SUMMARY: As the brothers continue the hunt for a way to shove Lucifer back in his box, Dean is bitten by a snake. But as the venom takes hold, he discovers they may be dealing with more than just a snakebite. Set late Season 5 during that brief time the brothers were finally in sync.

DISCLAIMER: Still don't own the Winchester Bros, the Impala or anything else Supernatural-related, other than Seasons 1-5 on DVD and a fridge magnet. Many thanks to Eric Kripke & Co. for the hours of fun I've had playing in his sandbox.

RATED: T, for mild swearing.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: The idea for this story grew out of a spring trip to Arizona and a book we picked up for my nephew on Creepy Crawlies of the Desert. I know – boys! I'd hoped to have this up before the new season started but my muse and I appear to be on the outs again. Sigh. I've whumped Sam a lot in the past couple of stories so, because I'm all about fairness, it's Dean's turn this time around. *g* Big thanks to Harrigan for the support and the beta. Hope you enjoy.


The demon's scream still echoed across the desert as the black smoke dissipated. The lifeless host toppled forward, eyes open in a vacant stare, mouth wide in a now silent cry.

Dean's eyes narrowed as he stared down at the corpse sprawled inside the devil's trap. "What a waste – of this poor bastard, and our time."

Sam stood on the opposite side of the trap to his brother, likewise staring down at the luckless victim the demon had possessed. "I hoped-"

"Yeah." Dean glanced up at Sam. "But we both know that all that crap he was spouting was just that – Grade A bullshit. Right?"

Sam nodded, then kicked the dirt in frustration. "Damn it."

Dean scrubbed a hand down his face. This demon had been recruiting allies, bragging to anyone who would listen that he knew how to shut down the devil. The brothers didn't know if he was just a con man, surrounding himself with cannon fodder before Lucifer started cleaning house; just plain certifiable; or both. After meeting him, Dean was leaning toward the latter.

But they couldn't afford not to check him out because they needed some way to take down Lucifer. Dean glanced again at Sam, noting the ever-simmering anger coming to a boil, stoked by yet another dead end. "Come on. Let's finish this then get the hell out of here. I need a drink – or ten."

The muscle along Sam's jaw-line twitched as he glared at the fallen host before crouching down to flip open his backpack and pull out a canister of salt. "So, what? This guy is shooting off his mouth to any demon or human who'll listen, saying stand with me and we can take down Lucifer, and he's not worried the devil himself might catch wind of his con?"

"Oh he was worried." Dean, riffling through his duffel for the lighter fluid, looked up and surveyed the desert landscape. "I mean, look where we are."

Sam snorted. "Yeah. Three hours from anywhere."

"It's called hedging your bets, Sammy." Dean stood up, squinting against the bright sunlight to take in the old prospector's shack to their left. "Prime, middle-of-nowhere real estate, protection symbols painted all over home sweet home…I'd say he had a few doubts about his plan."

"And so he should. You can't hide from the devil." Sam ran his fingers subconsciously over his ribs. "Even Cas's hoodoo didn't stop Lucifer from crawling into my head. This demon should've been smoked months ago."

Dean dragged his wrist across his forehead, wiping away sweat. "Then Luci's already figured out what we now know: the guy was full of it – not worth bothering with." He kicked his duffel out of the way and twisted the cap off the lighter fluid, but froze at the sound of a distinctive rattle beside him. His head snapped to the left just in time to see a lightning-fast flash of brown. Appearing from under the scrub-brush, the large snake whipped forward and recoiled in one seamless move. Dean flinched as the sting of the bite registered. He stumbled backwards and fell, landing heavily.

"Son of a…." Dean twisted to push himself up but froze again as the snake issued another warning rattle. It was about five feet long, the same dusty brown as the baked earth and with a dark brown diamond pattern along its spine. It lay coiled about six feet in front of Dean, it's upper body twisted upright into an 'S,' the tip of its tail quivering as it weighed the need to strike again.

"Dean." Sam's worried voice came from behind him.

"Stay back." Dean's eyes were locked on the snake. "Little bastard has had his fun. Leave him alone and he'll slither off home." Out of the corner of his eye, he could see his brother moving toward him. "Damn it, Sam, I said-"

"I'm well clear. Just don't you move." Sam reached into his pocket, slowly pulling out his cellphone. He stopped just left of Dean, held up the phone and snapped a picture.

Dean's gaze darted between the snake and his brother, his voice a low growl. "What the hell are you-"

"Shhh. Docs will need this to make sure you get the right antivenin." Sam stepped cautiously away from Dean while maintaining his distance from the snake. The rattler's head turned slowly, its forked tongue testing the air, its unblinking eyes now locked on the younger Winchester. Then Sam stopped, frozen in a silent standoff with the reptile.

How long they stared each other down, Dean wasn't sure, but it was the snake who gave in first. Seemingly convinced that Sam posed no threat, the rattler's upper body relaxed and lowered slowly to the ground. With one more warning shake of its tail, the snake then moved off silently toward the shade offered by the nearby rocks and brush.

