The streets were alive with people doing their things and Dean had a hard time wrapping his mind around that this place wasn't 'normal'. He watched the people he passed, but there was nothing out of the ordinary about them. They went about their business, some rushing along in business attire, some driving, some walking along together or alone. Nothing strange there.

He stopped on a corner and surveyed what he could see of the town. He knew this place inside out and not at all. It was a weird duality, a sense of being split down the middle and glued together just a little bit wrong; like the seams didn't entirely match up.

"Are you lost?"

He turned around to face the older man standing there, eying him closely. "Uh ... no. I'm just ... out for a walk," he said.

"Ah," the older man said and smiled. "Not such a bad day to just be walking, is it?" With that he took his leave and walked on.

Dean watched him walk away and wondered if any of these people really knew what this town was about.

"It's a strange place, isn't it?"

He jerked sideways a step and exhaled on a sigh when he realized that Bobby was keeping him company. "You can say that again. And stop sneaking up on me like that. You nearly gave me a heart attack," he countered.

"Sorry," Bobby drawled. "You've picked up on some fine sensibilities lately, haven't you?"

"And you're getting closer to the angry ghost scenario, so dial it down, okay? We still need you," Dean shot back, both worried and a little pissed off.

Bobby glared for a second. "Right," he muttered. "It ain't easy, being like this. Although ..." He reached out and grabbed a hold of a lamppost and spent a second just feeling it.

"Do you two want a moment alone here?" Dean asked, one eyebrow arched.

"Shut up," Bobby grumbled and let his hand drop away.

For a moment they surveyed the streets together, comfortable with each other's silence. Then Dean glanced at the solid-looking ghost of the older hunter. "So ... what do you think of all this?"

"It could be good," Bobby surmised. "Could be an unmitigated disaster too, of course, but considering the present outcome ... personally I don't really see how this could get worse. So ..." He shrugged lightly.

"Yeah," Dean agreed while still watching the other people of this town. "You think they know what this place is?"

"Hard to say," Bobby said and glanced at him. "So ... any decisions yet or are they gonna have to rip your lungs out before you'll ..." He frowned. "Oh, wait, you can't say the words if you ain't got no lungs."

Dean rolled his eyes. "Funny, ha-ha," he muttered and scoffed the pavement with the tip of one boot. "I don't know. It's really not the kinda thing I want to make a decision about," he admitted reluctantly. "Of course ... if they decide to take it out on Sam ... I'll say anything."

Bobby nodded. "Gotta keep in mind though that you gotta mean it. If you don't ... Dick gets to run this ship and I don't see that ending well." He gave Dean a saying look. "We're cattle to them. All they wanna do is eat us."

"Nice," Dean muttered, a little uncomfortable at the idea. "And you're trying to convince me to give myself up to them?"

That drew a grimace from Bobby. "Oh, yeah, right," he said. "Well, the good news is they need you to be able to speak if you have to pledge your allegiance to Gaia. So chances are they won't kill you until after."

"That's comforting," Dean growled. "Anyway ... I'm doing this only if Sam stays here. I want him safe," he added.

The sound of the subtle traffic in this town overshadowed everything for a moment before Bobby cleared his throat. "Well ... about that," he said.

Dean felt that overwhelming pressure settle on his shoulders again. "What?" he asked a little pointedly.

"Gaia's kinda ... gone. The town's open for business, as in no more phase-shifting or whatever the hell is going on here. Apparently Dick opened the sarcophagus and that drew Gaia away from here. So, no matter where we are, we're sitting ducks," Bobby said. He glanced down himself and then at Dean. "Which kinda makes no sense, seeing as I'm still here and you don't have the flask with you."

"There's not much in this world that makes sense anymore," Dean agreed. "Uh ..." A thought struck him in regards to what Bobby had just said. "Wait ... what? Gaia's gone, so this town is suddenly on the map?" he asked.

"I guess. Why?" Bobby countered.

"Because that means Dick and his cronies know where we are. If they can track us, that is," Dean said. "And Sam's alone. Probably having visions again. FUCK!"

By the time they got back to the house, Sam was gone. Dean felt like kicking himself. He should have asked more, gotten more information about this impending pledge-making. The house had been torn to shreds. Nothing was left standing. And from the blood here and there, Sam hadn't gone quietly. But he was gone nonetheless and Dean had no idea where he had disappeared to.

