The Price of Humanity

Disclaimer: The Winchesters, the car, and the concept belong to Kripke et al. The love belongs to us.

Beta'd: By Phx and Muffy. Thanks for helping me not only work through this story, but also the angst of posting after nearly two months off!

Time Line: Tag to 4X22 Lucifer Rising.

Warning: Spoilers abound, and oh yeah, the boys swear.

AN: There are so many ways to interpret the events of this episode, so many aspects to be picked apart by analysis, and all of us watch with different eyes. However, two things stood out to me. Two singular lines. They were small, beautiful, warm fuzzy bunnies in a sea of angst this season. I saw the brothers. *sigh*

I've avoided all tags for this episode until I could get mine finished. I apologize in advance if it's been done a hundred times already!

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Dean banged on the heavy wooden doors calling frantically for his brother. He couldn't really hear what was happening on the other side, just shadows of sound, but he had a pretty good idea and it scared the crap out of him. As he searched for a way into the room where Sam and Ruby were facing off with Lilith, his mind churned through all the recent revelations of the last few hours.

The penalty box. That's where Dean impotently found himself as seconds ticked by towards the apocalypse. He had a ring side seat to the event, with no way to affect the outcome. He'd been frustrated, annoyed, angry because the moment he'd finally really listened to what Bobby had been trying to say about Sam drowning, when he'd made yet another effort to reach out to a brother who might not even be willing to listen, they'd whisked him away to a gilded cage.

It should have been his first clue.

Or rather, the last clue in a series of unfortunate events. Because yeah, while he had never made any secret about his distrust of Ruby, or the angels, he'd still allowed them, all of them, to change the way he saw Sam…and himself. Dean'd come back more than a little rough around the edges, and if he was being honest with himself, emotionally beat to hell and back. So it was really no surprise in retrospect that a well aimed shot at his softest spot, and one of his biggest fears, would hit with deadly accuracy.

Sam.

Not just the mind-numbing, panic-inducing fear over what old Yellow Eyes' plans had been for his little brother, how Sam's freakish abilities might come back, or how the demons would be going after the younger man until they succeeded in killing him for Lilith. It was also his fear that Sam had been right all along. That Azazel had something planned for all his 'special kids' and whatever it was, it would come for Sam eventually.

It had been embarrassingly easy for Dean to be swayed by the angels, hinting at absolution for his time in hell. They told him his time down under had been orchestrated to open the first seal. They'd offered him a way to redeem himself. He could stop the apocalypse, but just as importantly to Dean, he could save Sam. He could keep Sam from using his abilities and from going down a dark path that Dean had promised his brother time and again he would never let happen. He'd been crazy afraid he couldn't do it, that Sam was blindly doing something incredibly stupid and that he alone wouldn't be enough to stop him. He hadn't been wrong.

He'd just been wrong about the reasons.

Fear turned outward to anger and Dean had gone on the offensive, hurting Sam more with his words than any punches he'd delivered. His brother, the one always searching futilely for normality, had done what he always did when confronted with abilities or situations that made him feel like a freak.

He'd retreated.

Sam had hidden Sammy away in a tight box after that and letting him out with increasingly rare frequency. He may have well been pointed in the wrong direction, his actions and his choices taking him further and further away from where he needed to be, but Dean had certainly given him a kick in the ass to get him moving.

Not that it was Dean's fault, and he was still righteously angry at Sam for lying, for treating him like he was an idiot, for thinking he was weak, for trusting demons after everything Dean had been through, after everything they'd been through.

But Dean couldn't really blame Sam entirely for that.

Because he had come back from hell different, changed, not quite the man he used to be. He'd come back a man who had tortured other souls to survive in a place, that even now, he didn't have words to describe. Fear scrabbled up his throat and choked his vocal chords if he even thought about sharing his scattered, albeit vivid, memories of the pit. He'd returned cautious, leery of the enemy because he knew the depth of their depravity and power, but he'd never turned his back from the fight.

He just didn't realize he'd been fighting the wrong thing.

