Summary:The Winchesters stumble into the work of a serial killer running loose in New York, as if Dean's post-traumatic stress syndrome, the police, and 2 Subway ghosts weren't enough to deal with. Set between 4.08 and 4.09.

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I. Tying in With the Series

Discusses how Underworld fits in between episodes 4.08 and 4.09

II. The Characters

Discusses the role reversal of the brothers, Dean's coping mechanisms, and other notable quirks or potentially debatable characterizations

III. Myths, Legends and Weird Facts About New York

Discusses the factual bases of the trivia information used on the case, and further reading for anyone interested. Covers the Subway, The Homeless and the Mole People, Graffiti and Street Art, and Murders in New York.

IV. Massive Thanks and Replies

Shout-out to reviewers and responses to comments that may be of some interest to other readers

V. The Next Project: Steps Behind

Preview of my hopefully up-and-coming new fic

I. Tying in With the Series

My ultimate goal in writing Underworld is to make it feel like a part of the series, which is why I took extreme care in making sure it "felt right" if you know what I mean, in terms of timelines and the characters' frames of mind at that space in time.

This fic is set between Wishful Thinking and I Know What You Did Last Summer. The timing is primarily relevant to the character development made by these two episodes regarding the circumstances of Dean's time in hell.

When I started writing this story, it was set early in season 4, at a period of time when the only thing we audiences of the show was privy to was Dean's lack of a memory of his time in hell. The main theme was the two brothers learning to work together again. This was obviously revised it after the first half of season 4 though, when the focus became how they were coping with Dean's time in hell. I'm not sure, but I think the first preview of Underworld in the Afterword of one of my earlier fics even had slight differences from the final version you see posted here because of that shift :)

One of the major reasons why I wanted to write a filler for after 4.08 and before 4.09, is that I was wondering what would make Sam stop asking Dean about hell, such that in 4.10, he said something like 'You're not talking so I'm not pushing.' I felt that, sure, Dean asking Sam to stop asking about hell at the end of Wishful Thinking might be enough for him to back off (even invoking Sam's 'I can't make you understand' from Metamorphosis), but I also felt that Sam wouldn't stop asking Dean about something that was clearly bothering Dean and endangering his health. I wanted Sam to push harder and for Dean to push back.

This of course, eventually led up to the scene in Chapter 5: Escape in this fic where Sam promised he would never bring it up again until Dean was ready, and in Chapter 6: Divine Intervention when Castiel advises him to give Dean time. I figured these should be enough of a reason to get Sam to stop nagging Dean about hell, right until episode 10, when Dean is the one who opens up the conversation about it.

On a minor note, you may have noticed that the ending of Underworld alludes to the boys heading to go to a bar to play some pool, which is where I Know What You Did Last Summer starts off. Underworld also showed that Sam's pool game has improved vastly and may even be better than Dean's, which might also explain why it was Sam hustling in pool in 4.09 instead of Dean.

On another minor note, Underworld makes reference to a non-series/non-season but officially-sanctioned Supernatural story: DeCandido's Nevermore novel. That was set in New York too, and his "spook beat" and detective Marina McBain are the ones alluded to in Chapter 5: Escape.

II. The Characters

A. The Winchester Brothers' Role Reversal

I had a ball flipping their roles around. I guess the series is making some reference to this too, which is why this is very prominent in Underworld. The instances in season 4 that immediately come to mind would be 4.07 when Sam pretty much orders Dean to handle the living dead while he went on to handle Samhain; then there's Sam pulling Dean from his nightmares in 4.08; there's also Sam hustling now, instead of Dean in 4.09. There might be a few others, but these are the things I could think of off the top of my head. Sam is beginning to take the lead in the hunt, and I wanted to portray that.

