Authors: H.T Marie and Chocca2

Characters: Sam, Dean, Doc Benton, Castiel, and the Unheavenly Host, Goth!Dean, Angelpowers!Sam, Antichrist!Sam
Words: ~32,000, written for spn_j2_bigbang
Warnings: Violence, gore, creepiness, foul language, death(not permanent), more death(not permanent), really impossible science fiction, abuse of theology. In this universe Antichrist=/=Lucifer, they are two separate entities.
Summary: They averted the Apocalypse, but getting Dean out of Lucifer's clutches wasn't the end of the brothers' nightmare--only the beginning. Now, Sam's a renegade. He has the power of the Four Horseman at his fingertips, but all he really wants is his big brother. Forever. And what Sammy wants, Sammy gets. Except Dean, still bearing the physical "scars" from his interlude with Lucifer, has plans of his own, and he won't back down, no matter what Sam throws at him. What he does, what they do to find each other crosses the line from creepy into downright macabre, but when have Winchesters ever done anything half-assed? This is Subject Two meets one determined sibling.

This is what happens when the Antichrist plays God.

Disclaimer: Don't own. No harm intended. Fair use only.
Betas: pixel_0, redheadforever, ysbail, riverbella

My A/N: I'm wondering if this is the darkest fic I've been involved in? lol And perhaps I should be worried I'm having to think hard. Anyway, this one is up there with the rest. It's dark and deep and layered. You'll also find hints and smidgens of crack thrown in for good measure, basically its one hell of a ride. It's been not only a privilege but also a pleasure to work with H.T. Marie on this story, my first co-write and first big bang piece. And I'm glad to say I don't think it'll be my last. However there's no denying it was a challenge, but a good one and another great big learning curve. Big thanks to our amazing and wonderful beta's. As for you wonderful readers, hope you make it to the end, can't wait to hear what you think.

H.T. Marie/Tracy's A/N: Um, wow, there's so much more room for author notes on LJ. I just wanted to say that this story in all it's whacked macabre horrific glory is one of the few things I've written (cowritten) in the last year that made me feel like a writer. I can regurgitate plot all day long, but this one made us work. I'll probably never be happy with every detail. I like the boys to tell me what their final words on a story would be, but this time, they were mum. I'd be mad at me, too, if I was them. This story isn't for the faint of heart or for those seeking out the Comfort end of the Hurt/Comfort scale, but I like to think if you go into the story loving both boys, you'll come out of it loving them even more, no matter what they do in the course of things. This is not a story of doom and gloom. It's a story of redemption, and ya know, redemption is a long, hard road. If you get to the end and still have WTF tattooed on the insides of your eyelids, feel free to PM either of us. There are comprehensive author notes on LJ, but this site won't allow links. Thanks for giving it a try.


-- May, 2009

Dean always was a love 'em and leave 'em kind of guy. Sam just never figured he'd ever leave... well, Sam. Not during the Apocalypse, anyway.

It started with bright light and dread, ended with Sam and Castiel, trench coat tattered and singed around the edges, outside St. Mary's. One second, Dean was there, strategically wedged between Sam and the rising presence behind them as they made a last-ditch attempt to run away and, hopefully, live to fight another day. The next, Sam whiplashed, arms and legs spinning around him in a slowly revolving vortex like something out of a Keanu Reeves movie, only to be spat out on the other side, the convent collapsing into an abyss behind them.

And wham, bam, thank you Sam, Dean was gone.

"Dean!" He managed only one swaying step back toward the building, hardly considering whether the dark cloud billowing from every window and doorway was dust or smoke or demon, before he hit the end of Castiel's arm and fell to his knees.
"Dean… is not there any longer."

"Then where is he?" Sam jerked loose of Castiel's grip and found himself unable to stand, ended up sunken down over his haunches, something ironically mirroring hero pose. Some hero. "He isn't…?"

"He is alive, but..."

"But...?"

"Lucifer has taken him."

"How do we take him back?"

"We don't."

We Are Legend

--October, 2013, Lansing, Michigan

"You're as pig-headed as your father, you know that? And you carry on like this, you'll get yourself killed. Again. And this time it'll be for good. Ain't no angel getting you outta Hell twice. God damn it, boy, answer the friggin' phone. Let me know you're alive. You owe me that!"

Dean pressed the phone to his forehead. He clicked through to the next message recorded an hour later. More of the same. Bobby really needed to give it up.

--November, 2013-Cabin

Along with the glassware, he inventoried his syringes, needles, catheters of various sizes, and a pharmacy's worth of various anesthetic drugs, general and local, depending on the job. No antibiotics of any kind, not antibacterial or antiviral; no antihistamines or analgesics either. Only room for the bare necessities.

He was surprised at how little time it took to get everything in order, found himself bored with time to spare. It wasn't until he dropped the last box in the corner and opened it to find all the phones inside, some of the masking tape labels curling at the corners but otherwise undamaged, that he realized why everything was going so smoothly. No interruptions.

He tapped his headset. It used to hurt his ear like a son of a bitch, but now he forgot he even had it on. "What's up, Doc?" His expression slipped when there was no reply. So, maybe his mike was broken. Snagging his phone off the countertop, he opened the keypad, and typed, "Doc?" waited in vain for an answer, then gave up. He dropped the phone into his pocket as he strode onto the porch. Heavy footfalls vibrated some remnant snow off the gutters and into his hair. "Doc?"

The refrigerator was sprung, one of the hinges bent from all the moving. It had tipped over twice in the back of the truck, and that was before he unloaded it by backing the Mule and trailer up to the porch, opening the tailgate, and popping the clutch. What? He was only one guy. No one really expected him to carry an entire refrigerator onto the porch, Antichrist or not. So the latch was broken and the hinges sprung, either not opening at all or slamming the porch wall when a breeze caught it wrong. He'd have to get a bungee cord to hold it.

Ignoring the crack and groan, he opened it in one swift move, the screws popping out of the metal like they'd only been staples. Plastic staples. He grimaced, mostly out of habit, and well, general dislike, to find the disembodied head turned face down, several loose wires dangling from the ceiling and tangled up with the stale pine tree air fresheners strung up around it. He huffed, laughing, almost enough heat in it to cloud the air around him. "Whoops. Looks like the trip was rougher than I thought."

He reached inside, grasped the head by the hair and turned it over, Doc Benton every bit as homely as he was when they put him in the ground, only now much easier to handle, having no body to speak of. Not just any superpower wielding villain would have a disembodied head as his henchman, but Sam had no choice. The good doctor's book never got a dose of that immortality serum he'd cooked up, and decomposing human corpses are pretty oily. What pages were salvageable were completely transparent, the ink long-since wicked away. The rotting head, and its raunchy sense of humor had the only known recipe for immortality locked away inside it. So, they were stuck together. Like Ren and Stimpy. Neither one was especially thrilled. The doc's eyes fixed in a glare, his mouth moving wordlessly in what was foul in more than stench.

