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'May God save us from half the people who think they're doing God's work.'

It wasn't some renowned philosopher or important politician who'd said it; it wasn't even a famous quote to start with.

It was just something that Dean had said, years before, when they had figured out that a preacher's wife was using a trapped reaper to kill those she saw as unworthy in God's eyes.

The most dangerous people on this earth were those with beliefs.

It was the only thing that Sam could thing of as another scream was ripped out of Dean's throat. He had no idea how his brother could still be screaming, how he could still have any voice left after so many hours.

Sam figured it hadn't been hours, not as the clock counts them, but when you're watching, helplessly, as a group of religious fanatics tortured your brother, every single second felt like an eternity.

It had been Castiel's fault, in a way.

Then again, how do you explain to an angel of the Lord that some people might get the wrong idea when he introduced himself as an 'angel of the Lord' every other chance he got?

How could Castiel possibly guess that one person would hear that, put it together with the fact that Dean had been recently resurrected and come to the worst possible conclusion?

It was Bobby's fault, in a way.

Then again, the reasons why Bobby was well known in the hunting community were the same that had brought the older man into their lives. John too had gone to the secluded scrape metal dealer in search of answers for what had happened to Mary and to learn how to be a hunter.

The secluded part was handy as well, most of the time, offering them the peace and quiet they sometimes searched for, or the privacy they often found themselves in need of for some of the darkest aspects of their job.

How could Bobby possibly guess that the group of hunters that came knocking on his door were so much more than that? Or that they would take advantage of the fact that there wasn't a single soul for miles around to do this?

It was Sam's fault. Of that he was absolutely sure.

Because Dean was exhausted and hurting and broken in every way possible ever since he'd been rescued from Hell... and on top of that Sam had managed to betray him.

Compared to the enormity of that failure, letting Lucifer out of his cage had almost paled in comparison.

This? This was nothing but the result of all the bad decisions that Sam had made in the last couple of months. And Dean was the one paying the price.

Another scream was ripped out of Dean's mouth and Sam felt like the worst person on this earth as he couldn't help but close his eyes tightly. Before, he'd stood his ground, defiantly meeting Dean's glassy gaze as the first spike had been driven through Dean's right hand, but Sam couldn't force himself to keep on watching as another length of iron was hammered into his brother's flesh.

In the dark of his closed eyelids, Sam couldn't help but remember how this had all started and how he should've stopped it before it had gotten this far.

oYo

Bobby was having a hard time facing all the things that he could no longer do. That day, Dean had woken to the sound of a series of loud clatters in the kitchen and Bobby swearing a blue streak that was making the walls blush.

From his angry tirade at the kitchen's cabinets, it wasn't hard to guess what had happened as Dean walked in to that room and looked around.

There was a carton of eggs in an ugly mess on the floor, peppered with broken plates all over.

Bobby had, apparently, tried to fix some breakfast and stumbled across one more change in his life, as he was confronted with the fact that all of his mixing bowls were in the upper cupboard, a world away from what he could currently reach.

Dean swallowed his guilt and walked into the kitchen, silently picking up the mess after Bobby. It was the least he could do, especially because he was the reason why the older man couldn't get up from the wheelchair he was currently trapped in and reach the damn bowl that had started all of this.

Some days, Dean wondered if Bobby had made the right choice in fighting that demon so hard that he'd managed to stab himself instead of Dean. Some other days, Dean's sure that Bobby was a certified fool.

"You don't have to that," Bobby had finally said, slightly embarrassed, when he realized that there was someone else in the room with him.

"Hey... the whole world's a mess," Dean answered him with a humorless chuckle. "I figured I could start fixing it by cleaning up this one."

And speaking of messes... "You seen Sam?" Dean asked. He'd been forced to turn in so early the previous night that an eighty year old would mock him for it, but it had been either that or face-planting on the floor.

Like it was happening way too often lately, his body had felt heavy and lacking energy enough to do the most basic functions. So, Dean had left Bobby sulking in his library, staring at books he refused to open, and Sam, staring at the wall like he hoped it would open and swallow him whole, and climbed the set of stairs to claim the bed in the guest room that was rarely used.

Despite the fact that there was a cot set up in the same room, for when the two Winchesters dropped by, Sam had never joined him.

Bobby stretched a thumb in the couch's direction. Sam was snoring on top of it, one long arm dangling towards the floor and the other flung over his eyes.

"Beaten by fatigue?" Dean ventured. While Dean couldn't seem to keep his eyes open, Sam refused to close his, spending night after sleepless night staring off at nothing.

"Beaten by Irish coffee," Bobby explained. "Emphasis on the whiskey."

