Author's Note: Last one-shot for S8? Maybe. That depends on how the finale goes. I just had to get in my two cents before the last episode.

Many thanks to Cheryl for the beta.

Disclaimer: Nope, they're not mine.

Summary: Crowley read those books, and he has some things to say to Dean. It's time for truths to be told. Spoilers through to 8.22, Clip Show.


The Truth that Sets You Free

"Where's Samantha?" Crowley asks. "Run off at the last minute?"

"Shut up."

It went against everything I had to let Sam go off on his own to gather what we needed to "cure" Crowley, but the incident with Abaddon taught us never to leave demons alone even if you think they're incapacitated. Especially if you think they're incapacitated.

"Moose seems a little under the weather," Crowley goes on. "Have you taken him to the vet lately?"

"Shut up."

"I'm just saying… Considering everything you went through to keep precious little Sammy safe, I'm surprised you're letting him sacrifice himself for this. I would have expected you to step forward for the trials. What happened, Dean? Cold feet?"

"Shut up."

"I completely understand, of course. Never really made any sense to me why you boys keep sacrificing yourselves for each other. But what do I know? I'm just a demon."

"Listen, you son of a bitch," I growl, "you need to be alive for Sam to do this thing, but there's nothing on that tablet that says I can't hurt you first. And believe me, I know how to hurt a demon. So shut up about my brother."

"Touchy, are we?" Crowley laughs, and then he suddenly stops and looks at me carefully. His face brightens. "Oh. You think finishing the trials and closing the Gates of Hell is going to cure Sam. That's adorable. Stupid, but adorable. Who told you that? Your winged friend?"

"Shut –"

"It'll kill Sam. You do know that."

The up dies on my tongue and I stare at Crowley.

"You're lying."

"Let Sam do it, then. You'll know whether or not I was lying. It might actually be worth seeing Hell shut down if I also get to see Sam Winchester die – permanently. Such a relief for Castiel."

"What are you talking about?" I demand roughly. I know I shouldn't listen to him, I know he's manipulating me, but I can't help it. I can't risk ignoring anyone when Sam's body is shutting down and I have no idea how to save him. "What's Cas got to do with it?"

"Ah, Rocky. And here I always thought the moose was the trusting one. Do you really think Castiel cares at all about your brother?"

"You –"

"I've always admired the moose, you know? He's the most infuriatingly sincere human being I've ever had the misfortune to meet, but he has his good points. He's not as stupid as he looks, for one thing. And then… Oh, but I don't need to go into that. You know little Sammy better than anyone else does, don't you? You know everything about him."

"What are you talking about?"

"Really? So there is something Dean Winchester doesn't know about Sam? Apparently those books were useful for more than just deciding which of your old friends to kill. And I managed to track Carver Edlund down, too. Didn't take much persuasion for him to give me everything he's written, even the unpublished manuscripts."

"You hurt Chuck too?"

Crowley scoffs. "Please. It was barely a scratch. He's fine, now. Traumatized, of course, but who isn't? Anyway, did the BFG ever tell you how he got out of the – what did Bobby Singer call it? – oh, yes, the panic room? How he got out to go kill Lilith and start the Apocalypse? Did he ever tell you that?"

"Shove it," I growl. He's trying to make me mad at Sam by raking up past history and I won't let him do it. Sam's more than made up for everything he did then.

"It wasn't difficult. Sam just had to drink his own blood. It was close enough to demon blood as made no difference. Gave him enough power to blast his way out. It was a risk, because you would have been killed if you'd still been in the house, but I guess he thought it was worth it."

I tell myself it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter what Sam did then. He made up for it, he was punished a hundred times over. It's done.

And then Crowley laughs.

"What's so funny?" I demand.

"You. You actually believed me, didn't you? And I thought you knew Sam. I guess you're not as much of an expert as you think you are."

"You son of a bitch –"

"Temper, Dean. I still know the truth. Do you want to know how Sam got out of the panic room?"

"No," I say shortly.

"I thought the Men of Letters were supposed to have a great thirst for knowledge. But that's much more Sam's thing than yours. I don't blame you for not wanting to know. So much harder to live with yourself. I think Sam knows, though. He's sure to have figured it out. And even if he didn't, I'm sure Michael told him, all those years in the Cage."

"Listen –"

"Castiel let him out."

"Shut up!" I snap.