Note that one of the chapters is called Chapter 3:Turf. In that chapter, the obvious territorial issue is whether or not the brothers were supposed to handle 'live' cases instead of just supernatural ones. To a lesser extent, 'turf' also referred to the brothers stepping into each other's toes in the process of shifting roles. I've made it a point to show Sam's protectiveness all throughout Underworld, but it was especially pronounced in the chapter 3, especially as it collided with Dean. The other subtler role reversal for me in that chapter was when Dean was the brother bothered about the raising of kids in dangerous situations, leaving Sam to point out that they were raised the same way. Originally, I wrote it such that Sam was the one bothered and Dean was the one defending the lifestyle, until I realized the reverse felt more appropriate.

B. Sam's Protectiveness and Hesitations

Some of you lovely reviewers pointed out that you enjoyed this portrayal of Sam, and man, I sure enjoyed writing it and I'm so glad it came through. Sam had once asked Dean, at the end of Season 2, 'What do you think my job is?' and I think this should come off more in Season 4, where we see him much stronger, more formidable, especially when Dean's stumbling a little bit. Although... of course massive changes in their roles shouldn't come easy, and I felt I had to write that he had some hesitations about taking over the protective role: he wasn't always certain about his position or what to do, or how Dean would receive it, and he most certainly still wasn't above making use of Please to make his older brother give in, haha. I really hope it's not out-of-character. I knew I was treading a dangerous line when I was writing out the dialog and realized I could interchange some of the lines between Dean and Sam, which I've never been able to experience in my other fics before, because they were such distinct characters. I hope their 'voices' in Underworld is still believable and characteristic though.

Another thing about Sam's character that I felt was important to convey in a fic set in Season 4 is how he relates to his faith. He'd always been the one who was more open to God, but I figured Dean's death and their collision with the angels in 4.07 would be enough to put some dents in a once-prayerful demon-boy, haha.

Finally, I wanted Sam to have one on one time with Castiel. I wanted him to feel a very human sense of jealousy and rivalry with the angel who had saved his brother, but also gratefulness. I also wanted to give a treat for those who have read From Perdition (which was a clip from Underworld posted a few weeks ago as a one-shot), and surprise them that the reason Castiel was with Dean was because Sam had prayed for it. His first prayer in a long time, even. Note though that the version of From Perdition as it appears in Underworld is slightly different from the one originally posted. I edited it so that it feels more like a part of a larger whole, rather than a one-shot shoved into a story.

On a side note, Chapter 6: Divine Intervention is actually a play on words too, haha. The term is of course, a commonly used one. More recently though, the word "Intervention" has broken into mainstream pop culture with heavy reference to that show where family members try to break their loved ones from some form of an addiction. I wonder if anyone else got that, haha.

C. Dean's Trauma and Yielding Control

This was very, very tricky for me! I enjoy hurt/comfort fics as much as the next guy, especially when it comes to Dean, sure. I think the importance of a hero is pronounced by the test of death, so yeah, bring on the h/c haha. But I hate depicting overboard need and weakness. I think if you've read my other fics, I've also expressed hesitation in depicting Dean as weak or needy. So this aspect of the characterization in Underworld worried me more than a little, haha. Open need is just not sexy, haha.

I felt, however, that depicting Dean's broken floodgates so to speak was necessary though. It was necessary because he and Sam both needed a wake-up call about how serious his problems could get. I also felt his fragility is relevant in developing the protective streak of Sam as he is depicted here, and Dean's understanding of what had changed in Sam since he got back (one of my favorite scenes ever in Season 4 is Dean watching Sam patch himself up in 4.09. It was so subtle, but he had an expression that something was dawning on him).

I just hope that the depiction of weakness and need was realistic, and the transition from mild panic to addiction to full-blown hysteria and then back to some form of carefully-managed control was believable. I think that's also why I threw in a concussion aside from the memories, haha, just so that if the issue is raised, I can say it's not in character precisely because he hit his head too, haha :)

III. Myths, Legends and Weird Facts About New York

One of the major reasons why I hesitated to post this fic was because of its unabashed and over-indulgent love of New York, haha. Seriously though, I felt that the descriptions might be alienating, especially since I'm not a professional writer and might not be able to convey the city's spirit properly and end up turning off readers.