Sam read his lips, chuckled deep in his chest, sunglasses sliding so he caught a glimpse of yellow for just a second before his focus broadened again. "Sticks and stones," he tsked. Then, he located the eye hook screwed into the top of the doc's skull and reattached the head to the top of the chest where it belonged. "Looks like some of your wires came loose, there." He plugged a few of the loose electrodes into corresponding holes in the cranium like he was hooking up stereo equipment, then pulled out his phone again and said, "Can you hear me now?"

"Fuck you," returned almost instantly, electronically simulated and without inflection in his earphone.

"Yeah, well I missed you, too, you rank bastard," Sam said, waving his hand over the putrid compartment. "Gotta get you fixed up. Company's coming, you know." When the doc's eyes widened, Sam's yellow irises mirrored back at him a mischievous glow that made the doc's mouth pull into a tight line.

"You're really going through with it." Metronome flat accusation in his ear.

"Damn straight. Ready to party. Got the punch and the little extra zip we talked about. Just gotta send out the invitations."

"You're insane."

"Tell em something I don't know." He slammed the lid and went back inside.

--November 2013, New Orleans, Louisiana

"When you decide to get your head out of your ass, I'll let you in on the info I got on…on this damn suicide mission you're on. Don't you think I'm giving you shit over phone messages, you hear me? Pick up the damn phone."

A sigh, long suffering even, because there was no one around to give him shit for acting like a girl. He hit redial as soon as he heard the click at end of the message. Pressed the cell to his ear.

"About fucking time, boy."

"What you got, Bobby?" He didn't catch much more than Colorado and abandoned pickup registered to Sam Winchester before he hit the highway. He left a few things behind in his haste, but he always kinda knew they wouldn't really do him any good, just distractions to pass the time while he waited. And now, he was done waiting. He hung up without saying goodbye.

--November, 2013-Cabin

"And goodbye to you, too, ya idjit..."

Just the right amount of drawl and muffle. Perfect. Bobby couldn't have said it better himself. Sam was banking on it.

If someone had asked ten years ago which super power Sam would like to have, he'd probably have said something like x-ray vision or the ability to breathe underwater. He had no idea the power of persuasion was the best thing ever, but it so was. He preferred it to all his other powers, even the one that had finally finished off Lucifer. The ability to inflict disease on anyone who pissed him off, or draw the dark forces like a magnet were nifty party gags (better if he could actually turn them off) but making people believe everything that came out of his mouth was gospel was a far bigger rush than anything he'd imagined he'd get in a courtroom playing Perry Mason. He had an eternity to face, long-term goals-- places to go and people to see-- and where there were people, there were minions. All Sam had to do was say the word. Now that was power. And it was intoxicating.

Of course, being able to disguise his voice to sound like anyone-- anyone like Bobby Singer-- was handy for the most skeptical of the lot.

Sam grinned and let the phone slide out from under his chin, down the plane of his chest and into the crook of his thigh only to remember his hands were otherwise engaged. Shutting it off was a matter of staring at it for a second or two in frustration and then mashing the end button with his elbow. The catheter in his right arm pinched a little but didn't dislodge from the vein. Blood flowed in an unbroken line down into the stainless steel bucket between his feet where it emptied in a steady trickle beside the identical stream from his left arm. It wasn't quite red anymore, but it wasn't quite human either. What would have been the point of that? Dean already had plenty of human blood.

"Black gold... Texas tea..." He never liked that show, but at least the annoying theme song supplied him with a suitable euphemism to make harvesting tainted blood a lot more innocuous than it probably was. Always the PR guy, even if he never quite broke into politics.

Never quite a lawyer. Never quite a politician. Not quite General, Admiral, or Commander in Chief either. Anyway, now there was no army to lead, all gone back to Hell or scattered to the ends of the earth since Lucifer's demise. Ah, well, Christ has his forty days in the desert. The Antichrist was no different. Except the Boy King's devil had an angel on his shoulder and was determined to win this round.

"But hey, he ain't heavy." Sam chuckled low in his chest and hissed as he straightened and pulled out the intravenous lines, squeezing each one with a line clamp all the way to the end to wring out every drop. "He's my blood brother."

Standing slowly, (because how uncool would it be for the Antichrist to pass out after bleeding himself into a bucket) he caught the phone sliding from his lap, still lost in his own garbled thoughts. "This is my blood, shed for you... blah, blah, blah."

There used to be a little filter in his brain. Not anymore. Now he was like one of those giant dishes out in the middle of the desert downloading the universe on a high speed connection. It should have been confusing, but it wasn't. From his new perspective, he was all about the big picture, all the time, and everything was parabolic. There were no tangents. He didn't even try to censor himself anymore. Besides, it wasn't like he had anyone to talk to but himself. Not yet, anyway.

Look at what's happened to me-eee, I can't believe it myself. Suddenly I'm up on top of the world. Should've been somebody else.

Music… or maybe muzak… and it wasn't just in his head this time.

He jerked around, trading one hand braced on the table for the other as he did a one-eighty, eyes upturned and darting from one overhead speaker to the next. The entire place was wired for sound. He found it hard to believe that old Carson, the benefactor of sorts (if dead and stuffed in a snow bank behind the tool shed could be considered an act of benevolence) was only listening for EVPs. Sure, it was possible there really were spirits in the wind and the trees.

Every Native American culture on the continent couldn't have been wrong, but between the speaker system and the network of satellite dishes strung across the hillside around the cabin, Sam suspected the guy subscribed to more conspiracy theories than The Lone Gunmen. But Sam hadn't even switched the power on to the surveillance system. He used his own mojo to get the call out, since there was no Verizon network this high up the Rockies, and the solar batteries hadn't charged enough to get more than basic heat and light in the place.

So, if he didn't do it...

Something tickled the tip of his index finger, and he snatched his hand back, falling into his chair with a thud and scrape across hardwood. Sitting put him in a much better position to spy the spider, tap-tapping its long legs across the table ledge. He huffed recognition. "I was wondering when you'd show up. Eight legs this time instead of six. Gotta say, I like this way better than the cockroach. That was way too Men in Black for me."

He shoved back up, because an Antichrist's work was never done. Sure, he was talking to a spider, but hey, at least this time he knew it wasn't DT's from demon blood withdrawal, not like the last time... but what was he supposed to have thought? The friggin' things were coming out of the walls and dancing. Dancing for fuck's sake! One spider he could deal with.

He smoothed the little bit of masking tape on the back of the phone so the 'Bobby' printed on it was clearly legible, then tossed it into the box next to 'Joshua,' 'Ellen,' and the rest. It was the newest, Bobby's blood probably not completely dried yet considering the wet fall they were having in South Dakota that year. No, that wasn't his doing. The weather, anyway. The murder was all his doing. A work of art, that. Not that anyone would ever see it. At least, not anyone with a phone in Sam's box, which was pretty much everyone Sam and Dean had ever known.

