Notes: The events of Cold Oak are all the same (the 'survival' game, Jake killing Sam, ect) the only difference is I moved Cold Oak to the beach, and I tweaked Dean's deal.

Warnings: Angst, hugging, crying, bleeding, lots of paragraph breaks, and a happy ending.

Disclaimer: Supernatural is not mine nor are any of the direct quotes.


Dante's Penitentiary

"You were standing in the wake of devastation
And you were waiting on the edge of the unknown
And with the cataclysm raining down
Insides crying "Save me now"
You were there, impossibly alone."

Linkin Park – Iridescent


Sweat steadily beads and drips on Dean's skin. The cabin's too warm, filled with thick, humid air that tastes and smells like saltwater; sand dusts the floorboards and makes a rough gritting sound under his boots. Dean can hear the roll and crash of waves in the near distance, a steady lull that's too peaceful for the raw pain he's feeling. In the corner a fly rests and twitches, filling Dean with a sickening combination of fear, horror, and denial.

They've always loved the ocean. Growing up they didn't get to see it very often but the ocean holds some of his best memories. Like he and Sammy getting drunk on the beach on Sam's seventeenth birthday, just laughing and drinking too much beer, shoving each other into oncoming waves, and checking out the local women. Or the time in South Carolina when Sam was twelve and wanted to go to the faire that was set up on Myrtle Beach, and they blew all their money on empty calories and games that they easily outsmarted. Or this last time just a year ago right after Jessica died, when they sat on top of a mountainous sand dune with a bottle of whiskey between them, and let the ocean do the talking.

Dean's never going to think of the ocean the same way ever again.

Sam's too still and too pale, all traces of his California tan gone. Dean can't look away and he doesn't know why. The longer he stares at Sam's motionless chest, the more unbearable the burn behind his eyes becomes. There's a pain inside of him that he can't pinpoint or describe but he knows it hurts worse than any injury he's ever gotten on a hunt, and he knows that no doctor in the world can take away the agony.

There's still blood under Dean's fingernails and crusted on his cuticles. He tried to get it off before realizing how useless it was without a washcloth or something to scrub them clean. There was just too much of it. He mindlessly picks at it until it flakes off and his own blood wells up in its place, something that goes unnoticed until blood is dripping from the cuticle on his thumbnail. He clenches the injured digit in his hand and forces himself to stop.

The sun's coming up; the inky black shadows in the room are brightening into a deep navy blue. Sam still looks gray, his lips bloodless. The room's too silent and hot, and Sam's dead and Dean doesn't know what to do, doesn't even know how to make himself move out of the chair he's been sitting in for hours.

Until he does.


The drive takes ten minutes but it feels like a lifetime before he finally slams on the breaks and fishtails on the unstable sandy dirt road. He never told Sam and he will never tell him, but he's had this box made up for weeks, ever since incident with Evan and the hellhounds. He didn't plan on using it –not really – but he felt comforted having that option; prepared. He never imagined he'd be using it for this.

Dean digs frantically, getting dirt in his eye and cutting himself on a stray shard of glass. He doesn't notice the irritations. The only he stops is to stand up to kick the dirt over the box in the center of the crossroads.

Dean holds his breath while he waits for the demon to show it's face. After a few heart stopping moments he doesn't think it will, and true panic and desperation starts to settle in. The reason they never saw the ocean much as kids was because there aren't many hunts near the coast. The salt in the air and water does a pretty good job of repelling the things they usually come after – including demons.

"Dean Winchester; well this is an honor. Not many demons would make this trip, you know. But I just couldn't pass this opportunity up." The demon's deep southern accent is condescending and ravenous; she doesn't make it a secret how eager she is to make this deal.

Dean wishes he could be ashamed of the relief that settles into his chest, warm and welcome, but he isn't. He really isn't.

The deal's for three years. Three years in hell in return for Sam, safe and sound. It's a steal as far as Dean's concerned because he'd spend twenty, thirty, fifty years in hell if it meant Sam would be able to live. Three years is barely a drop in the bucket.


