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It was May when they came for him. Three days later, Booby and Sam buried what was left. Dean's back and chest were ripped to shreds and he had deep slices across his stomach and legs. Gently, although it didn't matter anymore, Sam wiped the blood from Dean's face. Beneath it, his face was untouched. It looked like the Dean Sam had always loved, only he wasn't there anymore. Sam cried.

"We should salt and burn the body," Bobby spoke gruffly. "It's not really Dean, Sam. And we can't risk –"

He was cut off by Sam's glare. "He'll need his body when he comes back," Sam replied. "He'll come back, Bobby. You'll see." Nothing broke Bobby's heart more than the determination he heard in Sam's voice and saw set across his golden features.

It was July when something snapped in Sam. That was when he finally realized that his brother wasn't coming back. He had lost him forever. A week later Ruby showed up at his doorstep with a way to save Dean.

In September, Dean came back to him. But Sammy's plan wasn't complete yet. Dean had made it back without Sammy's help, and that knowledge, that Sammy hadn't saved his beloved brother, that Dean had done it without him, was like a knife in Sam's gut.

"Do you believe in Angels, Sam?" Dean asked one day.

Sam looked at him strangely. "Yeah."

"And in God?"

"Yeah, of course."

Dean frowned. "Why of course? How can you be so sure?"

"Dean, we spend our lives fighting demons. We've seen things that normal people wouldn't believe in a million years. So why can't the other half of the stories be true? Everything has to have balance, Dean. The good and bad, holy and wicked, angels and demons."

Dean sighed and looked at the beer in his hands. "So if there's a God, you also believe that Lucifer exists?"

Sam nodded slowly. "The fallen angel. Balance."

A month passed before they approached the topic again. By that time, they knew the apocalypse was coming. It was only a matter of when, and if they'd be ready to take their rightful places.

"Sam?" Dean murmured one night, in bed in yet another hotel room.

"Yeah, Dean?" replied Sam from across the room, hovering over his laptop.

"Does it ever scare you?"

"Does what scare me, Dean?"

"Knowing that we were chosen for whatever's coming. That they've had their eye on you since you were born and that an angel plucked me from the fires of Hell."

"So, you're finally admitting it now? You're accepting that Ezekiel really did save you?"

"I don't really have a choice," answered Dean sadly.

"Dean?" Sam asked softly. "I'm sorry that it wasn't me. To save you, I mean."

"Yeah," whispered Dean. "Me too."

They made it all the way to the end.

"What is the meaning of this?" roared Sam when Dean confronted him.

Dean hung his head, ashamed to look his brother, whom he had failed, in the eye.

"Dean! What have you done?" Sam was furious, his face twisted with rage.

Dean opened his mouth, faltered, tried again. "I – I can't let you do this, Sammy."

Sam grinned, a perverse sneer across his once-angelic visage. "Don't you see, Dean? It's already done."

"No." Dean's voice was firm, controlled. "It's not over yet, Sammy."

"Don't call me that!" Sam's deep voice thundered across the open field. "I'm not your Sammy anymore!"

"You'll always be my little brother, Sammy," Dean spoke carefully, lovingly. "You don't need to do this. We can fight them together. We can win, I know it."

Sam shook his head, and when he spoke, his voice was soft again, almost like the old Sammy's. "Don't you see, Dean? I did this for you. They listen to me now, the demons. They do what I tell them to. I'm their leader now, not Lillith, not Lucifer. Me. Now you're safe. You can stop hunting Dean because I'll never let them hurt my family again."

"But what about the others, Sammy? Their other victims?"

"They're weak," declared Sam, annoyed. "They should learn to fight for themselves, like we had to. It's not our job to defend everybody. It's not fair!" He was angry again.

"No, it's not fair," Dean agreed. "But it is our job, Sam. We can protect them, let them live happy lives."

"And what about us? What about our chance for a happy life?" Sam had tears in his eyes.

"That life isn't for us, Sammy. We have a purpose here." A tear rolled down Dean's cheek and he brushed it away angrily, before Sam could see.

Sam nodded. "I've taken the place I was meant to hold. Ruby was right. This is what I was chosen for."

"The heir to Lucifer's throne," spat Dean disgustedly. "He stands for everything we've fought against for our entire lives, Sam, and now you join him!"