Believe it or not, I'm walking on air. I never thought I could feel so freee-eee-eeeeeee....

"That's your idea of a joke, isn't it? Haha." He took a hard look at the spider, two front legs waving back and forth like they were conducting the music. "You're a brown recluse, aren't you? So, why don't you... I dunno, reclude or something?" He wasn't sure that was even a word, but he wasn't above making up his own language. The Boy King's English should have its own dictionary. The spider ignored him and went on conducting its little symphony. "I thought I said I wanted a cat next time?"

He turned his back, important task at hand as it were, left the spider to toil and channel the Unheavenly Host any way it wanted. Sam knew they were there. He didn't really care what they were thinking. This was his show.

The bucket filled three small beakers, one for now and two for later, heparinized and packed into the freezer like popsicles. The first one went into a titration flask, set to a slow drip to match the trickle of greenish serum flowing from the condensing coil. Everything combined in a single beaker on top of a stir plate, magnetic stir bar spinning. There should probably have been a fume hood, but the open window worked just as well. It wasn't like he had to worry about his lungs.

He rolled down his sleeves and hit the speaker button on his bluetooth. "Guess who's coming to dinner?" Maybe Doc answered, but Sam didn't wait for his robotically translated "voice" to buzz in his ear. It was a rhetorical question anyway. He really did just like the sound of his own voice. Everyone did.

The spider answered, though, changing its tune, mid-chorus.

Don't lose your head. Don't lose your head!

Sam rolled his eyes. "Try again." And he squashed the spider with the heel of his hand, grimaced as he scraped the broken legs and segments onto the edge of the counter. "Next time, I want a friggin' cat."

--November 2013, Laredo, Texas

He needed fuel.

The gauge teased and danced above the red line, played that game for five miles. Dean knew he only had another seven, possibly eight miles out of her before she ran dry. He hated leaving it to the last minute, knew it was bad for the engine, but he wasn't in the mood for stopping. Had to keep moving, searching, needed to keep warm tires on the road. Storm blowing in from the Northwest, threatening to dump a couple feet over the Rockies by the weekend. Act of God or someone else? No telling, but Dean wasn't going to let it stop him.

When the gas station came into view, he sighed and begrudgingly pulled in.

He juiced the Impala then made his way into the tiny shop. It took him under a minute to zigzag through the aisles, pick up several items and dump the six pack, beef jerky and M&Ms onto the counter. He caught the manager peeking out of the office at him. Happened all the time. A guy like him, with his aversion to mirrors and... scars, tended to draw attention. Didn't help that he'd learned the hard way why Sam always bought his own shampoo instead of using whatever crap the motels (sometimes) left on the counter or in the soap dish. He hadn't stopped to cut his hair or undo any of the rest of the damage. Bobby barely even recognized him when Cas dropped him on the porch the day after Sam went missing.

His head jerked his chin toward the window, the Impala framed in the pane. "Thirty-five on pump three," he said with a nod to the rack behind the counter, "and a pack of Marlboros." Dirty habit. He knew, but his hands had a killer shimmy... nerves... and it was either smoke or take up origami. Hard as hell to fold a paper swan and drive at the same time.

"Reds?" the lady asked, bracing one hand on the counter. All the better to reach the baseball bat underneath and club the freak with the blond highlights and piercings if he tried anything funny.

"Soft pack," Dean replied voice gruff and throat raw.

The buzzing light and bleep of the till gave him a headache.

He sniffed, wiped a lazy hand over his nose while he watched and waited for the girl to finish scanning the goods. She looked up at him after bagging each item. And each time Dean turned away, gazed out the shop window, looked to the floor, anything he could to avoid eye contact.

"That'll be forty, eighty-seven."

He cleared his throat and opened his wallet. He plunked two twenties and a one, surprised the attendant by dropping the change in the donation jar behind the register. Some kid needed a prosthetic hand to put a glove on so he could keep playing pitcher on his Little League team despite an unfortunate farm accident. "Cute kid."

The way she looked at him, he must've looked like the Grinch right after his heart grew three sizes and right before he carved the roast beast. "Yeah. Real sweetheart, too." She wasn't talking about the kid anymore, not if the tip forward and the squeezing together of her arms to fill out the cleavage were any indication. Unbelievable. Zero to hero in point five seconds.

He went through the motions, snicked and winked as he turned away. Yeah, in any other world. He caught her reflection in the window as he opened the door, noticed the look of disappointment for the microsecond he managed to ignore the face of the guy in front of him with the black eyeliner, piercings, and a loose strand of greasy blond hair falling across his eye. Friggin' ponytail holder never stayed tight enough.

He smoothed the loose strand back and tightened the elastic before getting into the car. Kinda like straightening the mirrors, anymore. The look was growing on him.

Like a tumor.

--

Dean took in the stratum of blue, orange, and white in the horizon. The white, snow-filled mountain took up a big chunk of the landscape and it looked like it was the end of the road for the Impala. As durable and reliable as his classic had been in the past and on many countless hunts, this would require something suited specifically for the terrain.

Dean parked the Impala, arched his back as he reached for his pack of smokes in his back pocket. He lit up a coffin nail, took a long drag while he sat in silence. One for the road, or path, whatever the case. He sat longer than he planned, ended up choking on a lungful of singed filter and chucked the butt. Maybe two for the road. Balancing the second smoke between his lips, he made his way around to the trunk. All the weapons he'd prepared for the hunt were packed in one bag. He clutched the handles, ran a calloused thumb over the rough, worn fabric before letting go. A fluttering mouth parted, and the cigarette wavered, stuck only by moisture to the bottom lip. An unsure hand found his necklace, clasped it tight in shaking fingers.

He stared aimlessly into the trunk, pulled out one of the neatly packed grenades, and rested it in the palm of his hand. The cold metal felt insubstantial, suddenly useless, as did everything else.
He took a couple of drags on his cig before he pulled out the demon blade, tucked it into his waistband beside his gun.

Suddenly certain that everything he needed was on him, he cupped the necklace one last time to quiet the tremor in his hand, and slammed the trunk shut.

--November, 2013-Cabin

"Dean-oo. C'mere boy. Soup's on." Sam drummed his fingers against his thigh, feet dangling down off the rafter, his mind doing the thing it did best, which was wander off on any and all tangents. "Bring in the dog and put out the cat. Yakkity yak... shit." The beam was way too damned narrow for a guy his size, and it was wedged up against a very necessary piece of vasculature. He might not need all of his... faculties, but it was pretty hard for a eunuch to make a convincing alpha male, so he preferred to keep the original plumbing if at all possible. He'd have to settle for shifting from one cheek to the other and hoping Dean hurried his ass up.

