Act IV

"Purgatory?" Sam repeated. "Are you sure?"

Dean huffed a laugh, his eyes surveying the surrounding trees. "Not someplace I'm gonna forget."

Bobby had given up trying to find a gap in the stone wall they had just miraculously fallen through, and moved up alongside the brothers, his own head rotating around as he took in their current location.

"Are you serious, Dean? How the hell did we get to Purgatory? I thought we needed a damn eclipse?"

Dean moved a few steps away from the others, as if he was uncomfortable standing so close, like he felt hemmed in and needed space to maneuver. He lifted a shoulder in response. "Like Crowley said, Hell adjacent." One side of his mouth rose in a sneer. "Guess there's a backdoor even the King of Hell doesn't know about."

Sam's attention alternated between the dark forest surrounding them and his suddenly vigilant brother. From the tight coil of his body, Sam could tell Dean had dropped into complete survival mode. This was a Dean that had always scared the younger man. It was a Dean that acted on impulse, not thinking, just moving. There had been occasions that Sam was thankful his brother could turn everything off and just react to a situation, but he had to admit it was a Dean he'd always been more than a bit wary of. Not that he didn't respect this version of his brother – his instincts had saved their asses too many times not to, but he couldn't help but wonder how hard it was for Dean to bury this predatory version of himself on a daily basis, how he was able to push it down and lock it away. Dean was a master of showing people exactly what he wanted them to see. How he was able to keep such firm control so that nobody who didn't live in his pocket day in and day out would ever suspect this frightening version lurked just under the surface, was something Sam had never been able to fathom.

The thought that Dean had been forced to let this side of himself take control for an entire year made Sam's stomach turn. As soon as they'd fallen through the stone wall, Dean had realized where they were, and his demeanor had transformed instantly. Sam had hoped to never see the coldly efficient hunter version of his brother he had found in Rufus' cabin all those months ago, but couldn't deny he was thankful to see it now.

"I'm guessing I'm missing something here," Bobby prompted.

Before either of them could fill the older man in on what had transpired when they'd killed Dick Roman, five figures stepped out of the shadows to their right, their eyes gleaming as they spread out, each brandishing a primitive but lethal weapon. Scavengers and bottom dwellers, they wore mismatched clothing that carried years of filth on them. They moved with precision, as if they'd been hunting together all their lives, brandishing the weapons like extensions of their own arms. The figure in the center, the leader Sam presumed, smiled as hideous, sharp fangs descended.

Vampires.

Sam swallowed hard, instinctively taking a small step back, gasping as his brother did just the opposite.

Dean stood straight, his shoulders back and took a stride toward the vampire leader, his eyes lidded, a predatory smile on his own face.

"Winchester," the vampire sneered.

"Have we met?" Dean returned. "You all look alike to me."

"No, but you and that traitor you were traveling with killed more than a few friends of mine."

"Sorry for your loss." Dean didn't skip a beat, his voice low and controlled as he responded.

The vampire raised his weapon. "You will be."

In unison, the monsters charged. Dean crouched, meeting the lead vampire head on, swinging the knife straight at its neck. As its head rolled back, Dean grabbed the crude but sharp weapon it had been holding, and stepped to the right as the body fell to the ground. He turned, tossed his knife to Bobby and charged a second vampire.

Both Bobby and Sam were stunned at the sudden attack, both taking a few seconds to get their bearings. The remaining vampires came at them from all sides. Sam felt more than saw one of them coming from his left and turned, neatly jamming the demon killing knife through its eye. With a shriek, it fell back, the knife coming loose, giving the hunter a clear shot at its neck. A few moments later, it joined its leader on the cold ground.

Sam turned, seeing Bobby grappling with one of the vampires and rushed to his aid. He stabbed the knife into the back of the vamp's neck, twisting it and sliding it to the side as the monsters went rigid. Once the blade came free, the vampire's head tilted to the side, still attached by a few strands of muscle and skin. The body crashed to the ground, and Sam decided it was good enough for the moment.