Rogue angels were busy staging a coup while their captain was purportedly absent from the helm. Angels who had done a bang up job finishing the layers of mistrust that Sam had started. Angels who mislead, invoked fear, inspired awe, and abused their power over mankind with startling efficiency and ruthlessness.

Dean, who'd never believed in God, had fallen for the biggest con he'd ever seen. He'd trusted some a-hole claiming to be on a holy mission – something he'd warned Sam about months ago. Maybe it was because he felt guilty for what he did in hell, maybe it was because Sam didn't have any more answers than he did. Whatever the reason, Dean hadn't seen it coming.

It was literally going to cost him the world.

Now these angels, barely better than their fallen comrades, were no longer talking about him stopping the final seal from being broken, or stopping his brother from going down a slippery slope. They were upping the ante to killing Lucifer. He would die, but live happily ever after in a Stepford paradise with Sam. Which meant his brother would die soon, but by whose hand? Lilith's? Or was it Lucifer in need of a human body to inhabit?

Knowing the endgame made every player's position on the board clear. He had sworn obedience to God and his angels, but that was his loop hole. Zachariah had handed it to him on a silver platter. These angels weren't doing God's work, so he owed them no loyalty. Sam, however, would be at ground zero, the closest human skin for the former Angel of Light to call his own. Dean would be forced to kill Lucifer and take his brother down with him. After all his proclamations to the contrary, after all the fights and struggles, after going to fucking hell – he would be killing Sam.

Sam was right.

He'd been too emotionally bogged down and wrecked to get the job done. The duplicitous nature of the angels notwithstanding, he should have seen what was going on, how he was being purposefully distracted. He should have known Sam was floundering, lost, not thinking clearly. He should have been able to do something to change Sam's path even if it had been as simple as walking beside him to guide him back. Instead every hurt was reflected back towards his brother. For months, Dean had been the one drowning and he hadn't seen the fragile house of cards Sam was standing on to hold Dean's head above water. At least not until Sam had pulled even further away from him.

Anger bubbled up hot. He'd been tricked, but he had allowed it. He'd turned his back on the one thing he'd always known without a shadow of a doubt, the one thing he'd always believed in, and it had taken Bobby to remind him of it. Family. He'd allowed his frustration, his anger, the sense of betrayal to justify pushing Sam away, giving him an ultimatum Dean knew Sam could never accept. As much as he'd told Sam he'd turned into their dad, Dean was just as guilty of channeling him.

It seemed they were both their father's sons.

That was after he'd played his trump card telling his brother the one thing he feared the most. That he was truly a whole new level of freak – a monster. Sam had nearly choked the living shit out of him with a fury Dean had never seen on his brother's face. He'd high-tailed it back to Bobby's with hurt feelings, anger issues of his own, and a case of denial, before the older hunter had set him straight and realigned his priorities.

"Sammy, I'm sorry," Dean had apologized into the phone, his only connection to his brother.

Dean doubted the younger man would even pick up the voicemail. Well screw them all, he wasn't about to just curl up into a ball and feel sorry for himself. He finally felt more like his true self than he had in almost two years and Dean Winchester didn't go down with a whimper. He fought. He taunted evil. He kicked ass. If he could just get to his brother, they could fix this.

It was time to save Sam. And maybe as an added bonus, he could save himself.

Without warning, the doors blew open and he rushed inside. He gripped the demon knife tightly, heading straight for Ruby.

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It was the only thing he'd wanted after Dean had been rescued from hell by Castiel. He wanted to kill Lilith, nothing else mattered. His life was forfeit, not even his soul was more important. Dean had made a horrible deal to bring Sam back, offering up his own life because he loved Sam too much to leave him dead. Every moment that Dean suffered in hell, every failed attempt to get his brother back from the pit, ate at what was left of Sam. The shell of him that still existed after Lilith's hellhounds had dragged his brother's soul to hell. Once Ruby had focused him on killing Lilith rather than feeling sorry for himself, he regained the strength he thought he'd lost forever when Dean had died.

But he was starting to think Dean was right – about everything.