Smelly Cat sat beside him, looking as prim and proper as the ugliest cat on the face of the planet could possibly look, scraggly tail twitching off the edge of the beam with taunting ease. "Laugh it up," Sam said to it. "You do remember what happened to the spider, don't you?" The cat looked up at him, unconcerned, black hair almost grey with grease and dust. It poked out in clumps all over Smelly's body instead of laying flat. Come to think of it, he'd never actually seen the cat grooming itself. Someone forgot to give the Host the memo on kitty hygiene. Still, he was more company than Sam'd had in ages. He was convincing, sure, but once people peeked behind his aviators and caught a glimpse of the yellow eyes, they never quite felt genuine anymore. If there was one thing he couldn't stand, it was being patronized. He went through a lot of minions.

"Bring in the dog and put out the cat..." he sang, off-key and with a definite hint of intent in his sideways leer.

He had to admit, hunting was so much easier when he was the quarry. Back when he was still Sam, in the days after the last seal broke (well, after he broke it) and naive enough to think he could get Lucifer out of his Dean suit without any dire consequences, he'd had to chase his brother down for a good three years. Now that Dean was hunting him, well, he had to wonder why they hadn't used themselves as bait more often.

Seriously. Dean was out there, busting his ass trudging through snow drifts and scoping out the perimeter (for all the good it would do him), and the most work Sam had to do was get up here. He was a little embarrassed at how long it'd taken him to shimmy up there. The powers of all four horsemen at his disposal, and not one of the fuckers could fly.

Anyway, that accomplished, all he had to do now was wait for Dean to walk into his trap and pick through his brain for more cheesy jingles and bad song lyrics to keep himself from going insane with boredom in the meanwhile. It wasn't actually all that easy. He hadn't noticed until then just how much of his familiarity with both cheese and music were directly attributable to Dean. All the stuff crammed in his head, everything a good little Antichrist needed and then some, and the only parts that came with a soundtrack were the Dean parts. And the freshest of those memories weren't exactly whistling Dixie. Sam was pretty sure his head should have exploded by now from the constant banging of timpani and crashing cymbals, rumbling bass violin.

He shifted again, shunting the blood flow down the other half of his body, and decided the whole thing would be a lot easier to deal with if he'd been made a little more supernatural and a little less human.

Dean was taking long enough. Probably outside writing his name in the snow, claiming his prize, his Sammy. But he had it backwards. Sam wasn't Dean's. Dean was Sam's. And he would eventually get that through his thick skull... if it took forever. Actually, part of Sam hoped it would take that long. That would be fun.

--

Dean checked the compass, made sure he was facing the right direction. There were no signs to where he was headed, no roads or maps, guiding the way. Not that it mattered. What kind of hunter let a little lack of civilization or highway stop him?

He inhaled on the cig 'til his lungs felt the burn, squatted to the snow and knocked the cherry off before placing it into his pocket. Straddling the snowmobile, he mounted and turned the key in the ignition, wishing for the dozenth time that he'd bartered for the helmet to go with it. Frostbite he could deal with, but the friggin' hair jerking out of his ponytail and tangling around his lip piercing was starting to get on his nerves. He supposed he could take the stud out, but it still felt like it wasn't his to touch. Like changing someone else's underwear. Not that Lucifer ever actually wore underwear.

He shuddered, not only from the cold, throttled the gas, and roared over mounds of fresh powder, each time silently hoping the end of the trail was just over the next one.

--

Forty five minutes in, he finally saw it. Looked almost quaint, homey, silhouetted against the mountainside with just a soft firelight glow in the windows. He slowed the snowmobile to a stop, dismounted and left it, continuing forward on foot about a quarter of a mile, his boots crunching deep into the snow.

After three laps around the property on foot, he'd found nothing except a dismantled Mule in the tool shed hooked up to a trailer with one worn tire and one cheap donut spare. As far as he could tell, there was no way into the cabin except through the front door, and there was no doubt in his mind Sam knew he was coming. But Dean hadn't come all that way to back down.

Of course. The door.

-- July, 2009-- Two Months in Solitary... and counting...

"Do not open the door."

Dean's hand froze on the knob, head swiveling from shoulder to shoulder, craned toward the ceiling, around and as far behind as it could reach, his neck spindly and weak from months hanging, hopeless and waiting. "Cas?"

"Do not open the door."

"Have t..." A hard swallow did nothing but scrape dry membranes together, didn't free his voice at all, hoarse and crackling. "Have to, Cas, I have to. Have to."

"It is the only place you're safe."

Maybe Dean was already a few sodders short of a mother board, but the familiar voice booming out of the darkness and apparently unattached to anything else really didn't help him forget how freaked the fuck out he was. He wasn't even trying to hide it anymore. Not like anyone could see him. "Have to," he repeated. He did. He had to, before his hands got any clammier and he couldn't turn the knob or his heart just vibrated out of his throat and blew it off the hinges.

"Safe... safe... safe..."

Dean wasn't sure if Castiel spoke again or if it was just the echo coming back around. He shivered in the dark, the only light a portal the size of his middle finger in the far wall and the soft glow from under the door. He'd already peeked through the hole and didn't plan to do it again if he could help it. Cloverfield was nauseating, but first person camera from inside his own head made him throw up in the corner of his mind...

scattered pictures...

Fuck, he had to be insane if a puddle of puke made him think of Barbara Streisand.

"How is locked behind an imaginary door safe?" he asked.

Castiel's voice echoed like Dean was locked in a sixty foot grain silo instead of crammed in a twelve by twelve shipping crate full of memories and a cooling pool of vomit. "Your body is your temple."

Dean laughed, a clawing bubble of a noise that forced its way up his throat and out. "And love is a battlefield, asshole. Let me out."

"We need you there."

Shuddering breath and slow slide down the door. "Fine, then, at least tell me... where is here?"

"The seat of your soul."

"What? Like the throne room? 'Cuz I don't actually see a seat. Porcelain or gold, you know, I'm really not that picky where I park my... soul." Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.

"God created the sanctuary. You built the church."

"Figures." After a moment of only rasping breath and gradually crescendoing heartbeats, he added, "At least I could sleep through church. This place friggin' crackles like it's got a bad case of static cling."

Silence. Of course, Castiel didn't understand. Or he left. Don't you dare leave me here! Dean lurched forward, like there was somewhere he could go if he wanted to give chase. "Cas!"

"I'm still here."

"But you're leaving." The darkness grew heavier with the certainty.

"Yes. Lucifer will hear me."

"Take me with you."

"If you leave here, then I cannot protect you. Lucifer's possession will be complete, and you will not be able to find out his plan."

"How am I supposed to know his plan? I'm not supposed to open the door, remember? It's not like we chat. I can..." His gorge rose just remembering his one peek through the portal at Lucifer the Ride. "I can sorta see what he's doing, but unless you wanna know which hand he uses to..."