"I'm not Lucifer, Dean, and I never will be. Don't you see? By taking his place, I can stop all this, make things the way they were meant to be, before Lucifer fell."

Dean looked down and dug his toe into the dirt. "Remember balance, Sammy? Lucifer exists so God can exist. There can't be good without bad to distinguish it. The holy and the wicked, the angels and the demons. There's a war going on, Sam, and nobody can win it. But we have to pick a side."

Sam nodded and when he spoke his voice was regretful. "You're the hero in this one, Dean – the one chosen by God to lead the angels in this war. And I was picked to lead the demons out of Hell. It was always meant to be like this. Good against evil. Brother against brother."

"No," whispered Dean. His face was immobile, but there was pain in his eyes. "It's not too late, Sammy."

Sam shook his head. "It was always too late, Dean. We just didn't know it then." He turned and walked away, leaving his older brother behind.

It was early April when they came face to face again. Dean lay dying on the battlefield, his head cradled in Sam's lap. "See, you're not evil, Sammy," murmured Dean, as Sam stroked his short hair. "This," he weakly gestured at the terror and destruction around them. "This isn't you." The edge of the forest was ablaze and its heat seared their faces. Twisted, broken bodies lay around them and the trodden grass of the battlefield was muddy, the grass scorched and smeared with puddled blood.

Sam nodded. "It has to be, Dean. I can save you this time."

"But at what cost, Sammy?" whispered Dean. "Don't do it. It's not worth it."

"It is to me, Dean," Sam said, his voice low. "I won't lose you again. I can't."

"I love you," whispered Dean. "Don't forget that, Sammy. I love you so, so much." He drew a ragged breath and then his eyes drifted shut and Sam felt Dean's body relax against his.

"No!" screamed Sam. "Ezekiel! Ezekiel!" The angel appeared at his side, flushed in his human form with a jagged slice running down his left cheek. He took one look at the still figure in Sam's lap and shook his head. "Help him." His voice was broken, lost, like the little boy's Dean used to protect.

"He fulfilled his purpose here, Sam. There is nothing left for him now but rest. He knew what he was doing, Sam. He knew what was going to happen. Don't take away his sacrifice."

Sam scowled. "Go away!" he screamed. "You took him from me! It's your fault he's dead! GO AWAY!" His tears ran down his cheeks and dripped onto Dean's body, mingling with his scarlet blood.

Sam Winchester sat at the bar with a beer in his hand. To any other customer, he seemed to be a normal twenty-five year old out for a drink or to meet a girl on a Saturday night. Sitting beside him, Dean Winchester knew better. Once, Sammy had been almost normal. He had studied pre-law at Stanford and had an apartment with his girlfriend. He'd had dreams of being a lawyer and settling down with his perfect, suburban family. Nobody who knew Sammy now would have believed that that boy was the man before them.

When Sam Winchester got angry, his eyes glowed yellow. He knew all the history of evil spirits and curses and he knew how to destroy them. For years, his life had centered on hunting down these creatures and obliterating them. Not anymore. Sam Winchester had a secret. Now, he could control them.

Their lives had become a string of noisy bars and dirty motel rooms. Gone were the days when the Winchester brothers fought evil side by side. Now Sam sent his demon army out to do his bidding. They rounded up the wicked and destroyed the evil spirits that were out of Sam's control. Soon Sam would rule over all the demons. He couldn't wait. He wasn't the Sammy that Dean remembered.

Dean glanced to his left as he sat at the bar. Sam was sitting there watching him, slowly sipping his beer.

"What?" demanded Dean. He still sounded like the older brother, although that was only a pretense now. Both boys knew that it was Sam who wielded all the power.

"Do you remember the old days, Dean?" Sam questioned nostalgically. So it was one of those days. At least he wasn't in one of his angry moods tonight.

"Of course I do, Sammy," Dean replied carefully. It didn't take much anymore to set Sammy off.

"I miss those days," Sammy added. His words were slightly slurred; he was drunk.

"Me too."

"What happened to us, Dean? How did we get like this?" Sam gestured around them at the crummy, backwoods bar. Dean knew Sammy was referring to more than the bar. He was talking about the dull meaninglessness of their lives, or at least half-lives. Neither was fully human anymore. They had both become the things they had sworn to never be. And it was too late to go back.