The woman kicking and yelling inside the trunk of the car somehow provided the perfect macabre accompaniment to his black thoughts. Maybe he had placed his trust in the wrong places, blinded himself to everything except revenge, turned into a caricature of John Winchester without the temperance of children to stay balanced on the human side of the equation. Pumped on demon 'roids so strong he didn't even recognize himself anymore. The problem was it was too late. He'd already crossed the line, even if he'd convinced himself for awhile it was strictly to keep Dean safe, keep him out of the final battle, to do this one thing so Dean wouldn't always have to be strong.

The truth was much more insidious.

Ruby's words this morning about his appetite had caused him to pause. It certainly sounded like the damn demon drug addiction intervention Dean had tried on him in Bobby's panic room had merit. All he'd felt before was betrayal, rejection by the one person he couldn't take it from. The way Ruby had sounded so pleased, tried to make him think it was a good thing, let it sink in for the first time how well and truly screwed he was. He had allowed his thirst for revenge, his need to be strong to keep Dean safe, his belief that he'd thought things through, that he was being practical and logical to blind him to the obsession and addiction. Dean hadn't been the one who was weak. He pressed the voicemail button, lifting his phone reluctantly to listen as his brother set the record straight for him. Dean had seen him for what he truly was – he always did.

Sam was a monster.

There was nothing left to lose. His brother and no doubt even Sam's very soul were already gone. His life would be an afterthought. He was glad Dean wasn't beside him, he would be safer that way and Sam could fight Lilith with everything it took to get the job done. It was a lie, he knew that deep down inside. Sam wanted his brother here beside him, believing in him, but he wanted Dean alive more. He'd already committed to this path and if it was the last thing he did he was damn well going to succeed at killing Lilith.

Sam tried not to think about Cindy McCellan, RN while he drank her demon-tainted blood. He didn't look into her human eyes, didn't listen to the quiet sobs she made, tried not to remember how it felt riding shotgun in his own body while a demon steered his every action. He couldn't empathize with her, he had to do this. She cried out to God to save her just before she passed out, finally unable to continue fighting. The demon had taken over at that point, snapping her eyes open again, cursing at Sam with all the pointed, sharp edges that used to cut so deeply. How disappointed Dean was in him, poor, poor little Sammy without a family left in the world, how alone he was.

How alike they were.

Sam was immune to her attack. He told himself he was as hard on the inside as he was on the outside. Rage boiled inside him, pulsing through his veins, lighting his mind on fire fueled by a supernatural force. Lilith was the cause of all of this and he was going to get rid of her once and for all. He didn't want to die knowing Dean was still in danger and if it stopped the apocalypse at the same time? Well, that was two birds with one stone as far as he was concerned.

He strode into the church and with one brush of his hand the demons fell. It wasn't an effort at all anymore, not even an inconvenience. He pinned Lilith with ease, privately amused by the shocked expression on her face. As he gazed at Lilith and listened to Ruby, he couldn't help but think how close it was to being over. He would finally pay off his debt to Dean, saving his brother from the threat of hell's wrath as Dean had saved him from death.

It would set things right.

Yet, he knew Dean would be hurt. No matter what Dean's words were or how deeply they'd been meant to cut, Sam hoped it wasn't because his brother didn't love him. It was because he did. He might be angry, he might hate what Sam had become, but he didn't hate who Sam was. It just wasn't in Dean. Now that the sting of rejection had been dampened by anger, it brought, ironically, clarity. He hesitated. Was saving Dean's life worth destroying it? Sam knew that no matter what had happened the last few months, it didn't erase a lifetime of caring. It certainly hadn't destroyed Sam's love for his brother.

Lilith taunted him, calling him out on his cold feet, his inability to take final, hard action. The flame of conscience that kept him from killing Jake, a decision that cost him and his brother so dearly later. The belief in his brother that kept him from killing the Yellow-Eyed Demon and their father along with it, only to have that same demon send others after them, smashing the Impala with a truck, nearly killing Dean and taking their father's life in exchange for sparing his brother's. Sam couldn't make those same mistakes all over again.

He had to finish what he started.