The group of hunters had dropped by just after that. They had heard about the commotion at the abandoned St. Mary's convent. It was just bad luck that Dean had been the one to answer the door because Sam was still asleep and Bobby had gone to the pantry to get a fresh carton of eggs.

oYo

"I thought you were dead," were the first words out of Vincent's mouth, quickly followed by a cautious step back that had set the other five hunters behind him into full on alert state.

Dean had worked quickly to defuse the situation. The good thing about his way of life was that he'd already been wrongly mistaken for dead so many times before that coming up with a reasonable explanation as to why he still had a pulse was fairly easy.

"Which time?" Dean started off as a joke, because it'd been more than six years since he'd last crossed paths with Vincent and his posse and in that amount of time there had been a dead shapeshiter and a good intentioned Henricksen, reporting them dead by chopper explosion, to chose from. Dean didn't even want to consider the fact that they might've gotten wind of the one time he had actually died for real, chewed on by helllhounds...

Bobby rolling back into the hallway was enough distraction for Vince to ease up on the suspicions and for his buddies to relax. News of Dean's death had, apparently, traveled farther than Bobby's new condition.

Besides, it went a long way that Bobby looked at ease with Dean's presence in his house. The man had earned himself a good enough reputation in the hunting community for those hunters to know that, if Dean was standing there without a silver knife sticking from his chest or an exorcism on his ass, then the reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated. Again.

"Bobby... man! What t'hell happened to you?"

Bobby defused the man's intruding queries with an offer of beer, despite the fact that the sun had barely started to rise outside and the conversation moved onto the reason why they were there in the first place.

Vince's group had put together a bunch of whispers and rumors with the fact that St. Mary's convent had been the setting of a massacre decades ago, plus the massive explosion of light that had been reported there two weeks before. The conclusions that they were drawing were dangerously close to what was really happening. Apparently, demons had been quite chatty about the return of their lord and master.

Not really wanting to sit and watch as Bobby lied through his teeth because of Sam and him, saying that no, he had no idea what had happened in St. Mary's, Dean excused himself to go check on his brother.

Sam was awake, sitting on the couch, his face hunched down as he listened to the whispers of conversation coming from the kitchen.

"They're hunters," Dean offered with a shrug. "Putting patterns together is what they do."

"We should tell them the truth," Sam whispered back. " Ask for their help. This is too big for us, Dean."

And he was talking seriously and all. Dean, however, knew exactly what would happen the minute they came clean to a group of hunters. Particularly, to Vincent's group of hunters.

"I know the guy leading that group of hunters in there," Dean started, grabbing a seat from the chair on front of Bobby's desk. "Name's Vincent... we worked a job together a couple of years ago."

Sam raised his eyes from the floor, meeting Dean's, waiting for the rest of story.

"Vince was a preacher, awhile back... one of those hellfire, brimstone and the wrath of God types," Dean said with a dry chuckle, hand running through his hair. "Imagine how happy he was when a demon chose his town to wreak havoc."

"I don't see your point," Sam confessed. So, the man enjoyed his job. What was so wrong with that?

"Sam... he killed three innocent people before he got the right possessed one," Dean whispered. "Dad and I... we helped him cover it up because dad figured that Vince's intentions where in the right place. But I could see it for what it is. Vincent just doesn't care."

Sam let his head fall down again. Yes... he knew all about good intentions gone bad. And he could guess what Vince's reaction would be if he found out about Sam's demon blood.

It was best to keep quiet about what they knew, at least for now.

From the explosion of shouting that suddenly came from the kitchen, Dean feared that the option might've just escaped their hands.

oYo

Castiel's habit of popping in and out of existence at will had to go sideways sooner or later. It was just bad timing that he had chosen that exact moment to check on the human under his protection.

Hidden as they were by the Enochian sigils that Castiel had carved into Sam and Dean's ribs, it was easier to catch them when they were in specific places. Like keeping company to a recently paralyzed Bobby.

Like it was an every day occurrence, Castiel just popped up in the middle of Bobby's kitchen with a swirl of invisible wings and a rush of wind through closed windows. The group of hunters there, already on edge from their discussion about the possibility of the devil himself being on the loose, reacted as it was expected by anyone non-angelic.

They jumped to their feet with a collective yelp and went for their guns. In between the multiples loads of rock-salt, iron, silver and plain old lead, they were sure at least one of them would be able to put that sucker down.

"Who the hell are you?" Vincent, leading the group of hunters whose weapons were all trained on the man wearing a trench coat.

He was about to call bull and pull the trigger anyway, when Sam and Dean raced into the chaotic kitchen.

"Don't shoot!"

"Cut out that crap!"

Dean and Bobby's voice echoed at the same time, stopping the lead hunter in his tracks. The mother-of-pearl handled gun in Dean's hands, pointing right at Vince's head and the shotgun that mysteriously materialized in Bobby's hands were both very convincing arguments in the matter.

"You wanna explain to me what sort of buddies you're keeping now, Singer?"