New York had been the setting to another Supernatural fic of mine before if you've read it, One Week, but not quite to the level of Underworld, which sort of became my homage to the weird and wonderful stuff that one finds here, especially off the beaten path. I truly, truly *heart* NY, and I think setting Underworld here makes the fic unique, what with the cityscape which you don't find in the series much.

I incorporated a lot of facts in Underworld because strangely enough, truth really is wackier than fiction, haha. To get a better fill of the wackiness that is New York, pick up Chris Gethard's Weird New York which is part of that Weird series. I'm not sure if I remember correctly, but Kripke and co. might have referred to this series of books in some interview somewhere.

Anyway, the occasionally encyclopedic tone this fic takes when talking about the historical background of something is actually loosely based on facts. If you're curious:

A. The Subway

The numbers mentioned here are based on facts (rounded up or down, I forget, but I think I got them right unless I got cross-eyed, haha): the ridership levels, the number of trains and stations and track miles, I think this is published on the MTA website, which you should check out for accuracy.

The occasional confusion of the complex underground map is also well-documented; people really do make interesting finds there once in awhile. I didn't bother being too specific with the directions though, because I'm not an expert, so I just focused on atmospheric descriptions and ones that were convenient to the unfolding action.

The mention of secret subway stations is also true: in the 1870's a guy named Alfred Beach showcased a beautiful subway station that he had built entirely in secret, which was eventually closed down and forgotten until it was discovered by construction workers in 1912.

The existence of Closed subway stations and platforms is also true. Of particular note is the City Hall stop (not the one currently in operation but another one), which was closed down for security concerns and because it was too small for the long trains that are now being used to accommodate more riders. It literally has chandeliers and stained glass d├ęcor, and the MTA actually allows tours there once in awhile for their members. You can find details on this online, and videos of people going on tours to see this secret station in YouTube.

A closed lower-level platform of note is the one at the Port Authority Station, which, if you like hints on pop culture like I and most other Supernatural fans are, was used for the filming of Ghost (which had a Subway Ghost too, and a pop-culture phenom film that was invoked in the Season 2 episode In My Time of Dying)

For further reading, you may want to look up Invisible Frontier: Exploring the Tunnels, Ruins, and Rooftops of Hidden New York by Deyo and Liebowitz. It's a mission-log of their adventures in a fairly new trend called Urban Exploration, which is exactly what it sounds like, haha, except you're scaling buildings and forbidden urban sites instead of mountains and caves. It requires as much planning and skill too. The book is a little bit self-indulgent in style, almost elitist and cliquish, actually, haha, but the information they provide is very very interesting and well-conveyed.

B. The Homeless Situation and the Myth of the Mole People

There is an actual urban legend about "Mole People," and one of the landmark books that brought the homeless situation in the tunnels of New York to the public interest is Jennifer Toth's The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City. It is an absolute must-read. There's been some controversy on whether or not the facts in the book are properly backed up, but nevertheless it remains riveting, and definitely brought interest to the homeless situation. After the book came out (in the 90's I think), the clean-ups became more aggressive, there was news coverage and even talk show appearances of some homeless people, and a bunch of films came out a few years later too. One of the critically-acclaimed ones is Dark Days and there is a long clip of this in YouTube, if you just want to get a glimpse of what it's like down in the tunnels and the sorts of people who live there, and to have a feel of the atmosphere Underworld tries (desperately!) to convey. The urban legend about a devil living in the tunnel is also something I picked up from this book.

There's some trivia about homeless people in New York that was provided in this fic. The racial demographics are based on studies published all over online, and even the interesting and quirky educational levels and criminal statistics of the people in the tunnels. There's been some issue as to which reporting bodies are most representative and objective, but the trivia is still worth thinking about, if taken with a grain of salt.

Another thing mentioned in Underworld is that some families choose to live underground rather than be torn apart by CPS. I think I got that idea from an instance mentioned in Toth's book, though I could be wrong.

