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He who endures, overcomes by Ophium

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HE WHO ENDURES, OVERCOMES

The one good thing about having your windpipe almost crushed by a centuries old, sadistic, hell-bent on revenge, demon? It gives you one awesome way to avoid uncomfortable conversations, an excuse to not talk at all.

Because really? What’s more to say? Sorry world, I fucked up and now you’re done?

Somehow, that didn’t strike Dean as nearly enough. He shrugged lower in to the hospital bed, feeling course but clean sheets, rustling against his lower back and pushing his hospital-borrowed shirt up. He didn’t really care. It all seemed so small and, at the same time, so utterly large to warrant his attention or care.

Turning to the side, Dean rubbed his face against the over-used pillow, cleaning the tear tracks streaking his face. Hide the evidence. He did not have the energy to lie to Sam, or any of the nurses that insisted on coming by to check, and say that he was ok. He wasn't ok. He was so far from ok that the question didn't even apply. And yet... how could he feel sorry for himself when it was all his fault? What right did he have to wallow in self-pity when he wasn't worthy of pity at all?

Pity was reserved for those who were redeemable, for those whose mistakes could be solved and fixed, for those who still had hope.

There’s pity to be had for the man who dies alone, abandoned by life, by his family.

There’s pity to be had for the man who loses everything and has no one to turn to.

There’s even pity to be had of the man who took everything from someone else and finds himself still lacking.

There would be no pity to be had for the man who'd damned humanity and destroyed the world.

No pity for him.

The ceiling of Dean’s room has a huge water stain right above the door. It was shaped like a bird. A dove, or maybe it was a crow. It was just a dirty stain.

Like him.

Heaven might want to make him look like some sort of savior, shaping him up to be their last hope. Hell might want to turn him in to some sort of prodigal student, shaping him up to be Alistair’s follower. His father might've wanted him to save Sam, shaping him up to be another John Winchester; but in the end? Dean was just a stain, with no real shape, just falling under whichever illusion the others saw in him. And failing, always failing to be what they wanted him to be.

The quiet and persistent bip-bip-bip of his heart monitor, broken only by the occasional wvrrrrr sound of the cuff on his arm, worked like a metronome. Quietly and persistently, they continued marking the time it took between each of his heart’s pumps, each and every time that it kept him alive for a little while longer, each and every time his heart refused to give up on him.

Dean closed his eyes, willing his heart to stop beating like he had willed that chandelier to fall down, just two days ago, when he was a ghost. Only, he wasn’t a ghost now and all that he could do then, he couldn’t now. So his heart kept on beating, the bip-bip-bip annoying and unstoppable. Making sure that he was alive to witness the consequences of his failure, of his weakness.

Weakness. He had been weak for one time and this was the price to pay.

Only it wouldn't be him paying it, would it?

Dean thought about all the people he knew, all the people he loved, all the people he and Sam had ever helped. All gone, lost because he had been too weak to last just a few more fucking days!

He was weak and pathetic, just like Sam had said. Why couldn't the angels just face that and search for a better man, a more capable man, in whose hands the fate of the world would be safer?

He couldn't be their final hope, he couldn't be anyone's hope. And if God ever planned anything ahead, He should've just left him in Hell and...

Sam had said he wanted to talk when he got back. Said there was something that he had to tell him. Not something he wanted to tell him, but something he had to tell him. Like he knew that Dean was going to find it out sooner or later and had decided that the lesser evil would be to hear it from his brother’s mouth.

Dean guessed that it had something to do with his sorry ass beaten to a pulp, the fuzzy memory of seeing Castiel getting his ass handed to him as well, and Alistair being dead. Not escaped, not back in Hell, but dead.

Alistair was one hell (the pun is there, no way to walk around it) of an adversary and now he was dead. Someone had killed him. And Sam had something that he had to tell him. Dean’s brain might have been a bit low on oxygen by the time he arrived at the hospital, but even his starved neurons could see the connection there.

So, maybe Castiel had it all backwards. Maybe he’d gotten the right family, just the wrong Winchester. Because dad had lasted forever under Alistair's attentions and never broke and Sam... Sam could KILL a powerful demon using nothing but his powers and Dean couldn’t even get information out of one, even when it was trapped and at his mercy.

Mercy.

The one thing that Dean could still claim as his own, was the one thing that was stripped away from him as soon as he entered that room to torture a bound Alistair and the poor bastard that he was possessing.

Like all the poor bastards that he had tortured bellow, because everyone thought that he was a righteous man and so he had to break and shed some blood. And like puppets, they had all played their parts to the letter.