"It's true. If you don't believe me, ask Sam."

"It isn't true. Sam would've told me."

"Really? You're so clueless it's adorable. When do you think he would have told you? When you were shouting at him, or when you were refusing even to speak to him? Or maybe when you didn't even bother to say goodbye to him when he went to make his supreme sacrifice? But you don't have to take my word for it, Dean. Ask Sam. And while you're at it, ask him about the voicemail. He doesn't know, but there were angels behind that too… And I'm sure Castiel knew, even if he didn't do it personally."

"What voicemail?"

"Ask Sam."

"I'm not going to ask Sam anything. We're done here."

"Of course," Crowley says, ignoring me, "it's possible Sam just didn't trust you with the truth. I don't blame him. I wouldn't trust you either. Maybe that's why he undertook the trials. Maybe living with you is so unbearable he's willing to die to escape."

"Whatever your game is, it isn't going to work. Sam trusts me. And I trust Sam."

"You do trust Sam," Crowley acknowledged. "Better late than never, I suppose. What makes you think Sam trusts you?"

"Shut –"

"You know there's a book called A Very Supernatural Christmas? Terrible title. Titles don't seem to be Carver Edlund's strong point. Full of flashbacks, that book. It's nauseating. Something about your childhood, Sam finding out about monsters, Christmas presents… Ah, you know what I mean."

I nod jerkily. I do know what he means. I remember that Christmas, and Sam thrusting a tiny package into my hands.

"I notice you don't wear that amulet anymore, though Meg told me you used to be inseparable from it. And I found a girl called Starla who told me you didn't take it off even to make whoopee with her. What happened, Dean? Lose the little trinket?"

"Shut up."

"Oh, wait, I remember what happened. You tossed it away like a child throwing a tantrum."

"Right. I screwed up. Thanks for the reminder. Now shut up."

Crowley chuckles unpleasantly. "Oh, so you don't want to know how to get it back. All right, then. I'll shut up."

My heart's practically stopped beating. "You know where it is?"

"I do, but I'm shutting up. Just like I was told."

Oh God. I can get it back. I can get it back and maybe that'll help me make up to Sam, just a little, for throwing it away. "Where is it?"

"You want me to talk?"

"You tell me and maybe I won't rearrange your insides. Where is it?"

Crowley smiles broadly. "The giraffe has it."

I roll my eyes. "If you don't know –"

"You're not in good form today, runt. Believe me when I'm lying and don't believe me when I'm telling you the truth."

That's just stupid. "Sammy would've given it to me."

"That brings me back to my original point about how he doesn't trust you. He probably thinks you'll throw it away again. I imagine he likes to keep it as a memento of the past… You know, a time when he had an older brother who was worthy of his trust."

"Shut up."

"Ask Sam. If you think he trusts you enough to tell you. But which is going to hurt more, Dean? Sam lying and telling you he doesn't have the amulet, or Sam admitting he has it but refusing to give it to you?"

Fortunately there's a sound upstairs, cutting into whatever Crowley was going to say next. I let out a breath. Sam's back.

Crowley clearly has the same thought. His eyes flicker up to the ceiling. I have an irrational urge to stop him. I don't want him looking at Sam even with two feet of cement between them. I don't want him anywhere near Sam.

"Of course, Sam isn't the only one who's been keeping secrets," Crowley hisses suddenly. "Who made a deal with Death to give up his little brother in exchange for a horseman's ring?"

No.

"I wasn't going to go through with it!" I protest, though I have no idea why I'm trying to justify myself to freaking Crowley.

"Oh? But you did go through with it."

"That was because –"

"Because you suddenly rediscovered your faith in your brother? Touching. And sickening. I wonder if Sammy's going to see it the same way. You have to admit it's a little unfair. First Mary Winchester, then you, everybody in Sam's family seems quite willing to make bargains offering him up in exchange for the greater good."

"Shut up."

Crowley just laughs. "Don't worry, squirrel. I'm sure the moose will understand… If you have time to explain before the spell kills him. I suppose you will. Megafauna usually take longer to go down than human beings."

"Screw you," I snap, getting to my feet. I can hear Sam coming downstairs.

I have to talk to him before Crowley can.

I back out of the room. I leave the door open, so I can still see Crowley, but I don't really think there's much chance of him escaping. Not when he's chained down in the middle of a Devil's Trap and there are Devil's Traps on all the chains, the seat of his chair, each leg of the chair and the ceiling.

