Disclaimer: See Chapter One

A/N: Ah, the end – and before the show comes back on Thursday! I'm totally stoked! I thought I'd share this because I get asked it a lot. Am I a SamGirl or A DeanGirl? I have always maintained that I am bi-Winchester. I don't play favorites and all that crap. However, I have to say that when I went to the SPN Con in Chicago, I had two photo-ops with the boys and my friend gaelicspirit. I thought we'd maybe do one with me next to Jared and then switch and I'd be next to Jensen. They told us it was time for us to go and as I crossed over, I looked up and saw Jensen smiling at me and I said (and I quote): "Oh. What am I doing? I don't want you. I'm a SamGirl." His face totally fell and then I turned around to see Jared with his hand up, ready for a high-five.

To this day, I shake my head at the fact that I told Jensen Ackles I didn't want him. God, what was I thinking. So, I may be slightly more a SamGirl. I outted myself in front of them, I guess.

Beta Who? My many thanks goes to MAZ101 who cheers me up every day even if we don't converse. She really has an amazing light in her because I can feel her energy across an ocean.

Chapter Eight: Learning to Fly

"You need to sleep. You look like… like crap."

Dean rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands. Night had gone and morning had erupted and it was so freaking bright in the motel room, he didn't think he could sleep if he tried. "I'm good."

Cas stared at him. Sympathetically, maybe, he thought, but didn't know if Cas actually felt sympathy. Yeah, maybe.

Whatever the case, the angel had been there for him. He'd swung – or flown – by the house, took care of the mess. Called authorities. Bodies would be found. People could bury their dead. He'd picked up all the supplies Dean had requested. Procrit. Azithromycin. Erythromycin. Vancomycin. Castiel wasn't sure which one to grab, so he brought three. Dean had looked in the bag and then back up. Actually smiled.

Cas handed him another bag. Liquor store. Vodka was a little late, but he'd hang on to it in case he needed to sterilize anything else. Or, anything else. Russian, though, more his taste.

Dean sat and waited. Booted up the laptop. Checked Dad's journal. Racked his brain to figure out if they were dealing with anything real or not. Hoped to hell it was because if it wasn't, he'd guess the only answer would be a shrink.

Sam woke up from time to time. Always disoriented at first, but latched on to Dean and seemed to remember where he was. Remembered some other things. Didn't recognize Cas. Complained of a headache. Dean gave him leftover Vicodin. Never complained of his shoulder or stomach. Just his head. Scritching and Scratching in there, he'd said.

So Dean had set up wards along Sam's pillow. Dream demon, maybe. Said the exorcism he had memorized from before. Maybe this time it'd do some good.

"What are you mumbling?" Sam asked, awake again. And Dean told him, explained how the Archangel Michael had said it during his banishment of Lucifer. "Sounds like a prayer," Sam remarked. Maybe it was. Maybe that's all any of them were. "Keep saying it. Maybe it'll work." So Dean repeated it a few times, Sam listening, eyes closed until he went to sleep.

And Dean felt his eyes fill then. Had to press his fingers deep into his eye sockets to stop the tears. Cas behind him and, Jesus, God the love the guy, but sometimes he was too close. Sometimes Dean just needed room to breathe.

"Dean, why don't you go outside and grab a Coke. I'll sit here with him for a while."

Dean turned his head. His jacket was being offered to him. Human beings were odd things. Strong and frail at the same time and sometimes when the moment was just right, vulnerable. Dean swallowed, looked up. Vulnerable to friendship when the circle of trust in his family rarely let anyone in. Only out.

"Salt lines," Dean reminded him as he got up, headed for the door.

"Salt lines." Cas nodded.

Dean stepped out into the cool air. Looked up, sun shining down, but still cool in Iowa. Checked his watch. Already after two in the afternoon. Wondered if the diner had any good pie. Wondered if Kim was working the front desk. Found himself lingering there too long and he shook himself off the thought, pulled out his phone and pressed his speed dial. Cracked a smile when Bobby answered the phone "Pizza Hut." Leaned against the brick wall outside of the Inn and started a bit of small talk with him. Always kind of liked the way Bobby let him do that, start with a warm-up band. Dad had never bothered. Went right for what was playing on the main stage.