Why hadn’t he followed his instincts like Tessa had told him to? Why had he fooled himself in to thinking that he was actually doing God’s work by torturing Alistair? By torturing the poor guy that was being ridden by Alistair? Why the hell had he simply laid his common sense at the door and followed, just because Castiel asked him to?

And this was the man that the angel thought – hoped – would save them all? Castiel was so wrong about it that it was almost laughable.

A cosmic joke, if ever he heard one.

And he wasn’t strong enough to be the punch line. He was tired of being punched by life.

Dean opened his eyes, the room as empty as it had been before, the bip-bip-bip sound filling it more than it should, the smell of antiseptic and weakness contaminating the air until it was stifling.

The walls were too near, skimming in between the sickly hospital yellow and the gray, blood smeared walls of the slaughter house. And how fitting it was that the angels had taken him and Alistair to a slaughter house?

It was dark outside. Dean could see that much from the tiny window in his room. He had no idea what time it was, but he figured half the hospital was asleep already. Normal people having normal dreams, or even normal nightmares. What Dean wouldn’t give for normal dream, even normal nightmares; instead, all he saw when he closed his eyes was blood and guts, his, the others, the world’s.

The taste of blood that he could still feel in his throat was becoming overwhelming, more real, more prevalent than any of the hospital smells around him.

It was closing in on him. Suffocating him. Suddenly, Dean had to get out, out of that room, out of the confining space that pressed on him from all sides. He looked at the door, hoping that no one would come, a few minutes was all he would need.

Experience would guide him and he knew what to do. Too many times, after a hunt gone sideways, he or Sam, had made a clandestine exit from a hospital. Wounds stitched and medicated, body rested enough for one final exodus, a quick disappearing act before fake insurances could be verified and found faulty.

Taking stock of how many wires and tubes he would have to get rid of before going anywhere, he started with the easiest, pulling the grey velcro cuff attached to his right arm. With his right hand free, Dean awkwardly felt around the pajama bottoms that the hospital had dressed him in, confirming that this time at least, there was no pee-tube up his junk. That would've been a bitch to remove on his own.

With practiced gestures that were becoming disturbingly familiar, and willing his fingers to stop trembling, Dean carefully removed the IV line from his hand and the electrodes attached to his chest, pushing the coarse sheets away and tested his legs against the cold floor. Sitting up, the world was swinging and dancing around him, but Dean knew that he had only a couple of seconds to turn off the alarms connected to his bed, if he didn't wanted his room filled with concerned doctors and nurses, all wondering why his heart was nothing but a flat line in the screen.

Saving the worst for last, Dean pulled the oxygen tube from around his ears and away from his nostrils. He took a cautious breath. Without the aid of pure oxygen being supplied with no effort to his lungs, it was harder to breath than he expected. The air felt heavy and dry.

Again, risking going deeper this time, Dean tested his lungs, wincing when they refused to expand to barely more than shallow. It would have to do.

Finally, reaching up, one hand gripping the bed frame tightly, Dean fumbled with a couple of buttons before hitting the right one that silenced the alarm. It wasn't as fancy as disconnecting a high security alarm to steal a priceless piece of art, but then again, nothing of worth was really being stolen here.

Silence filled the place at last. Silent enough that the voices inside his head could know scream at will. The voices of the souls he tortured in Hell; Alistair's voice, sweetly whispering in his ear how good he was with that blade; the voice of his father, minutes before his death, saying how proud he was of his son.

Dean closed his eyes, hands foolishly covering his ears, like that would stop the internal sounds from doing anything. He needed out, he needed someplace where no one could look at him and see how much of a disappointment he really was.

The roof.

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o

It was snowing outside. Tiny wisps of white cotton, gently rolling around in the wind, caught in a nonstop twirl of ups and downs before gathering on the ground and changing the colors of everything in to monochromatic tones.

That was the beautiful part. It was also cold enough to freeze Hel... it was very cold.

When he had stepped outside, for the first couple of minutes he stood still, eyes drifting shut, welcoming the cold as it quickly began drying away the uncomfortable sweat on his back and forehead. That moment was gone, and the cold wasted no time enveloping him in its frozen grasp. Dean wrapped his arms around his t-shirt clad torso and shivered. Tomorrow he would have a bitch of a cold to deal with. Even if tomorrow felt like such an alien concept right now.

Tomorrow.

