Summary: Episode tag of sorts to 4.17, It's A Terrible Life. Dean's nightmares intensifty, as does everything else. But he he's not whining about it. Not at all.

Warnings: Language, mentions of torture, mucho angst.

Disclaimer: Not ownership. No profit.

A/N: I know a lot of you are waiting for updates on other stories. I've not dropped them, but they are taking a back seat to my bigbang draft at the moment. This one just sneaked out. It's NOT the fluffy makeup fic you're looking for.

Not As We

Step one. I'm barely making sense. For now I'm fakin' it. 'Til I'm sure of makin' it. From scratch, begin again. But this time I as I and not as we.-- "Not as We" by Alanis Morisette.

-

It's in God's hands now. Literally. Dean has his orders and as much proof as he'll ever need that he's got no choice but to follow them. In a way, he gets it. He gets what that means. In God's hands. He used to wonder what it was about those words that made people say them with that universal look of dreamy-eyed wonder. Now he knows. Itis like dreaming. Just not in the way he would have thought.

-

Thirty years dreaming of what he'll do to Alistair when he gets the chance, but when Alistair sets him free, there's justfreeeee. He doesn't realize how much he's been bearing until he's not anymore.

It hits him like a seizure. His eyes roll back in his head, and at the apex, right before the darkness, there's Alistair, looking down at him and smiling. "Tha'sss mah boyyy." And Dean is. His boy. If it feels like this, then yessss. Anything.

-

Things between him and Sam have smoothed out considerably since Dean stopped "whining" about Hell. Since he buckled in for the long haul and stopped lamenting his Fate, they're almost brothers again. Almost.

"You can take first shower. I'm kinda ripe. Don't want to use up all the hot water on you."

Dean ignores the way Sam's cheek jumps at the end, eyebrows quirking up. "Sure, Sam. Thanks." It's awfully nice of him to offer, after all. No point saying Dean saw the car coast by their room with the lights off right before Sam got all gracious and 'ripe,' or that he's noticed Sam texting someone with his phone tucked inconspicuously inside that book. He should be angry, desperate, afraid, friggin' righteous but all that's locked behind a door along with everything else he's not supposed to feel. He's not strong enough to open the door partway and then push it closed again. Fate is fate, and there's no escaping his.

When he finishes his shower and comes out again, Sam's sitting on the bed, feet kicked up like he's been there the whole time, but the keys have moved from the table to the nightstand, and the remote's on the other side of the room. Dean finds it hard to believe Sam's actually enthralled with the Nora Roberts movie marathon.

"Next time bring back pizza." He rubs the towel through his hair one last time before tossing it on the bed. "And coffee."

Sam looks ready to argue for a second, then grins. "Sure thing." When he gets ready for his shower, the grin lingers, and he keeps looking up at Dean from under his bangs as he pulls off his socks. It's a genuine smile by the time he stands in the bathroom doorway and tosses Dean's dirty t-shirt out. They both laugh when it lands on Dean's head.

"Bitch."

"Jerk."

The thing about slippery slopes? The sliding's easy.

-

He wakes choking on a scream. Choking so hard his chest burns, eyes water. His hands shake, rustling the covers as he throws them off, but they're soaked through with sweat and don't make a sound. His legs barely hold him. He's never felt so weak, but he doesn't scream. He doesn't cry. He doesn't whine. He doesn't even wake Sam in the bed closer to the door.

-

Dean's not surprised to find Castiel standing between himself and a sleeping Sam when he comes out of the bathroom, heart pounding in his chest.

"You're awake."

Dean shrugs. "Sorry to cramp your style. What can I say? The Apocalypse waits for no man." He leaves off the part about how it was waiting until he came along and gave it a kick start. He's pretty sure that's exactly the kind of thing he's not supposed to say. Funny. The one thing no one's interested in hearing is the truth.

His grin feels wry. Hard to tell with everything else numb or throbbing in counterpoint.

"My superiors are pleased. Your new attitude... It's productive."

"You know me, Cas. Regular team player." The mock punch to the air, little tilt of his head, and Elvis lip quirk don't feel fake at all. "Finally got my ducks in a row."

"That is good to hear."

"Yeah. Anything I can do to help." Y'know, since he has no choice. He gets it. Things are going downhill fast. The only way to head them off is to get to the bottom first.

-

Barely five a.m and he's been awake for three hours already when he asks for directions to the nearest coffee shop. He doesn't order the latte, even though it's still the freshest and most familiar craving. Instead it's, "How many shots of espresso can you legally put in there?" And then, "Give me that. Three of 'em. Biggest you got." He drinks two himself. The other one's for Sam.

"Whoa! That's potent." The way Sam's eyes fly open, forehead raising like his hair's trying to leave of its own accord is probably hilarious. So, Dean smiles, lopsided with a tilt to his head.

"Gotta put some hair on that pretty boy chest of yours."

"Well, that oughta do it." Sam shakes off the first rush and sets the cup on the nightstand. He studies Dean for a second or two as he pulls a t-shirt out of his bag. "Wow. Look at you. Up before dawn with the super-charged coffee. You didn't stay up all night doing research again, did you?"

