This is set just before 'In the Beginning'. It's a couple of scenes leading up to Dean's meeting with Castiel. This is the third one-shot in my attempt to add a bit of limp Sam to each episode this season. I hope you enjoy it ;D

disclaimer: don't own nothing

warning: spoilers for 4x03


Sam watched stars shiver behind thin clouds in the eight PM sky. He sat behind the wheel of the Impala; keys in the ignition, his and Dean's dinner in bags upon the seat.

The car was silent.

The parking lot of the burger joint he'd just visited was silent.

He watched the stars, blinking in, and blinking out of view. He thought about all the miles between him and those bright lights, and the fact that some were as small as peas.

When he was younger, he'd imagined he could catch them.

Now, Heaven had never seemed so far away.

His thoughts meandered to his brother. They'd spent the day looking into a possible case in this town. Bobby had put them onto it, but Sam had a feeling that there wasn't any hunt to be had.

It was the first time since Dean had returned that they'd spent more than a few hours alone together. Sam suspected that Bobby had hoped they'd talk, and so had sent them off on their own to investigate.

But they hadn't talked. Their day had been filled with awkward moments and silences begging to be broken.

Both of which they'd successfully ignored, as always.

Now, Sam was tired. He was tired and his thoughts were a mess.

Ever since his run-in with Meg's spirit, he'd found himself stumbling. What she'd said had marked him. It had broken something inside him and now he was off-balance. His footing was unsteady.

Monster

The word reverberated within him and spread hairline cracks through his soul. He couldn't shake it. It was an echo that refused to fade out. It scared him. It scared him because he was beginning to think that perhaps she was right.

He stared through the cold glass of the Impala's windshield, up to the sky.

An angel was following Dean. In all Sam's life, only shadows had dogged his path.

Were those shadows a reflection of his choices, and proof that he'd made nothing but mistakes all along?

He'd been sitting here for five minutes now. Another five minutes, and Dean would begin to wonder where he was.

When Dean had been gone, Sam had nearly forgotten about time. All days had become one. The only thing that had mattered was that Dean wasn't there.

Now, Dean was back, and Sam had had to backtrack and pick up all the things he'd dropped; all the things he'd lost alongside his brother, all the things he'd let slide. It was like searching for breadcrumbs in a sandstorm.

He sucked in a shaky breath, and ran a hand over his tired, heavy eyes.

There was a knock upon the passenger window.

Sam stiffened, throwing his gaze towards the sound.

A girl's pale face ghosted into view.

Ruby.

Sam's expression didn't waver. He was used to seeing her like this. She appeared in the most random places, without him summoning her.

Perhaps she'd heard his thoughts.

She didn't wait for an invitation; he didn't give her one.

She pulled open the door and slipped into the seat.

Sam didn't look at her. Instead, he slumped over the wheel and returned his eyes to the stars.

A moment passed.

Finally, Ruby asked what he thought he was doing here.

"Thinking," Sam replied honestly.

She snorted. Her lip twitched into a half-smile, but her eyes remained serious.

Another moment passed.

This time, Sam broke the silence. "I was toying with the possibility that perhaps what I'm doing, with you, might actually be wrong."

She turned to face him. She pinned him with a very weighty stare, but didn't say anything.

Sam watched the edge of a thick cloud begin to swallow up some of the stars he'd been counting. They vanished behind its bulk, and the night lost a fraction of its light.

"At first I thought it was a good thing, using my powers to kill demons and save lives," he said quietly, as if to himself. "But now I'm not so sure."

Their eyes met.

Her eyes reflected nothing, and Sam found himself looking at her and wondering just who her human host had been, and whether she was still alive. He'd never spared much thought for the girl whose body Ruby had stolen. But now he looked at the figure beside him and felt immensely sad.

"It's a fine line," he whispered, tearing his gaze away, "between right and wrong."

Silence settled around them once more.

Ruby suddenly pushed open her door, ordering Sam out of the vehicle.

Sam blinked at her.

"Get out," she repeated. She slammed her door and rounded the car to pull his open.

He remained seated.

"There's something I want you to see." Her face was shadowed.

Sam groaned inwardly. Once again he became aware of time slipping away. He glanced at his and Dean's dinner. Dean would begin to worry soon.

"It wont take a moment," Ruby confirmed. She folded her arms, as if masking impatience.

Despite Sam's better judgement, he swung his legs out of the vehicle. He pushed himself upright. He slammed and locked his door, and jogged to catch up with her as she stalked across the parking lot.

"Where are we going?" He felt the chill of the night seep under his collar.