The threat was clear and evident in Vince's voice. As a hunter, he knew that there weren't that many things able to make themselves appear out of thin air. And in a heavily warded place like Bobby's salvage yard, for anything to walk in there so breezily, not only had the potential to be nasty, but was also extremely powerful.

"I don't have to explain squat to you, Vincent," Bobby blared. Even with his height cut to half, he was still an imposing man. "And if you gotta problem with the company I keep, door's right there!"

Vincent glare only turned glacier as he realized that Bobby was actually defending the stranger. "Dean... Bobby... what the hell is he?"

"I am an angel of the Lord," Castiel answered for them. "And you should show some respect for these men. The future of mankind rests on De—"

"I think that's enough, thank you Cas," Dean cut him out before the angel went on to tell the already wide-eyed hunters anything else.

As it was, enough damage had already been done.

oYo

Sam could only stare as he saw disaster unfold at a dizzying speed. If he had the luxury of taking a step back and seeing this from an outsider's point of view, he knows he too would probably have reach the same conclusions as Vincent and his group.

To him, the words exchanged between Cas and Dean were just a mundane occurrence. The angel had dropped by to make sure that they were staying out of Zachariah's radar and just as quickly disappeared again, like they'd been just one more stop in a long list of errands for the angel on that day. Which, with Lucifer walking the earth, was probably true.

To everyone else, however... they could see an angel who shut up when a human told him to; they could see the intensity of the gazes exchanged between the both of them as they talked quietly in Bobby's library, away from prying ears. And they could easily see the barely veiled reverence that Castiel had seemed to develop towards Dean ever since he'd been 'outed' as Michael's vessel.

Add to that a general sense of end of the world and the fact that, Vincent at least, seemed pretty certain that Dean had been killed last year, it was easy to guess that things would go sour sooner or later.

They had waited until Castiel was long gone before they had made their move.

With five of them against one paraplegic Bobby, one very distracted Sam and one exhausted Dean, the three of them had little fighting chance.

Sam woke up to find himself on his knees, gagged and tied to a tree, in a clearing just out the back of Bobby's place. He could even hear the stream, running nearby.

Next to him was Bobby, looking furious and with a blossoming angry welt across his nose, where he'd been hit.

The worst... the worst was the sound that had brought Sam back to consciousness. It was such an odd sound, so unfamiliar to him that it took Sam a while to understand what he was hearing.

Whipping.

When they were kids, much as they loved Bobby, Sam and Dean had no love for being confined to the old man's dark and moldy house for the whole expanse of time John dropped them there. Dean had discovered that spot near the house.

The trees were tall and provided a cool shade even in the hottest days of summer and, smack in the middle of the patch of green grass that covered the shady outcropping, there was a white stone. It was an almost perfect square, of about four feet high and four feet wide, and a top that was so smooth that it looked man-made.

It had made the perfect table for them to use when they wanted to be outside and had homework to do. More often than not, it was the perfect battlefield for their army of plastic little green soldiers.

It was also perfect as an altar for the hunters to strap Dean to.

They had stripped Dean of his shirts, taken off his shoes and laid him down on his stomach on top of the white rock, leaving his legs and arms to dangle towards the floor. Two lengths of rope ran around the rock, one binding Dean's knees in the back and the other trapping his hands in the front. Dean's feet scrapped against the ground, trying futilely to push away.

With his back exposed and his body unable to move any which way, Dean was helpless to do anything as one of the hunters picked up a whip and started to flog him.

Sam screamed in tandem with his brother pain. He couldn't shout, he couldn't argue, he couldn't even beg them to stop. And he had no idea why they were doing this.

Beside him, Sam could feel Bobby vibrating in anger, his eyes unmoving from Dean.

The white stone was slowly turning red.

oYo

But he was wounded because of our crimes,

Crushed because of our sins;

the disciplining that makes us whole fell on him,

and by his bruises we are healed.

Isaiah, 53:5

While he'd lost track of time, Sam knew exactly how many lashes had landed on his brother's body ever since Sam had woke up.

Twenty.

Sam didn't even want to imagine how many more had landed before that. Before Dean had been unable to contain his pain and anguish. Before he'd lost his shit and had screamed loud enough to bring Sam back to awareness.

Sam's wrists were a mirror of brother's, both turned bloody from the strength they were using to pull at them. The reasons, however, were different.

Dean's wrists were bloody because he couldn't help but strain against them every time the whip landed on his back with another vicious smack! that echoed in the clearing like dry thunder. Hands balled into fists, Dean pulled and struggled helplessly, forehead pressed hard against the stone, arching his body up. It was a movement that only served to bring Dean closer to the punishing whip, but he looked like he was way past reason.

Sam was working on escaping. So much power he had gathered in the last year, such powerful demons that he'd managed to kill using nothing but his thoughts, and now he was reduced to pulling and scrapping the coarse rope against the tree bark, in hopes that it would break and set him free in time to help his brother.

