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“I’m poison,” Dean says, and he drives away, Sam and Cas receding from view in his rain-streaked rear window.

He drives until the lights of the road start to blur before his eyes and then keeps driving. There’s a pounding in his head that keeps time with the beat of the wipers, with Sam’s words echoing around the inside of his skull. So what? Swish. I was ready to die. Swish. Just go. Swish. I’m not gonna stop you. Swish. More rain.

So what? Just go. So what? Just go. On and on and on. It doesn’t let up when Dean pulls over and goes through the motions of crawling into the backseat, closing his eyes and trying to sleep, and it doesn’t let up when he sinks a couple beers and swallows a couple Tylenol from the med kit in his duffel. It’s still there in the morning, like there’s a little dude with a pickaxe behind each of his eyeballs, chipping away.

But after Cain takes his hand and sears the Mark onto his arm, Dean opens his eyes and finds the pounding in his head is gone.

 

Out in the alone, she sees a light.

At first, she does not know it for what it is. The last human soul that spoke to her was Cain’s, and Cain has not been human in a long time. Eons. Or perhaps it was only yesterday. It’s difficult to tell, here.

She does not know what the light is, and then she does—and she knows its pain, too. The memories that echo around it make little sense to her, their human words and codes opaque, but at the core of it yawns a too-familiar hollow. It’s the same emptiness she felt when her brother sent her away.

“You destroy everything,” he’d told her, the whole of his being turned cold and unyielding.

All she’d been able to say in return was, “You would have left me.” But he left anyway, and for the first time in her existence, she understood pain.

She understands it now, its memory hot and needling. It pulses from this single human soul like a beacon on a far horizon, and she can’t ignore it.

She would like to make it stop.

 

Some days, having the Mark feels like swallowing poison, rot in his guts, nerves on fire. Others, it’s the only thing keeping him going, rocket fuel for the soul when coffee and booze and the good fight and whatever else Dean can usually convince himself he believes in fail.

In Sioux Falls, he watches Jody draw vampire blood for Alex and hold it up to the light, distaste on her face. He can’t help but remember sweating his way through the cure after Twilight Asshole bit him, how it felt like all of his veins were trying to crawl their way out of his body.

“Sure it’ll work?” Jody asks him, and he can’t lie.

“It’ll be a rough couple days,” he tells her. “You sure you don’t want us to stay?” He’s relieved when she shakes her head, though. The idea of standing guard watching the kid writhe in pain as she fights off the monster taking her over makes his skin crawl in a way that chopping off vamp heads doesn’t.

Kid’s barely looked at any of them since Jody rescued her. Probably feels like she’s poison, too, like she deserves the disease. For maybe half a second, Dean wonders if curing her is even the kindest thing to do.

Then he remembers that most of the time, there’s no such thing as kind. The Mark twinges on his arm as he turns away.

Not too many weeks later, he’s locked in the bunker’s dungeon, puking his guts up in a corner (possibly literally) and squinting at the blood on his lips in a cracked mirror pane. It doesn’t taste right, and Dean’s swallowed his own blood often enough to know. It’s like something’s gone rotten in him, sulfurous and clinging to the back of his tongue.

There’s no way of stopping this, Crowley tells him. Just palliative care, and blood—other people’s blood—is the only painkiller they’ve got. No kill, no cure.

Dying is kind of a relief. When Sam’s dragging him out of Metatron’s lair, trying desperately to staunch the flow of blood from Dean’s guts, trying to pretend it isn’t spilling out his mouth that dark, dirty color that says there’s no way back, somehow, Dean manages to stop thinking about blood. For a couple seconds, he’s lifted above the fog of his dying brain. He feels lightened, somehow. Like all this bloodletting has finally leeched the poison out of him.

“I’m proud of us,” he gets out, and any other time Sam would probably argue with him, but he doesn’t, and that’s how Dean knows it’s the final curtain. Thank you and goodnight.

