A/N: I was doing my usual psychoanalysis of Dean and got to wondering if he would really be able to kill another human being out of revenge or rage. I know he killed someone in 'Family Matters,' but that was different because his life was threatened. I'm thinking more along the lines of if a human killed Sam, would Dean kill them out of vengeance? He threatened to do so in 'The Benders,' but after everything that's happened and everything that he's done in hell, would he be able to do it? Or would he even want to? I think so.

To be safe, I 'm going to say there are spoilers for episodes 5.01 – 5.04. Warnings for: language, violence, angst, some temporary insanity on Dean's part, and temporary character death. Let me say that again, temporary character death.


The Lives I Have Taken

"For you or Dad, the things I'm willing to do or kill, it scares me sometimes."

- Dean

Zachariah is a dead angel walking as far as Dean is concerned. Seriously, he just convinced Cas to stop hauling him around via teleportation. Good ole' Zack not only screws that up royally, but he also throws Dean five years into a very messed up future (a future that is never going to happen if Dean has anything to say about it.)

"Pretty nice timing, Cas," Dean says with evident relief after he realizes that he's been snatched from his motel room, in a good way this time.

"Dean…"

"No, really, Zachariah was two seconds away from laying some more mojo on me," Dean continues with a hand on his stomach and an uncomfortable look on his face.

"Dean, listen," Castiel persists.

Dean pauses, taking a second to really look at the angel. Castiel looks grave, nervous, and disturbingly sympathetic. It immediately puts Dean on edge.

"What? What is it?" Dean asks, his eyes doing a couple sweeps over Castiel as he tries to place the source of his upset.

"It's your brother."

Dean freezes and his heart stutters, pauses, and then drops to his stomach like a stone, "What about him?"

Castiel shakes his head and then looks away, as if he's trying to find the words, "Something's happened…"

"Yeah, I'm getting that. Would you mind not beating around the damn bush and telling me what exactly?" Dean demands as his growing panic takes over his words.

Cas turns his near glowing blue eyes back to Dean and suddenly, he knows, before the words even leave Castiel's mouth, "Sam's dead."

Dean feels like he's caught in the shock wave of a sonic boom. Something invisible hits his chest with enough force to take his breath away, his lungs compact and breathing becomes impossible, and the ground practically falls out from under him. Sam can't be dead. Dean just talked to him an hour ago and he was fine. Or at least, physically he was fine, mentally was a completely different matter. But he was alive.

"You're wrong," Dean finally says, his voice unsteady, "I just talked to the kid, Sam's fine."

"I'm sorry…"

"There's nothing to be sorry about because my brother is fine!" Dean shouts. His face is tight with rage fueled by denial, but underneath the anger, Dean's teetering on the edge of despair.

Sam has to be fine. Dean still needs to tell him that he's sorry and that they need to hunt together, again. He has to tell him about the future and how utterly messed up it is, and how it's not going to be a problem because they're sticking together. Sam has to be fine.

Dean whips out his cell phone and hits the first speed dial, waiting as the phone rings for an impossibly long time, "Come on, come on, Sam."

Sam's voicemail echoes through the speakers and Dean's eyes close tightly, willing himself to not believe it. He would know if Sam was dead. He would feel it, right down to his bones and in his blood, like an electric shock. Except, would he really? With the bond between them growing thinner with every meal spent in silence, every problem left untouched, and every hurt feeling left raw and painful? Would he really know any more if his brother was dead?

Desperately, Dean pushes the speed dial again, praying that Sam is just sleeping or showering, or simply ignoring his ass of a big brother because he hurt Sam's feelings. The ringing cuts off and the voicemail returns, Sam's words sounding through the phone like a memory. Suddenly, Dean can't breathe, because this can't be happening.

"Take me to him," Dean whispers as he swallows convulsively.

"I don't think that's wise…"

Dean's hands are fisted in Castiel's trench coat faster than the angel thought was humanly possible. Dean's green eyes are narrowed and blurred with tears that haven't fallen yet, but they hold a spark in them that Castiel hasn't seen since he pulled Dean Winchester from hell. It makes his stomach coil in an unusual way, something that might be weariness or fear.

"Take me to him or tell me where he is. Now," Dean snarls, his voice a stark contrast to the single soft tear that's finally fallen and is now rolling down the planes of his face.

"If that is what you want," Castiel replies, knowing in his gut that this is a bad idea but also knowing that one way or another, this can't be avoided.

Dean barely notices when the scenery blurs and switches faster than a snap of the fingers. His gaze is solely fixed on the heart shattering, stomach churning scene presented in front of him. From what he can tell, they're in some abandoned warehouse. The high ceilings are lined with blocky horizontal beams, the walls are slate gray, and the ground is cold concrete. There isn't much left in the place: a huge pile of cardboard boxes, five steel tables, machinery covered in dust and cobwebs, a broken conveyer belt, and a door lying on the ground.

