Disclaimer: I do not own Supernatural.

Notes: Written for the spn_j2_bigbang on lj. Skinwalker AU. A massive, huge thank you to all the people who had a hand in making this into something remotely read-able. All mistakes are mine.

"As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back;
For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack."

"Goddammit! Hughes! I said stay put!"

"There are only two of 'em! I don't need you to baby-sit me, Winchester!" The kid had a death wish and all because his father ranked high in the hierarchy, but apparently hadn't bothered to really teach his son the ropes. Dean was half-tempted to just sit back and watch. He'd told them he wasn't going to fucking rescue them.

"Dean? Dean, what's going on? I thought we were wait-"

Sam's voice sounded too shrill in his ear and he winced. God, he hated the communicators. "Hold your damn position, Sam," he ordered gruffly, pulling the .45 caliber colt from out of his pocket and checking the chamber. Silver bullets—the only kind that would take out a werewolf. Not that he thought he'd need to use more than two.

"Hold my - Wait, Dean, what are you doing? You can't..." Sam trailed off, and Dean barely managed to suppress the sigh as he scrambled through the jagged hole in the chain-link fence after the rookie.

"Hughes is right there," Sam hissed. He was really starting to build up steam. "Do you really want him to see that?"

"I don't have much of a fucking choice now, do I, Sammy?" Dean snarled quietly, crawling slowly forward, towards the soft growls and the almost overwhelming stench of blood. Hughes was ahead, ready to step out into the open. Christ, his life was some kind of big, cosmic joke; he was sure of it.

"Dad's favorite newbie is doing his goddamn best to get us all killed. Lecture me later when we're all still alive," Dean told his brother sharply, cutting over his protests. The junkyard provided good cover and Sam was probably still despairing of Dean's admittedly terrible 'junkyard dogs' jokes. Better to keep him on his toes; the bastard was getting too smug.

"Hughes! I'm giving you one more chance. Get your ass back here, now, and -"

"What is with you, Winchester? It's two werewolves, not a fucking ar- Oh, shit!" The kid's voice went high, panicked, and Dean was hit hard with the scent of his fear. He growled.

"I hate fucking idiots," he told the world at large, taking shallow breaths to fight against his own instincts. He broke cover to see that Hughes had tripped in his haste to get away. His gun was about a foot or so away from him and he was easy meat for the two werewolves already circling, let alone for the three that were on approach.

Honestly, Dean should just let them rip the moron to shreds, but he couldn't. He couldn't just stand there, and watch the kid die his first time out because of a stupid mistake. Everyone was cocky their first time; it was after you survived the inevitable fuck-up that you learned.

Dean stood, lifted the gun in casual aim, and fired. The largest of them – male, and very angry, - turned to snarl at Dean when the bullet bit into his arm. It wasn't a fatal shot, but it was exactly what Dean wanted - their attention completely focused on him. He stood at his full height in front of them, confident, and assured, and bared his teeth in an animal snarl of his own. It was tricky. He never knew how much wolf they had in them, exactly, but he trusted his instincts so he stared them down as he lowered the gun.

Hughes's eyes widened, — fear, and anger, and surprise — when he looked at Dean.

Dean's eyes had gone a deep, burnished gold that was obviously inhuman.

The werewolves focused on him, nothing human left in those sharp, wild gazes, and moved warily closer, - obviously recognizing something close to kin in him. They snarled, and bared their teeth in a clear territorial threat, but not one of them held his gaze. Dean smiled coldly, a human gesture that he knew would translate as it was meant to – dominance, and threat. Four of them backed down without a real fight. They were submissive; they whined and showed their throats even as they moved backwards in preparation to flee. He ignored them, - the big male was the one to watch, and he stayed focused on him.

"Got a problem, asshole?" He couldn't resist the dig even though he knew it was wasted - these creatures were too far beyond humanity to understand. There was no fear smell beyond the human's and the submissive wolves', and he vaguely thought he should have expected this.

The big male snarled angrily, and charged. Dean shifted his stance and ignored the twinge of his conscience that said he was killing his own kind. He wasn't a monster.

He growled, low, and with his own brand of angry, raised the gun, and emptied the clip into the werewolf. He dropped, his chest full of silver, and died choking on his own blood.

Echoing gunshots, and loud, cut-off half-screams signified the end of the other four. Sammy, at least, knew how to do his fucking job.

"You ever disobey an order again," Dean told Hughes, kicking the boy's gun over to him with his toe, "and I'll have you barred faster than you can say 'fuck-up.' I don't baby-sit puppies and I sure as Hell won't be saving you again, kid. You gotta learn to save other people and you can't fucking do that if you get yourself killed. If you're gonna go that way, you do it early and with the least amount of innocent casualties."

He turned on his heel and stalked off, still all predator. He half-expected to hear a gun cocking behind him. He hadn't missed that wide-eyed disgust in the kid's eyes.

"Dean?" Sam walked up and stared down at him, all earnest concern. Dean rolled his eyes.

"It's fine, Sammy. We doin' clean-up here, or-"

"No, the crew's on its way. Dad said down-time when we get back, and no, I didn't tell him about this," Sam cut him off, ignoring Dean's annoyed glare. It wasn't anything he hadn't seen before. "You're damn lucky I didn't, Dean. What if Hughes decides he doesn't want to keep his mouth shut?"

"You worry too much, Sammy. He talks, and I'll fucking shoot him. End of story," he shrugged. It wasn't the first time he'd had to deal with a hunter finding out, and thinking he could run his mouth about it; probably wouldn't be the last, either.

Sam couldn't let it go, though. "I don't trust him, Dean. His dad is-"

"Leave it, Sam. His dad isn't shit in the long-run, and it doesn't matter anyway. What? Did you want me to let the kid's heart get eaten? I'm real sure our Dad would appreciate that," he snapped, cutting over him sharply in the dominant manner that said he expected to be obeyed.

Dean stared him down until Sam dropped his gaze away, sighing in exasperated defeat.

"Yeah, okay, fine. Go get the car packed up. I'll make sure princess, over there didn't actually faint," Sam said, giving in because it was easier.

Dean's whole demeanor softened after Sam backed down, and he nudged his brother's shoulder affectionately, offering a triumphant half-grin before loping off towards the car. Sam headed for Hughes, still sitting on his ass in the dirt, hand closed over the gun Dean had kicked back to him.

He'd told Dean he'd drop it and he would, but he would make sure the bastard knew to keep his damn mouth shut, first. He took his time looking the kid over; making sure his gaze was filled with disdainful amusement.

"You alright, Hughes? I'd hate to tell your Dad we let you get bit on your first time out," he said, conversationally. The kid ignored him, which Sam had mostly expected. It was annoying though, and he sighed, even as he offered a hand to help the other hunter to his feet. Hughes took it and Sam tugged him up, watching closely as the man's mouth opened once he'd finally focused on Sam himself.

"Sam!" Dean called from the Impala, packing their weapons away carefully.

"Yeah, coming!" Sam replied, raised an arm to wave when Dean looked, and waited patiently for him to turn back to his task. Hughes was still there, staring at Dean with something like disgust on his face and Sam raised himself to his full height, dropping the easy-going, manner he usually adopted. It was easy to make people forget that he, too, was a Winchester.

"-can't believe you work with it! That thing could turn on you at any second. This needs to be reported, Winchester, and-"

Hughes's words choked off, and Sam enjoyed the way his eyes widened when his back hit the rusted side of an old pick-up truck. He lifted his hands in some effort to pull at his throat, but there was nothing physically holding him there and Sam smiled coldly as he stalked up to press the barrel of his gun against the newbie's jaw. Hughes went still, glaring at him, but Sam could see the fear there, too; the knowledge that he was dealing with an unknown quantity.

"Listen up, kiddo, 'cause I'm only gonna say this once," Sam began conversationally, casting a quick glance towards the Impala to make sure Dean was still occupied. He hated it when Sam got all protective. He was the big-brother, dammit, not Sam. But Sam had been protecting Dean's secret his entire life. He wasn't going to stop now.

Dean wasn't the only dangerous Winchester.

"You tell anyone, and I mean anyone, about what you saw tonight, and I'll hunt you down, and slit your throat while you sleep," he told him, quiet, honest, and he could see it ring true in Hughes's eyes.

"Dean's mine and you aren't allowed to hurt him," he added softly, waiting for the acknowledging nod before he pulled inward, and let the power fade. He backed off, but kept the gun leveled for a long moment, enjoying the trickle of nervous sweat running down Hughes' face.

Hughes waited until he'd put it away before he spoke. It was funny that he thought that would make a difference.

"You're fucked in the head, Winchester," he told him, voice shaking. "You and your brother." Sam thought it was a small price to pay, in the scheme of things.

He shrugged, smiled the easy-going smile that charmed everyone into thinking he was harmless. "You get used to it."

Dean called again, impatient, and Sam laughed at him and went to join him in the car, leaving Hughes to find his own way back. The kid wouldn't say anything and Dean was safe, and that was all that mattered.

"The fuck was that about?" Dean demanded, glancing over at him when he slid into the passenger seat. Sam just shrugged.

"I was just tying up a loose end," he told him, ignoring the way Dean's eyes narrowed.

"Sam-" he didn't give him a chance to get started. He would never stop, if he did.

"Don't worry about it, Dean. It's not a big deal, okay. It's fine," he cut over him, reaching over to squeeze his thigh reassuringly. Dean relaxed at the touch, like he'd just been waiting for Sam to reach out and he probably should have done it sooner - Dean had always been tactile and they touched more than most people thought was normal.

Dean looked at him for a long moment, sighed. "You used your," he gestured vaguely, and Sam guessed that meant 'freaky demon powers' in Dean-speak, "didn't you?" His expression must have given him away because Dean growled, annoyed, and tensed up.

"I swear to God, Sammy, if he reports you, I'm going to kill him. You know that, right? I will rip his fucking throat out, and enjoy it," he snapped, but Sam knew he was just worried.

"Dean-" he tried. Dean plowed right through his explanation, though, but that wasn't any real surprise.

"No! What if they fucking felt you," he gestured again. "You know the demons-"

"I know what I'm doing, Dean! I'm not twelve anymore, okay?" He didn't mean to snap; made sure to drop his eyes when Dean's cut over again, angry and practically radiating dominance. He sighed, turned to stare out the window, and wondered why they seemed to fall into arguments more often than not lately.

"What are you doin' for down-time?" Dean's voice, cutting through his thoughts, and the feel of his brother's fingers tangling with his own surprised Sam into looking down. It was probably the closest thing to an apology he was going to get, and he smiled, sheepish. Dean rolled his eyes at him, but his grip on Sam's hand tightened the slightest bit.

"Not stayin' at HQ, that's for sure," he answered, making a face at the prospect. He hadn't actively stayed there in years, preferring to find a motel somewhere close if Dean happened to be staying there, or heading to Bobby's if Dean agreed to it. The way he shifted, guilty, and not, at the same time, made Sam sigh.

"You are though, aren't you?" he asked.

"Yeah," Dean sighed, shrugging a little. "Dad wanted my input on the training program, so I have to oversee it."

That figured.

"Well, guess I'll be at the motel, then. I'm doing check-in with Bobby, though; he's supposed to be getting that new book in, and he wanted me to go over it with him," he said, watching Dean's eyes glaze over a little, and grinned. "Don't worry, Dean. I promise I won't bore you with the details."

Dean shuddered over-dramatically, wrinkling his nose. "Thank God for that, at least," he muttered, pulling out onto the highway and stepping on the gas. Sam cringed, didn't look at the speedometer, and settled back against the seat as Dean pushed a tape in.

The sense of familiar safety washed over him as he closed his eyes. He lost himself in the feel of Dean's presence, close, both of them still touching, and the first notes of 'Born To Be Wild' as they headed down the road. Dean crooned along to the song, tapping the fingers of his free hand against the wheel.

He began to drift off, Dean's thumb rubbing circles over his wrist, and almost missed the quiet, "Get some sleep, Sammy. I've got this."

