a/n: I wrote the final chapter, and it's HUGE. I was going to break it up into two chapters, but given the issues with the site and the fact this has been done for several days now, I'll share it in one long chapter there. I'm sure everyone is ready for closure. Happy reading!

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Dean gasped and threw his eyes open, his heart racing over everything that just happened. This was just as jarring as when he was pulled from hell. Traveling between worlds was no picnic. Bobby and Pamela hovered over him.

"Dean?" Bobby said, noticing he was still disoriented. "Can you hear me?"

Dean blinked a few times and raised himself up a little too quickly, then fell back down onto the table. "Yeah, just give me a minute."

"Did anything happen after I left?" Bobby asked.

Dean's heart sank when it all came back to him. "Cas just did his thing and I woke up." The vision of his brother acting like a condemned man haunted him. "Sam was still there, ready for what was coming."

"I'll see if the spirits are talking," Pamela said, finding her way over to the table with the Ouija board.

Dean didn't say anything, just staring into open space, devastated over what just happened. He wanted to know what Sam was going through. He wanted to be there by his side, so Sam wouldn't have to face judgment alone.

Bobby knew something was wrong when Dean was this quiet. "Dean, I'm sorry."

"Yeah, well there was nothing you could of done. Nothing either of us couldn't have done." He knew he wasn't being convincing. Dean watched Pamela with baited breath and got up when she dropped her hands from the board and her face fell. He walked over to her, and was too nervous to ask what she found out.

"Castiel delivered him," she said. "He's in banishment right now."

Dean nodded, not at all sure why he was so angry. Her news was what he should have expected. Still, he didn't want to hear it. He stormed out the front door.

Bobby and Pamela heard the roar of the Impala engine and the spinning of its wheels as it tore away from the driveway.

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Dean didn't know how long he'd been there, nor did he care. It could have been hours, days, weeks, it didn't matter, for time had stopped for him. The drawn curtains darkened the room so much he couldn't even tell if it was day or night. Come to think of it, Dean didn't even know where he was. After aimlessly driving for hours, he saw a motel at the side of the road and decided to stop.

The Johnnie Walker Red wasn't killing much of the pain, but that didn't stop him from drinking it like it was water. This hurt worse than his trauma of being in Hell. This hurt worse than when Sam died the first time. Sam was out there in the afterlife somewhere, condemned like a common criminal. Sam saved all those people, fought all those years to make the world a safer place, and it got him nothing. Sam was right, he never had a chance from the day he was born. The whole thing sickened him.

His cell phone went off again, but he didn't answer. It had been ringing in intervals for a while now. He knew it was Bobby, trying to find him. He just wasn't ready. He needed time alone to grieve, time alone to deal with his crisis of faith, time to find reason with what just happened. He was too grief stricken to see any rationale behind Sam's death. God's will or not, it sucked.

Dean was jolted from his blue funk when a breeze hit him in the face, but once it let up he scowled and took another drink, finishing the contents of the bottle. He greeted his angelic visitor with an empty stare. "Would it be blasphemous of me to tell an angel to go to Hell?"

"In your state, I don't think you care," Castiel replied.

"I don't," Dean answered bitterly. Castiel stepped over and sat on the edge of the bed. Dean didn't appreciate his gaze of pity. "Just leave me alone."

"For what it's worth, you acted well throughout these unfortunate circumstances. Your valor has been noticed."

"My valor? I wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for Sam. Where's his pat on the back?"

"Sam was always your weakness Dean. His ordeal has made you stronger."

Dean threw the bottle at Castiel, and it smashed on the wall behind him. "You disgust me. I need Sam to cover my back, I always have. That's how I succeed! What makes you think I'll ever be part of your little war now? I'd rather go back to Hell."

Castiel nodded and kept his calm demeanor. "We know Dean." He inched closer and looked at Dean with firm honesty. "We knew you would act like this too." The angel raised his fingers and placed them right in between Dean's eyes.

