Special thanks to geminigrl11 for being a wonderful beta.
Dean fell into a trap outside of Mason City, Iowa. Literally.
He and Sam had seen a report of a mauling, something that had left the remains of a shredded couple at the outskirts of the city, and the signs pointed to a werewolf. Sam had pinned down the apparent lycan's hunting ground---an old city park---within a day, and they were out searching right after dinner.
Falling into a trapping pit had been the last thing on Dean's mind as he searched the park. Werewolves didn't snare their prey---there wasn't enough thought in their actions, just bloodthirsty instinct---and the two people who appeared above him weren't werewolves.
The black eyes were a dead giveaway.
Dean didn't fear demons, not anymore. He'd spent thirty years being tortured by them, and another ten learning to be like them. No, he didn't fear them. He hated them. Dean would exterminate every last one of them, given half a chance.
He did fear what they could do to his loved ones. Sam, Bobby, Cas. Not to mention innocent bystanders. Dean understood demons, more than any human, and he knew how cruel they could be. He'd never wish their depravity on anyone.
But, these two demons made him afraid. Tied to a bench in a run-down factory near the park, he feared them. Because it wasn't him they'd really wanted to trap.
"He's getting closer," the possessed woman purred, sniffing the air. "Can you feel it? So much power, just below the surface. It makes the air vibrate when he's close."
"Sam'll never come here," Dean snarled, hoping to bluff them. "He's not that stupid."
"Sure he is," the male answered from his perch by the door. "Little Sammy will never stand by and let you get snatched. He'll come."
"If he does," Dean smirked, feeling confident, despite the danger of them grabbing his brother, too. "You two will wish he hadn't."
The woman laughed, rising suddenly and planting herself in Dean's lap. He grimaced at where her hands went. Filthy bitch.
"Oh, poor Dean-o. Don't know, do you?"
Dean wouldn't give her the satisfaction of answering.
"How long did you think our Master would wait? Lucifer's sent the Hellhounds out after little Sammy. Gave them his scent."
His blood turned to ice at that. Hellhounds didn't play fetch. They had one mission and one only: to drag people to Hell. "You're lying. Lucifer needs Sam. He wouldn't risk sending them after him."
She wrapped her arms around his neck, nuzzling his cheek. "Lucifer just needs the vessel, Dean-o, not Sam. Sam doesn't want to play ball? That's fine. A year in the Pit will do him some good."
Dean didn't answer, but his poker face slipped. If Sam was captured---
"Of course, it's only a year…up here. You know all about how time works downstairs, don't you, cutie? Thirty years and you were ready to be one of us. How long do you think Sammy will last? After a hundred years or so, what do you think Sam will do if all it takes to get off of the rack is to say yes?"
No. Dean knew she wasn't lying. They were going to--- Please, Sammy, don't come after me….
A crash outside was all he needed to hear to know his prayer had been ignored. As usual.
Dean hadn't fussed this hard over him in months. "Dude! It's just a scratch."
Sam glanced at his suddenly over-protective sibling and tried to pull away, but Dean's grip on his bicep was like a vice. "Scratch, hell, Sam. This needs stitches."
"I know. I can---"
Sam sighed. Relenting, he rested against the sink and let Dean treat the knife wound his upper arm. He'd rarely seen demons carrying blades---though it wasn't unheard of---but he supposed with Castiel on Team Free Will, the bad guys were changing their tactics. He focused on his brother, whom besides irrationally acting like Sam had had some brush with death hadn't said anything about his abduction.
Or the fact that the werewolf hunt had apparently been a setup.
Dean grunted. "You're the one bleeding."
"Nah, it's just a scratch---" Sam began, turning to get a look at the cut himself. He flinched when Dean jerked his arm straight, grip tightening so much Sam figured it would bruise.
"Damn it! Will you just let me fix this, Sammy?" Dean glanced at him, then went back to his work.
Sam was too surprised to speak for a moment. His brother wasn't angry...the tone of voice was all wrong. "Dean, what's wrong?" Sam asked, carefully keeping still.
"Nothing. It's only fair, Sammy. You saved my ass back there."
Sam frowned. "We don't keep score on that stuff."