Before he could get worked up about it, though, his phone rang. He glanced at the display before answering it. "Sammy?"

"Afraid not, Dean." Dick Roman's voice was oozing with sad friendliness and Dean sneered hatefully.

"Where's my brother, you shit," he snarled.

"Easy now, Dean," Dick replied. "I give you my word that he's alright. But he won't remain that way if you don't get your ass to Derry right away."

"Derry?" Dean glanced at Bobby, who was watching him intently. "What's in Derry?"

"Nothing you need worry about until you get here," Dick said, the pretend friendliness now replaced with cold steel. "You have twenty-four hours to get here. Be one minute late and little bro is lunch."

"I can't make that in twenty-four hours, you dick," Dean snarled.

"Then say bye-bye to Sammy," Dick countered good-naturedly and hung up.

"We're leaving. Now," Dean said. He felt cold all over. For a moment there, things had seemed to be going their way. Now everything was heading straight to Hell and he wasn't too keen on going back there. But they had Sam and there was no way in Hell that he would lose his brother again.

The thing was, he knew he couldn't make it to Derry in Maine in twenty-four hours unless he broke every speed limit and probably plowed down a few pedestrians on the way. And he had no doubts whatsoever that Dick Roman would make good on his threat. "How the hell do I get to Derry faster?"

"You could fly," Bobby suggested. "Or ask Cas to take you there."

"That dick hasn't replied to any of my calls since he dumped Sam like yesterday's garbage," Dean snarled and glanced up at the sky. "Castiel?" he tried anyway. "CAS! GET YOUR FEATERED BUTT DOWN HERE!"

They waited for a moment, but nothing happened. Dean got in the car, glanced briefly at the closed garage door and wondered if the Impala was really in there or if that was just another false memory planted by Gaia. He didn't have time to check, so he revved the engine and tore out of Haven, Minnesota like a vengeful ghost.

***

The room was cavernous with high domical vaults. Every vault was supported by ornamented pillars as wide as the trunk of an ancient Kauri tree and in the very middle of this vast space, a stone sarcophagus rested. It looked as ancient as time itself, but his present location was of little concern to Sam. He was tied to one of the pillars close to the sarcophagus and he was being wrecked by one unrelenting vision after another. The leviathans had so far left him alone, but he knew it wouldn't last. And at this point in time, he was beginning to hope it wouldn't, that they would kill him, because these visions - or memories - were tearing him apart.

The respite between visions became shorter each time. He could barely catch his breath before the next one hit him. Somewhere off in the distance, he could hear Dick Roman talking and he tried to focus on it between bouts of mind-shredding hell-time, but he was hard pressed to even stay conscious right now.

The next horror-show overcame him, making him grit his teeth and fight the restraints, his head feeling as if it was one little breeze away from a meltdown and when the cacophony of hell subsided again, the first thing he became aware of was the hand wrapped around his chin. Dick stood there, eying him closely. "You look about ready to bust a vein there, Sammy," he said and even managed to sound sympathetic. Then he grinned. "I'm going to enjoy eating you."

"Fuck you," Sam snarled and yanked his head back, both in an attempt to get away from the leviathan's grip, but also because the next vision was already encroaching on his mind.

There was something about the leviathan's presence that upped the frequency and even while Sam was hard pressed to string two words together in his mind coherently, he still had the presence of mind to reflect on that.

Before the onset of the next vision - the in-between had revealed the absence of Roman again - another hand touched his face and the vision petered out like so much smoke. Gail stood in front of him, her expression sad. "I'm so sorry," she said quietly. "I can keep it at bay as long as I can touch you, but ..."

"Get away from him," Roman snarled, grabbed her arm and hauled her forcefully away from Sam.

"No," he gasped, but was immediately overpowered by the visions again.

"You can't keep me away from him for long," he heard Gail say.

"Soon I will keep you away from him forever. He'll end up back in the cage with that feathered freak. And you. You will do my bidding. The world will be mine and there will be nothing to stop me," Roman countered aggressively.

That was all he managed to pick up before the hell visions eliminated his connection to the world around him yet again.

