A/N: I wanted to post this before the season premiere on Thursday so it isn't really AU but rather speculation although I already know that the first episode will not be like this. Whatever. I had about 80% of the story written after watching "Lucifer Rising" for the first time and then stopped when the first tags to this episode popped up here on FF-net. Originally I didn't want to finish it since, yeah, it's just another tag to that episode but then I wanted it out of my head and now that it's complete I figured I might as well post it. This is what I think could happen if the boys had something on their side they never seem to have on screen: Time.

Thanks a lot to my last-minute-beta-readers AnickaMarie and Ghost who were willing to give this one a check even though I gave them very little time to do so. You really helped me A LOT with this. Another big hug goes out to Twinchaosblade who sat with me through some really tough paragraphs when I just wanted to throw it all away. Thanks for keeping me going and for your wonderful sense of language, you know I just love the thing you do with words!

Disclaimer: Everything you recognize from the show does NOT belong to me but to somebody else. To be honest I'm kinda relieved about that…

Don't wanna reach for me, do you?
I mean nothing to you,
the little things give you away.
And now there will be no mistaking,

the levees are breaking.

All you've ever wanted was someone to truly look up to you,

And six feet under water,
I do.

The little things give you away
Linkin Park

***** **** *** ** * ** *** **** *****

by Mikiya
***** **** *** ** * ** *** **** *****

His nose is itching.

And there is nothing he can do about it.

His nose is itching and there is nothing he can do about it, and that makes him mad because he should not be thinking about his friggin' nose right now. He should be thinking about the fact that there is a certain someone about to squeeze through the floor four feet away from him. He should be thinking about how he has managed, yet again, to be smack in the middle of it when the proverbial shit hits the fan and the world is about to come to an end. He should be thinking about how the gun he is clutching desperately in his left hand will do him no good against whatever is going to appear in front of him, and that clinging to his brother for dear life with his other hand is not going to save them from the inevitable. He should be thinking of so many other things, important things, end-of-the-world things, and yet, all he can think about is the fact that his nose is itching like a bitch and he won't ever be able to scratch it again.

And hell yeah, he is trying to ignore the fact that in a few moments there will most likely be nothing left of him but a cooling corpse. If there will be a corpse at all because for all Dean knows, he-who-really-should-not-have-been-released-at-all might be able to snap his fingers and they will cease to exist without a single proof that someone as good-looking and adorable as Dean Winchester has ever walked the earth. Which would suck. Big time.

Next to him Sam moves slightly and he notices how his brother's hands are tightening their hold on his jacket, feels him edge closer, the quick rise and fall of his chest as he gasps for breath. Sam is trembling almost as hard as he is. And he is not ashamed that they are shaking, that they are hanging on to each other like chicks having a nervous breakdown because, for crying out loud, those are their last moments on this earth and he has finally, if belatedly, realized that. Although he has no real desire to kick the bucket (again!) and have his soul dragged back down there (again!), right now, there is no other place he'd rather be.

Because he finally gets it, understands what he has been missing ever since he crawled out of his own grave and found his pain-in-the-ass-not-so-little-any-more-brother dating and screwing one of hell's sneakiest bitches. Who, by the way, would not be able to screw with anybody's head again, he's made damn sure of that. And all in all he can't help but think that oh God, yes, it did feel damn good to gut her like the animal she was and finally, finally get that off his to-do-list.

Too bad though, that he can't give his brother the heartfelt 'I told you so' he had been practicing ever since Sam had started talking about working with her (or a serious beat-down while he is at it).

His nose is still itching.

And there is still nothing he can do about it, letting go of either Sam or the weapon is not an option. So he just stands there and listens into the growing silence.

Lucifer surely is taking his time to snap his fingers.

He listens for another moment and then decides that he won't go down like this. If he is going to die tonight, he is going to meet his fate head-on, maybe he'll even get a glimpse of the father of all the sons of bitches he has killed in his life.

When he opens his eyes, there's bright light all around him and that's it. Everything is white. Everywhere he looks, he is greeted by bright nothingness, no walls, no ceiling, no floor, no up or down. He can sense Sam in front of him, can feel his brother's jacket in his hands, can even feel his heart hammering against his chest as if it is trying to break free. And he can't help but wonder whether it is excitement or awe that has his brother trembling like a nervous puppy.

Consuming the amount of blood it would take to kill Lilith, would change your brother forever.

Castiel's words come back to haunt him, unbidden and completely inappropriate at the moment but they come nevertheless, forcing thoughts into his head, conclusions he doesn't want to draw, now even less than ever, but can't ignore any longer.

Lilith is dead. Sam has killed her. That means Sam has changed. Changed into what? He doesn't know. But the Sam that stared at him a minute ago, eyes wide and full of shock, fear and so much pain that it instantly dulled his anger and slipped effortlessly through his defenses – seemed so much more like the Sam he knows. Just like seven-year-old Sam, who had tried so hard to please their father and had 'cleaned' his favorite gun using soapy water and a towel.