"Know you do," he murmured in response, sleep-slurred, and smiled as he settled against Dean, sure of his welcome, and relaxed.

Dean drove on, content with the warm, heavy weight of his brother against him and the lingering scents of Sammy, gun powder, leather, and home.

Dean had almost finished getting dressed for the day when he got the call.

"What do you mean, 'where's Sam?' He didn't check in?" he asked, scowling. He buckled the black leather collar around his neck and took the phone from his shoulder. He paced, irritated, and worry began to bubble up in the back of his mind, unbidden.

"Bobby, he was supposed to check in last night," he snapped, and winced when the older hunter growled a sharp retort over the line.

"No, you're right. Sorry. No, I'll find him. Thanks, Bobby." He snapped the phone shut and glared down at it for a long moment. Sam never missed a check in, especially when it meant a chance to geek out with Bobby over a new book. Dean was going to kick his gigantic ass for making him worry. He sighed, opened the phone, and hit speed dial. Sam was the first on the list, number one, and Dean's contact list maybe reflected his life a little too well, sometimes.

The phone rang and rang, until Sam's voice finally transmitted over the line. "This is Sam Winchester, leave a message and I'll get back to you. If it's an emergency, call my brother, Dean."

Dean swore, closed the phone with a 'snap' as soon as the beep began, and re-dialed it impatiently. "Goddammit, Sammy. What the hell have you gotten yourself into now?"

He growled and bared his teeth briefly in a show of frustration. The voicemail picked up again, Sam's voice deceptively cheerful on the other end, and Dean just couldn't shake the feeling that something had really gone wrong. He had learned a long time ago to trust his instincts where his brother was concerned and he couldn't suppress the worry, or the way it felt like he'd swallowed lead.

It had always been that way, was the reason for the check-ins to begin with. Sam and Dean both had gotten into too much trouble when they were younger and they were too protective of each other even now. He tried to keep from really panicking; his protective instincts were already in over-drive because pack might be missing, and he needed to find him.

"Dammit Sammy," he said again, closing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose. In seconds he was sixteen again, fresh out of his own Hell, and the eerie silence of Cold Oak, South Dakota made him want to grab his ears and scream.

He stood there beside an angel and Sam's eyes went demon-black as waves of power rolled off of him. Ruby screamed, black smoke ripped from the meat suit in increments by the force of Sam's fury. His nose burned - the scent of sulfur almost too strong- and he couldn't help the rising terror at the sight of his kid brother, his Sammy, throwing around demons like rag-dolls.

"Sam!" The terror didn't stop him from screaming out the warning, though, as a lanky teenager, dark-skinned and smirking, sidled up to Sam's back and thrust the knife forward, and -

It clanged against the forged steel of Castiel's angel-sword as Sam finally slumped forward, caught in one strong arm as Cas flared his wings and drove the kid back. He moved almost too fast to see, striking out. Dean smelled the blood before the spray of it became visible all over the angel's trench coat. The body fell to the ground. Cas cradled Sam against him, and looked up at Dean, his wings fading back into the ether.

Dean finally felt the terror begin to ebb as he stared into intense, washed-out blue eyes, and his heart rate began to return to something resembling a normal speed as he took a step forward, towards his brother and their angel. He stopped, though, frozen in his tracks as that yellow-eyed bastard's laughter began to ring out, echoing in the silence, and -

His eyes snapped open, and he swore again, loudly. The echo of that laughter rang inside of his head, and he cursed himself, and John - who had given up actively hunting Azazel after that - for not realizing Sammy had still been in danger. They should have realized, should have known the bastard wouldn't give up the best of his 'special children' so easily.

"Fuck," he said, slipped the phone into the pocket of his leather jacket, and grabbed the Impala's keys. He knew he could have just been over-reacting; his imagination was a wild place, after all, but he also knew it was a legitimate concern, with their life, and Sam had…Shit, Sam had used his fucking demon-powers last night. He would have to check; he would find the place Sam had last been - not too far from Dean because they always stayed close - and he would find out just what the fuck was going on.

He expected to find sulfur, and the lingering scents of Sam, and demons - maybe blood - but he couldn't quite stop himself from hoping he'd find Sam himself, huge and sheepish, and apologizing all earnest, for missing check-in because, "I'm sorry, Dean; I just got distracted, and lost track of time!" It didn't matter that Sam had never lost track of so much time that he missed such an important phone call. There was a first time for everything.

Sam's room was empty.

He hadn't really expected anything different - no, that wasn't right, he'd expected sulfur, blood; signs of a struggle, maybe - but the room had nothing. Sam's scent lingered, faint, and the only thing to prove that his brother had ever been there. Everything smelled too clean, like house-keeping had come and gone, and there were no traces left to follow.

Sam had just disappeared, though his borrowed car sat out front, empty. His duffel had been packed and thrown in the trunk. Sam's scent had been the only one he could identify.

He looked around the room with narrowed eyes, knew he'd have to search it and that it was probably a waste of time, but he'd been trained to be thorough, and Sam knew what he was. He had to hope that maybe Sammy had managed to leave something, some kind of clue that would tell him something. Dean was starkly aware that John wouldn't sanction an official hunt -letting Dean search for Sam- without hard proof, even though it was his own son. He may have raised them despite their taint, but he didn't trust them any more than he had to.

Dean had tried to understand, Sam had rebelled in his own, quiet way, and Bobby was more of a father to them than John would ever be.

The trash cans had all been changed, and the beds were perfectly made - he knew they'd been changed too, because Sam's scent didn't linger there. He stalked over to the dresser, his movements abrupt, and frustrated, and jerked the top drawer open.


He shoved it closed, and opened the next one.


"Goddammit!" He growled, low, tugged the last drawer open and glared down at it angrily.


Dean sat back on his heels, turned to look around the room again. There had to be something, anything, that could give him some idea-

The cell phone lay half-covered by the sleeve of a large, black hoodie stuffed underneath the bed and between the bed-side table. It was easily missed by anyone not actively looking, and Dean felt the corner of his mouth pull up in a reluctant smile.

"Good job, Sammy," he said. He tugged the hoodie out,and reached down to pick up the phone - it was Sam's. There were thirteen missed calls, all of them from Bobby and Dean. He sat back for a minute, thumbed through the phone to check the last calls Sam had made - one to a Chinese place down the street and one to Dean - and the last calls he'd received. He paused at a number he didn't recognize - the last call before Bobby's, which had gone unanswered - and pulled his own phone out of his jacket pocket.

"Yeah, Bobby. I need you to find out anything you can on this number. 871-777-9325. No, it was on Sam's phone - last call that he answered, apparently." He shifted the phone to his shoulder, lifting the hoodie to look at it carefully.

"I found his room. There wasn't-" Bobby cut him off, and he winced, reaching one hand up to pull the phone away from his ear for a moment. "Easy, Bobby. Fuck, are you trying to make me go deaf? I don't know where he is. All I found was the phone and his sweatshirt."

Dean brought the shirt up to his nose, inhaled deeply, and almost gagged. "Yeah, definitely sulfur. Blood, too, but I can't tell if it's Sam's or not," he paused, wrinkled his nose.

"I don't know, Bobby, it all smells like fucking demon blood to me. Yes, his car is outside; so is his shit, but I didn't get anything off of it," he snapped, irritated, but looked thoughtfully at the bedside table.

He opened the single drawer carefully, stared down at the contents for a long moment, and couldn't stop the bark of laughter.

The Holy Bible lay there, black leather binding and embossed, washed-out golden cross, like a secret, reminding him that he wasn't without his own divine assistance.

"What?" he asked distractedly, snorted when Bobby spoke again, slower. "I don't give a fuck, Bobby. It's demons; tell him if you want. I'm gonna find my brother, and-"

He sighed into the phone, cutting the older hunter off before he could really get started. "Look, Bobby, I honestly do not care what Dad says about it. My priority is Sam. He made me that way and he can fucking deal with it, or come leash me himself," he decided, shrugged carelessly, and bundled the sweatshirt up beneath his arm.

"No, look, don't worry about it. I've got it covered, okay? I have a call to make. I'll keep you updated. Let me know what you find on that number. Thanks, Bobby." He hung up, grimaced at the phone, and turned back to regard the Bible for a long moment.

Dean sighed, levered himself up to sit on the edge of the bed, and scrubbed one hand over his face tiredly. It was a tossup as to whether Cas would even answer his damn phone, but the angel was pack, and that meant something, to all of them. He was fond of Sam, too, and he'd saved him once, and he knew what Sam meant to Dean.

He hit number two on his speed dial, waited; blinked in surprise when the ringing stopped.

"Cas?" he asked, and felt like an idiot when the angel's typical 'hello, Dean' filtered down the line. He could practically see Cas's head tilted like a bird, like Dean's uncertainty that it was, indeed, the angel answering the phone was something he just couldn't understand.

"Where are you?" he demanded, drawing the phone back to stare down at it for a moment after Castiel answered, his brow furrowed in confusion.

"What are you doing on Route 66? No," he interrupted before Cas could answer the question, closed his eyes, and sighed. "Look, I need your help." It would have cost him to say those words to someone else, but Cas was his, and Sam's, and that meant everything.

"I don't…No, Cas, it's Sam," he told him, waited when Castiel fell silent. "There was sulfur, blood; it was demons, man. I could practically fucking taste it," he added, tried not to imagine all the ways the blood could have been Sam's, hated himself for wondering if that was the best outcome.

"He wasn't there. I don't know, okay? Goddammit, Cas, Sammy is gone. I wasn't here…I should have-" Castiel cut him off, a rare move for the angel, but effective at stalling out the looming breakdown full of guilt, anger, and blame. Dean couldn't breathe and everything seemed too distant for a long moment as he just listened to Cas talk.

He rattled off plans, and strategies, and reasons; Dean only half-listened, swallowed hard, and pulled himself back in, shoved everything down ruthlessly to be dealt with later.

"Yeah, thanks Cas. Just, find out what you can," he said finally, knew his voice cracked half-way through, but ignored it. Castiel hung up without saying goodbye; he always did, and it didn't surprise Dean at all. Cas didn't really do social niceties, and that suited Dean and Sam just fine. He knew the angel would call back when he found something, demand to know where Dean was, and show up.

He meant to go over the hoodie again, try to get a better feel for the scents and the blood, or call John and let his Dad know that he was out of the circuit for now. Sam was more important than any job. Dean sat there on the edge of the bed, dropped his head into one hand, and didn't move at all.

The motel room door closed with a 'snikt' behind Dean as he walked out to find an angel leaning almost casually against the Impala. His trench coat contrasted sharply with the black of the car, and Dean had to squint and blink against the sunlight in his eyes. The world came back into focus, all shades of gray and washed out color, and he tried to take a breath, but couldn't seem to catch the air right.

Anyone else would have thought Castiel was completely at ease if they saw him standing there, hands stuffed in his pockets with his head tilted in that way that made him look so much like a bird, but Dean knew better. He'd learned to read Castiel better than one of those old, dusty occult tomes Bobby collected.

There were signals, subtle signs that something was very much off with his angel, and they were easy for Dean to see. It was there in the tense line of Cas' shoulders, the way he looked so awkward in his meat suit, and how he hunched in on himself like those huge wings were pulled tight in some kind of defense against the world. Dean stopped a short distance away on instinct, inhaled sharply; Castiel's rage was almost palpable in the air around him, and Dean could smell ozone, and rain, and all the scents of a raging storm.

He suppressed a frustrated growl, and approached him again, carelessly. There were no boundaries with Cas, and he stared into those blue eyes as they shifted their focus to him from whatever internal struggle Castiel had going on. Dean felt everything slow down with that acknowledgment and he could suddenly breathe again. Cas would help, wouldn't let him down because he never had; not since Dean had been sixteen, and reckless, and Castiel had become pack by pulling two wayward teenagers out of their own Hell.

There was a joke in there somewhere, about feathered things, and perching, but Dean was too damn grateful for the angel's help, and too worried about Sammy to make it.