***

Twenty-five hours later

To say he was exhausted was the understatement of the year, but Dean was still up and moving by the time he hit Derry. That he was an hour late was something he didn't try to think about it because it made his stomach go all wonky.

The second he crossed the town limit, he yanked his phone out and called Sam's cell. And Roman picked up at once.

"You're late."

"Fuck you. I'm here," Dean snarled.

Dick snorted. "You're still late; and by a whole hour too. You really can't be as caring as I thought you were," he said, his tone jovial.

"I swear to ... whoever. If you have hurt Sam ..." He couldn't finish. His throat closed up with pure vicious intent.

"Then what, Dean? You will do as I tell you to do and that's how far this goes," Dick countered.

"I will find a way to gut you and hang your insides up to dry," Dean bit out angrily. "Where the fuck are you? Let's get this over with!"

"My pleasure," Dick said with a smirk in his voice. "There's an archeological dig north of town. Find the stairs and come on down. We're all waiting for you." With that, the connection cut out again.

Dean was so angry he was shaking at this point.

"Calm down, Dean. You're not doing yourself or Sam any favors here," Bobby admonished him.

Dean drove on in silence, his fingers cramped around the steering wheel. If Roman had killed Sam, he didn't really know what he would do. But he was not going to give that prick the satisfaction of killing the world. If Gail had told the truth, he was going to pledge his allegiance to her, meaning every damned word and whatever came next just to see her rub Roman out of this world.

It took some searching, but he eventually found the dig site and moments later the narrow staircase going down into the bowls of the Earth. He stopped at the top step and stared down into the darkness there, every fiber of his being on edge. "However this ends, Bobby ..."

"I know," Bobby agreed. "I ain't happy with it, but ... if you do the right thing here, everything might still turn out okay."

Dean smiled joylessly. "And you really believe that? After all the crap we've been through?" he asked harshly.

"I gotta have some hope," Bobby said quietly. "I can't go with you. There's something ... holding me back."

Dean nodded. He hadn't really expected anything else. "That's okay. You don't have to," he said and glanced at the older hunter's ghost. "If this goes sideways ... and I'm kinda thinking it will ... you just find the next reaper you can and get the hell out of this life."

Bobby eyed him sadly. "If you don't come back, there's not much else for me to do," he agreed. "Go on. Save your brother one more time."

Dean drew in a deep breath and held it for a moment, then made his way down into the darkness.

***

The corridor leading to what Dean considered his doom was long and winding. The moisture seeping through the walls, floor and ceiling made the air sticky and stuffy. All he had to light the way was a penlight he'd brought as a precaution, not that there was much else but moss and the occasional beetle to be seen down here.

When he finally broke out of the tunnel, it opened up onto huge double doors with torches set into braces on the walls on either side. Both torches were lit, shedding a flickering unsteady light over the ancient doors.

He stopped there and stared at them for a moment, then stepped forward and laid a hand on one of them.

"You may wanna hold back on going in there."

He turned back to face a woman standing there. She looked a little concerned and very young. "Why?" he asked. He didn't know who or what she was and right now he didn't really care either.

"Because ... you won't like what's behind there," she said and nodded at the door. "You have a choice. You can turn around and leave now. That way Leviathan won't get what it's after and the world may yet be saved."

"And what exactly do you think will happen if I do go through these doors? You think I'm going to sell the world to the highest bidder?" he demanded angrily and waved the still lit penlight at the doors. "My brother's in there."

The look in her eyes made him hesitate. "I have warned you," she said quietly and stepped back into the shadows.

Dean stared at the spot where she had just been for a moment longer, but then grimaced, turned back to the doors and pushed them open. Whoever she was, he figured she had been placed out here to dissuade him from seeing this through and in his humble opinion, that could mean that there still was a chance of turning this around.

The area behind the doors was huge and the pillars reminded him of one too many fantasy movies he'd watched with Sam as a kid. But his eyes were drawn to the sarcophagus and Dick Roman standing there. He strode down the center aisle created by the pillars and came to a stop a few steps from the other man, who was watching him with a smile. "At long last," Dick said.

"Where's Sam?" was the only thing Dean could even think of asking. The rest was red-hot fury.

