Somewhere along the way, his courage had left him, his need to end his life had deserted him, and he was left with nothing. It took him three whole days before he finally made a decision and when he did, time passed so agonizingly slowly that he felt sick at heart all the time.

He was numb when he lit the funeral pyre, numb when the flames engulfed the shrouded body, numb when the flames began to die again, numb when there was nothing left but ashes.

With trembling fingers, he scooped up a handful of the ashes and poured a little of it into a small glass vial, then pressed the cork with the cord on it into the neck of the small bottle and hung it around his neck. There was nothing left, not a bone, not a shred of anything. It was like Sam had never existed. His little brother would only exist in his mind now and he knew that somewhere along the line, somewhere in the not too distant future, he would go crazy with longing for those that had left him, but most of all for Sam.

For a time, while the cooling ashes were being scattered by the wind, he stood and stared at the spot, unable to move forward, unable to go back. Why should he go on fighting? What was there to fight for? All the people around him died. Those he dared to care about, died. And if he had noone left to care about, why would he bother going on?

He pulled the gun from his waistband and eyed it thoughtfully, his eyes dry, his mind numb. So the demon had denied him access to Hell because he suffered better while alive? Well, screw her. If he couldn't atone for the wrongs he had done in life, he could at least put an end to what was left of this miserable excuse of an existence. The fingers of his left hand closed around the vial while he stared at the gun. A single shot to the temple and it would all be over. No more pain, no more letting loved ones down. Was there peace on the other side of the muzzle? Would he find oblivion? Or would he be reunited with his lost family? Would Sam and Dad and Mom be there waiting for him?

With a trembling finger he switched the safety back on and stuffed the gun back into his waistband. He did not have the courage to face a bullet right now. He needed to find it at the bottom of a glass; enough alcohol to deaden the pain that was eating him alive; enough alcohol to consume the fear that was staying his hand and making the easy way out seem like a feeble excuse to stop looking for a way to reverse this.

He returned to his car, sent one lingering look back to where the funeral pyre had lit the night sky earlier, and refused to say goodbye. His father's pain had become his pain, his father's fears had become his fears. He had lost the only person he had ever relied on and there was no coming back from that. So he got in the car and he drove until the Impala was nearly out of gas. Then he stopped, found a bar, and hit the bottle. First beer to lay the foundation, then whiskey to deaden his nerves and his mind. By the time he neared the bottom of the bottle, his mind was swimming and he cried silently, shedding tears of regret and pain and fear over the loss of a life that should not have ended, a life he had failed to protect.

A few more drinks and he would be ready to take care of business, to end the one life that should have ended years ago. He had made his peace with it, but Sam had refused to let him go. And the second time had been no different, but then Dad had refused to let him go. Both had died for him and why? He wasn't worth dying for, let alone going to Hell for. Why had they done it? Well, Sam hadn't really had a choice in the matter, had he? "Screw this," he muttered, emptied the shot glass again and poured more whiskey into it. One more glass and he was done. One more shot and he was ready to face oblivion.

"And what do you think expects you on the other side?"

That voice drifted out of nowhere, taking over his senses and drowning out the clamor of the bar around him. He looked up, his eyes focusing on the woman who sat across from him. He hadn't noticed her sitting down, wondered briefly if she had asked him and he just couldn't remember, but then he really saw her, really took her in, and it sobered him up like nothing else could.

Black eyes, black hair, black clothing, black claws, and alabaster skin. She was pale as the dead, not a shimmer of life in her white skin. Her eyes were bottomless pits, her black silky hair alive and moving restlessly around her. Her features were statue-like, her skin smooth like a babies, her folded hands long-fingered. She was the beast, the creature everyone feared, and yet all he could do was stare at her, his mind open. He didn't feel even a tremor of fear or concern. What he saw in her eyes was oblivion, what he felt in her presence was what he could not accomplish himself; death, the end of this dreary stretch of road that had been his life so far.

"I don't care," he whispered and gulped down that last shot even though he was stone-cold sober now. "What does it matter?"

She tilted her head slightly to one side, her deep, dead eyes unblinking. "Who do you think I am?" she asked, her tone as dead as her eyes.

"I don't care. As long as you've come here to end my life, I don't give a damn," he countered and smiled. "I couldn't care less if I tried."

