This one-shot is spoiler heavy. I'm talking major spoilers for episode 1 of season 4. So if you want to stay clear of spoilers, do not read this story until after the first episode has aired.

Basically, I took the first five minutes of episode one that were shown at Comic Con as a basis and tried to tell my own version of what happens afterwards. Or rather, not even my own version. Credit for the idea and the setting has to go to IsisSG1, who was bored and threw this plot bunny my way. Basically she pressured me into writing it, and in the end I'm not all that sad she made me.

Disclaimer: I don't own anything Supernatural. No copyright infringement is intended and no money is being made with this story, as it was written for entertainment purposes only.

Summary: Sometimes, the phone rings at the most inopportune moments. But there are some calls that you simply have to take. It's those calls that have the power to change your life forever. Sam really doesn't want to pick up the phone right now. Little does he know what he could be missing.

Warning: Aside from the spoiler warning, there's one bad word towards the end of the story. I think that's been it, so if you don't mind spoilers, go ahead and have fun.

Enjoy!


Disconnected

The phone rang.

At first Sam considered ignoring it, too wrapped up in the hypnotic spell of what his hands were doing. He was in the spare bedroom at Bobby's house, making one of the many visits he had made there over the past months. Stopping by over night, dropping by for a beer, coming for a visit under the pretence that he needed help on a case.

Sam Winchester's quest for human company. Seeking to replace the one person for whom there was no replacement. But Bobby's company was the only human company Sam was able to bear without feeling that bleeding wound inside of him ripped open again, that hole inside his soul grow bigger. That Dean-shaped hole…

Don't go there.

Sam bit his lip hard enough for the pain to distract his thoughts from that particular path. Not now. Not ever. All he ever thought about was not thinking about that. He released his lip from the grip of his teeth and focused on the task at hand – cleaning his weapons.

They were laid out on a cloth on the bed in front of him, and he was meticulously cleaning them one after another.

Like his father had taught him. Like he had done countless times. Like he had seen Dean…

No. Don't go there.

He needed to focus on the guns, on making sure that they were in working order.

Tomorrow he and Bobby were going on a hunt together. They didn't yet know what they'd be dealing with. Signs were pointing at demonic activity, but these days, Sam wasn't sure about anything anymore. He had learned to expect everything. He had learned not to let anything overwhelm him anymore. Not to let anything shatter him anymore because he knew he wouldn't be able to put himself back together again another time. He was barely holding it together as it was, the final breakdown always within sight.

The phone was still ringing.

With a sigh, Sam put down the colt he had been cleaning, wiped his hand on a rag and turned towards the nightstand where the phone lay. He was still tempted to ignore the phone. Barely anybody called him these days, and Bobby was downstairs and would have simply yelled if he wanted something. And he already had a hunt he needed to focus on.

He checked the caller ID, but noticed with a frown that it was a number he didn't recognize. Probably somebody calling about a job, or a contact to whom Bobby had passed on his phone number. Sam flipped the phone open and brought it up to his ear.

"Hello?"

"Sammy?"

The world stopped spinning.

Sam's chest clenched so tightly that he thought he'd never be able to breathe again.

It couldn't be, he knew that it couldn't be, that it had to be a trick of his mind, that he was hearing what he wanted to hear, that it was some kind of trick that was being played on him.

Because it simply couldn't be.

"Who is this?"

A crackle of static on the line, then a tired cough. "It's Dean, who else? I…Sam, what's going on? I'm in the middle of nowhere here, and it's September, and I got no frigging clue what happened. I dug myself out of a grave, for crying out loud…"

"Don't ever call me again."

Sam snapped the phone shut and tossed it onto the bed with a little more force than necessary. Looking down at his hands, he realized that they were shaking, and his heart was beating away in his chest as if he had just run a marathon.

It couldn't be.

It couldn't have been real. Not him. Not…not Dean.