C. Street Artists and Graffiti

Graffiti has been around for ages, all the way back to ancient art on cave walls. But New York in the 70's gave birth to the rebellious version as we currently know it. The quick history Sam shared with Dean regarding the messenger who is credited as being one of the forerunners of the modern format is an actual guy who went by the tag Taki183, I think. I read somewhere that his story was even featured in the New York Times.

The idea of a subway tunnel art in Underworld though (actual pieces, and not just tags), was inspired by several New York street artists. There is an actual "Freedom Tunnel" in New York where the Amtrak tunnel looks like a gallery of the works of an artist who signs as "Freedom." He is a famous street artist, who has even caught the eye of the Museum of Modern Art. Some people who have trespassed into the Amtrak Tunnel where his work can be found have even documented this in YouTube. Check it out if that interests you :) Other landmark street artists of note are brothers Smith and Sane, who made the news when they were sued by the city for 3 million dollars for what they do (I think the charges were dropped shortly after Sane unfortunately died, at aged eighteen).

In Underworld, the fictional artist Ted makes a painting of The Last Supper in his tunnel. This may sound crazy, but street artists do grand homages like that all the time. There have been street art of Michaelangelo's Creation, Goya's Third of May, and even Dali's dripping clocks, all on urban landscapes all not sanctioned by the government.

D. Murders in New York and The Cold Case Squad

For further reading on this, check out The Restless Sleep: Inside New York City's Cold Case Squad by Stacy Horn. Fascinating and utterly horrifying stuff. I didn't present any specific numbers on the unsolved murders and missing persons cases in New York in Underworld, but I did mention that there was a good number of them. Check out the teaser in Horn's book: "Between 1985 and 2004 a staggering 8,894 unsolved murders were committed in New York City. The killers continued to walk the streets while the dead lingered in an uneasy limbo." Imagine that, killers just walking around? I wanted Underworld to convey that level of profound unease. There's a good number of someones out there who've gotten away with their crimes for years.

Oh, and by the way, the Jack the Ripper reference and the theory that he used the London sewers for stalking, hiding and escaping?. I saw it on an episode of Cities of the Underworld in the History Channel. Awesome show, if you can catch it, do so.

IV. Massive Thanks and Replies

I know I've been saying this a lot but it's true, I really don't get a lot of reviews (especially if you look at it in a number-of-words-in-a-fic-to-number-of-reviews ratio haha) so I'm extremely thankful for everyone who took the time. I know we're all busy, and there's a whole lot of beautiful life to be lived outside of the fandom, so thanks for even taking the time to read and sharing the passion with me :)

I arranged my thanks list in alphabetical order, except for those who are given specific responses to their commentary, or those who have posted reviews after I posted this thanks. If I missed your name, I would be happy to be called out on it, because everyone deserves a shout out :)

Lots of love to: apieceofcake, Buckeye mom, Chiiyo86, cozmikfaerie, DeanBeanWinchester, fearlessgoddess2, golden starfish, greco, InSecret, JE Apple, Kelcor, Lee, princess peanut, Psychee, riquitv, seamonkey, sella117, Sue Pokorny, Wastinaway, and Zubeneschamali.

Lots of love also to:

adder574: Thank you for saying it feels like it could be an episode; this is one of the highest forms of compliments for me, because if you've read the afterword, I try really, really hard to make this so. I really hate for Underworld to feel totally alien from the series.