"News?" he asked, leaned beside Cas with his arms crossed, and stared him in the eyes.

"Nothing good," he warned, paused, and eyed Dean warily for a long moment. Dean raised an eyebrow.

Castiel sighed, "Alastair."

Dean sucked in a sharp, pained breath, ambushed by a hundred different emotions all at once. He shied away on instinct, flushed with a very real, immediate terror brought on by the sound of that name. The memories threatened to overwhelm him, crystal clear images of white-hot blades and the sick feel of skin on skin as taunts were hissed into his ear: sickly sweet, and so, so cruel.

"Fuck!" he said, the unexpected feel of a strong hand clamped down on his shoulder managing to jerk him painfully out of the trap in his mind. He might have snapped, that touch coming so soon on the heels of those memories, but Cas's scent was all around him and he could feel the soft caress of feathers he couldn't see, and Castiel wasn't Alastair. The angel's touch was as welcomed as Sam's, and Cas had always been the only one besides his brother who could ground him.

"Al-He-That sick bastard has my brother?" The deep, low snarl was all animal, from down in his chest, and he didn't try to stop it, just leaned into his angel's hand because that, at least, felt familiar, safe: pack. Cas had pulled him out. They would pull Sam out, too.

"We will get him back, Dean," Cas told him, and Dean felt a feather brush his cheek. He looked up to meet Cas' eyes. "And we will throw Alastair back into the Pit," he added, a dark thread of promise in his words. There was absolute conviction there. Dean believed him, nodded, and reached out to slide his hand around to the back of Castiel's neck, squeezing affectionately.

Sometimes Dean had no idea what to make of the strange relationship they had with Cas, the knowledge that something so powerful -and he was, Dean had seen it before, and he could feel it now, thrumming like a lightning storm just beneath his fingers- had given them its loyalty, and faith, and trust. Dean didn't always think he deserved it, but pack and family were like that; unconditional.

"Yeah, okay, Cas," he breathed, closed his eyes for a moment while he pulled himself together. He had to get his brother back.

"First we gotta find the son of a bitch," he said, tried to think of any demon contacts Sam had that might be willing to talk, and came up empty. He took his hand back, knew Cas had withdrawn his wings, but he squeezed Dean's shoulder once before pulling back.

Dean knew what he had to do. "I have some leads I can look into," he said, tried for casual, and missed.

Cas didn't even blink, just looked at Dean for a long moment in that intense way he had before he nodded, like he'd found whatever he'd been looking for in Dean. "I have avenues I can check, as well."

Dean nodded, watched the angel step away from the car, and knew he was about to go. He turned, intent on heading back into the room - he had a few more things to check out before he left- but Castiel paused.

"Dean," he called.

Dean looked back, a question on his face.

"Anything," he said, and Dean swallowed thickly, watched him disappear, and remembered a long-ago conversation with an angel over his brother's unconscious form.

Dean sat beside Sam, the eighteen year old lay sprawled over the bed, his head on Dean's thigh. Dean ran his hand slowly through Sam's hair, affection and relief. Everything had been too close, -the hunters they'd been with hadn't been playing- and Dean was just grateful he'd taken the brunt of it instead of Sam. He hunched over a little at the sound of footsteps, ignored the twinge in his ribs in favor of shielding Sammy from anyone else who might have heard about what happened and come looking for their own shot at the Winchester brothers.

Five dead hunters had John furious with them both, but it probably wouldn't be the last time Dean had to kill someone for finding out that Sammy was demon-spawn, and Dean wasn't exactly human.

He looked up when the familiar storm-scent hit him, and managed a pained smile for the angel.

"Dean," Cas frowned at him, and Dean would be the first to admit he looked like shit. "Bobby said that you-"

"Did exactly what I had to do," he rasped, winced, and looked back down at Sammy sleeping and whole, and beside him. He felt the bed dip next to them, watched as Castiel reached out, tentatively, and smoothed away the wrinkles in Sam's brow, but didn't take his hand away after. That -and the look of careful affection on that normally closed-off face- more than anything, drove Dean to say what he did next.

"You know what I am," he told Cas, met his eyes when he looked up, head tilted, "and you know how long I've been this way."

Castiel said nothing, but he shifted, one knee pressing against Dean warmly, and some of the pain began to fade at the contact.

"It's all about pack, Cas; family," he said, leaning into Cas's shoulder, and smiled when he felt the shift in the air, and feathers against his skin; knew Cas had wrapped a wing around him.

"By all accounts, Dean, you nearly died," he said, a slight rumble to his voice, and tightened the wing around Dean for a brief moment, displeased by that thought.

Dean let him, gave into it without a fight, enjoyed the contact, and the way warmth spread through him from Cas's Grace. "I would have, if that's what it would've taken," he finally answered.

The storm-scent got stronger as soon as the words left his mouth, and Dean looked up into too-blue eyes staring at him, trying to figure him out, and trying to understand.

"Anything, Cas," he added, watched the angel try to piece it together.

"Who would be there, then, if you died?" Cas asked after a moment, curious.

Dean smiled. That was easy. "You," he said, honest, and took Cas's hand, settled it over Sam's heart, and tangled their fingers together. Cas concentrated, his gaze fixed on their hands, like he was actually trying to feel Sam's heart beat, or hear it. It wouldn't have surprised Dean if he were.

"Pack," he murmured, like he was testing the word. Dean thought it said a lot that he chose that one. He looked back over at Dean, brow furrowed.

"You claim me as such?" he asked, like he couldn't quite figure out why Dean and Sam would do such a thing.

Dean snorted, rolled his eyes. "Yes, dude. Pack, family, whatever you wanna call it. That's what we," he nodded to their hands, entangled over Sam's chest, "are. The three of us."

Cas just nodded, a thoughtful look settled over his face, and said no more about it. He rearranged the three of them until they were all comfortably situated - more or less into some kind of puppy-pile- draped his wings -corporeal, massive, and black- over them, and watched over the both of them while Dean drifted off to sleep, curled around, and over his brother like they were still puppies; warm, and safe.

He came back to himself after a long moment, still staring at the place Castiel has been, and it was good, it was awesome, that Cas remembered that, had figured that out. It was a relief to know the angel would give as much for them as they would for him and each other, and maybe that was selfish as Hell, but Dean liked to know where he stood, and at least Cas and Sam had always been clear about that. He swallowed again, hard, and turned back towards the motel room. Bobby would have answers for him soon on that phone number, and then the hunt could begin in earnest; Dean needed to be prepared for it.

He wasn't prepared, though, when his phone went off half-way to the door, played 'Ramble On,' and Dean stopped and stared down at it.

"Fuck," he cursed, watched 'Dad' crawl across the caller ID screen with a helpless, frustrated feeling rising because he knew-was absolutely certain- that it was John calling to order him home. He almost didn't answer it.

"Dad," he did, though, because he couldn't not. John was loud, demanding, and too suspicious, and Dean had to stop himself from snarling into the receiver. He had to curb that urge more, and more often around John, and Sammy was always claiming it was some kind of wolf-pack-dominance shit.

"Yes, sir. No, I know it's demons, I don't have to think about it," he said, grimaced when John replied; something sharp and hard about Sam. Dean almost choked.

"You think—what? No, seriously, Dad you can't possibly think-" John cut him off, and Dean growled over the line. "I don't fucking care what blood he has in him! Christ, Dad, he's Sammy," he snapped, unable to believe it. Dean had always tried to understand John's position, but to hear the man openly accuse Sam of abandoning them for demons? He couldn't stomach that. John was silent for a long moment, and then spoke again, and Dean almost threw the phone against the wall.

"What? Dad, no, you can't do that," he began, pleaded, an almost-whine threaded in with his words. "What do you mean, why? Because it's—" he was cut off again.

"No. You can't sanction a fucking hunt against your own son! I won't let you, goddammit," he said, barely able to see straight. "I swear to God, Dad, if you send hunters out they won't make it back. Why? I'll rip their damn throats out, and send you their fucking hearts, that's why," he snapped, knew he wasn't making a good case for himself or Sam at this point. He didn't care.

"I don't give a fuck what your orders are, sir; I'm not coming back to HQ. I'm going to find Sam, and you better keep your goddamn dogs on their leashes," he told him, closed his eyes, and tried to count to ten in his head. It didn't work. "Sam is mine, and I don't think you want Cas going all badass angel on you, either," he added, paused as John replied, and smirked.

"Of course he's in on it," like there was ever going to be a chance Cas wouldn't help them, "and you know how he gets. I'd re-think this if I were you, Dad. It'd be better if you just stayed the fuck out of it and let me handle it. Sam didn't go rogue; he was taken, and I am so fucking sick of your bullshit," he said, worn, and tired, and he couldn't deal with John Winchester's stupid, non-human issues right now.

"We aren't human, Dad. You knew that when you raised us; you made us this way, and you get to live with the consequences. Congratu-fucking-lations, and don't bother tracking me. You won't find a damn thing unless I want you to." Dean ended it at that, not bothering to listen for a reply before he hung the phone up, snapped it closed, and tightened his grip on it so he didn't throw it. Bobby still had to call, and he needed his phone for that.

It hurt, the way John acted, but it didn't surprise him. The man hadn't treated them like his sons in years. Dean's most prominent memories of his father ran more like a stint in basic training, and John had raised him to be a good dog but hadn't counted on Dean ever doing anything like thinking for himself. He didn't seem to remember that he was the one who put Sam in Dean's arms, and told him to take care of his brother, always. It was the motto of Dean's life, a litany he'd built up in his head over the years because it was the one thing John had drilled into him from the start. 'Take care of Sam,' and Dean was going to do just that.

He knew the hunters John was most likely to send, the ones who would agree to do the job, and the ones who wouldn't have anything to do with it because they knew the truth –-like Bobby—and he was confident in his ability to handle them. They didn't know what they were dealing with, not really, and Dean had already proven –more than once— exactly how far he would go for Sam. He'd shot hunters for less.

He breathed out noisily, yanking the door to the room open –he'd never quite made it after John called—and stalked inside. He couldn't make sense of everything he felt right now; it was all too close to the surface, and he couldn't afford to lose it, but the fury was right there, all through him, and he paced the room like a caged animal, half-tempted to call Bobby himself rather than wait.

The phone rang, 'The Gambler' echoing in the room, and Dean grabbed it up from where he'd let it fall on the bed, flipping it open in some odd mixture of relief and desperation. He needed to get going, get started, and hopefully this would help.

"Bobby," he breathed, "please tell me you have something."

"Tell me what the fuck I wanna know, and maybe this'll get a little easier for you," Dean said pleasantly enough, and loosened his grip on the demon's jaw, tipped the jug of holy water back up until the steady stream turned into a drip and the thing stopped screaming. It sat there, bound to the chair, surrounded by a devil's trap, panting, and glared at Dean out of black eyes.

"Go fuck yourself, Dean-o," it answered, leered, and Dean focused in on the grain of salt that spilled from the corner of its mouth. He took a breath, suppressed the urge to rip the meat suit's throat out, and nodded slowly.

"Alright then, asshole. You don't seem to get it, so I'll lay it out for you. My brother? I'm sure you've heard of him: Sam Winchester? Yeah, he's missing. Now, I'm sure you can imagine," he told it, paced around the chair in a circle and smirked when the thing's head rotated to follow every movement-keeping him in its line of sight; it obviously felt threatened, "how fucking pissed I am." He stopped, turned on his heel, and tugged the bone-handled Bowie knife out of the sheath at his waist. He ran his thumb over the runes on the blade, hissed a little as the silver burned his skin. The demon watched him with narrowed eyes.

"This won't turn out well for you," Dean added, looked over at it with a feral, vicious grin.

"Please," it scoffed, sounding like it was trying to convince itself, "you hunters are all the same. You'll throw around a little holy water, a little salt, and then you send us home."

It shook its head, sneered. "You people don't do torture; humans are too weak," it said.