"Why t' hell are they 'oing t'is?" Sam whispered around his gag. Bobby was the only one near enough to hear. All of the hunters were near Dean, surrounding him, taking turns with the whip.

Apparently, flogging someone that intensively, was tiring. Sam was going to kill them all.

"Vincent was always a prick," Bobby snarled. Sam could actually hear Bobby's teeth grating against each other. "A religious prick with shit for brains, who thinks it's his job to save the world."

Sam had to blink. The piece of cloth in between his lips had grown limp and lax, enough for him to spit it out. "He thinks he's doing what?"

Looking at the limp way in which Dean's body was draped over that slab of rock, looking at the skin on his back slowly turning into bloody ribbons and at the way Dean's legs trembled with the strain his body was suffering, Sam couldn't quite get how this barbaric act could possibly stop Lucifer.

"He thinks Dean is the second coming," Bobby mumbled, sarcasm and disbelief laying so heavily on his words that Sam almost couldn't hear them. "At least, that's the shit he's paddling to those fools."

Sam gasped. It was either that or laughing, because really, he had never heard such an absurd thing. Dean... the second com— "That's ridiculous!" he let out, loud enough to attract the attention of one of the hunters.

Moving closer to the captives, a man wearing a grey wife-beater splattered with incriminating droplets of red, said nothing as he slapped Sam into silence. "Be quiet, heathen!"

Sam had to bite his own lip to stop himself from answering the other hunter. It wasn't just Vincent who believed in that insanity... Sam had seen it in that man's eyes as well. They truly believed this was the right thing to do.

Sam couldn't wrap his mind around the matter. Sure, to a civilian, it would certainly look odd, and possibly miracle-like, everything that had happened to Dean. Coming back from the dead -though a normal occurrence in the Winchester gene pool, starting with their father some thirty years before- was not something that some everyday-Joe could imagine as happening outside of fables or religious books. But hunters? Shouldn't they know better?

Sam could easily answer his own question. No... no one knew better, because he and his family had managed to go that extra step into the territory of 'crazy' and 'unusual'. Sam still remembered the awe and wonder he had felt when he realized that his brother had been the first hunter ever in recorded history to have seen an angel.

It hadn't escaped Sam's notice that, of the three of them, Dean was the only one not brought back from the dead by a demonic deal. Well, not the second time, that is.

Mary had made one with Azazel, for John's life. Dean had done the same with Lilith for Sam's. But Dean himself? The decision had come from higher above to bring him back to life. God had decided to rescue Dean, bring him back for His own reasons. And that, at least, Sam had to admit to being pretty impressive.

A sick feeling began taking hold of Sam's stomach. Suddenly, he knew what Vincent and his lunatic friends were doing.

They were washing the sins of Mankind. They were giving the 'second coming' the same treatment that ancient Romans had given the 'first'.

"Oh... God..."

oYo

They didn't need much. No need to build a gibbet, they didn't even need a cross. Just some nails and a hammer. And Bobby's place had plenty of those laying around.

The minute Sam saw them cut Dean free from the ropes binding him, he knew exactly what was coming next.

His panicked gaze searched Dean's. Even in their half-lidded depths, Sam could see it in his brother's eyes that Dean knew it too.

Dean had no illusions about what was coming or about the prospect of being rescued.

They were in the middle of nowhere and the only 'person' who knew where they were was an angel that had no idea about what his visit had caused.

Dean's glassy eyes were focused on Sam and for a minute Sam convinced himself that his brother was trying to convey to him some wild plan that he'd managed to cook up while strapped to a rock and being whipped.

It was nuts, and Sam knew it. No, the reason for Dean's intense gaze was far more simple and terrifying.

He was saying goodbye.

Sam felt the breath catch on his chest, staring at the love and resignation that had taken over Dean's green eyes.

After all that Sam had done, after the enormity of his betrayal, all that Dean had left to offer him in his silent goodbye was forgiveness and love.

The world blurred under the tears in his eyes and Sam blinked furiously, hating his body for robbing him even half a second of Dean's stare. His hands worked furiously against the ropes, but Sam knew as well as Dean that he would never get free in time.

"No... please, don't," Sam whispered brokenly, even though he knew Dean was too far to hear him. The plea, however, was clear in Sam's face. He would not allow Dean to say goodbye to him. Not again.

No. This wasn't over yet.

Vincent and his pals unceremoniously stripped Dean of his remaining clothes before dragging him in Bobby's and Sam's direction. Dean was so weak he couldn't even get his feet to rise from the ground, toes stumbling along and raising dust and dry leaves.

Unable to stop himself, Sam looked upwards, at the tangle of massive branches above them.