This was something trying to mess with his head. A demon maybe. Or another crocotta. Yes, that had to be it. Something that was mimicking Dean's voice on the phone. Sam had been thinking about his brother, had allowed his thoughts to stray into forbidden territory, and some supernatural…thing had latched onto that and was trying to use it against him.

Because it couldn't have been Dean.

Dean was dead.

Sam clenched his hands into fists as that well known iron grip encased his heart and squeezed till he could no longer breathe. It was the one thing he hadn't allowed to let himself think about for the past months. The one thought that hurt too much to bear.

But right now, Sam needed to think that thought. He needed to faced the pain of his brother's death to understand that whatever had just called him, it hadn't been Dean.

Because Dean was dead.

The phone rang again.

Sam flinched and scooted away a few inches. He had faced down the worst spawn of hell over the past months without even flinching, but right now nothing on earth scared him more than that slim metallic device.

The number on the display was the same as before.

It was the same caller.

Sam clamped his hands over his ears and stared at the phone, willing it to stop ringing. It wouldn't go to voicemail, he had turned that off, but at one point whoever or whatever was calling him had to hang up.

Only the phone didn't stop ringing.

It kept on ringing and ringing, its shrill tone hurting Sam's ears even through his hands. And he couldn't resist the ringing forever.

Because even if it was a demon, or a crocotta, or something else that had crawled out of hell to go after him, it was using Dean's voice.

It wasn't real, but it was as close as Sam would ever get to hearing his brother's voice again. Just a substitute, a poor substitute at that, but Sam was desperate enough to take even that.

Anything to fill at least a tiny part of that gaping hole inside of him.

Slowly, as if it was about to bite, Sam reached for the phone and opened it.

"I told you not to call again."

His voice was shaking and didn't sound like his voice at all.

The voice on the other end of the line, however, sounded like Dean's voice. Not like a copy of Dean's voice, not like a taping or an imitation. Just like Dean's voice.

"Sam, please don't hang up again. I need your help."

"Stop lying to me. You can't be Dean."

"I am. I don't know what to say to make you believe me, but I am. I'm Dean Winchester, your brother."

"My brother is dead!"

That outburst, that yell was followed by a second or two of silence on the line.

"Yeah, I kinda figured that was part of it when I dug myself out of a frigging grave."

Sam was shaking his head, even though whoever was on the phone couldn't see him.

"Dean is dead. You're not him."

A sharp intake of breath sounded through the line, and it made a lump form in Sam's throat. Hearing just that intake of breath, Sam could picture his brother, one hand running through his hair and over his face as he was struggling to come up with something to say, struggling to keep his frustration at bay.

It could not be, it was as easy as that. It simply could not be.

But what if it was?

It couldn't be, that was the only thing that made sense. The only thing that would allow Sam to keep his sanity intact.

"Dean is dead." He repeated, more firmly this time. Whether to convince himself or the caller, he couldn't tell. "Explain to me how you could possibly be him?"

"I don't know what the hell is going on." Dean's voice had lost its sharp edge, and there was a degree of desperation that Sam hadn't heard there before. Even after Dean had revealed their father's final words to Sam and had practically begged his brother for more time to deal with it, even then his voice hadn't sounded quite as desperate. Broken. Lost.

"All I know is that I woke up in a casket and dug myself out of a grave. I have no frigging clue what is going on. Last thing I know is that it's May and we're trying to find Lilith. And suddenly the paper tells me it's September, and I'm all alone in the middle of nowhere! I'm freaking out here, man."

It wasn't only Dean's voice speaking to him, that voice was also using Dean's words, and Sam felt his defenses crack. He knew that it couldn't be. Intellectually, he knew that it couldn't be.

But God, he wanted to believe so desperately. He wanted to hope. For months he had had nothing left to hope for, and even though this probably wasn't Dean but some supernatural being trying to kill him, Sam's heart completely overrode all reason.

"I need your help, Sam."

