Gosh, it's been a while since I've written something, but I've had this going round and round in my head ever since the season 8 finale, so I just had to get it out.

I do need to add a *******S9 SPOILER ALERT*********

Yes, you have been warned.

I've based this fic on my own speculation and some spoilers for Season 9. So please please please don't read if you haven't been reading any spoilers for the upcoming season!

This is my tag to 8x23, my AU version of events I guess since the new season hasn't been released yet.

I hope you like it :) Feedback is always welcome - and much appreciated!

Happy reading.


It would have been a beautiful sight; fire balls like shooting stars falling from the sky, hypnotizing, magical - if not for the harsh reality of what was actually happening.

Angels.

Falling.

The ass had just dropped out of Heaven and bodies were raining down in fiery cocoons, smashing into the lake, the forest, and goodness knew where else.

Dean swallowed jaggedly, forgetting how to breathe. A body hit the lake a little too close for comfort and water sprayed the brothers where they sprawled in the mud against the Impala.

Sam groaned, panting, clutching at his chest and twisting away.

Dean shook himself into action, grabbing for Sam's shirt. The kid rattled with shivers, his whole body tense. "C'mon," Dean ordered. He needed to get them out of here, get some place safe. "Sammy, we need to go. Come on buddy."

Sam tried to push him away, a cough erupting and folding him over in agony.

Dean struggled to keep his younger brother upright, heart pounding.

Let Heaven fall. Only one thing mattered right now, and that was getting Sam some place safe. "Sammy," he grunted as he moved in front of him, pulling him closer.

The crimson glint of blood caught Dean's eye as it shimmered on Sam's chin.

Sam's eyes rolled. He coughed wetly, trying to twist away from Dean, this time weakly reaching to wipe at his mouth as more blood stained his lips.

Dean's panic ratcheted up a notch. He forced it back down. "Okay, okay. Hey -" he twisted Sam back to face him, wiped at Sam's mouth and chin with the back of his own sleeve. "Easy. You're okay."

Sam's cheeks were far too hot, and he was stiff with shivers that travelled through his entire body. He was far from okay, but Dean didn't want to face that reality.

Sam's eyes met his - glassy, unfocused - and Dean did not approve of what he saw there.

Resignation.

Defeat.

Pain.

"No," he stated defiantly. "Come on Sammy -"

Sam's eyes rolled some more, eyelids sliding half mast.

Dean desperately chased his gaze, willing strength into his brother. "I wasn't lying when I said I'd carry you through this. Remember?" He repositioned himself, taking one of Sam's arms and pulling it across his shoulders, redistributing his weight as he wobbled, straightened, and pulled Sam up with him. "It's time to let me take care of you."

Knees threatening to buckle, Dean shuffled them out of the way of the front passenger door, grabbed the handle and jerked it open.

Sam groaned, agonizingly, sagging more heavily against Dean's side.

Dean held him firm, despite Sam's feet slipping through the mud, threatening to topple them both down again. As gently as he could, Dean guided him into the passenger seat, lifting his legs in when it didn't appear that Sam had the strength to do it himself.

Sam's eyes were squeezed closed, pain-stained lines upon his face.

Tugging at Sam's shirt, Dean undid some of the buttons in a bid to cool his brother down. Heat radiated from Sam's skin, while splinters of fear sliced through Dean's gut. What if Naomi was lying? What if completing the third trial wouldn't have killed Sam, but cured him? Dean had been so sure that the angel was telling the truth when she had warned that Sam would die if he completed it, but now, seeing Sam crumbling, feverish, shaking, bleeding ... Dean wasn't so sure.

One hand on Sam's chest, he turned and cast desperate eyes towards the sky. "Cas!" He called, his tone betraying how scared he was.

But his voice evaporated in the chaotic night, just as it had minutes earlier when he'd called to the angel.

No Castiel appeared.

"Where are you?" Dean breathed, his gaze being pulled back to Sam.

Sam's head lolled to the side, his body going limp as he lost his battle with consciousness.

Dean's fingers fluttered to Sam's neck, searching for a pulse, which was there - barely.

A fire ball hit the ground mere feet from the front of the car.

The sound startled the breath out of Dean and jarred every tense muscle in his body, and for a moment hope speared him.

"Cas?"

Hurriedly he closed Sam's door. Could it be? He rounded the front of the Impala, almost hesitant to look.

Smoke rose from the man's coat, yet no burns marked his skin.

It wasn't Cas.

Dean's hope dissolved.

Of course it wasn't Cas. Deep down, he knew his friend wouldn't just appear and carry them out of this.

Not this time.

Shaking his head clear, Dean moved to the driver's side and flung himself behind the wheel, starting the Impala's engine with a roar. Even she sounded ready to get the hell out of here.

Sam still breathing - check.

Panic buried as far down as it would go - check.

Dean swallowed hard, making sure his mounting fear wasn't going to get the better of him. Focus on the task. Focus on getting Sam somewhere safe. He stepped on the gas, turning them around in a spray of mud. The little church loomed, despite its small size, in his rearview mirror.

Crowley was in there, tied to a chair. The demon they'd hated and feared for far too long, who had killed so many, was still alive. In any other situation Dean wouldn't have left without ending that son of a bitch once and for all. But -

He reached a hand over and squeezed Sam's arm reassuringly.

There would be time to deal with Crowley later. As he'd said to Sam earlier, his priority would always be his little brother. Not even the opportunity to close the gates of Hell forever was enough to change Dean's mind. "Hang on buddy," he said, accelerating, one white knuckled hand gripping the wheel, the other resting on Sam.

The Batcave was too far a drive, but he knew of an old safe house nearby that Bobby had kept – a small cabin tucked away in the woods.

He just hoped that his memory served him correctly and he could find it in the dark.


The man grunted and spat out a mouthful of leaf litter, wobbling into a sitting position.

He was far too old for this shit.

His mind was fragmented, stuffy with confusion. The last thing he remembered ...

Thoughts refused to piece themselves together and he shook his head irritably, groaning as a headache bloomed.

Where the hell was he anyways?

Eyes darting, he skipped his gaze over the dark outlines of trees, branches, a strangely lit sky. Through the interlocking arms of the trees he caught sight of a ball of fire falling from the clouds, disappearing out of sight. Shooting star?

No.

A portion of his thoughts began to come together.

Angels.

Another streak of fiery orange lit the sky, this time closer by.

Falling angels.

The name 'Naomi' floated to mind, followed closely by the word 'bitch'. Frustration welled within him as her face came into his thoughts, and then floated away again.

Once more he shook his head. It felt as if his mind was a fish bowl, memories sloshing around.

No, this wasn't Naomi's doing.

This was something else.

Wobbling to his feet, he grabbed at a nearby tree trunk to steady himself. He could hear hissing not too far off in the distance. It became louder, and then grew quieter again. He listened more closely. Another hiss, growing louder, and then receding once more.

Cars.

Car tires on a wet road.

One foot in front of the other he stumbled through the undergrowth, cursing and swearing as he nearly slipped over logs and came close to rolling his ankle in a ditch. His body protested with various aches and pains, with ... life. Humanity. Both of which were confusing and ... wrong. Had been right, once, but now were ... wrong.

A road came into sight. He paused at the edge of the woods. There was a sign, and as a car approached its headlights illuminated it.

Recognition tugged at his gut. He knew this town. Not one of his favourite places by far, but ...

Another car approached. He moved closer to the road and waved, hoping to catch the driver's eye.

The car didn't stop.

Who could blame them, really. He probably looked dodgy as hell.

Sighing, he began walking away from the sign and the town it announced.