Almost. Waking up again doesn’t hurt like he expects it to, though. The weight of the world doesn’t come pushing back down on him, and the Mark doesn’t feel like poison anymore. It’s more like the couple times he’s taken speed to stay awake on the third or fourth all-nighter of a tough job. He feels empty, senses sharp and ready.

“Let’s go take a howl at that moon,” says Crowley, and Dean gives a shrug.

“Sure,” he says. “I could use a fight. Or a drink.”

 

She feels the light of that little human soul flicker and dim. It begins to slip away from her, pulled toward Heaven or Hell, and, with a determination she hasn’t felt since her brother’s betrayal, she decides, no.

She will not let this happen. This one feels like hers in a way none of the others quite did. There is a softness at his heart that Cain did not possess. A simplicity at which Abaddon, dreaming of rule and glory on the battlefield, would have scoffed. A self-effacing loyalty of which Lucifer was never capable. The thought of letting those things die bears down on her, the same weight of loneliness that threatened to crush her after her brother’s betrayal. So she reaches out to him.

Only the faintest thread of her power makes it through their connection, but it is enough. The clutching hand of Death shrinks from her, and the pain at the core of her little human soul burns away. He opens his eyes.

His light is dimmed, but not gone. She reaches out, cautiously, to see what is left of him.

At first, all she can sense from him is emptiness. It’s very peaceful. The demons that trouble him, he dispatches with deadly efficiency. She understands that he enjoys the killing, but the bloodlust no longer troubles him, and so it barely ruffles their connection. She decides she has done a good thing.

It’s only when his brother seeks him out that she realizes her mistake.

“If I wanted to be cured,” she hears him say, “I wouldn’t have bailed.” His smile is a cold, hard thing.

“I like the disease,” she hears him say, but there is no joy in it. It’s simply the relief of absence.

She has taken too much. The love and loyalty that shone like the Pole Star in her distance are gone along with the pain, so intimately entangled with it that there is no having one without the other. Through the connection, she feels blood and alcohol, the ephemeral high of empty posturing as he sends men running from barfights with their tails between their legs. He has been struggling to fill an inner hollow he does not know—or at least, pretends not to know—is there.

He stalks his brother with murderous intent, and now she knows why. Every word Sam says threatens to expose the hole at the center of his soul.

The cure comes as a relief. But how cruel, that things should be so. How cruel, her brother’s creation.

 

Apparently, rest cures are kind of a bust when it comes to post-demon detox. A couple weeks drinking beers and fishing, and Dean’s getting itchy feet, keeping one eye on the news when Sammy’s out the room, half hoping for a local murder.

Then he finds the kills in the newspaper. “It’s a milk run,” he says, trying to keep the begging note out of his voice.

Sam doesn’t look convinced. “That happens—never,” he points out, and okay, he’s right, but Dean’s already fighting monsters in his head, his blood fizzing with the need for action. If he could just land one good punch, plug one supernatural asshole full of lead and know he’d done it for the right reasons, he’d feel better. He knows he would.

“I need this,” Dean says, definitely begging now.

Sam gives in, in the end—grudgingly, squeezing a promise out of Dean that he’ll put the brakes on the second he gets a bad feeling about this. Dean’s relieved enough he gives his word without a fight, but he can’t disguise his happiness when they hit the road.

He’s less happy after they run into Kate-the-werewolf and her sister. Tasha’s death is inevitable, but the whole thing leaves a bad taste in his mouth, a remembered coppery tang. It’s a reminder that for most monsters, there is no magic remedy, just treating the symptoms. No cure but the final kind. Dean doesn’t know whether he should feel guilty for having gotten the cure when he was no damn better than the rest of them, or scared shitless because he knows deep down it was only a temporary reprieve. The Mark is still on his arm.

He works at plastering on a smile, at asking himself, What would Sam do? and trying to fix his wrongs by doing right. Still, the best he can offer Kate is, “Keep your nose clean.”