Alienmom: I'm happy you enjoyed Underworld enough to suggest a sequel, haha. But it took me forever to write this one and find the guts to post it, so I'm thinking a sequel won't be in the cards soon. We can never tell, though!

annie200: I loved what you said about the existence of anguish despite the reunion. It can't just be a happy ending, after all the changes that both brothers went through in the months they were apart.

badaiwind: Thank you for making Underworld the first time you read an incomplete story, haha! I hope I treated you well and updated in a timely fashion, as I imagine the only reason you don't read fics that aren't concluded yet is the admittedly maddening wait :)

deangirl1: We actually share a favorite moment on this fic! When you made the comment about Sam's casually protective hand on Dean's chest, and Dean looking at it like it was an alien growth? That's my favorite moment! I just thought it was such an illustration of the changes that were happening between the brothers :)

Dianne: Oh, I know what you mean about the boys being fish out of water here. I wish the show would go into a city more, I really do, it would be so much fun, and accessible especially to a lot of their viewers :) This wishing to see them in a city is almost as prevalent as wishing to see them overseas, haha. But I guess it's a budgetary issue by now.

hopeAndDreams: You're right about that question of what would make dean get off the rack. Us fans will find physical pain and torture as far from enough. Even mental torture is questionable, as long as Dean was in some form of possession of himself, it was hard to imagine him hurting other people. Depicting his trauma though kind of forced me to try to find some sort of a reason so there it was, I guess he just lost himself, a kind-of madness. I hope it was plausible :)

Jame K.: Thank you for commenting on the depth of detail, which was initially a deterrent from me posting this. I was actually scared that the prologue and the graffiti would turn off a lot of readers, haha. Thank you!

Jusmine: Thanks for pointing out the corrections, haha. I tend to miss a lot haha! I also love the comment you made on the brother's silent war on who protects whom. I took a lot of care on that and I'm glad it came through.

Kalen241: Thank you for saying Underworld can be an episode of the show. It's just one of the highest praises ever, and I work hard to make the story, the style and the characterizations fit :)

Mandy: Mandy, Mandy, Mandy! Thank you for the undeserved but nevertheless completely and utterly devoured praises! You really make me want to write better and write more. Your reviews are one of those that when I see it, make me want to post another chapter right away :)

Masondixon: I share your passion for long chapters, haha!

Meggin Lane: Thank you so so so much for saying Underworld is one of your best reads on the site. There are a ton of great stuff out there and greater writers, so I am very humbled and grateful.

Phoebe: Your first comment on the LOTR fandom made me laugh, haha! I think they really treated me very, very well, you're right, haha :) They are an utterly wonderful, wonderful bunch. But the Supernatural fandom is a very welcome challenge too :) On another matter, you're right about that Sam's trip issue, I never even thought about that haha. Chock it up to a school-sponsored trip, then, haha! The quip about the novel you're trying to forget made me laugh too; the books aren't so great, are they? But they're fairly entertaining stuff, and I guess I just had to allude to that case since it's New York :)

Rhesa: Haha, I do write "bro" a lot, don't I? I tried to cut back after your comment and I was like, woah! Thanks for pointing it out. And which author wouldn't want to see their fic filmed, you're right. Underworld on the screen? I guess I can always dream, haha. But thank you for saying that you wished it could be filmed. I just hope my indulgent descriptions approximated that a little bit :)

Staceycj: I love your honesty when you said that details on hunts in fanfiction can inspire impatience and boredom, haha! You totally encapsulated my fears in posting Underworld and given your feelings, I am even more grateful to you and to everyone who gave it a chance. I was so afraid that people would lose interest, I really was (I still am!) so thank you very, very much for sticking around and reviewing :)

Zatnikatel: Thank you so so so much for the time and effort you put in a review. I admit, when I saw some of the things you said, I was like, 'I'm so happy I'm putting up a new chapter like, right now! It's not just your writing style, and commenting on mine, but your perception and insights. I particularly liked what you said about Dean as a mess, and detailing all the violations of his carefully guarded privacy. Thank you for the reviews, much appreciated and very inspiring :)

V. The Next Project

Finally, for those who are interested, this should come out some time in '09 if I ever get around to it, haha. Another step off the beaten path for me, this one is a clip of Steps Behind:

Title:Steps Behind

Summary:56 seals down, 10 left to open. It's 2009, and Lucifer's standing on the welcome mat. At the eve of the final battle in a losing war, the Winchesters make their last goodbyes, and at this end of days, Dean is finally learning to let Sam go.