And he'd be damned if, right now, Sammy doesn't sound seven again. He blinks, trying to get the blurry, dark shape in front of him into focus and groans silently when the first thing he can finally make out are those eyes. Yep, still wide and scared. Basically, he looks as if he is about to be punished for getting caught with his big hands in the cookie jar. Which... well...


Sam still has a death grip on his jacket and is darting around nervous glances, clearly trying to make sense of the situation. And failing. "What's going on?" He is whispering, trying not to draw attention to them. Which is kind of pointless since they are the only living beings in the vicinity. Apart from the host of this little party of course.

Who still hasn't snapped anything, neither his fingers nor their necks.


"I don't know, can't see a damn thing..."

"Same here."

The next minute is spent trying to see anything but white. They turn their heads this way and that, straining to see when, as it slowly turns out, there really isn't anything to be seen.

They are alone. And they are definitely not in Kansas any more. What the hell…

"You think we.. uhm.. are we...?" Sam doesn't finish the sentence, just looks at him.

Are they? Dead? Has Lucifer already killed them and this is the afterlife? He doubts it. He does not really see himself as an expert on this topic but... It had felt different the first time he died, not like this. He had not been able to feel his body anymore and yet had felt every cut slicing through his flesh. He had not had a throat but at the same time had screamed himself hoarse when they cut open his non-existent chest to play with his innards. He'd—


Sam is still staring at him and he almost gasps when he focuses on his brother, takes in his tired features; he can't read the blank look Sam is giving him, there's nothing familiar in those dark eyes, no concern, no fear, no pain, it's like the very life has been drained from them. As if he is looking into the dead eyes of a Sam-shaped statue. He blinks, fighting hard against his instincts which are screaming at him to flinch back from this friggin' clone and yet finds himself unable to move. It takes what's left of his strength to rearrange his features into what he hopes to be a casual smile and he shrugs, feeling ridiculously pleased with himself when his voice doesn't shake.

"Nah, I don't think so, it would feel different."

Sam stares, drops his gaze after a while. "Okay." He is still whispering and Dean can't help but wonder how the tough, sneaky hunter he has lived with the past months and this subdued, withdrawn, pale copy of his original Sam can be one and the same person.

"Sam, are you okay?"

Sam is surprised, for a moment something flickers in his eyes and is gone the next second, too brief for him to read. And then there is defiance, stubbornness, a Winchester pretending to be okay when it is painfully obvious that he is anything but. "Wha— Yeah, I'm fine, she didn't hurt me..."

He doesn't buy it and he makes no effort to hide it. Sam just looks at him, then suddenly lets go of his jacket and takes a step back, visibly pulling himself together as he darts another look around and runs a hand through his hair.

"So... uh... any clue where we are?"

He's trying to behave like the Sam they both know, visibly struggling to play an act Dean can see through without much effort. Goddammit, not again. He does have a point though, they don't know where they are or what they are up against. Well, two can play this game… He takes another long look around and frowns when he realizes something.

"Wait, I have seen this before..."


He frowns in concentration and suddenly feels his lips curl into a grin. "Matrix."


The grin widens. Sam doesn't get it, just keeps looking at him as if he has lost his mind. Maybe he has. It amazes him how fast they get back into their roles, how effortlessly he can switch back to being the big brother, teasing Sam. That's not right, is it? That's not how it's supposed to be, not after everything that has happened, not with Sam looking as if he is going to keel over if he pushes him too hard. Shock. It has to be the shock setting in. It shouldn't be that easy. And still he cannot stop himself.

"Matrix, the movie. Dude with the pills talks to the other dude about what's real and what's not?"

Sam's trying to process that, he can see the wheels turning. Then a slight, hesitant nod.

"So... basically you think we're in some kind of alternate reality?"

He ponders that for a moment. Oh well, why not? It wouldn't be the strangest place they have ever been to. He nods. "Could be."

Sam is still not buying it completely but seems willing to go with it for now. "Okay, let's say we are, what now?"

Good question. As far as he can tell there are only two possibilities, stay where they are or try to find a way out. The phrase 'sitting ducks' comes to his mind so he doesn't hesitate and points at, well, 'nothing' in front of him. "We go that way and try to get out of here."

Sam's eyes follow his finger. A quick nod of the head and his brother starts moving, not looking back at him. Dean gives a small sigh and falls into step beside him.

They walk for a long time in what he would almost call a companionable silence. Sam is lost in his thoughts, eyes downcast, studying the ground. Dean follows his gaze and notices that it is so bright they are not even casting a shadow on whatever passes as a floor here. It's a weird feeling, not really being able to see where exactly you are going or when your foot is actually touching the ground. They stumble at first, but they get used to it and keep on moving. Kind of like they always do, keep going no matter how hard it is to keep your head up. The good, old Winchester way-

Who is he trying to fool here?

It isn't going to work this way and he knows it, they can't get over it pretending they are fine and just going on as if nothing has happened. You're my brother is not a magical line which will somehow make everything all right, nor is it going to be enough to get them through this. Too much has happened, too much has changed, they have changed. Irreversibly. As much as he wants to, as much as he longs for the way they were, it is over.

