Something doesn't feel right about this.

It could have something to do with the sandwich Dean had at lunch. Or Sam's ever-lengthening and perpetually bitchy hair.

…Or it might have something to do with the two angels talking casually about exterminating a town with thousands of people.

You know. Maybe.

"Destroy it?" he says incredulously. "But what about everyone living here?"

Castiel's features are drawn tight, like a too-small bedsheet. "Do you understand what would happen if Lucifer was released, Dean?" he asks grimly, heavily implying that no, Dean doesn't understand. "There are more than six billion people on Earth. Do you think they would be spared? Do you think he'd let them live?"

Dean flinches. "I… no, I – I guess not," he mumbles. "Being Satan."

"There are at least a thousand people here," argues Sam. "You can't kill them all!"

"One thousand two hundred and fourteen," the other angel – Uriel – says. "And just watch me."

Castiel shoots Uriel a warning look before turning back to them. "This is regrettable," he says, sounding as sincere as someone else might be about missing a movie. Which, to be fair, is actually pretty sincere when it's coming from monotone-I-own-monotone Castiel. "But we've been backed into a corner. Too many seals are broken. There is no time."

"You're really willing to destroy an entire town?" Sam says. He looks completely scandalized. "You won't even try to find another solution?"

"We have our orders."

"But you're angels, you're – you're supposed to show mercy! Not - come on Dean, help me out here!"

Dean doesn't really see the point of arguing with angels, because, well, they're angels. But Sam asked, so.

He clears his throat. "Can't you just let this one go, guys? I mean, I'm sure God wouldn't – "

"As though something like you would know what God wants," Uriel spits.

And okay, divine messenger or not, this guy is really good at pissing him off. "Hey angelcakes, let's get something straight here," he says. "You guys need me? God needs me? Right? Well, no one is fucking getting me if this town is fucking smited, I can fucking promise you that!"

Sam looks over at him, and for once Dean can see the pride in his eyes. He stands closer to Dean and nods at Castiel. "We're not leaving," he says.

Uriel growls. Like a fucking Siamese cat. "You think you can stop us -"

"Uriel," Castiel says sternly, then says to Dean and Sam, "You mean to stop the witch?"

"Yes," Sam says, determinedly. "And we will."

Dean nods.

Castiel meets their gazes for a moment, first Sam, then Dean. He seems to weigh his choices.

At last he says, "Then I suggest you hurry."

0000

"Uh... everything okay there?"

"Dean," Sam breathes. "That was – that was an angel. A real angel."

Dean frowns. Of all things he'd expected to happen when they finally hauled ass to the Impala, it wasn't Sam having a panic attack.

Didn't they already go through this? he wonders. "Uh, yeah, Sam. That was Castiel."

Sam's eyes are a little too wide. It's a bit of a tossup as to whether Dean's words are sinking in. "They really – they really were angels."

"Yeah, Sam," Dean says slowly. "Kinda like I've been telling you for the past two months, you know."

"Well yeah, but – I didn't really – " Sam stammers awkwardly and falters to a completely uncomfortable silence.

Funny, how that pretty much tells Dean everything he needs to know.

"You didn't believe me."

"No!" Sam quickly denies. So convincingly, too. "I mean, I knew that you believed it, and everything about the seals seemed to be dead on, but…"

Dean folds his arms. "But what? You thought I was suddenly all-knowing?"

"No, it's just… I didn't believe Castiel was an angel."

"Then what the hell did you think he was, a fabric-softener teddy bear?"

Sam blinks, before shaking his head. "I thought he was someone giving you orders," he says, sounding careful. "I just wasn't sure the orders came from God."

"Why not?" he asks, narrowing his eyes. "Didn't Bobby say that only angels could get someone out of hell?"

Sam sighs. "Yeah, but Bobby and I – well, we thought that whoever got you out was probably the same person who took your memories. And angels are… well, they're a force of good. Or they're supposed to be, anyway," he says bitterly. "They're not what I thought. I didn't think -" he stops himself and smiles blankly. "Well. Doesn't matter now."