He would try to flag down any car that came by. If no one stopped, well... it would be a long and painful five or so miles to where he was headed.

A brief smile tugged the corner of his lip.

If his memory served him correctly, there should be an unopened bottle of whisky, previously stashed for a rainy day, waiting for him.


Dean strained his eyes, looking for the unsealed road he knew would lead them to the cabin. It had been at least a few years since the one time he and Sam had been here, so to say this was a shot in the dark was an understatement.

The Impala's tires hissed along the wet road, carrying them faithfully onwards. The sky was now dark, inky clouds sagging. No more falling angels - just light drizzle that made it even harder to navigate his way along the unlit road.

From beside him, Sam panted with fever, mumbling incoherently every now and then. Dean reached a hand to squeeze his shoulder reassuringly. "Hang in there buddy. We should be there soon."

He hoped.

They had passed by a gas station and Dean had swung in, catching sight of a sign advertising ice. He'd purchased four bags, cracked into one of them and peeled off Sam's button-up shirt, leaving his drenched undershirt. The kid had fought weakly, another rattling cough shaking his too-thin frame. No blood this time, thankfully, but Dean knew better than to believe that was a good sign. He'd wrapped a handful of ice in the buttoned shirt, and had draped it around Sam's neck, desperate to cool him down. He'd felt cruel as Sam had whimpered and tried to push the cold away. "Leave it Sammy," he'd ordered gently. Thankfully he hadn't needed to wait long until Sam's energy had run thin, and the younger man gave up the fight.

Now Dean readjusted the makeshift compress. Most of the ice had melted, running down Sam's chest and back. In any other situation Dean would have worried about the vinyl. But not today.

"Come on, come on," he whispered, part to himself, part to Sam - part to anyone who was still listening. He needed to find this turn off. He needed to -

There.

Was it?

Yes.

The small drive caught his sight, sending a jolt of gratitude through him. He recognized the old tire tacked to a dead tree, the marker Bobby had put there after he'd missed the turn one too many times.

Dean's eyes prickled with unshed tears as he pulled the Impala off the main road. He missed their old friend more than words could describe. Bobby had been like a father to him and Sam, and his death had left such a gaping hole in both their lives. Coming to this cabin would no doubt open up memories like old wounds.

Sam groaned as the Impala jerked and bounced along the uneven surface of the drive.

Dean re-buried his grief and extended a hand across Sam's chest, holding him back against the seat as best he could. "Sorry buddy," he apologized earnestly, free hand gripping the wheel, eyes set on the road as he navigated his way around pot holes and tried to make the ride as smooth as possible. "We're almost there. Promise. Just hang on."

One minute passed. Then two. Then three.

Just as Dean was worrying that not only Sam, but his car, couldn't take much more of the rough ride, his headlights brought the cabin into view, and Dean pulled up as close to the door as he could manage - which proved difficult, as a fallen tree lay between the gravel drive and the front porch. Thankfully it had missed building.

Dean cut the engine and flicked off the headlights.

Silence surrounded them for a moment, before Sam groaned. "-ean?"

Dean caught his brother's hand. "Yeah, Sam. We're here." He gave the hand a reassuring squeeze, turning to his sibling.

Sam shook more violently then before, if that was even possible.

Dean swallowed his impatience to get his brother inside. Bobby's safe house or not, years of experience had taught him that he needed to make sure it was all clear before heading in. If something jumped them and Dean had his arms full of Sam, their already God-awful situation would reach a whole new level of shit.

"Sammy," he said gently. "I need to go make sure there's nothing nasty in there. I'll only be a minute. I'll be right back."

Sam knew the drill, but in the state he was in Dean felt he had to explain it - for both of them. He hated having to leave Sam, even for just a moment.

Sam whimpered, vocalizing his distress.

Dean swallowed jaggedly, brushing sweaty bangs away from Sam's face. He couldn't see his brother in the darkness, but he could feel the lines of pain etched into Sam's brow - and the heat radiating off his skin.

"I'll be quick," he promised, pushing open his door and stepping into the night. If there was something in there it would have heard their arrival, no doubt about that.

Grabbing a rock salt-filled shot gun from the trunk, Dean moved as stealthily as he could towards the house, edging around the fallen tree and willing his heart to stop hammering in his chest.


The man was soaking wet, aching, and cold. No one had given him a ride and he'd had to cover the distance by foot, stumbling along the roadside in the dark, hoping like Hell that his memories hadn't betrayed him and that the cabin was there, just as he remembered.

When he'd seen the old tire tacked to the tree along the main road, he'd nearly cried with relief.

When he'd managed to navigate his way through the dark along the long, pot hole-filled drive without breaking an ankle, he'd allowed a genuine smile to crack over his face.

And when he'd entered the old cabin, realized that it was just as he'd left it, and had found that unopened bottle of whisky stashed beneath the old mattress in the bedroom, just as he'd left it, he'd allowed the lump in his throat to swell to an uncomfortable size without an ounce of shame.

He'd sat on the musty mattress, ignoring the springs that dug into him, opened the bottle and had begun to drink.

The walk along the main road had been long, and with each step, his mind had cleared.

He remembered ... everything.

He remembered Naomi, and that she'd saved him from Crowley when the demon had tried to send him back to Hell after Sam had got him out. He remembered her condition - that he could stay in Heaven as long as he worked for her, did her bidding. She'd threatened him that if he refused, she would send him back to the pit. And she'd reminded him that with a click of her fingers she could crush the life out of his precious boys, Sam and Dean.

He'd been pinned, blackmailed. He'd seen no other option but to accept her terms. Going back to Hell was something he could handle - watching those boys die... well, that just wasn't an option.

But then something had happened.

Tables had turned?

He just wasn't sure. It had all happened so fast.

One second he was in that horrible, sterile, white washed building with endless rooms that the angels seemed to use as their headquarters, and the next ...

He was falling.

Falling.

Falling.

Falling ...

And somewhere along the way, at some point between Heaven and Earth, he'd become himself again.

Thank God he had the whisky. If ever there was a time he needed it, it was now.

"Never imagined I'd be drinking this to celebrate being human again," he'd said to the bottle. "And I saw some pretty crazy shit in my time."

Six swigs, seven swings, eight, nine, twelve.

Then he'd heard the sound of an engine, a car coming up the drive. Thankfully he hadn't turned any lights on. Quickly as his stiff limbs would allow, he pushed off the mattress, whisky bottle still in hand. He'd moved into the kitchen, snagging a gun from under the sink.

Now he took one more swig of whisky before placing it on the bench top, moving to the hall so that he could maintain a good view of the front door.

He hadn't expected company. Irritation swelled within him at the fact that someone dared disturb his hard-won peace.

Gun at the ready, and whisky-fueled adrenalin charging his tired limbs, he waited silently for the door to open.


Dean's heart was in his mouth as he approached the front door. He was torn between his need to be back at the car with his brother, and his need to make sure the house was clear before bringing Sam inside.

He counted breaths, willing himself calm. The wooden front porch creaked under his feet, betraying his presence. His grip tightened on the shot gun as he stood beside the front door, back against the wall.

This was stupid. Sam was burning up. Sam was sick. He needed to get Sam inside - now.

He shook the rising panic from his mind.

He needed to focus.

Needed calm.

Memories of the last time he and Sam were here began to battle for his attention. They'd just worked a case with Bobby, and the three of them had rocked up here, battered and bruised. It had been a wild night with a storm blowing through. Nearly blew the cabin off of its foundations. Bobby had told them a story of how he'd nearly bled out on the bathroom floor from a gunshot wound inflicted by an angry poltergeist. They'd sat around the fire drinking whisky, exchanging stories...