"I know." Dean's expression---and grip---softened a little and he smiled faintly. "Besides, you act like I never do this sort of thing."
"Sure, you do, it's just...the last few mon---" Sam broke off and looked away, instantly regretting it. He shouldn't have put that thought to words.
Dean looked up at him, an unreadable expression on his face, before he went back to work. The hand restraining Sam squeezed gently. "Yeah, well...maybe I've been stupid for a while."
Sam just watched Dean work after that, kicking himself for what he'd started to say. Dean, for his, part, was extra careful with the stitches, and didn't even squeeze the bandage intentionally too tight when he was done.
Something was very wrong.
Damn it, damn it, damn it!
Dean kicked a can across the parking lot. He wondered idly how long he could stall out there, supposedly getting ice for Sam's shoulder.
The pampering was sending up all kinds of red flags for Sam, but Dean was having trouble controlling himself. Hellhounds... This was beyond bad. He hadn't said anything to his brother, and frankly he didn't want to, since he didn't know how Sam would react.
The kid had practically salivated when he'd first learned that Anna wanted to kill him and scatter him all over the universe. He was terrified of Lucifer---of saying "yes" to Lucifer---a situation made worse by his apparently growing depression. His self-worth seemed to be at a record low ever since that hunt in the mental hospital. Freakin' wraith. Sam's reaction to Dean earlier in the room was another example.
Dean wasn't sure which felt worse, that he had freaked Sam out with his concern in general or that the real reason was that Sam didn't think Dean cared that much about him anymore. Granted, maybe some might think that Dean hadn't done a great job showing Sam otherwise, but he just didn't know what to say. He never knew what to say. Sam was supposed to just get it. That was the way they'd always done things. Sammy was great at reading him.
He never knew---had never known---what to do when the kid couldn't.
Dean spun around at the sound of Castiel's voice. He slammed into the ice machine hard enough to move it an inch. "Jesus, Cas!"
The angel stared at him, silent and grim-faced. It took a moment for his words to sink in.
"Did you?" Dean asked, startled energy giving way to suspicion and anger.
"For a few days, now," Cas answered blandly, glancing up and down the covered walkway outside the motel.
"And when were you planning on saying something to me?"
"I didn't want to worry you, or Sam especially, given his...state of mind the past few months. And the last few days were hectic, with your abduction. Besides, I haven't been able to confirm it."
"What state of mind? Sam's fine." Dean shot back, focusing only on the first part. The way Cas just looked at him, he could tell the angel didn't believe that lie any more than he did. Dean changed the subject. "And I have confirmed it. We have to stop those hounds."
"That doesn't seem possible," Castiel said with a grimace. "The only reason they haven't already found him already is because of the Enochian symbols. That might be enough for a while, but all we can do is be more careful. Try to hold them off. You should add goofer dust to your usual protections from now on."
Dean shook his head. "Sam'll notice that."
Castiel frowned. "You didn't tell him?"
Turning back to the ice machine, Dean muttered quietly. "You aren't the only one who's noticed that state of mind, Cas."
When he looked again, the angel was gone. Maybe he was as much at a loss as Dean was.
Three weeks later...
They got into a bar fight---of all things---in Scottsbluff when they went after a couple of vampires, only to find a whole colony. It was like something out of a movie, and it was the most fun, if bruising, hunt they'd had in years. Dean and Sam, back to back, chairs flying and machetes chopping.
"We gotta ride that one again!" Dean crowed, wiping vampire blood off his blade. The floor was littered with decapitated vamps, and the newlywed couple that had been abducted were cowering in the corner by the bar, bloody but perfectly safe. Sam couldn't help but grin, too.
"Winchesters ten, vamps zero…."
"You can say that again, bro!" Dean hooted.
Sam had started toward the young man and woman quivering in the corner, when the front door exploded inward. Splinters of wood and glass showered the room as something rushed inside.
Some things. Plural.
Dean barely had time to shout a warning before Sam sensed rather than saw one of the invisible things dashing across the room. It plowed into Sam, knocking him backwards and flat on his back. He screamed as unseen claws ripped across the skin of his stomach.