She reached across the table and took a hold of the glass vial with the ashes in it, eyed it for a moment, and her hand emanated the icy chill of death. Then she released it again and pulled her hand back, her eyes back on his face, holding his gaze. "So much agony, so much pain," she said, her voice drifting dreamily through the air like a bat from the pit.

Dean leaned back and stared at her. "Can you grant wishes? Are you like a genie?" he asked and couldn't help the joyless smirk from slipping over his lips.

"What would you pay for your wishes?" she asked and an utterly disturbing smile slipped over her dead pale lips.

He swallowed, tried to imagine what she would do to his soul and shuddered at the very thought. "Anything I have left to give," he countered and he meant it. For one more day with Sam, he would pay anything, give anything, do anything. As long as it meant that Sam would be alive again.

"You would give up your car?" she asked.

He smirked joylessly. "In a flash," he agreed.

"Your life?" she asked on.

"Yes," he said, serious again.

"Would you do me a favor?" she asked and eyed him closely.

"Depends on what that favor is about," he countered.

The smile on her lips sent a shiver up his spine. She was scary like hell and he figured he would have feared her if he hadn't been so indifferent to the future right now. "If you agree to do me a favor – just one favor – a small thing, really – and I give you your brother and your life back? Would you agree to it without knowing what it is?"

He stared at her for a long moment, having learned his lesson in the shiftiness of the evil ones. "No," he said quietly and hated himself for his own weakness. "Not without knowing what it is."

"And why?" she asked, tilting her head to the right.

"Because you demons lie. You can't be trusted. I want to know every detail before I agree," he said.

Again she smiled, this time exposing teeth, pointed razor sharp teeth. "Crafty," she breathed and clicked her claws together. "You learn quickly from your mistakes." She made a sweeping gesture with one hand, then pressed her palms together, her elbows resting on the tabletop. "There are three men, wicked men, evil men. They mean harm to the world and the order that keeps things balanced and they must die. How is up to you. When is non negotiable. Do this for me and I will grant you your heart's desire."

He eyed her, seeing her for what she was and not caring. Something like her didn't make deals without asking for something outrageous in return. For all he knew, she would ask him to kill Bobby, the President and someone else important and he just wasn't going to do that. "Right. And why do you need me for that? Don't you have hoards of blood-thirsty critters at your command you can send out to do your bidding?" He leaned forward, rested his arms on the tabletop and stared her straight in the eye. There was darkness and despair in those deep dark pits. A man could lose his soul in there. But he didn't care. "Or is that part of the deal? You set me up so I can't exist in this world any more and then you give me back what I lost?" He sneered and leaned back again. "Screw you. Find another scapegoat. I'm through with you lot. I've had enough of your bullshit and your lies."

"You try my patience," she said, her tone no less dead or cold than it had been before.

Dean closed his eyes and let his head drop back against the wall of the booth. "And you try mine. Get lost, bitch. I'm through talking," he countered indifferently.

Silence settled over the booth and then the sounds of the bar drifted back to him. He opened his lids and stared at the empty spot on the other side of the table for a moment, then made a face. Maybe he had thrown away a very real chance at getting his brother back, but he couldn't stand the heartache of losing him once more and somehow he felt that any deal made with any of them would result in that.

"Would you like another bottle?"

He glanced up at the woman standing with a tray in one hand and a rag in the other, a white stained apron wrapped around her waist, while she eyed him questioningly. "Yeah, sure. Why not? It's a wake after all," he countered with a joyless smirk and shoved the empty whiskey bottle over to her.

She picked it up, briefly met his eyes and shrugged before leaving to get him another one. Maybe he could drink himself to death, die of alcohol poisoning. That would be one hell of a way to go out, lost in a stupor while his body shut down and his mind fried. Yeah, that was the way to go out. Not with a bang, but with a sizzle.

The second bottle of Jack arrived promptly and the barmaid went away, leaving him to his own devices. He unscrewed the top and poured the shot glass full, sloshing some of the amber liquid onto the tabletop, then set the bottle down and downed the shot by leaning his head back and letting it run down his throat slowly so he could feel the hot burn of the alcohol all the way down. Then he poured himself another shot and eyed the glass for a moment.

"That really doesn't change things, you know."