The Men of Letters were nothing if not thorough.

Sam's coming down the stairs, clutching the banister for support. I hold up a hand to stop him.

"What?" he asks. "Is Crowley –"

"He's fine. Well, you know Crowley. Talking a lot too much."

"Great. Let's do this thing."

"Sam."

Sam looks at me. "I know that tone. What's wrong?"

"I… just… what if this doesn't work?"

"What, the cleansing ritual? We have Crowley, we'll just have to keep going until we get it right."

"Not that. What if… You know… What if we do it, cleanse Crowley and shut down Hell, and… Well… What if it kills you?"

Sam sighs. "Crowley been telling you that? You know better than to listen to him, Dean. Demons lie."

"We don't know that this'll cure you, Sammy! We're just stumbling in the dark."

"Do you have a better idea?"

"We can try to find out more! There are thousands of books in here that we've never even opened. One of them might have something –"

"Dean –"

"I can't lose you." I know my voice is shaking. I can't be bothered to fight it. "I can't lose you, Sammy."

Sam sighs and glances into the dungeon. "Come on. Upstairs."

"Crowley –"

"Crowley's not going anywhere. And we put cameras in there, we'll be able to watch him. I'm not having this conversation where he can see us. Upstairs."

I follow Sam up. As soon as we get to the library I see Sam's already got his laptop hooked up to the cameras downstairs. We can see Crowley tugging futilely at his chains.

"Crowley said Cas let you out of the panic room," I say without preamble. "When you went to…"

"Kill Lilith," Sam finishes.

He doesn't say anything else, and that's when I realize how desperately I've been hoping he'd deny all knowledge of who let him out of the panic room. It isn't so much that Cas did it – at this point nothing Cas does can surprise me. It's that Sammy knew and –

"Why didn't you tell me?"

Sam looks startled. "I thought you knew. It was obvious. Who else could've done it?"

"So… You thought I knew Cas had let you out."

"Yeah."

"I knew Cas had let you out of the panic room and I was being hard on you but letting him off the hook for his part in it. That's what you thought."

Sam shrugs. "Doesn't usually take you too long to let people off the hook."

The except me is unsaid but it's as solid as if Sam had spoken the words, hard and heavy in the air between us.

Crap. No wonder he didn't give me the amulet if this is what he's been thinking.

I have to fix this.

"It's easy to let other people off the hook –"

"Don't," Sam cuts in. "You don't have to explain, Dean."

"Yeah, I do, because you're walking around thinking I let Cas off the hook because I like him better and you're not going into the third trial with that between us."

"I never said –"

"You didn't have to." I grab his elbows, holding him just far enough away from me for me to be able to look him in the eye without craning my neck. "That's what you were thinking after that case with Garth and that cursed coin, too, wasn't it?"

"Dean –"

"I thought you were just being a pissy little bitch. Should've known better." I push Sam into a chair. He looks too tired to be on his feet for long, and he'll need every bit of his strength to deal with Crowley. "I needed Cas, Sammy."

Sam rolls his eyes.

"Yeah, I get it."

"No. You don't. Well, I had no idea he'd let you out of the panic room – you have to believe me." I wave him to silence when he looks like he's going to say something. "I know you think it was obvious, but it wasn't obvious to me. But what he did to you later, letting Hell in your head?" I cup his chin and tilt his face up. "I would never have forgiven him for that if I hadn't needed him. I had no other way of saving you, Sammy."

"Fine. You need Cas."

"I need you too, Sammy. I need you more. I need you to be OK, I need you to be with me, I need you to not hate me –"

"I don't –"

"You're my baby brother. I know I'm a jerk to you sometimes but it's only because you're the one person in the entire world that I know is going to have my back no matter what I do." I smile at him. "Kind of figured you knew that, Sammy. You're always talking about feelings and crap." Sam smiles back, faltering but real, and it's proof that I've done something right. "I'm sorry I hurt you, kiddo."

Sam's smile widens a bit. "Jerk."

"Bitch." I hesitate on the next sentence, and finally decide to go for it because we might as well get everything clear now. "Crowley said something about a voicemail."

Right away I can see Sam knows exactly what this is about. He stiffens, ducking his head, refusing to look at me.

"Sam?"