And there's Sam.

Dean takes a small step forward as if his feet are unsure if they want to run to his sibling, or run as far away from this place as possible and deny that this is happening.

"Oh God, Sammy," Dean breathes as his feet finally decide what they want to do.

He shuffles forward, a hand over his mouth as his eyes stay trained on his brother.

The rope around Sam's neck is long; the end of it curls on the floor even though it's dangling from a beam at least thirty feet in the air, not counting the other seven that's sustaining Sam's weight.

Hung. Someone had hung his baby brother.

The vomit that comes up and threatens to choke him doesn't really surprise him, but Castiel's heavy hand on his shoulder does. He's shaking as he spits the remaining residue from his mouth and tears are burning their way down his face, both from puking and from the soul squeezing grief that has a hold of him. Dean lets out a shuddering breath, trying to regain the courage to look at Sam again, to do what he needs to do.

"Are you alright?" Castiel asks, his hand still placed firmly on Dean's shoulder.

The shuddering half sob, half cough that ricochets under Castiel's hand is answer enough, a firm no way in hell.

"Help," Dean starts and then coughs as tears cloud his throat, "Help me get him down."

Dean stands under Sam, unable to look away even though he desperately wants to. Castiel is on the other side of the rope, the end that's wrapped around a jagged pipe that's sticking out of the wall. It's what's holding Sam up. Dean guesses that someone held the rope when the deed was actually being done and then they tied it off before they left, so that Sam stayed swinging from the beam instead of falling to a heap on the floor. It was an act of sheer violence, a message, a punishment. It simultaneously makes Dean's blood boil and heart break, and he promises himself right then and there that whatever did this is going to pay with blood…with their lives, be it supernatural or not.

Castiel slowly and gently releases the rope from the pipe and starts lowering Sam down to where Dean's waiting below. Dean's hands grip Sam's jacket tightly, as the slack of the rope gives away, leaving Dean to take all of his brother's weight. Dean grits his teeth and slowly lowers Sam so that he's lying on the ground. When it's done, Dean takes a second to just breathe. He closes his eyes, wondering how he's going to get through the next minute, the next hour, the next everything, because he can't make another deal, can't pull any favors and can't turn back time. Sam's dead and this time, there's nothing he can do to save him.

Dean squeezes his eyes shut tighter as more tears leak from under his eyelids. When he opens them again, he sinks to the ground next to his brother. Dean steels himself and makes himself look at Sam, really look at him. Sam couldn't have been dead long because his skin is just on this side of cold. If Dean concentrates long enough, he can still feel some warmth in Sammy's cheek.

Whoever killed his brother really worked him over first. He suspects that Sam's cheekbone is shattered by the coloring of his skin, there's dried blood under his nose, and his lip is split in two places. Carefully, Dean lifts Sam's shirt to look fore more injuries and then sucks in a breath. Sam's torso is covered in bruises, colors ranging from blue to purple to black. That's not even the worst of it. There are five cuts decorating Sam's chest, all of them ranging in depth, with what looks like salt clinging to the edges of the wounds, almost like…like Sam was being tested.

That's when it all clicks together, like a puzzle. Other hunters, it had to be.

He looks his brother over again from head to toe. The evidence is all there. The closer Dean looks the more he can see the drying holy water on Sam's clothes and he'd bet another ten years in hell that the cuts on Sam's body were made with a silver knife.

"Sonuvabitch," Dean grits as his hand tightens in Sam's tee-shirt.

Slowly, he unclenches his hand and smoothes Sam's shirt back down, trying to smooth his anger along with it. There'd be time for rage later. Right now he has to do what he failed to do so horribly: take care of his brother.

His hands are shaking as he moves to grasp behind his brother's neck to feel the knot in the rope. He carefully shifts the rope around Sam's neck so that he can untie the knot. The logical thing would be to cut it free but the idea of putting a knife near Sam right now is enough to make him want to vomit again. So he works methodically to get the rope off manually and somehow, it makes him feel like he's doing it right. When the rope finally gives and slips free, Dean lifts Sam's head up, cradling it gently and pulls it free. He throws it as far away from him as possible and makes a silent vow to burn it later.

Suddenly, Dean's unsure of what to do. He's taken back to Cold Oak when he spent the better part of three days staring at Sam's body as it slowly wasted away. Nothing could tear him away from Sam then. Not Bobby, not the Yellow Eyed Demon who was still running rampage, nothing. Dean doesn't know if the apocalypse is enough to take him from his brother but he does know what is: revenge.

It's the Winchester circle of life: death, impenetrable grief, deals, revenge. In that order, over and over again. Dean's breaking the cycle this time, skipping over the deal part and driving straight into revenge, full speed ahead. After that? He's tempted to let the world burn. Except…that's not what Sam would want. That's not what Sam died for.