Dean awoke on the cool ground, his head pounding and the wet grass irritating his cheek. It was dark and he jumped when he saw his whereabouts. He was sprawled on the top of Sam's grave. He caught sight of the pair of dress shoes when he raised himself up and looked at Castiel like he wanted to choke him. "What sort of cruel joke is this?"

Castiel stoically pointed to the head of the grave. "Help him."

Dean whipped around and gasped when he saw fingertips emerge from the ground. He got on his knees and frantically dug around them with his bare hands, easily pushing back the dirt of the fresh grave. He reached down when arms got through and pulled hard until Sam's head came out of the ground. Sam fought for breath while Dean dug in and slowly dragged the rest of him out. "It's okay Sammy, I got ya."

Once Sam was free, Dean clutched onto his baby brother for dear life, feeling both of their hearts pounding, stunned to see Sam breathing and physically unscathed. He knew this only came from divine intervention. "Can you hear me Sammy?"

Sam didn't answer, for he was too disoriented. Dean shook him a little. "Sam?" Sam blinked several times before focusing on Dean's face, and then saw Castiel in the distance. The sight of the angel was too much of a shock and he passed out.

Dean looked at Castiel with disbelief while continuing to hold onto Sam tight. Castiel turned away and flew off, leaving them alone. Dean wanted to shout out, wanted to get Castiel to tell him what was going on, but Sam needed him. That conversation would have to wait.

"Sam!" Dean said, shaking him one more time. Sam didn't respond, prompting Dean to check for a pulse. He was relieved to find a strong one. He fished through his pockets, grateful to find his cell phone, then opened it and dialed. "Bobby, I need you, fast."

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"Sam?"

Sam opened his eyes, freaked out by the faces he saw in front of him.

"Sam, talk to me," Dean pleaded, clearly upset over his brother's state. "You're at Bobby's, for real. This might be a little jarring, but Castiel brought you back."

Sam gazed full circle at the surroundings, feeling the lumpy couch he was stretched out on, but he was still unable to speak. He was shaking a little, unnerved by all that was happening.

Dean knelt next to him by the couch. "Sam, I know this is a shock, but you're okay. I wish I could tell you what happened, but you're alive and that's all that matters. We'll work through this."

Sam looked at Dean with total confusion, and then dropped his head into his hand.

"Come on Sammy, say something to me."

"This can't be real," Sam barely choked out through his gravely voice, never raising his head from his hand.

Dean didn't know how to convince him and his heart stung over Sam being in this state. Bobby tapped on Dean's shoulder, and they both stepped aside, giving Sam some room to work things out.

"Uh, Bobby, I'm not good with this head case stuff," Dean admitted.

"Give him time. I've heard of souls having issues once they cross a certain barrier. This could be normal."

Dean looked at a distraught Sam, blankly staring into space. "I wish I knew how to get hold of Cas. I'm so grateful Sam was brought back, but I need to know what's going on."

"I think we all do."

Bobby's eyes widened when he saw Sam get up and charge out of the room. Bobby and Dean looked at each other with confusion before chasing after him.

"Sam?" Dean asked, barely able to keep up. "Where are you going Sam?"

Sam headed down the basement stairs, and went straight for the panic room. He tried slamming the door shut once he went through the entrance, but Bobby wedged himself in the doorway before that could happen. Dean pushed the door open and grabbed his brother's wrists, fighting to restrain him.

"Sam, snap out of it! We're here to help." Sam stopped his struggle, looked at Dean with a pained stare, and took slow, hard steps over to the cot. He sunk down into it and fell onto his side.

Dean came over and crouched down where he was eye level with Sam. "Please Sam, talk to me."

"They can't find me here." Panic tinged in his voice and the fear in his eyes was disconcerting.

"Who? Lilith? Demons? Angels?" Sam didn't answer. "Come on Sammy, let me help."

Sam sighed and rolled over, facing the wall. It was clear he wasn't ready to talk. Dean stood up and went back to Bobby, who looked just as thrown by all this as Dean.