Dick made a mockingly sad face. "I told you what would happen to your brother if you were late," he said and reached up to rub one finger over the corner of his mouth. "Not as tasty as I had expected, but beggars can't be choosers and waiting is a very hungry game."

Dean sneered. "If he's dead, you get nothing," he growled.

"No, Dean, I get everything. No matter what," Dick countered.

The thoughts roaming through his mind were very disconnected right now. "So ... he's dead then? You killed the last reason for that I would have agreed to this?" he asked tensely.

"Stupid move, maybe, but what can you do. I was peckish. I think better on a full stomach," Dick countered, still smiling.

"You bastard," Dean growled and had to forcefully hold himself back from attacking this good-for-nothing son of a bitch. He took a moment to contain himself, drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Fine. At least he's not in pain anymore."

The smile on Dick's lips was giving him the creeps. "Believe that if you want," he said and arched an eyebrow suggestively. "I've been told that having your soul devoured by a leviathan ... is worse than going to Hell. And it will never stop. He's already going mad with pain."

Something drew his eyes to the right, which revealed Gail tied to one pillar, her head down. She looked wasted, tired, thinner somehow. It tore at him, but he knew he was unable to deal with the situation right now. Then his gaze edged to the left, but stopped when it hit Dick again. He knew there was something across from Gail, something every fiber of him told him he didn't want to see, didn't need to see, but he knew he would look and he knew on some level what it would do to him.

He shifted his eyes a little and felt the bottom drop out of his world. Up until that very moment, it had all been words. But seeing was believing and the very real fact that his brother was definitely dead broke him in so many ways, he didn't think he'd ever manage to put the pieces back together again.

Somehow, he maintained a reasonable grip on himself when his gaze settled coldly on the head leviathan again. "You get nothing," he said quietly. "You know why?"

Dick smiled indulgently. "Do tell," he suggested.

"Because I ... pledge my allegiance to Gaia."

The smug expression on the other man's face faltered. "What?" he asked, his stance tensing.

"Yeah," Dean agreed with a nod. "You've taken everything from me. You've killed everyone. What the hell makes you think that I will give you the world too when I have a way to take it away from you?"

Dick sent a quick look over at Gail still tied to the pillar, caution in every move, but when he found her in much the same condition as she had been before, he turned his attention back to Dean, his expression smug once more. "And you don't mean it. She should have recovered instantly if you had. Which gives me ..."

"... nothing." The woman suddenly standing behind Dick was definitely Gail, but a new and improved version of her. Dick turned around abruptly, the sharp intake of breath an indicator of his surprise when she raised a hand, obviously ready to destroy him.

"No," Dean said, which caused both of them to stop. "I want to kill him," he added tensely.

Gail - or rather Gaia - eyed him for a second. "I can give you that power," she said, "but if you do, you destroy your brother's soul along with him. I can extract Sam's soul before I destroy this piece of filth."

The tight smile on Dick's face revealed to Dean that he wanted this, that this would be the ultimate kick in the face. And no matter how much Dean wanted to be the one to pull the plug on this bastard, the thought of losing his brother forever stayed his hand. He pressed his lips together, took a second to align himself with that thought and then gave Gaia a tight nod. "Kill him," he pressed out through clenched teeth.

Which she did. It was nothing spectacular. All she did was tap his brow. He didn't scream, didn't explode, didn't vomit black goo all over the place. The body between them just turned very crispy very quickly and dissolved into a pile of ash at their feet. Gaia bent over and retrieved something from the pile while Dean just stood there and stared down at it.

He didn't register when she turned away or what she did. All he could think of doing was stand there and stare down at what remained of the multi-millionaire known as Richard 'Dick' Roman and he felt nothing at all. There was no triumph, no sense of having overcome an impossible obstacle, no sense of accomplishment. All he felt was hollowed out. If this was the end of the line, it was not what he had thought it would be. But then again, nothing ever was.

The thought of his brother's eviscerated body drew his eyes to the left again and he wondered how long he would have to live with the knowledge that, in the very end, he still hadn't been able to keep Sam safe after all. Unsure of whether his stomach could stand the vista of destruction he had briefly glimpsed before, he looked nonetheless and found that the damage wasn't that bad. As a matter of fact ... there was no damage.

