Sam's dreams were one long masochistic loop these days.

Dean torn to shreds by the Hellhounds, Lilith laughing - all while Sam was pinned like some useless insect. Dean bleeding, Lilith grinning, Dean screaming, Sam failing, and failing.

Sam woke to find Ruby lying next to him, eyes open and glittering in the dark.

"Another nightmare, Sam?" she asked, running her fingers through his hair.

"What do you care?" Sam snapped and turned over.

"It'll get better, you'll see. It just takes time." Ruby said, running her nails over Sam's back gently.

"No, it won't Ruby. It gets worse, every day." Sam said quietly.

"That's not true- you're getting stronger. You nearly pulled that demon today! You had him almost all the way out. Just a little more practice, and then-"

Sam laughed bitterly, "You think that's what this is about? Ruby...if I do get strong enough to pull a demon, then that's even worse!"

"What the Hell are you talking about, I thought you wanted to get Lilith..."

"Of course I do, but..." Sam turned back to Ruby and wondered again why he thought he could reason with a demon, "if I do get that strong, then that means I could have saved Dean if I'd just started earlier. I failed him Ruby, I failed...and no matter what I do now, it's just- it's too damn late." Sam let himself fall back on his pillow.

"Fine." Ruby said, "You want to lie here and sulk, you go right ahead, but I'm not going to put up with it. Call me when you come to your senses." and with that Ruby grabbed her jacket and left.

Sam let himself sink back into his dreams. Dean, hounds, blood, pain, screaming, laughing, failure, failure, failure. The dreams this night though, were different. This night he dreamt of Dean with black eyes.

"You failed me, Sammy." Dean said, smirking, "and now just look at me. You know this is what's gonna happen. You didn't stop it, and you ain't doing shit about it now." Dean was holding a knife, and the knife was bleeding, "Why is that anyway? Hmm? Am I not important to you anymore? Out of sight, out of mind? What about Lilith? You just gonna let her get away with this? Are you, Sammy?" Dean turned his back to him, and Sam could see something that looked like it had once been human, "Well okay then, guess I'll just get back to work." Dean started to whistle 'Enter Sandman' and began to carve.

Sam startled awake and found himself filled with a sense of clarity he had never known before. His grief was gone, and in its place was rage - all-consuming, and implacable. Sam understood at that moment that for Dean to keep his humanity, Sam had to sacrifice his. There was no other way.

Sam leaned back against the cold, peeling, plaster wall, closed his eyes and concentrated. He'd been fighting to be human for so long, built up so many walls in his mind that he'd nearly convinced himself he was. But then Ruby had started reminding him of his potential. He'd fought with himself every time, and now he could finally see why he hadn't been able to pull any demons fully. He hadn't really wanted to.

Deep inside though, behind those walls, Sam knew. At Max Miller's- he'd moved that dresser. When Gordon had Dean by the throat he'd killed him with razor wire. Pulling demons was just one power among a whole host he'd denied himself. All he had to do, was let go. So he did.

When Ruby came back to check on Sam after not having heard from him in three weeks, she found him in an abandoned warehouse standing over two corpses. There were two perfect circles of ash around the bodies.

Sam looked up at her and smiled, "Ruby! Good to see you again! Have a seat." and with that an office chair rolled towards her.

Ruby swallowed, "Sam...have you- been practicing without me?"

"Mmm. Turns out I didn't need much practice. I just needed some motivation, and I found it- found me. You know, these demons really do lie...with their tongues. Their minds though? Those are very, very interesting." Sam stepped closer to Ruby, who was still standing next to the chair, rooted to the spot. "What's on your mind, Ruby?"

Hell cracks open on a Thursday, and Sam Winchester, the Boy King, comes for his brother.

Dean is convinced he's still being tortured, so he doesn't understand that Alistair really is being turned inside out, and he doesn't understand that Sam's eyes really are yellow and white.

Hell scrambles to swear its allegiance to Sam but he has little interest in anything but Dean. Ruby trails behind Sam as she has since that day in the warehouse, her eyes a mix of worship and terror. They return to the world above, and Sam brings Dean's soul to his body. He remakes Dean- whole and blissfully ignorant of Hell.

Dean remembers the Hellhounds taking him, and then waking in the motel room with Sam's worried eyes on him. Sam tells him not to worry, he doesn't have to be afraid. There are no Hellhounds anymore. Dean reluctantly accepts Ruby's presence after Sam tells him she played a vital part in freeing Dean from Hell. Ruby smiles weakly and stays quiet most of the time.

Lilith rages and sends legions of demons after the Winchesters. None of them return.

Dean thought he'd be angry about Sam's powers, but he finds he isn't. He's relieved more than anything else. He's free, he's on the road again with his brother by his side and life is good - until one day an angel appears in the middle of their room.

The angel looks at Sam warily and at Dean with wonder and says, " not how it was foretold."

Sam just smiles and hands Dean another beer.