Making sure Bobby was okay, he turned quickly to help his brother and stopped cold, his eyes wide, his mouth agape.

Dean was rising from his knees where he had just hacked the head off the last of the five attackers. The other vamp's body lay not far from the leader, its head nowhere in sight. Dean wiped the bone colored blade he'd appropriated from the first vampire on the sleeve of his jacket and turned to his companions.

"We have to move. They won't be the last."

Sam's chest ached, and he realized he'd stopped breathing the moment he'd understood his brother had dispatched three vampires without breaking a sweat.

So this was what Dean had faced in Purgatory. This was what he had meant by 24/7 combat.

He felt Bobby draw up alongside him, and knew the older man was wearing the same expression of astonishment that was currently residing on his own.

As Dean turned away and started down the path between the trees, Bobby pursed his lips and gave Sam a quick look of concern. "I think you better fill me in on what you boys have been up to."

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Hunger wasn't an issue in Purgatory. Neither was sleep. Dean found himself falling back into survival mode like a familiar pair of jeans. He was aware of the two men behind him as Sam filled Bobby in on what had happened at SucroCorp. Sam's version glossed over what Dean had been through in Purgatory, only harping on the one thing he'd decided was important – Dean's alliance with Benny. In all fairness, Dean had never told Sam why his bond with the vampire had been so important, but then again, it had been painfully clear that Sam didn't want to hear it. He knew it was something that would shock Bobby, but he wasn't going to apologize for it. Sam could think whatever the hell he wanted. Benny had saved Dean's life, and despite the fact he had told the vampire he could no longer be there for him, he still felt a connection to him and knew that if push came to shove and Benny really, truly needed him, he wouldn't hesitate to go. Sam's opinion be damned.

Dean could feel his old friend's eyes trained on the back of his head as he swiftly led them through the trees, and he tried to ignore it although it felt like a small laser boring into his soul. They'd run across more monsters, each time Dean anticipating their arrival, his senses in overdrive, using the imminent fight as a distraction to his own perplexing train of thought.

He knew it was only a matter of time before Bobby tried to get him to open up. Nobody had ever been able to get to him like the old mechanic. It was like Dean couldn't lie to the man. He asked a question, Dean felt compelled to answer. Maybe it was respect.

Maybe it was just that Bobby cared enough to ask.

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It was brutal.

Monsters of all kinds coming at them with only one intention. Singer couldn't believe Dean had spent a year here. He couldn't believe Sam had let him.

He couldn't help but wonder if these boys would've gone this far off the rails if he'd been there.

One of the monsters that had attacked them had been a wraith. Dean had easily subdued it, pinning it to a tree, his appropriated weapon at its throat. He asked it about a lake, calmly waiting for it to answer his questions, then ruthlessly relieving it of its head. After that, Bobby had kept his eye on the younger man, not sure he liked what he was seeing.

Slowly he made his way up the trail, coming abreast with Dean who was setting a brisk pace.

"So…" Bobby began, not entirely sure what he wanted to say. He could see Dean was locked down, his eyes wide and taking in everything surrounding them. "A lake?"

"Point of reference," Dean responded succinctly.

"Like due north," Bobby concluded.

Dean nodded. "The lake was where we found Cas. From there I can find our way to the portal."

Bobby remained silent, trusting the kid's sense of direction. Like he had a choice…

"Found Cas?" he finally ventured. "Sam said you two disappeared together."

"Yeah," Dean answered bitterly. "And then he poofed out."

"He left you alone?" Bobby was incredulous. "Here?" He'd had his issues with the angel, but he'd never imagined that Cas would put Dean in harm's way on purpose.

Dean just shrugged. "Leviathans were after him. He said it was safer if he wasn't with me. It took us months to find him"

"Talk about the frying pan and fire," the older hunter mumbled. Dean snorted in agreement.