As it disappeared, Sam exhaled audibly then yanked up his phone, jabbing at the buttons to call 9-1-1. His face clouded over as annoyingly melodic beeps warned of no signal. "Son of a bitch."

"S'okay." Dean was sitting up now. He bent his left leg and pulled up his jeans, scowling at the two small, red puncture wounds just above the top of his boot. "Think it's a dry bite."

"There's no way to tell for sure, and we can't take a chance." Sam frowned, clicking another button on his phone to display the photo he'd just taken. "It's a diamondback…just don't know which kind."

"The big-assed kind." Dean winced as he studied the bite, which was now leaking blood, the two parallel trails running down his leg and inside his boot. "Still think he didn't release venom." He glanced up at Sam and shrugged. "Doesn't hurt much."

"Which means squat and you know it." Sam shoved the phone back in his pocket and turned toward the car. "We'll clean the wound and get you to a hospital."

Dean pulled down his pant leg, and started to push himself up. "Whatever. You-"



"Don't. Move." Sam was walking backwards, glaring at his brother. "And don't give me that look. You got the same wilderness first-aid lecture I did. Just…stay put while I get the car."

"The car's right there..." Dean waved his hand at the Impala which was parked beside the shack, about 20 feet to his left. "I can-"

"Dean…" Sam had reached the car and yanked open the driver's side door. "We're three hours from help. If I can't get the phone to work…" Sam left the rest unsaid as he slid inside the Chevy.

"You're such a grandma," Dean muttered, but their dad's deep voice echoed through his head, replaying that long ago lecture. "Snakes don't always release poison. They can give a dry bite as a warning; it lets you know you've pissed'em off, but still gives you a chance to back away without a real fight."

Twelve-year-old Dean had been his usual cocky self, brandishing his freshly sharpened knife. "No snake's gonna scare me off."

Dad stopped cleaning his gun and looked up at Dean. "You win fights knowing what your enemy's gonna do, even before they do it. Any creature, when it's cornered or surprised, is doubly dangerous because it's unpredictable. If one gives you an opening, you take it and get the hell out of there. Live to fight another day. There's no shame in that, son."

Sam was sitting on the edge of the bed, listening closely to the exchange between his father and brother. At eight, he was still mostly in the dark about what his father really fought against and took the conversation strictly at face value. "So how do you know it's a 'dry bite?'"

Dad turned to Sam." You don't. Some bites hurt like hell, some don't hurt at all – but both can be poisonous. If you get bit, just assume the snake released venom – treat it like I taught you 'til you know better. And get help, ASAP."

Dean grimaced, holding up a hand to protect his face from the cloud of dust and stones the Chevy kicked up as she skidded to a stop beside him. The door opened with the familiar groan of hinges and Sam launched himself out of the car, running around to the trunk. He yanked out the first-aid kit, his shaving kit and a jug of water and was quickly back at Dean's side.

Sam pushed up the cuff of Dean's jeans, studied the bite then glanced up at his brother as he twisted the cap off the water bottle. "How you doing?"

"Peachy." Dean grimaced as Sam flushed out the wound. "Holy water, Sammy? You think that rattler was possessed?" He forced a smile. "Or maybe Lucifer himself, going back to his roots?"

Sam shot his brother a look. "I'll laugh later, when they've got you pumped full antivenin." He grabbed a bar of soap from his shaving kit, poured water over it and rolled it in his hand to work up lather, before rubbing the bar over the wound. "Right now, I just wanna get us close enough to a cell tower that I can call 911." He tossed the soap, grabbed the water and again flushed the bite. "Maybe they can send a chopper out to meet us."

Dean scowled. "No way in hell are you getting me in a chopper."

Sam used a bandage from the kit to pat dry the wound. "If it means getting you help faster, yes I am – even if I have to knock you out to do it." He shook his head. "If Cas still had his mojo, I'd call him, get him to fix you up."

Dean pulled a face as he ripped open a clean bandage and covered the bite. Sam taped it in place, quickly gathered the supplies, then yanked open the back door of the car, and bent down to help his brother up.

Dean batted away his hand, pushing himself to his feet. "I got it."

"Don't be an ass." Sam moved in again.

Dean scowled, but grudgingly grabbed Sam's wrist and hauled himself to his feet. "You gonna be like this until we get this taken care of?"

"Pretty much." Sam quickly got Dean settled in the car, his back resting against the passenger side door, his injured leg stretched across the bench seat. Sam disappeared briefly, returning with a blanket and the cooler, sliding the latter onto the floor in front of Dean after pulling out a bottle of water. He offered both the water and the blanket to his brother.

Dean took the water but waved off the blanket. "It's like 105 degrees out here. Last thing I need is a blanket. You-" He dropped the protest when he caught the crease in Sam's forehead deepening and his jaw tightening. Oh. His worrywart brother was planning for the worst; if the snake had released venom and Sam couldn't get through to 911, there was a good chance he'd go into shock before they reached the hospital. He took the blanket, and dropped it on top of the cooler. "Right."

Sam nodded tightly. "You hangin' in there?"

