Dean knelt beside his brother with one hand on Sam's shoulder and stared up at the lights streaming across the sky. It was like the world's most fantastic meteor shower, but these weren't harmless rocks falling, these were angels.
"What's happening?" Sam's words were barely discernible through the gasping wheezes of his breaths.
"Angels," Dean says in a dumbstruck tone. "They're falling."
"Oh." Sam sounded only mildly interested.
Dean stared up at the sky, transfixed. The gravity of what had happened settled over him, and he felt fear curdling his gut. The angels were falling, Cas was falling, and Cas was who he needed now. Would he be able to hear him still? Would he be able to heal Sam even if he could hear? Dean had a hundred questions, the most important of which was how he was going to be able to fix his brother now.
As if to counterpoint Dean's worry, Sam's head lolled to the side and rested against Dean's hand.
"it's okay, Sammy," he said, still staring up at the sky. "You're going to be fine."
"I know," Sam said in a weak voice.
There was something in Sam's breathy wheeze that drew Dean's attention from the calamity happening in the sky. He looked down and was shocked to see that Sam's white skin was even paler than it had been a minute again, and instead of drawing rasping breaths, now he was breathing in short gasps.
He wasn't fine. That much was clear. He was deathly ill and Dean's miracle worker was out of sight and probably out of action.
A hospital, Dean thought. He had to get Sam to a hospital.
He pushed himself to his feet and looped his arms through Sam's armpits. Locking his knees, he heaved Sam to his feet. "Come on, Sammy. We're going to get you help."
Sam's head bobbed. Whether in agreement or because he couldn't hold it steady Dean didn't know and didn't like to think. He braced Sam against the side of the car with a hand at his chest and fumbled in his pockets for the keys.
"Gotta sit," Sam said in a moan.
"I know, buddy. Let me get you into the car and you can rest all you like."
Sam shook his head. "Can't." His legs gave way beneath him and Dean didn't have a tight enough grip on him to hold him upright. Sam slid to the floor, leaning back against the car again. His head fell back against the door and his eyes closed.
"No, Sam!" Dean said harshly. "You've got to stay awake."
Sam's eyes opened to half-mast and he nodded. "'Kay."
Momentarily forgetting the importance of getting Sam to a hospital, Dean squatted beside his brother and placed his hands on Sam's cheeks, tilting his heavy head up to look at him. "I mean it, Sam. You have to stay awake." Something more than simple fear was gripping Dean now, it was more like terror. Unless he was much mistaken, Sam was slipping away, and he was at a loss to help him.
Sam's eyes opened and he locked stares with Dean. "Trying."
"I know you are, but you have to try a little harder." If he could just keep him awake, Dean was sure he could fix him. He was terrified of Sam closing his eyes.
"Sorry, Dean," Sam said, "really."
"You've got nothing to be sorry for," Dean said. "We're going to get you help."
"I know." Despite the positive reply, something in Sam's voice scared Dean. He sounded accepting, as if he knew what was coming and he was ready for it to be over.
"Don't you even think it, Sam," he said through gritted teeth. "Don't you leave me again!"
Sam smiled and his eyes slid closed.
Dean released Sam's cheeks and gripped his shoulders instead. Sam's head lolled down so his chin was resting on his chest. Dean shook him, but Sam's eyes remained stubbornly closed. Dean's hands came to tangle in his hair and despair swept through him as Sam fell to the side. Dean caught him and eased his passage down to the ground gently, as if any jostling would harm his brother further.
Sam's head rolled to the side, exposing his neck, and with trembling hands, Dean reached out two fingers to his throat. His heart hovered in his throat as felt for the steady pounding of life beneath his fingertips. There was none. Sam was as silent and still as… the dead.
Dead! The word reverberated around Dean's mind. Dead! Dead! Dead!
"Sam! No!" he shouted.
He gripped Sam's shoulders and shook him. There was no resistance; Sam was as pliable as a sack of flour.