Always.

"So."

"So."

Dean held still, phone pressed against his ear, like he could maybe hear better that way. Probably was to feel closer, but he would never admit that. He'd already put his foot in his mouth when he asked if Bobby had heard anything about bigger things like the apocalypse and Bobby had replied with Let me just roll over to this window and take a look… Then he'd ungruffed, degruffed, whichever, and they shared an uncomfortable minute of silence.

Then Dean filled him in on Sam.

Bobby let out a string of words, too garbled to understand but Dean knew it was bothering him. Felt kinda guilty at burdening their old friend with this, but one thing the three of them had all agreed upon when Bobby was discharged from the hospital was they were to check in with him. At least once a week. Made Bobby feel better. Well, maybe more than Bobby.

"You need me to come your way?"

Dean blinked, cleared his throat and it sounded broken up, like he was falling apart. He sniffed and winced because that sounded like he was crying and he most certainly was not crying. Ran a hand down his cheek just to be sure it was dry.

"You driving now?"

A huff. "I've been living with this for a coupla months now, kid. What do you think I've been doing with my time? Gathering fairy dust? Learning to fly?" Then a pause, almost apologetic and then softer, "If it's got wheels, I can get there."

This time Dean swallowed and part of him wanted to tell Bobby to throw himself in the car and come on down. It wasn't that far of a drive, but Dean wasn't sure that Bobby was ready for, well, for the work right now. "I appreciate it, Bobby." And he did. Bobby had a way, even when he was angry, at being more parental than the boys' parent ever had been. Let them be more of who they were supposed to be. Not who he thought they were supposed to be. So Dean refused his offer and asked, "How 'bout you? You okay?"

"What the hell kinda question is that?" Dean closed his eyes – more like squeezed them shut – fucking words. And then, just like he could see through the receiver, Bobby's voice again, more gently, "Yeah, I'm okay." Because that's what Dean needed to hear. "Whadda 'bout you?"

Dean nodded into the phone. "Me? I'm good."

"Lie."

"You know, I'm… okay."

It was all so quiet for a few seconds and Dean had started to think that maybe his call had been dropped when Bobby suddenly invaded his eardrum again. "Dean, the damage…" and then held a breath, fidgeted with something in the background. Flipping through a book. Research. "How deep is it?"

Bobby could have just asked the question to three fucking different scenarios but regardless of pointing a finger at one, Dean knew. He knew which he was talking about. Sniffed again and ran his hand down his face. Not crying. He wasn't. "I'm just... He's, uh… he's all I got." Stuck on that for a second. Let the words sink in, find their place. "And I'm just sitting here, Bobby. Watching him sleep." Dean went still, could hear Bobby take in a deep breath and slowly let it out. "Why does that scare me?" Felt a tear slip and wanted to kick himself for saying that stupid, stupid word.

There was a long pause and then Bobby replied, "Because you know that's where the monsters are."

WWW

It was an odd thing to be asleep and yet alert at the same time. Stuck in some parallel universe that didn't exist and didn't have connections to keep him grounded. And yet it did exist and there were connections. Just ones that distorted the way he remembered things. Truths became lies. Fact became fiction. Words warped somewhere between thinking them and having them come out of his mouth. Names were lost. Memories were changed.

Even when he could hold on to the one thing he remembered above all others, his own brother, even then, in this world Dean morphed. Became something he feared.

This time when Sam awoke, he wasn't stranded in a lake, drowning. Nor was he pinned to a ceiling, on fire. This time when he opened his eyes – and, damn, they felt like they were really open – he was safe and secure in the backseat of an early 1970's version of the Ford Mach 1 Mustang.

He immediately broke out in a sweat. He couldn't breathe – felt like the air was gone, or dead, or nonexistent – and he just couldn't breathe. Sucked in a breath, felt like his lungs were being squeezed, pulled through a grinder, it hurt so bad. His heart rate sped up, galloping in his ears. Everything going from calm and secure to Get me the fuck outta here in less than a second.