They were dragging Dean to that tree. The same tree they'd strapped him and Bobby, where there were two branches low enough to be reached from the ground. He knew that because, God knew, he and Dean had climbed those branches often enough when they were kids.

The hunters didn't need a cross. In between the low hanging branches and the tree's bark, they had the perfect T angle to crucify Dean.

If Sam had a free hand, he would use it to pinch himself. This couldn't be happening.

It wasn't until Sam saw the hammer and the long, viciously looking nails in Vince's hands that his struggles became wild and frantic.

"I'm gonna fucking kill you!" Sam threatened, meaning every single word from the bottom of his heart. "Mark my words, you sick fuck! You do this to my brother and you won't live to see the sun coming up tomorrow!"

Vincent actually took a pause to look at Sam. "I don't know you, Sam," he started, his voice so calm and composed that Sam felt like throwing up. "But I can imagine how hard it must be for you to understand this... All my life, I knew that God had a higher purpose for me. A mission. Up until the moment I stumble across a resurrected man who was clearly chosen by God to save us all, I thought that mission was to fight demons. But now... now I see that God intended for me to do something much bigger, something much more important. I am here to make sure your brother does exactly what God has chosen him to do. I am here to sacrifice the lamb."

"That's my brother you're talking about, you self-righteous ass!" Sam spat out.

Vincent wasn't even hearing him. He was completely lost in his religious delusions.

"The angel that protects Dean can't be the one to do it. It is not his job to do it. It is Man's job to complete the ultimate sacrifice, Sam... and I'll be Mankind's representative in this age. You know as well as I do that Lucifer walks the earth... the time to set this right is right now and we must thank the Lord for giving us the means to assure our survival in His glory."

"You're insane," Sam realized too late. There was no point in arguing with someone who was so full of himself that he believed that nailing Dean to a tree was what he'd been born to do.

"And you will behave, or your friend Bobby will never live long enough to see how right I am about this," Vincent simply said.

Sam's gaze moved from the hunter's crazy stare to look at Bobby. He had found it a bit weird the way the older man had stood silently as Dean was dragged in their direction and pressed up against the tree.

The reason became obvious as Sam saw the chubby man who was standing over Bobby. There was no way Bobby could even utter a word, not with the muzzle of a 9mm stuffed into his mouth.

"You son of a bitch!" Sam blared. He'd been so distracted by the hellish vision of what was happening to his brother that he hadn't even noticed what was going on right beside him.

Bobby, for his part, hadn't made a sound. His eyes were watering from the pressure of keeping his mouth wide open, but there wasn't a single spark of fear in them.

Dean's body collided with the tree trunk with a pained grunt, the rough bark doing no favors to his sliced back. His bare legs, standing so close that Sam could almost touch them, were ridden with goosebumps and trembling.

Sam wanted to fool himself that it was because of the cold and the pain, but he knew better. Dean was scared shitless, even if no one but Sam could recognize the sentiment in his defiant eyes.

Dean was looking down, from Bobby on his right to Sam on his left. His very own two thieves. "Couldn't die... in... better company," he whispered, his voice barely audible above the hoarseness.

Sam felt like smacking him for giving up like that.

The shout that was forced out of Dean's mouth next, as the first nail was driven into the palm of his outstretched right hand, wasn't human. It couldn't be human.

It was made of blood and pain, surprise and shock. It had no sound. Just emotion.

Sam held Dean's gaze steady. Even the bravest person on this land wouldn't want to see an iron spike being hammered into their flesh, and Dean had turned his head away, looking down at Sam instead.

Sam had tried to keep the tears at bay, tried to be brave for Dean. He failed. God... he had failed Dean in so many ways.

"I'm so sorry," Sam mouthed without sound. He knew Dean would understand him and the words were too private, too personal to be shared with the group of hunters standing all around them.

Dean smiled weakly, just before his eyes rolled up at the second swing of Vincent's hammer.

The second nail, this time in Dean's left hand, was driven home, showering Sam in his brother's blood.

Sam saw everything, but his brain registered nothing as the hunters proceeded to drive a nail through each of Dean's ankles, leaving his body suspended by the bloody stumps.

They carefully packed their things after that, clapping each other on the back for, apparently, a job well done. Somewhere in the back of his head, Sam could hear Bobby's voice, shouting and cursing, red in the face with the power of his rage.

Everything had stopped making sense to Sam. Bobby's words, the hunters' actions, the world.

Deep down, Sam knew it wasn't over. There was something missing. There was something even more terrible to come.

"You'll thank me for this when tomorrow, the world's still spinning on its axis," Vincent's words cut through the haze.

And then it happened. The final piece of the puzzle, the final atrocity to everything that went wrong that afternoon.

Vincent's hand flew up, the glint of a sharp blade flashing for just one second before it disappeared inside Dean's flank.

