Tears have dried into the grime, streaking his face. Beaten, broken and exhausted, he sleeps fitfully where he sits in the filth on the floor, head propped back against the wall, arms hanging on chains secured around blood-encrusted wrists.
The cellar door cracks its way open, hinges protesting. He snaps awake, graoning, terror sweeping through him. No, please no… He doesn't have the strength… He needs more time…
Lifting his head he watches the man who walks down the steps and across the dirt floor towards him.
Hollow eyes return the gaze from a grotesquely familiar face.
Dean believes in an afterlife : in a place of light and contentment where souls watch over their loved one; in a place between light and dark where those who refuse to accept their passing, or who have unfinished business, exist in the ether; in a place of darkness filled only with evil and hunger and anger and hurt…
He is in his own dark place, his own hell… his own place of evil and hurt.
The voice is deeper, more resonant, tantalisingly close to the little brother he remembers… but not quite the same …
This thing still looks and moves like Sam, still laughs and scowls like Sam, but everything that was truly Sam is dead. This is a shell that simply inhabits the space where Sam Winchester used to be, the eyes blank and empty…
Dean drops his head.
He had no idea how much of his strength came from Sam…
His little brother…
Had no idea until everything that was Sam was ripped away, defiled: putrefied in a ritual that was supposed to save Dean's soul from the demon who claimed it in return for bringing Sam back to life…
He has lost everything, his Father, Sam… He has no strength left to look into the almost-familiar face…
Folding the tall frame into a crouch, the thing-that-was-Sam tilts its head, looking at the human chained to the wall. "Still not changed your mind?" the demon intones. "It's going to happen, Dean, you know it… Your soul's mine now…"
Dean says nothing, simply closes his eyes. It's over. There's nothing he can do now. He tried… He did everything he could to protect Sam and in the end it was his little brother's attempt to save him that blew everything to hell because they overlooked the blood… the demon blood…
Sam stands up, reaching down, lifting Dean effortlessly to his feet, holding him against the wall.
"That yellow-eyed son of a bitch had no idea what he was giving me that night, Dean," he tells him, "That night our Mother died…"
The words cut Dean to the core and deep inside a small fire of anger glows into life. His eyes are still closed, he makes no outward reaction. If the demon were to let him go he would simply crumple to the floor.
The demonic representation of his little brother presses on, "And that whore-demon at the crossroads thought she was getting such a sweet deal. Only I got the better deal… The power of two demons for the price of one ritual…"
He smiles, "Despite everything you did, despite every, pathetic, sacrifice John Winchester made, we're both right here, right now, exactly where we were meant to be…"
The small glow of anger deep inside Dean flares a little more, but still he makes no move, no comment...
Sam tilts his head, "The visions are so clear now, Dean… And the moving things, the moving things with my mind…"
He steps away from his brother who remains pinned, crucified against the wall.
Stepping back in, he draws Dean up a few inches higher on the wall until he's eye level with him. He leans in close, trapping Dean against the wall with his body, murmuring softly against Dean's ear, "The power is amazing… It's filling me, buzzing through me, ready to be used… I can share it, Dean… With you…"
If it's possible, he moves closer, stifling his brother between truth and evil as he continues, "You've always been there, right from the beginning… Running out of that burning house; changing the dirty diapers; making the bottles; pouring the Cheerios… eating yours dry when there wasn't enough milk…"
Tears are sliding from Dean's closed eyes, dropping into the filthy, blood-stained shirt. It's true, all of it… but he did those things for Sammy… not for this malevolent caricature of everything that Sam once was. Grief feeds the anger.
"Don't you see?" Sam is going on. "You're always meant to be there… It's just that the tables have turned and now I'm the one who'll protect you… I was trying to save you when I found this power, Dean. It's only fair that I share it with you..."
He pauses then, softly, he continues, "Stop fighting, Dean. I don't want it to be like this. No-one understands like you do... Let me help you. Just say the word. There's a bath waiting for you upstairs, and food and a bed… Come with me…"
Dean makes a soft sound, almost like a moan and takes a long, shuddering breath.
Sam steps back, giving him space, a small smile tugging at his lips as his big brother finally lifts his head and opens his eyes… meeting his gaze.