Eyes prickling, Dean shook his head, furious at himself for letting the memories get the better of him.

He had a job to do.

The sooner he checked the house, the sooner he could help Sam.

Without another thought, he turned, pointed his rifle with one hand and twisted the door knob with the other. He stepped quickly inside the house, ready for anything that might come at him.

And it did.

Within a split second, a dark shape came out of the inky black hallway, knocking the rifle from his hand as he pulled the trigger. The bullet flew off in another direction, shattering something towards the kitchen.

Dean blocked a blow to his jaw and just as quickly disarmed his attacker, sending another rifle skidding across the floor. He followed up with a knee into his attacker's gut - which was met with a rough tackle that sent them both flying into the lounge area.

They came down on a low lying coffee table with a crash, forcing the breath from both of their lungs, and -

Whisky?

Dean tried not to get distracted, rolling over and getting his feet under him, charging his attacker, who, surprisingly, seemed to be human, male, thicker built and older than Dean was. He didn't need light to work these things out. He had learned long ago to assess situations quickly, even in the dark.

Throwing a punch towards the man's jaw, satisfyingly connecting with flesh, Dean felt overwhelmed by anger. Who was this asshole who thought it was okay to break into Bobby's place? Bobby might be gone, but this cabin was his. It wasn't an open invite damn it. Grunting, he threw another punch.

But the stranger dodged this time, grabbing Dean's arm and pulling the younger hunter into a choke hold, dragging him backwards.

Dean kicked back, aiming for knee caps. The man's whisky breath was warm in his ear. It snagged at Dean's memories, reminding him so much ...

So much ...

Suddenly the grip around his throat went slack and his attacker backed away, stumbling over broken pieces of coffee table.

Dean fell to the floor, shocked at the sudden release. Scrambling, he got to his feet, searching desperately for the man, ready to continue the fight.

But the man wasn't beside him anymore. He was across the room by the door.

Dean heard him panting, out of breath. Confusion washed over him as he tried to work out this stranger's next move. Did he have another gun? Was he about to run outside and attack Sam?

Thankfully he didn't have to wait long for an answer.

The stranger's next move was to turn on the lights.

And as light illuminated the room Dean felt his breath stop in his lungs, his heart freeze within his chest.


"Would know you anywhere," Bobby whispered, hand still shaking upon the light switch. "Have carried you enough times when you've been hurt, as an adult, and a kid." He shook his head, eyes filling. "Should've known it was you from the minute you came through that door, but ..." his voice trailed off. Quickly he drew it back again. "I guess I'm a bit out of practice."

Dean, for his part, was speechless. Far too many emotions crashed over him. There was so much he wanted to say, but years of engrained suspicion got the better of him, and he backed away, disbelieving.

Bobby must have read his thoughts, because he held up his hands in a gesture that begged Dean to trust him, and moved towards the kitchen.

Dean tracked his every step, still struggling to breathe.

Bobby snagged a flask from the top drawer, eyes skipping quickly to where his bottle of whisky had previously stood. It had been shattered by Dean's stray bullet earlier. "Balls," he muttered bitterly, holding the flask up slowly and forcing himself to focus on the task at hand.

Dean watched as Bobby rolled back his sleeve and splashed its contents over his bare skin.

Nothing happened.

Dean felt his chest hitch. Tears prickled again at his eyes, this time welling right to the corners. He didn't want to believe it was really Bobby. It was too good to be true, and nothing good ever happened for him or Sam when they really needed it.

"Dean?" Bobby cautiously replaced the flask, gingerly stepping forward.

Dean tried to hide the torrent of emotion that he knew was cracking through his barely held together poker face. The grief from Bobby's death had been weighing so heavily upon him lately, especially with all that was happening with Sam and the trials. So often he'd longed for their old friend's advice, or just simply his presence, to reassure him that things weren't as God awful as they seemed at the moment. Could it be that he was really here, right now, at the eleventh hour when Dean needed him the most?

"You hearing me, son?" Bobby's eyes were concerned. He'd been speaking but Dean hadn't heard a word. He moved closer to the eldest remaining Winchester and outstretched an arm, taking Dean gently by the shoulder.

Dean swallowed convulsively at the touch. Finally he found his voice. "Bobby?"

Bobby nodded, his own eyes threatening to overflow. "I know you're gonna ask me how," he said shakily. "So I'll just go ahead and say it - I have no idea. It appears something big went down today, what with Heaven seeming to up-end itself." He narrowed his eyes. "I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess you boys might be in the middle of another shit storm?"

Dean couldn't stop himself - he pulled the man into a sudden, tight hug, letting some of the tears he'd been holding leak out of his eyes. A great weight lifted off him as the hug was returned, equally as strong. "God, Bobby, you have no idea how good it is to see you right now." His voice was muffled in Bobby's still damp jacket.

Bobby was the first to pry himself free. He looked Dean up and down seriously, assessing.

There were many things Dean needed to tell him. So much, and nowhere to begin.

No time.

Bobby got in first. "Where's Sam? Don't tell me you idjits are fighting again?"

Dean shook his head, his poker face breaking completely. The look he gave Bobby spoke volumes, and Dean knew it. "He's..." He wiped at his eyes, but he couldn't stop the tears. "He's so sick. Bobby," his voice broke. "He's so sick..." His shoulders shook as all the fear and panic he'd been holding down threatened to take him over.

Bobby heard the silent plea and quickly stepped in. It was obvious that Dean was about to come apart. Bobby recognized the signs - he'd seen Dean go through this before. The older brother had been carrying and caring for his younger sibling since he was four years old, and for Dean to be at this point ... things must be beyond bad. "Where is he?" Bobby asked gently, trying to hide his now mounting fear, determined to step up and offer the strength that Dean so desperately needed right now.

Dean latched on to the lifeline. "In the car," he said, desperately trying to re-gather himself, clearing his throat.

Bobby nodded, grabbing the older brother's elbow and quickly steering them both towards the door.

Thankfully Dean didn't require too much encouraging, and within a heartbeat was two steps ahead of Bobby, disappearing out the door and into the night.

Bobby was still stiff and sore, and by the time he was around the fallen tree, Dean was tugging open the front passenger door and leaning over Sam.

Bobby drew in even breaths, trying to mentally prepare himself for whatever state Sam might be in. He could hear Dean talking quietly to his brother, voice soothing. He rounded the car as Dean straightened, one hand still resting protectively upon Sam's chest.

Sam's face was pale, wet with perspiration. His white undershirt was so soaked with what Bobby guessed was also sweat, and shivers racked his entire body. Blood, or what appeared to be blood, spattered the front of his shirt, visible under Dean's hand. His eyes were squeezed closed, pain etching lines across his face. He was thin. Too thin. Somehow he looked small - Sam never looked small. Bobby faltered a moment, caught off guard by Sam's appearance, despite his best efforts to prepare himself.

His eyes met Dean's, and in the dull light cast from the house, he realized with a sinking heart that the older brother was monitoring his reaction - possibly hoping that he would say something reassuring. Bobby tried for words, but drew up blanks on anything that resembled reassurance. Instead he whispered, "What on earth did this to him?"

Dean seemed ready for this question, but not yet ready to provide an answer. Instead he shook his head, scrubbing a hand over his face. "I'll fill you in later," he offered.

And Bobby got the hint.

There was too much to say - not enough time right now.

"In the trunk," Dean gestured towards the back of the Impala, changing the topic. "Bags of ice. Am I right in remembering this place has a tub?"

Bobby quickly moved to the trunk as instructed, nodding.