Dean uncapped the water bottle and took a drink. "Still say it's a dry bite. The little bastard was just showing me who's boss."

"When a doctor tells me that, I'll believe it." Sam slammed the door shut, quickly slid behind the wheel and shoved the car into gear. He jammed his foot on the accelerator, the tires kicking up more stones and a cloud of dust as he spun the car around and gunned her down the pitted desert road that led out of the canyon.

Dean grabbed hold of the front seat to steady himself. "Yo, Andretti. Take it easy. Those rocks slice through her tires, we're not going anywhere."

He could see Sam's adam's apple jump and his grip on the steering wheel tighten but the car slowed marginally. "Seriously, just-" His critique of his brother's driving skills was lost as a wave of dizziness washed over him. Suddenly, there were two Sams in the front seat, two rearview mirrors each framing a pair of worried hazel eyes staring back at him.


Dean scrubbed a hand down his face, screwing his eyes closed than forcing them open wide to try to get his vision to focus. Two not-so-little brothers still shared the front seat.

"Dean!" There was more urgency in Sam's voice now. "What's going on with you?"

Dean squeezed his eyes closed again. "Just gimme a sec." He swallowed, then opened his eyes. The two Sams wavered for a moment, the slowly morphed back into one. "S'okay. I'm good."

"Bull. What just happened?"

Dean glanced down at the bottle he was holding. The water was sloshing against the sides as a tremor ripped through his right arm. "Bad burrito flashback..."

"And now?"

"Now nothing." Dean clumsily jammed the bottle of water between his knees, and curled his right hand into a fist. "It's better." He forced a smile. "There's not two of you anymore."

"Dry bite, huh?" Sam muttered as the car sped up. He turned to worriedly glare at Dean. "Look, when something happens, I need to know because the docs will need to know. If you're-"

"…out for the count, then you'll need to fill them in. Yeah, yeah…" Dean motioned with his hand for Sam to turn around. "Just watch where you're driving. This snakebite will be nothing compared to what I'll do to you if you wreck my car. I-…God," His protest was swallowed by a vicious cramp and another wave of gut-churning nausea. He closed his eyes and wrapped his arm around his stomach. "Son of a…"

"What is it?"

"Just…need a minute, here." Dean sank back into the corner, peeled open his eyes and stared wishfully at the bottle of water – make that two bottles of water – between his knees. His mouth felt like one of the sawdust-covered floors in the bars they frequented, but he couldn't trust his shaking hands not to throw the water all over himself, or his rebelling stomach to keep down whatever he got into him. "Damn, this stuff hits fast."

He glanced up when the car lost speed suddenly, stones crunching under its tires as it quickly came to a halt. "I said slow down, Sammy, not stop. You-"

"Just shut up." Sam had barely slid the gearshift into park before he was out from behind the wheel and in the backseat, sitting next to Dean, his brother's injured leg lifted over his own. He pushed the blanket aside, knocked the lid off the cooler then soaked a facecloth in cold water before handing it to Dean. "Take this. It'll help cool you down. I'm gonna check the bite."

Dean said nothing when Sam grabbed his wrist to check his pulse, but frowned when his brother pulled a penknife from his pocket, and sliced through Dean's jeans, from knee to cuff. "You're buying me a new pair, jerk."

"We get you through this, I'll buy you two," Sam muttered as he peeled off the bandage, his fingers gently pressing the skin around the bite. "Skin's warm but there's little swelling. Guess that answers another question."

Dean swiped the cloth across his face. "What?"

Sam tore open a fresh bandage from the first-aid kit. "Rattlesnakes release one of two types of poison, remember? One targets the blood and the organs, causing swelling and pain. The other targets the nervous system. Given you're seeing double and there's not much swelling, looks like it's the second type we're dealing with here."

Dean grimaced as his two brothers worked in tandem to rebandage his leg. "You know, when I leave you alone, you're supposed to watch porn, not the Discovery Channel." The glares in stereo told him Sam was in no mood for bad jokes. "Whatever…So, tell me, Professor, what do I have to look forward to?"

Sam grabbed the bottle of water Dean was trying, and failing, to pick up and twisted off the cap. "Hopefully, a hospital well-stocked with antivenin, and a hot nurse who'll fall for your line of bull."

"It's charm, not bull – and Amen to your way of thinking – but that's not what I meant." Dean scowled as Sam held the water bottle for him. "What's this venom gonna do to me?"

Sam steadied the bottle as Dean drank. "Double vision you know about… nausea, weakness…"

Dean dragged his wrist across his mouth as he finished drinking. "Check, check and check." He glanced up at Sam. "What else?"

"Nothing else, if I can help it." Sam offered more water but Dean shook his head. "We're gonna get you help-"

"…or I'm screwed." Dean wiped the cloth over his face again, hiding behind it momentarily as fought to bring his emotions under control. When he lowered it, he smiled tightly at his brother. "I could always yell for Michael. Say yes. Bet he'd have me fixed up in a jiffy."

Sam's face was stony. "Not funny."

