I knew it wasn't Dean.

When I opened my eyes, there was Dean, crouched down in front of me, gripping each of my hands in each of his own.

I knew it wasn't Dean.

His hands were warm and his grip was sure and the look on his face was patiently expectant. But it always was, here in the cage. That's how Not-Dean always looked and acted, until his touch burned through my flesh with cold, and his grip scraped my bones clean, and his face twisted into a hideous grin of intensity and delight.

I knew it wasn't Dean.

I pulled my hands out of his before they could come away bloody stumps spurting blood and sprinkling bones all over the carpeting. Not-Dean stayed where he was, crouched in front of me. His expression hardly changed, keeping the patience and losing only a little of the expectancy, feigning some disappointment instead.

I knew it wasn't Dean.

I knew this room was supposed to be Bobby's library. I was supposed to believe this was Bobby's library and I was supposed to believe that was Dean and I was supposed to believe I was safe and back with my family and just as soon as I believed that, my skin would boil off in pustules of acid and agony and disillusionment, and so I was not going to believe.

Because I knew it wasn't Dean.

I could feel the dread amping up inside of me, flowing and twisting and insinuating into every cell and muscle and heartbeat, building in intensity like a molten river of frozen needles. Something was coming - pain, agony, misery, being spitted over hellfire on my own long bones. Whatever it was, it was coming and there was nothing I could do to stop it or delay it.

So, like always, I tried to meet it head on.

Not-Dean fell back in surprise when I jumped for him. Sometimes, here in the cage, sometimes I managed to at least try to give even half as good as I got, and I was going to try to give it now. A chair fell away behind me as I knocked Not-Dean back on his ass and that distracted me because I'd never been in a chair before in hell. But it didn't distract me so much that I didn't land a good punch on Not-Dean's chin and then try to land another one before I'd have nothing but empty shoulder sockets and warm rivers of blood for my efforts.

But that didn't happen.

Not-Dean didn't rip out my arms or splinter my jaw or peel back my skin like so many layers of dried Elmer's Glue. He only rolled me off of him and onto the floor on my stomach and only pinned my arms to my sides and leaned in close to whisper to me.

I tried not to listen to him. I knew what he'd say, the depraved and evil things he'd whisper into my soul, wanting me to suffer and despair and give up. I always tried not to listen to him but it was Dean's voice, and some part of my soul always responded to hearing it.

So I listened.

"It's okay. Sammy, it's okay. I'm here, I'm not leaving you. I know this is hard, but I'm not leaving you. I'm here. We'll get through this. You're not alone, Sammy. You're not alone. I'm here."

Not-Dean never said that. Never told me he was with me. He always told me where else he was, alive and happy, away from me, happy to not be with me.

He never said he was with me. He never said I wasn't alone.

He never said that.

I went still, and Not-Dean relaxed his grip enough that I pulled away from him, scrambling past that chair that never was there before and into the corner of Not-Bobby's-Library, between the end of Not-Bobby's-Couch and Not-Bobby's-Wall. It wouldn't protect me more than a second, but it was a second worth fighting for.

Not-Dean would flex his hand now and explode me against this corner of Not-Bobby's-Library, then pull all the chunky bits together by my tendons and nerve fibers and slam me all against the wall again.

And then again.

I waited for it.

But it didn't happen.

Not-Dean moved the never-was-there-before-chair out the way and I braced for impact, but he only stayed there, away from me, crouched down, with his fingers laced together across his knees. He looked worried. He looked scared.

He looked like Dean.

I knew it wasn't Dean.

"It's a lot all at once, I know." Not-Dean said. He was using that tone, that you're-supposed-to-believe-I-care-about-you-so-I-can-pop-your-eyeballs-out tone. He used that tone a lot, but I never fell for it.

I knew it wasn't Dean.

"I know this is overwhelming you." He kept trying. "But I'm here, you're not alone. You just - you do whatever you have to, Sammy, and - well, we'll just deal with it."

Deal with it. Deal with me.

"You're not Dean." I knew that he knew that I knew, but saying it was always a victory for me anyway. "Do anything you want to me, I know you're not Dean."

My voice was dry and brittle and painful and that's what I was used to. Not-Dean tilted his head like he wasn't catching everything I was saying. That didn't happen, ever. Not-Dean always knew what I was saying, whether I said it out loud or not.

I knew it wasn't Dean.

"Water." Not-Dean said. He said that a lot, too.

This time though, it wasn't an offer made to torment me. It wasn't a question, waiting for me to want to beg to have even a swallow. It was a statement. Just a statement. And it was a statement followed by a bottle of water rolled from Not-Dean over to my feet.

I didn't reach for it; it would only roll out away from me if I did.

"Nice try." I told him.

Not-Dean didn't try to get me to reach for the water, didn't tantalize and torment me with the nearness of its possibility. He only moved slowly out of his crouch, using one hand to steady himself down to sitting on the floor. He winced a little when he stretched his legs out, like Dean always did.

I knew it wasn't Dean.

"I'm not going to leave you alone, Sammy. I can't, and I won't. I'm going to be right here, however long it takes."

However long it takes.

Sooner or later, Not-Dean would start in on me again. It could take minutes, it could take decades, but this breather wouldn't last. Still, it was a breather. I pulled myself back into the corner, watching Not-Dean, waiting for his next first move.

"Sammy, do you remember anything? Anything?"

"I remember everything." Every cut and scrape and burn and attack and ploy and tactic and threat and promise and pain and agony and -

"Do you remember anything before hell?"

I knew it wasn't Dean.

I wanted it to be Dean. I wanted it more than anything I ever wanted in all the long years of imprisonment and torture. More than peace and water and painkillers and sleep and fresh air, I wanted Not-Dean to be Dean.