"We all do our part."

"I'll drive. You can catch a nap."

"Sure. Thanks."

"Wouldn't wanna fall asleep in the middle of a stakeout."

"Right." He really wouldn't.

Not that he ever has. But what does he know? He's not the man he used to be. Boo-friggin'-hoo.

-

"Tha'sss mah boyyy."

There's no affection, but there is something familiar in the touch when Alistair lifts him off his knees. Something comforting in the hand that tilts his chin up. "Don' look so glum. Y'er gonna be a sssuperstar. I believe in yyouu, Dean Winchessster." Something kindred in the passing of the razor. "Leht's see whatcha got in ya. C'mon boy. Leht it awll out."

He does. Thirty years worth times two, almost. Not all the tears shed are his victim's, but no one ever tells him to stop. "Leht it awll out."

-

His stomach churns, everything folding into a sucking hole in his gut. There's nothing in his bag to fill it. All that went down the drain.

"I got you lunch." Sam's voice is welcome relief from whatever noise that is coming out of the radio. Sam's idea. A compromise between iPod and ancient history. Satellite radio. Of course Dean agreed. Gotta pick his fights, and there's only one that matters. "Bacon cheeseburger and onion rings." He tosses the greasy bag into Dean's lap with a knowing smirk.

He doesn't know Dean was looking forward to Mexican. Chicken burrito with extra cilantro and guacamole...

"Mmm, God," he says around a bite. "This is perfect." Even with his eyes closed in mock-bliss he's hyper aware of the grease dripping off his chin. He did always used to say...

"If your sleeves don't get soggy, then it's not real beef," Sam chuckles. "Dude, that's gross. Here." A wadded up napkin bounces off the side of Dean's head.

He makes a show of chewing with his mouth half open while he unfolds the napkin and tucks it in the front of his t-shirt like a bib. "Hows that?" He goes so far as to stick his pinky finger out when he reaches for an onion ring.

"Perfect. Except for one thing."

Dean pushes the mouthful into one cheek. "What's that?"

"I'm afraid of clowns."

It would be funny, but Dean knows better. That doesn't stop him from shaking his head and smirking. "Clowns kill."

And so does Sam.

-

Sam finishes the next three hunts without him. Not because Dean isn't there. He is, but Sam always manages to forget to give the signal for Dean to make his move or land himself in situations where he can't wait for backup. Dean's always a day late and a dollar short.

Not that Sam needs him.

This time, Sam comes back with a little bit of red crusted around one nostril and bloodshot eyes to boot. "Wow," he shrugs. "You were right. It was a whole nest."

"Was?"

"Yeah. You want pizza?"

"Sure. No onions, though. You reek enough already."

"Whiner."

"Dick."

-

They curse him until they beg, beg until they babble. And then, when he lets them down, they fall at his feet, cling like a child at the apron of its mother.

-

He wakes up, shaking like a junkie.

There has to be something stronger than caffeine.

-

Castiel catches on first.

"Dean, you need to sleep."

"Is that an order? From your superiors?"

"No. It's a request. From... a friend."

"You have your orders. I have mine."

"And yours are?"

"To buck up and stop whining. Embrace my fate."

"I don't know if this is the way."

"Do you know the way?"

"I do not." Castiel meets his eyes.

"Then I guess it's my call. Y'know, until one of your superiors pops in and tells me I don't have one."

-

Sam's not far behind. Though, there was a time he'd have figured it out before Dean.

"The dreams are pretty bad, huh?" He says it around a beer without really looking past the end of the bottle. Takes a swallow like he's washing something bitter out of his mouth.

"Maybe a little... intense."

"You handling it?"

"You bet."

"Good." Sam's gazing down the highway like he can't wait to get on the road. "Good, because I'm starting to think you're afraid to go to sleep." It's obvious from the clench of his jaw he's worried... just not about Dean.

It's the first genuine laugh Dean's had in ages. They end this roadside confessional like they always do, in tears, but this time there's no boo-hoo involved. Afraid to sleep. That's hilarious.

To prove it, Dean pretends not to know Sam slipped something into his burger. He eats the whole thing without complaint and doesn't argue when Sam wants to drive.

He's not afraid to sleep at all.

-

There's an art to it, crude, like sculpting ice with a chainsaw. They start out so different, every one twisted and scarred. Every unsavory thing they did in life's a wrinkle or a tumor, a canker waiting to be lanced, and Dean makes them smooth, cleans them down to the bone until they're just eyes and he's the only thing they see. Dean carves it all away, strips the clotted poison from their veins.

It smells like sulfur but feels like redemption.

For a second, he's the most important thing in the universe. The eyes are his eyes. They know each other like brothers, only better.

-

Then he opens his eyes, and the world's still ending, and it's still his fault. Sam's still sleeping in the bed closer to the door, and he still doesn't understand.

It's waking up Dean's afraid of.

In Hell, he wasn't alone. And sometimes, he even got to win.

The End

A/N: I know, that's depressing, isn't it? This season is amazing, but it's making Supernatural a place I only want to visit. I don't want to live there. Poor boys.