It suddenly strikes him that he hasn't really looked at his brother for a long time, too afraid of what he would see if he did.

Yes, Sam has changed. There is a slouch to his shoulders that has not been there before, as if he is struggling with some unseen weight that threatens to crush him. And he has a feeling that it has nothing to do with breaking the last seal and inviting the big, bad wolf to play. His eyes, which have always been haunted and sad, are carefully guarded now, dull, lifeless, so different from when he was literally wearing his heart on his sleeves for everyone to see.

I'm a better hunter than you are, stronger, smarter.

The words still hurt, more than he wants to admit, but deep down inside he knows there is a truth to them. No matter how hard he wants to fight against it, wants to believe that nothing has changed and that they are still the same people, he can't. Not any more. Time has carved its marks into each of them and besides, he has already tried to pretend nothing has happened and look how that turned out.

So, okay, Sam has changed. He can accept that. Really. But how exactly has he changed? What... who has he become? Better, stronger, smarter?

Better? Not by a long shot. "Almost equal" sounds about right. And maybe, with a little time, he can even cross out the "almost".

Maybe not stronger. But strong. Yeah, he can do that, he can give him that.

Smarter? Like hell, just one word for that: Ruby. Dream on, Sammy.


Sam's quiet voice shakes him from his musings. "Come again?"

Sam starts slightly, glances at him, blinking as if he is trying to focus. "What?"

"You were saying something…"

Sam blinks again and for a brief moment he gets a glimpse at a younger, familiar version of his brother, the geek who would think out loud if he was working on a theory and, just like a sleepwalker, would be confused if he was spoken to. "I was just thinking about what you said…" he mutters vaguely. "This alternate reality… the white… out of time-thing. You know there's a lot of lore about what happens to you after you die— "

He raises a hand to interrupt him, absolutely not willing to go there. "Wait, wait, I think we said we aren't dead."

"But what if we are?" Something glitters in Sam's eyes and he feels himself shudder nervously in reaction, a feeling of apprehension slowly clawing into his throat. This is so wrong, he should not look so fucking relieved at the possibility that they might have kicked he bucket.

"Sam, I've been there, remember? I know what Hell's like and this isn't—"

"Dean, wait, what if this isn't Hell but… something close to it?"

"Something close to it? You're not making much sense."

Sam stares at him, mutters, "Limbo."

He has heard that before. "Limbo… as in 'dead but not quite there yet'?"

His brother nods and lets his gaze wander across the white surroundings. "Yeah, some kind of… uhm… 'green room' for people who died but whose fate hasn't been decided yet. Would make sense…"

He cringes at the green room reference, instantly flashing back to Zachariah and his revelation about the angels' plans, the moment when his world had come crashing down on him. The end is nigh, the apocalypse is coming, kiddo, to a theatre near you. He winces, staring at his brother who in turn is staring off into space, a far-away look on his face. And still that freakin' wistful smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. Clearing his throat he watches how Sam finally focuses on his face. "Okay, let's say we are… there… what do we know about Limbo?"

Sam blinks, thinks for a moment, then explains, "Basically it means 'state of uncertainty' and people believe it's a place between Heaven and Hell, where the souls of those would go who were not bad enough to go to Hell but had committed… something that would prevent them from entering Heaven. Kind of like a waiting line…"

Oh great, this is getting better and better. "A waiting line? How long are we supposed to wait?"

Sam looks at him as if he has just made a joke and actually chuckles softly, but it's a flat, humorless sound, more like a choked breath. "I don't know, until Judgment Day maybe?"

"Now that was a crappie movie…" The words are out of his mouth before he can stop himself and he flinches when Sam's eyes grow wide and he gives him an incredulous look. Uhm, yeah, that was a pretty dumb thing to say considering the circumstances and he actually can't blame Sam for glowering at him.

"You do know I'm not talking about movies, right? That this is it, the real deal? We're… they… the world is facing the Apocalypse, Armageddon, Dean, people are gonna die because of—" There is that choking sound again and Sam suddenly steps back and turns away, running a shaking hand through his hair as he pants softly. Yep, he totally screwed that one up, he should have known that cracking jokes right now is not a good idea.

Focus, they need to focus right now, freaking out is not getting them anywhere at the moment. He takes a few deep breaths. "So you're saying we're grounded in this whatever-this-is until the big guy remembers that there are two idiots he has to take care of and throws us into the pit, is that it?"

He expects Sam to flinch at this, wants him to turn around and watch him with big, wide eyes, brimming with tears of shock and pain and fear and yes, maybe he is being a little overly dramatic here but that would at least be a reaction he would know what to do with. But Sam barely moves, merely shrugs. "I don't know, I guess… Could be worse…"

"How could this be worse?"

"Well, we could be burning away in purgatory right no—" He breaks off abruptly, dropping his gaze to his shoes. "Forget that."

He senses that there is more to that comment than the prospect of them actually burning and his gaze is glued to the cramped set of shoulders in front of him that begins to tremble slightly. He keeps his voice low, whispering softly, "What, Sam?"

