food off to the side near Sam.

"What's this?" Dean asked, eyeing the goodies.

The younger man offered Dean a plastic fork and spoon. "Here you go." He passed him a chocolate cupcake with chocolate icing stacked on top, a package of beef jerky and a pint of Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream.

The older brother glanced up, curiosity building.

"Happy Birthday, Dean."

A quick snag at the clock radio and Dean shook his head. "Almost 2 a.m., Sam."

"Yeah, the 24th. Just getting an early kick off, that's all."

Dean had ignored his past couple of birthdays after Jess had passed, let it slide by. He had noticed the two of them had shared the same date and hadn't wanted to bring up memories for Sam. But this was Sam remembering his brother, not his dead girlfriend.

Dean shrugged. "Beer and ice cream? Guess any time is good for that." He opened the lid on the pint and pushed it between himself and his brother. "Come on. I'll share."

Sharing wasn't something Dean was particularly good at. Food or anything else important so Sam took advantage or it. He scooped his spoon in and took a big bite of the cold dessert. They sat in silence for a few minutes and tasted the cupcakes. Dean tore into the jerky.

Sam reached behind him and threw him a box, cleverly wrapped in the Sunday comics. Batman graced the top. Dean let out a laugh and then ripped through the paper in one excited swipe.

New cassettes. New Zeppelin. New Zappa. New Heart. New Death Cab for Cutie?

Dean held up the cassette. His eyebrows raised.

Sam shrugged. "Sometimes I get to drive."

Dean's brows returned, his eyes softened. "Thanks, Sam." He took another bite of the ice cream. It tasted really, really good and the coldness numbed his throat. "Twenty-nine forever, huh?" He swallowed hard after saying it. Eating his words. He didn't mean it to sound or come out like that. But it did and it lingered between them pulling at one heart and then the other. On his birthday.

Sam took a minute to chew the rest of his food. He didn't look over to his brother but he thought he felt him say something. Something that made Sam hurt. It burned behind his eyes. Dean's last birthday. No, that wasn't true. Not yet. They still had time. Hope.

He looked over the food to meet Dean's eyes when he thought he was safe to do so. Dean gave him a pale smile. "Sorry, Sammy."

"Dean, if I can't save you…"

"Sam…"

"I don't know what I'm…"

"Drop it, Sam."

Another moment of strained silence. Dean took a drink and placed the bottle gingerly back on the Formica. He stared at the amber glass, traced the white letters, wiped the moisture sweating off the base.

"I might just have to follow you."

His finger stopped. The ice cream and beer suddenly weren't meshing so well. His eyes cracked in Sam's direction. "Don't… don't say that."

His brother ignored the plea. His eyes shifted around the room, settling on his own beer.

"Sam, I didn't make that deal, just for you to…" he lost the words. He couldn't say it. He couldn't even think it.

Sam's features were tight, his face pressed with scuttling emotions, his eyes purposefully not finding Dean's. "I don't think I can make it on my own."

Dean nodded his head. "Yes, you can."

Sam blue-greens snapped up to him. "Yeah, well I don't want to."

No more Christmases. No more Thanksgivings. No more Halloweens.

"It's going to be okay." Dean's voice was thick, sickening-sweet.

No more riding shotgun. No more Bitch. No more feeling like he wasn't safe anymore.

"You're going to be okay."

It wasn't a question but Sam felt his head nod in response and then he smiled… because it was Dean's birthday. "I know." He lied. How can it be okay when you've already lost?

Dean took another bite of his ice cream while Sam downed the remainder of his beer and twisted the top off another. Dean watched him sit back with that far-far-away look cheerlessly adorning him. Caught somewhere else in time. Perhaps on a Tuesday.

The twenty-nine-year-old shut the lid on Ben and Jerry and decided to take up serious beer drinking. The fallen angel had wanted Sam. Indirectly, the thing had even come for Sam. It had seen who was hunting it and rediverted its plan. Teased the boys. Muddled their room. Bloodied their bodies. Messed with their heads.

There's lots of things gunning for your brother.

Dean was aware his brother was a target, had a marker on his life. Sam had his secrets, more than Capone, Dean figured. He'd already seen his brother flinch once tonight from Dean's careless comments. Sometimes it was better to let things drop. And sometimes it was better to see what was.