The race back to the cabin takes even longer than the drive to the crossroads did, and Dean's heart is pounding the whole time. He knows it worked. It had to have. He made a deal and crossroad demons don't bullshit or break deals. Still, there's a tight feeling in his chest that's making it hard to breathe, a feeling that won't go away until he sees that Sam's ok again.

Walking into the cabin feels like teetering on the edge of the cliff. The adrenaline's keeping him on steady ground but he knows that if he walks in that room and Sam's still dead, then he'll topple right into the chasm below.

But Sam's alive. Sam's alive, breathing, and looking like he just woke up from a bender in a town other than the one he started in. It's the best thing Dean's ever seen.

There's a question on Sam's face and he opens his mouth to ask it but Dean's faster, and he has his little brother in his arms before Sam can even get a syllable out. He holds on tight, feeling like if he lets go then Sam's going to collapse back to the ground, dying and bleeding out. Dean squeezes just a bit tighter and then registers Sam's pained hiss. He releases Sam from the hug but doesn't completely break contact.

Sam asks what happened and a new kind of fear fills Dean. How's he supposed to tell him? How's he supposed to tell Sammy that he let him down in the worst way? How's he supposed to tell him what he did?

Dean swallows and tries to pull it together, but his anxiousness only increases when he looks at Sam's confused, expectant face.

"I need to tell you something."

Sam doesn't take it well. The blowout leaves Sam with tears and snot running down his face, and blood dripping from Dean's nose. Sam's hands are shaking when he brings them up to run them through his hair in distress.

Dean rubs the blood from his face with the back of his hand, "I'm not sorry."

Sam's face crumples further and fresh tears roll down his face. Dean hesitantly approaches him, waiting for Sam to throw another punch or shove him away, but instead he grabs Dean by the jacket and pulls him in. This time, it's Sam hanging on as if Dean is about to disappear.


They leave Cold Oak and hit the liquor store. It's ten in the morning, too early for Jack, but desperate times and all. They have fourteen hours until Dean's deal comes due and they don't really care about anything other than making the most of it. They get lunch and eat in silence. There isn't much to say and anything they could say would end in tears or in blood, so they just eat.

They end up on the beach, less than a mile away from where Dean made the deal. Tourist season is over so the place is nearly deserted, something that they're both thankful for. They sit themselves on a small sand dune, just a hill really. There's a dock a few yards away with a small pathway that leads up to it. The path is made up of sand covered drift wood, the kind that's all soft and shiny from years of sand blasting. The waves are smooth and slow as they roll in, easing up onto the shore. They sit in silence for a long time with the whiskey between them and their shoulder touching, just staring at the horizon.

Sam's the first to break the silence an hour later.

"What am I supposed to do?"

Dean smiles and it's small and remorseful, because just four hours ago he was wondering the same thing. But Sam's always been the stronger one and Dean knows he's going to get through this.

"Keep fightin.' Take care of my wheels. Remember what dad taught you; remember what I taught you."

Dean hears Sam sniff and he knows he's crying again, so he shifts a bit closer and hands Sam the bottle of Jack. Sam takes it without a word.

"I'm coming back, Sammy."

Sam takes a drink and sniffs again, scrubbing away the tears that are on his face. "I know."

He knows but it doesn't make it hurt any less, it doesn't change the fact that Dean's going to hell for him. He wants to scream at Dean for being a hypocrite, for doing what their dad did months ago that hurt Dean so badly and is now killing Sam in return. He wants to know if Dean's going to have some peace now, now that he feels as if he's paying his dues by suffering and dying like their dad did for him. But he doesn't because he doesn't really want to know, and he doesn't want to fight when they're down to twelve hours left together.

Sam passes the bottle back.

Dean stares out at the ocean and grabs the bottle without a glance, bringing it up to his lips. After he takes a drink he smiles gently, "When you were a kid and you had a fight with dad, you always said you were gonna run away to the ocean. Most kids want to go to the circus but you were all about the beach. Never would've thought that one day you would."

The subject of Stanford hangs between them like it has a million other times but this time, neither of them touch it. Right now, it seems like the most insignificant event that has ever occurred in their lives.

"I don't think I'm going to like the ocean very much after this," Sam says.