"Whatever." Dean swallowed, willing his stomach to settle. "Look, you wanna do your Andretti thing, go ahead. No more cracks about your driving…promise."

"You don't care about your car?" Sam fished a large travel cup with built-in straw from his knapsack in the front seat, poured the bottle of water into it and pressed it into Dean's hand. "Now I know it's bad."

Dean rolled his eyes as he stared down at the cup. "No, you giving me the sippy cup – that's bad."

His brother was back behind the wheel before Dean finished his retort, the tires squealing as Sam redlined the Impala back into motion. Dean collapsed back into the corner, suddenly too tired to sit up. He grimaced as he swallowed; it felt like a brick was wedged in his throat. "Be gentle with her, Sammy. I'm just, um…just gonna close my eyes…"

"Dean, no…"

"…just for min…" He was out even before his eyes slid shut.


"Damn it…Dean!" Sam glanced from the rearview mirror to over his shoulder. Dean was slouched in the corner, mouth slack, his cheek pressed against the seatback. He was pale, sweat beading on his forehead and his chest rising and falling noticeably with each rapid, shallow breath. The water cup rested in his lap, his fingers still loosely wrapped around it. "Dean?"

Sam wanted to stop, wake up Dean and keep him awake, keep track of how fast the venom was taking effect, but the more times he stopped, the longer it was going to take to get help. They were screwed either way. He grabbed his phone from the seat beside him and hit redial. It took every ounce of self-control he possessed not to hurl it at the front window when it chirped the 'no signal' tone.

As he glanced again in the rear-view mirror, Dean's face contorted in pain, his groan audible even over the air rushing in through the open Impala window as the car sped along the rough desert road.

"Cas!" Sam bellowed the angel's name. It was a Hail Mary and he knew it; the Enochian etchings on their ribs made Cas as unreachable as 911. He glanced again in the rear-view mirror; Dean had slid down, the arm that had been curled protectively around his middle now hanging limply at his side.

"Damn it." Sam slammed the heel of his hand into the steering wheel in frustration, and then jammed his foot down on the accelerator, pushing it to the floor. The Chevy fishtailed slightly on the pebble-littered road but quickly picked up speed, as determined as Sam to get her guy back to civilization and to the help he needed.


Dean groaned as he came to, wrapping an arm around his stomach as it cramped viciously. "Pull over…I'm gonna puke." He forced open his eyes, fingers fumbling for the door handle, but the car didn't slow down. "Sammy, now! I'm not-" His mouth dried out suddenly and he felt sick for all different reasons when his gaze fell on the tiny, dark-haired figure sitting in the passenger seat, running her fingers through Sam's hair. "Ruby…"

"Dean." The demon smiled as she twisted to face him, elbow resting on the seat back, her chin cupped in her hand. "You're awake."

Dean struggled to sit up. "You're dead."

Ruby shrugged. "Hate to point out the obvious, but I have been since you met me."

Dean glared at her. "I'm not talking about the meatsuit. The knife–"

"– really messed up bikini season for me, but, nope, didn't kill me. Just sent me home – to a hero's welcome. Ticker tape parade, the whole nine yards." Ruby glanced to her right where Sam sat behind the wheel, looking straight ahead and offering no acknowledgement of her presence. "I mean, I got Sammy here to set Lucifer free – I'm prom queen."

She sighed, again running her fingers down Sam's cheek. "Only down side is I didn't get my dance under the mirror ball with your oh-so-yummy little brother."

Dean's brow furrowed at Sam's lack of response to Ruby. "This isn't real. Sammy can't see you." His gaze snapped back to the demon. "Get the hell out of my nightmare."

Ruby smiled. "I'm in your head, you got that part right. I thought we should have a little one-on-one time before we bring Sam into the loop." She ran her fingers up Sam's arm, lingering over his biceps, before moving up to his temple. "But, if you'd rather not wait, one little tap here, and we have a threesome."

"Just keep you hooves off him." Dean grimaced as he swallowed. "I'm trying really hard here not to puke in my car. You skank all over my brother and things are definitely gonna get messy."

Ruby's eyes flashed black. "No need to get nasty. Look, I'm stuck here 'til you're done, so I'm just looking to have a little fun. And your brother's a helluva lot more fun than you."

Dean groaned as he struggled to sit up. "I'm gonna regret this but 'til I've done what?"

"Just done." Ruby shrugged. "You know: Like dinner. DOA. Once the venom takes effect, your ass is mine."

"You wanna drag me back to Hell?" Dean snorted. "Hate to break it to you sweetheart, but I ain't going anywhere with you. Oh, there's a good chance I might check out, might even have time for a quick trip to the roadhouse and a PBR with Ash, but I'm coming back topside. Archangel Mike is gonna make sure of that."

"Not if he can't find all the pieces." Ruby's smile was cruel. "And that's where I come in."

Dean's smirk faded. Anna had threatened to do the same thing to Sam.

"Oh it's very possible." Ruby seemed to read his mind. "So, you know, whenever you're ready… It's check out time. I mean, I could hurry things along ..." She turned to Sam, tracing her finger along a lock of hair that curled up behind his ear, "but I can think of much better ways to kill some time."