Gaia stood in front of Sam, her hands on his face. "Come on back now," she said quietly.

Sam laboriously raised his head a little and squinted at her, emitted a low key groan and finally managed to raise his head all the way. "I feel like crap," he rasped.

"No more visions?" Gaia asked, to which he shook his head lightly.

He tugged aimlessly at the ropes still holding him captive. "Could you get me out of this?"

"You bet," she agreed, but before she could do anything about it, Dean took over and sliced through the ropes with his bowie knife.

Sam was in no way strong enough to stay on his feet and stumbled into Dean's arms. "Aw crap," he rasped.

Dean held onto him when he passed out and he carefully lowered him to the ground before checking Sam's vitals and then looking up at Gaia. It was obvious that she had done more than save Sam's soul from being destroyed. But whatever she had done hadn't gone all the way. "Can't you heal him completely?" he asked. He didn't intend to sound gruff, but it came out that way because of the emotional turmoil he was in right now.

Gaia smiled vaguely. "That is completely healed," she said. "He is just going to take a little time to recuperate."

With a sigh, Dean dropped down on the floor next to his brother. Now that the fight was over - or at least he assumed it was - what remained of his strength evaporated at an alarming rate. "Great. There's no way I can get him out of here until he can walk," he muttered. Most of all he felt like passing out right along with Sam, but that just wouldn't do. They weren't safe here.

"What am I? Chopped liver?"

Bobby's voice sounded stronger than before. Dean glanced up at him and frowned. "I thought you said you couldn't come down here," he countered. He had yet to react to what had happened - or rather not happened - in any way other than feeling completely drained.

The older hunter glanced at Gaia, his expression a bit tense. "Yeah, well," he growled.

Something was different and to test out this evolving theory, Dean reached out and touched Bobby's shin. "Holy hell, you're solid," he snapped and got back to his feet in one fluid motion. To verify what he thought he had felt, he grabbed Bobby's shoulders, feeling the solid warmth of a living person underneath.

Bobby's reaction was to pull his head back a little. "You ain't gonna kiss me, are ya?" he asked and smirked when Dean gave him a baleful look. Then he yanked Dean into a hug. "Looks like I'm back for a bit."

"Or however long you can managed to stay out of the way of stray bullets," Gaia inserted. "I took the liberty of reconstructing your house. You seem very attached to it."

Dean turned back to face her. There were so many things going through his mind right now and none of them would sound even vaguely right if he said them out loud. "When the hell did you have time to do that?" he asked instead.

The smile on her lips was very becoming. She looked young and attractive like all hell to him right now. "My reach is pretty extensive. Besides, asking a building to come back together is not a big issue. Reconstructing something alive," she added and gave Bobby a saying look, "that takes some tinkering."

Bobby smirked. "Well, whatever you had to do to get this done, I appreciate it," he said and then glanced down at Sam. "This ain't the best place for him to lie around."

"No," Gaia agreed and stepped closer to Sam while spreading her arms as if to embrace both of them. "Step closer, please."

They did and for a second the scenery winked out around them then snapped back into focus. Only they were no longer in the underground cavern in Derry, but back in Bobby's house in Sioux Falls.

Dean blinked and looked around for a second. "That was different," he muttered. The transferal from Derry to here had felt nothing like being moved by an angel. It hadn't actually 'felt' like anything.

Gaia eyed Sam for a moment and he winked out of existence and reappeared on the couch. "The floor's probably not the best place for him to lie around either," she said, a smile on her lips.

Dean settled down on a chair close to Sam and eyed her closely. She looked human. She did inhuman things, obviously, but that could mean so many things. "So ... that's it? It's over and we're ... done?"

"For now," she agreed. "Why? Are you unhappy about the way things have turned out?"

He grimaced. "Not unhappy. It's just all a little ... anti-climactic." There was that. And then, of course, there was the lack of proof that Leviathan as a whole was no more. "How do we know ..."