He'd rather drown or burn to death if he didn't have to be here.

"This isn't real," he said into the nothingness. Looked out each window. Pitch black on the outside, but here on the inside, enough light to see. "It isn't real." Tried the handles on the door. Didn't budge. Pushed on the cushion of the seat. Sprung back in his hand. Felt pretty goddamn real. Brought his legs up close to his waist and shoved, ramming them at the rolled up windows.

Ended up hurting his foot. Cussed like a son of a bitch.

It all screamed Real! and, yet, Sam said it again, "This isn't real." Hoped for a miracle because he needed to wake up and get out of this car right now. Tried to take a breath, felt the air around him shift, tasted it on his tongue: sulfur. Acrid and hot. Burning.

Sam felt his abdomen twinge and he suddenly doubled over in pain, his arm crossing his stomach. His forehead rested on the driver's seat for a moment and he panted. One breath in, another out. Tried to talk himself down from the ledge of panic. NotrealNotrealNotreal.

Opened his eyes. There. The driver's seat, dead ahead of him, empty. Steering wheel ready for warm hands to start her up, take her for a spin. His eyes skated over to the passenger seat. Empty as well. Chair pushed back as far as it would go. Fit to accommodate someone of a taller stature.

Sam felt everything inside him slide then. Too many thoughts racing through his mind, raw and evil and dripping with his finger prints all over them. His face scrunched up in pain and he pushed away until he felt his back smack into the cushion behind him. He could feel the blood, could smell it as he removed his arm and looked down. His guts were spilling out all over the car. Slashed clean across his stomach, no one here to patch him up and dammit if his insides weren't crawling out of him now, leaving him feeling sick and bloody and wishing that something wanted to stay with him.

The car grumbled to life then and Sam looked ahead. Saw a red light flash on the dashboard Hazard, heard a car horn, and realized that it wasn't the car itself, but that the radio had kicked on. Running with the Devil. Roth, not Hagar, when Van Halen was cool. Eddie using his Ibanez Destroyer for the high pitched guitar riffs.

Eddie Van Halen. Ranked #70 on Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.

Dean had been so horrified. Sam held on to that. Remembered that. He had almost taken it personally.

Dean had looked up from the magazine. Had actually got all wide-eyed excited when he saw it at a Discount Mart. Hell, the magazine was on a bargain bin. Was already two years old when Dean had found it.

"Just look it up online," Sam suggested.

But Dean, smiling that thousand dollar grin as he handed over his money simply asked, "What would be the fun in that?" Threw Sam the keys so he could bury his nose in the countdown and when he came to number seventy, he was speechless.

"Someone has to better, man."

"But sixty-nine others? Dude."

"Sam." Ah, back to reality. Or not. Still wasn't sure where he was, but he could feel toasty hands on his cheeks. "Nothing to be scared about, man." Felt a playful nudge. The voice was rotating in the air, not in his head, but maybe in the suffocating of the air. It was sultry, deeper than he remembered. Seductive as a siren. He shut his eyes to the touch, hiding his sorrow and shame. Wanting nothing more but to break now, let it all pour out. But all he could do was turn away, hide his tears and swallow it down. Because he knew now who this was stalking him.

A breath against his ear, closer, felt his hair curl against his neck. "It's not that bad."

Sam tried to say something, but an odd sound escaped his lips. Everything was clogged, lodged in his throat. Not enough ventilation to form even the simplest of words. This… this thing was in his head. Taking memories and conversations and feelings that was his and… and what? Sam frowned.

"Come on, Sam. When a bear charges you do you run away? Do you do nothing? Or do you charge back?" Those were Dean's words. She was taking. Taking from Sam what Sam took from her. You only get what you gave.

"Cat got your tongue?" And the voice changed, like everything in this world. Seductive one minute, deadly the next. "Because I gotta tell ya, Sam, this? This whole Devil in the details crap? It's getting pretty fucking old."