"Sam, please, wake up," Dean begged, though deep down, in his heart of hearts, he knew his brother had gone beyond his beckoning.
Tears pricked at his eyes and fell down onto Sam's face, mingling with the rain that was falling. A light breeze swept past them, ruffling Sam's hair. No hand came up to smooth it. Sam was gone and Dean was prone by grief.
He gripped his brother's shoulders and wound his arms around his back, pulling him against his chest. "Sammy, please. Please don't go."
There was no answering voice, no movement. Sam remained quiescent in Dean's arms.
Everything was forgotten. The angels streaming through the sky, the rain, the fear, it was all gone along with Sam, leaving debilitating agony behind.
He had been here before, and the situations were remarkably similar. It had been raining then too, in Cold Oak, as he'd held his brother in his arms as the life had bled out of him. He couldn't believe he was here again.
Dean sobbed his brother's name as he rocked him in his arms. He knew he was holding a corpse, that his brother was gone, but he couldn't bear to let him go.
Not until the bright shining light of hope kindled in his heart.
His eyes travelled to the door of the church and he knew he had a way to make this aching grief end. He had the solution.
He eased his brother down to the ground. Shrugging off his jacket, he laid it under Sam's head. He carefully moved Sam's arms so he looked like he was comfortable, and then he pushed himself to his feet. Taking one last searching look at his brother, he turned and walked through the door of the church.
Crowley was chained to the chair, but the look of fear that had been etched across his features when Dean had seen him last was gone, replaced by a look of satisfaction.
"I heard the show," he said superciliously. "And I know why you're here."
Dean crossed his arms over his chest. "Can you do it?"
Crowley nodded. "I can, doesn't mean I will, though. Moose is gone, Squirrel. Best thing you can do is make peace with that and move on."
Dean shook his head. He couldn't make peace with it. It was Sam. He couldn't let him go.
Crowley sighed. "I'm trying to help you out here, can't you see that? I make a deal with you, and you get dragged to Hell by my pups. What do you think is going to happen to your brother then? You think he'll thank you?"
"I'm not betting my soul," Dean said harshly. "I'm betting yours."
Crowley's brow furrowed with confusion. "How's that?"
Dean forced a smile. "I will cure you. Turn you into a human again, with a human soul and human conscience. I will make you feel every damn thing you've done over the years and I will laugh as you hurt. You know I can do this. I have nothing left to lose."
"You think? My brother is dead, Crowley. You really think I won't make you pay for what you've done to us. What you did to Bobby?"
Crowley strained against the chains holding him in place. "You wouldn't!"
Dean crossed to the table where the tools and blood Sam had been using were left. Dean choked up for a moment as he thought of his brother working here not an hour ago. His brother living, breathing, and not lying dead on the dirt outside.
He wiped at the tears streaming down his face and turned back to Crowley. "What do you say?"
"There are rules," he said. "I can't make a demon deal without a soul."
"You're the King of Hell," Dean said. "You brought Samuel back. I know you can do this."
Crowley groaned and quit struggling against the chains holding him in place. "Okay, Winchester. You've got yourself a deal."
Sam knew he was dying, he could feel the life leaving him, and he was okay with that. There were regrets of course, he would be leaving Dean behind, but the pull of rest was greater than the regret. He wanted nothing more than to be at peace. He had once hoped for a normal life with college and a job and love, but that was only ever a dream. He was doomed to life as a hunter. He had been since he was six months old.
He heard Dean calling to him, begging him to stay, but it was muted and easily ignored. Sam needed peace and so did Dean. Once he had moved on from the grief, he would be free to live and be without the burden of his brother. It was the best thing for them both.
He felt the weight of his last exhale leaving him, and then he was weightless. For a moment, he was suspended above himself, seeing Dean easing him down to the ground, and then he was gone in a haze of white light.