Dean almost laughed; lifted a lip and shifted his stance instead. He stared down at the demon, stiff-legged and aggressive. "Too bad for you," he told him, waiting until it looked up to meet his eyes. "I'm not human."

"The host! You won't-"

Dean cut it off, rolling his eyes. "That poor bastard's probably long gone. Even if he wasn't, you really think I care more about some demon's fucking meat suit than I do about my pack?" The demon stared, wary, still wavering between the belief that Dean would follow through and the knowledge that he was a hunter.

Dean intended to earn every ounce of that belief if the thing didn't start talking.

"Look," he began, courteous, goodnatured, and almost cheerful. "I'm a generous kind of guy, right? I'm not after you right now, buddy. You don't have to suffer. Demons don't do the loyalty thing, right?" he asked, watched as the interest peaked and smiled to himself. Demons loved deals and betrayal, and Ruby was high enough in the hierarchy that most of the lowlifes would jump at the fucking chance to give her up, and vie for her position once she was gone. Some part of him understood that, but wolves were nothing like demons.

"I'm listening," it cocked its head, leaned forward against the bonds, and Dean thought the predictability of the lower caste was fucking hilarious.

"You want out of this," he gestured around them, "without too much more damage." It wasn't a question, but the demon nodded. "I want Ruby," he finally said, crossed his arms, and watched the creature in front of him squirm.

It didn't claim not to know, didn't ask 'who's Ruby,' and Dean figured that was all the confirmation he needed that she had taken up her old position as Azazel's top bitch. He looked forward to finding her, thought he might enjoy sinking his teeth into her meat suit and sending her back to the Pit.

"If I tell you," it started, stared at the knife in his hand, "what you want to know…You won't send me back?"

Dean bared his teeth and made a show of lifting the knife to eye-level. "This ain't really for you, and I don't have time to waste gutting every fucking demon that annoys me," he said shrugging. "You give me Ruby, you ugly bastard, and you can go right on partying up here in the mud," he added, impatience lending the bite to his voice.

The demon smirked, sat back, and crossed its legs. "You'll get rid of her? Send her Below?" it asked, head tilted again, and Dean was so sick of the stench of sulfur.

"I have unfinished business with the bitch, but yeah," he smirked a little, "she's goin' away for a long time." Permanently, he hoped, if the knife worked like it was really supposed to. He had never had a chance to test it, himself. He was looking forward to doing that.

"Motel 6, Pontiac, Illinois. You'll find her there," it told him, gleeful, and Dean nodded. He shifted his grip on the knife, tightened it, struck out fast, and buried it to the hilt in the demon's chest. The thing stared up at him, light fading fast from it, and choked out garbled words that Dean could barely understand.

He sniffed, raised a lip in something close to a sneer. "I don't make deals with demons," he said, shrugged, looked down at the blood on the blade as it dripped, stained everything in a washed-out, almost-green, and felt a dark curl of satisfaction because the demon was obviously dead. It was always nice to know his toys worked before he really played with them.

He wiped the knife on the demon's shirt, careless, and used it to cut the ropes that bound the body to the chair. He watched it fall forward, reached out to catch it at the last minute because it was what Sam would have done, and knew he would have to clean up despite wanting nothing more than to get in the Impala and drive. The man who'd had the body first hadn't asked to be possessed, to have his body snatched from him and his mind raped, and the least Dean could do was give him a proper burial. He wondered when his conscience had started to sound like Sam, hauled the body up over his shoulder, and slipped out of the room.

He'd gotten lucky, had found an old, abandoned barn to interrogate his prey in, and the field surrounding it was over-grown enough that he figured no one lived close enough to bother with it. They wouldn't notice a burning body, either, he hoped. Dean had built enough funeral pyres for hunters –monsters too, when he'd done his stint on the clean-up crew—to know exactly what he was doing. He lay the body out carefully on the sheet, collected enough dry grass that would burn easily –wood was out of his range—and poured salt all over the corpse before he lit it up, stood back, and watched it burn. He thought Sam, or Cas might have said some kind of prayer for the soul, but they weren't there, and Dean was, so he just stood silent vigil until there was nothing left but smoldering ash, and walked away without a backwards glance.

He had a demon to find and he was eager to get back on the hunt. Ruby was waiting and he smiled darkly as he slid into the driver's seat of the Impala, shifted her into gear, and tore off onto the road in a flurry of kicked-up dust and rocks.

"Yeah, that's right. Pontiac, Illinois. Pretty sure he was telling the truth, Bobby," he said, holding the phone to one ear as he paced the motel room and tossed the last of his burger wrappers in the trash.

"Does it matter? No, look, even if it is a trap, which I doubt, I'll still get my hands on the bitch. I know what I'm doing, Bobby, okay? I'm not just gonna go in there half-cocked like some fucking newbie," he snapped, winced, and held the phone away from his ear when the old hunter replied. "I know, alright? Getting myself killed isn't gonna help Sammy, trust me, I know. I'm not planning on it," he assured, walked to the window, and peered out to watch the room across the parking lot. He hadn't mentioned that part to Bobby –the part where he was already here, without back up—and didn't plan to. He'd been yelled at enough, already, and Bobby abused that privilege way too much, he was sure.

"Hey, Bobby," he interrupted the man's rant and ignored the exasperated sigh because he really hadn't been paying attention. "Have you heard from Cas?" Dean hadn't seen hide or feather of the angel since Cas had told him Alastair had Sam, and that was bordering on unusual. He'd expected him to pop in at least once by now, with something, or just to make sure Dean wasn't getting himself killed, but there'd been nothing, and he was starting to worry.

He really had enough to worry about with Sam, already; he didn't need to be adding a wayward angel to the list. "No," he sighed, pinched the bridge of his nose. "No, he wasn't supposed to check in with you. I just haven't heard from him in a while." Bobby snapped back, irritable, and Dean hunched in on himself a little at the tone, an instinctive reaction to being chastised.

"I know you aren't his—Jesus, Bobby, I'm sorry I fucking asked!" he said, loud and rough, and Bobby grumbled at him but his tone softened in the only apology Dean knew he was going to get.

"Just, keep an ear out, yeah? I know Dad has hunters on our trail, don't worry about them. Gordon? Really? He sent the freak squad?" he asked, a little incredulous, and stared down at the phone in his hand. Bobby seemed amused, but wary too, and Dean knew he had good reason to be. Gordon and his gang were dangerous, and there were a few who Sam had suspected of knowing too much. Dean wouldn't mind a shot at them, honestly; with the state he was in it might have been therapeutic.

He didn't have time to play games with hunters, though, and he could feel his anticipation ratchet up when he caught movement from the other room, looked out, and saw a dark-haired woman slip through the doorway. She looked around, the classic move of someone making sure she wasn't being followed, and shut the door behind her. Dean growled, low in his throat, and startled Bobby, but he didn't have time to explain.

"Sorry, Bobby, I gotta go. I'll call you later." He hung up, snapped the phone shut, shoved it into his pocket, and forced himself to take a breath. He had to be calm for this, couldn't be strung out or too eager, and it would be easier to just let the wolf out to play. Dean wanted to taste her blood, to rip the meat suit open with his teeth, and see if the demon would leak out the way she had when Sammy had pulled her out of it all those years ago. The urge was so strong that his skin prickled with the force of it, the want to just change and hunt the pack-breaker, but he shook his head, tried to force himself into a mind-set somewhere in the middle. He whined with the effort but refused to let himself move until he was back under control, clenched his jaw, and wrapped his hand around the silver blade of the knife. The pain cleared his mind, helped him think, and he could breathe again.

Ruby –he didn't know for sure that it was her, but there was something there, something intrinsically familiar in her body language—hadn't left the room. Dean exhaled loudly, tucked the knife back into his jeans, crossed to the door in two quick strides, and didn't hesitate when he jerked it open, and loped across the parking lot.

He was quiet when he got to the other side, careful to start three rooms down, and made his way closer without giving himself away. He had insurances to make before he went in there. Ruby was a fucking witch, as well as a demon, and he knew enough to be wary, to not be stupid about this. His spine tingled, hackles raised as he pulled the salt container out of his jacket pocket, and began to line the windows and door. He'd already taken care of the rest of it, had done a little recon earlier, and he wasn't wrong—

A shrill, angry scream came from inside the door, fury evident in the tone, and he probably would have been able to smell her anger if the sulfur-scent didn't overwrite everything else. He smiled darkly to himself, bared his teeth as he finished up the line, and stepped up to the door. He forced himself to take a breath, calm down, and opened the door, mindful of the salt line as he stepped inside the room.

"Hey, Ruby," he said, grinning at the sight of her trapped inside the circle on the ceiling. "Long time no see. I hear Hell's great this time of year," he added, crossed his arms over his chest as he leaned against the doorjamb.

She stared at him, eyes black, and scowled. "You'll find out for yourself soon enough, Dean," she said, pacing the circle, and he noticed that she didn't look particularly surprised at his appearance.

"What, no curses? No taunts? I'm feelin' some distance here, Ruby. Where's the love?" he mocked, one hand pressed to his heart as he moved closer, gesturing widely with the other.

"Fuck you," she spit, crossed her arms, and glared.

"Sorry, sweetheart. I'm not into demon," he said, laughing, and clapped his hands together. "Alright, then, down to business." He narrowed his eyes, widened his stance, and lowered his head to cover his throat. She watched him, lip curled in a sneer.

"You're just a dog, Dean. A fucking animal that belongs on a leash," she said, and he rolled his eyes.

"That really hurts, Ruby. Just breaks my heart right in two; let me tell you," he snorted. "I've been called worse by better." She opened her mouth.

He cut her off. "I want Alastair. I'm assuming you know where to find him." He was damn proud of the way his voice didn't shake at all.

She stared. "You? You want Alastair. Why the fuck would you want to find him?" She seemed genuinely clueless, but then, she'd always been a good actor.

He bared his teeth, let his eyes shine gold. "He has my fucking pack, that's why," he snapped.

She looked amused. "Oh? Alastair has little Sammy? That is news."

Dean growled, stalked forward until he could crowd her without making himself vulnerable. "Look, bitch," he started, glared down at her until she dropped her eyes from his. "I don't have time for your goddamn games. Sam is mine, he always will be, and you have no part of him. Get the fuck over it, and tell me where that bastard is holed up, or I stop being nice."

"This is you being nice?" she asked snidely, and stepped back away from him, gesturing wide with both arms. She smirked, looked him in the eyes again, and the challenge was unmistakable. He growled on instinct. "Sorry, Dean," she said, "I can't help you."

He nodded to himself, narrowed his eyes at her. "I was hoping you'd say that," he told her, reached down to pull the knife out, and looked at it. He smiled a little, pleasant, and glanced back up at her. He was looking forward to this; wanted so bad to spill that filthy fucking blood all over everything, and make her scream, beg him for mercy the way Sammy had begged her.

"See," he began, grabbed the little desk chair, and dragged it over to the circle. "You're a pack-breaker. You tried to steal Sam away, and the way I see it? You're very, very fucking lucky that he got to you before I did." He moved and grabbed hold of her arm. She hissed, twisted, tried to jerk free. He backhanded her hard, tightened his grip on her arm, and carefully drew the binding sigil that would keep her in the meat suit, keep her tied, and able to feel everything.

"What can you do?" she asked, spit into the carpet at his feet, and glared. Her vessel was small, and even with the demon-strength, she wasn't any kind of real match for him physically. "Send me back Below? I hate to tell ya, Dean, but that's old hat," she said.

He huffed, something between a laugh and an exhale of breath, and tried to keep from just ripping her goddamn throat out. "Oh no, Ruby. I don't plan on sending you back home. See, I have this nifty little knife, here, that you made, and I thought we might play together for a while before we really test it out; see if it works like it's supposed to," he told her, wet his lips, and shoved her down into the chair. He cuffed her wrists to the back. "You sure you don't wanna tell me where old Al is hanging out these days?"