That sentence, combined with the hitched breath at its end was Sam's undoing. Of course it couldn't be what Sam thought it was; it couldn't be because Dean didn't cry, never cried. But Sam's reaction to that hitched breath was instinctive, and it came right from his heart, not from his brain.

It was the one thing, the one plea Sam would always react to. If Dean needed his help, Sam was going to be there. Without question. Without any conditions.

"Where are you?"

And if this turned out not to be Dean at all, something supernatural was going to die a very slow and painful death today.

OoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOo

Dean's directions had been hazy.

Not Dean's, Sam reminded himself. The caller's. Because there was no proof that this was really Dean who had called him. Sam wanted so desperately to hope, to cling to the thought that somehow miraculously Dean was still alive. Or alive again, because if there was one thing Sam was sure of then that Dean had died in that house in New Hope. He desperately wanted to hope that there had been a way back from death for his brother.

But he couldn't allow that hope to consume him. Not if he wanted to stay sane if it turned out to be a trick. He had seen what that crocotta's call mimicking their father's voice had done to Dean. Finding out that his mysterious caller had been something similar would be Sam's undoing.

The caller's directions had been unclear. But Sam didn't need specific directions. He remembered the place where he and Bobby had buried Dean all too clearly. He remembered digging the grave a couple of miles outside New Hope with a clarity as if it had happened only minutes ago.

The gas station, Dean…the caller had said. He was waiting at the gas station a few hundred yards down the road from the grave.

Sam still couldn't wrap his head around the idea that his brother had really dug himself out of his own grave.

Sam had left Bobby's place immediately after he had ended the call. He had told Bobby that he was going out for some air. He had left a note telling Bobby that he needed to take care of some urgent business, but he hadn't been able to explain it to the older man in person. He knew that Bobby would have tried to reason with him, would have found a long list of reasons as to why it couldn't possibly be Dean who had called him.

Sam knew all the points Bobby would have tried to make. It wasn't anything he hadn't thought of himself. But he needed to see with his own eyes, otherwise this phone call would haunt him forever.

The drive from Sioux City to New Hope took the better part of the afternoon. However, t was still light outside when Sam saw the gas station appear down the road. His foot eased on the accelerator a little, hesitant to make the final approach and face the ultimate truth.

Because it couldn't be Dean.

There was simply no way that it could be Dean.

But still, there was hope. If there was anybody stubborn enough to claw his way back from hell and out from six feet under, then it was his brother. There was always hope. The curse of humanity, the inability to lose hope.

Gravel crunched underneath the Impala's tires as Sam steered the car to the side of the road and killed the engine. The silence that followed was deafening. Sam's hands were clutching the steering wheel tightly, and he vaguely wondered if he'd have to pry himself loose to get out of the car.

Sam took a deep breath.

Suck it up Sammy. You're a Winchester.

It wasn't the best mental cheering he had ever come up with, but slowly his hands loosened their iron grip around the steering wheel and he slowly got out of the car.

The gas station looked abandoned. Sam distinctly remembered that it had been closed the last time he had been here, as well. Had that been a Sunday, too? Sam couldn't remember. He remembered every second of cleaning the blood of his brother's body, every second of burying him. But he had no idea what day of the week it had been.

The windows of the gas station were busted, but barely any glass was lying on the concrete outside. It looked just as if some force had blown the windows out from the outside. Sam didn't know what to make of it. Didn't know if he cared.

"Hello?"

His voice sounded too thin, too weak and too insecure for his own liking. If there was a demon lurking for him here, he was practically telling it that it had hit his weakness spot on.

But there was no demon showing up. Nothing attacking Sam from behind.

Sam had his hand closed tightly around the butt of his gun at the small of his back, ready to draw at a moment's notice. And his hand twitched when there was the sound of boot moving over broken glass from ahead.

Sam moved a few steps to the side, putting one of the gas pumps between himself an the approaching steps.

"Sam?"

That voice.

Sam's free hand clawed at the cool metal of the pump's display, desperately trying to ground himself in reality against whatever it was that was coming towards him.