"He has allies in Heaven. It is... not safe for me to maintain this channel of communication, but they will contact him, and when they do, you will know."

"How?"

"Lucifer is an angel. Fallen, but still an angel. You are his vessel. You can hear me. You will hear them."

"But I couldn't before."

"You were damaged before. Now you are whole." A moment of silence except for the snap and crackle of the air closing in around him. "You will find what you need there."

"And Sam?"

"He… he has your back."

Dean stiffened, fingernails clawing deep into the wood beneath him as the room shook, the familiar thud, thud, thud of heavy footsteps behind the door. He waited for them to pass, his breath like bellows in his ears despite barely moving in his chest, and yet the silence left in their wake proved harder to elude. It clamped over him, black spots inching along the perimeter of his vision in counterpoint to the clanging echo. "Some guardian angel you are," he said, more to hear his voice bounce off the walls he couldn't see than to elicit a response.

"Dean, you are not alone." A whisper, trailing off in lieu of a salutation, and the flutter of angel's wings without the breeze.

"What's that?... " Sarcasm thick in his throat. "If I build it, they will come?"

Nothing.

Well, it was better than "Rosebud" anyway.

Not as good as "Redrum" but the door stayed closed.

And he waited. He waited a very long time. Just him and the door.

--November, 2013-Cabin

"Here, Deanie, Deanie. C'mon, kitty cat. Sammy's got a nice new collar for you." He banged the catchpole against his sleeping foot, caught the glint of the hypodermic needle protruding from the end.

There is just one moon and one golden sun...

Sam was so used to random anthems booming out of the silence, he almost started singing along before he realized that was his cue. He leaned forward as far as he could, eyes focused on the door below.

... and a smile means friendship to everyone.

The door opened, and across the room a sandbag fell from its perch. It jerked the clothesline through the pulley system along the beams with a zip-whirr until it thudded to the floor as the door jerked open the rest of the way, splintering against the wall of the cabin.

There's so much that we share, that it's time we're aware..."

--

Dean didn't come with the door, but he fired off two shots in the direction of the fallen sandbag before creeping across the threshold, eyes fixed on the darkest corner where the "assailant" was slumped.

It's a small world after all...

He glanced up just as Sam slid the catchpole over his head.

It's a small world after all.

--

Hot, searing, pulsating pain. He bit down on his tongue, sunk his teeth deep into soft tissue. The broken flesh sprayed blood, coating his gums, and soon his mouth was full of the sickly copper tang. It clogged his throat. He gagged and clawed at his throat, grappling for any kind of finger hold but there was none to find.

Something pierced the skin at the back of his neck, just below the noose, and drove deep, scraped against backbone and tore through cartilage discs. Arching and writhing, fingernails clawing at steel cable, an acid boiled into the puncture and burned its way down his spine, lava pooling all the way in his toes.

The seizure rose from the bottom up, a fire up a gasoline-soaked wick, grabbed him and shook him until his teeth ground in his jaw, hard, fast and unyielding. His scream was just a gurgle, blood bubbling in his nose before he cracked, broke inside his skin, and everything slipped mercifully away.

--November, 2013-Cabin

"Oh, way to go."

Sam glanced up into the open refrigerator where Dean had slammed into it as he staggered backward out the door, thrashing against Sam's snare. Doc Benton glared at him, eyes glassy, still spinning on the eye hook from the force of the collision.

"What are you looking at?"

"You weren't supposed to kill him," the electronic voice droned into his ear via the antenna on top of the fridge.

"I guess I don't know my own strength." Sam rolled his brother over, the snow crunching underneath him where he'd fallen off the porch. He disengaged the catchpole, watched the hypodermic needle slide out halfway and break off, still buried in the back of Dean's neck. "Anyway, I didn't think it would be possible." Jerking the rest of the needle out with a great deal more force than he'd expected, he added, "He got the full dose of serum."

"Yes. Once he's fully perfused, he'll be, for all intents and purposes, immortal, like you. However, the serum requires a beating heart to deliver it through the bloodstream to all the tissues.

"Well, now, that would've been useful to know before I killed him." Sam did a quick check, searching for a carotid pulse in the ruined black and blue flesh of Dean's throat, but he already knew there wasn't one. He'd felt the crack through the pole when the neck snapped, recognized the lifeless glare in Dean's eyes. True, he really didn't know his own strength, but he hadn't counted on Dean weighing a good thirty pounds less than he had the last time he saw him. The effects of the last year were all too apparent as Sam crouched beside the shrunken body, a hipbone sharp against his thigh. "I got it covered," he said, something cold hollowing out inside his gut. If a beating heart was all he needed, then a beating heart he could manage.

It was almost too easy to depress the sternum, so little fat between the tissues underneath. He imagined the heart muscle in the palm of his hand, just the other side of gaunt, stretched skin. The first five or ten compressions just pushed the body deeper into the indentation in the snow until the head tipped forward at an awkward angle, and Sam had to stop and heave him up onto the porch. He butted up against the refrigerator before Sam got him laid out flat, and Doc started another slow spin around on his hook from the vibration.

Sam tipped Dean's head back and puffed into his mouth, trying to gauge how much blood he was moving by the slow change in skin color from blue to pale gray to pinkish. A rib broke on the third set of compressions close enough to the sternum that Sam could feel the scrape, scrape of bone against bone on every beat. It occurred to him that it might poke through the skin, and the image bothered him more than he figured it should. It made his teeth grind against each other and his jaw throb, and he suddenly felt dirty, like he was elbow deep in raw sewage looking for silverware. At some point, he closed his eyes, his own heartbeat fast and loud in his ears. He kept on, pounding and huffing, huffing and pounding until sweat stained his shirt and steam curled out of his open collar.

"That's got it."

He didn't hear. Pounding and huffing, huffing and pounding.

--June, 2010-One year in Solitary and counting

Being possessed by Lucifer wasn't the worst thing that ever happened to Dean. Not even close. Hell, after dragging his ass through eight months of post-Hell trauma with the weight of the world growing exponentially across his shoulders, he didn't feel helpless so much as weightless. Ironic? Maybe, but in his experience, life was like that.

He didn't know what he'd been expecting. A year or so ago, before that little chat with Casey, Lucifer had been to a hunter what the monster under the bed was to most every other guy. Even after that, the clear and present danger looming on a horizon of broken seals and dead angels, the Lord of Hell was still just smoke and mirrors, the big plan to deal with him being never to meet him in person.

Not the best plan.

And so there he was, hitched to the tail of one comet Lucifer, best seat in the place to find out what the dude was up to, worst one for doing a damned thing about it. And alone.

Okay, so maybe it was the worst thing that ever happened to him. He was a terrible conversationalist, and unless he answered himself, anything he said sounded like prayer. He didn't pray.

He also really didn't know when to shut up.