"Good," Dean breathed. "Because we need to fill it with ice water. Sam's fever's through the roof. Last time it was this high I dumped him in a tub of ice and it seemed to work to bring it down."

Last time? Bobby left the question unspoken, wondering just what these two boys had been through since he last saw them.

A memory floated to mind - Sam busting him out of Hell, guiding him through Purgatory. The kid had looked run down then, but had brushed it off when Bobby had asked if he was okay. Dammit Sam, he thought now. What on earth have you got yourself into? There was no accusation to the thought - just worry.

Wrestling the bags of ice out of the trunk, Bobby ran them into the house, upending them into the tub and twisting the cold water tap on.

It spluttered with disuse, but soon enough was spewing out icy cold water. Still damp and cold himself, Bobby didn't envy Sam having to get in. He wondered how coherent the kid was, and whether he'd put up a fight to get in the tub. When Sam was well, at full strength and at his usual weight, it was a struggle for two men to hold him down.

But as Bobby went back out to the car to help Dean with his younger brother, he realized that his worry was not necessary. Dean nearly managed to carry Sam himself, and it was more to help with balance than weight that Bobby grabbed Sam's free arm and hefted it across his shoulders, flanking him on one side while Dean grunted his thanks from the other. Together they steered Sam around the fallen tree and up into the cabin.

Once inside, Bobby could see how truly sick Sam was. Shallow breaths jerked in and out of the boy's lungs, and it was evident now that the blood on Sam's shirt was not from an external wound, as a rattling cough erupted from his chest, leaving blood and spittle dribbling from the corner of his mouth.

Dean hurriedly wiped it away, avoiding Bobby's horrified gaze.

Sam's head rolled lifelessly, his eyes half closed, glassy. He murmured something incoherent.

"Hang in there Sammy," Dean encouraged, moving them into the bathroom. "We've got you. You're gonna be okay."

Bobby found himself desperate to know exactly what had done this to Sam. Because he had no doubt that it was a what, and not just some natural sickness Sam had picked up somewhere.

Dean turned to Bobby. "You okay to hold him for a second?"

Bobby didn't hesitate, taking Sam's full weight willingly.

Dean knelt down and pulled off Sam's shoes, socks, jeans - mercifully leaving him in his undershorts. Not that there wasn't anything Bobby hadn't already seen, the number of times he'd patched up these boys...

His eyes met Sam's glassy gaze. For the briefest of moments, Bobby thought he caught confusion there. He twitched a smile. Even in Sam's delirious state the kid had to know that seeing Bobby was either a really bad sign, or a dream.

Dean straightened and began to pull at Sam's soiled shirt.

Bobby helped maneuver the taller man to get the shirt off, disturbed by how Dean had to peel it off due to how wet it was. That disturbance paled in comparison to how Bobby felt about seeing Sam's wasted frame up close with no shirt to hide it. Where there had once been muscle, Sam was now skin and bone.

Dean caught his eye and hesitated before admitting, "He's had trouble keeping food down lately."

Approving of the water level, Dean twisted the tap and the spewing faucet dripped to a halt. When the older brother turned back to his sibling, his eyes held guilt. "I'm sorry buddy," he told Sam sadly. "This isn't gonna be pleasant, but it's important, and it'll help you feel better." His eyes shot to Bobby. "We hope," he added quietly.

Then, clearing his throat, Dean took one of Sam's arms and half of the weight. "Okay. Here we go."


Sam was caught between reality and dreams, mind spinning with feverish nonsense. His body ached all over and his limbs and head felt like they weighed a ton. Sound came and went, broken pieces of conversation.

Nothing made sense.

His eyes were far too heavy to keep open. The times he had opened them he'd been confused and distressed by his surroundings. He'd been in the car, in the dark, and Dean was there but then Dean had disappeared. Then...

Blank.

His chest burned. Every time he coughed it burned even more.

He tasted blood.

Why was there blood in his mouth?

He'd been carried, taken out of the car, brought into somewhere bright.

A hospital?

No.

Bobby.

Bobby was there.

Oh God, why was Bobby there?

Bobby was... dead.

It was far too bright. It was -

Breath left his lungs in a rush.

Icy cold enveloped his entire body, biting his skin. Reflex kicked in and he felt himself screaming, limbs suddenly flailing, taking on a life of their own. His hand came into contact with something - someone?

"- ake it easy -"

Dean?

Breathe. He couldn't breathe. Every muscle in his body seized up, wailing in agony. Bones felt like they were about to snap. Every time he opened his eyes they jammed closed again as if on a tight spring, the light was so bright.

" -ammy -"

Someone was crying. Who was crying?

Was that him?

His mind and body had separated. His physical body was a non-cooperative stranger, his mind a mess.

Struggling, he managed to pry his eyes open to slits, fighting the glare. He gasped desperately for breath, vision swimming.

Mercifully, finally, strong arms hooked under his, lifting him.

The icy clutch lessened and he realized suddenly that he was in a bathroom, stained tiles reflecting the light cast from a single swinging bulb. His teeth smashed together, chattering so violently that his jaw locked.

" - ot you - "

Dean.

Dean was holding him, wrapping him in something. Sam wanted so badly to talk, but it was far too hard.

A glimpse of Dean's face, expression pinched. And ...

Bobby?

Sam struggled weakly in his brother's grip, desperate to get a better look.

But the effort rendered him even more breathless, and he felt his chest hitch as he broke down in yet another fit of painful coughing, thankfully falling back into blackness before the taste of blood made him retch.


Dean allowed his eyes to unfocus as he stared into the crackling fire. He was exhausted - physically and emotionally. He needed rest so badly, but knew that their ordeal was far from over.

Sam stirred on the couch above him, wrapped in a cocoon of blankets, and Dean reached up from where he was sitting to place a reassuring hand upon his brother's arm.

Dunking Sam in the icy water had done the trick and had brought his fever down, but it was a temporary fix and they were still faced with the challenge of finding a way to cure him completely.

Fear niggled at the corners of Dean's mind. As he had done so many times already, he desperately batted it away.

But it was becoming more and more difficult to dislodge.

What if they couldn't find a way to fix Sam? His grip upon his younger brother's arm tightened.

What if there was no cure?

Bobby's voice broke into his thoughts. "So you're telling me," he said slowly, "that you boys found a way to close the gates of Hell ... forever?"

Dean reluctantly tore his gaze from the fire and looked over at their old fried, perched upon the edge of a single seat couch a few feet away. He was still trying to process the emotions that came along with Bobby being alive. He'd given a rushed run-down of everything that had happened since they'd last spoken - his time in Purgatory, the Men of Letters, the demon and angel tablets, and the trials - but he knew there weren't enough words to explain everything, and Bobby was bound to have a mine field of questions. Hell, he and Sam still had questions with no answers...

Bobby's expression held fear and awe, in equal measures. "And these trials," he continued, despite the fact that Dean hadn't answered, "They're what's making Sam so sick?"

"Put quite simply... yes." Dean scrubbed a hand over tired eyes and gazed at his brother, remembering a conversation they'd had not too long ago about farting donkeys and comic books.

"Sam said," he started, voice gravelly and raw, "that the trials were changing him. Purifying him... or something."

He moved his fingers to the bandage around Sam's hand. He was still haunted by the heart wrenching conversation they'd had earlier in the church, and Sam's words...

He let his head drop, forehead resting upon the edge of the couch. "The final trial was to cure a demon."

Bobby ran fingers through his thinning hair. "And you boys got Crowley."

Dean lifted his head. Yes... They had. And they had been so close to the finish line.

The older hunter cursed under his breath.