"So this 'us" you're talking about. This your new vampire buddy?"

Dean finally looked at him, his defenses up at the accusation in Bobby's tone.

Bobby shrugged. "Sam told me you've been cozying up with monsters. I want to hear it from you."

Dean's jaw clenched, but he didn't break his stride. "Did Sam also mention that Benny saved my ass more times than I can count?" His voice rose in volume, loud enough for his brother to easily hear. "Did Sam mention that while my own brother was playing house with a girl and a dog, Benny was watching my back, watching Cas' back, leading us to the way out?"

Bobby glanced back at the younger Winchester, but Sam wouldn't meet his eyes.

"I get it, kid. He helped you. But what were you thinkin' lettin' a monster loose in the world again?"

Dean stopped abruptly and turned to face the older man. His eyes turned stony, his lips thinned in carefully controlled anger. "We made a deal. He used me, I used him. He kept his part of the deal, I kept mine. End of story."

"I ain't passing judgment, boy. It's just you are the last person I thought I'd ever see trusting a monster."

Dean took a deep breath, his eyes dropping to the ground as he reined in his emotions. "Do you know how Benny ended up here?" He looked up at his brother, his brows raised in question. "His own nest took his head – because he refused to kill humans." He looked pointedly at Sam, letting the younger man contemplate the meaning of his words. "He got me out." Dean returned his gaze to Bobby, no apology in them. "I got him out. And he kept his word."

With another glance at his brother, Dean stalked off into the trees.

Bobby sighed, waiting while Sam crossed the terrain to join him.

"You left a few details out," he accused as they both began tailing Dean again.

"I didn't know."

"Like you didn't know he was trapped here?"

Sam sighed. "Dean and I made a deal not to look for each other. I was –"

"Damnit, Sam, I know about that deal. Hell, I helped you two make that deal! It's a non-deal!" Bobby shook his head at the beat-down sag of Sam's shoulders. "You two boys are the most dysfunctional pair of idjits I've ever known."

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Sam was beginning to wonder if Dean really knew where he was going. They'd been walking for what felt like half a day, the gray, monotony of the landscape broken only by attacks from monsters of every variety Vamps, wraiths, werewolves, and a few Sam couldn't even identify. All swiftly and efficiently dealt with. Sam could see that Dean had shut down. Whether it was being back here, or his anger at Sam he couldn't be sure. Either way he vowed to make it up to his brother if they managed to get out.

Dean had stayed ahead, not speaking to either of them as they trudged on. Sam was surprised he hadn't felt hungry, despite the vigorous pace his brother had set. He wasn't thirsty either. Even Purgatory had its silver lining, he guessed.

Knowing it would come across as whining, he was about to ask his brother how much longer, when Dean stopped near the edge of a raised cliff. Halfway up the steep incline, a shimmering portal came into view, it's edges expanding as they inched closer.

"Wow," Sam exclaimed, his eyes riveted to the sight of the portal. It glittered against the gray backdrop of the mountainside, a bright blue sizzle of light dancing in the distance.

Dean pulled his knife and held it out to Sam. "You know what to do." He had quickly explained the procedure to them both as they trekked along reciting the spell he had used to ferry Benny out before. Sam nodded and took the knife, turning to face Bobby. "You ready?"

Bobby took a deep breath and looked each of his boys in the eyes. "Felt good to be back in action again. Might not hurt to keep me around."

Dean looked away, but Sam shook his head sadly. "Bobby, we'd love to, you know that. But for this trial to be completed, your soul has to enter Heaven." He looked to Dean for support, but his brother had turned away, his eyes on the ground at his feet. "Besides," he hastily added. "Even if that weren't the case, we burned your bones, Bobby. And the flask. There's nothing to tie your spirit to earth."

Bobby nodded as if he'd expected it. "Yeah, well, I always figured that'd be the end of it." Bobby shuffled his feet, uncomfortable with the finality of it all. "You know, a hunter's funeral then zip, nothin'.. And I was okay with that." He huffed a laugh. "Imagine my surprise."