Dean takes another drink and passes the bottle back, "You n' me both."

It's sad, Sam thinks, because they've both always loved the beach. The ocean holds some of his best memories, even before Stanford. Like when they spent all day getting drunk in the sand on his birthday, and Dean covered for him so that he wouldn't get in trouble with their dad. Or when they went to the faire and Dean spent every last dollar on him, even though Sam told him not to. Or last year when he was so broken up over Jessica that Dean drove him to the beach without a word, and just let him cry it out with a bottle of alcohol. Kind of like now.

The thought makes new tears well up in his eyes. In less than twelve hours Dean's going to be gone, because once again he sacrificed everything for Sam. Sam wishes that for once he could sacrifice something so that Dean didn't have to suffer.


When the sun goes down the bottle of Jack is almost gone, they're both more drunk than not, and Sam's starting to panic.

"Sam, Sammy, hey," Dean says and cups Sam's face in his hands to grab his attention, "When it starts gettin' down to the wire I want you to get in the car and drive. I want you to go to Bobby's, tell him what happened, and let him watch your back until I'm topside again, ok? I swear to God if I get back just to find out that you got yourself killed on a hunt, I'll make another deal just so I can give you the beat down of a lifetime. You hearin' me?"

Sam blatantly and flat out refuses to leave before midnight. Dean's trying to spare him and while Sam appreciates it, he's not going to leave his brother's side until he absolutely has to. Dean would do it for him and that's more than enough.


It's ten to twelve when Dean takes off his amulet and leather jacket and hands them both to Sam, who bites his lip hard as he attempts to keep in the sobs.

"You 'member what I told you?" Dean asks even though he knows they're words Sam will never forget. Sam nods anyways. Dean half smiles in attempt to reassure his brother and maybe reassure himself, but it doesn't do much besides give away how scared he really is.


It's five minutes to. The beach is dark, lit up with moonlight that reflects and breaks in the water as the waves roll. Sam clutches Dean's jacket hard enough to cramp his fingers, just so he can stop himself from clinging to Dean instead.


Two minutes to midnight Sam drops the jacket and hugs Dean tight enough for it to be uncomfortable for them both. Dean lets him.

"I'm coming back, Sammy," Dean repeats and Sam wishes to God that it could be enough.


One minute to midnight and Dean backs away from Sam, just enough to get space between them again. Dean smiles gently and ruffles Sam's hair, "No chick flick moments."

Sam laughs but it sounds more like a sob, and he nods even though there are tears streaming down his face. The pain he's feeling right now is unlike anything he's ever felt before. It's twenty times worse than a knife twisting and severing his spinal cord, and a hundred times worse than dying. It's a feeling Sam never wants to feel again but knows he's going to be unable to escape for the next three years.


Midnight.

A growl echoes behind Dean and the eldest Winchester can't help but tense up. Panic flashes across Sam's face like a beacon. He can tell from his brother's body language that there's something there he can't see.

"Sammy, don't move."

Then Dean hits the ground. Sam jerks as his natural reaction to help hits him full force. He pushes it back down even though his whole body is vibrating with the need to save Dean. The hound must have Dean by the ankle because blood is blossoming right above Dean's boot, and the invisible force is starting to tug Dean away, down the dock.

Sam wants to run after him; the urge is almost unbearable. The only things keeping him in place are Dean's words and the promise he made him.

The hound pulls Dean off the dock; Sam hears the splash and the cut off scream. Dean's gone.

There are no sounds left besides the waves breaking and Sam's muffled sobs. He's trembling when he finally forces himself to move, Dean's jacket in one hand and the keys to the Impala in the other. When he starts the car and the familiar rumble thunders through the empty street, Sam swears he can hear every last piece of his heart break.


The drive to Bobby's doesn't take long or maybe it takes forever, but Sam isn't really sure. When Bobby answers the door he takes one look at Sam and the empty space next to him, and just knows.

"Ah, kid," He says and then pulls Sam in before he even has the chance to explain. It's a good thing, too, because Sam couldn't speak right now if he tried.