"Stay here, see if you can get him to talk to you," Bobby instructed.

"What are you gonna do?"

"Call Pamela. She knows more about this stuff than I do." Bobby stepped through the doorway. "Close the door, just in case."

Dean nodded and watched Bobby head up the stairs before closing the door. He went over to Sam, rolled him over, and found he was sound asleep. He sighed, both worried yet very relieved to see Sam there. He decided that for now, he should count his blessings.

Dean shuffled through the desk drawer. "Thank God," he said over his find. He pulled out the untouched stash of whiskey and settled in the chair next to Sam.

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Sam heard the opening of the door to the panic room, and didn't look to see who it was. He knew it was Dean. His brother rarely left his side and wasn't gone that long. Sam remained curled up on the cot, holding a pillow, gazing forward.

"Sam? Got some breakfast for you."

"Not hungry."

Dean walked further into the room, setting the muffin and coffee down on the desk. He sat down and started eating his own muffin. "Come on Sam, you've got to eat. You haven't been hungry in days."

Sam ignored Dean, not changing his position at all. The more reality came back to him, the more he was too frightened to move. Hopelessness consumed him.

"Enough Sam. You can't stay in here forever. Whatever's wrong, we can fight this."

"I'm tired of fighting Dean."

"You can't live like this."

"What does it matter? I can't live, I can't die."

"Don't talk like that Sammy. You were given another chance. Doesn't that mean something? I'm at the end of my rope here."

Nothing mattered to him anymore, and he didn't care that Dean's patience was shot. He sighed and closed his eyes, hoping Dean would go away.

"Answer me Sam! I can't put up with you like this any longer."

Sam was slow to react, rolling his eyes before answering. "I'm still a freak."

Dean tilted his head, confused by that statement.

Sam raised his hand, and with his mind lifted a pen on the desk up in the air, before throwing it across the room. Dean was shocked. "I came back with my abilities Dean, and now they're stronger than ever. I'm not normal in life, I'm not normal in death. I'm still a freak."

"You've never pitied yourself before over this. What happened to making good out of your curse? You've got to snap out of this."

"I'll never find peace Dean. I'll never find redemption." Sam sighed and gripped the pillow tighter. He saw Dean tighten and clench his fists, recognizing his brother was holding onto his control as hard as he could.

"Can I get you anything else?" Dean asked.

"The usual."

Dean's head and shoulders dropped in frustration. "So that's it? You're just going to lie in bed and get drunk again?"

"What else is there?"

Dean stood up quickly. "That's it, I'm gonna drag your ass out of bed." Dean grabbed his arm, and Sam threw out his fist, connecting it with his brother's jaw. Sam gazed at him with vicious fury. "I don't need your help."

"That's a load of crap Sammy."

Sam sank back down onto the cot and rolled over, facing the wall. "Go away Dean." He heard Dean pace for a few seconds before finally leaving the room. "I'm beyond help," he said to himself.

Dean paced back and forth in the basement, taking in deep breaths, trying to calm himself down. He had to leave that room, or he would have done something he'd regret. He heard footsteps coming down the stairs.

"Another bad morning?" Bobby asked.

"That's an understatement. He's snapped Bobby. I can't help him. This goes way beyond a case of the blues. The only way I know he's not completely out of it is because he keeps asking for whiskey. He drinks all morning, passes out in the afternoon and then does it all over again. He won't talk to me, nothing."

"Pamela warned us this could happen. It's been a few days, so we don't need anymore adjustment time. We've got to bring her in."

Dean nodded, accepting Bobby was right. He was at wits end and they had to try it.

"Why don't you pick her up?" Bobby suggested. "You've been cooped up in there too damn long and need a break. I'll handle Sam."

Dean nodded. "Thanks Bobby."

Dean walked by, patting the back of Bobby's shoulder in gratitude. Bobby watched a weary Dean climb up the stairs with slow, heavy steps. It saddened him, for the last few months hadn't been kind on Dean either and it killed him to see both boys like this. He sighed and went into the panic room, knowing he couldn't do much for Sam either.