And then it rounded the corner of the building.

A demon, probably. A demon possessing his brother's body.

Which of course couldn't be true either, but it was the only thing Sam could think of to explain this.

To explain Dean coming around the corner of the abandoned gas station, looking like a pale, dirt-streaked and haggard version of the brother Sam had known all his life. And even though it couldn't be real, Sam's eyes latched onto the apparition, trying to take it all in.

Trying to find the flaw.

Because there always was a flaw. Whenever a supernatural being tried to imitate a human, they didn't quite get it. They got it just right to fool most people, but there was always a flaw somewhere. Something different. Something missing. Something a loved one would immediately catch up on.

Like when Sam had known that the shapeshifter hadn't been his brother. It hadn't been something he had been able to put his finger on exactly, but he had known that this creature wasn't his brother, no matter how much it looked like him. Because it had only looked like him. It hadn't been like him. It had been like Dean with an essential part missing.

And Sam was looking for that missing piece now, for the one thing that would convince him that it wasn't his brother standing in front of him.

Dean…the thing pretending to be Dean, was wearing the same clothes Sam had buried his brother in. His whole body was smeared with dirt, it was in his hair, on his face and streaking his clothes. In places it looked as if he had wiped on it, trying to brush it of, but at some point had given up the battle.

There were lighter streaks on his cheeks, but Sam's brain refused to connect them with that hitched intake of breath he had heard on the phone earlier, with the idea that Dean had been desperate enough for help to cry. Dean didn't cry, even if nobody was there to see it.

His eyes were standing out brightly in his dirt-smeared face, red-rimmed as they were, and his clothes hung off his frame as if he had lost weight over the past months.

But it made no sense whatsoever.

Dean's body had been buried for over four months now. Sam was no biology major, but he knew enough about corpses to know that they didn't look this fresh anymore. Not after four days, and certainly not after four months.

"Sam?"

Sam swallowed and took one step away from the safety of the cover the gas pump provided.

"What are you?"

He forced the words past the lump in his throat, nearly choking on them when a flash of hurt crossed Dean's face for the brief fragment of a second.

"I'm…Sammy, it's me. Dean."

Sam shook his head. "Dean is dead. I saw him die."

Dean ran a hand through his hair and over his face, a gesture so heartbreakingly familiar that it made a flood of memories rise up in Sam's mind. He bit his lip, hard, to stop them, to keep at least some semblance of clarity.

"I don't know what happened Sam. I told you on the phone, one moment we're on the way to New Hope, the next I wake up in a casket. My mind's one big mess. I don't know what happened, all I know is that suddenly I'm here, in the middle of goddamn nowhere! All alone! I'm freaking out here, man. I don't know what the hell anymore."

Sam was still shaking his head, hearing the words but refusing to believe them. There had to be another explanation. One that made sense. More sense than his brother being resurrected after four months of being dead.

"It can't be."

"Sammy."

That one word. The one word Dean only used either in annoyance, or with a degree of affection and tenderness which nobody would expect possible behind that hard shell Dean liked to project. The one word that cut through Sam's defenses like a hot knife through butter.

God, he wanted this to be real so desperately.

If there was one wish he had, then it was for this to be real.

He took a few steps closer, no longer feeling the need to hide behind the gas pump, though his hand didn't stray far from the gun in the waistband of his jeans.

When he was close enough to look into his brother's eyes, Sam stopped and for a moment simply looked into the face in front of him. And aside from the dirt, the hollow cheeks and the red-rimmed eyes, it looked like Dean. The way those eyes were latching onto Sam, the emotion playing in those green eyes, that was all Dean. There was nothing in there that wasn't Dean.

But Sam had to be sure.

"Christo."

Dean laughed softly, and then nodded. "I'd have been disappointed if you hadn't tried. Did you bring some holy water, too?"