Sam smiled sadly. "I guess if there has to be an eternity, I'd pick Heaven over Hell," he offered, hoping it would help quell his friend's uncertainty.

"Yeah, like there's nothin' screwy goin' on up there." Bobby rolled his eyes, his lips pulled back into a sardonic grin.

"I wish we made the rules."

Bobby's eyes softened and his grin turned into a warm smile at Dean's quiet words.

After a few moments, he straightened his shoulders and adjusted the cap on his head. "Well, I'll do my part, get to the end of this, but I ain't exactly the retiring type, so... " Again he let his gaze travel from Sam to Dean, holding the older brother's eyes for a bit. "If you idjits figure out a way to spring me…"

Dean's nod was almost imperceptible, and Sam could see the grief at losing their surrogate father again in his brother's eyes. Losing Bobby had almost killed them, there was no easy way to say goodbye again.

Sam cleared his throat, hoping he sounded stronger than he felt. "We get to earth and release you, it's an express straight to Heaven. No time for goodbyes."

Bobby's eyes were shining as he stepped forward and placed a hand on Sam's arm, grabbing Dean's sleeve, creating an unbreakable bond. . "I already said goodbye to you boys once. Didn't seem to take. No reason to think I won't see you again down the road."

Sam smiled through the mist in his own eyes. He couldn't force himself to look at his brother. He couldn't bear to see the sorrow he knew was lurking behind Dean's mask.

He handed the knife to Bobby who made a shallow cut on his forearm before doing the same to his own. With a last look at Bobby, he recited the phrase Dean had taught him, tensing as Bobby's form phased out and a warm, pulsing light entered his arm.

They stood for a moment, neither brother able to speak, knowing they would probably never see their friend again.

"If they give him a rocking chair up there, he's gonna raise hell."

Sam couldn't help but snort a laugh at his brother's remark. "He's gonna raise hell no matter what."

They both turned to the shimmering portal just as a small band of freaks emerged from the treeline.

"Move!" Dean ordered, pushing his brother in front of him toward the incline. It was a tough climb, but being pursued by a fiendish hoard of monsters made the effort seem painless. It only took them minutes to reach the top of the cliff, the portal pulling on them as the monsters scrambled up the incline behind them. Sam looked back, making sure his brother was behind him and felt the sudden sensation of being pushed and pulled at the same time. As he fell into the portal, he reached down and latched onto Dean's jacket, allowing the tug of the portal to pull both him and his brother through the seam.

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They tumbled from the portal into a dark forest, the familiar disorientation leaving Dean gasping for air. After a few moments, he became aware of his brother lying to his right, prone, trying to suck in oxygen of his own.

"Sammy?" Dean pushed himself to his knees. He reached an arm out, slapping his brother's jean-clad leg. "You okay?"

Sam coughed and forced himself up on one elbow. "Wow," he remarked breathlessly. "That was…"

"Yeah. Quite the rush, huh?"

Sam nodded and struggled to a sitting position, still breathing hard. He looked around, raising one hand to his face to wipe the sweat from his brow. "Where the hell are we?"

"Maine," Dean grunted. He scrambled to his feet, turning in a circle, surveying the darkness.

"Maine?"

"Yep. Middle of fucking nowhere."

"How did you…?" Sam waved a hand at the dark, lonely, completely uninhabited landscape surrounding them, letting his question hang. He had no idea how his brother had gotten to Rufus' cabin from here before. Dean had never explained a lot about what had happened to him. To be fair, Sam had never really listened either.

Dean shrugged. "I found a campsite." He grinned as he recalled the shock on the young couples' faces when he'd confronted them outside their tent on his first return from Purgatory. "I think I probably scared the crap out of a couple campers. I probably looked pretty wild."

Sam hissed in pain and Dean watched as he grabbed his arm, rolling his sleeve to reveal the pulsing light of Bobby's soul.