The last time he'd found himself in Heaven, he had been on a blacktop highway, leading to a house at the end. At the house, he had found himself greeted and led inside for a Thanksgiving dinner. It had been an earlier memory recreated him. This time, he was on a dirt track leading to another house, but this one was instantly recognizable as the only real home he'd ever really known.
He knew there should be stacks of cars on either side of the track, but there were none. The dirt track was surrounded by mist. He didn't venture into it; he knew where he needed to go was straight ahead. He plodded along the track, moving towards the house that had long ago burned down in the real world.
As he reached the house and scaled the wooden steps, the door opened and a familiar figure stepped out onto the porch.
"Bobby!" The name came out as an exclamation of shock and pleasure.
Bobby crossed his arms over his chest. "What have you gone and done now?"
Chastened, Sam lowered his head.
He felt arms wrapping around him and patting his back. "It's okay, boy. I know this wasn't your fault."
Sam returned Bobby's embrace and felt a pang of guilt. It had been his fault in a way. He had been ready to let go. Maybe if he'd fought a little more he would been able to stay, despite the fact he hadn't wanted to.
Bobby released him and walked into the house. When Sam didn't follow, he turned and shook his head. "You planning to spend your ever after on my porch?"
Sam smiled. It was good to see that Bobby was the same cantankerous old man he'd always been, even in death.
He walked through the door and into the study. Everything was exactly as it had been the last time Sam was here. There were stacks of books spread about the place. The desk was overflowing with papers scrawled with notes, and a heavy tome was open in front of Bobby's chair. The air smelled of whiskey and old spice and there were dust motes dancing in the light streaming through the windows.
Bobby saw Sam's wonder as he stared around the room. "They did a good job with the place, didn't they?"
Sam nodded. "They did. Only…" He didn't know how to articulate his confusion without offending Bobby. Ash had told them about Heaven, how it was billions of heavens all pressing up against each other with the garden in the centre. He didn't understand what he was doing in Bobby's heaven.
"But what are you doing here?" Bobby asked.
Sam rubbed at the back of his neck uncomfortably. "Yeah."
"Things have changed, Sam," Bobby said soberly. "The angels have gone, and they were our police force They made sure we weren't hopping around into each other's heavens, confusing things."
"So, I had Ash grab you at the gate and bring you here. He says hey by the way."
"You mean I've got a heaven waiting out there somewhere for me?"
Bobby shrugged his shoulders. "I guess. I reckon we can find it for you if you want."
Sam considered carefully. If what he had seen last time was his real heaven, an eternity of memories, he wasn't sure if he wanted it again. An eternity here with Bobby was so much more appealing. "I think I'm happy where I am," he said.
Bobby's face creased into a wide smile. "Good. Now, tell me how exactly you ended up here this time."
"You remember the trials I told you about?" he asked. "The final one was curing a demon. The price was death. I could have finished the trials, but it would have killed me."
Bobby frowned. "You could have finished the trials. You mean you didn't?"
"Dean stopped me," Sam said. "But something went wrong. The trials were affecting me somehow, changing me, but when I stopped before finishing, I let it go." He shuddered as he remembered the pain that had surged through him. "It didn't stop. It…"
"It killed you," Bobby finished for him. He shook his head. "I don't know, boy, you and your brother seem to keep racking up the wins but get slammed down every time."
Sam scrubbed a hand over his face. "It's not so bad."
"You want to be dead?" There was poorly suppressed anger in Bobby's tone.
Sam knew what he was thinking. Bobby, having dodged his reaper in able to stay with him and Dean, would be furious if he knew Sam had just quit like he had. He couldn't lie to Bobby though. He deserved better.
"Maybe not dead, but I know I was tired. I was ready for some peace."
"You were tired!" Bobby's jaw tightened. "Dammit, Sam. You want a rest, you take a nap. You want some peace, you go on vacation. You don't die."
"It's not like I killed myself," Sam said defensively. "I didn't have a choice."