Sam looks up and turns around and now there are tears, his eyes are wide and clouded and so full of misery that it almost takes his breath away. Sam clears his throat and yet his voice is hoarse with a pain he cannot place at first. "Purgatory is where you'd go right… before entering… Heaven. People believe it to be some sort of cleansing-ritual which burns away your sins and punishes you for them, but ultimately you'll be forgiven and rejoined with… God afterwards." He stumbles over the name and starts chewing on his lower lip, trying to pull himself together.

He wants to say something to make him feel better, to erase… well, at least ease the distress that is rolling off his brother in waves. "You really did your homework on this, huh?"

As soon as the words leave his mouth and he sees the impact they have on him he wishes he had kept his mouth shut; Sam just stares at him for a moment, hard, before his face closes off completely and he turns, starting to walk again.

Yeah, kick him while he's down, why dontcha… He watches him go for a moment, uncertain if he really wants to follow him, then starts moving, once again falling into step next to him. Sam doesn't seem to notice, he doesn't acknowledge his presence at all.

He's your brother and he's drowning.

Oh no, Bobby, you were so wrong, he isn't drowning, not anymore. Sam's gone under, completely, stuck in the deepest, darkest ocean of despair and self-reproach the fucking universe could come up with, with no lifeline left to cling to. He looks so exhausted and miserable that Dean would like nothing better than to knock him out and put him to sleep for a week, if only that would do anything to help him. But it won't and he knows it. Nothing he says or does is going to change anything, there's no making it better. It's losing Jess, Dad and him all over again, all at the same time, with the added twist of playing into the hands of demons and angels alike.

What could you possibly say to make that all right?

Words from so long ago ghost across his mind, spoken on the hood of his car, at a time when a friggin' zombie had been their greatest problem. Their roles had been reversed then Dean being the one who could barely breathe through the pain of losing their father to a stupid deal that had changed everything and Sam trying to help him when no words or actions could offer any kind of comfort. Right now, he'd take that pain tenfold if there was the slightest chance they could work this out. He knows that they will eventually get to a point where they will be able to talk things over, but deep down he fears… he knows that something is gone, broken beyond repair. And this is not like a jammed gun he had to take apart to fix, this is a whole new level of screwed, of honest-to-god fucked up, even for them.

And God, he is tired, he hasn't been lying to Sam about that. He doesn't know how to keep going, where to find the strength to get them out of this mess. Sam won't… can't do it, at this moment it seems like a miracle that his brother is even able to keep upright and breathing. As much as he was convinced that his brother was lost to him, that a stranger had taken his place and wouldn't need him anymore it comes as a shock to him that now, more than ever, his brother needs him. Unless, of course, Sam is right about this whole Limbo-theory and they are indeed dead already and just taking another detour on their own private highway to Hell.

For just one moment he lets himself entertain this possibility, thinks about whether or not this wouldn't actually be the best way to help them, to save Sam from the pain that is crushing him. It would be over, they would be gone, for good. He doesn't even frown when he realizes that there is no regret, no guilt about those thoughts and how sick is that anyway?

Sam clears his throat, interrupting his thoughts. "So... what were you doing in that convent? Did the angels finally tell you how to stop m-Lilith?" He is pretty sure Sam doesn't mean for his voice to shake at the last part but it does and he hears it. So does Sam and he seems to shrink a little, the way his face scrunches up a clear indication that right now he wishes he had never asked the question. "They found out about the seal, didn't they? And they sent you to... to stop me, right?" His voice is soft, resigned, his eyes stay on the ground, on their feet.

Great, now how is he supposed to answer that without crushing what's left of his brother's soul? The truth is going to hurt, maybe even break him completely, because, despite everything, Dean knows him well enough to realize that it will shatter what little faith in God and the angels has survived in him. Sam believes, even though the 'boy with the demon blood' has been dealt more than one low blow by the supposed-to-be-good guys. To find out that he has not only been played by a demon (because that kind of comes with the job-description and Sam is just too smart to not have realized that on some level) but by the very beings he so desperately wanted to believe in… He cannot even begin to imagine what this will do to him.

He isn't able to suppress a small sigh which has Sam squaring his shoulders slightly, as if preparing for a blow. And, right now, giving his brother a thorough beating until he passes out from the pain actually sounds like the better alternative. He doesn't want to do this.

"They knew about the seal. But, Sam—" He holds up his hand to stop what he knows will be an incredulous outburst on Sam's part and stops walking, turning sideways to face him. "Sam, they wanted you to break the seal."

He gives him a moment to let it sink in, then braces himself for the disbelief that is going to flash through Sam's eyes, the pain that is going to show on his face and for which he will know no words to ease it, not now, not ever.

Sam looks at him, eyes going wide, then unfocused.


That's all he says. He stares off into space for a moment, gives a jerky nod and looks down at his feet again, burrows his hands in the pockets of his jeans before he starts walking. As if they had just been talking about the weather and Dean had told him it was going to be no sunshine but rain for a day. What the—


Sam doesn't stop. "Yeah?"

"Are you… Are you okay?"

Sam keeps going. "Yeah."