Dean fixed his gaze upon Bobby, noticing darkness in his friend's expression. "You think we did the wrong thing, pulling the plug?" His heart began to race. He needed Bobby's reassurance, not his disapproval.

But Bobby dispelled Dean's fear with an earnest shake of his head, waving a hand. "No, no," he breathed. "Chances are Sam would have died if he'd completed the final trial, by the sound of it."

But there was something Bobby wasn't saying. The unspoken words hung between them.

"What is it?" Dean pressed, unsettled. "You think I did the wrong thing trusting Naomi?"

The angel's name drew a flinch from Bobby. He pursed his lips. "I think," he started, "that no angel should be trusted." He shifted uncomfortably, looking between the brothers, his gaze finally settling upon Sam. "If I had to put money on it, I'd say you boys were screwed either way. You did what you thought was right, and God knows I would have done the same thing attempting those trials if it meant slamming the gates of Hell and throwing away the key. But maybe..." his eyes grew sad.

Dean filled in the blanks. He knew what Bobby was getting at. "Maybe there was never going to be a happy ending?"

The older man didn't reply, just cleared his throat quickly. With visible effort he forced a half smile. "But then, this is Sam we're talking about. This is the kid who beat Lucifer. If there's a way to get him better, then we'll find it. Sam will win."

Dean appreciated the offer of encouragement, but Bobby had put into words what Dean most feared; that the trials were a one way road, that they always had been a one way road. He closed his eyes, counting breaths.

Sam was strong.

Bobby was right, if there was a cure then they would find it, and Sam would get better.

"Could really use a drink right now," Bobby grumbled, glancing longingly at the kitchen bench. "Shame some idjit shot up my only bottle of whisky ..."

Dean didn't hear him; he was too busy readjusting the cold compress on Sam's forehead, engrossed in the task.

Bobby watched the older brother work - hands that could break a man's neck, fire a weapon with lethal precision; now gentle as they brushed sweaty bangs out of Sam's eyes with extreme care and tenderness.

These two were the closest thing Bobby had ever had to children. And in the time he'd been gone, he had missed them so damn much. He still wasn't sure how he was alive, but seeing them again made everything worthwhile. If he'd ever been confused about his life's purpose before, he wasn't now.

Rising, Bobby went and fetched some more blankets and a pillow from the bedroom. He brought them to Dean and ordered the older brother to get some rest.

Of course Dean argued. "I'm not tired."

But the lie was obvious, and Bobby returned it with a glare. "I ain't asking, boy," he said firmly. "You look like shit." He nodded to Sam. "I got this."

Bobby was quite capable of watching over them both. He'd done it many times in the past. Despite his own bone rattling exhaustion, he felt a strong sense of protectiveness towards these boys. Defiantly, he settled back into the chair and stared into the fire.

Dean hesitated for a minute, visibly struggling to hand over the reins. His eyes flicked between Bobby and his sleeping brother. It had been so long since he had trusted anyone with Sam...

Bobby arched an eyebrow, waiting. "You need me to sing you a lullaby?"

Dean's lip quirked as he reluctantly lowered his head to the pillow. "No. I'm good," he answered, holding onto the warmth that began to spread through him. "One hour. Okay? Then we trade places."

Bobby waved him off. Yeah, yeah ...

Dean's eyelids quickly became heavy, and sleep tugged relentlessly, pulling him down.

Just before he let go completely, he forced his eyes back open and focused on Bobby sitting by the fire, praying that he wasn't dreaming that their old friend really was, somehow, alive.


It was just before dawn, with only the faintest stain of daylight on the horizon. The fire had threatened to burn out at various points during the night, but Bobby had kept it going.

He hadn't woken Dean - the boy had been so peacefully asleep that he just couldn't bring himself to change that. It was obvious that Dean had spent countless sleepless nights either caring for Sam, or worrying about caring for Sam. Dean would let himself fall apart without even noticing, he was that dedicated to watching out for his little brother. It was both a strength and a fault. Bobby felt a pang of guilt at having got himself killed, because it had meant that he hadn't been around this past year to help the two of them out.

He was in the middle of stoking the fire when Sam's breathing suddenly changed, becoming raspy and strained. Quickly he moved over to the couch and began to untangle the kid from the blankets he'd got himself caught up in.

Breaths jerked in and out of Sam's lungs, and his skin was slick with sweat. His fever had risen slightly during the night, but now it seemed to have jumped substantially. Bobby reached a hand to take the compress from Sam's forehead to run it under fresh cold water, but Sam's head suddenly jerked back and he let out a strangled cry, face twisting in pain.

The commotion woke Dean, and he sat up suddenly just as one of Sam's arms flung up and outwards. It connected with the side of Dean's head, sending him back to the floor with a startled grunt.

Bobby quickly grabbed at Sam's flailing limbs, trying to prevent the boy from hurting himself - or Dean.

Dean managed to get himself back on his feet, propelled by worry.

"He's having a seizure," Bobby reported quickly, as Dean's terrified gaze met his. "Try to hold him still."

Dean didn't need to be told twice, and together they held Sam as gently as they could until the seizure passed.

Once it was over, Dean dropped his head, breathless, still holding onto Sam's arms. With a shaking hand he reached up and checked for a pulse, frightened that it might not be there - thankful beyond words when he realized it was.

During the seizure Sam's nose had started bleeding. Dean used one of the blankets to mop up the mess, offering a quipped apology to Bobby which the older hunter brushed off as unnecessary nearly before the word had left Dean's lips.

"That happen often?" Bobby's voice was as unsteady as his knees. He straightened stiffly, rattled by the harshness of the seizure that Sam had just experienced.

"No," Dean admitted, rolling Sam gently onto his side and cupping a hand against his neck. "His fever's picking up again." Eyes skipped to Bobby. "We need to do something," he said desperately. "I don't know how much more he can take. He's getting worse, not better."

Bobby regarded Sam sadly. He knew that hospitals were out of the question, but he agreed with Dean - they couldn't just sit around doing nothing. "Options?" He asked, hoping that Dean might have some.

But Dean's expression betrayed how truly lost he was with this. He ran a hand through his messy hair and began to pace. His eyes caught the first signs of dawn trough the cold glass of the window and he shot an accusing glare at Bobby. "What time is it?" He pulled out his cell, glancing at the clock before holding it up like damning evidence. "Why did you let me sleep so long? You were meant to wake me up after an hour."

Bobby ignored him. Dean had needed the rest.

Annoyance petering out, the older brother let his glare drop. He was grateful. The sleep had done him good. "You look like shit," he observed of his old friend, feeling guilty that Bobby had forgone a night of sleep for him and Sam.

Bobby shot him a look, twitching a small smile. "Well, I did have a bit of a rough day yesterday."

"Yeah," Dean agreed soberly. Then he spoke, almost as if to himself, "I still don't quite understand what happened yesterday, but I have a bad feeling Cas may have had something to do with it."

Bobby froze where he stood beside Sam. "Cas?"

Castiel was alive?

Because the last time Bobby had seen the angel, he'd been all sorts of crazy, disappearing into a lake...

Dean began to explain, but stopped nearly as soon as he'd started. Once again, there was too much explaining to do and not enough time. "When this is all over, and Sam's back on his feet," he assured, "we will sit down and fill you in on everything." He said it as a promise, with the emphasis on 'we'.

Bobby couldn't argue. He hadn't yet told Dean about Naomi and how she'd blackmailed him. They were conversations for another time. Right now, their priority was Sam. There would be time for filling in the blanks later.

Dean resumed pacing, clutching his phone anxiously. "It's not an option for Sam to go back and complete the third trial," he muttered. "I honestly don't think he would survive. And besides, in this state, he's not conscious enough to read the incantation." His eyes settled upon Sam, as if an answer lay on the couch beside his shaking brother.