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"Dean, you have a visitor."

He looked up at the nurse from... from whatever it was he was doing or looking at, he's forgotten, lost track of the time, been losing track of a lot of things the last few days.

"Thanks," he told her with a wan smile. She was pretty and gracious and he saw her a lot, and yet he couldn't for the life of him even remember her name, or bring himself to care.

Castiel looked as calm as always, striding into his room after she ushered him in. He still looked like an accountant or a bank clerk, sure, but now he looked more grave, like he was predicting the Great Depression.

A year of working with humans and particularly Dean, still did nothing to improve on Castiel's recognition for a wider-berth of personal space; he sat by Dean's IV'd arm, thigh brushing it casually, maybe even obliviously. But at least now he was letting his entrance be announced, and Dean had even caught him knocking on a door once or twice. He remembered thinking, Holy crap. And had to physically restrain himself from saying, Knock knock knockin' on Heaven's door.

"You look well," Castiel said quietly, "I'm glad. They were not so optimistic when you first arrived, but I knew them to be wrong."

"You should have seen the other guys," Dean smirked at him, half-heartedly, out of sheer reflex. He had been sent out to guard an unopened seal against a very determined bunch of demons, along with a contingent of angels and fellow-hunters a week past. Enemies and allies all died there, and he was the only one who emerged more-or-less alive. His eyes darkened in memory. Colloquially, 'the other guys' usually meant just the enemy, not your allies, certainly not your friends. But the good, the bad, and the ugly, they were all similarly torn up and broken back there. Bodies littering the place, fucking mess. He laid on the field amongst the dead and bled and rode that Runway train ain't never coming back, and the only thing he could think about was that he was happy his brother, who had been injured on another mission just before his, was stuck cooling his heels in sick bay. Dean laid there dying, lying over the seal that decidedly did. not. break., until help arrived.

"You were not well enough for the briefing on this new mission," Castiel said, pausing before he added, "This last mission."

"Last?" Dean asked, brows furrowing.

"Fifty-six of the necessary sixty-six seals to set Lucifer walking the Earth have been broken," Castiel informed him, "We imagine this deployment of people would be the last in the campaign, one way or another."

"Damn it," Dean muttered, free hand already shakily reaching for his IV, wanting to rip it out. He shifted and grunted in pain, angling to shuffle to his feet.

Castiel put a warm, calming hand to his trembling, pained one. "I will not stop you Dean, but there is more to be said, and your medicine might as well stay where it is until I am done."

Dean met his resolved gaze and nodded shortly, lying back down, feeling dizzied.

"The last thing I heard," Dean huffed, "They were about twenty seals shy of the target. What the heck happened?"

"The last time you were fully aware before now was a week ago," Castiel pointed out, mildly, "These last few days... the demons have created a surge unlike any they have attempted before. The brutal assault upon your contingent was the first amongst many in the storm they unleashed last week. I believe they were thinking they could end it all in one fell sweep, but we held fast to our seals. It was brutal on both fronts, and now that they are regrouping, we too, have the opportunity to discuss and act upon our options."

"What options?" Dean asked, wearily, before masking it with a wicked grin, "But you know what they say, Cas. There's nothing more dangerous than a man who has lost everything. We can work with these odds, huh?"

"I am not Sam," Castiel told him, flatly.

"That's random," Dean smirked, even as his eyes begged the other to go no further-

"You need not pretend for me," Castiel said, and to Dean's relief, went on as if it was nothing, "Assignments have been set. I found it prudent to inform you that you will be separated from your brother."

"What?!" Dean exclaimed, "That's just a pile of-"

"Listen first," Castiel told him, eyes going earnest now, pinning Dean to silence, "The demons have a new spell that they have been using sporadically over the last few days. It affects just angels, to which mortal men are immune. You have your weaknesses, and we have ours. The contingents will have to be a mix of mortals and angels, Dean. There are too few of you in our fold, and so you and Sam have been assigned separate tasks."