Dean shrugs. "Yeah, well. Aside from being dicks, this isn't really their fault, is it? They said they were just following orders."

Sam stares at him incredulously. "These weren't orders to clean their room, Dean! They were gonna destroy the entire town!"

"So? I thought the whole deal about angels was that they didn't have free will."

A hollow laugh. "So I should blame God? Is that what you're saying?"

He rubs the handprint through his shirt. How does he get himself into these conversations? "Blame who you want, Sam, I'm not gonna stop you. But I mean, if God's really so all powerful and all, then he probably already knew we were going to try to stop them, don't you think?"

Sam stares at him for a while, then smiles for real. "You know, I never thought I'd hear something like that from you. It's kinda surreal."

Bah. He makes a face. "Shut up."

"No, really, I'm interested. What are your views on gay marriage, Reverend?"

"Why, who's the lucky husband? Thought you said you weren't like that."

"Oh, fuck off," Sam says, and Dean laughs.

0000

It occurs to him later that he missed something. "Hey, what made you think that someone stole my memory? That wiki site was pretty specific, you know. It sure sounded like what I have."

"Except you don't show signs of trauma when you're awake," Sam replies readily. "And unless you're lying about remembering your dreams, it sounds like you're having two dreams at once, which, if you didn't know, is pretty impossible. So that leaves magical tampering. Or so Bobby and I guess, anyway."

Way to be a freak, he tells himself. "Witch, you think?"

Sam rolls his eyes. "Do you listen to anything I say?"

"What am I supposed to do, Sam, sometimes the TV's on."

0000

They call Bobby to look up a serious super-demon binding ritual – just in case Samhain does get out – but everything's goes sideways far too fast and by the time Bobby calls with a ready spell it's too late to do anything about it. To be honest though, when Samhain kills the witch Dean's kind of relieved. Incest (she'd called Don her brother) is not really on his must-watch list. Erk.

…And this was definitely not on his shit-I-thought-I'd-deal-with-today list.

"Hey Sam," he grits out as he wipes at his cheeks with a sleeve, "you want to explain why I got blood on my face?"

"Halloween lore says that Samhain can't see through masks. Thought I'd give it a shot."

He stops, looks over at Sam. "A- a shot? You weren't – you didn't know if it'd work?"

"Well, no. But it did, didn't it?"

There's nothing much to say to that, and Dean can't really tear Sam a new one since they are trying to stop evil dark demon lord of doomness together, so he settles for glaring. Glaring really hard.

Naturally, Sam's completely unmoved.

Asshole.

0000

"We gotta go."

The teens behind him start to protest. "You can't just leave us here!" one guy says, eyes practically popping out of their sockets with the idea. "They already got Justin, they'll get us too!"

"They have a point, you know," Dean says. "Come on, it'll just be five minutes."

Sam glances ahead, then at the kids, then levels his gaze back at Dean. "We have to stop Samhain."

He stares in disbelief. "So, what, razing a town is bad but letting these kids get killed is A-okay?"

Sam runs a hand through his hair. "No - of course not, but - Dean, we don't have time!"

Which is true - they had to run all the way here, didn't even take Bobby up on the spell. Dean bites his lip, trying to think past the increasingly loud objections of the kids. "All right, go. I'll take over here."

Sam frowns at him. "Are you –"

"This isn't the time to make me doubt myself, in case you were wondering," Dean says. "What, you think I can't handle a couple –" million "zombies?"

"I –" Sam stops. "Yeah, okay," he says. "Just – be careful."

"You too," he replies, and shoves Sam onward so the giant can go rid the world of evil.

Some evil. A small percentage of evil, at the very least.