As if sensing Dean's gaze, Sam whimpered and shifted jerkily.

Bobby reached out and placed a hand firmly upon Sam's trembling shoulder, willing him to hold on, terrified that the younger man might break into another seizure at any point. Thankfully, Sam stilled. Bobby released the breath he'd sucked in, unaware that he'd been holding it.

Both he and Dean nearly jumped out of their skin when Dean's cell phone suddenly erupted in a fit of noise.

Fumbling, Dean glanced quickly at the screen before accepting the call. "Kevin? Talk to me. Tell me you've got something we can use, because Sam is fading fast."

Kevin?

Who was Kevin?

Bobby cast a questioning look at Sam. "You boys make some new friends?"

Now there was a notion. The Winchesters were not known for trusting others easily - if at all.

Dean had been listening intently to whatever this Kevin had to say, and Bobby felt a chill settle in his gut as Dean's expression shifted to something dark.

"No," Dean stated firmly, his tone definite. "Not an option. No way."

Despite his resolve, however, the older brother shook visibly, and it put Bobby on edge.

Dean pinched the bridge of his nose, squeezing his eyes closed. "I am not willingly doing that to him," he said fiercely through gritted teeth.

Bobby's grip tightened protectively upon Sam's shoulder.

What was going on?

What was this Kevin suggesting?

"There's got to be some other option," Dean continued, tone cracking, becoming a plea.

Pleading didn't suit Dean.

Bobby had to stop himself from striding over and taking the phone, demanding to know what the hell Kevin had suggested that had aggravated the older brother so much.

A heartbeat passed.

Silence stretched in the room, as Dean listened to whatever was being said on the other end of the phone. He shook his head, disapproving, rejecting... But, as seconds passed, his resolve grew thinner. Glassy eyes skipped to Sam, and he bit his lip. Letting his eyes fall closed he dropped his head, defeated.

"How?" He asked eventually, his voice small. Silence descended once more as he listened.

Then, obviously hating whatever Kevin said next, Dean balled his fist and paced briefly, running a trembling hand through his hair before brushing it roughly over his face.

"Okay," he said quietly, stopping and leaning against the kitchen bench.

And the call was ended.

Bobby watched as Dean placed the cell phone on the bench. When Dean turned around, his expression was haunted. Some sort of battle was taking place within him, and Bobby was desperate to know what on earth had just happened to bring him to that point.

Thankfully, Dean didn't require too much coaxing to share.

"Apparently there may be a way to fix Sam," he started, swallowing convulsively, struggling with the words.

Bobby braced himself for the suggestion, as it obviously wasn't sitting well with Dean. And that meant that it wouldn't sit well with him either. "And you trust this ... Kevin?"

"It's our only option, other than continuing to sit on our asses," he admitted coldly. "We need to get Sam into the car and go back to where we left Crowley." His voice grew distant, his gaze locking with Bobby's. Guilt shadowed his features. "No normal person can survive the trials once the purification of their blood is complete. But..." Words trailed off.

Bobby picked the sentence up, like a hanging thread. "Sam isn't a normal person," he finished, dread sinking his stomach, knowing where this was going. "Sam's blood was never normal blood."

"Bingo," Dean replied grimly.


The sun's rays were reaching across the lake as Castiel approached the small church. Golden light glinted off the water, catching on the banks in the long grass. Birds called, and a light breeze whispered. The chill of the morning air seeped through his coat and into his bones.

Everything felt ... very real.

His legs ached from walking. His eyelids scratched. His stomach gurgled, and his throat was parched. From his head to his toes, he was very much ... human.

And it was the strangest feeling in the world.

His memories were still intact.

Anger welled within him as he thought of Metatron - followed closely by guilt at having been so stupid. He should have just stayed with Dean, helped Sam - listened to his friend. He had honestly thought that he had been doing the right thing. But now, as he stared solemnly at the small church, he realized that he had been a fool.

Again.

He had woken in the woods, a few miles from the church. He had watched in horror as his brothers and sisters had fallen like balls of fire from the sky. Picking his way along the lake's edge in the dark, he'd been disoriented and exhausted. He'd found a tree and had curled himself at its base, huddling against the cold and damp. With no more link to Heaven, no way to travel in a heartbeat back to Dean's side, he had felt very, very alone.

And this morning, as dawn broke on his first day as a human, Cas couldn't deny the heavy sense of emptiness threatening to engulf him from the inside out.

Coming to a halt he gazed at the church. It stood alone, isolated, and silent. There was no sign of the Impala, and that meant no sign of Dean or Sam. Not that he had expected them to be here. But with no way to contact them, and the world seeming incredibly large and empty, it had seemed as good a place as any to start.

Morosely he wondered whether Dean would even talk to him, if he were here. He wouldn't blame his friend for being angry. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. And didn't Cas know it ...

Tire marks in the mud caught his eye. The boys had left in a hurry.

Had Dean been in time?

What had become of Sam?

Worry swirled within him. There were too many questions, and each one of them hung, unanswered, like weights within his heart.

Would he ever see his friends again?

Were they even still his friends?

He didn't have Dean's number because he didn't carry a cell phone. He'd never needed one. He had no transport, no money - all he had was the clothes upon his back, the lonely church, and the awfully empty morning surrounding him.

Not knowing what else to do, he wandered up the front steps and pushed open the heavy door.

The last thing he'd expected to see was Crowley still tied to a chair, head hanging, eyes closed .

But there he was. Also, startlingly, very much human. Or close to it.

As Cas entered the building, Crowley's eyes peeled open and raised to meet his. Recognition stained his expression, and he dropped his head again, whimpering.

Castiel gingerly stepped closer.

"Finish me," Crowley whispered, his voice barely audible. His tone was that of a broken man with nothing left to live for. He raised his eyes again, tears spilling. "Finish me," he repeated, desperation clinging to the words. "P-please."

Castiel opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again, unable to find his voice. Was this really the King of Hell, tied to a chair and begging to die?

"I've done such terrible things," Crowley continued. "I don't deserve to live." He leaned his head back, looking towards the ceiling and blinking tears. "I've tried to think of how I can possibly redeem myself, but there's just no way." Sobs racked his body and his head fell forwards again. "There's just no way ..."

Castiel had no comfort to offer. This man in the chair before him had done unspeakable things. There were no words for what sort of evil Crowley had brought to the world, what sort of horrendous acts he had committed in his time - how much he had hurt Dean and Sam, their friends...

And yet the rawness of the humanity Castiel saw within the demon stirred something within him, and he felt, almost... sad for the mess of a being he saw before him.

"Please," Crowley begged again.

But Castiel couldn't. He just couldn't. Even if he still had his powers, there was something wrong with executing this man. Perhaps because Crowley was so close to being a man.

The feeling of hopelessness within Castiel swelled, and he shuffled over to a wooden pew that had been pushed against the wall. Letting himself drop onto it, he leaned forward and cradled his head in his hands.

His head ached. Somehow it felt heavier than the rest of his body. He could hear his heartbeat in his ears. Was that normal?

Raising sad eyes to Crowley, he couldn't believe it had come to this. "We are a sight, you and I," he stated quietly. "A fallen angel and a near-cured demon, sitting alone in an abandoned church, both of us lost causes who have, it appears… lost their cause."

What on earth was he supposed to do?

Crowley seemed to accept the hopelessness of the situation, dissolving into himself and whimpering quietly.

A cold draft raced across the floor of the church. A house of God, Castiel reflected. With no trace of God in sight.