Tomorrow meant talking to Sam; tomorrow meant allowing Castiel to believe that he had accepted his fate; tomorrow was one more chance to meet a demon that would actually thank him for bringing on the apocalypse.

Now that he thought about it, Dean didn't wanted a tomorrow. He was too tired to have a tomorrow. He was tired of his own aching body, of his own limitations. Tired of watching people die and being left behind; even Sam, while he was still physically there, he wasn't really there. Just like everything else, he'd lost Sammy.

Defeated.

Dean was just tired of always feeling like he could never win. Like he wasn't born to succeed, at anything. He was fucking tired of his own existence.

Sam had told him to stop being tired and start being angry. Dean didn't have the strength left to be angry. But he could stop being tired.

He could stop that pit that kept growing larger and larger inside his chest, he could stop the darkness in him from spreading out and damning all the others. And maybe, just maybe, with him gone, Heaven would wise up to the fact that they had the wrong guy and find the right person for this job. This insurmountable task that he did not want in the first place. A burden he was too broken to take.

It could be just that easy. One foot over the railing, and let gravity take care of the rest.

And for what felt like the longest of times, Dean finally felt almost... happy. Relieved.

Staring into the darkness, he found himself a purpose. He had a goal.

Teeth chattering, Dean moved slowly to the edge. Down there, there was nothing but white, covering the ground and two cars, parked far enough for him to miss them. It was an absurd notion, but Dean didn't wanted his broken body messing up someone's parked car.

The white floor looked fluffy from above, soft enough to make Dean almost doubt if the four-story fall would be enough to get the job done. He shook his head, dismissing the crazy pain-medication-induced thoughts. The very same medication that was starting to wear off now that he had pulled his IV out. He guess that too was deserved... why should he have this moment, this pain, dulled by drugs?

This, at least, was a job Dean felt he could do; the only one that he was sure would bring some good in the end, if for no one else other than himself. The one job that, if you believe the Bible and its teachings, would land his tarnished soul right back in Hell, where he belonged. The one place from which he never should’ve left.

The way out, the tiny glimpse of freedom that he could already smell, was now within reach. Dean could take his fate back in his hands, could stop that crushing feeling of being used and abused and still found lacking. He could end it all, now, before Sam came back and he lost his nerve.

The righteous man who begins it, is the only one who can finish it, Castiel had said. Dean would make sure that he wouldn't be around to finish anything else.

Dean was faintly aware of the selfishness of this act, but right now, he didn't really care. All that he could think about was Alistair's face, looming over his, punching him with such intimacy that it felt wrong, and familiar, and a welcome home son! And Dean knew that Alistair wouldn't be in Hell anymore to great him when he got there, and that absence was almost as painful as the demon's fists on his body.

But Dean was sure that there would be others who would gladly replace the ancient demon and make him pay, and thank him and make him one of their own until Dean didn't care anymore, until he was as inhuman as he felt right now.

The snow touching his cold skin would be a warm memory down stairs. Dean raised his head and closed his eyes, took that first step, ceased thinking and...

"Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall," a voice said from somewhere near the access door.

Startled, Dean found himself gripping the edge of the roof’s balcony with both hands, afraid to lose his precarious balance, fingers slipping on the wet and cold railing.

Despite his racing heart at having been caught unaware, blood wildly thumping against his ears, the irony of the situation wasn’t lost on Dean. No, there he was, ready to end his life, gripping the edge of the roof in fear of falling down.

He tried taking a deep breath to collect himself and quiet his heart. Ended up in a coughing fit.

“Hey, buddy? You ok?” The voice sounded again, this time considerably closer.

Dean had to act fast, or he wouldn’t be able to act at all. This was it, the turning point, his last chance of escape. If he failed now, Sam would be made aware of Dean’s intentions and convince him not to do it. Heck, he'd probably have his ass committed to a psych ward for even trying... and Castiel would probably be ordered to stop him, then frown deeply at him like a scolding parent; and Bobby would give him one of his looks, the one that always made Dean feel both loved and foolish at the same time, and… no!

Intent on skipping the soul-searching part, he hurriedly put a foot over the railing, ready to just move on to the dead part.

On hindsight, hurrying may not have been the best idea. Dean cursed his body when it started tilting dangerously sideways when he wanted it to tilt forward, the weakness and dizziness plotting to save his life. Even it was working against him, dammit!

There was a hand on his arm before Dean could correct the direction of his fall, a strong grip with rough fingers, obviously used to hard work. Dean looked from the hand that gripped him to the man it belonged too. It was one of the orderlies in the hospital. As small as the place was, Dean was sure that he’d seen the man around before.