"Feel's weird, huh?"

Sam snorted a laugh. "Burns," he admitted. "How long did you carry Benny?"

"Few days," Dean responded casually. He ignored Sam's look of surprise, turning away and running a hand down his face. He grimaced at the feel of the slick sweat on his skin. "His bones were buried near New Orleans." He offered as explanation. "Took me a while to get there since I couldn't get to my car…"

Sam had the grace to look ashamed at the reminder of his ignorance of his brother's plight. The sensation of Bobby's soul, pulsating beneath his skin, wasn't exactly painful, but it was damn uncomfortable. Knowing it was Bobby made it bearable. For Dean to have humped the soul of a vampire across the country… well, it was testament to how much Benny had come to mean to him. More than that, it was a testament to Dean's sense of honor.

Aware of his brother's scrutiny, Dean shifted on his feet and held out a hand to help Sam to his. Once the younger man was vertical, Dean slapped him on the shoulder and cleared his throat.

"You ready?"

Sam steeled himself and held his arm in front of him. With a glance at his brother, the hunter took a deep breath and recited the chant that would release Bobby's soul. The sensation was a slight burning, coupled with an inexplicable sense of loss. Maybe housing Bobby's soul had psychologically made him feel closer to their old friend. Maybe part of his own soul was bleeding out with Bobby's.

Whatever the reason, Sam couldn't help the sense of sadness that weighted his heart as he watched the effervescent white and blue cloud of light ascend toward the dark sky.

As it neared the tops of the trees, the cloud's upward movement stopped as if hitting an invisible ceiling. The bright, flickering blue changed to a dull, smoky red as the soul began to descend toward the ground.

"What the hell?"

"Hello, boys."

The hunters turned in unison at the familiar voice, scowling at the figure standing on a rise just behind them.

Crowley gave them a condescending smile before turning his eyes to the smoky cloud hovering just above them. "Bobby Singer. I'd know you anywhere."

"Let him go, Crowley." Dean's voice was hushed, pleading. "He doesn't belong in Hell."

"He does if I say he does." Crowley responded smugly. "He's inflicted untold damage on my kind. Actually, from where I sit, Hell's too good for him."

Both hunters started forward in anger at the demon's words, but a flick of a wrist saw them both flying painfully into a pair of trees a few feet from their position, held three feet off the ground by Crowley's magic.

"Really?" Crowley rolled his eyes, his amusement at the humans' useless attempt at attack obvious. He returned his gaze to the cloud above him, smiling as it began to descend again.

His expression turned to one of confusion as the cloud stopped.

"What?"

A flash of light signaled a new arrival to the party. Crowley's face pinched as the smartly dressed woman smiled.

"Oh, come on!" He cried in irritation.

The immobilized hunters struggled to turn their heads, confusion written on their faces.

The woman stepped forward, her hands clasped in front of her, the very picture of composure.

"Let me see if I've interpreted the situation correctly." Her attention was on Crowley, but her glance took in the two hunters to her left. "The Winchesters have freed an innocent from Hell, to which you are wrongfully trying to return." It was a statement, not a question, but she waited politely for Crowley to respond.

"Siding with them, Naomi? You don't know those two. Before they're done, we'll both be locked away."

The King of Hell's contemptuous tone was lost on Dean, who stared in shock at the angel Castiel had insinuated was controlling him.

"I'm just hoping they lock you away, dear." Naomi responded coldly. "The rest, I'll figure out." There was obviously no love lost between the two supernatural beings, but despite the fact Naomi seemed to be helping them, after what he'd learned from Cas, Dean wasn't about to trust the new angel.

"Bureaucrat," Crowley growled, distastefully. "You're fighting outside your weight class."

Naomi's expression changed to one of carefully controlled rage in an instant. "Don't call me a bureaucrat!"

A blinding light began to emanate from her eyes, a shrill hum filling the air around them. She raised her hand toward the demon, but he had vanished.