"Oh now I really am gonna puke." Dean screwed his eyes closed and swallowed against the building nausea. "You caught Sam at a bad time, that's the only reason you got under his skin…" He forced his eyes open. "…like a bad case of the clap."

Ruby tilted her head and pursed her lips, then nodded slowly. "You're right – although I wouldn't put it quite like that. Let's just say I…seized an opportunity." Her mouth twisted into a sly smile as she turned back to Dean. "One you made possible by making that deal and taking that little trip down under. We both know that's what broke your brother." Her smile widened at the anger flashing in Dean's eyes. "Looks like Sam's not the only one whose skin I can get under."

Dean's eyes narrowed. "You listen: I gutted you once, I can do it again." He winced as he reached for the ankle on his good leg and the knife still stashed in the holster there. "Real or imaginary, it'll be even sweeter the second time around."

Ruby flickered then reappeared in the backseat, right next to Dean. "No offence but, right now, you couldn't gut a fish." She slammed her fist into his chest, twisting his t-shirt in her hand as she shoved him back, pinning him into the corner and snatching the knife from his hand. "Fact is, you look like crap."

She maintained her hold on Dean's t-shirt as she twisted her head to look at his injured leg, then used the tip of the knife to pull off the bandage. She smirked at the hiss of pain behind her. "He got you good, didn't he? Shouldn't take long."

Dean grabbed her wrist, grunting as he tried to push her away, but he couldn't break her hold. "Son of a bitch, this is my freaking nightmare... I should be calling the shots." Dean forced out the words, his throat feeling like it was swelling shut. He imagined wrapping his hands around the demon's throat – one quick twist was all it would take – but his mutinous hands stayed limply at his sides. "Come on, Dean. Wake up."

Ruby chuckled. "Still delusional, thinking you're in control." She jabbed the point of her knife into the snake bite and twisted the blade, smiling at Dean's muffled grunt of pain. "I set this up, Dean. Inspired by Lucifer himself." She turned to face him. "Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made."

The temperature inside the car seemed to plummet. Dean stared at Ruby incredulously.

"What?" She shrugged. "I've read your Bible."

Dean's chest was heaving noticeably as he struggled to draw in a breath. "You trying to tell me…that that rattler was…Lucifer?"

"Bit you, left Sam alone." Ruby smiled. "What do you think?"

"I think is it's time for me to wake up." Dean gave his head a shake, trying to force his vision back into focus. His words were barely audible, his throat closing around them. "Get the hell out of my head."

"Not yet. Getting Sam to free Lucifer, that was a major career move for me." Ruby's eyes glittered. "Taking care of you, that's my key to executive suite."

"But, in the mean time…" She glanced over her shoulder at Sam, sighed dramatically, then turned back to Dean. The knife flashed as she slashed the inside of her wrist, blood from the cut trickling down her arm. "What do you think'll happen when Sam sees me…when he smells this?"

"No…" Dean grabbed for the knife, but his body stayed frozen in place, even as his brain screamed at him to move. "You leave him the hell alone."

"Poor Dean," Ruby tutted. "Your body not co-operating?" She ran the knife up his arm then down his chest. "That would be the venom – paralysis starting in the extremities, gradually spreading to kidneys, your lungs, your heart until…" She twirled the blade over his heart, her voice dropping to a whisper. "Lights out."

Dean glared at the demon, his voice suddenly AWOL, his arms and legs stubbornly still.

Ruby sat back, her smile turning smug. "So, since I have time to kill 'til the venom kills you… think I'll have some fun. I mean, being this close to Sam, and not being able to, you know, be close to him, it's enough to drive a girl mad."

Dean channeled his waning energy into a death stare.

Ruby chuckled. "Oh, if you don't like me now, you're really not gonna like me after you see what I do to your brother." She stroked her hand down Dean's face. "Pay close attention now."

Dean's eyes widened, his revulsion at her touch fading quickly behind shock. The air seemed to crackle around him as a figure flickered then solidified in the front seat behind Ruby. She sensed the presence and started to turn but had barely moved when with a glint of metal, a blade was stabbed through her neck, the point protruding from her throat inches from Dean's face.

Her eyes flashed black, her expression one of total shock. Then, with a crackle of electricity, she was gone.

The figure in the front seat chuckled. "Blinded by ambition, distracted by lust – a recipe for disaster in any realm, wouldn't you agree?"

Dean felt sick all over again. "Alistair."


Sam glanced down at the gas gauge; it read just under half full. Dean had filled up just outside Tombstone; if the top half of the tank had gotten them to the prospector's shack, the bottom half should get them back to the gas station. If he couldn't get a cell signal before then, he could at least use a landline there to call for help.

His gaze jumped to the rearview mirror. Dean was still out, slumped into the corner, arms lax at his sides, his eyes moving rapidly behind closed lids. Sam wound up the window to cut out the outside noise, listening carefully to his brother's labored breathing and frowning when it hitched as if something had startled him.