“Get off!” Dean growled, the sound meant to be menacing but coming out pitiful and feeble when passing through his bruised throat. He tried to pull his arm away, only to find out that he was too weak to escape the stranger’s grasp. Pathetic.

“Easy, buddy,” the man said quietly, like he was talking to a frightened animal that he didn’t want to scare away.

Dean pulled away harder, managing to strain his broken ribs in the process. The movement left him gasping in pain and folding in on himself, riding agony to the floor. The safe floor, the one beneath his feet, not the one he had been aiming for.

The stranger released his hold like he had touched a burning stick, fearful of doing more harm than good.

Dean landed his ass hard on the rough concrete surface, chest muscles contracting like crazy, lungs struggling to filter enough oxygen from the cold air.

The orderly loomed above him, casting quick looks at the door, clearly divided between the need to call someone else do deal with this mess and leaving the suicidal nut alone. In between gasps, Dean realized that the man had reached a decision good enough to solve his problems, but a decision that Dean wouldn’t allow as long as he was conscious.

“Touch me,” he whizzed out, “an' I’ll kill’ya.”

Palms out in front, the man lowered his arms in surrender. "Fine, just... take it easy."

Both men were perfectly aware that he couldn’t’ve kill a fly right now, even if he sat on one, but Dean appreciated the way the stranger respected his wish of not being carried around like a blushing bride or a sack of potatoes.

“I’m Bill,” the stranger said, like they were just a couple of regular guys, waiting for the bus at the stop.

“I don’t care,” Dean replied, happy that his voice had sounded less out of breath and more petulant, just like he intended.

"I know who you are. I was on call last night when they brought you in," the man said casually. "You look better."

Dean snorted. He might look better than a non-breathing corpse, but he still felt like a decomposing one. Tearing and wasting away from the inside out. Couldn't the man see that? Or maybe he was playing nice, trying to lure the crazy man in to a false sense of security so that he could eventually drag him inside.

If that was the plan, the orderly was taking his sweet time to do it.

“You know, anyone else wearing nothing but that flimsy hospital shirt and scrub pants, I'd be warning against catching your death in this cold, but given the circumstances…” the man said, trailing of with a soft smile that was meant to let Dean know that he was only half joking.

Gallows humor. How fitting.

Dean’s teeth, shattering, occasionally punctured the silence that stretched between the two of them. Sam would be returning soon from wherever he’d gone and Dean did not wanted to face him. To face Sam now would be to face everything else that had happened, everything that he had learned. Everything that was expected of him. He couldn't do that. Since he'd left his room, Dean was living on the hope that he wouldn't have to do that.

“Wanna a smoke?” The man asked, his voice punctuated by the flickering of a lighter.

Dean, who had almost forgotten that the man was still standing there, looked up, surprised to see a pack of cigarettes pointing in his direction. He shook his head.

“You know that we’ll have to go inside sooner or later, right?” The man asked, dragging a deep smoke from his cigar. Dean figured that that was what he had been doing up there in the first place. Having a quiet smoke. “I’m freezing my butt off.”

Dean stared down, focused on the wet socks on his feet. He hadn’t even noticed that he was wearing socks. He always figured that he would die with his shoes on.

“Go back inside,” Dean whispered, feeling that his throat didn’t hurt so badly when he talked like that.

The man chuckled. “And leave you here to jump?” He asked, a cloud of smoke coming out from his mouth and nose. “I don’t think so.”

Dean remained silent. He was getting numb all over. His idea of jumping off the building had hit a bit of a snag, but he could still hope for hypothermia. People died of that too, right?

“Last guy who did it, I was the one who had to clean up the mess,” Bill confided. “Have you ever had to pick up a man’s guts?”

Yes, yes I have. Have you ever gutted a man yourself?

“It was not pretty, let me tell you that. Brains scattered all over...” the man went on, not really expecting an answer from the quiet patient. “Main reason why that door’s usually locked, by the way. So, if not for yourself, don’t jump to spare me the work, will’ya?”

“Sorry for the inconvenience,” Dean said, the sarcasm losing its effect in the tremors traveling through his whole body before reaching his voice.

The warmth of a jacket being put around his shoulders felt like a furnace against his frozen skin. Dean would've shrugged it off, on principle alone, if it hadn't felt so good. As it was, he let Bill have that small victory.

“Come on man, lets get you inside,” Bill asked again, more pleading and less joking. “Whatever you’re running from, it can’t be that bad.”

