The thing about getting shot was, the hole where the bullet goes in looks so little. Sam looked down at the dime-sized hole oozing blood and thought, how could that little hole feel like a telephone pole is rammed into my side? He knew it would hurt like hell when he tried to stand up, but, he had to find Dean. "Dean? You in here?" No answer.

He grit his teeth and rolled to his side, putting his hands and knees beneath him. He willfully decided to not be embarrassed by the animalistic groan that came up through his chest and out his mouth. Fuck the pain, gotta find Dean.

Sam pushed to his feet and immediately started listing to the side, almost toppling back to the floor, but luckily, the wall was there to catch him. He breathed deeply through his nose, tried to settle. This isn't so bad…just breathe through it. He looked around the damp basement, tried to remember where he was and why. It was all a bit fuzzy.

Think, Sam. What's the last thing you remember?

There was a big, scary pile of nothing.

Come on, we must have come to this spooky, smelly house to hunt something, and I got shot. Pull it together, man.

Still, nothing.

He noticed a broken screw driver on the sill of the dirty basement window above him. He could see that the window was painted shut with, like, 25 layers of paint. It was his only avenue to the outside. He knew he wouldn't make it to the stairs. He started to scrape, but he had almost no strength in his body. He felt a wave of dizziness sweep through him and had to close his eyes and breathe deeply to keep from passing out.

Well, shit.


Dean waited. So far, he was pretty unimpressed with the arch angel in front of him. Michael had found them just as they were walking through the woods behind the creepy McDonough house, looking for a way in. Sam had heard that the library of the old place had been collected by a demon-worshiper. He hoped they'd find some useful tidbit that would give them an advantage for the coming battle. Dean thought it was a pretty big waste of time, but, what the heck. Sam was hopeful and Dean didn't want to rain on his geek parade. One minute they had been walking, Sam supposing what they might find and, the next minute, Dean was standing in this place, with Michael in his personal space and Sam gone.

Dean thought he knew how Michael had found him. Must have been the chick at the gas station a couple of miles back. She had looked at him too long, without the 'you are so damn fine' that usually accompanied such a look.No, this had been more of an 'I know who you are,' look. Sam had asked her if she knew any stories about the creepy blue house in the woods, so she had known where they were headed. He hoped that Sam hadn't freaked too much when he'd just up and disappeared from right beside him. He'll be fine. This stuff isn't so unusual for us anymore. He'll call Cas or Bobby and start to figure this out.

In the meantime, Michael had parked them in some pretty cushy digs. Big plate glass windows overlooked a sunny lake. Sumptuous steak and burgers, baked potatoes and fries, pie and cobbler, were all laid out on platters, still steaming. Dean had been biding his time, waiting for Michael to make his pitch. 'Say yes, Dean. Pretty please, come on and say yes!' But, so far, nothing. The angel was just sitting there looking at Dean with a know-it-all smile on his borrowed face. The guy he was riding was about 50, graying hair and piercing blue eyes. He kind of looked like a young Paul Newman which, you know, would have been cool if he didn't want to move in and put up curtains inside Dean.

Finally, after another five minutes of Dean waiting, and Michael smirking, Dean stood up. "Ok. Well, this has been fun, but I've had about enough of the staring Olympics."

Michael raised a brow. "Going so soon?"

Dean gave him a cold smile. "Yeah. Not that this hasn't been a laugh riot, but---"

Michael stood also. "Let me guess, you're off to find Sam?"

Dean really didn't care for the way Michael's smile turned nasty. He sighed. Why couldn't these angels ever just say things directly? "You've obviously brought me here for a reason, so can we just get to that part so I can tell you to fuck off and be done with it?"

Michael nodded, tilted his head to consider. "All right. Yes. I do have something to tell you. Or, rather, something to show you." He walked up to Dean and raised his hand, bringing it toward Dean's forehead.

Dean took a large step back. "Whoa, whoa. What do you think you're doing?"

Michael kept his hand poised in the air, about three inches from touching Dean. "I'm going to show you---"

Dean took another step back. "I don't think I want to see anything that you'd---"

Michael gave him a long, dead-eyed look. It was the first time it felt like he was looking at an arch angel. "Don't you want to know where Sam is?"

Oh, this couldn't be good. "Yeah, sure. Why don't you just tell me. I can take it from there."

Michael's eyes went hard. "Where's the fun in that?"

He took a big step forward and put his fingers to Dean's head.


Dean was in a basement, that much was obvious. There were two small, dirty windows high up in the walls, and the smell was damp and dank. He looked around, saw some movement on the other side of the room, just below one of the windows. He squinted through the darkness. "Sammy?"

The figure didn't turn around, just continued to lean on the wall and scrape at the sash of the window. But, there was no mistaking 6'4" of little brother. "Sam!" Dean called out and rushed over to him. Sam still didn't acknowledge that he'd heard Dean.

When he got to within about five feet of Sam, and could see a little better by the moonlight leaking through the murky window, Dean noticed the blood.