The first thing they do is hunt down Jake. It's a close call; Jake's mind mojo doesn't work on Sam but it does work on Bobby. Sam is barely quick enough to stop Jake from taking away the last shred of family he has. Sam empties the whole clip in him before Jake even realizes what happened. When the echo of the last bang fades, Sam takes a moment to relish in the fact that the bastard who's responsible for all his pain and Dean's suffering is dead. The taste of revenge is only sweet for a moment before it turns bitter in his mouth. He wonders what Dean would think if he could see him now. If the look Bobby's giving him is anything to go by, it wouldn't be anything good.

Instead of thinking about it too much, he ignores Bobby's stare, picks up the Colt that Jake dropped, and walks soundlessly back to the Impala.


Six months later has Sam in the hospital with a broken leg and a fractured arm. Turns out poltergeists and office building are a terrible mix. Bobby curses him to high hell for going in so unprepared and distracted, without backup or a plan B. Sam just shrugs from his position in the hospital bed and says flatly, "Just didn't see it coming."

Story of his life.


A year after Dean's deal Sam gets Yellow Eyes. It would've been sooner if it hadn't taken so long to track down the right incantation. He still had the supply list his dad gave him after the crash, but the incantation was under lock and key in John's mind. But Sam is nothing but tenacious and after a lot of coffee, late nights, and blurry words, he found it.

He does the ritual in the old cowboy cemetery in Wyoming – the same place he took down Jake.

"Sammy Winchester. I certainly wasn't expecting a phone call from you."

Yellow Eyes is as arrogant as ever, still convinced that he holds all the cards. It makes the weight of the Colt in Sam's hand that much sweeter and reassuring.

Sam smirks a bit, "Just tying up loose ends." He pulls back the hammer on the Colt and aims dead center for the demon's heart.

Yellow Eyes looks amused, "You should know better, Sam."

Sam feels a tug of energy at his back and he knows without a doubt that the demon is trying to telepathically hurl him through the air. But Sam doesn't move.

The confusion and disbelief that registers on Azazel's face is just as comedic as it is satisfying.

"How're you…"

"Funny thing about having nothing but time on your hands," Sam says and reaches into his pocket to pull out a black hex bag, "You pick up new tricks. Demon proof." He shoves the hex bag back in his jacket and returns both hands to the Colt, "This ends now."

He pulls the trigger. Azazel's body flashes yellow as he sinks to his knees, a shocked expression frozen on his face. Sam stands over him as the yellow fades from his eyes and fades to hazel.

"For my family, you son of a bitch."

Sam drives all night to go back to the beach where Dean made the deal. When he gets there it's already morning and he's exhausted, stumbling through the sand like a zombie. He collapses on the beach and the morning tide washes up and soaks his knees. He starts talking about how he killed Jake and Yellow Eyes, and about how badly he wished Dean were there to share the victory because he deserves it more than anyone.

When Sam finally gets up his jeans are soaked, his eyes are bloodshot, and he misses his brother more than ever.


After that he hunts. He hunts and he sleeps and he eats. Bobby calls sometimes to check in and Sam always answers. He owes both Bobby and Dean that much.


It's three months until Dean's sentence is up. Sam catches wind of a string of murders popping up in Virginia that aren't necessarily unusual, but something about the whole thing seems off. There were ten murders in two and a half weeks with no concrete evidence, no apparent connection between the victims, and no suspects. The media is eating it up and the town is in complete hysterics. Sam goes in with a plan to look for everything the cops wouldn't know to look for, and form a theory from there. He doesn't even get that far.

It takes Sam by surprise outside his motel, knocks him in the back of the head with a rock or something that feels a helluva lot like one. When he comes around he's in a cage on a platform; it reminds Sam of an antique freak show cage. The room looks like an unfinished basement of a house, with dirt walls and support beams above his head, and a single light bulb in the ceiling. It may be a storm shelter. There's nothing in the cage but a blue water jug, and the door to the cage has been welded shut. At this point, the odds definitely are not in his favor.

"It's not much but it has a certain homey feel to it, don't you think?"

The voice makes Sam startle. He squints in the dim light and spots a figure lounging on the steps that lead up to the wooden shelter doors.