"NO!"

oYo

They were just sitting there, drinking the beer that they'd stolen from Bobby's fridge and waiting. Waiting for Dean to die.

The whole place had fallen into an almost peaceful quietness. The hunters were talking in hushed voices, huddled around and leaning against the white stone, wiping Dean's blood clean with their clothes; the wind passed gently though the leaves in the trees, creating a soft murmur that was almost soothing.

It was almost loud enough to hide the wheezing sounds coming from above Sam's head. Dean's breathing was getting worse with each passing minute, quicker and shorter, more like miniature gasps than actually inspirations.

His arms were stretched too high above, his chest muscles too strained to far to allow Dean any chance of actually filling his lungs with all the air he needed.

Sam's breath was running short, just from listening to his brother's struggles. He pushed harder against the ropes binding him to the tree, but they were just as tight as before. Even Dean's blood, running freely from his hands and side, falling directly over the ropes, wasn't enough to give them any leeway.

Sam wished his brother had remained unconscious, but Dean was too stubborn for that.

His eyes had fluttered open as Vincent had pulled his knife out, pinpoints of shocked black surrounded by a sea of green. His mouth had opened in a voiceless scream, like even his throat couldn't react to the bewildering events that were unfolding.

When Vincent sunk the blade into the tree trunk, right next to Dean's naked thigh, Dean didn't even flinch. He just stared unfocused at the man and smiled a crooked grin.

The mask of contempt had fallen as soon as Vincent had turned his back and Dean had finally allowed his pain to roam free.

"Dean? Dean... please hold on, okay, man? I'm gonna get you out of there. Hold on... just hold on," Sam tried again. It was useless.

Despite the fact that Dean's eyes were open and that his head would flop left to right, like a boneless doll, Dean wasn't seeing anything or hearing any of Sam's encouraging words.

"He's in shock," Bobby said, his voice rough and raspy from all the screaming he'd indulged after his mouth was gun-free. "And if we don't do something soon, he won't be in shock for much longer."

Sam banged his head hard against the bark, frustration swallowing him up like quicksand. "Can you get out of your bindings?" he whispered to the older hunter.

Bobby gave him a sideways look laden with disbelief and sarcasm. "And do what? Crawl on my ass for help? Punch their kneecaps and make a run for it?"

"You could use my phone," Sam simply said, keeping his gaze steady on the older man. "We can call Cas."

oYo

When Bobby was eight, he had busted his left thumb. Dislodged the damn thing from its spot, ligament rupture, the whole shebang. Never really worked quite the same as the right one from that day onward.

Which was something that came very in handy whenever he found himself wrapped up in tight rope and listening to a boy who was like a son to him, slowly gasp himself dead.

It wasn't like he hadn't tried to get free before, because Bobby wasn't one to sit idle while everything went to hell around him. But without some sort of plan to fall into, he wasn't foolish enough to think that having his hands free would do him, Sam or Dean a world of good.

He'd forgotten that nowadays, they had angels at their beck and call. Perks of being friends with Michael's vessel, Bobby supposed, even if he would never dare to say that out loud in Dean's presence.

It hurt like a mother, but Bobby eventually managed to wiggle his thumb out of its place, giving his left hand room enough to slip through the looped ropes. Sparing a second to see if the group of hunters was still busy trading 'campfire' stories and jokes, Bobby slowly reached out for Sam's pocket.

Sam was smart enough to give no reaction as Bobby's fingers started to prod him from the side. He leaned as far as could, shortening the distance between them.

It felt like an insurmountable amount of time since the moment Bobby's hand broke free until the moment his finger tips brushed against the cold metal of Sam's phone.

"Three," Sam whispered.

Speed dialing.

Bobby didn't even have to ask who was number one, and he felt a certain degree of pride to know that he was certainly number two, which make him more valuable than an angel of the Lord itself.

Right now, though, the angel was exactly whom they needed.

Bobby had time only to press 'three' before the phone was kicked out of his hands.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" 'Wife-beater' bleated, waving his gun around like it was made of paper and didn't shoot bullets at all. "Who the hell were you callin', hum?"

He moved away, picking up the phone and looking at the display. "Who's Castiel?"

Bobby's lips formed a tight line in his face. Inside, he was seething. This had been their one shot, their one chance to get Dean help in time. And he had blown it because he hadn't been paying attention enough to realize that not all of the hunters had been in the group.

"Answer his question," Vincent demanded, the commotion by the tree calling the attention of others.

What came next happened so fast that, had there been a chance to ask them, most of the hunters present wouldn't be able to answer properly.

There was a scream, long and drawn out, coming from the man nailed on the tree.

There was a thump!, as the knife that was previously embedded in the tree trunk was pulled free and thrown straight into Vincent's throat.

There was a pop, like sonic boom, in the clearing.

And above it all, Dean's voice, shouting. "Close your eyes! Now!"