Something inside him snaps. This is it, he's had enough, this is not just some case gone bad, some civilian they couldn't save or a monster that got away, something that would justify a full-force, Sam-Winchester-guilt-trip where he would just stand by and do nothing, waiting for him to deal with his feelings. They are going to talk. Now.

He just needs to make him listen.

"Sam, wait. Maybe— maybe we should sit down and rest for a moment, okay?" Uhm, yeah, that's lame.

Sam frowns and stops. "W-- you just said you wanted to find a way out of here..." He turns and Dean feels his eyes on him. "You okay?"

Dean nods, tries to be as casual as possible about it. "Yeah, I'm okay, just a little winded, that's all."

He wants Sam to sit down, take a rest and try to relax for a moment so he can think, can make up his mind about how he is going to do this. Sam just takes a long look at their surroundings and suddenly all but collapses onto the ground right where he is standing, drawing his knees to his chest and resting his arms on them, just like he used to do after another one of those arguments with their father. His gaze soon looses itself in the white nothingness around them, zoning out on him in an instant.

He doesn't realize that he has crossed his arms in front of his chest as he looks down at his brother, studies him for a moment. Fearsome hunter or not, right now all he can see is an exhausted man who is trying his best to become one with the very air around him.

So, this is about closing distances, right? He can do that. He walks around Sam and sits down behind him. Sam doesn't really pay attention to him at first, but when Dean leans back against him he tenses immediately, jerking back as if he has been slapped. Dean rolls his eyes.

"Sam, relax, this way you have my back and I have yours. Who knows who or what can show up here, okay?"

Sam remains hunched over for a long time and he almost turns to him, but then a hesitant question freezes him in place. "You still want me... to have your back?"

He swears it's like the friggin' Grand Canyon between them. He can see Sam on the other side but he is too blurry to make out and so he can't read him, can't understand him and whatever he says doesn't make it across the gap the way he wants it to. Instead it's scrambled and completely twisted, broken down into tiny little pieces. And apparently Sam isn't able to put them back together.

He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, then whispers softly, "Yes, Sam, I do."

And he does, more than anything in the entire world. Somehow his eyes are burning and he blinks, cursing the bright light all around them. Sam struggles with his words, then seems to understand the logic in them. Or maybe he is just too exhausted to be fighting against him, whatever the reason he leans back against him, slowly, hesitantly. He remains tense and uneasy, flinching back whenever Dean shifts and so he just stops moving at all, silently wondering when exactly his brother has become so afraid of him that even a slight movement would send him running away from him.

They stay silent, he doesn't know how long, but gradually the tension between them lessens and he can feel Sam's breathing deepen a little. His tense posture doesn't change but, after a while, he no longer freaks out when Dean moves experimentally and he makes a point of relaxing against him, tries to communicate by touch and presence when words seem to be of no use.

He actually flinches when Sam's soft voice drifts towards him.

"So I guess you're not done saving me, huh?" The question is meant to sound casual but it carries a load of meaning and he isn't sure how he's going to answer it. But he doesn't have to, after a small pause Sam adds, "I wasn't so sure after what you said on the phone, I guess I should have known better, I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"Never mind."

Oh no, no closing up again. "Sam, what?"

"I got your voice mail."


"It scared me, man. A lot."

He can't really make out the different emotions that layer these sentences and is not really sure how to respond. As per usual he chooses humor to release some of the tension. "Ah, Sammy, come on, you can't hold that against me, I thought I'd never see you again... But I meant it. Still do."

Uh-oh, that didn't work, Sam tenses again, turns downright rigid and swallows hard. "I guess I should leave, then." His voice actually breaks on the last words.



"I'm sorry, Dean... for... for everything..." He starts rising and Dean turns to him, catches the sleeve of his jacket and tries to hold him down. And when he looks into his brother's face there are tears glistening in his eyes, spilling over and rolling down his cheeks and he seems helpless to stop them. He doesn't look at Dean, just scrambles awkwardly to get to his feet. What the hell?!


"Let me go."

He doesn't, not even when the nervous tugging becomes a little more frantic and Sam's wide eyes dart around nervously, looking everywhere except at him.

"Sam, what--"

"Dean, look, I get it, you're mad at me and angry, I understand that, I deserve that, I know, but... I can't... I just can't..." Another helpless tug and Sam even shies back when he raises his other hand to get a better hold on his brother's arm. Dean is so stunned by the realization that his brother is apparently scared shitless of him that he almost pulls back, almost let's go of him.

"Dude, what's your problem?!" He doesn't mean to shout and he's instantly sorry for the way Sam cringes away from him, giving one last, futile tug at the arm before he suddenly stops moving and just stands there, head bowed, eyes hidden behind disheveled bangs, trembling slightly under Dean's touch. When he finally speaks his voice is so soft, so small and miserable Dean almost misses it.

"Your voice mail."

He blinks, cocking his head to the side as he tries to catch his brother's eyes. "Yeah, so? I know it was kind of a tear-jerker and all, but enough to make you leave?" He doesn't get it.