She jerked against the cuffs, pulled, and twisted until she realized she wasn't going anywhere. He just watched, arms crossed, and waited.

"You think you can torture me, Dean? Get me to talk?" she tried, straightened, and looked up at him. "You have no idea what goes on in the Pit, what I've already had to endure—"

He laughed, couldn't help it, because that was just some funny shit, and she stared at him. "I have no idea? Really? I spent three weeks with Alastair, Ruby; three weeks of his undivided attention. I know who he is, and what he does, and exactly who threw me to him," he said, pinning her with a vicious look. Her eyes widened when he slid the knife against her throat, gentle, barely nicking the skin.

"I don't think I ever thanked you for that, did I?" he asked, finally, and tilted his head at her. "Call me an animal all you want; you're partly responsible for making me that way."

She kept quiet and stared at him in defiance, but he could smell her fear, sour and potent, over the sulfur. He smiled, all teeth, and used the blade the same way he would his claws, dragged it down her arm. He dug in and enjoyed the way she cried out at the pain. He stayed away from the binding sigil; didn't want to accidentally break it, and set the bitch free.

"Let me show you what I learned, Ruby, after you made me his dog," he said and let the humanity fall away without losing the shape, lifting the blade to make her scream.

Anything, he'd said once, for pack. He'd meant it, with everything he was.

The wolf loped around the corner, stopped to look around curiously. His ears flicked forward once, then back again, and walked over to the door. He lowered his muzzle, sniffed at it, and sneezed loud enough to leave his fur raised and messy. He shook himself, stepped back, and spared a single glance towards the alley behind him. There was nothing there, nothing he could see through narrowed gold eyes, and nothing moving other than rats, but he was nervous, jumpy, and not comfortable here,alone. There were familiar scents, though, faint traces of pack, and his hackles rose, ears flattened on his head.

This was a bad place for pack. He could smell sulfur, knew that meant demon-dark-smoke and the one who had tried to be alpha, the one who had leashed him like a common cousin-dog, and bid him attack after making him his own. He bared his teeth, lips pulled back into a snarl in reflex at the flash of memory, but kept his silence. He had to be hunter-quiet here, didn't want to alarm the prey and make them run. He left the door –too many scents there, it was obviously well-used—and snuck carefully around to the side, watched one of the demon-dark-smokes laugh, and crept closer to listen.

"Yeah," it said, glee evident in its voice. "You shoulda heard it. The windows shattered and everything."

"I never did get to see any of them Below. Is it true," the other one asked, "'bout the wings?"

"Oh, yeah," the first said, smug, and the wolf wanted to get his jaws around that throat, see if he could make the smoke leak out of the holes in the flesh. "They're big, black things. The Boss hadn't started on 'em yet, but he was working his way there," it added.

"I don't know how you can stand to be in the same room as it, or him," the second one said, shook its head, and gave off the sour fear-smell. The other one laughed at him and shrugged.

"It ain't so bad, really. He let me help, once or twice, showed me how to do it. The angel's screams were like music, man." The awe in his voice was sickening, thick and cloying in his scent. The wolf growled, low in his throat, crept closer and inhaled deeply. He sought past the sulfur and demon-dark-smoke scents-the blood and death and Hell-Pit-and found it. There was pack-scent on this one: storm and thunder and lightning. It was everything that made up light-feathers-Cas-pack, and that changed the hunt.

He didn't think, didn't hesitate the way he might have otherwise, just leaped, snarled, and crashed into the laughing creature. He didn't give it time to do more than let out a gurgled scream, tore at it with his claws and teeth; leaped for the second one just as it took off running. He didn't have time to play the hunt-game with it, wanted it dead, and he brought it down, vicious and brutal. He lifted his head to watch the dark-smoke flee into the air. He bared his teeth, muzzle bloody, and growled. He didn't dare howl his triumph, knew he couldn't give away his position if he was going to get through this and find his pack.

He stepped over the bodies, crept towards the door they had been guarding, and nosed it open carefully. He flattened his ears against his head as he walked inside, hunched in on himself but ready to spring at a moment's notice. It was too quiet, too much like the silence of Before, when the human-shape had been a puppy and weak, and rolled over for the pack-breaking fake-alpha. He shook his head, stilled, and tried to listen beyond the silence. The scent of Hell-Pit and sulfur and blood was too strong; he couldn't find anything beneath it, but if he could—

The wolf's head snapped up, his ears straightened on his head, and he cocked it, listened. There were screams and the windows shook, the lights flickering. He took a breath and loped off down the hallway they came from. Light-feathers-Cas-pack was down there, howling, and the sense of pack-hurt almost made him dizzy when he focused too hard on it. There were other scents, too; those made him want to cower, roll over, and submit, but he shook himself, raised his tail in dominance, and made himself put one paw in front of the other.

He was afraid, but he wasn't going to give in to that fear. He stalked down the hallway, kept his head lowered, and hurried past several rooms that smelled of blood and echoed with human-howls. He stopped finally, his nose to the floor, and sniffed at the half-open doorway of the large room at the end of the hall. The screams faded back into the eerie silence, and he peeked around the corner. He had to pull back, close his eyes, and take a breath. He hunched over, concentrated on the human-shape—

Dean opened his eyes and exhaled heavily. He licked his lip, tried to steady the shaking in his hands and failed, but stood nonetheless and walked into the room. He hadn't expected Cas to be alone, not after the demons and the screams, but there he was, strung up on the rack, limp. His wings were visible, large and black and soaked with blood. There were clumps of missing feathers pulled from him, and they littered the floor at his feet; the sight of it made Dean feel sick and angry.

"Cas," he said, and hurried over to the angel. He looked him over, wasn't sure if he should touch, but couldn't not. He ran his hands lightly over Cas, careful –he knew what Alastair's hospitality entailed—not to cause more pain than was absolutely necessary. There was blood everywhere and he swallowed thickly, reached up, and cut through the heavy leather bindings, wincing at the sight of the nails in them, and the way they pierced his angel's wrists.

"C'mon, buddy," he muttered, sliding a hand across Cas's cheek in an effort to get a response. "Wake up." He caught him when he fell forward off the rack; Dean staggered a little at the sudden dead weight and squeezed tightly out of reflex. It worked and Cas jerked up with a cry, pulled his wings back instinctively, and struggled. "Woah! Easy, man, I've got you. It's me, Cas!" he told him, tugging Cas closer until he stopped struggling enough to really look at Dean, to realize who he was fighting. He was prepared this time when Cas let go and went limp in his arms.

"Dean," he managed, bringing his hands up to twist them in Dean's shirt, his face screwed up with pain. "You shouldn't—Sam's not—"

Dean leaned closer, tried to make out what he was saying, but his words were slurred and the way his wings moved restlessly, like he didn't know what to do with them, made it hard to hear or understand. He opened his mouth to tell him so when a terrifyingly familiar scent washed over him and he froze. Cas's grip on him tightened and he didn't have to look to know who the angel's eyes were fixed on, wide and angry.

"Well, well, what do we have here, hm? You weren't trying to warn him, were you, angel? I'd hate for our reunion to be cut short," and Dean knew that voice. It was enough to leave him breathless, like someone punched him right in the gut, and he closed his eyes, clenched his jaw against everything: the instinct to cower, to roll over, and show his belly like a submissive bitch, and beg Alastair's forgiveness for being a bad dog. He slowly let Cas slide to his knees on the floor as he stood.

"Alastair," he said, his voice hoarse as he turned, looked at the demon he hadn't seen in a decade, and stood his ground. "Where's my brother, you son of a bitch?" he asked, grinding the words out through clenched teeth, keeping himself tense; still. Cas kept a hand wrapped around his thigh, though whether it was to hold him back, or ground him, Dean wasn't sure.

"Hello, my pet," Alastair said, delighted, and clapped his hands together. "I hear you left a lovely mess at the front door," he crooned, smug and proud, and Dean wanted so bad to see the bastard strung up himself, tortured into submission, and begging for death. "You always were a very good dog," and he knew, knew before the words were even completely out of the demon's mouth what reaction they'd get. The memory slammed into him, staggered him, and his knees gave out.

"I'm going to have so much with you, my pet, when we really get to play," the demon crooned in his ear, forcefully grabbed his jaw with a blood encrusted hand, and brought their mouths together in a hungry, dirty parody of a kiss. Dean jerked against Alastair's grip, tried desperately to just get away. Alastair refused to let him go.

"Now, now, pet, be a good dog, hmm?" Alastair scolded. He tangled one hand in Dean's hair, jerked his head back suddenly, roughly, and scraped a blade gently across his throat: a warning disguised as a caress.

Dean writhed, growled, and his instincts screamed out against the vulnerable, exposed position. He barely registered the pain in his head as he tried to pull it back down, to cover his throat in some age old, wolfish instinct. His eyes flashed gold in panic; Alastair smiled his triumph and slid against Dean's body suggestively. Dean felt sick.

"Such a pretty thing, aren't you? Oh, yes. I can't wait for our real time together to come, Dean," he said and ran one hand down Dean's chest, scratching at his skin with old, yellow nails.

"Shut the fuck up!" Dean snarled, wild, and tried to move. He couldn't and his panic level shot up. He was trapped, cornered, and he needed to get the fuck away now.

"I came up here especially for you, you know," Alastair began, whispered like it was some great secret just between them. "Nothing else could ever be so good as to drag me up from Below," he continued, tugged at Dean's right ear lobe with dirty teeth.

Dean stilled, concentrated in a desperate effort to shift, to change because he knew he could get free, away, if only he wasn't human-shaped, but he couldn't. Even trying hurt, sent white-hot pain shooting through him. He didn't cry out, but a sob was ripped out of him, and Alastair laughed, high and dark, in his delight.

"None of that now, my pet. Later, perhaps, we'll bring the doggy out to play, but I have far too much planned for this you before we go there," he said softly, suggestively, and his hands went to the waistband of Dean's jeans. Dean screamed for hours, for his father, his brother, anyone; just save him, please, just make it stop!

Dean came back to himself when a hand clamped down on his shoulder, a jolt of heat coursed through him, like an electric shock, and he opened his eyes to find Cas had wrapped his wings around them and was staring at Alastair defiantly. The demon just looked amused.

"Dude," Dean said, shrugged out of Castiel's hold easily. "Keep your Grace to yourself; you can barely stand up." He stepped forward, gave an irritated growl, and forced himself to keep it together. It was hard; everything Alastair had done to him ten years ago surged forward in his mind, and he wanted to gag but refused to back down. "I'm not a puppy anymore, Al," he said, working to keep his voice level. "And you don't have anything over me." It was a lie; he was terrified, but he couldn't give in. His pack was in danger, Sammy needed him, and he wasn't going to let this bastard win.

"Oh, Dean," Alastair murmured, tsked, and shook his head. "You always were such a stubborn creature." He smiled, bared his decayed, yellow teeth, and Dean flinched back on instinct, cursing himself for it. "You've always been mine, pet. Remember? Ruby brought you to me, all nice and wrapped up, and we had such fun getting to know one another—"

"Shut up!" he growled, shook, and felt Castiel grip his wrist and haul himself up with it to stand beside him. Dean felt the angel press into his shoulder and leaned back into it gratefully. "You don't own a damn thing," he said, taking a breath and trying to steady himself. All of his instincts were strained, wanting nothing more than to leap and rip, claw and tear, and kill this threat to pack.

"Touchy subject, hm?" Alastair asked, stuffing his hands in his pockets, and moved closer. Dean growled at him, low and deep: a clear threat that obviously didn't affect him any. Instead he mocked Dean, stopped suddenly, and held his hands out, clearly showing how unarmed he was. He turned around slowly, smirked all the while. "Now, now, pet. That's no way to treat an old friend, is it?" he said, and let his eyes go black. (I know this is AU but Alastair had white eyes, like Lilith)

"Where's my fucking brother?" Dean asked and hauled Cas back, away. It was hard to breathe and the hairs on the back of his neck were raised. Cas seemed to be holding himself up and Dean knew the angel was healing himself, could feel it in the way he was overly warm, and the storm-scent surrounded them, stronger than usual.