They slipped along the quiet street, passing in and out of shadows.

She didn't reply. She led him along, past closed stores and small businesses all shut down for the evening.

Eventually they came to a bar.

Ruby pulled Sam into the doorway of the shop next door.

Sam blinked, adjusting his eyes to the cloaking darkness. He opened his mouth to ask what they were doing.

Ruby held a finger to her lips. "Just watch," she instructed harshly.

Sam didn't like taking orders. The only person he'd ever taken orders from was his brother. He shoved his hands into his pockets and felt frustration swell within him.

Seconds ticked by.

Seconds became a minute.

Silence…

Two minutes.

Sam grew restless. He decided that he was through with her game. He turned to leave.

She grabbed his arm.

A girl exited the bar.

Ruby nodded for Sam to pay attention.

A man exited after her, and the girl turned, curling her fingers through her hair, regarding him lustfully.

He was twice her age. His beer gut hung over his belt. His eyes shone like he'd won the lottery. He snaked an arm around her waist. "So, where to, sweetheart; my place or your's?"

Sam frowned. He wasn't sure what he was supposed to be noticing here.

The girl whispered something in the man's ear, and the man's grin was so wide that it split his face. They wandered drunkenly across the street, bubbling with laughter and flirting wildly, until they disappeared into a shadowed alley.

Sam turned to Ruby.

She stared back at him. "That girl's a demon," she said levelly, after a moment. "There's a bunch of them here, and they're having fun killing off the townsfolk. It's been going on for about a week now."

Sam swallowed jaggedly.

"They're smart, you know," she continued. "They don't pick people who'll be missed. A loner here, a desperate fool there… Nobody notices."

Sam watched shadows swim around the mouth of the alley the couple had disappeared into. He knew what Ruby was getting at. He knew why she was telling him.

It made him angry.

"You can let them go, if you like," she offered, baiting him. "But that man will die." Her eyes narrowed.

Sam felt every muscle in his body grow tense. He burned with frustration.

"Concentrate, Sam," Ruby hissed suddenly in his ear. "I know you can sense it too. That woman you saw is a demon. You know I'm not lying to you."

Sam didn't want to acknowledge it, but deep down he knew that what she was saying was true. And if he didn't do something about it, an innocent man would probably lose his life tonight.

"Can you really stand by and watch?" There was more than truth in her words; there was a challenge.

Sam cursed and skewered her with a withering look. This wasn't a game. He wasn't a game-piece. This wasn't fair.

"Your call, Sam," she told him.

Sam watched her step out from the doorway. He wanted to grab her and slam her into the wall. His knuckles tingled. His eyes were locked on the alley's mouth.

Such a fine line, between right and wrong

If he killed the demon, he'd be killing the girl the demon was possessing. But if he didn't kill it, then the stupid old drunk would die, possibly along with many others.

Sam clenched his fists. A low growl escaped his throat. He knew what he had to do, and he didn't like it.

A handful of stars blinked down upon him.

He steeled his shoulders, and crossed the street.


Ruby knelt beside Sam.

He'd collapsed against the wall of the alley, exhausted. The demon had put up a fight, refusing to go down easily. Sam's focus hadn't been solid; his mind had been wandering, his faith in himself and his abilities wavering. It had slowed him down.

But he'd triumphed in the end.

In the past few months, he'd grown very powerful.

It made her sick to think that he was willing to step away from his destiny just because of a guilty conscience.

She regarded him.

His eyes were glassy in the dim light, and his chest hitched with jagged breaths.

The drunken man had run away, scared. The fool would never know that Sam had just saved his life.

"You think about it," Ruby said, her gaze like a vice. "If you're happy to walk away, then please, be my guest."

Sam's shoulders trembled. He hugged his knees.

She straightened. A cold breeze played with her hair.

Sam didn't look up.

She watched him a moment longer.

Feeling that she'd made the point she'd wanted to make, she turned on her heel, and walked away.


Dean stared through the TV. It was on, but the screen was a blur of colour and light. His eyes travelled through it.

He was seated in the room's only chair. He held a can of beer in one hand. It was wet with condensation, cool against his skin.

He looked at the clock. Eight twenty-nine. Sam should have been back by now. He was trying to think of other things, and not worry about his brother. Sam had just gone to get them some dinner. There was no reason for concern.

Dean sipped his drink. The emptiness of the room encroached upon him. It pressed against his senses. It made him notice Sam's absence.

Sam had been alone, while Dean had been dead. Sam had probably had many nights like this.

Dean let his eyes fall upon the floor.