Dean laughed. The sounded seemed deranged even for him. “You have no idea.”

The man crouched down to Dean’s level, fixing his eyes on him. Oddly, the stranger’s brown eyes were the warmest thing on that roof.

“Look, you don’t have to tell me anything, but trust me when I tell you, whatever you’re thinking now, whatever pit you think you're in at this moment, it’s not the end of the world and things will look better in the morning. God! They’ll look better as soon as your skin isn’t frozen blue like it is now.”

Dean stared at the man. He had tried to count the clichés, but lost track around the ‘it's not the end of the world’ bit. Was this guy serious? Or had Dean really dropped that far off from normal that everything that would’ve applied to any other person sounded like a bad joke to him?

But then Dean looked, really looked at the man and realized the real reason for the peep talk, the real reason for the jacket and smokes.

The man was terrified.

And then it finally clicked for Dean. Because that door was supposed to be locked, and Dean had walked right through it, because the orderly had been up there enjoying a smoke had had left it open.

If Dean managed to throw himself off that roof that man, Bill, would be deep in trouble. At the very least, he would end up losing his job. Because of a smoke.

Dean snarled and looked up. “Very funny Man, really funny,” he said without a trace of humor. Maybe it was just a coincidence, maybe it was divine intervention. The way things were lately, Dean could only feel more used, more manipulated.

"What's so funny?" The man asked, genuinely confused, following Dean's gaze up and finding nothing there but an overcast sky.

"Did Castiel put you up to this?" Dean asked, too tired, too cold and too broken to beat around the bush.

The man's confusion grew, as he shook his head no. He was either a very good actor, or really clueless as to what Dean was asking. "He the guy who beat you up?"

In a way, yes.

"No, he wasn't," Dean said, even as the events of the last day replayed inside his head. The way the angels had disregarded his wishes, treating him like he was little more than a blunt instrument; the way Uriel had always looked in disdain at him, finally being able to measure up his actions with his low opinion of the Winchesters; the way Castiel had stood back and done nothing, even when Dean pleaded him to not force his hand.

Uriel might've been a disobedient angel, but he knew - he knew who Dean was, what Dean had done, and he knew what Sam was capable of doing. Uriel had been right to hate them.

In the wake of Uriel's angry gaze, Alistair's face filled Dean's mind. The demon who had subjugated him in Hell, who had succeeded in turning Dean's soul from something the hunter could've been proud of, in to something so horrible and deformed that it was unrecognizable even to Dean. He was bits and pieces of pain and anger, he was revenge and hurt. He was the man who had doomed humanity and destined the world for destruction. Man, he could do a song just with that.

"Hey, buddy, what'd you say we take this party inside?" Bill insisted again. "I really, really don't like the color you're turning. Blue just isn't you."

Dean could see from the shifting of feet and the distressed wrangling to which the man was submitting his hands that the time for indulging the disturbed, suicidal patient had come and was quickly going. Soon, the man would finally put all feelings of understanding and even pity behind his need to cover his own ass and make sure that Dean was back inside and under the care of someone who would surely guarantee that he stayed alive. Shove the problem in to someone else's hands. How Dean wished he could do the same...

Dean nodded and accepted the man's hand to get him up. Honestly he didn't think he could move otherwise. "Fine, lets go."

Bill smiled. "I knew you'd reconsider," he confessed, carefully wrapping an arm around Dean, intent on supporting him back inside. "You sound like a nice guy to whom some not very nice things have happened... you just have to give life a little time to turn around and give you some nice things back, ya know?"

Dean shrugged the man's touch away, human touch and warm jacket falling apart in the same gesture. "What if I told you that I'm not a nice man at all?" Dean asked, meeting the man's brown gaze, daring him to recognize the monster that he was looking at. "What if I told you that I've done things so horrible that if you knew, you'd have nightmares just from hearing about them?"

What if I told you that you and everyone that you love are gonna die because of what I've done?

Bill's face was serious as he picked up his coat and faced Dean. Silently he scrutinized him a moment. "I wouldn't believe you," he said quietly, sensing that this was an important answer to the other man. "Look pal, in my experience, bad people don't have bout's of guilt over the things they've done," Bill went on, urging Dean closer to the door. "And they sure as hell wouldn’t muster a guilt so bad that it leads them to the edge of a tall building,” he said with a dry chuckle. “Besides, judging by those two guys constantly hanging around your room, you have people who actually care about you and bad people, well, they don't get to have concerned friends that won't leave their bedside until they make sure you're ok, do they?"