"Dean?" Sam swallowed. "Come on, man. I need you to wake up." He leaned to his right, scrabbed under the passenger seat to pull out the battered shoebox that held Dean's prized cassette collection, then dropped it onto the empty shotgun seat. "I know the driver picks the music, but I'm waiving that right. One-time-only offer. Just tell me what you wanna hear. I'll play it. Loud as you want, no complaints."

There was no response. Sam stared in the mirror at his way-too-still brother. He hated seeing Dean still. Still dredged up memories of the hospital after the crash; of finding Dean broken and bloody after Alistair almost beat him to death; of what was left of Dean when the hellhounds were done with him; of the trek through the woods carrying a casket, en route to burying his brother.

"Damn it, don't do this. I…" The acid in his gut was back; the same stuff that ate away at him the whole team Dean was in Hell, leaving him hollow, burned out, vulnerable.

"No. Not this time." Sam punched the roof of the car, then grabbed his phone. He jabbed at Redial before returning his gaze to the mirror and the phone to his ear. "This time I'm bringing you back."

He swallowed against rising nausea, then froze when he realized the phone was ringing. His chest tightened at the sound of a female voice.

"911. What's the nature of your emergency?"


Alistair sat in the front seat, his back to Dean. He coolly surveyed the desert landscape as they barrelled down the dusty road toward the highway.

"Hot…harsh…nasty creatures everywhere you turn, waiting to attack when you least expect it." He chuckled. "If it wasn't so bright, it'd remind me of home."

Dean squeezed his eyes closed and then forced them open wide.

The demon was still in the front seat. Dean's stomach churned, but more from hatred for his torturer than the venom crippling his body. "How–"

"–did I get rid of Ruby?" Alistair turned to face Dean, his smile as cruel as he remembered. "That little tramp had an over inflated sense of her own importance, that what she did for Lucifer would somehow protect her. And that overconfidence made her vulnerable."

Dean had to fight to croak out the words. "Luci seemed…to like her. Think… you might've...pissed off…the boss?"

Alistair rolled his eyes. "Lucifer liked her the way humans like ketchup with fries – a bit a sauce on the side." He snorted. "I doubt he'll even notice she's gone, let alone miss her. All he cares about is that the job gets done."

The demon stared down at his knife, then wiped it on his shirt to clean off Ruby's blood. "And I have so much more experience taking you apart, don't I? Only difference this time is…" His smile widened as he looked back at Dean. "I won't be putting you back together."

Alistair flickered, then reappeared in the backseat, staring out the window. "Now, we could sit here, shooting the shit, until the venom does its job but, frankly, that would be cruel." He turned to face Dean. "You have no idea how difficult it would be for me to sit here, watching you suffer, knowing I had nothing to do with it. So," his cold smile returned, "let's move things along, shall we?"

And with that, he plunged the dagger into Dean's heart.

Shock numbed him for a brief moment before pain broke through, searing at first then suffocating. Dean gasped for air as Alistair sat back and smiled.

Then, the pain stopped. Alistair's smile slipped just before he exploded into nothing. A fine red mist lingered briefly but then it, too, was gone. Dean flinched but it was like the demon was never there. He inhaled deeply as his hand jumped to his chest; there was no knife wound, no pain.

"It's so hard to get good help these days. It may be a cliché, but if you want something done right, you've gotta do it yourself."

Dean's head snapped toward the front of the car. Sam no longer sat behind the wheel.


"In the flesh." Lucifer ran his hands over the wheel. "You know, all my powers, all the things I've done and can do, I've never driven one of these."

"Well you're not starting with this one." Dean jumped as Lucifer turned to face him.

Lucifer feigned disappointment. "Now that's gratitude. I save your life and you won't even let me drive your car."

Dean swallowed. "Where's Sam?"

Lucifer rolled his eyes. "Don't worry, he's fine. As you can see, I'm still wearing the rental."

Dean shifted uneasily. "Why are you here?"

"Setting things right." Lucifer turned in his seat, leaning back against the driver's door. "Ruby…Alistair…" He shook his head. "What those idiots couldn't seem to get through their thick skulls is I want a face-off with my brother. There are things we need to … address. But these two… they were so busy sucking up, they almost screwed everything up. I need you breathing because Michael and me… we need to pow-wow."

Dean frowned. "So, the snake…"

"…wasn't me." Lucifer shrugged. "Been there, done that. You just got tagged by one of God's creatures in a bad mood." He smiled. "There's a certain irony in that, don't you think?"

"Screw irony," Dean growled. "And screw you."

Lucifer feigned hurt. "You know, I wasn't expecting candy and flowers but a simple thank you wouldn't go amiss. Well, that, and you could talk your brother into saying yes." He peeled a piece of loose skin from the back of his hand. "Poor Nick here really is having a tough time keeping it together."

"Then that'll save us taking you apart," Dean spat, "'cause you're not getting Sam."

Lucifer shook his head. "And there it is; the infamous Winchester stubborn streak." He sighed. "Oh well, it was worth a try."