Alastair sighed. "Always on about your little Sammy, aren't you?" He sounded disappointed. "I had just about trained you out of that, pet, before your little angel came along to drag you away," he said, looked witheringly at Cas, who smirked at him and waved a little because Cas was a sarcastic bastard at the best of times, and Dean couldn't help but feel a little proud of him. "No matter, though. We'll get rid of your feathery attack-bird, and I'll have you all to myself again," he began, and started towards them. "You'll be such a good dog, when I'm through with you, Dean; even better than the Hounds, when I drag you Below."

The jagged edges of broken glass on the windows shook, and Cas growled before Dean could respond. "Touch him, and I'll rip you out of your vessel, Alastair. He's mine," Cas said, fierce for all that he was still only half-healed. He drew his wings up, defensive, and glared at the demon as he held onto Dean.

"Stay the fuck back," Dean added, gripping the knife tight, and wished like Hell Cas would get with the mojo, already. He was losing his grip on himself with every step that bastard took towards them.

Alastair scoffed. "Or what? You'll kill me?" he asked, laughing. "I'm afraid your fancy little knife won't do the trick on me, little wolf. I'm not some lower-caste filth who can't handle a little pain, but you already knew that, didn't you?" he asked, smiling, and he was far too close again. Dean had already stamped down on most of his humanity. He was still too close to the wolf even though he held on to the human-shape, and Alastair was pack-breaker and fake-alpha and a threat; he wanted to see the demon bleed, to hurt him the way he'd been hurt by him.

He leaped, changed in mid-air, and yelped when he felt something grab hold of him. He slammed into the wall opposite them, and whined.

"Dean!" Cas called, and Dean could hear worry mixed with fear in his voice. There was anger there, too, a heady sensation that smelled like wrath.

"Oh no you don't," Alastair said, and Dean heard Cas give a pained grunt. He lifted his head to see his pack-mate on his knees again. The demon stood over him, one hand out, and Cas was choking, scrabbling at the invisible hold on his throat as light began to gather in his eyes. His hold on the meat suit was breaking. Dean refused to lose him, refused to even think about it, and pushed himself to all four paws. Pack-hurt was thick in the air and his fear of the pack-breaker was pushed aside, buried deep with his humanity because he couldn't afford it with Cas-pack on his knees, being killed so slowly.

He was shaky, but gathered himself and leaped for the demon's back. Dean tackled Alastair, full-body as a human, and the two of them crashed sideways. They rolled, ended up facing each other down with inches between them, and Dean had to use every trick he knew to keep the memories at bay.

It was the slip-slide of skin against skin, spreading blood and come over them both. Nails scratched down his sides, leaving angry, bleeding marks as they dug into his skin, and he could barely feel the pain anymore, had pushed himself down—

"Having a little trouble, my pet?" Alastair asked smugly, and reached out a hand. He barely brushed his fingers over Dean's skin and Dean growled, pushed himself back, away. He ended up against the wall and knew he had nowhere to go but forward.

He probably would have done something stupid like try to use the knife even though he knew it wouldn't work, until a familiar hand landed in Alastair's hair, jerked him back, and Cas's other hand slammed down on the demon's forehead as he began to recite in Enochian. Dean had no idea how he was doing it; he was still half-dragging, clearly not healed all the way, but he radiated anger and the storm-scent that was his Grace. Alastair struggled in his grip, but Cas didn't let go. Dean swallowed hard, grabbed the knife off the floor where he'd dropped it, and lunged towards the pack-breaking son of a bitch. It wouldn't kill him, but it'd hurt him, and Dean was good with that. He made sure the blade slid through the bastard's spine, thrust it in and down, felt a dark swell of satisfaction when the meat suit's legs buckled, useless.

He didn't stop there, kept stabbing, hacked at the flesh as Cas kept up with the exorcism, and forced Alastair out of the vessel, back to Hell. Dean thought it was too good for him, wanted the demon to suffer the same way he had, but neither of them were strong enough to kill him and it was easier to get him out of the way. He didn't stop even after the body fell, vacated, face-down on the floor and completely still. There was blood all over him; he couldn't smell anything but sulfur, and he twisted around violently when a hand grabbed his wrist.

"Dean, stop," Cas said, meeting his wild stare head on, witing for him to remember where and who he was. "It is over; he's gone, back to Hell," he assured, shifting his grip so that he could rub his thumb gently over Dean's pulse point. Dean closed his eyes, took a harsh breath, and lowered his arm.

"It's not over," he said tiredly, drained emotionally, and stared down at the corpse for a long moment. It wouldn't ever be over. "Sam's not here," he added, looking up to see the confirmation in Cas's eyes. It hadn't been hard to figure that out; Alastair had never had much interest in Sam, had used him only to taunt Dean when Ruby had first brought him there bound and leashed like a common dog for Alastair to play with. He sighed and leaned into Cas when the angel moved closer to him. Cas was still moving gingerly, still hurt, apparently, and Dean ran a hand over his chest lightly, looked up looking a question in his eyes.

Cas echoed his sigh, looked vaguely disgusted with himself, and pulled his wings in closer until one of them was almost wrapped around Dean. "I had followed a lead," he explained, not looking at Dean. "And ended up walking right into the middle of a trap. I should have seen it coming, but I made the mistake of trusting someone I shouldn't have." His eyes darkened from washed-out blue to something closer to black, and he shook his head. "It won't happen again." He seemed to straighten, grimacing at the movement, but the massive black feathers wrapped around Dean disappeared. He could still feel them there, but Cas had sent them back onto whatever plane of existence they belonged to. Dean felt a little bereft without them there, but shook himself out of it.

He opened his mouth, ready to say something, but Cas interrupted him.

"Sam isn't here, no, but Alastair was very forthcoming when he had me strung up on the rack, Dean," he said, something like triumph in his voice. "Azazel has him; he's at Cold Oak."

Dean was dizzy, though whether out of relief or fear he didn't know. He leaned heavily against Cas, brought one hand up to tangle in his trench coat, and held on. "Cold Oak. That bastard took him back to Cold Oak to finish the test," he said, rough, and looked up at Cas. "We gotta get him back, Cas. We can't let him become whatever they want him to be. He's ours."

"We will, Dean. I can send you—" Cas cut himself off, one hand pressed to Dean's brow, and turned to level a stare at the door. They could both hear the footsteps, the shouting; the demons were coming, and there were a hell of a lot more than just a few. Dean started to pull back, to tighten his grip on the knife in preparation, but Cas cast him an odd look, something raw, and desperate, and pushed.

"Cas, wait, no—" It didn't matter, though, because he was already spiraling through space and time, and he landed hard on cold ground, stared up at the stars, and knew he was in the abandoned old ghost town. Cas had stayed behind, and Dean was alone again.

Dean eventually pushed himself to his feet, cursed Castiel under his breath, and looked around. He was on the edge of town He could see the old, crumbling buildings and the water tower, but there were no signs of movement out there. He knew there were demons around; he could smell them and his hackles rose instinctively. He didn't know why they weren't attacking, but didn't trust it at all.

He walked forwards, cautious, kept the knife drawn in his hand just in case, and couldn't shake the feeling that he was being watched. He shivered.

"C'mon, Sam. Where the fuck are you?" he asked and paused to inhale deeply, past the scent of demon and dead things and the old, stale scent of ghosts. He found it there, buried beneath everything else. It was everything that made up Sammy: blood, and brother, and pack, and Dean's. It overlay the entire town, it seemed like. Something in him relaxed, settled, because Sam was here, and Dean could get to him, could get him back. He knew where he was, and that made a whole world of difference.

"Well, well," he heard, and whirled around, but there was no one there, "I can't say that I was really expecting you to show up, Dean-o. I thought for sure Al would have you back to playing his dog." He knew that voice, too.

"Come out and face me, you yellow-eyed son of a bitch!" he called, kept looking around for any sight of him, but didn't expect anything. Demons were cowards.

"Oh, no, Dean. This is my game, now. You have to play by my rules, or you say goodbye to little Sammy, and I get the pleasure of watching you break over his dead body," Azazel said, gleeful, and Dean heard the demons laughing with him. He growled, ducked his head, and spread both arms out wide.

"Alright, fine. Your game, your rules. How do we play?" He knew how to pick his fights, and Azazel was right on this one. He couldn't afford to let his stubborn pride get his brother killed. It wasn't the first time he'd lowered himself, or the worst, and he'd do it again a hundred times if it meant Sam was safe.

"That's a good dog," the demon said, and Dean resisted the urge to bristle, pushed away the snarl that threatened to rise up. "It's fairly simple, Dean-o. Find Sammy before he dies. All's fair," he announced, theatrically, and Dean wasn't the least bit surprised. Still, he could work with that.

He nodded, tightened his grip briefly on the knife, and saluted the air with it. "You're on, asshole," he said, challenged, and set off at a lope down main street. He knew it wasn't going to really be that simple, obviously; they weren't just going to let him walk freely, unmolested.

Possession was out of the picture; Dean wasn't human and they couldn't take him, even when he was in human-shape, but that didn't mean they couldn't get to him in other ways. Demons were pros at fucking with people, at messing with their heads in every way possible, and Dean stopped short when Sam's voice cried out for help.

"Dean!" he called, and every instinct in Dean screamed for him to answer, to go to his Sammy, and look after him. "Where are you, Dean?" All of it in Sam's voice, but Dean knew his brother better than anyone. He knew him on levels no one else could, or would, and a demon's voice was a pale imitation of all the nuances in Sam's.

"Why don't you come out and play, you fucking coward?" he asked, loud. He ducked down a side street, but he still felt like he was being watched. Dean hated demons.

"When I find you," he muttered, "I'm going to rip you apart." He peeked around the corner cautiously –he wasn't about to let them get the jump on him when he was so close to Sam—and stepped out into the street. He wanted to know what they were waiting for, why they weren't trying to stop him or kill him or whatever the Hell it was they had planned. All the watching and waiting and staying hidden was making him nervous. It was one of the many, many reasons he hated Azazel; the demon was smart and a smart demon was hard as fuck to kill.

He yelped, threw himself sideways as the bullet dug into the old, run-down cedar wall of what had once been a Saloon, and stared up at the hole, panting.

"What the fuck?" he asked the air. Demons using guns against them wasn't exactly new, but he hadn't expected it here. Azazel was all about playing games; Dean would have figured guns to be too blunt and unsophisticated for him. Then again, he had said all was fair. Dean smiled to himself then, vicious, and spared a moment to glare all around him.

"Fine; your rules, then. Let's see how you like it when you bastards can't hide anymore," he told them, tucked the knife back at his waist, and changed. If all was fair for them, then he could use everything at his disposal, too, and he shook his coat out, stretched, sniffed deeply at the air.

He still couldn't see the demon-dark-smokes, but they couldn't hide their scent –sulfur, and blood, and Hell-pit—from him for long. He crouched, crept forward carefully, hackles raised, and slipped underneath the wooden slats of the nearest porch. It was easier to move around that way, where they couldn't see him, but he could still smell them. He wasn't really concerned with them, though; the hell-creatures were only side-lines to this hunt, and he cast about, nose to the ground, searched for the scent he knew better than his own. It was there, all over, but he had to find the particular strain, the one that would lead him straight to Sammy-brother-pack, and probably the yellow-eyed pack-thief, too.

They were still laughing, calling out in Sam's voice, but he could shut out the human things, focus on the scents and sounds and the feel of the pack-bond. He could feel Sam. He'd always been able to feel Sam on some level. He knew he was still alive, for now, and refused to think about that changing. Sam was pack, his, just like Cas, and he'd be damned before he lost them. They were all he had, so he took another breath, focused, and found what he was looking for.