"We made choices, Sammy. We made the only choice we could to stay together." Dean replied sincerely, sadly. "And when that didn't work, you accepted a destiny you didn't have to follow."

Sam nodded. "It was the only way to keep you, Dean. I didn't have a choice."

Dean woke up the next morning bracing for a throbbing headache that wasn't there. As so often occurred, he had forgotten that human rules no longer applied to him. He didn't get hangovers. None of his kind did. He would have cried for everything he had lost, but he couldn't. Tears, too, no longer existed for Dean Winchester.

"Have you completed the task?" Sam demanded of his demon follower.

"Yes," it replied. "We destroyed the amulet. But we may have been seen by the gardener. He walked in on us just as we finished."

"Kill him." Sam told the demon. It nodded and disappeared with a breath of wind.

"Sam, listen to you," cried Dean, turning to his younger brother. "You can't kill an innocent man because he may or may not have seen something supernatural!"

"Shut up, Dean. We can't have our operation compromised." Sam's statement put an end to the argument. Dean stopped arguing. He didn't like it, but Sam's word was law and Dean had no choice now but to do as he commanded.

"Shoot him." Dean looked at his little brother who held out the gun. "Shoot him," Sam repeated. Dean shook his head.

"It's not right, Sammy. He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. He didn't do anything wrong."

"Shoot him," Sam insisted for the third time, and Dean squeezed the trigger. The shot echoed in his ears. "Good," stated Sam. "I knew you would do it, Dean."

Dean nodded. He had no choice anymore. Sammy had made it for them a long time ago. He had chosen darkness over losing Dean and in the end it had destroyed them both. But maybe it wasn't Sam's fault at all. Maybe the choice had been made long before, the first time Dean held baby Sammy in his arms and promised to watch over him no matter what.

They were in Lawrence again. Dean didn't like coming home. There were too many bad memories associated with this place. But Sam said he wanted to see it, to see where it had all begun. Dean leaned against the Impala as Sam came toward the car. Sam had wanted to say hello to their mother, but Dean couldn't face even her headstone. He couldn't talk to her grave knowing what he had let Sammy become – Sammy, who he'd promised to always protect.

"Azazel will try to use him. If that happens, Dean, you have to destroy him."

"You mean kill him, Dad? I can't do that to Sammy!"

"It won't be Sammy anymore, Dean."

"How certain are you that what you brought back is 100 pure Sam?"

John and Azazel's voices rang through Dean's head. He sighed, closed his eyes, and aimed the trigger at Sam's chest. It was the only way to save the situation. This twisted man approaching him was no longer his Sammy. He would shoot this strange, mimicking version of him. It was the only way left.

"Put the gun down, Dean. You won't shoot me." Sam's voice boomed out, unnaturally loud and commanding. That was all it took for Dean to move his finger off of the trigger. Sammy or not, he couldn't kill him. Instead, he turned the gun on himself.

"It won't work, Dean," declared Sam. "You promised me you'd always be here for me. You won't leave me now."

Dean lowered the gun. "I hate you!" he screamed. "Look at what you've become! Look at me! It wasn't supposed to be this way! You weren't supposed to being me back! I hate you, Sammy! I hate you!"

Sam laughed coldly. "Isn't this what we've always dreamed of? I accepted my rightful place. I am the leader of the creatures of hell. I can control every one of them – including you, Dean."

Dean's hand unclenched and the Colt dropped to the ground. He fell to his knees. Sam was the king of the demons and Dean was his dutiful follower that would do anything for him. That was the way it would always be no matter how desperately both wished they could go back, just change one moment in time, and stop it all from happening. But Sam was gone – he had been changed, irreparably, into something else, something evil.

"The fallen angel," murmured Dean. "It's you."

Sam smiled, his face twisted with fake compassion. "Balance, Dean, remember? The good and the bad. A man pulled from Hellfire led the angels and a fallen angel to lead the demons. But you fell, Dean. You left me!"

"I did what I had to do. You can stop fighting now, Sammy. The battle is over." Dean looked up at Sam from the ground, trying to glimpse the love, the goodness, that was still inside of his brother. He couldn't find it.

"You're wrong." Sam's laugh was cruel, cold, and empty. "It will never be over. It's only just begun."

"I hate you, Sammy," Dean whispered, defeated.

"I hate you, too," Sam replied.