Instead, he made lists. The back of his brain was a dingy motel room with post-it notes and newspaper clippings tacked across it from frontal to occipital lobe. Or was it temporal to temporal? Not like Dean ever planned a career in brain surgery. But who was he kidding? The whole collage amounted to a lot of nothing. A year peeking out the hole in the wall and keeping an ear to the door, he still didn't know what Lucifer was up to.

At least the puddle in the corner had dried up awhile back.

Lucifer in a meat suit was just a guy. A guy Dean would probably call Lucy with a slug to the shoulder and a quirk of the brow, if, you know, they were on speaking terms, which they were not. If they were, then Dean could tell him to keep his hands, er, Dean's hands off the merchandise. He would not, instead, be spending a couple of hours every morning ogling himself in a mirror and wondering how it was possible to know it was his face and still not recognize it.

He should've known Lucifer wouldn't be your ordinary, run-of-the-mill fallen angel. He'd been in Hell since before Christ. He obviously never got the memo about how to wear a meat suit in a way that didn't make people stand back and say, "Is that guy for real?"

Castiel had it down. Even fooled Jimmy's wife.

Anna? Smoking hot babe, no question about it.

Anna did her hair and makeup. Castiel wasn't wearing Go-Go boots under that trench coat. Those were two angels who knew how to blend in.

So, why the Hell Lucifer insisted on growing out Dean's hair (don't even ask about the blond highlights) and having eyeliner tattooed on, was beyond Dean. He could deal with all that, even when the hair got long enough that he had to tie it back in a ponytail at the nape of his neck. Dean even kinda dug the all black clothing. Not his usual t-shirt and leather jacket, but at least it wasn't, like, tie-dyed or something. He wasn't sure if it was supposed to be ninja or Jedi, and he didn't stay topside long enough to find out where a dude even bought clothes like that. Not that he ever considered buying them for himself.

He would have been afraid to change his own clothes, anymore-- probably snag one of the piercings.

Oh yeah, he was pierced, too-- both ears, cartilage and lobe, (some weird cufflinkie thing with a chain between them), his right eyebrow and lower lip, and probably a few places he didn't want to know about.

Dean wasn't surprised he turned heads in that getup. He was a little surprised that Lucifer didn't really turn away. Not from anyone. Guy was an attention whore of the highest grade, emphasis on the whore. Even Dean had to stop and ask, "Oh God, are we having sex again?"

Dean had a limit. Who knew? He did. Now.

Haunting his own brain gave him plenty of time for introspection. He knew a lot of things about himself he never had before, including the part where he wasn't really... well, himself. Or alone. The part where he could talk to himself and find out things he had no business knowing. He liked to call it, getting in touch with his feminine side.

Thank fuck that was just between him and… him.

Time didn't have much meaning in inner space, so it was hard to say exactly how long it took Dean to realize he wasn't alone in there. He actually spent the first hours, weeks, or days, (hard to say) thinking Lucy had himself a henchman that stayed just out of sight. Dean never saw him, but he heard him, annoying little kiss ass, always, "Yes, Sir," and, "Whatever you say." "Yes, love the jacket. No, not too much heel on the boots." Dude had no backbone whatsoever.

He should've picked up on it earlier, except Dean had never cared to listen to recordings of himself, not since that time Sammy recorded him singing REO in the shower. It was just creepy knowing it was him on the tape and still not sounding anything like himself. Too bad he couldn't turn off that annoying sycophantic little voice in his head when he realized it was his own.

Sort of.

Turned out, Alistair wasn't being metaphorical when he'd said Dean had left a part of himself in Hell. He had. The little part of himself that Castiel had tried to contact that first day back when he'd spoken and nearly burst Dean's ear drums. The little part of Jimmy Novak that let angels speak with him. Castiel hadn't been wrong. Dean was one of those people, those special people. He'd just left the special part in Hell. Or he'd had it torn out and apparently presented to Lucifer as a gift. For all Dean knew, they were bosom buddies in Hell, Dean's feminine side and the Lord of the Underworld.

Dean didn't remember any of it.

And he didn't plan to. Dean, the kickass hunter, stayed locked in his dingy motel headspace, and ass-kissing angel speak Dean communed with Lucifer and all of Lucifer's trysts, shared the details through the door. Angel speak Dean was a total gossip. Dean rarely answered, afraid who else might hear, but he kept his ear pressed to the door. Two Deans were better than one Dean alone, even if one was Lucifer's bitch.

Besides, it was the only way he had of knowing Sam was still out there fighting the good fight on Dean's behalf.

Most of the time, the news was less than newsworthy. They were in Omaha or Giddings. They got a new tattoo or a piercing. Fucked a blonde… or a blond. Nothing Dean could use, still he hung on every word.

Dean supposed he'd have to reconcile with his other half someday, so long as there was no weird, like, insertion or something, because if there was, Dean was inserting himself into his other half, and not the other way around. And only through the belly button, because… okay, yeah, he wasn't in any hurry to get that in touch with his feminine side.

He didn't even really like his other half that much, except the angels only spoke to his other self. Cas only spoke to his other self. His other self knew what was going on, and Dean had no clue. He was just a blinking cursor on a monitor. The other Dean was the central unit. Sure it was still him, but Dean was never any good at sitting the bench. He wasn't the eleventh man for fuck's sake. He was the freaking quarterback.

Or at least he used to be.

And then there were notes under the door. Archaic runes and symbols scribbled in… lip liner? On little squares of toilet paper. (His life was in the crapper, and it turned out his inner self was literal to a fault.) Dean didn't know what else to do with them other than stick them to the wall with the rest of his useless collage. Only they wouldn't stay up just anywhere, no matter how many pushpins with little skulls on them he used to fasten them to the imaginary corkboard. By the time he gave up trying to put them up, the entire floor of his room was covered with the things and reminded him of those stupid commercials with the bears in the woods. Ah, the simple life, when things like the lint-factor of toilet paper actually mattered.

He barely looked at the square that changed it all. He'd tried to commit the rest to memory on the off chance he got out of that hole and needed to recount it to someone who could actually interpret the message, but by then they were all looking pretty much the same. On the day in question, he felt it slip under the door, butting up against his fingertips, the punctuation on a message that was too short and ended too abruptly. "Sam's taking out Lucifer's generals. Lucy's pissed."

Dean couldn't stop himself. "Sam? What about Sam? How does he know…?" His voice caught in his throat and died with a squeak, the door to his room opening a fraction of an inch before he could remember his cover and slam it shut, fingers sweaty and slick around the knob. It'd been so long since he'd spoken, he'd almost forgotten crawling through the dark hallways of his mind to get there, worried just the pant, pant of his own breath was enough to give him away, Lucifer's steady footsteps always just behind him and tirelessly searching.

One mention of Sam, and Dean practically started banging his tin cup against the bars.