Dean shakes his head and scrubs a hand over his face, wiping away tears that are just going to fall again.

He reaches out and moves some of the pieces of hair that are covering Sam's forehead. Dean smiles slightly, even though it's more sad than anything, "Girly hair."

His hand moves down and his thumb gently rubs Sam's cheek bone, and Dean swallows as he feels the coldness there.

"I'm sorry, Sammy," Dean whispers, his breath catching on more tears, "I'm so damned sorry."

Sorry for pushing you away, for not getting here sooner, for letting you walk away in the first place, for letting you die.

Then, the most terrifying thought hits Dean and he's suddenly finding it hard to take in air, "Cas? Is he…is Sam in hell?"

Castiel is silent for a moment too long before he answers, "I don't know."

Dean's eyes squeeze shut as a sob wracks through him, because he knows. There's no way that Sam avoided being sent down stairs. There was no way that Sam isn't burning. His stomach clenches as he thinks about Sam suffering like he had suffered, and he barely keeps himself from passing out.

When the feeling passes he leans over and presses his forehead against Sam's, remembering the hundreds of times he did it as a kid and was trying to comfort his younger brother, "I'm going to find them, Sammy. I'm going to fix this."

He stays that way for a moment, hunched over and leaning against Sam as he tries to take some small comfort from his brother.

He lets out a shuddering breath as a new determination sets within him, "Help me move him, Cas."

Castiel might have hesitated, Dean's not sure because he didn't look, but eventually Castiel walks over.

"Where are you moving him?"

"On to one of the tables. I don't…I can't burn him yet, but there's no where else - I just can't leave him on the floor," Dean says as he takes his eyes off Sam and looks up at Castiel.

Castiel nods once and moves to grab Sam's feet while Dean takes his shoulders. Together, they shuffle over to one of the metal tables and lift Sam on top of it, being careful not to jar him too much even though he can't feel it. Even with Sam gone, Dean can't hurt him.

Dean lays his hand on Sam's forehead one last time and cards his fingers through his hair, before he steps away from his brother. The movement tugs on his big brother instincts; every fiber of his being screams at him to step back closer to Sam. But he can't. He has something he needs to do.

"Tell me everything," Dean demands.

"I don't know much," Castiel replies, looking Dean straight in the eye.

"Well for starters, how'd you know Sam was…" Dean can't say the word, can't even form the beginning syllable.

"The protective sigils carved in your ribs stop working if you die," Castiel says with the slightest glance towards Sam.

"When did you stop feeling them working for Sam?"

"I do not know mortal time…"

"Events then, Cas, what was the last thing you did?" Dean demands impatiently.

"Talked to you on the phone."

"And then?"

"Waited for you."

Dean curses. Some time between talking to Sam on the phone for the last time and taking his little time traveling trip, Sam had been kidnapped, beaten, tested for evil, and finally hung. It gave whoever did it about a two hour time frame and Dean knows that Sam didn't go down without a fight. The kid would've fought tooth and nail.

That means that bastards couldn't have gone far and Dean is coming for them.

"Anything else?" Dean grounds out, his fists aching to smash into something.

Castiel looks hesitant, "Dean, I know this is difficult, but seeking revenge is not going to help. It is not going to bring Sam back."

Dean looks like he's going to kill the angel, "I know that Cas, but whoever did this? They aren't getting away with it, there's no way in hell."

"Revenge destroyed your brother, how do you know it will not do the same to you?" Castiel presses as he moves closer to Dean.

"I don't know and I don't care," Dean states fiercely, "But someone killed Sam, murdered him in cold blood and I'm not letting it go."

"The apocalypse…"

"I don't give a damn about the apocalypse!" Dean shouts, "Don't you understand? Sam. Is. Dead. And he's not coming back this time! And the only thing I can do about it, is hunt down the bastards who did it! Because…"

Dean trails off as sobs threaten to take him over again, and he visibly tries to pull himself together, "Because I failed him. Because I'm the one who let him walk away. When he called I didn't even - it was the last time I talked to him, Cas, and I told him we were better off apart. That we weren't stronger together. It wasn't true."

Castiel watches Dean with a frown, sympathy shinning through his eyes as the strongest human he knows falls apart.

"It wasn't true," Dean repeats softly, his eyes closed.

Castiel breathes deeply, wondering if this is what his superiors were talking about when they said he was getting too close to Dean Winchester, "My powers are not what they used to be."

Dean lets out a harsh, short laugh and Castiel ignores it, "But I can try to piece together what happened here. The picture might be fractured but if you want…I can try."

Dean's eyes open and he stares at Castiel like the angel is his last hope on earth, a life savor in the middle of the ocean, and then he nods. Castiel walks until he is toe to toe with Dean and then he pauses, "Are you sure you want to see this? I could…"

"Cas," Dean interrupts, "I'm sure. I have to."

Castiel nods and then lifts his hand.