Dean’s still trying not to think about it when they find themselves at St. Alphonso’s, watching a bunch of teenage girls in cheap wigs and painted-on stubble play at being them onstage. The whole spectacle rankles, gets under his skin, and he finds himself bitching about the music and the hugging and the lame-ass props, and whatever else he can find to bitch about. In Ms. Chandler’s office, he pokes through the locked desk drawers, as much to avoid the auditorium as in hope of finding a clue. Or maybe a half-full hip flask, judging by her impressive collection of empties.

He doesn’t. He does find a prescription bottle of Prozac, though, and he slips it into his pocket while Marie isn’t looking.

Just a reflex. Hell, Dean’s spent years replenishing medical kits from the bathroom cabinets of dead people who won’t miss their painkillers and antiseptic wipes. He’ll toss them in the trash just as soon as he remembers.

Not that he gets time to dwell on it. For once, they take out the bad guy and they leave the school behind without any civilian casualties. A win under their belts. Ought to feel good.

It’s just that hunts like this are way rarer than they should be. Maybe that’s what pissed him off about the whole musical theater take on their lives. It showed the good parts—or the parts that could be wrapped up nicely into a heroes-save-the-day happy ending, anyway. It wasn’t ugly enough or messy enough. If someone was gonna dramatize what their lives are really like—well, it wouldn’t be freaking Cats. More like one of those depressing-as-shit Russian plays Cassie used to read for her lit minor.

Back at the bunker, Dean realizes he still has the bottle of Prozac in his pocket while he’s undressing. He stashes it under his bed, because he’s too damn tired to go to the kitchen and toss it. Then it occurs to him that he really doesn’t want Sam to find it. That would only lead to Dean getting the third degree again, and Sam getting pissy when Dean doesn’t spill his guts like a guest on Oprah. So he grabs his spare duffel, tosses the Prozac inside, and stashes that under his bed.

He’s heard that if you take them wrong, they can cause psychosis.

 

Each time he wonders desperately whether this is the cure he is looking for, she feels it. He seeks to be free of her; though some part of him already seems to know the hopelessness of his position.

She wants to tell him, There is no remedy for this.

She wants to tell him, I am not poison.

She doesn’t know how.

 

Dean takes what he can find. Diet pills from one of the bathrooms in the LaCroix mansion. (Apparently they work like speed if you overdo the dosage.) A bottle of pain meds that Charlie leaves behind in one of the bunker’s spare rooms when she heads out to Italy. After he breaks the witch’s spell in Pendleton and re-ages himself, he pokes through the bottles in her kitchen until Sam calls for him to come help with the bodies, pocketing a jar of some unidentifiable purple powder. Sam gives him a weird look when he comes outside, but doesn’t say anything.

It’s getting kind of compulsive. Dean knows that. It’s just, compared to the rest of the crap that’s steaming on his plate right now, a minor drug-stealing habit isn’t even a smudge on the china.

He wonders if adding the creepy witch powder to his coffee would turn him into a frog. If that would take the Mark away, too. If it would kill him.

With the other stuff, he knows the lethal dose. Back at home, he pours himself a handful of sleeping pills and stands before the mirror in his room. It feels like a dress rehearsal.

Then he hears Sam’s footsteps in the corridor, and he tips them back into the bottle.

 

He seeks his cure in dark places, hope ebbing all the time. Nothing he tries works—as she knew it wouldn’t. He gives up long before his brother does, and seeks a solution instead. Sometimes, all one can hope for is an ending; a door finally closing. Kill if you can’t cure.

His hopelessness drags on her. She experienced gravity only once, and briefly, but the sensation strikes her as similar. It is like no longer being able to fly.

It is Death who offers him his solution, in the end, and it horrifies her.

Death does not even offer an ending. Instead, he holds before this single small soul the prospect of an eternity in limbo, drifting in the blackness of space without air or light or ground beneath his feet. Solitude is not the same thing as peace; she knows it too well. This will be worse than destruction.

It is the same thing her brother did to her, and the prospect of it opens a black hole at her heart, a sucking hollow of dread.

She cannot let it happen. She reaches out to him again. Desperation drives her, flows out through her with the power of a supernova.

And her brother always thought he was the one who burned bright.