"No way," Dean said, strategy be damned, because if this was the final show, and this was the toughest gig, Sam wasn't walking anywhere he wasn't steps behind. No way.

Castiel raised up a hand, "I am not finished."

"I don't care-"

"It might appease you to know," Castiel went on anyway, voice raised a little, the very human, subtly combative way he had learned to act around Dean, "It might appease you to know that the strategy remains two-fold. Contingents will be deployed to protect the unopened seals and are expected to fend off the demonic attacks upon them. But the search for Lilith and Alastair continues, because eliminating the leaders would cut off the head of this beast and derail the demons on a more decisive manner. You have been assigned to the protection of a seal. Sam has been assigned to search for Lilith and Alastair."

Dean's brows rose. That sounded bad, but in practice, it truly wasn't. People and angels assigned on the Lilith/Alastair-trail had a massive survival rate, precisely because encounters were few and far between since they were so hard to find. Sam running around after the elusive bitch and dick duo would be much better than Sam digging his heels into the defense of a seal, just waiting for an attack that was bound to happen and bound to be brutal because their numbers were spread thin across so many seals, while the demons just had to focus all their efforts in a few.

"I think I'm down with this," Dean murmured.

"Sam's... disposition," Castiel added, "Makes him our one true card left, Dean. I do not mean that our situation is desperate enough to require the use of his powers, but either way, Lilith and Alastair fear no one but him. We have to put him in the best position to defeat them. And similarly, we do not want him in a position where he can be captured and made to fight with them. Either way, he cannot be tied in the defense of an outpost."

"Not like the dregs like me, huh?" Dean chuckled, "As long as he lives, man."

"I would not sell you short," Castiel said, "You have not lost a seal since the very first one that was put in your protection."

"Samhain," Dean winced, "Yeah, that. You'll never let me forget it, huh?"

"You still own one of the best rates of success, Dean," Castiel told him, gently, "Amongst humans or angels."

"Not that it means anything now," Dean said, "Ten to go... God..."

"Dean, there's something else," said Castiel, "Between you and me... I believe you will be sent to the least defensible of outposts, by virtue of all that you have accomplished so far. You have a right to know."

Dean stared at him for a long, thoughtful moment.

"I might never get out of this," Dean said, quietly, wince-smiling, "I mean the Vegas money is on none of us getting out alive, but I don't even make the board, 's what you're saying."

"Your brother," Castiel murmured, "He is a very smart man. He understands all of this, and all that it could mean. He also understands that it is strategically sound, and must be attempted. What he does not understand, is why all of this is happening. Why it is your family that must sacrifice again. Answers I cannot give."

"Answers I've never been able to give either," Dean said, "What? You want me to talk to him? He hasn't really been listening to me lately." He wrinkled his nose in endeared dismay, "He's bossy."

"Everyone here is fighting of their own free will," Castiel said, "Both of you can defy the assignments and band together. Both of you can even walk out that door, live a little bit longer, change your allegiances, even... and that is your choice to make. But I pray that you do not abandon us now."

"Sam's not afraid of losing or dying," Dean said, "He won't run. Neither will I."

"He doesn't want to run," Castiel corrected him, "He wants to take you away, and there is a difference though the result is the same. You are both needed wherever you are put, Dean, and that is all. No one else can impress this upon him but you."

"I'll talk to him," Dean promised.

"Thank you."

Dean bit his lip thoughtfully, and looked up at Castiel, "So uh... this deployment. When's it gonna be?"

"We cannot expect it to be longer than twenty-four hours from now," Castiel said.

"Where are you gonna be?" Dean asked.

"I have the lethal honor of standing beside you," Castiel said, his expression unreadable.

To be continued... I think, haha. Warning though: I have my eyes set on finishing Steps Behind as a tragedy.

Thanks again everybody and as always, comments and constructive criticism are welcome. You guys are the best! Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, enjoy the holidays and 'Til the next post!