At that Sam's head comes up and he stares at Dean as if he had just announced a sudden craving for vegetables and he opens and closes his mouth twice before he manages to get some actual words out. "Tear— Dean, you told me you were done saving me and called me a… a blood-sucking v-vampire, how in he— how is that a tear-jerker?"

"I— what? What are you talking about?"

"Your fucking voice mail, Dean!" Sam's voice rises, he all but shouts at him and from the way he flinches back almost instantly Dean can tell that he had not meant to yell at him.

"I never called you a vampire, Sam!" He had been thinking it, yeah, more than once.

"Yes, you did." Sam's head goes down again and his voice is soft, weary.

"No, I didn't!" Dean on the other hand is rapidly getting pissed and he can't stop it, that dumbass isn't making any sense.

Sam just looks at him, pulls his phone out, punches a few buttons and holds it for Dean to hear. After a moment he can hear his voice out of the small speaker and for a moment he's back at the green room, trying to find the right words to say to make his brother listen to him:

'Hey, it's m-me, uh, ahm, look, I'll just get right to it: I'm still pissed and I still owe you a serious beat down, but... I shouldn't have said what I said, you know, I'm not Dad. We're brothers, you know, we're family, and, uhm, no matter how hard it gets that doesn't change. Sammy, I'm sor—'

Ouch, that was embarrassingly girly. But it was exactly what he had wanted to get across and he'd say it again. He looks up and studies Sam's face, frowning when he finds his brother staring at the phone with incredibly large eyes, as if the small device was a poisonous snake. "Sam?"

"That... that's not..."

"That's not what?" He can tell that Sam's at a loss for words, so he waits a moment before prompting again, "Sam, what?"

"That's not the message I heard, Dean."

"But what..." Something prickles at the back of his mind and he frowns, then remembers and growls. "Sunovabitch!"

Castiel. He has done that before, faking phone calls from Bobby to get them to work for him. It had to be him. He watches his brother intently. "Sam, what did you hear?"

Sam's head snaps up and he stares at him for a long moment, the inner struggle with something showing clearly on his face. A desperate try to retain the last shreds of dignity and Sam fights back tears, but tries to be as nonchalant as possible about it. "Sam?"

His brother opens and closes his mouth without producing a sound, then his face falls a little and he whispers, "I—uhm… I was pretty messed up, I—I don't really remember all of it…"

That's a lie and they both know it. "Sam, tell me…"

Sam's fingers play with the cell, nervously twiddling with it as he searches for words. "It—uhm, it was your voice and… you… you called me a vampire and other—n-names…" He trails off, eyes never leaving the plastic cell. The flimsy mask he has put on is crumbling rapidly, each spoken word taking away another layer. The desperate, unvoiced plea for a change of topic is still hanging heavily in the air when Dean clears his throat softly and prompts him as gently as he can.

"Sam, what else?"

Sam takes what seems to be a heavy, almost tortured breath, trying desperately to get a grip on his emotions. "Listen, Dean, I get it, it wasn't—y-you and it doesn't mean anything… Can't we just drop it?"

He just shakes his head, knowing that Sam doesn't need to see him to understand that he won't let this go. The hands start shaking slightly and the phone is flipped over and over again. "You—whoever said that you were done s-saving me and because Dad had alw—always said you'd either had to s-save me or—"

Suddenly he knows, he just knows what the rest of the voice mail was. Holy Crap.

Sam is still not looking at him. "Dean, I—"

He needs to hear it, needs to know for sure what Sam was told, what they made him believe. And then, so help him God… whatever, thick-headed, invincible angel or not, he is going to hit him. Again. With a crowbar. Twice at least, if he gets the chance. "Sam?"

Slowly wide, broken-hearted eyes lift to meet his and a rough voice breaks his heart. "You said you were giving me a warning and you'd kill me… and there was no turning back…" The last words come out as a choked whisper, finally sending Sam over the emotional edge. Tears start falling and he seems frozen, doesn't move an inch.

Fighting back angry tears of his own he struggles to say something, to get the words out. "Sammy, I didn't say that." His own voice suddenly seems kind of hoarse and he swallows thickly, shocked beyond words by the realization of how far those seemingly opposing forces had gone to keep them on the different edges of that freaking canyon.

Sam nods slowly. He seems dazed and utterly lost, so freaking fragile that it takes his breath away. Oh, for crying out loud... "Sam, I never said that. And I never would, no matter how mad I was at you."

Sam stares at him, seems to fight against something that is choking off his voice. "You wouldn't?"

It hits him, right there and then, deep, deep inside his heart: Sam had actually believed, had really thought he would actually— could really— would— His brain fails him, completely, there's nothing he can say… think… feel beyond the realization, the horror that those angels— his brother

His mind is blank, he doesn't want to think, wants to shut down his brain if only for a while, a short moment like, say, a month, so he can come down from all of the crap that's supposed to be his life at the moment.

But Sam's still there, still staring at him, eyes wide, full of something he cannot identify and he fights to compose himself, to get some resemblance of control of his emotions.

Because this is important, he knows it, if he screws this up it's over. Forever.

And it's so fucking easy to find the right words he's almost too stunned to say them.