"Yeah, you're a real Martha Stewart. What do you want?"

The man chuckles and makes his way down the steps. When he's within eye shot and in the direct light, Sam sees his eyes flash a bright purple. A sneer pulls at Sam's lip, "Shifter."

"Hunter," the shifter taunts back and lazily puts his hands in his front pockets, "Glad we got that out of the way."

"You're the one who's been killing all those people," Sam states.

"Yep."

"Why?"

The shifter's dressed like a high class businessman with a subtle pin striped suit, and short cropped hair. The smarmy smile on his face makes Sam want to shudder.

"Because I have everything the perfect serial killer lacks. They can't trace my DNA, they can't use eye witness accounts; I'm stronger, faster, I'm unbeatable," The shifter says and grins, "So why not?"

"So why not kill me like all the others? Why go through the trouble of kidnapping me?" Sam's not going to admit to being scared. He's seen crazy before but this shifter is a real piece of work, and he has no backup, no weapons, no plan B, and no brother to bail him out. Sam's alone.

The shifter moves in close and grabs the bars to the cage with both hands, looming over Sam. "Because you're a hunter," The disgust and hate burns viciously in the shifter's eyes as it stares down at Sam like he's an insect, "And that means you get special treatment."

The shifter glances over at the jug of water in the corner, "You have four gallons. If you make it last you might survive a month, maybe a little more. It's all up to you. Hell, you might want to think about making it quick and not touching it at all."

The dread and panic hits Sam like a sucker punch. The shifter's going to leave him down there to starve to death. Or die of dehydration. Whichever happens first. It's not the dying that scares him, not really. It's the fact that Dean is coming back from hell in three months and Sam's never going to see him again. He broke his promise and got sloppy on a hunt, and now he's going to die because of it. Dean's going to come back from hell alone and it's all Sam's fault.

"I'll be back to clean up the mess in a few months," the shifter says as starts back up the stairs, "Enjoy your stay."

The wooden doors of the shelter slam shut and specks of dirt fall from the ceiling. The silence that follows is all encompassing and the only things Sam can hear are his pounding heart, and his erratic breathing. The darkness presses in on him and tears burn his eyes. He was so close. They were so close. Three months are all that separate him from his brother and now…

Sam lets loose a primal, agonized yell that echoes and taunts him in the dirt basement. It's all over now.


Sometime later Sam meticulously runs his fingers over the entire cage looking for weaknesses. He doesn't find any.


He can't keep track of time so he keeps track of the water, which he's barely touched. He decided to starve instead of die of thirst on the off chance that Bobby would figure out what happened, and send in the cavalry. It's a crap shot but Sam'll take it. At this point any shot is better than no shot.


There's a dent in the water and the hunger is becoming unbearable. The cramps are never ending and he constantly feels nauseous and dizzy. He resists the urge to drink more just to make it stop.


Half the water's gone and Sam's fallen into numbness. He thinks he's going crazy. Sometimes he hears Dean's voice and it's so loud Sam could swear his brother was right there next to him. He'd almost believe the delusion if Dean weren't talking about things from their childhood like games they used to play or drills they used to hate. If Dean were really here, he'd be bitching about needing a cheeseburger, and asking Sam if he was ok with badly veiled concern.

It's all in his head and he knows that, but it doesn't stop him from taking comfort in Dean's voice.


He hears Bobby.

"Oh my god. Sam?"

Only it's not in his head this time, it's real.

The beam of the flashlight hits him and makes his eyes feel like they're on fire. He hisses in pain like something feral and wild.

"Sorry, kid. Hold on, I'm gonna getchya outta there."

It takes a while. There's no electricity down there save the single light bulb that Bobby doesn't dare turn on, so he had to find the biggest pair of cutters he could and work at making a door in the cage. Once it's open, Bobby reaches in and slides a pair of sunglasses over Sam's face, "Keep your eyes closed, Sam. It's daylight out there."

Sam barely moans in response.

Bobby pulls him out of the cage as gently as he can, paying no mind to his filthy clothes covered in dirt, urine, and sweat. "C'mon, let's get you to a hospital." Sam's nothing but skin and bones, massively underweight and malnourished. When he gets Sam to the Impala and situated in the backset, he curls up like a wounded kitten, his head pillowed by Dean's leather jacket.