"Let's just finish this," Sam says, starting to get to his feet.

I push him back into the chair and hold him there, and the fact that I can is an alarming sign of how weak he is.

"No," I say. "We're not going into this with things not OK between us. Which voicemail is he talking about?"

Sam's eyes darken. "Which voicemail do you think, Dean?"

That makes no sense. Sam thinks I know. But I have no idea, absolutely none, what this is about.

"If I knew, I wouldn't be asking, would I?"

Sam glares at me, but he reaches into his pocket and pulls out one of his spare phones. It's an old one, something from years ago that he hardly ever uses and keeps just in case someone needs to get in touch with us.

He presses a couple of buttons and hands the phone to me.

I hear my own voice. Well, naturally, that's not a surprise.

It takes me a moment to register what my voice is saying, and when I do it's like I've been dunked in a tub of ice. (And, yeah, I do know what that feels like. Got splashed plenty while getting Sam in that tub.)

"Listen to me, you bloodsucking freak. Dad always said I'd either have to save you or kill you. Well, I'm giving you fair warning. I'm done trying to save you. You're a monster, Sam, a vampire. You're not you anymore. And there's no going back."

There's a low, wounded noise, and it takes me a moment to realize that I was the one who made it.

That – oh crap.

No. No.

What the hell was that?

I drop the phone numbly. Sam catches it.

"What?" I ask. It's the only word I can think of. "Sammy… What?"

"That," Sam says quietly, "is the voicemail."

"When?"

Sam makes an impatient noise. "Like you don't remember. We don't have time for this now, Dean, we've got Gates of Hell to close."

That's enough to help me find words again. "No. No, we're not doing anything until this is sorted out." I crouch in front of Sam, hands resting on his knees so I can keep him from getting up. "When did you get that voicemail, Sam?"

He lets out a breath. "Just before I went after Lilith. I was… I was going to call you and… you know. But… after that…"

"Sammy." I pat his knee. "Sammy, I never sent you that voicemail." Sam finally looks at me. "I did send you a voicemail, but not that. I said… I said I was sorry and you were my brother and… That son of a bitch Zachariah must have done something to it. Or Cas. Doesn't matter. What matters is that you are my baby brother, Sammy. You're not a monster. And I will never be done keeping you safe."

There's a moment's pause, and then Sam's hauling me awkwardly up and into a hug. I can't help laughing as I get to my feet, letting Sam's head rest on my ribs and rubbing his back.

"I'm sorry," he says. "I'm sorry I believed it was you."

"I'm sorry I didn't try harder to find out how you got out of the panic room."

Sam nods, but he doesn't move. I don't hustle him. Now that we're so close to finally slamming the Gates of Hell, there's no need to rush. We both need to settle down before we can think about this clearly.

And we do need to think about this clearly. I don't know if what Crowley said was true, but if shutting Hell down is going to kill Sammy…

I am not losing my baby brother for this.

Sam shifts, and his fist is thrust into my hand. I'm a little puzzled for a moment, because even Sam, girl though he is, wouldn't go as far as wanting to hold my hand.

Then I realize there's something in his fist and he's waiting for me to take it.

I remember the other thing Crowley said, and I feel a flare of hope in my chest. I wouldn't have asked Sam for it – it wouldn't have meant a thing unless Sam gave it to me of his own free well – but maybe… Maybe…

I feel the cool metal, and I don't need to look. I know what it feels like. It feels like trust and love and everything Sam and I have ever meant to each other.

"Thanks, Sammy," I whisper. That's all I need to say.

Sam doesn't look at me or say anything. The warmth of the fingers relinquishing the amulet to my grasp is more than enough.

For a moment I just want to leave it at this. We've made our peace. What's the point of bringing up something that might put me in the doghouse?

But if I don't tell Sam, Crowley might. And Sam deserves the truth.

"This is mine, now, right?" I ask, shaking the amulet under his nose. "You're not going to take it away if I tell you something that pisses you off?"

Sam draws back, eyes flickering towards me suspiciously. "Did you put itching powder in my bed again?"

"I wouldn't do that to you when you're sick!" I protest. "No, I…"

After a moment of silence, Sam prompts, "Dean?"

But there aren't words for this. How do I tell my brother that I made a deal trading him for Death's ring? I never meant to keep my side of the bargain, and it wasn't because of that that I went with Sam's plan, but how do I explain that?