A crow cawed, followed by several more, startled as if rising in a group from some nearby trees. A deep rumbling could be heard in the distance, gradually drawing closer. The sound grew louder, and more familiar as the seconds ticked by.

Castiel rose quickly, sending his head spinning, and Crowley looked up with hope-laced misery.

"They're back," the King of Hell breathed, as if it were a mercy. "I knew they would come back. They've come to finish the job."

Castiel's eyes darted to Crowley, and then to the heavy door. The rumbling grew louder beyond the door, before the distinct sound of tires on wet gravel could be heard. The Impala's unmistakable growl resounded through the church before the engine was cut.

Dean.

Cas braced himself, floored by relief, but at the same time unsure. What would Dean's reaction be? He swallowed roughly, knowing that Dean's state of mind would be heavily dependent upon whatever state Sam was in. If Sam was even alive ...

Noises, car doors closing, voices - Dean was not alone.

Castiel took a deep breath, and beside him Crowley did the same - both of them ready for whatever version of Dean Winchester might come through that door.


"Hang in there Sammy," Dean begged, as he and Bobby hurriedly carried the younger man up the church steps.

They were being as gentle as they could, but Sam had deteriorated quickly since leaving the cabin.

There were no words for how much Dean hated Kevin's idea. Since he had ended the call he had tried even more desperately to find another solution - but no other solution had presented itself. And with a sinking heart and fear like a knife to the gut, Dean realized that if he didn't do something soon, Sam was going to die.

And watching Sam die was not on Dean's agenda.

Not now - not ever.

As they shouldered open the door, Sam buckled and coughed weakly. The kid was so wasted by fever and sickness that he barely had the energy to cough. Blood dribbled from his lips, and his eyes rolled.

Dean's panic was already at critical levels. There was nothing left to do now apart from get Sam into the church and pray that Crowley was still there. There wasn't even time to check that the church was secure. With adrenalin the only thing keeping him going, Dean was ready to kill anything that might stand between him and helping Sam.

Gun in one hand, and Sam hanging off his other shoulder, he and Bobby burst into the room -

And nearly shot Cas.

It took a moment for Dean's brain to catch up and realize who the man was standing next to Crowley. A thousand emotions charged through his mind, and beside him Bobby tensed and let out a low growl.

"Dean," Castiel said carefully, holding up his hands and backing away slightly. "I ... "

But Dean cut him off, casting aside his shock. Whatever Cas had to say, he could say it later. Right now Sam was their number one priority, and Sam was in a seriously bad way.

"Lay him down over here," Dean directed at Bobby, grabbing the older hunter's attention and steering them towards a nearby wooden pew.

Bobby cooperated, but continued to pin Castiel with a warning glare.

Castiel shifted uncomfortably, but didn't argue. His eyes settled worriedly upon Sam.

Dean was crouched beside his brother's head, speaking quietly, running a reassuring hand through Sam's sweat soaked hair as the younger man twitched upon the pew and continued to cough weakly, crimson spit peppering his lips.

Dean threw a desperate look at Castiel. "Can you do anything for him?" He already knew the answer from what Cas had said previously about not being able to heal Sam, but he needed to ask, just in case.

Castiel's expression gave away his reply before he'd uttered a word. "Dean ..." he responded brokenly. "I am truly sorry."

"He can't help," Bobby growled. "He's not an angel anymore."

Dean's gaze skipped between his two friends. He'd had a sinking feeling that that was the case. He wanted so badly to know what, exactly, Cas had done to turn Heaven inside out, but like so many other questions it would just have to wait.

"I'm sorry," Castiel said, accepting the accusation. "I should never have trusted Metatron."

"None of you feathered idjits should be trusted," Bobby spat.

Dean was desperate to carry the conversation further, but right now was not the time. He turned his attention back to Sam.

God, he was sorry. He was so sorry that it had come to this. But beyond that, he was sorry he'd ever let the kid take on these stupid trials. For as long as he could remember, he and Sam had been fighting this ridiculous war, and neither of them had ever asked for any of it.

"You know what my greatest sin is?" Dean leaned close to his brother, his words for Sam's ears only. "It's all the times I've let you down." He let his hand linger on Sam's burning forehead. "You hear me, Sammy? Because I've lost count. And now I have to choose between the lesser of two evils, and there's no way for me to come out of this without feeling like I've let you down again."

His voice broke and he took a moment to find it again. "But I can't let you die," he continued, his tone becoming defiant. "Not like this. And I'm sorry if that makes me a bad person, but ..." He stood up, steeling his shoulders. "I'd rather let you down, than let you go."

Not wasting another second Dean moved towards Crowley, swiping the syringe from where it lay on a nearby pew. Roughly he rolled up one of the demon's sleeves and searched for a vein.

Crowley didn't fight. Didn't even try.

That worried Dean and he searched the fallen King's empty eyes. Sadly, he could relate to what he found there - the feeling of having nothing left to lose.

"Dean?" Castiel questioned apprehensively, edging closer.

Dean ignored him. "Make a fist," he ordered, and Crowley did as he was told. Dean wasn't gentle as he hurriedly drew the demon's blood - praying that there was enough demon left in it to do the trick.

"Will this ... help Sam?" Crowley asked hoarsely, watching his blood fill the vial.

Dean didn't answer.

"I hope so," Crowley continued on anyway, his words genuine.

"It has to work," Dean replied, roughly snatching the needle and starting towards Sam.

"Dean -" Castiel appealed.

But Dean didn't want to hear it. He knew the risks. He'd been through them a hundred times in his head.

None of them was worse than Sam dying.

"Seriously, Cas, if you have a better idea you tell me now, or forever hold your peace," the older brother ordered, dropping beside Sam and taking his limp arm. "Because I know how shit this is, and I hate that I'm doing it."

Bobby stepped between Dean and the fallen angel, his stance threatening. Despite his willingness to stand up for Dean's decision, however, he shot a concerned look at Dean.

Dean shook off the older hunter's gaze.

Better than Sam dying.

He repeated it like a mantra, desperate to convince himself, though he was riddled with fear and doubt. He found a vein, and as gently as possible, began to inject Crowley's blood into his brother. Tears filled his eyes as he did so, but he didn't dare stop.

"I'm so sorry, Sammy," he repeated again. When the last of the blood had disappeared into his brother's vein, he withdrew the syringe and watched, waiting - not sure exactly what he was watching and waiting for.

Bobby came closer and placed a hand on Dean's shoulder. "What now?" he asked uncertainly.

Dean checked Sam's pulse. It was as uneven as it had been a minute ago. And perspiration still lined his brow. His skin was still just as pale, and he shook just as badly. "I don't know," he admitted, fear churning his gut.

Was the blood enough?

Did he need more?

Castiel was on Dean's other side, face set in concern. He didn't speak - just watched, holding his breath like the rest of them.

And suddenly, Sam held his breath as well.

"Sammy?" Dean demanded, sensing the change. Hands fluttered to Sam's neck, feeling for a pulse. "No," he breathed, when he couldn't find one. "No no no -"

Bobby grabbed Sam's legs, and Dean his shoulders. Together they pulled the youngest Winchester off the pew and onto the floor. Castiel stepped back, face ashen as Dean began pumping his brother's chest, pinching Sam's nose and breathing into the slack, blood-stained mouth.

"Come on," Dean begged as he worked, frantic. "You're not allowed to do this Sam." His voice broke into sobs. "You promised. You promised that you would survive this -"

Bobby stood, hand over his mouth, eyes welling as he watched the tragic scene unfolding before them.

Dean refused to give up. He continued to breathe for his brother, sobbing, begging. When Bobby tried to pull him away because it was obvious that Sam was gone, Dean fought him off.