Through the connection, she touches his mind. An image flashes back at her. His brother is on his knees, his eyes wide open and pleading, clutching something in his hand. Images. A smiling woman holding a small child. Her human and his brother sitting opposite one another, sharing drinks and a smile that she knows, somehow, is all too rare. The pictures are faded, but they touch something in him that makes him waver.

She sees her opportunity, and she sends him her message. The horror of living an eternity alone, as she has had to do. She begs him: Do not let this happen to you.

It works. The scythe swings, the brother catches his breath—but it finds another target. The Angel of Death looks down in mild surprise as he crumbles into nothingness.

For a moment, she simply exists in her relief. The first human soul she’s ever touched, the one small spark of light in her endless dark—he’s safe. She will have him a little longer.

A bolt of magic sears through him like lightning.

The shock of it leaves her briefly paralyzed, tumbling through the dark—and when she recovers herself, she reaches out and cannot feel him. The Mark is gone.

Dread grips her. She can’t go back to being alone here. She can’t.

Something else takes hold of her, then. It tugs her in another direction. And the darkness of her prison is ripped apart right down the middle, and the world opens around her like an eye.

 

Dean feels kind of spacy when he wakes up. He’s on his front on the ground, face smushed into the grass, wildflowers growing all around him. The image of roiling black fog and a woman with the Mark of Cain on her collarbone flashes before his eyes when he blinks, like the afterimage of the sun.

She told him she was the Darkness. She told him, Thank you.

The fog has cleared now, but the inside of Dean’s head is still muzzy with it. The world outside feels too bright and sharp, the way it does the morning after he’s drunk enough to actually give himself a hangover, daylight pressing in on his eyeballs and making him feel like he’s about to burst with it. Like it’s all new to him, somehow. The sensation’s distracting; dulls his hunter’s senses just like being drunk.

Maybe it’s just the fact that the Mark is gone. He can’t stop touching the place on his arm where it was.

In town, they find dead bodies with black veins and a baby with no parents. Reality snaps back into focus, bringing a familiar pounding headache with it. Almost on autopilot, Dean pockets a bottle of pills in the hospital. He doesn’t bother to check the label.

 

The world is strange and beautiful. She thinks she might admire it, under other circumstances, but she has been shut up in darkness for so long and there is so much of it, so much life and landscape and chatter and time crammed into so small a space. It cuts her like a knife.

She teaches herself about it as best she can, thinking that perhaps understanding will lessen the pain of it. Sometimes it even does, but not by much.

Still, her human soul burns somewhere in among it all. He’s subdued, she thinks; both more and less of himself without the Mark. Their connection is diminished, but she still feels him out there. Sometimes she speaks to him.

He doesn’t understand. He fights her, denies the connection.

She decides that she will have to be patient. At least she has plenty of practice. And there are other souls out there for her, for now.

The ones that she consumes burn within her. There is so much in them, too: so much anger and fear and envy and pain, love and despair and hope, exhaustion, joy, tenderness, violence, lust, awe, hatred—and on and on and on until they are impossible to separate from each other. Sometimes she fears that she will no longer be able to contain them, that they will burst forth from her like birds escaping their cages and she will be rent apart. Other times, she thinks she could contain the whole world of them, shining like constellations in the palm of her hand.

Their soulless shells behave curiously. A girl hits her mother over the head with a cast-iron skillet. A man sits blankly in a jail cell, turning over his own lack of emotion in his mind, and barely blinks when Crowley’s henchman comes to kill him.

The girl feels no regret. The man feels no fear. She has cured them of pain.

When she comes face to face with him for the first time, he doesn’t know her the way she hoped. He comes to her armed.

“I’m sorry,” he tells her. He still thinks he has no choice in this, and when he finds himself unable to carry out his threat, she feels his fear and frustration through their connection.

She tugs on the thread that joins them a little, experimentally, but he doesn’t seem to feel it. Things would be so much easier if she could show him the peace she promises, let it flow through into him like an anaesthetic.