“Good people are often alone,” Dean said back. “That doesn’t mean anything.”

The man shrugged. “True. Still I think you’re one of the good guys. You gonna stay alive long enough to prove me wrong?”

“My father was a good guy,” Dean said, no longer talking to the orderly. The tears that had been threatening to come back ever since Castiel had left were now back, thicker, harder. Trying their best to wash away Dean's sins and shortcomings. “He would be ashamed of what I did, of what I've became.”

I am ashamed of what I became.

"Look, man, I can't speak for your father but I really think..."

But Dean wasn't listening anymore. His window to escape, to take back the reins of his life was quickly closing. Dean looked covertly at the roof's edge, the image now blurred by the veil of water in his eyes. Dean blinked, forcing his vision to clear. Ten steps and it would all be over, his burden would be gone and Mankind would be free to have a chance at survival. All he had to do was ditch Bill.

Gathering whatever strength he had left, Dean lurched. Dodging right, dropping his shoulder, he pushed Bill against the door, satisfied as the man lose his balance and fell down. Frantically, Dean then lurched left, making for the edge. On determined legs and sock covered feet, he moved, each step a fight for purchase on the slippery, light snow covered floor, each slip and struggled misstep jarring his ribs painfully, but still Dean staggered forward. It wouldn't take much longer for Bill to regain his footing and chase after him.

Five steps and he could jump over, no hesitation, no divine intervention to give him second thoughts, no demonic interference to make sure that he suffered until his last breathe.

Behind him, Dean was faintly aware of Bill, heavy footfalls crunching snow flacks under proper boots, cursing under his breath for being caught unaware by the sudden movement.

And Dean raced harder. The last dash of the desperate man.

For as long as he might live, Dean would never be exactly sure of what happen next.

Fate.

Destiny.

Pure chance.

Dumbest of lucks. Because Bill, the man who'd sneaked out on to the roof to smoke his cigarette in peace; Bill, the man who had forgotten to latch the door's lock in place and had found himself with a suicidal patient on his hands... he was the one who ended up jumping off the roof.

The sequence of events were nearly comical; diving for Dean, Bill slipped in the snow, collided with Dean instead, and somehow, of all the ways he could have fallen, flew over Dean's head and over the edge.

Dean's world stopped.

Dean's breathing stopped.

All that still moved was the snow, slowly twirling around him.

"Help!" Bill's voice flew over the ridge, small and rough with barely contained panic. "Someone, please, help me!"

Dean didn't think twice. All of his life, this was what he'd been trained to do, this was what he loved to do. So, despite everything, despite his broken ribs and aching chest, he just reacted, leaned over the edge and offered his hand.

Bill was hanging by the tips of his fingers, nails bloody and broken from the force he was using, desperate to cling to a five inches ledge that was never meant to support a human body. He looked up, because looking down would mean seeing how far the ground actually was, and saw the broken face of the man he'd been trying to get back inside.

For a small fraction of time, Bill realized that he was screwed. If the patient went back inside to call for help, no one would come in time to do anything more than clean his spilled guts from the parking lot bellow and if he stayed...

Ever since he'd laid eyes on the guy, Bill had marveled at how the man was even standing. The guy had obviously been through hell, God knows what had been done to him to put his body and mental faculties in such a state... he was obviously out of his mind, trapped in some dark corner that had made suicide look like his only option. For all Bill knew, the guy probably had every reason in the world to off himself.

That same man was now leaning down over the edge, face contorted in pain, trying to reach Bill's hands to pull him up.

He was so screwed.

Survival instinct kicked in and, left with only one real option, Bill grasped the offered hand without a second thought about odds and chances of this actually working, his eyes pleading for the guy to just not let him go.

Bill was a big guy. Dean hadn't really been paying attention to it, but now that he thought about it, the guy was probably around Sam's height, with broader shoulders and an easy life that had settled well around his heavy mid-drift.

The second Bill's weight registered, Dean knew this was a mistake. He could feel his broken ribs, un-mended pieces of bone grinding against each other, bruised muscles quickly trembling through an effort that, even on a good day, would test Dean's strength.

He wasn't strong enough for this. He couldn't do it.

Already could he feel the larger weight of the man pulling them both down, the metal guard of the roof's edge, digging painfully in to Dean's hips and stomach, sweaty hands sliding against each other’s wrists.

Dean looked at the man. Barely holding up, his too wide eyes meeting his, pleading, too terrified to say anything anymore. This man was going to be the first victim of Dean's weakness.

