A/N: When no one else will write the stories you want to read, you gotta do it your damn self.

No slash intended. Strong, sentimental friendship and brotherhood.

Warning: light spoilers for the upcoming end of S5.

This is What We Die For

Sam and Dean lie awake with their backs to each other, on opposite sides of the queen-sized bed they silently agreed to book when they checked into the motel this morning. They arrived in Northfield, Michigan after taking their time on the drive; tomorrow, they go to Detroit for Lucifer. Neither of them expect to sleep, not even trying much. They stare into the dark and think of death, defeat. For a while, they even forget to listen to each other breathe. Beneath their fear, their worry, a small of piece of each man contains an unspoken and immeasurable gratitude for having reached this point with his brother--and for having done it without either one surrendering his body as a vessel. Dean, trying to outrun Sam in the stubbornness department, told Michael to go suck it and refused him access. Sam, perhaps more because of Dean's support than either one of them can admit, followed suit and resisted Lucifer down to this night.

And here they are.

Like so many times before in their lives, they are overcome simultaneously by the expectation of dying in battle and the secret hope that they'll cheat the reaper once again. But more important than living or dying is their need, their promise, to do whatever they do together. On an empty stretch of highway on the way into Michigan, with a gray sky looming above them, they rode without talk or music and knew somehow that this was their promising. No more deals. No more toughing out misery. Their whole lives--everything they've done and everything they've sacrificed--has led them to this point. When it ends, they'll have nothing but each other, win or lose, and neither one of them will stand to walk away without his brother.

"Sam," says Dean, his voice sounding louder than he meant. The digital clock on his night stand reads 1:32 AM.

"Yeah?" says Sam. Dean pauses for a moment, then says,

"Do you think... you think Dad'll see us? Wherever he is?"

Sam swallows down pain in a tight throat. He thinks about his brother's question.

"Yeah," he says, believing it. "Yeah, I think he'll see."

They both think the same thing: this was so much bigger than Dad thought it was, so much more than the Yellow-Eyed Demon. And then, I wish he were here to help.

"What if we screw up?" says Dean.

And what he means is, What if Dad sees us fail at saving the whole world?

That possibility, for all of Dean's more desperate need to please their father, weighs heavier on Sam. He can imagine John watching Lucifer win and thinking: Dean, you should've killed your brother when you had the chance. Sam has to focus on breathing through the wave of despair that thought unleashes.

"Then I hope he forgives us," says Sam. And it's the best answer he can give because it's true. Sam's finished lying to his brother.

They keep still and quiet again for several minutes, until Sam can no longer resist bringing up what's been on his mind all day.

"Dean," he says.

"Yeah, Sam."

"Dean, if we lose, you gotta--you gotta make sure that I'm gone. You have to destroy my body before he can get to it. Promise me."

Dean doesn't reply at once, facing the window and the room door, one tear snaking down the side of his nose.

"Okay," he says.

"You have to torch me. You gotta find a way to do it before you go."

"All right."

Dean wants to say, we won't lose. But he can't prove it. Taking the victory in this fight requires more than optimism, so he won't speak those words. Instead, he says nothing at all, clutching at the bottom corner of his pillow with one fist. Tears slip down his face like quicksilver, and he purses his lips against any sound he might make to betray them to his brother. He tells himself to man the fuck up, that no war was ever won by losing your cool over oncoming fire, but he can't make those tears stop. He squeezes his eyes shut, and all he wants is his father because even though John Winchester's dead, he's still indestructible to Dean.

It used to be that their father bore the brunt of their burden, as fathers often do. To his last breath, even when Sam and Dean had long since grown up into men, John took on the worst of their family fight so that his sons might be spared. Now, Sam and Dean are the only men left to answer this shit storm, and while they aren't fathers, they are brothers. And they remain, forever, sons.

Sam and Dean both wonder, though, if this apocalyptic show-down would overwhelm even their superhero dad. They lie here together on this bed and do not feel like men. They are small and mortal and guilty of graver sins than anyone they'll ever know. They have no one to look at for hope because they themselves are everyone else's. And privately, each man asks himself if he has what it takes, if he can really get up tomorrow morning and defeat the personification of evil.

They tremble under the weight.

Several minutes pass in silence, Dean weeping to himself without a whimper. Suddenly, Sam rolls over onto his other side and reaches out for Dean, his big hand like a bear paw on Dean's shoulder. Sam pulls his brother to him and wraps both arms around him, impossibly strong and powerful. Dean doesn't resist, too worried about hiding his face from Sam, and Sam presses himself up to his big brother's back and spoons up behind him. He rests his face down against Dean's shoulder and neck, breathing in his brother's scent, and Dean shudders against him with those silent tears. Sam could say something soothing, but he doesn't try. He could give his brother last words about what Dean means to him, but they already know how they feel about each other. And Dean doesn't believe in last words.