If he wants to be honest with himself, though, Sam will have a better chance taking care of Samhain without Dean tagging along. Much as Dean's improved, there are still times when his brain runs ahead of his body and says whoa, wait, why am I fighting a wood nymph? and for a stupid second he has to stop and reconsider his chosen (more like thrust-upon) profession, which is usually not at a very convenient time. Luckily, Sam's usually there to make sure he isn't beheaded by a tree branch, but Sam can't always pick up his slack.

And besides. Sam's really strong and really big and really quick with that demon knife, so he'll probably be fine against the worst demon this side of Halloween. Completely fine.

Yeah. Dean should really just worry about himself now.

"AHHHHH!"

...And the kids. Right, them.

0000

The teenagers do a good job of following orders and bolting like bats out of hell. Only one of them stops, hesitantly touches his arm and asks if he won't come along.

He smiles at her absently, eyes focused on the zombies – huh, so that's what they actually look like – and shrugs one shoulder. "Nah, I gotta take care of this," he says, patting her on the head. Short. How old is she, seventeen? Whatever her age, the scared shitless look makes her seem that much younger. Which says something about how brave she must be, Dean supposes. "Don't worry about me, this is kinda – " he dodges a flying radius (or ulna?) "– kinda what I do."

She looks up at him, big brown eyes edged with freckles. "But aren't you –"

He grunts as he fires at the one hanging from the ceiling. Woot, head shot. "Seriously, get out of here." He tosses her a grin. A ghost appears in front of them, and he gets rid of it easily enough. "I'll be fine."

It almost looks like she's about to protest anyway, but right then a bony hand (like, literally, made of bone hand) gets too close and makes a pass at her neck.

He pushes her out of the way as she screams shrilly, turns on his heel and pulls off a quick shot. "Go go go!" he yells, backing up, and she vamooses faster than Sam at a truck rally in Texas (which is pretty fast). He spares a second to hope she'll be okay - as far as he knows there aren't any zombies out there, but he can't be sure - then aims, shoots, aims, shoots, but they keep coming and he's not sure what else to do. He remembers Samhain (and why isn't Sam done with that already?) and wonders whether the zombies will drop dead when Sam kills him, because that would be utterly fantastic and very handy right about now.

…Maybe too much to hope for, though.

As he reloads he hears a yell from far off. He can only hope it isn't Sam, because he's a little too busy to play backup. Stupid kids, all concerned about other people's safety. That girl really crimped his style.

Another yell, this time sharper, and Dean's had it. "Die already!" he bellows, and shoots shoots shoots.

Bang bang bang. The last zombie drops to the ground with a satisfying thud.

Dean surveys the scene for a moment. None of them get back up.

"Well, again," he adds, and then runs to Sam.

0000

When he reaches the dank mausoleum place he stammers to a stop. Don – Samhain – whoever, is lying on the floor, a little bloody and very much dead. Following the trail of red from the corpse with his eyes leads him to Sam, who's sitting against the wall, eyes screwed shut.

Dean drops his gun and hurries to Sam's side. There's blood on his shoulder – stitches probably reopened, damn it, after they'd just started healing too – and there's more blood on his sleeve but not a rip, as if he'd wiped something on it thoughtlessly. "Fuck, you okay?"

Sam smiles a little, a weirdly exalted expression on his face. Which, considering he killed a scary powerful demon, maybe isn't all that weird when you think about it.

"Yeah… yeah. I'm okay." He coughs blood into his hand.

"You're coughing blood into your hand," Dean says.

"Could maybe use some help," the nitwit admits.

He rolls his eyes. "No, really?" Dean offers his hand and Sam takes it (with the non-bloody one, for which Dean's somewhat thankful). The guy sways unsteadily on his feet, and before he has a chance to protest Dean puts Sam's arm over his shoulder, supporting what must be most of Sam's not-inconsiderable weight.

Reason why it sucks having a jacked brother, number 48.

They start walking – well really Dean's walking, Sam's more being awkwardly dragged along – and pass by the… evil dude corpse. Dean pauses to pick up his gun and kick corpsey-face in the arm. Just because he can.

He waits. Nothing happens.