"That the beast is dead?" she asked, finishing his sentence. She pulled a chair up and settled down across from him. "I realize that you have no reason to trust me, that I probably come across as just another supernatural thing that's yanking your chain, Dean. But I swear to you, I am not." She leaned forward, propped her elbows on her knees and rested one hand on his right knee. "What you have done for me," she added, emphasizing the 'me', "for the world as a whole, will not be forgotten. Your whole life you have gone out of your way to help others, to save others, to make sure nothing bad happened to them. And the only payment you have ever received is indifference and scorn. Fear perhaps, but not much understanding. Those that claim to understand you, don't. Those few you can trust are always in danger. The burden of the world has been on your shoulders since before you were even old enough to understand it. I must say that you have carried that burden with more pride than any one before you." She smiled. "Atlas," she added. "Good things will be coming your way, but your job is far from over ... unless you want it to be. If you want that normal apple pie life you've tasted too briefly, I can give that to you. I just fear it wouldn't make you happy."

He stared at her while soaking up her words. He couldn't recall ever receiving that much praise in one helping before and it staggered him a little. "I did what I had to do. I did it for Sam."

"I know," she agreed. "And that's where you're amazing. Because anybody else would have done it to save themselves, to gain something, to reap recognition, fame and fortune. But not you. You do it for your brother. You do it for Bobby. For others. Never for yourself." She paused, her eyes never leaving his, and he couldn't help but like her, wanted to ask her to go on, because her words were balm on an open wound. "Anything you need," she said. "All you have to do is ask and it's yours."

He blinked. Had she just said that? "Anything?" he asked hesitantly which deepened her smile.

"Anything ... within reason," she amended.

That made him smirk lightly. "Of course," he agreed.

"So, lay it on me," she suggested. "What can I get you that you really want."

He eyed her for a moment, then glanced up at Bobby, who stood a few feet away with a book in one hand and looked utterly content and a little put off about the shameless praise she kept dishing out. Then he glanced back at Sam, who looked as content as he could be while unconscious. There were no signs of his previous demise and the extensive damage. "Will he remember Hell when he wakes up?" he asked.

"No," she countered.

He shrugged lightly and met her eyes again. "Then I have everything I want," he said.

This obviously surprised her. "You don't want ... money? A place of your own? A new car?"

This made him chuckle. "No," he said with a light shake of the head. "All I want is my family. And I've got them," he said and glanced over at Bobby, who stared at him with a slight frown furrowing his brow.

"Are you sure?" she pushed.

He considered it for a moment and then made a face. "Well ... it would be a benefit if we didn't have to scam our way through life. I mean ... I can't count the times we had to hightail it out of some town because our health insurance card got busted or we didn't have enough cash to pay for something and the ..."

She held up a hand with a smile, stopping him. "Enough said," she said, turned her hand around and held up four plastic cards. "A credit card and a health insurance card for both of you," she said. "No limits."

He stared at them for a moment. "And how does that work?"

This made her grin. "Magic," she countered, took his hand and placed the cards on his palm. "At least that way you will never want for anything material."

"What about pin codes?" he asked.

"They are whatever you want them to be," she countered and rose before turning around to face Bobby. "Thank you for your hospitality. I must be on my way. I have some cleaning up to do."

Bobby nodded lightly. "Any time," he said.

She winked out of existence while Dean just remained seated and stared at the cards in his hand. The idea of what this meant, of how much this would mean in future, wasn't lost on him, but he just couldn't really wrap his mind around it yet.

"Looks like you did the right thing there, huh?" Bobby asked.

He looked up at the older hunter and suddenly found it very hard to breathe. It was an effort to drag air into his lungs. "This is all a little too much right now," he muttered and glanced down at the cards again. "This ... did she say no limits?" He rose and closed his fingers over the cards. "We never have to worry about money again?"

"Sounded like that to me," Bobby said. "That's one hell of a deal you got yourself there. Free health insurance and a no limits credit card? You've both got it made."

"Holy hell," Dean muttered and sank back down on the chair because his legs just felt a little too wobbly beneath him. He clapped a hand over his mouth and tried to imagine what this meant, tried to fathom how much tension and agony they would be spared in future because of these four little squares of plastic. "I gotta sleep on this. This is just too far out. I can't even begin to understand this right now."

"Sounds like a plan," Bobby agreed and eyed Sam critically. "I guess we'll just leave him down here, huh?"

Dean looked back at his brother, too shaken to respond in any way right now. "Yeah. He'll be fine down here," he agreed.