The familiar rejoinder spreads the smile across Sam's face. He laughs softly, relishing the victory, replying, "Jerk!"
Then it all comes crashing down as Dean takes another breath, swallows then intones softly, "Praecipio tibi…"
Sam's face contorts from angel into demon as the words slam at him. Snarling, he backhands Dean across the face, moving in to silence the betrayal.
He barely hears the shout that goes up from the rooms above him. Only the gunfire registers, pulling his attention away from Dean. He turns, tilting his head, listening, growling softly.
Dean tastes the blood in his mouth. His head is reeling, his vision swimming but he finds the words, "Quicumque es spiritus…"
Pain swamping him from the incantation, Sam turns, backhanding Dean again, but there's no time… Gunshot blasts through the wood of the cellar door, splintering it. A foot kicks it open.
Darkness flutters at the edge of Dean's consciousness. Instinct tells him that the only hope he has now, the only thing that might save him, is the power of the latin incantation. He draws on the pain, the grief and the anger, focussing it, forming it into words, "Omnibus sociis tuis hunc…"
Sam shudders away, mind stumbling over the possibilities that are left to him… but a voice is shouting from the top of the stairs, a voice that he recognises as the bitch from the Roadhouse…
For a brief moment, the time that it takes her to appear in the doorway, the demon wonders if he can fake it; if he can fool her into believing he's still weak, naïve little Sam…
But Dean has already betrayed him… is still muttering that accursed drivel…
Dean will tell her… Dean will betray him again…
"Sam!" Ellen shouts, checking round the corner before stepping into the doorway. "Dean!"
Barely conscious, mumbling latin, Dean hangs against the unseen pressure that holds him against the wall. It disappears, suddenly, and he crumples towards the floor.
Ellen sees him collapse. Swearing, she forces herself not to fall into the trap of rushing down to him. She scans the dimly lit room below. From what she can see it's empty apart from Dean… but from the far corner of the cellar she hears a door bang. She pulls the shotgun round towards the sound, shouting for help.
Slowly, carefully, she makes her way, step by step down the stairs, keeping her back against the wall. Father Alec Mercier appears in the doorway above her, bible held up in one hand, a handgun in the other. His eyes go wide as he takes in the crumpled body of Dean Winchester in chains on the floor below.
"Oh," he murmurs. "Mon Dieu… I… I shall get the cutters…."
He turns and disappears back out the door. Ellen continues her slow movement down the stairs.
"Dean? Dean! Dean, answer me!"
Bobby appears at the top of the stairs, swearing softly as he sees the Winchester boy below. "They're searching the upstairs," he says.
She nods, telling him, "Something went out that back door… Keep me covered…"
"You got it!" he confirms.
She continues to edge her way down the stairs, finger hovering over the trigger. The cellar slowly reveals the entirety of its emptiness… empty except for the crumpled body of Dean half-hanging on the chains.
Mercier, breathless, appears at the top of the stairs, bolt cutters in hand. He waits behind Bobby, wide eyes taking in every detail of the battered man in the cellar below. He can almost smell the evil that lingers here: deep, dank and rancid. He clutches his bible closer to him, whispering the Lord's Prayer.
"It's clear," Ellen finally announces from the bottom of the steps, shotgun still held ready. "Father? Cut Dean down…"
Mercier takes a breath then skitters down the wooden staircase.
Jo appears behind Bobby, announcing, "Place is cleared. The other guys are heading outside. There's no sign of the Winchesters…"
"We found Dean," Bobby tells her. "Watch the door. I'll help your Mom…"
Jo peers down into the cellar, swearing softly before turning her attention back to the hallway as Bobby follows the Priest down the stairs. Mercier has already cut through one set of chains and his working on the other. They break with a snap and Bobby helps Ellen heave the unconscious body of Dean off the floor.
Mercier steps forward, slipping his bible into his coat pocket. "Allow me?" he asks, looking from Bobby to Ellen and holding out the bolt cutters.
Ellen hesitates. For reasons she can't identify, she finds herself suddenly reluctant to hand Dean over into a relative stranger's care. Alec Mercier is a good man and, despite his awkward manner, she trusts him in a fight… but…
Common sense over-rides her hesitation and she nods, taking the bolt cutters from him. Effortlessly, the young priest slings Dean carefully across his shoulders.