Sam hadn't, actually. There had been none in the trunk, and his mind had been on different things when he had left Bobby's place. His mind hadn't been clear, otherwise he'd have never forgotten something as essential as holy water. Dean smiled and jerked his head towards the corner of the gas station building.

"I want to show you something."

Dean vanished around the corner, and hesitantly Sam followed, though he took care to keep his distance, and to keep Dean in his line of sight. He might be confused as hell, but he wasn't going to run blindly around a corner and into a possible ambush.

But an ambush seemed to be the last thing on Dean's mind. He simply walked around the building to a small storage shed on the side. The door had been broken open and was hanging off its hinges. Sam couldn't see what was inside, but there was something painted on the concrete in front of it.

Dean stopped in front of the storage shed and turned towards Sam.

"I didn't know what to think either. I mean, I wake up and I'm missing four months, and I don't know what the hell happened. Still don't. I…Sam, I have no idea what happened. You said I died. That means I went to hell, but I can't remember. I can't remember what happened to me. So I…"

He gestured towards the can of spray paint that was lying on the ground beside the busted door. Beside the can, a circle had been painted on the floor, and Sam understood what his brother was trying to tell him.

"A Devil's Trap."

Dean nodded. "After I called you, I…I don't know what's going on with me. So I thought better safe than sorry."

Without waiting for Sam's answer, Dean stepped into the Devil's Trap. Then he turned around again and stepped out of it, no hesitation, no running into invisible barriers, nothing.

Dean stopped a few steps in front of Sam and shrugged. "I've been trying again and again. It doesn't bother me. I don't know what the hell is going on, but I don't think I'm possessed by anything."

Sam swallowed, his jaws clenching so hard that his teeth ground against each other. His heart was beating a frantic pace in his chest as Dean's words echoed around in his skull. Hope was filling him, too much hope, more than he could allow himself. Sam was long past the point where he'd be able to stand his hopes being disappointed.

"What about your wounds? That hellhound mauled you. I was there, I saw it. And nobody stitched you up. Even if you came back to life somehow, you should be bleeding to death right now."

Dean nodded and slowly reached for the hem of his dirt-stained t-shirt to pull it up. Sam's breath caught in his throat as he saw the red and angry welts on his brother's torso, marking the claw marks of the hellhound. The wounds looked healed, without any traces of stitches. Just red welts, and Sam could immediately trace them, could see in his mind's eye how the hellhound's claws had ripped the skin in those places.

"God, Dean."

Dean looked up, and the pure pain and anguish in his eyes was too much for Sam to bear. It broke his heart.

"I'm scared, Sammy."

Sam couldn't stand it anymore. He didn't want to doubt anymore, didn't want to negate every revelation which said this could really be his Dean with more doubt.

He didn't have any strength left to put doubt against the hope that was threatening to encompass him completely.

If this was really Dean, then Dean was hurt, he was scared and confused. It was a reversal of the roles they had slipped into so easily for their entire lives. But an unnumbered amount of monsters, both real and imagined, that Dean had chased away for him, countless nightmares his brother had pulled him out of, were an obligation that wasn't easily forgotten. And unconditional love was a motivator that was hard to ignore. Dean had shielded Sam from the bad things for all his life. Now it was Sam's turn to do the same for Dean.

So Sam stopped thinking, and allowed his heart to lead his actions.

In three big steps he had crossed the distance to his brother and had pulled Dean against his chest. He no longer cared if this wasn't Dean but some demon who was about to stab him in the back, because the illusion was real enough for him. And if this was the day that he was supposed to die, then at least he'd die thinking that he had been reunited with Dean after all. If this was a demon out to kill him, it had earned the triumph with that oh so real illusion it had created.

But no knife stabbed Sam in the back, Dean's eyes didn't turn black and he didn't start laughing triumphantly.

All he did was return the embrace, firm and solid and real. With a distressed sound in the back of his throat Dean clutched at the back of Sam's shirt, clinging to him, latching himself onto him, and Sam finally understood. Finally realized it, with absolute clarity.