It was natural to slip off to the side, claw his way out from beneath another condemned building, and lift his head towards the sky. He howled his triumph, long and loud, and followed the scent to the center of the town, beneath the water tower. They were still laughing. Dark smoke whirled in and out of his path, tugged at his fur and tail, and clawed at his sides, but they couldn't do much without a meat suit to hide in. He growled, whirled and snapped at the smoke whenever it got too close, only to watch it dance away, cackling.

"Little Sammy's gonna die," they taunted, hissed into his ears until he whined and flattened them against his head. "His blood's gonna spill across the dirt, and then Azazel's going to drag him Below, and you know what, Dean?" one asked, drifting almost lazily over Dean as he loped towards the tower. "That's when we get to have our fun. We're gonna rip him apart, flay his flesh from his bones, and fuck him until he begs us for relief," it said, laughed high and loud when Dean snarled and snapped at the formless dark smoke that made it up. He got nothing but a mouthful of sulfur, spit sideways, tucked his tail between his legs, and ran full-tilt the last few feet.

The water tower stood tall, old and rickety as it was. It didn't actually hold water anymore. Beneath it was a make-shift corral, clearly just built, and without the wear and tear of the rest of the town. Dean's focus was narrowed down to the figures inside the corral. One of them was painfully familiar –tall, and huge, and so obviously Sam. He stepped forward, glanced at the demons around them, and kept walking when they did nothing but stand there, staring.

Everything went silent again, stilled, and his hackles rose. There was a feeling in the air, a heavy sense that something big was about to happen. The on-lookers shifted back, left a space open at the fence, and Dean wasn't surprised to find it taken by an older man. He looked cruel, smiling like he was delighted how things had turned out, and he beckoned Dean forward with a laugh.

"I didn't doubt you would make it this far, Dean," he said, turned his back to watch whatever was going on in the corral. Dean lifted a lip, growled, and trotted up. He changed when he was close enough, hesitated only a moment before he leaned against the fence beside the demon. He wanted so bad to drive the knife into the bastard's back, but he wasn't stupid. If he so much as looked like he was going to make the wrong move, he and Sammy both would be dead.

"Yeah?" he asked, snorted, and rolled his eyes. "You told them not to kill me," he said, narrowed his eyes, and watched Sam watch the demon that was fenced in with him.

"Of course," Azazel answered, smiling. "I would hate for you to miss the end of the show, Dean. Your brother is…Quite the prodigy, I must say," he added, glancing at Dean.

"You know you can't have him," Dean said, trying to keep his voice level, human. He breathed in, focused on Sam, and the sight of him there, alive. He was determined to keep it that way.

"Oh yes, he's 'yours and the angel's' right?" Azazel scoffed. "I don't think so, puppy. You see, Sam's been mine since before he was even born. Your mother gave him to me; mine to take whenever I pleased." The bastard sounded smug, and Dean couldn't help but turn and stare. He couldn't smell the lie, shook his head in denial.

"You're lying," he growled. He couldn't believe his mother would have done that, would have sold her own son's soul before he was even born. "Why would she—"

"Why does anyone in your family do anything stupid?" the demon asked, and rolled his eyes. "The deal was Sam for your father's life. I did tell her to stay out of the nursery that night, you know. She could have lived, had she honored her side of things."

That was a lie. Dean lifted a lip in a silent snarl. "You would have killed her anyway," he accused, tightened his grip on the wooden slat of the corral so he wouldn't do anything stupid himself.

"Perhaps. What can I say, hm? Your family is just so much fun, Dean," he crooned, nodding towards Sam. "Take little Sammy, for instance. He's been quite entertaining, what with all that practice with his powers and practically handing himself over to us. He would have finished this test ten years ago, you know, if you hadn't interfered with your pet." He practically spit the word 'pet' out, like the thought of Cas left a bad taste in his mouth.

"Fuck you, Azazel. Sam might have your blood, but he'll never be what you want him to," Dean said and glared at the demon when he smirked.

"Well, you'd better hope that isn't true, little wolf," Azazel said and smiled viciously. Dean wanted to cower back from it, but he held his ground. "If he fails; he dies."

"You son of a—" he cut himself off, and looked towards Sam again. He wanted to call out, to howl, and to let Sam know he wasn't alone, but he couldn't. It would distract him, and Sam couldn't afford distraction right now. The demon had stopped circling and leaped, and Dean watched his little brother block a blow that could have killed him. He couldn't help but lean forwards, every instinct in him telling him to get in there and help.

"I wouldn't," Azazel warned, not looking at Dean. "You'll be dead before you can get over the fence."

"You honestly expect me to just sit here and watch this?" he asked, incredulous, and stared at the demon.

"Oh, but that's the beauty of it, Dean," Azazel said, laughing. "You have to stand here, with me, and watch as your little Sammy either becomes the thing you've spent your life hating, or dies painfully at a demon's hand." His voice was filled with glee, and Dean had to close his eyes to keep from snapping. He was too close to the edge, and this was Sam on the line. Sammy had always been his biggest weakness.

"I'm gonna see you back in Hell, you son of a bitch," Dean promised, glaring Azazel down while the demon just laughed, and turned back in time to see Sam catch the demon in the stomach with a fist. He felt a vicious curl of satisfaction at that because at least Sam was holding his own and he couldn't help but think he'd rather have him halfway demon than not at all. He knew Sam, though. He knew his brother would never give in, had spent his entire life insuring that he didn't become this thing that the demons wanted him to be. Dean knew he was going to have to watch Sam die, and there was nothing—

"Sam!" he yelled, couldn't keep quiet when that blade ripped into Sam's side, and he heard him cry out in pain. The stench of blood hit his nose and he flinched back, growling on instinct. He could practically taste the scent of pack-hurt on the air, and he automatically tightened his grip on the fence, ignoring the splinters that dug into his skin as every part of him vibrated with the need to go to his brother.

Sam staggered, one arm pressed tight over the wound as he held the other out, open and facing his enemy, and the demon came up short, eyes wide as they stared at the younger Winchester. Dean could see Sam running out of strength though, knew that whatever barrier he'd put up with his mind was about to fail, and Sam looked up, broke eye contact with the thing trying to kill him to look Dean in the eye.

"Sammy," Dean said, whispered, and the demon was getting closer by the second, inching his way through the wall of energy. Sam nodded at Dean. He smiled that sweet, harmless smile that was all Sam, but his eyes were sad, terrified, and Dean could smell his brother's fear beneath the overwhelming scent of excitement the demons around him were giving out. He could feel his eyes burning, prickling at the corners because Sam had just acknowledged his own death and the bastard was going to leave Dean here, alone. He couldn't. Dean wouldn't let him, couldn't let him because he just wasn't wired that way, and tore his eyes away from watching Sam stand there as the demon came at him to turn to Azazel.

"I wanna deal," he said, quick and desperate, and the demon turned to eye him curiously. There was a note of surprise there, like he hadn't expected this. Dean didn't think it should really surprise anyone; he'd spent his entire life selling himself for Sam. "Me for Sam; I get a year and you can fucking have me," he added, practically begging, and he wasn't above getting on his knees for this fucker if that was what it took.

Azazel made a show of considering it, turned to watch the demon play with Sam. The thing knew he was beaten; it was just toying with him, lashing out with it a boot to kick Sam into the mud and drawing the knife viciously through Sam's skin whenever he got the opportunity. Dean wanted to rip him apart. "You for Sam; you get no time, and you don't try to get out of it between now and when I drag you Below," he countered, and Dean knew he didn't have a choice. He glanced back into the corral; the demon moved forward, straddled Sam, and made to bring the knife down and into his brother's heart.

"Done," he snarled, and reached up to drag Azazel's face down and crush their mouths together in the kiss needed to seal the deal.

It was disgusting and tasted like sulfur and Hell, and he could feel the contract bind his soul. He couldn't breathe for a long moment after he pulled back and everything around them was still. It felt like his entire body was on fire as something crawled up his skin to wrap tight around his neck and he reached up to touch the new collar. It was heavy and leather, inscribed with letters from the language of Hell, and he knew he would never be able to get it off. He swallowed thickly, closed his eyes, and when he opened them again the demons were gone, Sam was sitting up in the mud, blinking wide, horrified eyes at Dean, and Azazel was leaning against the wooden fence, clapping.

"Well done, boys. Well done, indeed," he said with a smirk.

"Dean," Sam said after a look at the demon, scrambled to his feet, and stared down at his side like he couldn't believe it was whole again. He sucked in a breath, and turned to stare at Dean with a pained look. "Dean," he tried again and had to swallow. "What did you do?" He already knew; it was clear as day in his expression and the fear-smell and the way the pack-hurt scent lingered even though the physical wounds were gone. Dean wanted to change and curl up with Sam and Cas and never leave them, but reality reared its ugly head and he tried to offer up a smile and couldn't. Cas was probably gone, ripped apart by demons because he hadn't been strong enough to get himself out of there, and Sam would never forgive him for this.

"I saved you Sammy," Dean answered, shrugged, and ignored the way his voice broke. "You're done; out of the game. I'm the major player now," he added, glanced at Azazel before looking back at Sam. He'd climbed over the wooden fence and was standing too close.

"Your soul, Dean? What the fuck—"

Dean had to cut him off. "Exactly," he said, putting on a stern face, and stared his brother down. "My soul, Sam. I get to do whatever the fuck I want with it, and I decided you were worth more." Sam was worth so much more, and Dean didn't want to go to Hell; he remembered vividly everything Alastair had promised to do to him down there, but if the only alternative was letting Sam get dragged Below? It wasn't even a question. He'd choose Sam, every time.

"It's not fair Dean," Sam said, and the way his voice cracked almost broke Dean. "You can't just—You can't just make this choice for me!" Like Dean hadn't been doing that since he was four.

He laughed –bitter, resigned, and a little desperate—and shook his head. "Sam, I've been making this choice our entire lives," he said, and reached out to slide a hand over Sam's cheek tenderly. "It's always been my choice to make; I look out for you. That's who I am, Sammy," he added. Sam shook his head in denial and lunged forwards, wrapping himself around Dean and holding on. Dean's breath hitched and he wrapped his arms around Sam, burying his face against his brother's chest for half a moment.

He had just sold his soul and bought himself an eternity in Hell.

He whined in the back of his throat and tightened his arms around Sam; he wasn't going to pretend he wasn't terrified when they both knew he was.

"Dean—" Sam began only to be cut off.

"Enough with the sappy goodbyes, boys. If I have to watch anymore of this I'm going to lose my appetite," Azazel said, stepping forward to smile viciously at the two of them.

Sam stiffened and unwrapped himself from around Dean to lunge at the demon, and Dean hadn't even noticed Sam take Ruby's old knife from him. He acted quick, had to, and grabbed Sam before he could get to Azazel.

"Sam, no! Down, kid," he growled, pulling Sam's giant body close against his own, and refused to let go no matter how much he struggled.

"Dean what the fuck—Let me go! I'm not gonna just stand here and let you go to Hell!" Sam strained against Dean's hold, tried to get out of it, and he was practically begging. Dean could smell the salt in his tears, knew he was crying even though he couldn't see Sam's face.

"That's exactly what you're gonna do, Sam. You are going to stand there and do absolutely fucking nothing! Do you hear me?" He couldn't afford to be gentle, had to stamp down on his humanity or he'd give in, and he couldn't do that. Sam would die; Dean had no doubts that Azazel would kill his brother right there in front of him if it even looked like Dean was going to try and get out of his deal through Sam. He growled, low and deep in his throat, and Sam stilled against him at the sound of it. "Don't test me on this Sam, or I swear to God I will fucking tie you up myself," he added, shaking Sam a little for emphasis.

Sam slumped against him, practically radiating defeat, and Dean knew he'd gotten his point through.

"That's right, Sammy-boy," Azazel said, and Dean glared at him over Sam's shoulder. He just smiled in response. "You get anywhere near me with that little knife of yours, and I drag you both to Hell." Sam looked up, and the way he angled his body towards Azazel was far too curious for Dean's liking. The demon was trying to goad Sam into attacking him so he could have them both. It wasn't going to work.