Sam opened his eyes. Head pressed against the window. Glass reflecting only his twisted image back. He waited. Listened as certain death spoke.

"You'd think that demons would want to keep you safe, wouldn't you? Isn't it funny that really all they want is for you to be dead. Lucifer doesn't care about them. Us. Demons are expendable. Easily replaced. But you?" Arms around him now, warming up. Everything warmer in here. "We couldn't help ourselves. You're like our ocean, you know. Calm on the surface, but a storm underneath swelling, waiting to explode. And me?" And there was laughter and it was full of blood. "I'm here for the revenge. But you already know that, don't you?"

He felt a leap in the temperature, his stomach curdling violently and he didn't want to look, didn't want to know which one of them was on fire because this heat was close and he didn't think he could stand it if it were him or if it were her.

"We keep each other human." Her voice melded then, slipped into a lower register. Almost male.

"Please, stop." Couldn't help himself, but it was said softly. A plea. No real anger behind it.

"Your brother's gonna be the death of you, Sam."

And that he believed. He pushed away from the window, eyes still away, felt it move next to him, releasing him. Giving him back some control. Funny how at the time, Sam never thought about it: What happens to an innocent person in the afterlife if its death served an evil purpose? What does that do their soul? Does it twist and alter?

For so many people, Sam Winchester was their hero. But for one person, he was her monster.

"Look at me." She waited. "I was never betting on the game, Sam." Giggled now because she was fucking with him. Using Dean's words in her voice to get him exactly where she needed him.

Vulnerable.

Of course, this demon wasn't finished. They were never really finished. "Or you still got Plan B. You could say yes to Lucifer and I'm sure he'd heal all wounds or something like that. And then I'll go away. Await your orders."

Sam felt the pain again from his abdomen. Looked down. It was dark like blood at the bottom of a river. Cut like his mom. Like Jess. Only two ways out of this car.

"Answer me."

Sam turned his head, slowly, so not to be blinded by the light that engulfed what was once her human form. Only it wasn't a light anymore. It was fire. It was always fire. And Sam was going to burn alive.

He found Cindy McClellan's sockets peering out of the flames. It wasn't her fault. She had been overpowered by a demon. Taken over, her body foreclosed upon, and her blood sucked dry.

Sam swallowed. Met her eyes. "I'm sorry," he offered. And what did it mean? What could it mean? There were no I'm sorry's for this. For what he had done. What he had done to her. To destroy her to change him.

Her form shimmered, shone brighter, but he could still read it. There was no forgiveness.

And Sam thought, Yeah. He kinda deserved this.

WWW

"Dean."

Stale breath with a hint of Russian Vodka on his tongue was how he woke up. He felt his body being shaken. Opened his eyes, lashes sticking together like honey, to find Castiel staring down at him. Brows furrowed, pinched lines over the bridge of his nose. Even in the dim of night, Cas still held a glow about him.

"What?" Voice husky from sleep. He'd finally caved, let Cas sit watch for a few hours while he got some much needed rest. Dreamt of a dark place this time. Screams filling in as a soundtrack. His hands wrapped around somebody's heart. Still beating. That goddamned place still haunted him.

"There's a problem with Sam."

Really? Dean blinked rapidly a few times, cleared his head. Which problem would that be? "His wound open up?" Looked over Cas' shoulder to Sam's bed. Empty.

"No."

And Dean was up, swinging his legs over the side of the mattress, Cas pointing over to the end of the bed. Dean's gaze followed. Against the wall, Sam was on his knees, eyes open, but not seeing. His face was free of color, almost ghost-like as his lips moved soundlessly. His hands were behind his back, like he was bound and he swayed back and forth in a gentle, rhythmic motion.

"He's been doing this for about thirty minutes or so. I try to talk to him, but he doesn't seem to hear me."

Dean stared for a few seconds, watching the odd dance, taking in the change in the room, air hard to breathe, like someone was holding a wet washcloth over his mouth. Scared, really, emotions bubbling to the surface.

"Can I do anything?" Cas calm as predictable. And Dean needed that.