This was Dean.

This was his brother.

Dean had come back from hell, and he had saved Sam from a four month-long hell that had been worse than death. A hell that had felt like dying over and over again, a little more with each day.

And Sam didn't care how it had happened, what heavenly or hellish force had brought him back. Right here, in this moment, nothing counted but the fact that it had happened, that Dean had come back.

Sam clung to him, unwilling to ever let him go again, because he wasn't simply holding Dean, he was holding himself together at the same time. Because Sam knew that if he let go now, he was going to shatter all over again. He didn't care if he was crying, or what exactly it was that he was mumbling into Dean's shoulder because even if it were words in any language known to mankind, he was sure that his brother wasn't listening, anyway.

This was Dean.

He was breathing, his heart was beating a fast beat against his chest, so rapidly that Sam could feel it vibrate against his own sternum. Dean was warm, and he smelled like dirt, sweat and moist earth – but not death, thank god, not like death.

"God, Dean."

Sam didn't know for how often he had said those words during the past few minutes, but it hadn't been often enough.

"I'm sorry." It was just a broken whisper against Sam's collarbone, but Sam heard it. He had no idea what his brother was apologizing for, why Dean always felt the need to apologize for something, mostly for things he wasn't to blame for at all.

But he didn't care. All he did was clutch Dean tighter against himself, afraid that some unseen force was going to tear him away any moment now. But that wouldn't happen.

Whoever wanted to get to his brother would have to go through him first. And Sam was willing to play the human brick wall for as long as it took. No evil was ever going to lay hand on his brother again.

Neither of them was going to leave the other behind one more time. Neither of them was going to be forced to be the one who was left behind. Sam would do everything in his power and more to stop that from happening.

And with that notion Sam stopped all conscious thought and simply allowed himself to feel this moment. Without explanation. Without questioning. Not for now. For now, all that mattered was that Dean was there, and Sam's soul felt whole again.

When they finally let go of each other and took a step back, both conspicuously wiping a hand over their eyes, silence settled between them. It was Sam who finally broke it.

"What the hell happened here?" He gestured at the broken windows behind them.

Dean shook his head. "I don't know. I…could we just go? I just want to get away from here. Go home."

For a moment, Sam wondered where Dean meant. If there was anything they had never had in their life, then it was a steady home, a place to return to when things got tough. But it didn't matter because they had each other. And going to Bobby's place was as close to going home as they were ever going to get.

So he nodded at Dean, not even noticing the smile that spread on his face.

"Let's go."

They walked around the corner of the building again, Sam leading their way to the Impala that was still parked at the side of the road. Sam watched Dean's face as his eyes fell onto his beloved car. The smile he saw there was the best reward for nearly stumbling over his feet because he didn't watch where he was going.

Dean smiled far too rarely, and Sam had learned over the years to relish his brother's smiles whenever Dean was willing to grant them. But a moment later the smile turned into a frown, and Dean quickened his steps towards the car.

"What is it?" Sam asked, afraid he had broken a capital rule of taking care of the Impala that he had been unaware of so far. Dean just ran a hand along the side of the car and held his dusty fingers up for Sam to see.

"Dude, didn't you wash her just once during those four months? All that crap is going to fuck up the paint job."

Sam drew breath to reply something, but Dean had already turned back towards the car. He patted the passenger door fondly.

"Don't worry baby. I'm back now, and we'll have you back in shape in no time."

Watching Dean talk to his car like that, Sam shook his head with a smile. If he had ever needed any proof that this was really and truly Dean, this was it. No self-respecting demon would ever start a conversation with a muscle car.

But that was Dean. It was large part of why Sam loved the stubborn idiot so much. And having Dean around was absolutely worth taking up with his one-sided conversations with the car. Sam reached into his pocked and pulled out the keys.

"Wanna drive?"

The smile on Dean's face could have blinded the sun.


Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it. As always, please let me know what you think. Thanks a lot.