Sam was a lot stronger than him. Sam had never needed him, like he needed Sam. He was sure that Sam had been just fine.

He inhaled deeply.

But... there were times when he caught a look in his brother's eye. Sometimes Sam watched him, like he was about to disappear. Apprehension would shadow his sibling's features for just a moment. And that apprehension would twist Dean's stomach with guilt.

Dean wanted to ask Sam about the months he'd spent alone. But he didn't have the words to construct the question. And he wasn't sure that he'd be able to deal with whatever Sam might say.

He closed his eyes.

The emptiness of the room grew thicker.

The TV was on, but the silence was overpowering.

Pulling open his eyes, Dean leaned forward in the chair. His elbows rested upon his thighs and his hands hung between his knees. He swung the beer can gently between his fingers, and looked at his hands.

He felt his breath against his nostrils, and the rise and fall of his chest.

He was alive.

Why he was alive was still a mystery. But he was here.

He was here, even though he shouldn't be.

... And it was hard.

Time hadn't stopped when he'd stopped. It had continued. And now he had to play catch-up, and his legs weren't working properly because he'd been immobile for so long. It was like stumbling in a race, and then having to make up the distance.

He tilted his head back, and drained the rest of his drink.

Adverts flashed across the TV screen in a dazzling array of colour, screaming at him to buy this, try that.

Dean turned his eyes away.

He felt like he'd been torn from life, chewed up by Hell, and then spat back out again. He'd been expected to hit the ground running.

His stomach curled.

He'd been given a second chance. Why?

Castiel had said that there was work for him. But Dean had learned from life that all good fortune came at a price.

Dread made hollow his heart as he thought about it.

He couldn't help but wonder, and fear, what the hell the catch might be.


When Sam walked through the door, he could barely look at his brother.

"You go to Greenland to get dinner?" Dean craned his neck from the chair he was seated in.

Sam forced a half-smile. His whole body ached. He felt exhausted beyond belief. Using his powers drained him of energy at the best of times, but tonight he felt worse than normal.

Dean caught his burger as Sam threw it. He wrestled the bag open and then narrowed his eyes at his brother. You okay?

It was an unspoken question, but Sam read it loud and clear. He felt heat rise under his collar. He placed his own burger, still wrapped, upon his mattress and rifled through his bag for some clean clothes.

He wasn't hungry. He felt dirty. He needed a shower.

"I think I'm getting the flu," he stated. His voice was empty. "I'm really tired."

Dean didn't pull his gaze away.

Sam dismissed his brother's concern with a wave. "I'm gonna take a shower."

Dean didn't say anything.

Sam swallowed roughly. His throat was dry. He snatched his clothes and towel and drifted towards the bathroom.

"What about your dinner?" Dean's concern hadn't disbanded.

Sam's stomach clenched. The smell of the burgers in the car had nearly made him gag. He cleared his throat. "I'll eat it later," he lied.

He had his back to his brother. He didn't turn around.

The TV sang to itself, its enthusiasm out of place.

Dean didn't say anything more.

Sam vanished into the bathroom, hoping like hell that Dean would let the matter slide. He closed the door, and silence swelled around him. His ears rang.

He twisted the tap on the shower, and the silence broke as water drops shattered against the mouldy, tiled floor. He thought about Ruby's words.

He'd taken a life tonight.

He pulled off his clothes and stepped under the scorching water, feeling it prickle against his skin as his body adjusted from cold to hot.

If he hadn't killed the demon, it probably would have killed countless people.

He sank to his knees, squatting with his chin to his chest, his head bowed. He felt so sick. He looked at his hands. Did they give life, or simply take it? He channelled his power through his hands to exorcise demons. They had become his greatest weapons.

He closed his eyes. His throat felt tight.

Meg's accusation came back to him in a rush, followed by Ruby's invitation for him to walk away.

Sam's eyes began to sting. He clenched his fists and the water began to feel like razors against his back.

Tremors raced through him, tracing his bones.

When would it ever be okay to walk away from something like this?


In the early hours of the following morning, while Dean was still asleep, Sam made his decision.

As silently as he'd been trained to move through a room, he crept towards the front door, and paused there.

He regarded his sleeping brother.

Dean had already given so much for him, and Sam couldn't ask for anything else. He wouldn't ask for anything else. All mistakes from this day forth would be his and his alone. Only he would shoulder the blame for them. And if he made choices and they were wrong, then he would pay the price for them. Not Dean. Not anymore. Not ever again. His brother was faultless.

Sam knew it; Heaven knew it.

He just hoped that if God really could see everything, then the man above would understand. And forgive him.