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Dean had hold of Pamela's arm, and he guided her through the doorway into the panic room. Pamela picked up on the intense despair instantly. She frowned at the pain stirring inside Sam right now.

"Hi Sam, how are you feeling?" She was led to the chair next to the bed.

"You already know." Sam was lying on the cot, on his side, refusing to get up or move.

"Yes, I do." She knew too well. "Sam, what you're feeling isn't unusual. It happens sometimes when souls cross a barrier from Heaven. I can help you."

"How?"

"I need to do hypnosis."

"Why?"

"You need to remember what happened before you came back."

Sam stiffened and his eyes darkened in fear. "I'm not sure I want to do that."

"You've got to try. Something has you spooked and you need to know what it is."

"I…I can't."

"You won't get better unless you do. It'll be okay. All you need to do is relax and focus and I'll do the rest."

"That hasn't been easy to do lately."

"Please Sam, try. It'll be easier than you think."

Sam looked beyond Pamela to see Dean standing behind her, giving the message with his authoritative look that he should try this. Sam exhaled in defeat, rolled onto his back, and looked up at the ceiling. His body stayed stiff and he gripped the blanket, feeling the terror in the deep pit of his stomach.

Pamela reached out for Dean before getting started. He took her hand and squeezed it, letting her know his wish to have her continue. She turned back to Sam and put her hand on his forehead. "Deep breaths Sam, in and out. Clear your mind and focus on my voice."

Sam did as instructed, and loosened his grip on the blanket slightly after a few breaths.

"Good. I want you to think about someplace beautiful, a place of peace."

Sam tried and then shook it off, then tried again. "Some place serene, where you can drift and be free." After another attempt, he settled down. She sensed Dean rolling his eyes and stomped on his foot.

"I'm going to count now Sam. Focus on my voice. 1, 2, 3…" Sam's eyelids began to flutter. "4, 5, 6…" His eyes fought to stay open. "7, 8, 9, 10…" Sam was out.

"Good, stay relaxed. What do you see right now Sam?"

Sam jerked a little and then cowered. "No."

"What is it Sam?"

"It can't be."

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Sam sat on the floor, his back up against the wall and legs stretched in front on him, lost in the fog of his own thoughts. He had nothing to stare at but the plain walls of the white room, the place that had become his prison. His hands and feet had shackles on them and were hooked together by chains, but he guessed they were there out of symbolism. He had nowhere to go anyway since there was no door. Not a soul had come to visit him.

He had been there for what seemed like an eternity, but then again, he knew time was different in the afterlife. Sam sighed as his head began to hurt over his latest train of thought. Everything seemed hopeless. What did I do to deserve this? He didn't understand. He did the best he could with what he was given. He only wanted to save people.

He spent a lot of his time in isolation looking back on his life and the choices he made. He honestly didn't see where he would do anything different. Is his punishment because he hadn't learned and repeated the same mistakes? Was it because he offended someone by making his own decisions? His intentions were good, but then again, Dean already warned him where the road to good intentions led. Maybe he didn't know the difference between right and wrong after all.

Sam had just about lost hope, believing now he'd never find his way out, he would never find peace. He was destined to be alone, isolated, to be the freak he always had been. No one could help him or save him.

"You've broken me, okay?" He shouted into the open air, not caring if anyone was listening or not. "I did the best I could and I have no regrets. That may not be good enough for you, but I'm okay with it." His frustration spiked the more he thought and he wished he had something to throw. Instead he pounded his fist into the ground. "What sort of God gives punishment like this!" Sam dropped his head into his hand, for his words were just bouncing off walls.

"A merciful God," a voice spoke out. Sam's eyes shot upward and he backed harder into the wall when he saw who was there, dressed in white. "Dad?"

John smiled and walked over to him, crouching down beside him. "It's so good to see you Sammy."

"But…how? How did you get here?"