"Well he's dead," he says. "Good freaking riddance."

"Put up a good fight, though," Sam says breathlessly.

"Yeah? Couldn't have guessed." He pauses, gathers himself before taking the stairs. Sam's freakishly heavy. "So how'd you kill him? That special demon knife do the trick?"

"I -" Sam gasps, before he pukes all over Dean's shoes.

Dean wrinkles his nose.

"Yeah," he tells Sam, "you know, not your best strategy there."

0000

"You shouldn't blame yourself."

Dean starts, then looks over at Castiel, who's sitting on the other side of the bench. "And you should really start warning people before you do that."

"Dean."

He sighs. "I'm not. Really." He tries on a smile, and gestures at the kids playing on the swings. "I mean, yeah, the seal's down, but these kids are still alive. The ones back at the crypt? They're alive too. This playground, these trees... this is all here because of me and Sam. That's – I mean, if nothing else. That means something."

"It does," the angel agrees.

"I'm… I'm not sorry," he says, looking down at his lap. "We did the right thing, I believe that. Even if you or your boss don't think so."

"You misunderstand me, Dean. I was praying for you to save the town."

He glances at him, forehead wrinkling. "Really? You can pray?"

Castiel almost smiles. "Yes." His expression darkens a little. "And doubt."

He cocks his head, digesting the info. "So much for no free will, huh?"

The angel says nothing for a moment. "Our orders were not to destroy the town," he says. "They were to follow whatever you told us to do."

Dean faces Castiel in surprise. "What?" An image of Uriel wearing a tutu crosses his thoughts, and he almost smirks.

"Not like that," this time Castiel actually smiles a little, as if reading Dean's mind. He elaborates, "It was a test. To see how you would perform. What you would choose."

"A test?" He pauses, squirms a little in his seat. "Did I - did I pass?"

"What do you think?"

He stares into nothing, considering. "I… I'd like to think so," he says finally. "Yeah, I - I think I did. And you know what, if I didn't, then - then fuck it, failing's just fine by me."

Yeah, he thinks. He could live with failing that kind of test.

Dean reflects awhile, then looks over. "You know what, Cas, you aren't such a -" he says, before realizing that, of course, Castiel's already gone.

"Fucker," he says aloud, and grins.

0000

He stays there for a while - Sam's asleep, so he can allow himself a little break. Dean watches the kids swing, slide, play tag and jump off the monkey bars.

It makes him wonder if he and Sam ever played like that. Would John Winchester have allowed it? Sam and Bobby always talk about him being a strict son of a gun, but Dean can't really imagine anyone depriving kids of being, well, kids. The question is, though, if they even would have had where to go. Do motels usually have playgrounds?

Sam probably went all the time, Dean thinks to himself. At least at school. And before-Dean probably would have taken Sam himself every once in a while, maybe when John was away. He doesn't think he could have refused Sam anything at that age - puppy eyes from eight year old Sammy? Please, no way.

Sam probably loved it. Dean could see him as a swings kind of kid, always trying to get higher and higher as if with enough force he might fly off somewhere else. He wonders about himself, but can't really imagine what playing in a playground might feel like, let alone for a kid he can't remember being. Maybe he liked slides. Or monkey bars. Or maybe he didn't like that kind of thing at all, who knows. He pictures little before-Dean as an odd and practical kind of boy, serious and defensive and constantly worried for Sam.

Maybe the only playing he did was pushing Sam on the swings.

What a sad little man, he thinks with pity, before it strikes him that he's thinking that about himself, which is kind of weird.

Suddenly there's a presence next to him again – he can feel the familiar crawl up his spine.

He chuckles. "Couldn't stay away?" he jokes, before snatching his eyes away from the kids and looking back at someone who's definitely not Castiel.

He flinches, draws back.

"Hey there," the guy says cheerfully. He looks to be in his fifties or sixties, big jolly face and a suspicious bit of white hair over his ears. "Nice day out, isn't it?"

