Disclaimer:I own nothing. I wish, but I don't.

"If you could bring Mom back, wouldn't you?"

On one level, the question surprised Dean. On another, more important level, it terrified him. Sam couldn't really be asking that. Not with the entire world on the line… And even worse, a huge part of him wanted to say "Of course I would, Sammy. You know that." His eyes fell closed, dreading having to say all this. "Sit down, Sam."

Sam frowned at his brother, unsure what that look meant. He had seen it a lot lately, for instance when Dean told him that he didn't trust him and that all was not forgiven. It said that he couldn't not say whatever it was, and that it hurt him like crazy. This wasn't going to be good. He sat.

Dean swallowed. "Sam, as much as I'd like to say I would, you have to know I wouldn't. You know, right? You understand what we're up against?" His voice cracked, just a little, and he shoved back the emotion. This entire night had taken more of a toll on him than he wanted to admit. And he had been through this whole time-travel thing before. He couldn't imagine what all this had done to Sam. Not just dying, either. This had been the first time he had seen their mother that he could possibly remember. It had to be devastating, and that was why he was asking.

Sam's eyes went wide, unsure what the problem was, but obviously it was killing Dean. "What is it, Dean? What's wrong?"

Finally gathering his strength, Dean sat on the bed facing Sam. "All those years you wanted to be normal, you believed that if Mom hadn't died, we wouldn't have been raised like warriors and we would have had some kind of Norman Rockwell life, right? Cub scouts and t-ball and prom and all that, right? And maybe it would have been. But you know what that would mean, Sammy? Us having a normal life would mean the world is absolutely freakin' screwed!"

He ran his fingers through his dark-blond hair and put on his trademark smirk. "We are the chess pieces between good and evil, and we're the only thing keeping them from making Earth their chess board. And-"

Sam cut in with a perfectly level voice. "And because of the way our lives were, we're strong enough to deal with it."

"Strong enough to fight it." Dean had to fight to keep the smile off his face. His fears were unfounded. Sam got it.

Sam nodded. "I didn't mean… Dean, you know I'm past this whole apple-pie life I used to want. That's not it. It was just…" He broke off. "Seeing her, after all these years of nothing but pictures… And she died pretty soon after that. She would have looked the same when she died, and-" He stopped, not sure what he was going to say from there. Twenty-six years and he had finally seen his mother. For the first time since infancy.

"I know, Dude," Dean said, moving to the other bed to sit beside him. Partially out of comfort for Sam, but partially because if this was going to turn into some monumental chick-flick moment he was not going to be able to do it looking into his brother's eyes. Too much had happened, they had both hurt way too much. "I know."

"Maybe it wouldn't have been like that," Sam mused, raising his head for the first time since the conversation had began. "Mom was a kick-ass hunter too. Maybe she could have taught us all, Dad would have been even better if he had known what he was doing instead of trying to figure it out as he went along. Maybe we could still be us, but be stronger. Maybe I wouldn't have-" The hushed tone dropped to almost inaudible at the end when he dropped off, and Dean gripped his shoulder.

"That's a world that would never have happened, Sammy, and you know that. Mom didn't want anything to do with this life. She was devastated to find out her boys had been raised as hunters. And apparently, this thing had to be us, was going to be whether we were ready for it or not. So the only thing having Mom back would do is insure that when this came about, there would be two perfectly normal brothers, probably a lawyer and a mechanic, pissing their pants about demons and angels and probably destroying the world." Sam managed a weak smile, imagining their impossible counterparts freaking out when Michael and Lucifer showed up. "How we grew up sucked out loud, Sam, but it had to be for us to be who we are."

Sam opened his mouth to point out the obvious, but Dean beat him to it. "And if you say one word about how this is all your fault, I will bitch-slap you through the wall. You were set up for this, Sam. Everything was working against you and you know that. First of all, you couldn't have broken the last seal if I hadn't broken the first one. Second of all, Cas is the one who let you out of the panic room when you were out of your mind and in pain from withdrawal. And third… I get it about Lilith." Sam's eyes jerked up in surprise to meet Dean's. "What? You think I don't? You wanted revenge for what she did to me. I get that. If she had sent you to Hell, I would have done the same damn thing." He made a face. "Except maybe the demon blood thing, because gross!"

Sam managed to burst out laughing at Dean's expression, and Dean was only able to hold it for a few more seconds before laughing with Sam. It was gallows humor, and they both knew it, but that only made it better. More important, maybe. It was several moments before they could both breathe normally again, but when they did, Dean's expression clouded over again. "You said there was no reason for either of us to say yes. Kinda a naïve thing to say, ya know."

Sam shrugged. "What could possibly be worth the fate of the world?"

"They won't make it easy for us. I mean, it's not like they can just say 'okay, this one won't play. Let's go find another'. We're it. They're not exactly going to play fair."

Unconsciously rubbing his chest where Zechariah had removed his lungs in an effort to convince Dean to say yes, Sam nodded. "I know. They tried. Offering to heal Bobby, the stomach cancer, what they did to me. But you were strong, Dean. And I understood. I was ready to die for it."

Dean's stomach turned at the memory. Watching Sam lay there, struggling to breathe when there was no hope of him drawing a breath again, nothing to do with the air he was bringing in, watching him turn blue. It was horrific, and knowing that he had the power in one word to stop it, to make him whole again… There was no word for it. He would die for Sammy without a second thought, and had proved that. But as much as he loved him, he could not sacrifice billions of innocent people for him. He had still said no.

"Sam, I won't lie to you, that was horrible. Watching you suffer, knowing you were dying –again- and that I could stop it… but these guys can do worse. And the ones after you can too." Dean forced himself to meet Sam's eyes again. "You have to be strong, Sammy. These guys are gonna use every weapon they have against you. Bobby. Cas. Me. They are gonna do everything they can to hurt you, to break you. You're gonna have to be ready to sacrifice any of us if you have to, to say no." Sam's breathing hitched, but his gaze remained steady, so Dean continued. "You gotta be ready to watch them kill innocents, hurt people. You gotta be able to say no while watching them torture me."

Tears flooded Sam's eyes at the thought, but he fought them back. Dean stared into the drowning hazel eyes, looking for something, anything, that told him the whole world wasn't screwed. "I don't suppose it would do any good for me to ask you to kill me and salt and burn my body before Lucifer can bring me back?"

Dean's own vision got blurry. "Not a chance. Don't ever ask me that again."

Finally, Sam set his jaw. "Then I don't really have a choice, do I? I won't say yes, Dean. No matter what."

Relief flooded Dean, and he swiped roughly at his eyes to clear the tears. "Me neither. No matter what."

They sat there in silence for several moments, lost in the enormity of what they were in the middle of. Human minds couldn't fully comprehend it, and they were barely able to even try. So, as usual for them, they took in what pieces they could, processed them, and moved on.

"So," asked Sam finally, eyes falling on Castiel, pale and unconscious on the bed. "What now? What's next for the ex-blood junkie, the dropout and the half-dead angel of the Lord?"

Dean looked sideways at Cas, then back at Sam. "Well, I'm thinking we get him to the car, find a new motel where the angels don't know where to find us, and get him settled in to recover. Then we find the nearest steakhouse, order something massive and so rare a good veterinarian could still save it, and a truckload of beer."

Sam nodded slowly. "Sounds like the best idea I've heard in weeks."