With a slight frown, he focused on his second companion for the night. This one was pretty; dark hair, blue eyes, rosy cheeks. She was dressed in tan clothes that matched her tanned skin and her eyes were a swirly blue like a mid-summer sky. "Like I care," he countered and downed the second shot of the new bottle, then eyed her blearily. "Why don't you spare yourself the sermon and take a hike, sweety? I'm not in the mood."

"I can tell you're not, Dean," she agreed with a faint smile on her rosy lips. "Are you really this desperate for death?"

"Why?" he asked and poured another shot, then offered her the bottle. She refused with a light shake of the head. "What do I have to live for?"

"There are many out there that need help. Many you have helped that might consider helping you for a change," she suggested.

He grinned, unable not to. "Who are you? Some kind of angel?" he asked and chuckled at the mere idea. "Because if you are, you're too frigging late, honey."

"I'm no angel," she assured him, "but I do represent the ... shall we say opposition."

He propped his elbows on the tabletop and closed his eyes. The buzz from before was back with a vengeance, the first bottle making its presence known. He felt dizzy and lightheaded and oh-so-close to tears that it was embarrassing. "What do I care? All I ever do is let people down. Those that got away alive should consider themselves lucky and shun me like the plague," he slurred.

"There are many grateful souls out there, Dean. Many that owe you their lives," she said.

"Their lives? Can I trade that for what's behind door number one now?" he countered and laughed joylessly, but the laughter died and his expression crumbled. "When do I get what I deserve? Everything happens for a reason, right? Well, what the hell is the frigging reason behind losing my baby brother? Why the hell couldn't that bitch just drag my soul to Hell and leave him alone? Why'd she have to leave me here and take him instead?" It all poured out of him all of a sudden, every single little hidden painful truth about his life that he had buried so deep, he thought it would never come back to haunt him. But he had forgotten the most important part of the burial rites, hadn't he? He hadn't salted and burned the damned bones of his memories and now they were spilling back up out of the polluted soil of his subconscious mind, threatening to tear him apart with talons and claws. And with it came the tears again and he didn't even try to stop them.

He folded his arms on the tabletop and laid his head on them, sobbing helplessly at the loneliness and the fear and the cracks in his heart and he couldn't stop again because there was nothing left here to stop him. "Damn you all to hell," he rasped. "All of you."

It took a good long while for the tears to taper off and even then did he not raise his head to see if she was still there, because he didn't care. Whether demon or angel, it made no difference. He wanted only one thing, only that and nothing more, and that was to have his brother back, unharmed, alive, and ready to face down evil at his side.


Slowly, he raised his head and stared at her, his eyes gritty, his stomach rebelling against the excessive amounts of alcohol he had consumed without adding any food, and all he could do was hate her, whoever she was. He hated her for asking him to go on when he so obviously didn't want to. He hated her for sitting there with pity in her eyes while he cried his soul out and wanted nothing more than to die.

"Just go away," he begged. "If you want to do something for me, leave me the hell alone. Just go. And don't come back."

She reached out to touch his face with feather-light fingertips, then touched the vial with the ashes briefly before withdrawing her hand again. "You have suffered so much," she said quietly. "It's time to let go of the pain, Dean. If you don't, all you will find is more pain."

"I deserve it," he whispered and leaned back into the worn upholstery of the booth.

"No, you do not," she countered with a small smile on her lips. "There is a motel across the way," she said and nodded toward the door. "There is a room in your name. Go get some rest. Things will look brighter in the morning."

In the blink of an eye, she was gone. He just sat there and stared dully at the spot where she had been for a moment longer. Then he glanced at the bottle of Jack and made a face. He wasn't in the mood for more alcohol. His stomach was in knots, his head was swimming, and the idea of a bed sounded fairly good right now. He didn't feel like he deserved to sleep and he took some pleasure in the thought that he would feel miserable in the morning.

With shaky hands, he dug out a wad of bills and threw what he considered appropriate onto the rough planks of the table top, then got unsteadily to his feet and made his way over to the door. Nobody in the bar paid him any attention and he briefly wondered about that. But it didn't matter. Nothing mattered any more.

As soon as the bar's front door had closed behind him, he felt the unbeatable urge to get rid of what he had consumed. His stomach rebelled painfully and he stumbled around the corner of the bar and threw up on the ground for a full two minutes. With a halfhearted groan, he wiped the back of one hand over his lips and straightened up carefully. To say he felt lousy was the understatement of the year.