The act alone of keeping the man in place, dangling in mid air, was a tremendous struggle. There was no way that Dean could ever force his battered body to sum up the strength to pull Bill up.

The man must've read the realization in Dean's eyes. "Don't let go," he whispered, hopeful that as long as he was touching another person his life could still be saved. Believing that as long as Dean held on, he wouldn't die. It was all he had left.

Dean had no strength left to even answer. If he had, he wouldn't have the words. He couldn't say that everything was going to be ok, the man would see right through his lie. He couldn't ask the man to hang on and give him false hope that he would pull him to safety, it would just sound ridiculous.

But Dean held on, refused to let the man be without hope, refuse to give up on him. If nothing else, when gravity finally won the battle that both men were rapidly losing, Bill would have company in his fall.

And just as he could feel himself tip forward, just as the ground drew one more inch closer, Dean heard the faint rustling of wings. Afraid that the slightest move on his part would send him and Bill over the edge, Dean didn't dare look, but he knew who had arrived. Who had probably been there all along.

Had he come to watch Dean fail one more test? Had he finally understood that Heaven had bet on the wrong horse?

Rather than see, Dean could feel the moment when arms, stronger than his, enveloped him and, in an impossible extension, reached over to grab Bill. The warm, ozoned smell that he had learned to associate with Castiel flooded his senses, even if Dean couldn't see the angel. Then, Castiel's voice flooded his head, absent of panic, radiating comfort, "What ever happens, Dean, you will never again be left to face it alone."

It was calm, luring him in to accept the help, beckoning him to embrace his destiny, his fate. Saving people.

Starting with himself and Bill.

For as long as he might live, Bill would never be exactly sure of what he saw next. And even if you got him drunk enough to talk about anything else, there was not enough alcohol in the world to get him to talk about this.

All he new was that one minute he was trying to make peace with his Creator, praying for a miracle, and the next he wasn't falling anymore. Startled, Bill looked up and in the blink of an eye, for a wink of existence, he knew his prayers had been answered. He just couldn't believe it.

Maybe it was just a trick of the light, maybe it was the overload of adrenaline that had flooded his body in the last couple of minutes, maybe it was the cheese roll that he had eaten for dinner. And maybe, just maybe, it was exactly as he saw it.

Over the pale figure of the patient on the roof, over the street lamps that cast a dim light over the top of the building, Bill was seeing wings. Feathers larger than he had ever seen before, they were real and unreal at the same time, strong in the shadow and flickering in the light, expanding around the patient's body, closing around him like a mist-filled blanket. And then, with a mighty pull that couldn't have possibly come from the exhausted man, Bill was yanked up, back the solid safety of the roof's floor.

Both men lay there, spent and reeling from what had just happened, arms stretched lazily, overlapping one another. The sound of Bill's deep breaths filled the air, large gulps of cold air, those of a man drinking life avidly as he celebrated the fact that, against all odds, he was still alive. "What the hell was that, man?" Bill finally asked, knowing that if he didn't find the courage to ask now, he never would. "Who are you? WHAT are you?"

The wings were gone. And the man laying beside him didn't answer.

Dean couldn't breath right. His abused body had finally reached its limit and was, in no uncertain terms, telling him that it had had enough. It was an off and uncomfortable contrast, between the ice cold on his back, wet snow steadily seeping through his pajamas, and the fire inside his chest. Like a fish out of water, searching for oxygen in all the wrong places, he gasped. Only inches away from him, he turned his head, looking at Bill's face, seeing the renewed panic in the brown orbs, this time not for himself but for Dean. "Don't tell anyone," Dean managed to whisper with the remaining air inside his lungs. "Please."

It wasn't just one thing, exactly, but the rest was lost in his struggle to breath. With his eyes, he pleaded the rest. Begging, don't tell Sam that he had tried to kill himself; don't tell anyone whatever you might have seen when you were pulled up so that you don't get labeled as a nut for telling stories about things that no one really believes anymore; don't tell anyone that Dean had let his weakness get the best of him and had almost taken another man's life in the process; don't tell anyone that the God some of them believed in was a selfish deity that gambled in such a way with people's lives.

Eyes closing softly, he knew what he was feeling; Bill's hands reaching under him and lifted him up like he weighed nothing. It was embarrassing but Dean no longer had the strength or the breath to be embarrassed.

Yes, he had understood Castiel's message and, though it pissed him off to no end, Dean was starting to realize that the Man upstairs would be doing anything in His power to make sure Dean GOT the message, even scare to death some poor guy that had nothing to do with any of this.