He didn't want to hurt anyone. He was trying to help people.

This was the only way Sam could see that he could possibly make a difference in the world.

He placed his hand upon the door handle, and turned it soundlessly. Cold morning air pinched his warm skin. He glanced once more at his brother.

Then he closed the door.

He walked away from the room, out into the motel's parking lot. He rounded a corner and approached a waiting vehicle.

Throwing a look back towards the room, he took a deep breath and opened the car's door.

Ruby's eyes turned towards him. She sat in the driver's seat, hands on the wheel.

Sam's throat was raw, his palms clammy.

"You ready now?" She asked.

Sam tried to still his trembling. He nodded jerkily. "Definitely."


Dean's dream was a shattered nightmare. Each piece held its own horrors;

Broken faces. Bulging, bloody eyes. Rotting teeth.

Endless loops of screams.

Bottomless darkness.

The sense of tumbling, over and over.

The suffocation of bile. Vomit coating his tongue.

The blistering heat of hot embers pressed against skin.

The smell of burning flesh and thickening blood. Melting organs…

His eyes snapped open. Air rushed into his lungs. His heart hammered against his eardrums. For a moment, he wasn't sure where he was.

Then he woke up properly, and realized he was in a motel room.

"Hello Dean."

Hastily, he pushed himself up onto elbows, blinking towards the voice.

Castiel was calmly perched on the side of his bed. "What were you dreaming about?"

Annoyance flooded Dean's senses. "What, you get your freak on by watching other people sleep?" He hated the intrusion. He hated that something had managed to sneak up on him. "What do you want?"

Castiel's gaze grew impossibly more intense. "Listen to me," he replied. "You have to stop it."

Dean's brow pinched. He wasn't in the mood for this conversation. "Stop what?" Guessing games were also off his agenda. He wanted to be left alone.

Castiel didn't reply. He simply reached forward, and placed two fingers upon the centre of Dean's forehead.

Dean felt his breath leave his lungs. Involuntarily, he closed his eyes.

When he opened them again, he was sprawled across a bench beside an unfamiliar road. And it was daytime...


Castiel didn't flinch as Dean shot upright in bed, gasping and sweating. He'd just sent Dean on a journey into the past, and he could see the weight of the experience burning behind the boy's eyes.

"I couldn't stop any of it," Dean said brokenly, grasping at his tangled sheets. "She still made the deal. She still died in the nursery, didn't she?"

Castiel bobbed his head sympathetically. "Don't be too hard on yourself," he offered. "You couldn't have stopped it."

Dean stiffened, predictably. He threw his legs over the edge of the bed and stood up, his face twisted in a sad and frightened expression.

Castiel held the boy's gaze. "Destiny can't be changed, Dean. All roads lead to the same destination."

Dean was furious, but behind his fury, there was fear. "Then why'd you send me back?"

"For the truth," Castiel told him plainly. He let the words sink in, and then said, "Now you know everything we do."

Dean's shoulders were rigid. His eyes widened. "What the hell are you talking about?"

Castiel turned to look pointedly at Sam's bed.

Dean spun around. He wavered and stepped back as he realized it was empty. "Where's Sam?" The question spilled from his lips in a breath.

"We know what Azazel did to your brother," Castiel explained, ignoring Dean's question. "What we don't know is why." He paused, and then clarified, "What his end game is. He went to great lengths to cover that up."

"Where's Sam?" Dean asked again. This time there was more than a hint of desperation in his tone.

Castiel saw the boy's burning need to protect his brother. It shone about him like an aura of fire. It was bright, and strong. He recognized it immediately.

This was Dean's power.

"Four twenty-five, Waterman." Castiel's voice was level. Steady.

Dean scooped his jacket off the bed and grabbed his gun. He stalked towards the door.

"Your brother's headed down a dangerous road, Dean. We're not sure where it leads."

Dean's steps faltered.

"Stop it," Castiel continued. He lowered his voice. "Or we will."

Dean's face lost a fraction of its colour. His mouth opened slightly. His throat worked, but it was a moment before any sound came out.

"Are you threatening my brother?" He asked, his words shaking.

Castiel saw Dean's fear. He also saw Dean's desperate attempt to mask it.

"No," he replied, fixing the boy with a weighty stare. He shook his head gently. "I do not make threats."

Dean's knuckles were white as he gripped his gun.

"I'm simply tilting my hand," Castiel explained.

Dean swallowed roughly.

"I'm showing you my cards." The angel's words were steady. They rang with truth. "I'm giving you another chance to save your brother, if you'll take it."


end