How are we going to walk out of this room without my baby brother hating me forever?

Sam's starting to get impatient, and I decide to go for it. I drop to my knees so I can look Sam straight in the face.

"I made a deal with Death."

"To bring my soul back? Yeah, I –"

"No. Let me finish, Sam, then you can say whatever you want. When Death gave me his ring… Well, he didn't give it to me for free." I can see the curiosity in Sam's eyes, but he doesn't interrupt. "I…" I duck my head. It's easier to talk to Sam's knee. "I… Don't hate me, Sammy, please, I swear to you I didn't mean it. I was never going to keep my promise to him."

"Dean. Focus. What did you promise him?"

"I promised…" I'll just say it. That's the only way. "I promised Death I'd let you open the Cage and jump in." Sam stiffens, and I grab for him. "No. Don't go. You said you'd let me finish."

"I didn't, actually," Sam says, and his voice is shaking as much as mine is. "But go on. Not like I have anywhere else to be."

"Probably thinking that I had nerve bitching at you for not looking for me in Purgatory, aren't you?" Sam's eyes blaze, and I say quickly, "Right, sorry, not bringing that up. I've moved on. Sammy…"

"You too?" Sam asks. His voice sounds empty, and it breaks my heart. "Mom's deal with Azazel was bad enough, but you too?"

"I didn't mean a word of it, not for a second. I just wanted the ring. Sammy, please." I reach out to him, but Sam jerks away. I was prepared for that, but it still hurts. "Sammy."

"You didn't think this was something I needed to know?"

"I didn't want you to feel like you had to do it just because I'd told Death I'd let you. Sam, you have no idea… I know this sounds like a copout but I really was trying to let you make your own decision. I was hoping with everything I had that you wouldn't make the jump, but I'd said I'd let you grow up…"

Sam says nothing. I slump, letting my head drop to his knee. He doesn't push me away. I suppose that's something.

"I was lying to Death when I made that deal," I murmur. "But I'm telling you the truth now, Sammy. Far as I'm concerned, if it's a choice between you and the rest of the world? You win every damn time."

"Then why'd you change your mind about letting me do it?"

"Because you were an adult. And I'd tried controlling you and it had blown up in my face. You were an adult, Sammy, and I had to let you make your own decision, even if it killed me." I raise my head. "You are the most important thing in my life, Sam. It's been that way for thirty years and it isn't going to change now." I hesitate, and then I hold out the amulet to him. It doesn't mean anything if Sam doesn't want me to have it. "I guess you want this back?"

Sam reaches out, and for one heart-stopping moment I think he's going to take it away from me. I think he thinks so, too, but then he shakes his head and closes my fingers around it instead.

"It's yours, Dean."

"Sam –"

"I want you to have it. It's yours." He tugs at my wrist, and I straighten. "I understand, Dean, and I believe you. But you should have told me."

"I'm sorry."

Sam shakes his head. "I forgive you, if that's what you need to hear, but I wasn't looking for an apology. A lot of crap happened then, and we both messed up. It's over." Sam pats my shoulder. "You're my big brother and nothing's ever going to change that."

I can't help smiling at him, and dimples appear in Sam's cheeks as he smiles back.

I rest my hand on his leg, feeling the telltale heat of the fever Sam's been running since the second task. He's so warm it's seeping through his jeans.

We have to finish this quickly.

Except…

Crowley told me three things that were true.

Did he tell me four things that were true?

Is shutting the Gates of Hell going to require the one sacrifice I'm not willing to make?

The amulet digs into my palm as my hand closes around it.

Sammy gave me the amulet.

It means everything's OK between us. Everything. Finally. It means I have my baby brother back. It means he trusts me just as much as he did when he was a kid and I was the awesome big brother who could do no wrong.

Doing the third trial could kill Sam. Not doing it could kill him. We have no way of knowing what it's going to be.

I can't lose him. Not now. Not when we've just found each other again.

I reach up and hold my brother close. He comes willingly.

I would give him all my strength if I could. I would pray, beg, bargain, anything.

All I can do is let Sam know he's everything to me, and hope with everything I have that that'll be enough.


What did you think? Good? Bad? Please review!

Also… If this doesn't happen in some form, I'm swearing off amulet!fic. For at least a month. Probably.

Enjoy the finale, everyone!