"How did you end up here Sam? The Lord works in mysterious ways."

Sam reached out to give his Dad a hug, but his chains prevented that from happening. His head dropped in humiliation. "I'm a prisoner Dad, condemned for eternity. What's so mysterious about that?"

John placed his hands on top of Sam's, gripping them tight, offering reassurance. "This isn't condemnation Sam. It's a place transition, a chance for you to reflect and release your burdens. It seems you've been doing that."

Sam sadly smiled. "My head feels like it's gonna explode." He looked up at his father, noticing a change. His eyes were different. They were filled with purity, optimism, and hope. "What happened to you Dad?"

"I found peace son. Someday you will too."

Sam inhaled and exhaled unevenly, feeling so defeated by everything. "I'm having a hard time believing that. I'm cursed."

John let go of Sam's hands and sat down on the ground, settling next to his youngest son. "Sam, we both know you've had to endure more than anyone should ever have to. It's not what you're dealt, it's what you do with it. You've done well son, and you've made me proud."

Sam didn't understand the sentiment. "Then why am I being punished? You know no one has ever given me a chance. I'm not evil. Why do the angels and God think I am?"

"They don't think you're evil. They just didn't know what you were capable of. That's why you had to die. It was supposed to be your test, your chance to prove your worthiness, but it went wrong. You weren't supposed to go to Hell. The fact that you tried to fight the evil while in that awful place has been noticed."

Sam scoffed. "It obviously wasn't enough." He lifted up his arms, showing off his chains.

"You ended up here Sam because you let guilt and your uneasiness get in the way of your faith. You needed time to make amends before getting your final judgment."

Sam didn't fully understand what he was being told, his lost eyes letting John know that.

"Sam, you and Dean are both part of something much bigger than you realize, and your work is not done. The powers that be had to make sure you were ready."

"Ready for what?"

"To follow your path. Dean already had his test in Hell and the angels are ready for him to lead. Now you've had your test."

Sam nodded bitterly, for even though it made sense, the test was pretty brutal. "Did I pass?"

"Not with flying colors, but yes, you passed."

Sam shook his head. "Given the circumstances, it sure doesn't feel like it."

John reached over and put his hand on Sam's shoulder, giving him a big smile. "The judgment has been made Sam. You're going back to earth."

Sam's spirit sank, for he wasn't sure whether to treat that as good news or bad. "I'm tired Dad. I'm not sure I have any fight left in me."

"You have plenty left Sam, and you're the only one that can defeat Lilith."

"She got away?"

John nodded. He reached over and easily snapped the shackles off Sam's wrists and legs. Sam stared at him in amazement as the chains fell to the ground. "You're free now Sam."

Sam's heart leapt out of his chest and his despair spiked. "Please, I can't do this anymore."

"Yes you can Sammy. You're more than ready. What happened in Hamistagan was a misstep, but it was the battle, not the war. Lilith's breaking seals again, and you have to stop her. The angels know now they can count on you. You and Dean both."

Sam couldn't fight the rush of emotion inside and was unable to stop his watering eyes as well. John reached over and held onto his son, and Sam let it all out with deep sobs.

"I don't feel saved, Dad," Sam choked out.

John rubbed his hand along Sam's back. "I know son. It'll take some time."

Sam let his dad hold onto him for a long while, consoling him. He couldn't remember the last time or if he ever had this sort of comfort, but it was sorely needed. He certainly never got it from his Dad before and welcomed it now. By the time he finally pulled away, he felt so much better. It felt like a huge weight had been lifted off his back.

"So what happens now?" Sam asked, pulling himself together.

"Castiel will take you back. Dean will be there to help you. Going back will be jarring, and you won't be quite yourself at first. Just remember as soon as you are back, Lilith will know. Be careful, and take precautions."

Sam nodded. "Yes Sir."

John stood up, and reached down to help Sam up to his feet. He looked deeply into his son's eyes, and smiled. "I know you'll keep making me proud. Tell Dean I'm proud of him too, and I miss him. Let him know everything will be okay."