The light that filled the clearing after that was too bright to be man-made. It was too powerful to be anything but a fallen piece of the sun.

Pure white, scourging and blinding.

It was the last thing Vincent, gurgling blood from his severed throat, and his hunting pals ever saw.

"Thanks for the help, Cas," Dean whispered, bloodied right hand free from the tree branch and hanging limply by his side. It was the last sound he made before everything stopped.

The pain.

The fear.

His heart.

oYo

As soon as the intense light stopped trying to burn it's way inside his head, Sam opened his eyes. Vincent's body had fallen right in front of him, knife sticking from his throat like a bloody flag, eyes burned out of his skull, just like Pamela. Just like those demons at the diner.

The other hunters had suffered similar fates, crumpled to bloody heaps around the tree. Castiel had spared no one. Sam's appreciation for the rogue angel grew bigger.

"Sam? You okay, boy?" Bobby's raspy voice sounded from very far away, even though the man was right beside Sam. "Sam! Snap out of it! You need to check on your—"

Dean!

Sam was on his feet before he'd even realized that the ropes previously bidding him had, alongside with the hunters' eyes and brain, fried right off his hands.

Sam had no idea where it was safe to touch his brother. Dean was a mess, body defying all laws of physics as he dangled almost free from the tree, supported only by one hand and both feet.

The hand he'd managed to get free, somehow –and Sam shuddered just from imagining the pain of pulling your own hand free from where it was nailed- was hanging in the air, pouring a steady stream of blood to pool on the ground.

"Dean?" Sam tried, wanting to at least warn his brother before he caused him even more pain. There was no easy way to pry Dean free. "Dean... come on, man, open those eyes for me."

Sam's hands had moved on their own volition, flat against Dean's chest. It took Sam only half a second to register the warmth under his fingers and to realize what was missing. A heartbeat.

Fingers fumbled blindly, abandoning Dean's chest for his clammy neck. Sam closed his eyes in a silent pray, hoping, needing to find something there.

There was nothing.

No pulse.

No rise and fall of chest.

"Shit!"

Sam didn't stop to consider that they were in the middle of nowhere and that he had no idea for how long Dean's heart had stopped.

He didn't considered brain damage, he didn't even considered the possibility that it might already be too late.

His frantic eyes searched around, looking for something to pull Dean loose.

"The hammer," Bobby whispered, his wet eyes moving from Dean's lax figure to Sam's washout face. "Vincent stored the hammer in the trunk of his pick-up, around the corner. It's a claw hammer, Sam."

And instantly Sam knew what the older man was saying. The claws at the back of the hammer where the only thing around there that could pry those nails out of Dean's body.

Sam didn't even remember making the trip, but he knew he'd returned with that hammer faster than what it should be humanly possible.

He knew he wasn't being gentle when he pulled nail, after nail, after nail. Sam forced himself not to notice the details, like the way in which each nail coming off brought less and less blood to the surface, as Dean's body slowly shut down; or the wet suction sound that each length of metal made as Sam pull it off; at the way Dean's skin was growing colder and paler.

The nails in Dean's ankles, the ones Sam had left for last, had been the worst of the them all. With Dean's body draped over him, Sam's movements were more restricted, clumsier. Twice he almost let Dean fall to the ground. Twice he swore and tried harder.

It had seemed like a million years later when Sam finally lowered Dean's body to the ground. The clock that Bobby had been staring at for that whole time told him that it had been less than five minutes.

No words were needed between the two of them. Both knew the odds; both knew the other wouldn't give up with out trying.

Dragging himself closer, Bobby pushed himself on his elbows near Dean's head, tilting it back and pitching the boy's nose closed. Blowing air into Dean's mouth and knowing the reason why he was doing it almost made Bobby's own throat close up. He pushed his emotions down, willed his body to hold off for a few more minutes. They had to do this. They had to be able to do this.

Sam had barely waited for Bobby to complete his two breaths before he started pumping his hands against Dean's chest.

Press. Press. Press. Press. Press.

Not too gently, or the effect would be none. Not too hard, or he would be adding broken ribs to Dean's list of injuries. Just enough to keep blood running through Dean's body.

Press. Press. Press. Press. Press.

He didn't get it. Where was Cas? Why hadn't he stuck around to help them? Sam had no illusions about the angel's ability to heal Dean, but certainly he could've given them a hand?

Bobby's face was red with the exertion he was putting himself through, supporting his upper body with only his stomach muscles while he used both hands to keep on pumping air inside Dean's inert body.

Press. Press. Press. Press. Press.

One of the nails was still trapped in Dean's hand. The hand he'd pulled free on his own. For one insane moment, all Sam wanted to do was stop everything and pull that atrocious thing out of his brother's skin.

Press. Press. Press. Press. Press.