Castiel dropped onto the pew, head falling in grief and shock.

Dean refused to look at either of them. His eyes were fixed upon Sam, willing his brother back to life. "No deal, Sammy," he stated, rejecting the situation. "You don't get to die. It's not an option. You listen to me -"

Sam's chest hitched.

A cough erupted suddenly.

Dean was startled, and then bowled over by relief. Scrambling, he got an arm under Sam's shoulders and gently turned him onto his side.

Bobby was beside him in a heartbeat, helping to steady Sam as the younger man coughed and gasped.

"That's it," Dean praised, his voice refusing to work as his panic subsided and gave way to fresh hope. Stars swam as lightheadedness threatened to overwhelm him. He planted a hand firmly upon Sam's arm he steadied himself, counting his breaths and slowly regaining control.

Bobby's teary eyes met his. "You boys are gonna send me back to the grave," he whispered shakily, clearly as floored by relief as Dean was.

Dean pressed a hand against Sam's neck, monitoring the now steady pulse. Sam was still unconscious, but he was breathing and his heart was beating - which was an improvement on his condition a moment ago. It also seemed that Sam wasn't shaking so hard, and though his skin still felt hot, it wasn't as hot. Dean forced his rising hope back down, reminding himself that it was too early to get excited.

"Do you think it's working?" Castiel asked, eyes bright.

Dean couldn't bet on it, but he also couldn't argue that something seemed to be giving Sam new strength. "He's fighting," he confirmed. "But he's not out of the woods yet." He hated what came out of his mouth next, "I think, maybe... Maybe we should give him a little more."

Bobby cursed under his breath, but also couldn't deny that it seemed to be the best option. He grabbed the syringe and moved over to Crowley, who once again put up no argument at his blood being roughly drawn.

"Sammy?" Dean pressed, leaning close to Sam's ear and keeping a hand upon Sam's shoulder reassuringly. "You hearing me? You keep fighting okay." He watched protectively as Bobby gently injected more of Crowley's blood into Sam's arm, feeling nauseous at the sight and what they were willingly doing. He brushed at Sam's sweaty bangs. How was he ever going to justify this to Sam? Sam would never forgive him if he found out.

"He can never know," Dean whispered, coming to the harrowing conclusion.

Bobby raised an eyebrow at him, placing the syringe to the side - out of sight once more.

"He can't know about this," Dean said more loudly, glancing first at Bobby, then at Castiel, making sure they understood. "Do you know what it would do to him, knowing that I'd done this?" Spots came across his vision and bile rose in his throat.

Sam murmured, grabbing Dean's full attention.

"Hey," Dean soothed, brushing at Sam's hair again, watching as Sam's brow furrowed. "That's it buddy, open your eyes. Come on."

But Sam was still too weak.

"Probably for the best that he doesn't wake up here," Bobby stated. "If you don't want him to have questions, then we should get him out of here."

Despite Dean's reluctance to move Sam just yet, the older hunter had a point.

"Don't get me wrong," Bobby continued. "I hate the thought of lying to the kid. But Sam's got enough on his mind just getting through this - admitting we're still in the church because we're pumping him full of diluted demon blood to help him get better is probably not gonna go down well."

Again Dean had to fight the urge to vomit at the reality of what they were doing to Sam.

But...

He placed a hand upon Sam's brow. The fever was definitely beginning to subside. If they continued to inject Sam, at this rate, he could be conscious within the hour. Wishful thinking, sure, but a possibility nonetheless.

"We need to go," Dean agreed, starting to get an arm under his brother's shoulders and prop him up. Sam sagged and flopped like a rag doll, murmuring, but not shaking nearly as badly.

Bobby took the syringe and filled it again. "One for the road," he mumbled. Then he turned to Dean and nodded down at Crowley. "As much as I want to drown him in the lake, I'm guessing you want to bring him along for the ride."

"He might be useful," Dean admitted, though the admission was painful. He wanted Crowley dead as much as Bobby.

"I'll do whatever it takes, if it helps make things right," the demon pledged, eyes red with tears.

Bobby growled, knocking Crowley out with a single punch. The effort left him slightly breathless. "Nothing," he spat. "Will ever make things right."

And wasn't that the truth.

"And you," Bobby turned his attention to Castiel, who was helping Dean get Sam to his feet. "If you ever, and I mean ever, hurt these boys again ..." His voice thinned out as he searched for the right words.

Castiel finished for him, seeming to accept the threat as appropriate and deserved. "You will not hesitate to kill me."

Bobby's eyes narrowed, and he nodded once in confirmation.

"I understand," Castiel acknowledged, brokenly. "And I would not blame you."

Dean shifted to get a better grip on his brother. "Once Sam's better, I think we all need to sit down and have a long overdue chat," he grunted, appreciating Bobby's protective words, but finding himself unable to be wholeheartedly angry at Cas. The angel had done what he'd thought was right, and even though the outcome was less than ideal, the motivation behind his actions hadn't been bad.

Right now, Dean could relate to that. Silently he hoped and prayed that if, when, Sam found out, that the younger brother would see that they had done what they had done because they cared. Their motivation was also good.

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions ... Dean swallowed roughly.

Didn't he know it.

Holding tight to his brother, with Cas on the other side, they gently carried Sam out of the church. As they pushed through the large front doors, Dean blinked back memories from the night before when he'd burst from the same church with Sam crumpled in agony, slipping down the front stairs before collapsing in the mud beside the Impala.

"I've got you little brother," he said now, echoing his words from last night. "You're going to be just fine."

Thankfully, now, Sam's condition seemed to be improving - not getting worse.

Bobby followed with Crowley, dragging the half conscious demon by the collar. He moved straight to the trunk, throwing it open. Before shoving him in, he made sure Crowley was out cold. "Can't have you awake back there with all those weapons," he growled.

Dean let Cas hold Sam while he climbed into the back seat. It felt weird sitting in the back of his own car, but he couldn't bare to let go of his younger brother. Gently he pulled Sam across his lap, holding him firm and placing a hand upon his chest. It rose and fell reassuringly, Sam's heart beating steadily now.

Bobby leaned in and Dean handed over the keys, accepting the full syringe.

Castiel lingered outside, unsure, as Bobby dropped behind the wheel. The Impala started with a roar, and Dean felt the vibrations travel through his back as he leaned against the door.

Bobby peered at the fallen angel. "You coming or what?"

Castiel looked between the two hunters. "I ... I don't have to, if you would rather I stay here."

Dean cut in before Bobby had a chance to take Cas up on the offer. "Get in the car, Cas," he ordered.

Castiel only hesitated a moment longer, before dropping into the front passenger seat. "Thank you," he said genuinely.

Bobby ignored him. "Where to?" he asked, eyes meeting Dean's in the rear view mirror. "I feel like a bloody chauffeur."

Holding Sam tighter, Dean squeezed a half smile. "Batcave."

In the mirror, Bobby's brow furrowed as he stepped on the gas and steered them down the dirt road that all of them hoped they would never have to see again.

"I owe you a bottle of whisky," Dean confirmed.

Bobby's expression remained skeptical, but Dean knew that he would be true to his word. The Men of Letters had liked their top shelf liquor, and Dean had just the bottle in mind.

"We're going home, Sammy," he said quietly to his brother, comforting.

"And what, exactly, is this 'Batcave'?" Bobby asked, still thinking it was a joke.

Dean pondered.

What was the Batcave to him and Sam?

Well, that was simple.

A smile cracked over his face. The first smile in days. There was no denying the warmth in his voice as he answered honestly

"Home."


End.

Thanks so much for reading :)