He vanished, reappearing almost instantly on the backseat beside Dean, grabbing him by the shirt and pulling him close so their faces were inches apart. His eyes were cold, his expression hard. "Don't mistake my actions for benevolence, Dean. I am not a nice guy. You're still here only because you will say yes. And Sam will say yes."

Dean shuddered. "No." He had to fight to keep his voice steady. "We won't."

Lucifer held Dean's gaze for a moment. His mouth twisted into a slight smile. "Always picking the hard way." He let go of Dean's shirt, patted his leg right over the snake bite, then sat back and dusted off his hands. "I'm so disappointed."

"Life's full of disappointments. Get used to it." Dean's hands curled into fists to stop them from shaking.

Lucifer shook his head. "Well then, I guess we have nothing further to talk about."

"So, sayonara. You-" Dean's voice cut out as his chest tightened, lungs refusing to expand. He slumped into the corner, clutching at his chest as he glared at Lucifer.

Lucifer shrugged. "Snake bites. Nasty stuff."

Dean's vision blurred. He felt dizzy and sick. He screwed his eyes closed, his chest feeling like a hand had jammed its way through his ribs and was slowly squeezing his heart. He sensed Lucifer move toward him and his eyes snapped open.

"Now, I could've fixed you up but, like I said before, I'm not nice guy. I didn't get a thank you, so you don't get to be all better." His smile was hard. "You want the pain to go away, give Michael a call."

Then Lucifer vanished. It was the last thing Dean remembered before his body shut down.


"…twenty-eight…twenty-nine…thirty." Sam stopped the chest compressions, tilted back Dean's head, breathed into mouth to fill his lungs, then resumed compressions.

The Impala had just turned onto the highway when Dean started choking. Sam had slammed on the brakes and pulled onto the shoulder but, by the time he was in the backseat, his brother wasn't breathing.

He dragged Dean from the car and, on the side of the road under blistering sun, started CPR.

The muscles in his arms were starting to shake when he heard the rescue chopper, the one the 911 operator had promised, but he kept up the compressions. The roar of the helicopter got louder as it came in for a landing on the road behind him, the downdraft sending dirt and stones flying, whipping his clothes and his hair. Still Sam didn't stop.

"…twenty-three…twenty-four…," he muttered to himself, ignoring the sudden chaos around him and focusing solely on his brother, on trying to get his heart pumping blood, on getting him to breathe. When he hit thirty compressions, he breathed again for his brother. He'd just locked his hands together, ready for another round when a hand firmly but gently gripped his arm.

Sam glanced up to see a paramedic shake his head. He was shouting to be heard over the still beating helicopter blades. "We've got it now. Let us help him."

Sam started to protest but, by the time he turned back to his brother, a second EMT was gently pushing his hands out of the way to cut open Dean's shirts. He quickly had leads attached to Dean's chest, connecting him to a monitor, before fastening an Ambu bag to his face. After briefly studying the monitor, the first medic turned on a defibrillator.

Sam sat back on his heels, watching in a daze. Everything was in slow motion; they were asking him questions about Dean; their voices, his answers both sounding like one of Dean's tapes, playing at the wrong speed.

He blinked, and the paramedic was rubbing the paddles together and placing them on Dean's chest. Sam jumped as his brother's body jerked when hit with the current. When his partner checked the monitor and shook his head, the only sound he heard was his own strained breathing.

He jumped again with the second jolt from the defibrillator but, this time, the medic nodded. There was none of the distinctive beeping they heard in hospitals, but the wild electronic spikes on the monitor had settled into regular peaks and valleys, which told him Dean's heart was beating regularly again. But he couldn't smile, felt no relief. He kept waiting for the peaks to flatten, his imagination supplying the steady drone of a flatline.


The EMT was talking to him. He had no recollection of telling him his name.

"What kind of snake was it? Do you know?"

Sam swallowed as he nodded. "A diamondback..." Sam's hands moved reflexively to his pockets; he frowned when he found them empty, then remembered his phone was still on the front seat of the Impala. "Wait." He pushed himself up, stumbled over to the car, surprised at how shaky his legs felt, and grabbed his phone. By the time he dropped to his knees at Dean's side, he'd called up the photo he'd taken of the snake. He showed it to the paramedic who, in turn, showed his partner.

The second EMT nodded. "Eastern Diamondback. Type A."

The chaos around Dean resumed: the Ambu bag was replaced with an oxygen mask, IVs were inserted in his arm, delivering fluids and the antivenin, and a new dressing applied to his leg after the paramedics examined the bite. The chopper pilot came over with a litter and the four men lifted Dean inside it, wrapped him in a blanket, then carried him over to the helicopter.

Sam moved to climb in after his brother, but the medic once again grabbed his arm, this time shaking his head. "Not enough room," he shouted. "We're taking him to Mercy General." He pulled a map from his flight suit pocket and pressed it into Sam's hand. "Take your car. That'll get you there."

At Sam's hesitation, he nodded reassuringly. "He's stable. We'll take good care of him."

Sam wanted to protest, wanted to stick with his brother but the important thing was to get Dean to the hospital. He nodded, stumbled backwards away from the chopper and watched as the crew quickly reloaded their equipment.