Too late to take it back, Dean lunged for the doorknob, pulled it shut with the quietest snick he could muster in his haste, and hung there, dangling with all his weight to keep it shut while the floor shook beneath him with Lucifer's approaching footsteps. Something jabbed him in the hip, and a skeleton key as thick as his thumb fell from his pocket with a clatter. He didn't know where it came from, but he didn't know where the walls or floors came from either. Only after he feverishly shoved it into the lock, his forearms straining and cording with the effort of moving the rusted tumblers, did he realize it could very well have been his thumb, or someone else's. White bone, worn smooth and polished like wood, splintered into long shards, hollow in the middle where the marrow used to be, and occluded the keyhole completely. Like all good tricks, it only worked once, but work it did, and Lucifer's footsteps faded once more, leaving Dean panting against the door and thinking he'd have to think of something else the next time.

Or make sure there wasn't a next time.

Sweat trickled into his eye, and when he raised his hand to brush it away, the latest message was stuck to the heel of his hand, an irony he would've found amusing if he wasn't afraid to laugh. He shook it loose like so much dusty spider web and blew it into the corner with a huff of breath.

It never landed.

Instead, the square of tissue caught an updraft from somewhere, flitted up into the air, and when it did, the symbol on the front of it started to glow, a faint shimmer tracing the outline as shaky and slow as a child with a fat crayon trying to spell out his name. Dean was so mesmerized by the show, he didn't notice the other squares rising from the floor, one at a time, until the second joined with the first, fusing together as though the perforations had never been broken. As Dean watched, breathless, the entire carpet of discarded messages rose and swirled around him, one at a time lighting up and spinning to the center of the vortex to join with the lengthening chain until the last one tacked onto the end, a toilet paper ticker tape in some language Dean didn't understand, and fixed itself to the wall.

Talk about close encounters of the third kind.

November 2013-Cabin

"You've got it."

"Huh..." Sam stopped, hair covering both his eyes, clothes in disarray, but stock still. "How do you know?"

"Look at his eyes."

Sam stood, straightening both legs under himself simultaneously, like he was lifted by the scruff of his neck, arms loose at his sides. Fully upright, he dropped his chin and looked down at Dean.

Dean's eyes were open, the pupils and irises completely white, just a shade lighter than the rest of his eyeball so they looked almost glowing.

"Congratulations, Dr. Frankenstein. It's alive. Give him a chance to warm up and get a few key cellular systems up and running. He'll be doing the monster mash in no time."

"Good." Sam bent at the waist and snagged the back of Dean's jacket collar, stood again, Dean's body bending sideways obscenely before his legs slid across the wood and righted themselves. "And don't call him a monster." He slammed the refrigerator door shut and didn't leave the bungee cord off this time.

--

May, 2009--St. Mary's

"So what you're saying is… Lucifer's not letting Dean out of his sight."

"Keep your friends close and your enemies closer."

Sam swallowed. "Yeah, that's what I thought." Lucifer and Dean were about as close as they could get right then. "So, I guess we're pretty much screwed at this point."

"I would not say that."

"Why?" Sam huffed. "Is 'screwed' not in the Good Angel's dictionary of Approved Human Speak?"

Castiel turned away, squinted into the sky, watchful, his shadow falling over Sam the way Dean's always had until now. "I have great faith in your brother, Sam."

An angel of the Lord believed in Dean-- Sam's Dean. If he thought Castiel was capable of accusation, Sam would've considered himself the accused. Instead, he just felt nauseous.

"Me, too." Wherever he was, Dean needed all the faith he could get.

"Yes, Sam," Castiel's hand tightened around Sam's shoulder and lifted him to standing, held him suspended inches above the ground long enough to find his feet and balance over them, "I have faith in you, too."

Sam might as well have taken a hit to the solar plexus the way the air rushed out of him just then, replaced with something thick and viscous that wouldn't move out of the way until he spoke. He wanted to say Castiel misunderstood. Instead, he asked, "Why?"

"Because Dean does, and Dean is depending on you... On us." He turned, a slow revolution around a heel that left a perfect circle scraped into the dirt, and placed a hand on each of Sam's shoulders. "Do you?"

"Do I what? Believe?" He cleared his throat, eyes dropping to the ground. What was left to believe in when everything of myth and legend had already revealed itself to be real and not at all what he'd expected? "I... want to." But then, want had never gotten him anything besides a rap as a selfish bastard trailing a long comet tail of wrong decisions in his wake.

"Faith is believing what you cannot see and knowing when you cannot know. Sometimes the only veil is the illusion of disillusionment." Something radiated through them like bass through a subwoofer, only hotter, tracking along every nerve fiber in Sam's body, gentle but steadily growing. Castiel's fingers tightened on Sam's shoulders, each finger the tine on a tuning fork vibrating at some ultra low frequency he could feel in the roots of his teeth. He felt himself falling, curling in on himself, and yet he stood, Castiel's clear blue eyes squinting into his face, hands searing into flesh and deeper.

"Cas...?" he choked, reaching out. His fingers found Castiel's elbows, thumbs caught in the crooks and the rest vice-tight around the knobs of bone, neither prying nor clinging, his entire body a spasm that opened his jaw and rolled his eyes up into his skull. The frequency of the vibration climbed higher and higher, for a second or two exactly like cicadas calling in the treetops before it amped into something unbearable and deafening.

"God needs you, Sam." Castiel's voice was both a damper and a reprieve that Sam used to draw in a ragged breath.

The reprieve ended with the sentence.

"Nyaaaaaaah!" A heart attack couldn't have been less pleasant. As his mouth opened to scream, he tasted blood on his tongue, a slow drip from his nose. Red clouded his vision and garbled the sound in his ears. Looking down, he found his palms bleeding, dark rivulets cascading along the veins in his arms and dripping from his fingertips. Black blood. The thick stench of rotting flesh coiled in his sinuses until he gagged around it... the same way he'd first gagged on it going down. He didn't remember when he stopped choking it down and started hungering for it.

He wasn't hungry now.

The initial shock and fear burned away, and Sam stopped fighting.

Castiel's grip tightened. Sam mirrored it, palms to the angel's elbows, holding on for dear life, not ashamed to be held up. Green eyes met blue and found a question still looming, unanswered. "Sam?"

He knew the answer, and for once, knew it was the right one. "Just-just do it."

Castiel did.

--November, 2013-Cabin

"No one turns his back on Heaven, Dean. The door is open. There is no guarantee it will stay that way."

"C'mon, Cas. You're supposed to be the one harping about faith. Where's yours? Have I let you down yet?"

"It's not my faith in you that matters."

"It's just you and me here. What else is there?"

"Just because you can't see does not mean there is no one else..."

"I have to do this."

"I know." Castiel placed a hand on Dean's shoulder, eyes downcast, and when Dean tipped forward, still weak, wearing his skin like a hand me down, Castiel held him up. "Good journey. Trust in yourself, and you will not fail."