Sam nodded again and hugged his dad one more time, just before everything went white.

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Sam snapped himself out of the trance and sat up on the cot, dazed by what he remembered.

"Sam?" Pamela asked. Dean was right behind her, looking at Sam with worry.

"It was a test," Sam softly said, still shaken over what happened. "I died because of a test."

Pamela and Bobby's jaws dropped, while Dean got livid. "A what?? You mean to tell me, all that happened to you, all that grief we went through, was because the angels were getting their jollies?"

"I was brought back to destroy Lilith. They trust me to do that now. I'm the only one."

Dean was not at all happy by this. "The next time I see an angel I'm going to put my fist down his throat!"

Pamela sensed there was more. "Anything else Sam?"

Sam hesitated to answer. "Can Dean and I have a moment alone?"

Pamela nodded and got up. Bobby took her arm and led her out of the room, looking at Dean with reservation. Once they were clear, Sam pointed his head toward the door and Dean closed it. Dean exhaled and came back over with trepidation, unable to interpret Sam's nervous expression. "What is it Sammy?" Dean asked with concern.

"I saw Dad, Dean."

Dean's face turned white and he dropped slowly into the chair by the bed because his knees felt weak. "Seriously? How…how is he?"

Sam slightly smiled. "He's good. He's up there now and isn't suffering anymore."

Dean's face twisted as he was overcome by relief. "Thank God for that."

"He wanted me to let you know how proud he is of you, and that everything will be okay."

Dean rubbed his chin and shook his head, in shock over what he was hearing. "Good," he said as his voice cracked.

"Why don't I feel like everything is going to be okay?" Sam's eyes dropped into his lap and he let out an uneven sigh. "I've got this deep hole inside of me Dean. I'm scared."

Dean paused and leaned forward in the chair. "You know, that chick in Hamistagan, Asherah or whatever her name was, she did something to me. It's like she took away all the guilt or something. I can't explain it, but it was something powerful that confused me again. It was just like the first time I met Castiel. I've been unsure about this whole God thing, ya know finding out that he was real and all that. It's been both a blessing and a curse. While it's great to know there's a higher power, his actions are more confusing to me than any nasty creature we've seen. When I came back from Hamistagan, I had every reason to believe God was vengeful, spiteful, and outright mean and I forgot all that I knew. All I saw was that he took you from me Sammy and…" Dean had to stop, for his upset was clouding his clear stream of words.

Sam looked at him solemnly, waiting for him to continue.

"And then he brought you back. After all that talk of wrath and punishment against you, in the end he showed me the greatest mercy possible. In my book, that counts for something. In my book, that means everything is going to be okay."

Sam blinked his eyes several times, freeing the tears pooling in his eyes. "Asherah did something to me too. She made me see benevolence through all that hatred stirring inside. It was a blessing Dean, it had to be. I didn't get it either until I talked with Dad."

Dean nodded. "It seems we both are having troubles understanding these heavenly creatures. I have comfort though in knowing they don't get us either."

Sam smiled and climbed up from the cot, standing straight on his feet, wavering at first since he hadn't gotten up in a while. "Then we've got work to do."

Dean smiled and nodded. "Alright." He slapped his thighs and got up himself.

Sam headed toward the door. "Sammy," Dean said, stopping him.

Sam turned around to face Dean. "Yeah?"

"Are you gonna be okay?"

Sam paused, carefully considering his answer. "I was told someday I'd find peace. That's all I've got to hang onto."

Dean shrugged. "Good enough for me."

They both looked at each other with encouragement and Sam opened the door. They went to join Bobby and Pamela, ready for the next fight.

The End

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A/N: That's a fic everyone! Thanks for putting in the time, and I hope the ending was satisfactory. When I started this, I had a beginning in mind and an end in mind. I still got what I envisioned, but the middle went far beyond my expectations. I'm thrilled with the result though. I hope you are too. This so far has been my most successful Supernatural fic, and I thank you all for that.