"Yeah, uh," remembered that even though three could be a crowd, also knew that at times, three was the magic number. "I need to see if I can snap him out of this. I need some smelling salt and maybe, you could stop by the front desk. See if they have any extra pillows, blankets." Pushed off the bed now, Sam seemed to notice him. "Maybe something hot to drink or soup or –"

Cas glanced over. Nodded to Dean. "Be back soon. Remember, salt lines."

"Salt lines," Dean agreed, brushed by the angel, crossing the few steps to his brother. He fell to his knees in front of Sam, hands reaching out, hovering, suddenly not sure. Twenty-six years of protecting and teaching and fighting and loving and sacrificing and now? Now Dean's hands fell to his sides, not knowing any longer where to start because it never ended well.

You have to let me grow up.

When Dean was twenty-six, he had sought Sam out because he couldn't find their dad. And Dean didn't want to endure that journey alone. When he was twenty-six, they had hardly ever even heard of a person being possessed by a demon. Now it was their job every day of the week.

I just want my brother back 'cause… just 'cause.

A hand on Sam's left arm and Dean could see his brother take a long, slow blink.

"Sam?"

And Sam was staring at him. Looking at him in a way that Dean hadn't felt in a long time. Seeing him, no words, just seeing and Sam leaned in a little, his right hand reaching out, clutching Dean's left.

"What is it, Sam?"

There was a whoosh behind him, smelled a spark of sulfur, like someone had just lit a match, as Dean's head turned. Standing in the corner of the room was a figure on fire, transforming quickly to take human-shape. A definitive head, spirally arms, legs like spindles. Flames everywhere, not igniting anything, the heat contained somehow with its form.

"Oh, Holy Hell," Dean breathed. Felt Sam's grasp tighten.

Then it was a twisted mass of matter as the thing tried to fit itself into its body. Arms shortening, lengthening, shortening again, legs becoming firmer, stronger. A voice boxing out of the head, hitting replay, stealing, hooking and snagging on bits and pieces of his life, verbal vomit at its best: "I don't know when it happened, maybe when I was in hell or maybe when I was staring right at you, but the Sam I knew, he's gone." Then a tick of the neck. "She's poison, Sam!" Hands formed, fingers curling with long flares. "It's not something that you're doing! It's what you are! It means –" A low giggle. "It means you're a monster." Voice shrilling on the last word, blissfully letting it roll off the roof of its mouth.

Dean spun towards it. What the fuck was it? Only thing he had ever seen like this had been his mom back in Lawrence. And this was not her. Maybe it was a sick joke. Maybe just another dagger to the heart to prove that it had him. Had them.

He could feel two things at the same time, prodding him. One was the Knife, tucked in the back of his waistband, pressed between his jeans and his Calvin's, suddenly feeling its weight in gold. Second was his brother, gripping his arm so tight, Dean felt it pinch, thought maybe his blood supply was going to get cut off.

"I'm sorry. I mean, this is all my fault. I know that. What you're doing...it's not gonna save me. It's only gonna kill you." It grinned now, teeth not visible, but the entire face turned up into a happy, Christmas-big grin. Dee-lighted!

Dean twirled back to Sam. He needed him to let him go. Let him get this thing before it got them, but that's when he saw it in Sam's eyes. Sam kind of knew this was coming. Kind of thought that maybe it should come.

For him.

"Dean," Sam swallowed, sweat dripping off his brow, hair spiked in wet tents. "Dean, I killed a nurse."

Said so clearly. Like it was real. Like it had happened, but it couldn't have happened. Dean would have remembered if Sam had –

"Before the convent. Right before…" hesitated… "Lilith." Swallowed again. And Dean got it. Sam's head cocked to the side like he did when he was sorry, when he felt bad, when he was guilty. "I needed more blood. And this demon had trapped itself in a nurse and I –" kind of drifted off now, letting Dean fill in the blanks. But, still had to say it because it was a confession after all. "I drank her blood."