Dean scoffed. "What is that? New Revelation for a Post-Apocalyptic World?"

"Just the truth. It's all there is now." A hand pressed too firmly over Dean's heart. Electricity sparked through the metal of his amulet and seized his whole body, clenched from the inside out as if in a giant fist.


--

He's got the whole world in his hand...

Sam was used to blood curdling screams and cries for mercy. He just wasn't used to hearing them when he was awake, used to leaving them behind in whatever dreams gripped him from the depths of wherever he was dragged when he let himself stop fighting long enough to rest. Now they didn't fade. The deafening sound pulsating through his ears got louder until he ran out of breath. Only then, lungs heaving and aching for air, did he realize the screams were his own.

He's got the whole wide world in his hand...

And he had backup singers.

--

"Happy... ugh..." Sam cleared his throat. For some reason he felt like a racehorse that'd had its wind broken running sprints too early in its training, could taste iron on the back of his tongue. Fucking nightmares. How he managed to fall asleep while waiting for Dean to wake up was beyond him. The Antichrist should be able to wean himself off sleep or at least figure out how to not wake up screaming. He didn't spend the last six months plotting to get Dean under his thumb to have his credibility as a supervillain ruined on the first day. He'd barely tipped the first domino; he couldn't be foiled by the first zigzag.

He leaned over the body on the counter, swallowed his hoarseness and tried again. "Happy Birthday." Sam pulled up each of Dean's eyelids, one after the other, watching him squint and turn his head reflexively away each time, a sure sign he was waking up. "Today you're a new man. Or something like it." Sam scrubbed at his burning eyes, the corners crusty. "Ya scream like a girl, though. Woke us both up with that little outburst. Drama Queen." So, it was a lie. Wasn't the worst thing he'd done. Not by far.

Dean's throat bobbed and constricted before his mouth opened, a dry crackle like cellophane.

"You sound a little parched. I have just the thing for that."

Dean's eyes fluttered open as Sam pressed a beaker to his lips, but they slammed shut again. Despite the dull ambient light from the nearly extinguished fire, he squinted until the lines at his temples grew deep. It was probably best he didn't see the concoction dribbling over his lips, thick, black, and bubbling like tar. Sam had no idea what it tasted like, but it didn't take a lot of imagination, especially when Dean gagged and jerked away, spluttering. Half the serum spilled down his chin before Sam grabbed him by the jaw, thumb pressing into the hollow under his tongue. "Drink it."

Dean glared up at him, his eyes opaque white, body writhing, but Sam pried his mouth open. When the serum started to foam and sputter out of his nose, Dean swallowed, choking and gasping until the beaker was empty. Sam wiped the spill away with the corner of the sheet (tablecloth, since the kitchen counter worked better for this than the cot in the back.) "Good boy."

Dean made a noise somewhere between a grunt and a cough, his lips miming a question he probably didn't want the answer to.

"Don't try to talk. It'll take awhile for the tissue damage in your throat to repair itself."

Dean, of course, spoke. "What'd you do to me?"

Sam rolled his eyes at the gravelly raw scrape of a voice. "Or you know, ignore my advice altogether. Always was your M.O."

Dean did a passing show of righteous indignation, clenching his jaw more tightly than he should have been able, given the damage to the soft tissues around his neck. When he spoke, it was with a hiss, flecks of foam in the corners of his lips. "I said... what'd... what'd you do?"

They both jolted when the speakers in the eaves crackled and popped to life.

And now I am. I'm born again. I've been redeemed by the blood of the lamb.

Sam chuckled. "More like black sheep than lamb, but yeah, I guess that pretty much sums it up." He caught the way Dean's eyes darted to the rafters and around the room, searching for the source of the music.

"Ah, old man Carson was wired for just about everything. He was heavy into EVPs, had his solar panels working double duty as radio antennas. He was also tracking just about every satellite in the sky and a few he only expected were there. Regular conspiracy theorist." He paused appreciatively. "Gotta hand it to the guy. He was ready for the apocalypse." He looked out the window where snow had started to fall as slowly as if it was only bits of fog that were too heavy to stay afloat. No hurry at all. "Had to be a lot of trouble. He was probably disappointed it didn't happen." An accusing glance.

He jammed a hypodermic needle into Dean's thigh, ignoring when Dean jerked on the table with a grunt. Drawing it back, he eyed the syringe against one of the overhead lights, examining the tissue and fluid inside for color and texture. "So, anyway, I'm kinda interfering with whatever signals this place is picking up on. Either me or whatever tagalongs I've got with me." Setting the syringe on the counter, he braced his forearms on the table, leaning over Dean like a mortician over a corpse. "Nothing gets by me. I'm like a black hole." He pressed into the bruised flesh around Dean's Adam's apple, not sure what he was looking for, but every experiment needed a baseline. "Do you know that somewhere in the world there's always a song playing exactly what you're thinking?" He pretended to wait for an answer but wasn't surprised when Dean started back blankly. "Yeah, well, neither did I. Turns out the world is one giant high school band rehearsal room, and the conductor has left the podium. Pity the aliens scouring the universe for signs of civilization."

Dean swallowed, squinting. "I said..."

"Shhh." Sam jabbed his thumb under Dean's jaw until his mouth snapped shut. "I heard you the first time. Y'know, I could ask you the same question. Lucifer rode you hard. You shouldn't have survived that. No. I was supposed to take out Lucifer, and your little angel was supposed to take you off to wherever it is righteous men go. Final reward. No more worries or cares. No more cursed little brother to drag you down. That was my gift to you. My sssssssacrificccccccce," he hissed. "And yet," a dramatic gesture, somewhere between jazz hands and abracadabra, "here you are." He leaned in, nose to nose, wondering if he could inflict halitosis on himself just to up the level of invasiveness. "What'd you do, Dean?"

Dean's eyes darted away.

"I can see that's a touchy subject." Sam snorted. "Tell you what. This is a lot to... digest. Go back to sleep. Details can wait."

Sam had no doubt Dean would've argued the point further, but he was already asleep. Angels weren't the only ones with the magic touch.

I've been saved by the great I Am...

"I'm gonna kill that fucking cat." He glanced around the cabin, already bored like the kid who got up at four a.m. to open Christmas presents and passed out under the tree by six. His loft was calling, the nightmare ridden nap from earlier not enough to override years of jet-lagging exhaustion. "In the morning, I'm gonna kill that fucking cat."

Tomorrow was going to be a beautiful day.

He waited for an interjection from above, but he got no rousing "Annie" snippet. Maybe the cat was fearing for its nine lives. Most likely yacking up a hairball under the bed.

With a stretch and a yawn, he was up the ladder and passed out face-first on his cot. As an afterthought, he snapped his mouth firmly shut. The average person swallows three spiders in a lifetime by sleeping with his mouth open. Sam was more worried about cockroaches.