She could just take him now, of course. Swallow his soul and let it shine like a star in her belly, and take his pain along with it. He would learn to thank her, eventually. He would learn to forget those who have hurt him. Surely it would bring him relief, to be a part of her, never to fear abandonment again. She would be all the love he needs.

Something holds her back. She wants him to come to her willingly. To see for himself the contrast between that which she offers and the bloody chaos in which he lives, and to decide on peace. To accept the cure.

She thinks that is what she wants.

 

The odds are stacked up against them, like always. The world’s threatening to collapse around their ears and leave them picking up the rubble, like always. Still, Dean figures they’ll keep on trucking. They’ll keep looking, keep researching, keep fighting the good fight, like always—and eventually, they’ll find a way to gank Amara.

Crowley loses his hold over her. Lucifer turns out to be a bust, or so he thinks.

Then Dean bursts back into the present from 1943, his ears still ringing and his head swimming from being zapped through time, to find Sam crouched on the floor with blood on his hands, gasping, “That isn’t Cas!”

Dean’s gotten better at drinking less since he lost the Mark, switching out beer for coffee when it’s daylight outside. Some of the time, anyway. Tonight, though, he raids the stash of Scotch in the Men of Letters’ liquor cabinet and drinks until his face feels numb.

The image of Lucifer looking at him from behind Cas’s face still swims behind his eyes when he closes them. When he blinks the picture away, it’s replaced by Delphine and the rest of the crew on the doomed sub. There’s no getting away from the sheer volume of shit they’re in. The booze just takes the edge off is all; makes it feel less like a knife to the gut and more like the dull shock of being hit over the head from behind.

Sam watches him worriedly, his own beer sitting mostly untouched on the table. And that’s screwed up, isn’t it, Sam worrying about Dean when he’s the one who just had to face his own worst nightmare? If either of them deserves to drink himself into oblivion tonight, it’s Sam.

Dean gets to his feet, a little unsteady. “I’m beat,” he says. “Gonna hit the hay.”

He lies awake long into the night, though. Maybe an hour later, Sam’s footsteps echo down the corridor, stopping outside Dean’s door for a moment before he heads on to his own room. Dean rearranges himself again, pulls the pillow down over his head, but peace doesn’t find him.

 

She feels his wakefulness, the alcohol in his system jumbling his thoughts. Disparate images reach her, surfacing like the faces of drowned men. Castiel’s vessel, its visage twisted in an unfamiliar expression, rendered uncanny by the archangel who inhabits it. The second of her brother’s children; the one who first locked her away.

The image morphs, becomes the face of Dean’s brother, but with that same alien light behind it. Then Castiel again, blood dripping from his eye sockets, the low burr of an animal growl in his throat. Sam with blood around his mouth and unholy glee in his eyes.

Castiel wading out into a brackish lake, black-veined with corruption. Sam standing by with cold curiosity as a vampire pins Dean down and tears into his throat.

He drinks to escape the memories. She understands that, and it angers her. That he should poison himself over what cannot be changed—and more than that, over an insignificant little seraph and a brother who fails to see him as he is—is unconscionable.

But the pain echoes somewhere within her. It touches a memory. Her brother turning his face from her, toward the first universe he created. How he lit up from within as he shaped void into form, stardust, earth, life. It was as though he could no longer see her at all. He had gone where she couldn’t follow, and an emptiness lodged itself in her throat until she could not speak. She had no concept of the physical body, at the time, but now, the memory makes her feel like she is choking.

Perhaps, if she’d had the option back then, she would have gotten blind drunk, too.

 

Dean stands in the hospital in Grangeville, watching as the doctor tries to revive his body. Pills lie scattered like constellations across the floor. He got the lethal dose right, then—but yeah, not like that’s a big surprise.

It doesn’t really feel like he’s looking at himself, but then of course he isn’t really here. How could he be, when Sam’s lying dead in a cabin in the woods, his soul already halfway to Heaven or trapped in the veil?