Sam would kill Lilith and he'd die doing it. It was fitting, beautiful almost in its symmetry: Dad for Dean, Dean for Sam, Sam for Dean. Only their family could complete a circle of self-sacrifice. He'd died once already and there'd be no deal to bring him back this time, he was sure of it. No demon in hell would make that bargain and he wasn't anyone's brother anymore anyway.

He held up his hand channeling all the energy, the power, the tidal wave of anger out of his body, through his fingers, hitting Lilith with a burst of black heat. Adrenaline and effort caused his heartbeat to echo loudly in his ears, drowning out Lilith's screams and Ruby's shouting. Distantly he heard pounding on the door behind him and Dean calling out to him. Sam's arm shook as he fought another wave of indecision.

Dean had found him.

Sam closed his eyes, wincing at the stab of pain as his chest tightened. It was so much worse. His brother was here, but Sam didn't know why. Was it to help him or to stop him? Dean called his name again. His jaw tightened and he wrinkled his nose, tilting his head to the side. Or worse yet, was it to hunt him?

He couldn't let Dean stop him.

This was his chance to destroy Lilith, possibly stop the unthinkable, and most of all protect his brother. He didn't care what the consequences were. He had to do what he believed was right. He could die with Dean hating him, but he couldn't live with himself if he let yet another opportunity to make the tough call pass him by. All too often the consequences of his decisions became a price too high to bear. He couldn't lose Dean again, nothing scared him more. He strengthened his resolve, focusing the power once more and aimed it at Lilith.

The demon screamed in agony with each burst of energy. He could feel the anger, the power, the sheer rage swelling inside him, bursting out of his control, blackening his vision, and then, it was over. Lilith was dead. He barely heard Ruby as she started to talk, babbling about how great she was. A stream of red flowed from Lilith's body.

Oh God, what was happening?

Ruby gloated over him, how stupid he'd been. How she'd been Azazel's and Lilith's back up plan all this time. How she'd fooled him time and time again. Manipulated the circumstances, taken advantage of his weaknesses and then simply pointed him in the right direction and his choices had done the rest. He had succeeded, finally, awfully in killing Lilith and brought about the apocalypse. Okay, so maybe Dean had opened the first seal, but he'd ripped the last one open as unwittingly as his brother had at no less a price – a piece of his humanity.

He collapsed to the ground, physical exhaustion and emotional lassitude making it impossible to remain upright. Ruby continued to unveil the whole plot, how he'd allowed himself to be duped, but it barely managed to get through the wall of pain quickly replacing all the rage that had been there only moments ago. It had all been for nothing. When the doors flew open and his brother rushed through, Sam found the energy to act. He'd stayed Dean's hand at least three times from killing Ruby.

This time, this one last time, he would hunt evil with his brother.

Sam stood in one fluid motion and using strength he wasn't sure he possessed, he held Ruby immobile, keeping her from escaping or using her powers on Dean and allowing his brother to stab her with the demon knife. After Sam released his tight grip on her arms, he straightened, puffing his chest to provide an easy mark. He couldn't look Dean in the eyes, couldn't bear to see the anger and betrayal that resided in the once caring green depths. He breathed deeply in and out several times, waiting for the sharp heat of the demon blade sliding into his heart.

Nothing happened.

Finally, unwilling to die allowing Dean to believe Sam didn't know what he'd done; he chanced a look at the older man. He understood what Dean had to do. Confusion glided across Dean's face breaking Sam's heart and it fell, shattering on the tiled floor. The only person standing in front of him was his brother, his best friend, his family.

"Dean, I'm sorry," he managed past the ball of emotion in his throat.

Dean grabbed Sam's jacket to steady him and Sam returned the gesture, weakly clutching his brother's jacket with trembling fingers. Dean, please. In one look, Dean absolved him everything. In the end he hadn't failed. Not as long as he still had his brother.

In a burst of white light the world disappeared from view.

…………………………………………………………….Supernatural……………………………………………………….

AN: Thanks so much for reading!

I'm sorry I've been so absent (behind on reading and reviewing!) but I just wrapped up a six-week seasonal stint with a second job and now I can finally breathe easier. Phew. Plus, it's nice not being frazzled. I was so tired my llamas had llamas!