Ellen looks up the flight of stairs, "Jo?"
"Clear," her daughter tells her, simply.
"Then let's get the hell out of here…"
Dean drifts in the semi-aware existence between light and dark. He's warm and comfortable. He wants to stay here, in the warmth, in the comfort… but there's something tugging at him, like something important he's forgotten to do…
A voice whispers through his memory, soft and gentle. He smiles.
It's more insistent now, the gut-churning feeling growing more urgent. And there's an annoying beeping sound too, like some weird clock ticking out his heartbeats…
He doesn't want to answer. He wants to run away, go back down into the comfort of the darkness… because if he answers, the butterflies in his belly are going to turn into something worse…
Son… I'm sorry… You need to wake up…
The soft words give him strength and calm the dread. His eyelids are heavy but, slowly, he drags them open. Everything is bright and white. He blinks, slowly, trying to see.
The room swims into focus. Sun is shining through the window bathing the far wall. There's a vase of flowers on the table, a riot of colour against the white. A hand touches his arm, gently, and he turns his head, looking into the concerned eyes of Ellen. She smiles softly, announcing, "Evening…"
Memories flood in: snaps-shots and sequences that play through his mind, slamming at him. He closes his eyes against them, trying to breathe through the tightness that clamps around his chest, moaning Sam's name…
The ritual; the explosion of light, heat and sound; the scream of the dying demon; the dark malevolence on Sammy's face; the fractured phone-call to Ellen…
"Dean? Sugar? Let it out…"
It's all Ellen can think to say. If anyone recognises grief, she does. She had gone through it all after Bill died: the numbness, the hollow ache, the tears that she had hidden from Jo… but she had never been truly comfortable dealing with it.
The door opens, admitting the small, gentle, softly-spoken woman who has been involved with Sam and Dean's lives for longer than they can actually remember. Missouri Moseley takes in the scene, moving towards Ellen, laying her hand gently on the younger woman's shoulder.
"Bobby tells me that you've been here most of the night," she tells her, her eyes never leaving Dean. "Wouldn't you like to get yourself some rest?"
Relieved, Ellen grasps hold of the offer, laying her hand briefly over Missouri's before pushing herself to her feet and escaping out of the door.
Missouri peels off her coat and lays it down on the chair along with her bag, choosing to perch on the edge of the bed. She takes a long look at Dean Winchester, seeing so much of his Daddy in him. There's a strength there that would have taken him far, in the defence of his country, had fate allowed him the chance of a normal existence where he would have followed his Daddy's example and enlisted in the Marine Corps.
Instead, he had followed John into an equally as dangerous, if far less regimented, life.
He had suffered for it many times, he is suffering now, but unlike those previous occasions he is alone… John is gone. Sam is gone. Everything he has ever drawn strength from has been ripped away from him…
Missouri had sensed his pain even before she had come into the room. Now she can sense his tormented soul: trapped - half in light, half in all-consuming darkness…
She reaches out, brushing the tears from his face.
"Ellen's right, child," she tells him, her voice gentle and melodic, full of comfort, "You have to let it all out… You've been so strong for so long… too long…"
He makes a small noise, opens his eyes, opens his mouth to deny it, but she hushes him with a finger on his lips, "There's only so much snow a branch can hold before it must bend, or break under the weight of it all… Let it out, child…" she beseeches. "Let it all go before you break under the weight of it…"
In the face of her quiet authority, he is defenceless. The sob vibrates up from deep in his chest. It moans out. His fists curl into the sheets as if he's tortured with pain. He takes another breath and the sob strengthens, gathers force, wrenching free in a wailed scream that echoes around the room.
He breaks down completely, tears flowing freely. The shuddering sobs that wrack through him are tempered, though, by the loving gentleness of the small hands that stroke his cheek and his arm, comforting him. Missouri talks to him, her voice soft and soothing, until the sobs finally lessen and the healing power of sleep draws him down.
His breathing eases, growing more even and regular. At last, content that he is sleeping peacefully, Missouri stands up, moving her coat and bag onto the floor and settling herself into the chair.
Singing softly, she settles down to watch over him as he sleeps.