"They weren't us, Sam."

Sam nodded, nursing his bottle. "Yeah, I know."

"But we were connected."

Dean's admission startled the younger man and Sam's eyes lifted to his older brother's. He was his kid again. Looking up to his role model. Seeing his best friend in life. Locking eyes to the one person who could do anything. "Yeah?"

Dean nodded. "Of course. Same demon killed their mom. Bobby was… special." He swallowed after saying it. He hated that reference. "Matt was his little bodyguard."

"Wonder how many more are out there," They hadn't visited this area of their past for so long. Or maybe it was just yesterday.

Dean shook his head. He shrugged. "Probably never really will know."

"But," Sam squinted. "What's it all suppose to mean?"

Sam knew Dean didn't have these answers, but he couldn't help but ask them. He needed to know – he always needed to know. He wanted his freakishly large head to be filled with all the knowledge it could – right now. Instant gratification. Which was something they rarely got. And something his brother couldn't give.

Dean leaned further across the table and placed his hand on his Sam's forearm. "It means we fight. We keep doing what we're doing. If there's more kids out there, we'll fight for them, too. You're alive, Sam. Not all of you died."

Technically…

"And we'll fight for you, too."

Sam felt a sting behind his eyes flare again. The hurt was still there, calling to him from deep down, but this time Sam felt something else. He thought something had wrapped around it, hugging it away. Dean always knew how to make it all better. "First things first." He gave Dean a smile. "It's the same, right?"

Dean hesitated a few seconds and felt that damn lump return to his throat. He gave his brother's arm a tight squeeze. "Yeah, alright. We'll fight for me, too." He studied Sam's expression. He still wasn't back. Not quite. Dean could read him like the back of his hand. "Can't all be cupcakes and ice cream, Sam. Sometimes things are suppose to be hard."

But for the Winchesters, it was always hard, in one way or another.

Sam met his gaze and nodded. Dean let go of his grasp and Sam reached behind his chair and threw another comically wrapped present at him, this one softer.

Dean looked up. "Jesus, Houdini, got anything else back there?"

Sam shook his head. "Saw it after Christmas. Had to get it."

Dean tore into this gift as quickly and eagerly as the first. Sam would miss the boyish excitement Dean carried with him. The thrill, the humbleness even when the gift was so stupid.

"Aw, Sam." Dean unveiled the t-shirt to himself. "This is so…"

"Stupid." They both chimed together.

Dean smiled and started pulling off his other shirt, wincing back the pain.

"What're you doing?" Sam grinned.

Dean had the old one off and was pulling on the new one. "Gonna wear my new shirt."

Sam laughed. "It was a joke."

"Yeah, but it's my birthday present. I mean, I'm not going to wear it in public or anything…"

"No, definitely not."

"So, I figure, I can wear it to bed."

Sam stared at him and smiled from ear to ear. "It looks good on you."

Dean opened another beer. "Ah, I make everything look good, baby brother."

Sam gestured towards the darkened TV. "I saw the Omen was on. Want to watch?"

Dean shook his head. "I'm good."

The hum of the heater kicked on. Sam leaned the neck of his bottle towards his brother and Dean clinked his against it. Sam held there for a second. "To your thirtieth birthday."

Dean smiled. He leaned back on the cushion of the chair, his shoulders finding comfort in it. His lips took a pull from his beer and found comfort there. His eyes found comfort from across the table. They'd killed one hell of a demon, a fallen angel. Shot off some guns. Thrown some knives. Used the machetes. Played in the snow. Drank beer. Ate some cake. All in all, a pretty descent start to his birthday. He grinned over at Sam in his "I'm the Big Brother" t-shirt.

Translations: Patronus, Sto Sub. : Protector, stand down.

Adeo mihi. (Sam speaks to the angel) : Come to me.

Capiam iucunditas in caedes vos. : I will take pleasure in killing you.

Mei. : Mine.

Nostri. : Ours.

Patronus! : Protector!

A/N: Again thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed it – I enjoyed thinking it through and writing it. Thanks again and see you next time!