There. There it was. What Cas was talking about. A jump. Not knowing how high you were soaring from or how far it was going to be 'til you hit the ground. Or if you were going to get lucky and someone was going to catch you. Sam closed his eyes and Dean lost his air for a moment, felt frail and helpless and yet oddly relieved. Everything tilting to the left, nothing in the room except them. Them and this leap of faith.

And over the quiet that followed, the voice that kept on giving, piped out, "Sam, remember what Dad taught you, okay? Hey, remember what I taught you." Then the thing figured out its legs and started to walk.

Dean could see the slight quiver of Sam's chin right before the tears fell. He reached behind, grabbed his brother roughly by the back of the neck and brought him close, voice dropping to a low whisper. "What is this thing?"

"Her." Sam's voice thick, an effort, unsure of where he existed with his brother. And Dean felt for the kid, so much of everything was Sam's fault and yet nothing was Sam's fault.

Dean narrowed his eyes. "Her? Her? Like, the nurse her?"

Felt Sam's head bob and Dean pulled away. Hell, fucking, no. It was demon playtime with the Winchesters. A demon had taken over this poor woman's body and a demon had convinced his brother to drink her blood and a demon had orchestrated this entire gag so they could mess with Sam. Because this is exactly what demons did.

And Sam? Sam couldn't let things go. Had to hang on to them forever. Punish himself for things that weren't always in his control. Dean took a breath. Kind of like he'd been doing. Not being able to get over the fact that Sam had chose a demon over his own brother when really she had it worked out pretty damn sweet with Sam. The outcome would have been the same, regardless, nothing to win and everything left to lose.

And it still wasn't over. It was walking over to them now in a fiery humanoid shape. Didn't matter which demon this was, it was still a demon and they wanted the same thing that all demons wanted: For Sam to give himself away.

"Answer me." It spoke, flames dancing as it came closer, tightening the gap. And then for an added jab, "Monster." Its fingers curled forward, like a tamed snake and out of the corner of his eye, Dean could see Sam tug towards it.

"Shut-up!" Dean yelled, looked over, saw Sam shake his head, his eyes pinned on the fire.

"No. My answer is no."

It stopped, hand coming on its hip briefly. "They were right. You all are just two damaged halves of a fucked-up whole, aren't ya?" Offered a soulless smile again and it was horrible. It had them. Dean couldn't just stab it with the Knife. Too much fire, too much power and the exorcism he had recited hadn't even seem to bother it. All it had done was manifest out of Sam.

"Sam –"

"No," Sam growled.

"Sorry, Sam, but you didn't do the right thing. Didn't make the right choices. You made the wrong ones and it's going to haunt you for the rest of your life."

Dean blinked. She was throwing Sam's words back at him. The ones he had used to warn the half-demon boy Jesse. Dean could still see him, looking up asking Sam why he was telling him this and Sam, so shaky, so on edge, telling him that he had to believe that someone could still make the right choices.

Even if he couldn't.

"Veni in auxilium hominum," Dean heard Sam suddenly mutter. He turned, looked at his brother, still swaying, repeating the first verse and then taking a breath. "Quos Deus creavit inexterminabiles." His eyes swung to Dean and he nodded.

Dean turned on his heels, looked on wide-eyed as the flames flickered, changing from red-orange to a bluish glow. Sam was quiet, almost waiting and Dean knew he had said the recited ritual enough times for Sam to commit it to memory. And Sam always had an excellent memory. Two halves of a whole. Dean licked his lips, pushing up with his legs. "Et ad imaginem similitudinis suae fecit." And then Sam joined him, "Et a tyrannide diaboli emit pretio."

The flames shot up high, like the demon was trying to hang on for dear life and then sputtered until a bluish flicker remained. It moved slowly as the fire dissipated, sucked away into the dense air, leaving behind trails of smoke. A form was still very present, left standing, blackened by the heat and the fire, too difficult to make out through the char if it was even male or female and Dean was taking steps forward, Knife in hand, raised to his shoulder.