Another set dug into his left calf, and suddenly he was being yanked foot-first toward the door. Vicious growls surrounded him, drowning out Dean's shouts and the couple's terrified cries. Sam recognized the sounds---would have anywhere. Hellhounds.
The report of a shotgun cut through the din, and the pressure on his leg disappeared. Sam tried to crawl away, but more claws dug into his side and thigh, pinning him under something that seemed to weigh as much as the Impala. Hot, putrid breath filled his nostrils. Sam closed his eyes against what he was sure must have been coming next.
Then the pressure lifted, an almost pitiful yelp replacing the rumbling growls. Sam opened his eyes to see Castiel standing over him, pulling at the invisible beast with his bare hands and flinging it across the room. A long, silver sword dropped from his sleeve, and he plunged it at the ground near Sam's left side. Another yelp, this time followed by the soft, whimpering groan of something dying.
Cas moved on, taking out two more of them, until the survivors all bolted from the building, crying. Dean slid to a stop beside Sam, and began frantically checking him over. The worst was his belly, but even that wasn't too deep. The hounds hadn't been trying to kill him, or he'd have been puppy chow already. His left leg and side were bleeding, but the wounds weren't bad.
"Sammy? Hey, say something..."
Sam collected his thoughts, then looked from Cas to Dean. "What the hell was that about?"
Sam didn't take the news that Lucifer had sicced the hounds on him well, as Dean had expected. Dean had stitched Sam's wounds while Cas stood watch outside the motel, then all three zapped to the relative safety of Bobby's house.
Dean paced in the junkyard while Sam and Bobby laid lines of goofer dust to secure the house. His brother was furious at not being told about the hounds. Dean couldn't blame him. What was worse, he detected more than a trace of hurt beneath that anger, which made him feel about two inches tall.
After all the months to working to repair their relationship and stop the secrets and lies---and even raking Sam over the coals early on for making the same mistakes---Dean had to go and do a 180. He just hoped he hadn't undone all the work he and his brother had done rebuilding all their bridges.
"Sam is quite angry."
Dean jumped at Castiel's voice. He turned and favored the angel with a smirk. "Welcome to the club."
Cas had kept the secret, too, and Sam knew it.
"I tried to apologize, but---"
"Just let him cool off. Sam never stays mad for long." Well, he hadn't with Dean, so far.
Castiel sighed softly---a distinctly human habit which Dean had noticed the angel had picked up recently---and looked around. "This house is secure for now, but the hounds will surround us. They no doubt tracked us."
"Any ideas?" Dean asked, knowing there weren't any he hadn't already rejected.
"The hounds have his scent, and have tasted his flesh. Even the Enochian symbols won't shield him, now. More will come and we can't kill them all."
"Or Luci will follow them here and come to Sam personally," Dean added morosely.
"A very real possibility," Cas agreed grimly. "I don't suppose you have any ideas...."
Dean shook his head. They were screwed, unless he could think of something. The hounds wouldn't give up, and they would lead the Devil straight to Sam. He refused to think past that. The thought of Sam in Hell was just too much.
He sighed. There had to be some way to stop Lucifer from carrying out his plan.
If Sam was mad before, he'd be spitting nails now.
Dean couldn't help but chuckle at the thought as he stood and stepped back from the summoning sigil. He bumped right into Castiel.
"You really need to stop doing that," Dean scolded, knowing it was useless.
Cas ignored him, looking worried, and---was it his imagination?--- maybe a little disappointed. "What happened to 'Team Free Will?'"
Dean clenched his teeth. "It's alive and well. This is my choice, for my reasons."
"Be mad as hell, I know," Dean smiled. "But, he'll forgive me. Eventually."
I hope. In a few years. Maybe.
"He always does...even when I don't deserve it." He added quietly.
He forgave Dad...that's a good sign, right?
Cas said nothing, looking down at the road where Dean had drawn the sigil. Dean punched him on the shoulder.
"You watch out for Sammy, you hear me? I'm counting on you."
The angel stood a little taller, eyes rising to meet Dean's. "I will. You have my word."
Dean nodded. He hadn't told Cas the details of his plan, but it was good to know someone would be watching out for his brother…in case the plan didn't work. He motioned down the road. "You better get back. I don't know how this will go down."