"No, I wouldn't, Sam."

And that's it, that's all there is.

Sam doesn't get it. He is supposed to be the smart one, the friggin' geek who can recite complete exorcisms and loves to research until he talks in friggin' quotes from the old books and still he can't figure out what Dean's trying to tell him. He's just looking at him as if he had just spoken in some old, cryptic language. If it wasn't so damned serious, if Sam's lost eyes wouldn't just kill him with their intensity, he'd just smack him on the head and call him a bitch.

But apparently Sam needs to hear it. And, on some level, Dean knows he needs to say it. And so he does.

"Sam… I was... I am still angry... I'm pissed at you... like really pissed…" He lets his sentence trail off deliberately, for emphasis, 'cause he will not let him get off the hook that easily, it's the damned Apocalypse for Christ's sake. And just like he knows it will Sam's gaze drops, evading his, and he closes his eyes briefly then looks at something on the floor, but Dean can tell that he still holds his attention. And he drives the point home, once and for all.

"Sam, I won't give up on you. I won't."

Sam's eyes are tearing up again and he can feel his own throat tighten in response, holds his breath when something akin to hope flickers briefly and Sam manages to give a shaky smile. "Okay," he whispers and sits down again, leaning back against him with only the slightest hesitation.

And suddenly breathing becomes a lot easier.

Silence ensues, but it's a comfortable situation, for the first time in months they actually enjoy each other's company. Sam relaxes against him after some time and Dean closes his eyes, lets his thoughts drift for a while, doesn't think of anything specific because, dude, he has never been this exhausted before, he feels like he could sleep for a week and not get up for at least a month, not even for some pie.

Well, maybe if it's freshly baked apple pie just like the one he had when they were chasing that spirit back in Arizona… And yeah, now really is not the time to be thinking about stuff like that but it's just so much easier than what is happening and doesn't he deserve a break right about now? He knows he shouldn't be doing this but he feels himself starting to drift after some time, he doesn't even realize his eyes are sliding closed.

That is until Sam starts to shiver.

It's barely there at first, a little twitch, another one a few moments later. And another one. He frowns, opens his mouth to say something when Sam shifts slightly against him and he realizes that his brother is trembling.

"Sam, are you okay?"

He expects the trademark "I'm fine" and prepares himself to tell him to "cut the crap" but all that comes out is a faint, "No." Sam's voice is still weak, barely audible. The trembling grows more pronounced, small tremors chasing each other through his brother's stiff frame.

"Sam, what's wrong?" After-effects of the demon blood? Is he going into withdrawal, now, here, where he can't do anything to help him? Dean starts to turn, needs to see him, check his eyes or something—

"I can't believe I broke the damned seal, man…" Another tremor, a hitched breath, Sam shifting again, leaning more heavily against him. Trying to get closer to him as he draws another breath that's even more shaky, leaves him trembling like a leaf against his back and suddenly Dean doesn't need to seem him anymore to realize what is happening.

Crying. His brother is crying.

He's trying to hide it, holds his breath every now and then to not give himself away but if there's anything Dean has always been sensitive to it's his brother in pain, physically or emotionally, and he has never before seen him that hurt and exhausted.

Aw, Sammy…

The problem is that he has no idea what he is supposed to do about it, how he can make it better, this still isn't a gun he can take apart to fix. He doesn't know if Sam wants to talk about it or if he wants to be left alone, which, given the current circumstances, could be a little problematic.

Dean shifts slightly, leans a little closer and racks his tired brain, trying to come up with an emergency plan for this situation. Maybe he can take Sam's mind off that topic, get him to think about something else… Yeah, that could actually work, so how about this:

"I broke the first seal."


Where the hell did that come from?!

Dean blinks, completely taken aback by his own words and he can't stop himself from tensing nervously, doesn't really know how to deal with this now, of all times. He waits, holds his breath without realizing it.

Sam seems to be just as stunned by that revelation and keeps quiet for a moment, doesn't move nor take a breath, just sits there, still resting heavily against Dean's back. For a moment Dean fears his reaction, his insides clench painfully at the thought of what Sam might say, what he might think about him, if he can even stay in the same room with him when he finally understands what Dean has done, what horror he has unleashed… on the… world… His brain stutters to a stop, refuses stubbornly to continue that line of thought beyond the realization that his little brother might actually be the only person who knows exactly what this feels like.

Oh God.


Sam's quiet voice pulls him out of his thoughts and he thinks he might have said that out loud. He feels himself stiffen and sits up, takes a deep breath, still not daring to turn around and look at him. He can't do this, he can't face him, not now, maybe not ever again.

"You're not making this up… are you?"

Sam doesn't sound upset, there is no accusation in his voice, no disgust or betrayal, nothing that would even remotely hint that he is disappointed with him. He just seems… cautious, guarded, almost curious. And still so awfully tired.

And that is a feeling he can identify with.