It lunged once, gnarled hands snagging on his shirt as he approached, still hot against his skin, trying to shove Dean away. Dean felt his feet slide, the demon keeping a lot of power contained in itself. He tried to come after it again, but his momentum was failing. There was a sound like a screeching cat and Dean swore he felt something fly between them, fur tickling his nose, the smell of burnt hair and across from him, he could see visible scratches appear red-hot on the demon's face. Its mouth open, in a silent scream but what was said and done didn't matter anymore. Dean plunged the blade into its chest, watched as electricity ran through its skeleton. Everything still in motion as he backed away, pulling the Knife with him as he did, the figure crashing to its knees, swaying briefly as his brother was, eyes fastened on each other before it shattered to the floor.

There was a plume of smoke, but it didn't linger, it evaporated around them, the scene coming to focus in dust and silt. What was left of the demon quickly turned to ash, almost blending in with the dirty carpet, would probably be easily disposed of with a vacuum cleaner.

Dean heard Sam make a sound, somewhere between hysteria and collapse. He circled around, crouched to his knees and put a hand on his brother's shoulder.

Sam looked up to him, eyes brimming. "I did it," he whispered. "I told it no. I told you… I wouldn't let you down." Stared hard at Dean. "I told it no."

That was Sam's silent fear. Of letting his brother down again. Dean met his eyes, felt words on the tip of his tongue. Forgiveness. Acceptance. Absolution. Release. Couldn't quite get them to form, though. He was never very good at words.

Sam was breathing like there was no tomorrow, air coming way too shallow and Dean could see he was falling fast, everything that had been banging around inside of him finding its way out. Leaving him depleted. "I told it no," he said again, softly.

Dean nodded, snapped out of it, and did exactly what Sam needed him to do at that moment. His arms reached out and as Sam came tumbling down, Dean caught him, heard Sam exhale against his neck and wrapped his arms around him so he could feel it was real. And feel that he mattered.

WWW

It was all still groggy and everything in his head felt like it was full of cotton, soft and hard to decipher, but it was getting better. He remembered Cas' name immediately as he stormed through the door of the motel. He asked Dean to call Bobby, which judging by the look on Dean's face, pleased his brother.

It was all clicking again, like pieces to a puzzle. One by one, found and placed to fit. And it all hurt. He felt like his insides were ripped open. All of them. The wounds smarted, hissed at him sometimes, but his heart is still what kept him up at night.

They stayed two more nights, quiet ones, pizza for Dean, soup for Sam, old movies and refreshments of all sorts. The break was welcomed, needed, but Sam could feel his brother was getting fidgety. Needed to move on, hunt things, save people. Save the world. It was a 24/7 job.

"Come on," Dean slapped Sam's leg as they swung around the Inn. "Let's grab a piece of pie to go."

Sam smiled grimly. "Go ahead –"

"Come on." Elbowed him this time. "I want you to meet somebody."

Dean wasn't the kind that got so excited for either one of them to meet new people, so Sam opened the door, followed him into the Swing Inn, the bell above the door clanging. Dean strutted up to the counter, requested a half a cherry pie to go and asked if Kim was working. Sam followed him around the corner, down a short hallway to where the restaurant became the Inn and behind a rack of postcards and cheesy toys to purchase, a skinny woman, flipping through a book. Bored, chewing on her extra long finger nails, barely noticing the approach of customers.

Dean knocked on the counter. "Hey."

And she jumped a bit, skittish, her scrawny shoulders tensing and then relaxing at Sam's older brother's award winning grin. "Oh. Hello, Sir." Gave him a small smile, mouth tipping up at the corners.

"Sam, this is Kim." Dean tilted his body to the right, his hand gesturing towards Sam. "We're leaving. Thought we'd come by and say good-bye."

She glanced over his shoulder, eyes landing on Sam and he remembered that look suddenly, felt it pang against his abdomen. He blinked once. "Hey," he said to her like it was the only thing he could think of to say.

"You're up." Her voice perky. "You look… better." Her eyes fell to Dean. "Both of you do."

A heavy moment passed and then Dean cleared his throat. "Well, we're going."

"Okay."

"And we really wanted to stop by and," Dean signaled to Sam again and Kim smiled, couldn't help herself, knew it was coming. "say thank-you."