"There is no before hell."

The river of boiling pins and freezing needles roiled around again inside of me, finding more niches and hollows and nerves and shallows that hadn't been shredded enough already, shredding across the top of my head, through my brain, scraping against my skull, digging through the dura mater and trying to find egress through my ear drums.

I knew that pain, I was used to that pain.

The stabbing regret was new, though. The thoughts and memories and images of hurting people, killing people, hurting Dean. They used that all the time on me, sure. Lies and insinuations and exaggerations. But this - this feeling and regret came from inside me. It wasn't a lie or exaggeration or magnification of some experience imposed on me. The memory was already there inside of me and I knew it had really happened. Somehow, I had hurt Dean. I'd hurt him, endangered him, endangered Lisa and Ben, hurt people I didn't even know, couldn't even remember, and - I'd hurt Dean.

Knowing that really was torture.

"Dean forgives me." I blurted out. It was my only defense against the regret and despair that hurt so bad it threatened to overcome even the physical pain.

Not-Dean tilted his head again, like he was trying to understand what I was saying. Then his expression opened up like he got it and he nodded.

"Yes, I do."

"You're not Dean.'

Not-Dean nodded. First he blinked and then he nodded and I could see the muscles in his arms bunching, getting ready to start, getting ready to finish, getting ready to -

I pulled back into the corner, out of habit, out of desperation,the breather was over, hell was waking up.

I knew it wasn't Dean.

Not-Dean stood up, stood back and walked away. He walked out of Not-Bobby's-Library and went into Not-Bobby's-Kitchen. The cage is small but has no limits and can encompass the whole world when it suits them. If they wanted me to see Bobby's whole house, that's what I would see.

Not-Dean went to the cupboard in Not-Bobby's-Kitchen, and while I had the minute of rest, I looked around to see if I could get an idea what I was up against this time. The windows were dark, one lamp was on, the room was warm, not boiling or freezing, I was in clean clothes, there were wool socks on my feet - and the bottle of water was still there.

Not-Dean had his back to me, not watching to see if I picked up the bottle, which had to mean it was full of vinegar or acid or worse, because it didn't roll away or disappear or shatter when my fingers finally managed to grab hold of it and pull it close and twist the top off.

It wasn't water, it couldn't be. Because it was. It was water. Wet and cold and tasting only of being water and nothing else and I hadn't had water in a hundred years and I drank that bottle down until I practically drank it inside out.

I knew I'd suffer more for drinking it than I was suffering not drinking it, but it was worth it. One second of respite was worth a hundred hours of hell.

Not-Dean turned back from Not-Bobby's-Kitchen and I pushed the empty bottle under Not-Bobby's-Couch and waited for hell to start up again. Hell always started up again.

I knew it wasn't Dean.

"Here." Not-Dean crouched beyond arm's length in front of me again and slid something across Not-Bobby's-Floor toward me.

I wanted it to be Dean.

He slid a plate over to me. Instead of the usual: entrails, skin pockets, baby parts or other inedible monstrosities, it was - Poptarts. Two pink frosted Poptarts on a chipped china plate sat near my stocking feet.


"I know textures can be a little - funky - after hell. Just - see what you can manage." Couldn't-Be-Dean said.



Clean clothes.

Socks on my feet.

The unshakeable feeling that I'd done Dean some unspeakable wrong. Done so many people so many wrongs.

Nothing I'd ever endured in hell could be as painful as enduring knowing what I'd done to other people. To innocent people.

To Dean.

"Dean forgives me." I said again. My voice was stronger now, strengthened by the couldn't-be-water bottle of water. Not-Dean, Couldn't-be-Dean didn't hesitate."Yes, I do." He said, and before I could tell him again that he wasn't Dean, he asked, "Do you forgive me?"

"You're not Dean."

Not-Dean rolled his eyes.

"Okay - do you forgive Dean?"

It was a trick question; it had to be. Not-Dean had never asked me that. He was always only saying that there is no such thing as forgiveness. Dean hadn't done anything that needed my forgiveness anyway, so why was he even asking? It didn't matter.

"I forgive Dean."

That would set Not-Dean's blood boiling. Now hell would begin. Again.

But hell didn't start again. No crushing, ripping, gouging, bludgeoning, mutilating games started up again.

I watched, I waited, but Not-Dean didn't lash out, strike out, or even look like he was contemplating it. So I decided to push it. Because as much as I dreaded the pain and torture and misery, I got some satisfaction out of knowing I could drive him to it. Even in hell, I could be annoying.

"I love Dean."

That did it. Not-Dean's face twisted, out of the patience and the expectancy and the no-really-you-can-trust-me. His lip started to curl up into probably a sneer and then Not-Dean, Wasn't-Dean, Couldn't-Be-Dean -

Oh God.

No, God - it couldn't be - how could it be - Dean? Here?

But it was. It was Dean. It really was Dean.

I knew it was Dean because...

I moved out of the corner, toward Dean, toward - Dean. I pushed the Poptarts out of the way and crawled the few feet on my hands and knees to get to him.

I had to get to Dean. I had to get to Dean.

"Are you okay?" I asked him. I had to ask him.

Dean - Dean - reached for me even before I was close enough to touch and I pulled him close and safe and real.

I knew it was Dean because...

He grabbed me hard and I could feel his breath against my neck and his shoulder under my chin and his hands fisted in the back of my shirt and finally, after all the years and pain and fear and degradation and loneliness, finally, I had Dean with me again.

He was real. Really real.

I knew it was Dean becauseā€¦

Because he was crying.

The End.