"No, Sam, I'm not making this up… Alastair told me, when they— when he…" He breaks off and shifts again, forcing himself to relax a little, gaze falling down to his hands as they play with the hem of his shirt. Why is this so hard, the walls are down between them, it's not like they have any secrets left… At least he hopes it's not like that. He doesn't want that distance anymore, if these are the last moments he can spend with his brother before they face eternal damnation, before his too short holiday from Hell is over and they finally go down in the truest sense of the word he wants to come clean. Just him and Sam, no more lies between them.

Sam is talking and he is pulled back, once again faces a white wall in front of him when he opens eyes he cannot remember having closed.

"How… why…" Oh, yeah, his brother is all for the details, he almost forgot about that.

No more lies.

"Back then, in Hell, when I got off the rack. That was the first seal."

"I don't understand…"

Oh, the first time you picked up my razor, the first time you sliced into that weeping bitch, that was the first seal.

For a moment he almost turns to see if Alastair is indeed standing behind him, the voice whispering in his head, taunting him so loudly and clearly that he almost believes he is back in that warehouse with his own private nightmare chained to the rack behind him. But then he figures that even Sam can't be that out of it to ignore someone like Alastair in front of him so he is pretty sure it is only in his head. Which makes it a lot more difficult to shut him up.

And it is written that the first seal shall be broken when a righteous man sheds blood in Hell. As he breaks so it shall break.

He gasps and flinches badly, closing his eyes against remembered pain and panic, the crushing realization of what he has done.


When we win, when we bring on the Apocalypse and burn this world down we owe it all to you, Dean Winchester.

Goddammit, stop it! He takes a shuddering breath and forces himself to calm down, slow his racing heartbeat. Sam starts pulling away from him, no doubt wants to check him and he suddenly just can't stand the thought of his brother's eyes on him.

"Sam, please sit down."

Sam hesitates but complies after a moment, easing himself back against him. From the way his back tenses against him he can tell that Sam's complete attention is on him now, he can almost feel his brother's need to understand, to make sense of the situation, to focus on something different than his own pain.

"Dean, what happened?"

He can do this.

Had your pop on the rack.

"They had Dad. He held on for so long… They… he— Alastair tortured him…"

Sam gasps in horror, but that doesn't stop Dean from remembering nor Alastair from continuing his taunts.

After each session, I'd make him the same offer I made you: I'd put down my blade if he picked one up.

"And he made him the same offer: get off the rack if he puts souls on, if he started the torture…"

He doesn't realize he has said the exact words before, too wrapped up in the whispering voice inside his head.

Sam is holding his breath now, barely moving.

He said 'no,' each and every time.

"But Dad wouldn't do it, Sam, he wouldn't break, not even after a whole century of torture. A hundred years, Sammy, a hundred years and he wouldn't do it."

I couldn't break him, John was made of something unique. The stuff of heroes.

"And me? I gave up after 30 years…"

Daddy's little girl, he broooke.

He fights hard not to loose himself in the memories, not to drown in the pain and disappointment that is closing in on him from all sides.

"Turns out the first seal is broken 'when a righteous man sheds blood in hell'. So when I picked up that blade…"

We owe it all to you, Dean Winchester.

He breaks off. Enough.

There's a long silence, he has no words left and he really doesn't want to talk about it right now and Sam… Well, his brother is quiet, he stopped shivering at some point and is just leaning against him now. As far as he can tell he isn't crying anymore which is more than okay with him and totally why he brought that stuff up in the first place, right? And why isn't he saying anything or telling how disappointed or angry he is 'cause he really should be and how can he stand to be in the same room—

"You couldn't have known, Dean…"

Sam's voice is soft, no trace of accusation or anything but understanding audible. He doesn't want that, that is not okay, this is really not something he wants Sam to be understanding about, this is wrong, this is so—

Oh God.

He wants to say something, to let him know that he finally gets it, that he can see what has been so fucking obvious all the time. But then Sam is talking again and the exhaustion, the raw pain he can hear in his brother's hoarse voice takes his breath away. "I'm so tired, Dean…" He can barely hear Sam's voice anymore, his brother is falling asleep –or passing out?— even as he is speaking, his head becoming a solid weight against the back of Dean's shoulder.

Dean doesn't stop him, doesn't try to keep him awake even though he doesn't want to be alone right now. He lets him fall asleep, feels his breathing deepen against his back, turns a little to the side when Sam starts sliding down and Dean catches his brother's limp form before he can hit the ground. Sam's head leans against his thigh while Dean shrugs out of his jacket and balls it up, then slips it under the tousled hair as a makeshift pillow. His brother doesn't react when he pulls him closer against his side nor does he move when he rests a hand on his shoulder, fingers playing with the soft fabric of his jacket.

He tries to think about their situation, struggles to come up with a plan -- like how they are going to get out of there, what they are going to do after this -- but he simply doesn't know anything and it becomes increasingly difficult to concentrate. Soon the white seems to be closing in on him from all sides and he can feel himself slowly slipping away.

He doesn't fight it, doesn't try to remain conscious, for once in his life he just gives in and lets fate decide what to do with him.

And as he slowly slips under to the sound of feathery wings beating slowly in the distance he cannot help but wonder if they are black or white.

***** **** *** ** *