So Sam just holds him, as close as possible, his chest moving into Dean's back and his great arms telling his big brother let me protect you for once. And this comforts Sam himself as much as he tries to comfort Dean--because ever since his brother came back from hell, all Sam wanted was this. All he ever wanted was to be with Dean again. He doesn't know how everything got so fucked up in the process of satisfying that desire, and now that they've finally arrived on the eve of the end, Sam finds himself wanting the same thing. He barely gives a damn about saving the world anymore. All he wants is to go home with Dean, in peace.

Dean shuts his eyes as they overflow, surging with the relief Sam brings. He'll never admit it, but he has ached to feel this love from his brother for so long. He doesn't know how long. This is Sam, enveloping him. This is Sam reaching out for him without Dean asking. Stripped down to the bones, this is what Dean's wanted all his life. He cries now not so much out of despair but because of Sam's warm and eternal presence. Dean feels his baby brother's soft breath on the back of his neck, Sam's broader chest and shoulders covering Dean's own, and the wholeness coming from Sam's body meeting Dean's from head to toe--their union filling Dean's void in a stinging burst. He doesn't know about defeating Lucifer; he just wants to stay like this with Sam, no matter what.

The brothers drift to sleep together, Dean's tears drying on his face and dampening his pillow. The wrinkles in his breath even out, until he and Sam breathe together in the same rhythm.

An hour later, Dean wakes up without knowing why.... until he recognizes Castiel watching him from the nearest corner. Sam sleeps on obliviously, but Dean has long since had a sixth sense for Castiel's presence. He blinks at the angel, his eyes sore from crying, and Castiel stands still, his blue eyes clear to Dean even in the dark.


"I came to keep vigil."

They whisper as softly as they can, mindful not to wake Sam. Dean doesn't reply right away, just looks at his angel and considers the words. They stare at each other with that indescribable intensity of theirs, but tonight it carries a new poignancy. After a few minutes, Dean sees the unbelievable rawness of emotion in Castiel, his own feelings clearing enough for a moment so that he can see. And Dean has never seen the angel the way Castiel looks now, those blue eyes full of an endless loneliness. The angel's whole body seems so mournful, Dean forgets himself. He can see in the angel's face that this pain over reaches weeping or words, and Dean can hardly bear it.

"What's--what is it, Cas?" he says, the question sounding utterly stupid to his own ears.

Castiel looks at the floor listlessly, and Dean has to restrain himself from pulling out of Sam's arms and going over to the angel. When Castiel meets Dean's gaze again, he says,

"This may be the last night we see each other."

The simplicity of his statement, the devastation in his voice, leaves Dean's heart crumpled anew. When Castiel says it, he sounds like he's speaking of his own world's end, and it's too earnest. Dean's swollen eyes begin to glisten.

"Come here," he says, almost inaudible. Castiel just looks at him for a second, then crosses the room. He stands at the bedside, looking down at Dean, and Dean can feel the angel's grief radiating from his body like a genuinely physical energy.

"Lie down," Dean says.

Castiel only hesitates a little, before shedding his trench coat and his suit jacket and his tie, leaving them on the floor. Sam left just enough space for him when he pulled Dean across the bed. Dean worries the angel's added weight may wake his brother, but Sam's breathing remains sleep-slow. Castiel lies on his back next to Dean and stares at the ceiling.

"Hey," says Dean. "Look at me."

The angel turns his head on the pillow, face inches away from Dean's, and Dean almost looks away at the sight of those eyes. He reaches out and lays a hand on Castiel's chest, but here again, he doesn't know what to say. They lie like that for a while, in silence, staring into each other with everything they could say but won't. You know I love you. That's what they look. Dean realizes it's the sum of everything he and Castiel might speak now. The angel knows love because of Dean, and Dean knows salvation because of Castiel. What more could they say about that anyway?

Dean tugs at Castiel's shirt, until the angel rolls onto his side away from Dean, sensing what the man wants from him. With Sam's arms still snug around him, Dean carefully moves his own arm around Castiel, drawing him near. The angel pushes back into Dean's chest, and Dean embraces him the way Sam embraces Dean. Dean rests his face on the back of the angel's shoulder and feels the tsunami of Castiel's anguish, then the spread of this temporary peace like a warm pink glow. Castiel begins to quiver like a bird, powerless to stop himself; he is surrounded by Dean and feels more than he's ever known. He doesn't understand, even now, why he loves this man, but he'll follow Dean to whatever fate awaits them. Dean feels the tremors in Castiel's body and strokes a small spot of the angel's chest with his thumb until Castiel finally begins to calm. Dean can sense the angel's face smooth out, though he can't see it, and Castiel quickly falls asleep, just as Dean begins to follow.

His last thought, before he goes under, is that if he's going to die tomorrow for good--this is exactly the way he wants to spend his last night. Safe, between his brother and his angel.