Dean glances around, but no one seems to pay them any attention. As per the course for heavenly visitations, it seems. "You an angel?" he asks suspiciously.

"Got it in one," the angel grins. It's not exactly a nice kind of grin, which puts a new spin on why Castiel and Uriel don't smile much. Maybe angels just aren't good at smiling.

Or maybe it's only this one who's creepy.

He frowns. "I just talked to Castiel."

"I know, I'm the one who called him up." He holds out his hand. "Call me Zachariah. I'm Castiel's boss."

His frown deepens as he distractedly returns the cold grip. "I thought that was God."

Zachariah chuckles like Dean's said something hilarious. "No," he smiles. "God's a bit higher up on the food chain than dear ol' Castiel. Castiel's a foot soldier, maybe an officer if you want to get really technical."

A part of him's annoyed at the offhand dismissal of the only angel he knows and somewhat likes. "So what does that make you, a bureaucrat?"

The shark grin is unfazed. "Oh good, a sense of humor. That'll make things easier for both of us."

"What do you want?"

"Relax, relax, I'm just here for a chat," Zachariah says, and settles back. "How are things with Sam working out?"

Dean's eyes slide to the ground. Sam's recovering pretty quickly – sometimes it seems like all the freak ever needs is a bit of sleep and he's back on his feet – but, still. "Fine. Kinda crazy, though, what with trying to save seals that no one bothers to tell us about until they're breaking."

"Oh, don't worry about that," the angel waves off the unsubtle hint. "There are at least six hundred seals, Dean, the last thing you want to do is to hear about all of them. True, one or two are a doozy, but it's not worth the labor, trust me." He threads his fingers together and changes the subject before Dean can protest. "And how's Sam treating you? Not badly, I hope?"

"No way," he says. "Sam's a good guy."

"Yes, yes, of course." Zachariah nods. His eyes glimmer. "So you two are doing well? He keeps you in the know?"

Dean hesitates. "Well… well yeah," he mumbles. He pauses, biting his lips, wonders how honest he's supposed to be. But he is after all an angel, and the creepy grin's gone, so, maybe… "Well, mostly anyway."

"Mostly?"

He rubs his scar. "It's nothing, just... sometimes I get the feeling like… like he isn't saying everything. That he could. Be saying."

The angel's gaze sharpens. "What do you mean?"

"It's not his fault," he hurries to explain. "I mean, it makes sense. Sam would probably be telling me more if I… if I remembered. You know, if I knew what to ask. What to look for. What things used to be like."

"You think so?"

He leans back, smiles lopsidedly into the sun, shrugs. It's ironic since Dean's right there, but, then again, in a very real way he isn't. "Sam really misses his brother."

Dean can feel Zachariah's eyes on him. "They were very close, those two."

His smile tightens. Something in the angel's phrasing almost purposely reminds him of the fact that however hard he might try, he's not Sam's Dean. Sure, he knows Sam's glad to have him around – if nothing else, Dean knows that – but it's not the same. It can't be.

And he'd have to be blind to see that his memory glitch has been hard on Sam.

"Don't have to tell me that," he says, turning to look at the kids again.

I never tucked you into bed, I never gave you your first beer, he remembers saying, and he remembers how exasperated he'd been, how many times he'd wished Sam would just get with the program and cut him some slack, treat him like he was his own person and deal with their past on his own. Just leave Dean out of it. He remembers how back at Bobby's he'd kept wishing for the memories to be back just for his own sake, so he'd have some idea of where he'd been and where to go.

But now, for the first time really, he wants to remember for Sam. And for Before-Dean. The trust they must have had in each other...

The soft voice jolts him out of his thoughts. "Makes you wish you were him, doesn't it?"

A chill runs up Dean's spine. He ignores it. "Who?"

"Dean Winchester, of course."

When his eyes widen, Zachariah raises an eyebrow.

"What," he says, "you didn't really believe you were Sam's brother, did you?"


A/N: Hehehehe. *Runs away*