The roar increased again as the helicopter blades picked up speed. Sam held his hand in front of his face to protect himself from the dust-storm stirred up by the downdraft, but his eyes stayed glued to the helicopter, right up until it disappeared over the horizon.

Suddenly it was quiet again. Just him and the Impala and a whole lot of desert. His gaze fell to the crumpled map in his hand and the sight of it got his legs moving. He crossed quickly to the car, climbed inside and fired up the engine. As the Chevy's throaty rumble replaced the desert silence, he felt his shoulders relax a little.

"He's gonna be okay," he muttered, shoving the Impala in gear and gunning her down the road in a cloud of dust.


Sam sat at Dean's bedside, shaking his head. "It was a nightmare, man. It had to be."

Dean scrubbed a hand down his face, scowling as he jostled the oxygen canula under his nose. "I wanna believe that, Sammy. Trust me. But…" He shrugged. "I…I dunno. It sure as hell felt…real." He glanced up at his brother. "In the car, you didn't sense any of 'em? Not even Ruby?"

"No." Sam shifted uncomfortably at the mention of the demon. "But docs said the poison was Type A, a neurotoxin. Makes sense you'd be tripping down the rabbit hole, especially with all the crap we've through lately."

"Awesome." Dean pulled off the canula. "I used to dream about Busty Asian Beauties, now it's Torturers Digest and Demon Skanks Monthly." He pushed himself up with a groan. "Look, bring the car around to the front doors. I'll meet you there when I'm dressed."

Sam's eyes widened. "You're not leaving."

"Watch me." Dean threw back the covers, and started pulling off the tape that held the IV catheter in place. "We're not gonna find a way to stop Lucifer as long as I'm stuck in here. Let's blow this gin joint."

"It's only been four days, Dean," Sam said quietly. "Four days since you flat lined and I had to watch them shock you back to life. It's a little soon to go devil-hunting, don't you think?"

"No." Dean winced as he pulled out the IV needle. "Lucifer's not gonna take a timeout while the nurses are waking me up to give me a sleeping pill." He swung his legs off the bed with a groan. "Now if you wanna help, grab my clothes and then go get the car."

Sam shoved his hands in his pockets, then gestured with his head toward the closet on the far side of the room. "You know where your clothes are. If you can cross the room and dress yourself, we're out of here. You need help from me, we're staying put."

Dean raised an eyebrow as he shakily pushed himself out of bed. "Is that supposed to be a challenge?"

Sam's eyes were locked on his brother. "You forgetting how much I was holding you up earlier today, just so you could get to the bathroom and back?"

"Just watch how you word that, huh, Sammy. You're gonna start rumors. And if you can't get out of Grandma-mode, that's on you, not me. I'm good." Dean sat up, then closed his eyes as he waited for his equilibrium to catch up. When he opened his eyes, Sam had moved to the end of the bed, flipped open Dean's chart and was scanning through it. "Put that down. Doctor-patient privilege or… some crap like that."

Sam shot him a scowl, then kept reading. "Doctors really do have crappy handwriting but, from what I can make out, you're doing better."

"Told you." Dean's voice was strained as he limped toward the closet.

"Better's relative." Sam covertly tracked his brother's progress while leafing through a few more pages. "But looks like, barring any setbacks, docs were gonna recommend you be released tomorrow." He closed the chart and returned it to the holder on the bed. "Guess a few hours early isn't so bad."

Dean had the closet open and was pulling out his duffel. "Big brother knows best, you should know that by now."

"Right." Sam quickly assessed Dean. He was pale and moving slowly but seemed fairly steady. "Look, if you think you're gonna be okay for a few minutes, I'm gonna go talk to your nurses about after-care, see if there's any meds you should have. If the doc's not around to write a prescription, we'll, um, go through other channels. Get you what you need."

Dean smiled. "That's my boy."

Sam headed for the door. "I won't be gone long."

Dean rolled his eyes. "I'll be waiting, Grandma."

Sam just shook his head, then he was gone.


Dean eased himself down on the bed. He was dressed but getting that way had wiped him out. Tying his boots had almost done him in. "That's all I need," he muttered. "For Sammy to come back, find me flaked out on the floor. Then I wake up to a great big 'I-told-you-so.'"

His eyes slid closed but he forced them open again. Whenever he slept, Lucifer came back, goading him to say yes to Michael. He was usually joined by Ruby and Alistair, each now echoing their master's message. "Suck-ups," he mumbled.

But they were dreams. He knew too damn well what nightmares felt like. But, out in the desert, in the car, that felt different. Dean glanced down at his leg. He hoped it was the poison, but what if the demons and devil himself had found a way to crawl into his head – to keep pushing until he said yes? And what if they did the same thing to Sam?

He shuddered. "No. I don't know how, but we're gonna stop you." He gripped the edge of the bed to steady himself. "Me and Sam. We're gonna find a way."


A/N: I'll leave it up to you to decide if Dean's visitors were real or imaginary. *g* Thanks so much for reading. I'd love to hear from you. 'Til next time, cheers!