She shrugged. "It was no big deal."

Dean nodded, Sam watched as he looked away for a few seconds, back again, eyes darker. "It was to me."

Sam frowned. Felt like an outsider looking in, but yet he knew he wasn't.

"Well, here," she reached around the corner and grabbed a postcard, signed it, and handed it over to the brothers. "So you won't forget me." Smiled again and then, "Oh – here, take this." Gave them a toy off the display shelf. "Ask it a question and it will predict the future. Gives you the answers in funny phrases. I hear it always gets it right."

"That so?" Dean took them both. Nodded, thanked her again and moved out of the way as she extended her hand out to Sam.

He moved forward, took her hand in his and shook it. "Thanks," he said, eyes skimming hers.

She winked at him. "Just, watch out for yourself," she purred. "Keep yourself sh-afe."

Sam let go. Felt an odd comfort with this woman. Kinda not sure if he wanted to stay or if he should go, but his brother was ready and there were roads open, calling to them.

The Impala was surprisingly warm as they turned and headed South. Dean mentioning it might be good to get out of the cold. He'd thumbed through the Almanac and it looked like this Winter was going to be a screaming diva biotch for so much of the Midwest.

"You okay?" Dean asked. Been a while since he'd checked. Big brother and all, kind of felt like asking.

Sam nodded, opened up the toy Kim had given him. It was like a Magic 8 ball only it had Jimmy Walker on the front of it, proudly proclaiming this was "Dy-No-Mite!" and the holder just had to ask it a question.

"Sam, you know, that nurse… you know she never had a chance, right?"

Yeah, he knew that. Nodded. But, still… "I made the wrong decision. I shouldn't have…" remembered her screams, her pleas. "I was a monster."

Dean seemed to soak that in a moment. "Well, you made the right decision this time. You gotta, I don't know, hold on to that somehow." A couple of minutes passed, Dean sitting quietly, the radio a low hum in the background. Sam wishing he could hold on to that. Knew he couldn't, but really wishing that Dean would just shut the hell up. Talk was cheap when the world was coming to an end. "Wonder why it was on fire."

Sam sighed. "Because," he answered, "they only way I could face her was if I didn't have to see her." Sam let out a breath. Because when he closed his eyes, he dreamt in fire. It was a part of him.

"Whatcha gonna ask it?" Dean asked, eyes skating over to the toy Sam held in his hands.

Sam smiled. "Nothing."

"Oh, come on. There's nothing you don't want to know? Like 'Was Veronica hotter than Betty?'" Motioned for Sam to pull the slot handle, just like this was a game in Las Vegas and Dean waited.

Sam glanced up, made a funny face.

"What? What does it say?"

Sam shrugged with his brows. "Oh, Archie."

A grin spread across Dean's face. "Like Edith and Archie?" Looked out the window for a minute. "Huh. Ask it something else."

"Like what?"

"I don't know. Ask it something like, who's gonna save the world from the apocalypse?"

"Dean."

"I mean it. You started it. I started it. Okay, so we have to ask it together 'Who's gonna save the world, Jimmy? Sam or Dean?"

Sam glared. "Fine. Who's it gonna be?" Pulled the handle. The slots came to a stop and Sam stifled a chuckle, looked away and then flashed the screen at his brother, the red light flashing, Who loves ya, baby? back at him.

The Impala veered to the left, taking them around a corner, sun shining down on them for once. "Who would have known?" Dean said, eyes darting across the barren fields. "Telly Savalas is gonna save us all."

Which caused a hearty laugh from Sam, his wounds feeling like they were going to pop apart from the force of the chuckles. He took in a deep breath and held it for a minute, letting it out nice and slow. Okay, there, more comfortable. Felt the heat on his face, his brother shift next to him. Felt like it might be okay for a little while. Glanced out the window and thought briefly that he saw a white light chasing him out the rear view mirror.

Blinked. And it was gone.

-The End -

Playlist: Running With the Devil performed by Van Halen

A/N: I know, I don't always answer everything and you may still be left with a 'huh?' about a few things… totally intentional.