His eyes trailed over the parking lot of the motel across the road and stopped shakily when he realized that this was where he had left the Impala. "Freakish," he muttered and made a face at the sour taste in his mouth.

The night air was a bit chilly and due to the lack of food and sleep and the amount of alcohol he had consumed this night, he shuddered and stuck his hands into the pockets of his jacket. With a slight frown, he pulled something out of the right-hand pocket and stared forlornly at the key dangling from a round piece of wood. A big thirteen was engraved on it. Blinking, he looked over at the motel across the road and spotted cabin thirteen immediately. It was right behind where the Impala was parked.

Still drunk enough to rival a professional alcoholic, he shrugged it off and stumbled over the street, across the parking lot and up to the door of cabin number thirteen. "Go figure," he muttered, slid the key into the lock and opened the door.

He pushed the door shut behind him, fumbled for the light switch and turned on the lights. It was a double room and his eyes settled on the bed furthest from the door. Unbidden, tears rose in his eyes again. "Sammy," he muttered, shrugged out of his jacket and tossed it idly onto a chair. Out of habit as much as anything, he dropped down on the bed closest to the door and just sat there for a moment while he continued to stare sadly at the second bed. "I'm so sorry," he whispered. "I let you down and I'm so sorry."

With a bit of an effort, he managed to kick his boots off, then stretched out on the bed and lay there for a while, convinced he would not sleep a wink tonight or any other night to come. Then he draped an arm over his face and drifted into his memories of Sam, of Dad, of when times had been better and life had been easier, and somewhere along the way he lost track of awareness and slipped into dreams.


The first thing he became aware of was the scent of the bedspread beneath him. It smelled clean and flowery.

Shifting his head a little, he expected the onset of the headache, expected the roll of his stomach, and when neither turned up, he cracked his eyelids open and squinted at what little he could see of the room.

The sun was out and somewhere out there a bird was chirping cheerily. He wanted to yell at it to shut the hell up, but didn't yet have the energy to even move. Last night was a little unclear in his head. He remembered two women, one cold and scary, one pretty and nice, and he wondered which of them he had made up and which was real.

A vague grin tugged at the corners of his lips, but it died in infancy. With an effort, he pushed himself up on his elbows and realized that even though he felt bleary-eyed and heavy-headed, it was nothing compared to what he should have felt like. The overhead light was still on and his hip hurt where he'd been lying on the gun stuffed into his waistband.

Slowly he sat up and took his own sweet time before he finally got to his feet and shuffled out into the bathroom to splash some water on his face. Then he met his own eyes in the mirror and flinched at how red they were; bloodshot and sad.

He let his head drop for a moment while he braced himself on the edge of the sink. How the hell was he going to get through another day without Sam? How the hell could anyone expect him to survive when there was nothing worth surviving for? "Things look brighter in the morning? Yeah right," he whispered.

And then his phone started ringing. He just stood there and listened to the guitar cords of Smoke On The Water until the phone stopped bugging him for attention, then he straightened up and stepped back into the room. "Screw life and all it has to offer," he muttered.

And then the phone started ringing again. It was probably Bobby, calling to find out what had happened. He had probably tried to reach Sam, but Sam's phone was ashes now, so maybe he would call Dean's phone, assuming Sam would have it with him. "Sorry, Bobby. Sammy can't come to the phone right now. He's busy being dead again," Dean whispered and grimaced at the inappropriate joke.

Again the phone fell silent, but only for a moment. Then it started ringing again. "Stubborn, pigheaded old man," he grumbled, grabbed his jacket and hauled the phone out of the pocket. He didn't even bother to check the display. Nobody but Bobby would be calling him now. "What?" he demanded, imagining Bobby's expression when he heard Dean and not Sam at the other end.


He suddenly developed tunnel vision as the room stretched out in front of him and a sense of painful unreality hit him like a ton of bricks dropped from a tall building.

"Dean? Are you there?"

His mind stopped working, his heart stopped beating and time screeched to a messy halt.

"Dean, please talk to me. I ... have no idea where I am. I just woke up out here in the middle of nowhere and ... Dean?"

He clapped a hand over his mouth while tears sprang to his eyes and he tried to swallow, his mouth suddenly dry. "Sam?" he finally whispered.