The hunters fell to the ground, no longer held aloft by Crowley's magic. They quickly looked up, relieved to see the dark, murky cloud become bright again and slowly rise up, disappearing like a shooting star toward heaven.

They both picked themselves up from the ground and dusted themselves off before turning their attention to the angel. She pulled down the front of her gray suit jacket as if about to greet an important client, plastered a smile on her face and stepped toward the Winchesters.

She held out her hand. "Hello, Dean. Sam." She nodded to each of them in turn. "We haven't been formally introduced. My name is Naomi."

Dean took a small step back, holding an arm out to thwart Sam's attempt to take the angel's proffered hand.

"Oh, I know who you are," he responded in a tight voice. "I know what you did to Cas after he got out of Purgatory."

"After I rescued him from Purgatory, you mean." Her voice changed in tone, a touch of annoyance bleeding into the manufactured charm. "At the cost of many angels' lives."

Dean wasn't buying her act and shook his head. "You screwed with his head and had him spy on us." While he was still angry with Cas for not trusting them – not trusting him – he knew, deep down, that it wasn't completely Castiel's fault. He'd been around the block with these dicks enough times to know that manipulation was one of the things the angel hierarchy excelled at.

Naomi clasped her hands in front of her and tipped her head contritely. "Well, it's true I have spoken with Castiel many times, trying to reach out to him, trying to help him, Dean, you must have noticed how Purgatory changed him." She stared at Dean, daring him to contradict her. "I mean, he's been unstable in the past, but I was shocked at how damaged he is now." She finished with a look of feigned outrage that could have won her an Emmy.

She was good, Dean had to admit. If he didn't know better, if he hadn't witnessed Cas' actions with his own eyes, felt the pain of the rage the angel couldn't control, he may have bought the act. As it was, he knew a lie when he heard one.

He was sick of being played.

"Stop. Okay? Don't… don't try to spin this. You think I don't know that you told him to try and kill me?"

Dean heard Sam's sharp intake of breath from behind him and felt his brother move closer. He'd never told Sam everything that had happened in the crypt. His brother was dealing with enough crap, Dean hadn't felt the need to layer Castiel's newest betrayal on top of everything else.

Naomi continued to deflect. "I suppose that is how he would hear it." She shook her head in regret. "When I learned of the Angel tablet, I did tell Castiel to get it – at any cost. That's my job," she spread her hands before her. "To protect Heaven."

Dean couldn't stifle a derisive huff at the gall of her continuing act. This bitch was very good.

"I'm a warrior," Naomi continued, attempting to appeal to their analogous natures. "Just as you are. What would you expect? And now Castiel is in the wind with a hydrogen bomb in his pocket and I…" Her voice had risen and she paused for dramatic effect, making a show of collecting herself and reining in her emotions.

Dean almost applauded the performance.

"I'm scared for all of us."

"Save it." Dean's voice was hard, his expression stony. He wasn't buying into any more angel crap. Not now. Not ever again. "I don't trust angels. Which means I don't trust you."

Naomi's eyes flashed in anger for a moment before the calm façade resettled on her face. "I suppose, after everything, I can understand your feelings. I just hope I can somehow change your mind." She smiled, and Dean cringed at the sight. "I believe we can be beneficial to each other."

Without another word, she disappeared, the hushed sound of flapping wings echoing through the trees.

It was Sam who broke the silence after what seemed like an eternity.

"What the hell?"

"Frickin' angels." Dean grumbled in response. Before his brother could start vocalizing the millions of thoughts that were certainly swirling around in his egghead brain, Dean turned and looked him in the eye. "You ready to finish this?"

Swallowing his questions – ones Dean was certain he'd end up answering in annoying detail later – Sam nodded and pulled the piece of paper containing the chant for the trial from his pocket.