It's been a week since Sam was rescued and he can finally stay awake for more than ten minutes. He was missing for twenty five days. Sam suspects he was captive for that long too. Bobby was tipped off when Sam stopped answering his phone. He tracked the cell's GPS signal and picked up on all the murders in the same town. It wasn't hard to put two and two together. The shifter continued killing after it kidnapped Sam, eight more people, to be exact, before Bobby put him down. Then it was just a matter of eliminating the likely locations of the shifter's lair until he found Sam. Bobby doesn't know if he should be lucky that he found Sam in time or heartbroken that it took as long as it did. Sam doesn't seem to have an opinion either way, and that scares Bobby more than he wants to admit.


It's ten minutes until hell releases Dean.

Sam's sitting on the same sand dune that he and his brother sat on three years ago, trying to hold it together while he said goodbye for what felt like the final time. The past three years have been hard. There were times where Sam felt like he couldn't do it anymore, that he didn't care if he came back from a hunt alive or if he woke up the next day. He kept fighting because Dean asked him to, because he had no other choice. He just didn't realize how much he wanted to fight until the shifter took the option away from him.

The ocean's calm tonight and the air is sticky, much like it was three years ago. Sam wonders if that ever really changes in the South. Despite the muggy air, he still feels a chill. He's still painfully thin. He was in the hospital for almost two weeks before they finally released him, and he's been spending the last month or so at Bobby's recuperating. But between the nightmares, anxiousness, and stress it's been hard putting the weight back on. He never said anything but Sam thinks Bobby was close to hauling him back to the hospital. He also thinks the only reason he didn't was so that Sam didn't risk missing this.

Two minutes to midnight and Sam starts walking down the sand dune. Dean's amulet is around his neck and his jacket is in the Impala, right where it's been for the past three years. His bare feet walk over the smooth, half covered planks in the sand that lead up to the dock. It shouldn't be long now.


Midnight.

Dean breaks the water of the surface right by the dock, flailing and gasping as if he'd been underwater for a few seconds too long. He shakes his head, trying to clear the saltwater from his face.

Sam's heart is in his throat as he picks up his pace to a near run, "Dean!"

Dean coughs a few times and then swims the few paces to the dock, and pulls himself up. Sam's halfway to him by the time Dean's on his feet. Dean looks exactly the same as he did three years ago: black tee shirt, jeans, boots that are now water logged, short spiky hair. Just Sam's big brother.

When Dean's within touching distance, Sam launches forward, wrapping his boney arms around him tightly. Dean returns the embrace, holding on just as hard.

"Hey, Sammy."

Sam lets out a sound that's half sob and half laugh, "Hey."

He feels Dean's arms shift and tighten again, and Sam knows that he's feeling every rib in his chest and every knob of his spine. Dean pulls back and looks him over quickly in concern. "You doing a new fasting thing that I need to know about?"

Sam wants to both laugh and cry, "Something like that."

Sam doesn't know what happened to Dean while he was in hell. He doesn't even know if Dean knows what happened in hell, but he knows that it was probably fifty times worse than the hell Sam lived in on earth. And honestly, right now he doesn't want to think or talk about any of it.

"Let's just…let's just get out of here, ok?"

Dean squints at him as if he wants to protest, "Yeah. Yeah, ok. You're not off the hook though, you got me?"

Sam smiles and it feels like the first real smile he's felt in three years, "Yeah. I got you."

They both have new wounds and scars, some that may never heal, but Sam knows it'll be ok. They've been patching each other up with dental floss, whiskey, bad tv, and oceans for as long as he can remember. They always get by one way or another, he doesn't think this time will be any different.


A/N: Yikes this turned into a beast. This all actually came from a dream. It was one of those dreams that switches point of view so sometimes I was watching Sam, and sometimes I was Sam. It was really intense and trippy; I even woke up with tears in my eyes. One of the main things I remember from the dream Sam and Dean hugging on the dock, and Sam was damn near skeletal. I have no idea why so I had to fill in the blanks.