It was all over Sam's shirt and down the left side of his jeans. A dark pool surrounded him where he was standing, slumping, against the wall. He was panting, and he had some kind of tool in his hand. He was trying to stay focused through some long-ass blinks, and scrape the layers of paint off the window's edge. Like he was going to try to get his gigantic self out that tiny window? Obviously, Sam was not thinking too clearly. Dean raised his hand to put it on Sam's shoulder, and gave a girly gasp when his hand went right through Sam's t-shirt and sank about six inches into his body.

Dean took a step back. Huh. So, not really here. Figures. Dean kept his eyes on Sam, but when he spoke, he was addressing Michael. "So, tell me what's going on."

Michael was standing next to him, appearing just like Castiel always did, too close and instantaneously. Michael didn't answer, so Dean glanced at him. "You want me to see this, why?"

Michael shrugged. "Dean, we don't have time to fool around anymore. Things beyond your understanding are happening, and I need my true vessel. I need my full power if we're going to defeat the evil forces of Lucifer. It's time."

Dean didn't roll his eyes, but it was a near thing. "I've told you. I'm not saying 'yes.' Sam is not saying 'yes.' Go have your war without us. Find a Winchester cousin or something who's willing to wear your angel ass around, and leave us alone."

Sam slumped against the wall, closing his eyes. Dean couldn't help stepping forward to try to help him. When his hands passed through Sam again, he set his jaw in frustration.

Shit, Sammy, I'm right here. Sit down and rest, for Christ's sake. Put something on that wound. Come on, man. You know better than to stand around bleeding…

Michael intruded on his thoughts. "Dean, you understand I can't let Sam die, because my brother would find him then, the moment his spirit left. He would pull Sam back inside faster than you can say 'Bob's your uncle,' and get his consent before Sam knew what he was saying. So, I have to keep him in a state of near death. Too weak to fight, but not weak enough to die. It's a delicate balance, and not easy to maintain properly, I can tell you. Poor Sam is getting pretty worn out."

Just then, Sam closed his eyes and fell down the wall, slumping onto the floor. The pool of blood around him grew incrementally right before Dean's eyes. "And, you're showing me this because you'll stop it if I say 'yes?' Right?"

Michael smiled. "I can tuck him out of sight at the house you and I were visiting before. The one on the lake? Sam can sit out the whole battle, if you want. He'd be the one human on the whole planet who had a pass, Dean. The only one who wouldn't suffer. Isn't that what you've always wanted? Sam safe? We can do this now, and our side can take the field before Lucifer even knows what hit him."

Dean watched Sam on the floor, probably minutes from death. Michael was right, of course. That is what Dean has always wanted. No harm to ever come to Sam. Just peace and a life away from all the evil they've waded through for years and years. He would love to put Sam in that house, maybe make Michael give him a couple of dogs, even a girl to keep him company. And, Sam would be safe. He'd be spared the hell that was sure to be coming.

And, he'd hate Dean 'til his dying day. He'd seethe for whatever time he had in that little nirvana, wanting to fix what he'd say he'd broken. Wanting to be at Dean's side, helping in the fight, no matter the outcome.

Three years ago, Dean probably would've consented to Michael's plan in a heartbeat. He would've taken the choice away from Sam, doing what he thought was best. That Dean would've done anything to keep Sam safe.

But, he'd learned since then. He'd learned more about what sacrifice really meant. Sacrifice wasn't making choices for another person. It wasn't dying in someone's place and going to hell because of it. It wasn't drinking enough demon blood to lose your humanity, just to avenge someone's death. Those things felt like sacrifice, true. But, really, they were just asinine ways to try to distract, to try and stop the pain of losing someone you didn't want to live without. Giving up your life was not a way to honor anything. It was just, giving up your life.

No, Dean had learned that sacrifice was fighting. Fighting to stay alive when you were so tired you just wanted to lay down and die. Fighting to stay sane when everything around you told you to give up and give in to evil. Fighting to make the horror easier for someone else, not leaving them to slough through on their own.

Sacrifice was not taking someone's choices over his or her own destiny away, because you didn't like those choices. It was sticking around when all the choices stunk, and trying to find a way forward.

He knew now, after all they'd been through in the past couple of years, that Sam would rather die, over and over again in this depressing, dark basement, than to have Dean say 'yes' to Michael. And, Dean was going to have to honor that. Even if it went against every instinct and emotion he possessed. Which it sure as hell did.

Dean crouched down next to Sam, couldn't help wanting to be as close as he could get, even though Sam didn't know he was there. He turned he head toward Michael, but didn't look away from Sam. "I'm not saying 'yes.' Sam is not saying 'yes.' This is a waste of time." As he watched, he could hear Sam's lungs rattling. No, no, no. Sam, come on! Everything in him wanted to panic. Wanted to scream at Michael to stop this, don't let Sam die…But, that's not what Sam would want.