Castiel nodded once, then with that faint flap Dean was never going to get used to, he was gone. He took a deep breath and let it out. The next few minutes would decide his and Sam's future. Rehearsing his lines again, Dean closed his eyes and waited.
"Praying for guidance, Dean?"
Dean opened his eyes to see a tall, thin man watching him. He was dressed simply, like an average blue-collar worker. He actually looked a lot like John Winchester, before the fire. Before he stopped being Dean and Sam's dad. Michael seemed to prefer the appearance.
"I'd say you certainly need some." Another voice came from behind him. Dean glanced back, but he recognized the voice easily. Zachariah. He had to suppress the urge to open fire on the lying, holier-than-thou prick. To make sure he didn't reach for his handgun, Dean folded his arms across his chest and kept his gaze on Michael.
"Did you call me to say yes, or are we still screwing around?" Michael asked, a hint of impatience and a heavy dose of superiority bleeding through in his tone.
Dean smirked. "I'm here to make a deal."
"I'd think you'd have had enough of those for one lifetime," Zachariah snorted behind him. "Don't waste any more time, just say yes and let's get this show on the road."
"I don't recall inviting you to this shindig, Chuckles," Dean growled. "I summoned Michael. I'm talking to Michael."
"Listen, you little---"
"Zachariah," Michael interrupted, waving his hand dismissively. "He's right. He called me, and I want to hear what he has to say."
Here goes nothing... Dean dropped his hands and squared his shoulders. "I'm willing to help you stop Lucifer."
Michael said nothing, just waited patiently. Dean pressed on, hoping it was a good sign. "But, only if Sam stays out of this."
The archangel started to speak, but Dean cut him off, nodding toward Zachariah. "Zach said we could strike first, before Lucifer got to Sam. That's what I want. You stick Sam in that Green Room, and keep him there until this is all over. Nothing happens to him."
Michael pursed his lips, looking into the distance. "Hmm. You have an interesting idea, Dean. Without Sam, Lucifer will have to split his attention between us and holding his own substandard vessel together. We'll have the advantage."
"Do we have---?"
"Wait, Dean. Not yet. I have a question for you, first."
Dean blinked. "Uh, okay."
"Why? Why do this? You're going back on your word to Sam. Betraying his trust. He might hate you the rest of his life. Why take that risk?"
Dean had already considered that. He knew Sam wouldn't agree with what he was doing. Might want to take his chances with the hounds, rather than let Dean offer himself up like this. But, in the end, Dean's little brother was in trouble, and he had a chance to get him out of it. It was that simple. It had been that simple that night at the crossroads.
Whatever else had happened between them, whatever pain they'd inflicted on each other, this was what brothers did for each other. Dean had doubted it a few times, wondered if he'd done the right thing buying Sam's life back the first time. Now, though, he couldn't believe he'd ever questioned his choice.
In that moment, he remembered the first time his mom had let him hold his baby brother, all the different schools, all the nights spent in lonely motel rooms---both as kids and as adults---and he knew that saving Sam wasn't just something he did because he felt responsible, not because it was his job.
He saved Sam because he wanted to.
Dean looked at Michael---at a very different brother---and smiled slightly. "If you have to ask, you'd never understand."
The archangel looked confused, but he simply shrugged. "Very well. Dean, will you---?"
"Wait. Sam first."
Zachariah made an exasperated sound behind him. "Michael, why are you letting this---?"
"It's my decision, Zachariah. You've done well guiding us to this point...but don't forget your place." Michael scolded. He turned back to Dean. "It's already done. Sam is safe."
That brought Dean up short. "How did you know where---?"
"The way Castiel and Bobby Singer were fortifying that house, it wasn't difficult to deduce," Michael smirked in apparent self-satisfaction.
"I have your word?" Dean asked, his anxiety ratcheting up. He was putting trust into creatures who had screwed him and his brother before. He prayed that he wasn't wrong.
"In my Father's name, Dean. Sam will be protected."
It was a deal, then. The best he could do. Dean sighed, only partially with relief. I'm sorry, Sammy.
"Okay. I'll be your vessel."
The blast of light blinded him.