"You always have a choice. You fight against whatever they throw at you and you beat it back. Are you telling me you didn't even do that?"
Sam fixed his eyes on the tatty looking floor beneath his feet. "I guess I was ready."
Bobby paced the length of the room. "You left Dean behind because you were ready? Hell, I thought I taught you boys better than that. Your poor brother. What do you think he's doing now? Burying you? Salting and burning your body? Maybe he's not up to that part yet; he's probably still crying over you."
"He'll get past it," Sam said. "He'll see this is for the best. I'm supposed to be dead."
Bobby snorted. "Sure, because Dean is known for letting things go. If he's not running around now looking for a way to get you back I'll sprout wings and do a few loop the loops."
"It's for the best," Sam said stubbornly.
"For Dean? No, it's not. He needs you, Sam, and you know that."
Sam knew Dean thought he needed him, but given time, he would see this was the right thing. It was long past Sam's time to die, and it wasn't like he'd been doing a stellar job as a brother anyway.
He rallied for a way to explain it to Bobby, to make him understand, but at that moment the door swung open and another familiar figure ran inside.
Ash panted. "Yeah, it's me, and I'd say it's good to see you again, Sam, but we've got bigger things to worry about right now."
Sam's eyes widened. "What do you mean?"
"I was hanging in the garden, just chilling, when this big ass cloud of smoke came out of nowhere."
"Red smoke?" Sam asked, suspicion creeping over him like a cloak.
Ash nodded. "I figured it had something to do with you. It followed me through your heaven and the eternal Sunday morning of an elderly couple before I lost it."
"What's the red smoke, Sam?" Bobby asked.
"Crowley," Sam said through gritted teeth.
"Dean." Bobby sighed. "He's made another damn deal."
Sam gasped. "He can't have!"
"Ya think? I don't see why not. It's what he did last time, isn't it?"
Sam groaned and hid his face in his hands. How could Dean have done this? Why would he have done it? Sam was at peace, dammit, he was done. Why couldn't Dean let that be the end?
"You better run, boy."
Sam raised his head. He was shocked that Bobby was telling him to run when he had made it clear that he thought Sam was supposed to be with Dean.
The second it took for him to consider Bobby's reaction stole any chance Sam had of escaping. The smoke streamed through the open door and surrounded Sam. It streamed around him, obscuring his vision so all he could see was red.
"Bobby!" He couldn't stop himself crying out, hoping for rescue, but no rescue came. He felt himself being lifted into the air and then there was a crippling pain.
He felt the snap as he was forced into his body again. Lying still, with his eyes closed and mouth slightly parted, he emulated death for another moment as he tried to come to terms with what had happened.
He was back, he knew that much. He could feel the aches and pains of his body and the light rain that spattered his face. His head was pillowed on something soft and his hand was resting on the cool mud.
A voice spoke beside him and he felt a hand come to rest on his cheek. "Sammy, please wake up. Please be okay. You have to be okay."
Sam knew that voice, and it was that voice alone that could have forced him to take a deep breath and crack his eyes open. As little as he wanted to, he knew what Dean had done to bring him back had to be dealt with.
Sam pushed himself to a sitting position, and Dean hurried to help him. He leaned against the side of the car and looked at Dean. His eyes were red and there were still tear tracks drying on his face.
"You made a deal," Sam stated, the weight of his sadness evident in his voice.
Dean shook his head. "No! Well, yeah, but not like you're thinking. I made Crowley an offer he couldn't refuse."
Sam raised an eyebrow. "You did?"
"I did. No one's going to Hell this time, Sam. It's over."
Sam nodded slowly. That was one problem dealt with. Dean wasn't headed for Hell again.
Against his will, tears came to his eyes and spilled down his cheeks.
"Sammy?" Dean's voice was thick with concern. "Are you in pain?"
Sam thumbed away the tears. "No, I'm fine."
He was ripped out of Heaven, dragged away from his friends, but he had to be okay.
Dean needed him to be okay.