This time, the reaction to whatever magic was working through his brother was much more intense. Dean could only watch, his heart in his throat, as Sam screamed and fell to his knees, holding out his hand as a fiery, orange light pulsed through it. Although it resembled the light of Bobby's soul, Sam's reaction to it was the exact opposite. It was obviously painful, and Dean could do nothing to make this better for his brother.

He had never felt more useless in his life.

"Sam? Sammy?" He knelt down next to his brother as the orange glow faded and Sam's grunts of pain died away. The younger man wasn't moving, his panting breaths the only outward sign of life.

"Yeah," he replied after a few moments. "I'm okay."

Dean wanted to call bullshit, but knew now was not the time. He gave his brother a few more minutes to catch his breath, knowing the long hike back to civilization would zap his strength – or what was left of it. Despite the fact he knew Naomi had been full of shit, he couldn't help wishing she'd at least offered them a lift. Regardless of the side effects, a quick trip back to the Impala on Angel Air sounded like a good idea right now.

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They had hiked through the northwestern wilderness for the better part of the day, Dean keeping the pace slow enough so as not to tire his brother too badly, but quick enough to keep the younger man from calling foul. As the sun was beginning to set, they came upon a vacant campsite. Figuring the occupants were out hiking or fishing, the hunters took the opportunity to avail themselves of a few bottles of water and some food.

Aware his brother had been keeping an eye on him throughout their trek, Sam was happy to see the beat-up old Ford Bronco parked off the trail by the side of the tent. The Bronco proved to be little challenge for Dean's talents of appropriation, and soon they were back on the road headed toward where they had left the Impala in Wyoming.

Much to Sam's surprise, his brother hadn't bombarded him with inquiries as to his current state of health. Sam considered that a good thing since he had to admit he felt like crap.

On the other hand, maybe Dean wasn't asking because the answer was obvious.

As if on cue, the older brother cleared his voice and spoke up. "You doing okay?"

Sam couldn't help but chuckle. "I'll live."

Dean glanced at him, his eyes raking up and down the younger man, his doubt written on his face. Sam gave him a reassuring smile.

"Really."

Dean just nodded and returned his attention to the road.

Sam watched his brother. He had no idea what Dean had endured in Purgatory until today. Dean had said it was 24/7 combat, but the words didn't really do the actual place justice. How his brother had survived….

Actually being there had put a few things in a whole new light. The fact that Benny had stuck by his brother, had protected him, had his back while Sam was in the real world fixing sinks and playing handy man made him feel an intense sense of guilt. He'd tried to bury it when he'd felt it before, but he knew it was useless. He couldn't run from his mistakes forever.

Dean had made a point of supporting him and believing in him through these trials. He owed his brother some honesty in return.

"I'm sorry," he said softly. He kept his eyes on his brother, and even though he didn't react, Sam knew he'd heard him. Dean kept his eyes carefully trained on the road, a slight tick in his jaw the only sign he was listening.

After a few moments of silence, Dean nodded slightly, but didn't take his eyes from the road. "For what?"

Sam swallowed, not sure how to put what he was feeling into words. "I'm sorry about how I reacted to Benny," he finally admitted. "After what we just saw… those monsters… how savage they were… Benny had your back. He got you out. He's obviously different from them. Different from what I thought he was. I should never have reacted like I did. I may not have wanted to trust him, but I should've trusted you."

Dean took a deep breath, his hands twisting on the leather padded steering wheel. He still didn't look at his brother, but Sam could see a softening in his expression and he knew he'd been heard.

"Anyway, I just wanted you to know I was sorry."

Finally Dean glanced across the bench seat at his brother. His eyes were lidded, but a soft smile played on his face. "Any more deep, dark confessions you want to get off your chest?"

Sam snorted a laugh, marveling at his brother's capacity for forgiveness. The laugh ended in a jaw-breaking yawn that left Dean chuckling. "Yeah," Sam answered honestly. "A few. But to tell you the truth, I'm just too tired right now."