But, blunt messages aside, Dean was starting to fear that he might have his death wish granted after all. As the blackness of the sky above filled his mind, Dean decided that this was a good time to test Castiel's claim that he was not alone.

He let go.

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

The bip-bip-bip was back.

And so was Sam. Or at least he hoped that it was Sam, because it would be awkward to have a stranger's head resting against his arm on the bed.

"How're you feeling, kid?"

Searching for the source of the new voice, Dean turned too quickly. He hissed at the pain it stirred in his abused neck. Bobby was sitting in the same green chair that Castiel had occupied only hours ago. Where had Bobby come from? Last he heard, the man was in Oklahoma, having a major powwow with a contact of his and they were... come to think if it, Dean had no idea to where the angels had taken him or where he was right now.

"Bobby?" Dean croaked out, grimacing at the feel of broken glass in his throat.

"Take it easy... the doctor said you would be sore for quite some time," the older man said as he leaned forward to grasp Dean's forearm, figuring that Dean's confusion was due to the pain. Bobby picked up a glass of ice chips and, with a gentleness that Dean was not used to seeing on the older man, scooped some up and gently pressed it to Dean's mouth.

"Dean?"

Dean opened his eyes, swallowing the rest of the melted water and pushing the pain away so that his brother wouldn't catch it in his face. He was only fooling himself.

Sam's concerned face was on his right, while Bobby framed his left view. "What are you guys doing here?" He whispered, the raw and weak sound of his voice still surprising him. To be honest with himself, Dean had meant to ask Bobby what the older man was doing there and how the hell was Dean back on his room. Had the whole thing with Bill been just a dream? A bizarre vision that Castiel had made up to make sure that Dean didn't gave up?

"What the hell were you thinking?" Sam's angry question surprised all of them. "It' snowing outside and you go for a stroll on the roof HOURS after they take you off the ventilator? Are you deliberately trying to kill yourself?"

The words stung all the more because they were so close to the truth.

All doubts that Dean might have had about the reality of any of the last hours events, quickly ebbed away faced with the barely contained rage Sam was showing him. Dean figured that the only reason his brother hadn't smashed his face yet was because Alistair had beat him to the punch.

"Sam..." Bobby started, trying to throw a cooling blanket over the matter. The younger Winchester was practically vibrating from his spot across the bed.

"No, Bobby! I've had enough! First the angels come and nearly get Dean killed and then he goes and almost gets himself killed on his own, doing God knows what on the roof," Sam vented, his voice trembling more and more each time that the word kill crossed his lips. "They were considering getting you back on the ventilator when I got here, did you know that? You were half frozen and barely breathing and... I can't go through this over and over again... I just can'-"

Sam couldn't finish. The words that had been trapped in his throat, ever since he'd arrived from picking Bobby at the airport and finding Dean again surrounded by nurses and doctors, alarms bipping and blinking all around him and a frenzy activity surrounding his brother's bed that could not be good. And now that the words could be spoken, he couldn't finish because there was a sob pushing through the way, forcing its way outside.

"You gave us quite a scare, boy," Bobby went on, more gently than Sam, picking up where the younger man had left off. "They told us that some orderly found your sorry ass pass out on the roof. If he hadn't gone up there for a smoke, you... that man saved your life."

Dean closed his eyes again. Yes, he had. And he couldn't thank Bill enough for hearing him and trusting him enough to no tell anyone about his reason to being on the roof. Trusting him to not try something stupid like that again.

All of a sudden, Dean had a flash of what would've happened if he had gone through with his plan, if instead of arriving to find a relapsed Dean, Sam had come to find them scrapping Dean's remains from the back parking lot. What would that do to his brother, left behind to deal with the consequences of Dean's actions in Hell on top of a dead brother?

No, even if he didn't feel like he could possibly succeed in the task that had fallen on his lap, Dean owed it, at least to the men in that room, to at the very least try.

Sam took a deep breath, his emotions once more kept under reins, secure under the hard mask that he had grown and nurtured during the time Dean was away. "What were you doing up there?"

Dean opened his eyes, unashamed of the tears that had pooled there once again. He forced himself to face the eyes of the two people that he would have to trust to not judge him, to trust to stand by his side and help him with this.

"I was…” giving up “…I had some thinking to do," Dean said, forcing his suddenly dry mouth to produce enough saliva to get him through the long talk that he had to face. "There' something that you two need to know."

The end

Chapter end notes:
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