"Sam," Dean warned, tightened his hold on him for a moment before he let go altogether. "Don't make me do it, Sammy. Please," he asked, begged, as he shifted them both until he could look Sam in the eyes. "I can't watch you go to Hell too."

"That's exactly what you're asking me to do, Dean. Do you realize—" Sam started, sounding so broken that Dean physically hurt just listening to him.

"I know. It's selfish as fuck, but you're my little brother, Sam. You're pack, and you're mine. Hell can't have you," he said and had to resist whirling around to snap when Azazel's hand landed on his shoulder and squeezed possessively. He felt sick, tried not to think of what he was in for, and focused on Sam being right there, in front of him, and whole.

"Time to go, boys. We're taking this party somewhere else; a good place for opening Gates," he told them, still smiling his triumph, and Dean reached out and closed a hand around Sam's wrist, let his thumb caress the skin just over the pulse point. He didn't argue, didn't say anything; he just held Sam's gaze as the world blurred around them and he was surrounded by darkness and sulfur in the moment of time it took for Azazel to throw them into the ether.

They landed hard on the ground –covered in grass, and dirt, and multi-colored leaves—somewhere Dean thought he recognized.

"Where are we?" Sam asked, pushed himself up on his knees, but didn't get any further than that. He stared at the headstones all around them with wide eyes. Dean dragged himself up using Sam's shoulder, and they both glared up at Azazel. He stood a little ways off, drawing a circle in the grass around them with a stick, and chanting under his breath. Sam looked back at Dean.

"We're home," he said, and Dean felt him grip his arm tightly. "We're in—"

"Stull Cemetery," Dean said for him, and winced at how rough his voice was. "Guess it makes sense, huh. It at all started here."

Lawrence, Kansas was their birth-place; it was the place Mary Winchester had made her deal and signed their fates away, and the place where she had died. It made a twisted sort of sense for Dean to give his own self up here, for Sam. It seemed to be a tradition in their family, selling their souls to Azazel to save the people they loved.

"Like mother, like son," Azazel murmured mockingly when he passed, and smirked. Dean growled at him, and Azazel resumed chanting, apparently pleased enough with his victory to ignore them for now.

"What is that?" Sam asked and reached out to run a finger over the collar around Dean's neck.

"Guess I'm Hell's dog now," Dean answered, reaching up to pull Sam's hand away from it, and looked down so he wouldn't have to see everything in Sam's eyes. At least he wouldn't be around afterwards, wouldn't have to deal with Sam not forgiving him, and he hunched in on himself without thinking about it.

"Look at me," Sam said, apparently wasn't having Dean's attempt to hide. Dean startled when he felt fingers on his chin forcing him to look up at his brother. "You said I was yours, that Hell couldn't have me because I belong to you," he began haltingly, like he was trying hard to find the right words, like it mattered. "It's the same for me you know. You're mine, and I'm not sharing you with anyone, except Cas. Please, there has to be something—"

"Sammy, don't. Please don't," he begged, shaking his head in denial at the tears that he could see running down Sam's cheeks unchecked. "There's nothing, and you know I have to do this. I'm a selfish son of a bitch maybe, but at least you'll be up here, and not suffering in the fucking Pit." He can't stand that thought; it scared him more than the knowledge that he'd be down there with Alastair. He already knew what Alastair wanted from him, how to be a good dog for the demon.

Sam crawled over to him, they were stuck in the circle, both of them already knew that, and didn't hesitate before pulling Dean to him gracelessly. "I don't wanna lose you," he told him and buried his face against Dean.

"I know, Sammy," Dean answered, clinging to Sam and closed his eyes. The collar was getting tighter, and Azazel had stopped circling them. He was standing at the edge of the circle, chanting, and Dean could feel it. This was it.

They knelt together in the cold, wet grass of the cemetery, pressed close, and Dean whined - a low, desperate sound- as Azazel's chanting grew louder, stronger, and he could hear the feral screams of the damned as Hell began to tear the Earth open in an effort to get to him. He hadn't expected it to go like this, to be so aware of it happening, and he tightened his arms around Sam.

"Dean," Sam whispered. He sounded so broken and desperate that it made Dean ache. His little brother was curled into him, practically wrapped all around him like he believed he could stand between Dean and the Pit. Dean knew better, though. His soul for Sammy's.

"It'll be okay, Sammy," he tried, instinctively clutching his brother tighter when he began to feel something pull at everything that made him him. It hurt; it hurt so fucking bad and the howl was ripped out of him as invisible claws tore at his soul. This was how it had to be, he knew that, but God, he didn't want to go to Hell. He didn't want to die and suffer for eternity, and all he could remember were Alastair's laughing taunts of all the fun he'd have once Dean joined him Below.

The hounds were almost corporeal and they snarled viciously as they did their best to drag him away from his brother, clawing and biting through flesh and bone. Dean tried to snarl back in animalistic, wolfish rage, but it came out as a scream instead and bright red blood frothed over his lips.

"No! Dean! Don't-"

Sam's cry cut off suddenly, even as he dragged his brother closer against him and Dean gasped, coming back to himself as he realized that the hounds had backed off. The pain was gone, replaced by a trickling, warm light that felt…familiar, safe; pack.

"Cas," he whispered, couldn't talk any louder as his body knit itself back together. It had to be their angel. Massive, dark wings encircled them, shielding and protecting and healing Dean's soul even as that rough, gravelly voice chanted frantically in Enochian; a sharp contrast to Azazel's soft, demonic hissing. The demon's voice rose once he realized who had invaded his circle and stepped in on his deal. He began to chant faster, and Dean wondered why he sounded so hurried.

He looked up at Cas, took in his expression: all determination, and sadness, and a hint of fear, and he knew. It was even clearer when he stared into those too-blue eyes so full of…everything.

"No," he said, struggling against Sam as he tried to sit up. He settled for grabbing handfuls of that battered tan trench coat and pulling himself up into the angel. "You can't do this, Cas," he told him, clinging, and trying desperately to pull his angel's attention away from whatever ritual he was working. "Azazel said—Cas he'll drag us both down if you try—"

Castiel cut him off, put a finger over his lips briefly before he dragged it down to touch the collar around Dean's neck. "He won't," he answered and focused on the collar for a moment, and Dean could feel the Grace as it flared around his neck. He could breathe again and the collar was loose; still there, still permanent and he could still feel symbols engraved into the leather. Azazel cried out.

"No! They're mine now! Dean Winchester belongs to Hell, Angel. There's nothing you can do to save him now," he said angrily and strode forwards, brandishing a silver angel-blade in a way that suggested he knew how to use it.

Castiel didn't falter; the chanting didn't break and he might have been ignoring them all completely. Except that he kept his eyes locked on the Dean's, his gaze intense as always, and quirked a sad version of his usual half-smile the moment he whirled around, grabbed Azazel's hands, and pulled the demon towards him until the blade plunged into his own chest. Cas gasped, his eyes going wide and surprised; he clearly hadn't expected it to hurt, but his wings only twitched, remaining in their guarded position even as Azazel screamed. Grace leaked out of Cas's chest. It crawled down the blade, and into the demon's meat suit before he could remove his hands, and orange light flared as the vessel was purged. Azazel was dead, but Dean found no satisfaction in that as he stared at his angel who was clearly still in pain and dying right in front of them.

Cas focused on them and they raised their eyes from the knife sticking out of his chest, identical looks of shock on each of their faces. It passed quickly and the angel watched as so many other emotions followed: denial, disbelief, horror, anger, pain, sorrow, guilt, and finally loss. The rush of affection cut through the burning agony of his Grace being ripped from his vessel for a moment. It was enough. He'd chosen and he had few regrets.

"Castiel," Dean said, and his voice cracked. There were clear tracks down Dean's face, through the dirt and grime on his cheeks, and Cas was surprised to see them there. He reached out to brush his thumb across the wet spot, and stared down at it. He'd never seen Dean cry for anyone other than himself, and it was strange.

"You fucking bastard!" Dean growled suddenly, his grip on the angel slipping and he sank to his knees beside his brother, one hand reaching out to grip a fistful of feathers roughly. "You aren't allowed to-"

"I…Had to do this, Dean," he managed, gasping the words through the pain. "I could not," he paused, couldn't help but reach out, tangle his fingers in Dean's hair, and watch as those green-gold eyes slid closed as he leaned into it. "Watch you sa-sacrifice yourself. I…I will not lose you. Either of you." Sam's fingers tangled with Castiel's in Dean's hair, and the angel closed his eyes. He had no time. "You taught me, Dean," he gasped out; everything was fading around him, turning black, and he could hear the screams of the damned getting louder. "Remember? Anything—"

"Cas!" They shouted his name in unison, but it drifted off into the wind, useless. The meat suit was all that was left; an empty shell with sightless eyes, sprawled behind them in a mess of black feathers, between the huge imprint of two scorched wings that had always meant protection to them. Azazel was gone, too, purged from his vessel: gone, and the cemetery was empty except for the brothers and the dead.

Sam groaned out loud like a wounded animal and dropped his head to Dean's shoulder. Dean just stared sightlessly at the pale corpse, listless in his brother's arms fora long moment.

"Fuck. Cas," he said and it was almost a sob. He trembled violently, and his eyes turned gold. Sam didn't so much as flinch when he felt skin and clothes and bone shift beneath him. He buried his face in thick, white neck fur, closing his eyes against the prickle of heat in his eyes. He clung to the massive, grey wolf and didn't bother to move. Castiel had been family, pack; they were allowed to grieve.

Dean raised his head, whining low and sad as he studied the body of his pack-mate, and leaned into his brother's embrace. Castiel was…Cas had given up everything for them, and Dean knew that Hell would have no mercy on an angel of the Lord, and Heaven was beyond them all.

He raised his head high and howled his grief to the skies, silently promising their angel he would find a way to get him out.

"C'mon, Dean. We should…We should go," Sam finally said sometime later, and his voice had gone hoarse.

Dean whined, looking up as Sam stood and stared down at him. He took the hand his brother offered as a human, let him tug him to his feet and into a bone-crushing hug.

"I'm sorry, man," Sam whispered, and Dean just let his forehead fall against Sam's shoulder for a moment.

"Me too, Sammy," he breathed, swallowing hard. "Me, too." He let go, stepped back, and regarded his brother closely for a long minute. Sam just let him look, knew he needed it, then clapped him on the back, and wandered off to gather enough wood for a pyre. The angel had given them back to each other; the least they could do was give his vessel a proper funeral. Cas had made them promise, once, and they weren't in the habit of breaking promises to angels no matter how bad Dean just wanted to wrap the body up and save it for when they got Cas back.

"Dean," Sam called over the pile of wood they'd built up. "You can't- Promise me you'll never do that again."

"You know I can't promise that, Sam," he answered as he held a hand out and Sam patted himself down until he managed to come up with a muddy package of matches. Dean had a small vial of salt; it would be enough. "Besides," he added, glancing sideways at him, "You would do the same damn thing."

Sam had no answer for that, and stood in silence instead. Both of them were exhausted and empty and blank, but Dean still paused before lighting the match and nudged his brother's shoulder affectionately. Sam looked over, a question in his eyes.

"It's all about the pack, Sammy. Family," he added, holding Sam's gaze. "Anything," he said firmly, a half-growl in his voice, and reached over to squeeze his brother's shoulder briefly before he slid the match, and watched it catch. Sam poured the salt, and Dean let the flame fall onto the pyre. The dried wood caught easily.

Sam nodded slowly, reached down to tangle their fingers together and stared hard at their entwined hands for a moment. He swallowed and tightened his grip as they watched the body of their best friend burn. They both knew they should get out of there before someone noticed the smoke, but they couldn't just leave, had to bear witness to this, at least.

"Anything," Sam finally agreed roughly, looking back up at Dean with a new sort of conviction. Dean nodded. They could do it, make it, because they were Winchesters and brothers and pack; there wasn't anything they wouldn't do for each other, and that made them stronger than whatever waited in the dark.