It had taken them a long time, and they'd had to endure an awful lot of crap, for Dean to know, deep down in his heart, what Sam would want him to do. If he could, he'd look at Dean right now, with his dying eyes and his barely-there breath, he'd say, 'tell Michael to get fucked. Don't let him use me to get to you…'

They both knew the angels and demons would use them against each other. But, they had learned, through all the pain and love and trying. Sam and Dean had finally become not just brothers, but true brothers-in-arms. They had learned the hard way that it didn't do anyone any favors when one soldier sacrificed himself for another. All that did was break hearts and cause anguish and guilt and pain for the soldier left behind. He should have let Sam die back in Cold Oak. Sam should have laid him to rest and walked away in Pontiac. And, they both should have known better than to be martyrs or seek revenge or try to undo what fate had dealt them. And though he was almost shaking with his need to help Sam, to stop his pain, Dean gave him a slight smile instead. Nothin' in this life is ever easy for us, is it?

Michael must have sensed that Dean was going to refuse. He stepped closer and started talking a little faster, a hint of desperation under his words. "Dean, this will be so much easier than the last time you gave everything up for Sam. No kissing demons and getting torn up by hellhounds. No torturing in hell. None of that. Just quiet. Just peace. Let me worry about the apocalypse. Let me get Sam out of here and put him someplace safe."

Sam's chest rattled. Dean knew he was breathing his last. Sorry, Sammy. This has gotta suck for you, man.

Michael glanced down at where Sam was dying, gave a flick of his hand, and Sam stirred. He opened his eyes after a long moment, sat up against the wall. He looked around the basement, glanced down at his side. He called out, "Dean? You in here?" When there was no answer, Sam swallowed, sighed, and looked up at the window above him. He took a couple of deep breaths, then rolled to his side and got his hands and knees under him. After another pause, where he gasped through the pain and gathered his strength, he pushed to his feet with that awful moan. He swayed, and fell against the wall. He looked up at the window, found a broken screw driver on the dusty sill, and started to feebly scrape at the thick paint sealing it shut.

Dean's heart thumped in his chest. He didn't close his eyes or swear or scream out his frustration and fury. He knew this is where he'd come in, wondered how many times Sam had almost-died and come back to life before he got there. Felt nauseous with his inability to do anything about it. Fucking douchebag angels. They were worse than demons, because demons were supposed to cause suffering. Angels were supposed to be good. They were supposed to be God's army. And wasn't God supposed to be all about love? And hope?

Yeah. Not so much.

Sam scraped weakly at the window. Dean just watched. Michael was growing frustrated. He leaned in toward Dean. "Would you like me to tell my brother where we are? Hmmm? Maybe you'd like to watch Sam become Evil's vessel? Maybe that would convince you what we're up against!"

Dean watched Sam slump against the wall, close his eyes. "No, you won't do that, because you can't take the risk that Sam would say 'yes' ahead of me. Then, your brother is in his true vessel, and you're just stuck with young Paul Newman, there." Sam worked at the window, barely holding the tool in his weakened fingers. He was starting to have trouble breathing, and his panting was getting louder. Dean addressed Michael with as much calm as he could muster, while watching Sam start to slide down the wall again. "I think you're going to have to come up with another plan. This trickster bullshit is more the realm of your brother Gabriel. You kind of suck at it, really."

Michael huffed out an angry breath. "You're just going to stand here, watch your brother die over and over again. And do nothing to stop it?"

Dean swallowed around the grief in his throat as he watched Sam close his eyes and start the rattle thing again. "That's right." Because I know Sam would kick my ass if I did anything else.

Michael gave a cold laugh. "And I thought my family was screwed up. You're a cold bastard, Dean."

Dean watched Sam's chest slow it's breaths, felt him hover again on the edge of death. "Yeah, that I am." He saw Michael give another absent wave of his hand, and Sam sucked in a deep breath, stirred, opened his eyes. He looked down at his side, called out, "Dean? You in here?"

With his back to Michael, Dean closed his eyes, just for a moment. Damn it, Sam. I'm trying here, but you gotta stop dying so I can get my shit together. His eyes opened and he turned to Michael. "Really? We're going to sit through this show again? I told you, it's not going to work. We can do this all day, and tomorrow, too. May as well run along and try to come up with something that will work." Dean shook his head, added an eye roll for emphasis on just how much this was not getting to him. Meanwhile, Sam was rolling to his side, trying to get up on his feet. Dean tried to keep a slight smile and disinterested look on his face as he kept his gaze on Michael. God, there was Sam's inhuman groan of pain again…

Michael stared at him, really tried to read whether this was going to work. Dean gave everything he had to stay cool, stay uninterested in his dying little brother. He added a raised eyebrow for effect.

It seemed to do the trick. Michael sighed. "Fine. We're not through."

He disappeared and Dean was walking alongside Sam in the woods behind the creepy McDonough place. Sam was holding a flashlight and turned to ask Dean, "You think the demon guy is haunting this place?"

Dean stared, swallowed a wave of emotion that had him wanting to wrap Sam up in an hour-long hug. Just chill, Dean. Keep it together. He cleared his throat, tried to erase the picture of Sam in a pool of blood, death rattle gasping out of his lungs. "Well, Sam, knowing our luck, he's not only haunting the place, but he has a couple of friends with him."

Sam gave a small smile. "Yeah. No kidding."

Dean glanced back at him. "Nothing we can't handle."

Sam nodded. "Damn straight."

The End