Each time Sam compressed Dean's chest, blood squirted out of the wound on his side. Sam felt like he was killing his brother more than he was trying to save his live.

Press. Press. Press. Press. Press.

Bobby had stopped, for some reason. Sam stared at him, wondering if the older man was tired and Sam would have to take up both positions. He had no idea how long they'd been at it.

"Sam... it's time to stop," Bobby announced gravely. He looked twice his age. "He's gone, Sam... there's nothing we can do."

Press. Press. Press. Press. Press.

"No," Sam said quietly, moving from Dean's side to midway between his thigh and his neck. "I'm not giving up on him."

If Bobby wouldn't do it, Sam would. He corrected the position of Dean's head and blew into his brother's mouth. The air went in without resistance, like he was just inflating a party balloon.

"Sam..."

Sam wasn't an idiot. It was too late. He knew that they had been too late from the start.

But what was the point in all of this? What sort of plan did God have if Dean was allowed to die in some backwoods clearing, killed by a bunch of yahoos who thought they were smarter than everyone else? How was this defeating Lucifer?

"No!"

The first punch had been in frustration. Sam's fist hit smack in the middle of Dean's chest, hoping against hope that Dean would raise up to smack him back.

The second punch was in anger. And so was the third. And the fourth.

Anger at the hunters who'd done this.

Anger at the angel who had no powers or no will to stick around and help Dean.

Anger at himself for not having been able to do anything but sit and watch as his brother was tortured to death.

Anger at God, for picking on them when He had the whole world to chose from.

Dean's gasp surprised everyone.

"Dean?" Sam whispered, afraid that he had imagined the desperate pull of air into Dean's lungs. "Dean... come one man, tell me you're back," he begged, prayed.

Once more, Sam's fingers searched for a pulse in Dean's neck. He could see the barely-there rise and fall of his brother's chest, but the movement seemed too unreal to be true. Sam needed something tangible, something that he could feel under his fingers.

There!

It felt like a tiny baby bird, trying to push its way out of an egg, barely a flutter of movement under Sam's finger, but it was there.

Sam would thank God... if it thought that God had had anything to do with it.

oYo

Fifty stitches. And that was not counting the butterfly bandages that both Bobby and Sam had applied liberally all over Dean's back and side.

There was no way some of those deeper cuts wouldn't be leaving a scar behind. And while neither of them really cared much about the esthetic concerns of having your back filled with criss-crossed red welts, they were a reminder of what had happened that they all could do without.

"How's he doing?" Bobby asked from the doorway, a tray with a pair of sandwiches on his lap.

Sam couldn't even remember the last time he'd eaten.

"Resting, for now," Sam replied, fumbling with the stack of IV bags that they'd piled over Dean's form, desperately trying to replace some of the blood he'd lost. "Maybe we should just take him to a hospital."

Bobby shook his head. "Something tells me that you're brother will be okay."

Sam looked at the pale figure lying on his right side on Bobby's couch. Dean looked more like a mummy than a recovering human being. His back was laden with bandages, there was a thick pad of gauze circling his waist and both of his hands were swathed in so many bandages that it looked like he was wearing boxing gloves.

A boxing mummy. Sounded like a Saturday afternoon, low budget, horror movie. The kind that Dean loved to watch.

Dean's ankles were slightly raised, supported by the couch's arm. They had been so swollen that it would be a while before Sam could determine if there was any broken bone in the mess that the hunters had made with those nails.

It didn't looked like Dean was anywhere close to okay.

"Why do you say that?"

"Sam... I never got to press dial on your phone. I never called Castiel," Bobby confessed. "Whoever... whatever was there in that clearing to help your brother, it wasn't Castiel."

Sam blinked. Of the whole muddle of shit that had happened in the past day, Castiel's presence to rescue them had been just about the only thing that Sam had been certain of. "But... the light... the noise," he mumbled. He hadn't imagined that, had he? "Dean called him by name."

"I'm not saying it wasn't an angel, Sam," Bobby assured him. "I'm just saying... no matter what Dean though he was seeing, that wasn't your tax-accounted buddy." He paused, waiting until Sam stopped avoiding his look to say what was on his mind. "And whomever it was, it talked to your brot-"

"No," Sam was quick to cut through. "Dean can't hear the angels... Cas tried. Nearly blew his ears off."

Bobby nodded. "I know that, son, I was there," he reminded Sam. "But I was also there when Dean told us to close our eyes, even before the bright light arrived," Bobby pressed on. "He knew, Sam... Dean knew something was coming."

Sam stared at the unconscious figure, trying to guess what the future held for his brother. What the future held for the both of them.

And somehow, Sam knew. With a shudder, he realized that this was how it would end.

With Dean bloody and him looking down at his brother.

The end

Chapter end notes:
My big thank you to JAckfan2, for the beta-work in this story :)





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