There were a lot of things Sam needed to apologize for, but he knew they could wait. Dean wasn't going anywhere. And even if these trials ended up costing more than they'd bargained, Sam knew his brother's forgiveness was something he could count on. Whether he deserved it or not.

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Kevin Tran shook the can of spray paint and leaned forward, touching up the sigil on the window of Fizzles Folly. He hadn't heard from Dean or Sam since they'd taken off to attempt the second trial, and he was climbing the walls waiting for some kind of sign. The Winchesters had assured him that Crowley's voice was all in his head… but you could never be too sure. A little touch up on security wouldn't hurt.

"So tired of this, aren't you Kevin?" The prophet nearly fell from the stool he was perched on, turning quickly, his eyes scanning the dark interior of the boat as Crowley's voice continued. "The fear, the hiding… I know I am."

Kevin placed the can of spray paint down on the shelf , his gaze shifting from shadow to shadow. The only light came from a trio of candles he'd lit in the center of the main living space, the darkness fluttering around the edges of the small room. "It's a dream," he whispered unconvincingly to himself. "It's just a dream."

The symbols on the windows started to glow as the boat began to shake, a low whine beginning to crescend into a high pitched screech that hurt his ears. The screech was joined by a deep rumble, the two building together, resembling the approach of a tornado. Kevin stepped to the side and covered his ears just as the windows shattered inward.

"Kevin Tran." Kevin looked up to see the King of Hell pinch one of the candles out with his fingertips. "Been a while." The demon glared at Kevin, amused at the fear apparent on the young prophets face. "Thought you could elude me forever? There's always a way. If you can't find one Tran… find another." He gave Kevin a moment to let the meaning of his words sink in. "Your mom," Crowley assured smugly. "She didn't want to give you up - quite a pain threshold that one – but even she could only take so much."

Kevin shook his head, his voice shaking in fear, "She never would have told you."

Crowley moved forward, tucking his hands casually into the pockets of his overcoat. "Moms are like that aren't they?" he agreed, before letting a chilling smile lift his lips. "So we killed her and got your address from her smart phone."

"No!"

Crowley smile faded and a cruel glint of anger filled his eyes. "What you people never seem to understand is that you are nothing! Fleeting blips of light. I. Am. Forever!"

SNSNSNSNSNSNSNSNS

It had taken them another day to get back to Missouri from the cowboy cemetery in Wyoming and Dean was looking forward to at least 24 hours in his memory foam bed when they returned to the bunker. He had done the driving, letting Sam sleep on and off, hoping the rest was doing his brother some good. From the way the younger man looked, it didn't seem to be helping, but Dean knew there was nothing else he could do for Sam at the moment.

And that fact was something he didn't want to think about.

The boat was quiet when they arrived, but that was normal, considering Garth was rarely around and Kevin was busy deciphering the writing on the tablet. It wasn't until they entered the boat that Dean became concerned.

"Kevin? It's us! Kevin?" His voice echoed in the empty room, the walls and floors completely cleared of all of the young prophet's work. The place looked like it had been visited by the crew from Merry Maids. It made Dean's skin itch.

"Kevin?" Sam repeated, looking in the small alcove Kevin had used as a bedroom. The room looked like it had never been lived in. He stepped back into the main room and shook his head. "He's gone. He took all his stuff, his notes…"

Dean sighed. "Well, saw this coming." Kevin had been stressed for quite some time. They had pushed him, hoping he was strong enough to get the job done. Apparently, they'd pushed too hard. "He finally freaked. The little geek made a run for it."

"Yeah," Sam agreed. He hated to think of the young prophet running out on his own. It wouldn't be the first time, but they were so close to ending it. He couldn't believe Kevin had bolted now. "But where?"

Dean wished like hell he knew.

End

So there you have it, my therapeutic version of Taxi Driver. I hope you enjoyed my re-imagining of the episode and for all of you who felt the same as me, I hope it helped erase some of the disappointment from this season! I'd love to hear from you!