The thought makes dread clench in Dean’s ghostly chest. He won’t let that happen. He’ll get Sam back, like he always had before, and if the price is his soul doing another stint in Hell—well hey, he’s only hastening the inevitable. Dean’s earned his ticket downstairs a dozen times over.

But Billie shakes her head and says no, Sam’s alive, and Dean can’t figure out how that’s even possible, but he doesn’t get time to worry about it because then whatever the doctor’s doing actually works, and he feels the invisible tug back toward his body.

Billie disappears. Sam’s alive, and so Dean’s got no reason to die—but the white light into which she vanishes is still imprinted on the insides of his eyelids when he wakes.

 

She sits very still while Rowena fusses around her—a fluttering butterfly of a woman whose glittered exterior conceals a mind constantly calculating the odds. If Amara were human, she’d be concerned. As things stand, she need only watch and wait. Rowena frowns, peers into her eyes, mutters over potions.

A sudden absence hits Amara like a body-blow. It’s like the reverse of being struck with all that angelic power, the absence of his soul on the other end of the connection sucking all the light out of her.

She shrugs Rowena’s hand off her shoulder and paces, the dusty floor cold under her bare feet. He is just gone. Amara reaches back through time until she finds the place where his soul was, teasing apart the threads of circumstance. She sees him swallow handfuls of pills, the hollow of desperation in his chest yawning wide. She sees him wake up in a hospital bed; fight with a deputy.

She sees him standing in a woodland cabin, looking down at his brother’s lifeless body.

Again, a part of her is angry. The cycles of human life and death are so small—and so insignificant, in the grand scheme of things. A soul passes from one plane of being to another. That’s all. To destroy oneself over it is senseless.

And yet.

The loss of him, that single small soul, is intolerable. Without the connection, she feels unmoored, unsettled inside, as though a cageful of birds are beating their wings against the inside of her breast.

She’s still diminished from the angel attack; she hasn’t reached out consciously this far since it happened. Rowena’s warnings, and her own good sense, caution her against doing it now.

But she uncurls a tendril of her power, and nudges Sam Winchester’s heart back to life.

 

Amara has Cas. Cas refused to kick Lucifer out. Who even knows if he’s still alive?

Dean finishes his beer and lines the bottle up with the rest of the empties. He isn’t as drunk as he got after finding out Cas had gotten himself possessed, and it isn’t helping, isn’t taking the edges off. He feels a little nauseous, but he’s pretty sure that isn’t down to the booze. Sam hands him another beer and he takes it, because what the hell else is he gonna do? They bitch about Crowley and Rowena for a couple minutes, which is basically small talk, because demons and witches are assholes, the sky is blue, rain is wet, what’s new?

But then Sam puts on his serious face and says, “Listen. I know I came down on the side of wanting Cas to deal with Amara, so…” He pauses, like he doesn’t know whether he wants to apologize, or like he doesn’t know how Dean will take it if he does.

Maybe it’s just that Dean’s too damn tired right now to play the I-told-you-so game, but he sighs and concedes. “Well,” he says. “That’s what he wanted, right?”

Except he knows what it’s like to want oblivion, to watch death turning its back on you and want to yell, “Wait!” He knows how hard it is to tell medicine from poison.

His arm itches, sometimes. Where the Mark used to be. It’s doing it now.

“Okay. So that’s our policy.” Sam doesn’t look convinced. Dean’s no mind-reader, but the way he’s been knocking back the beers tonight—well, it might just have something to do with remembering the taste of demon blood.

“Well,” Dean says, plastering on a smile. “Let’s go find that idiot and bring him home.”

Which sounds pretty good, sure. But when Dean’s finished up his beer and headed off to his bedroom, he finds himself sitting on the bed, the spare duffel—now stuffed with all the medication he’s swiped from hospitals and bathrooms and drugstores over the past few months—open in his lap.

Maybe Cas just knows there’s no saving him now. Maybe it’s just the sensible choice, checking out of a world you can’t fix and leaving it to the monsters. Hell, for near enough a year and a half, he was the thing Cas couldn’t fix. Dean gets it; he really does. But he’s made his promise now, so he bundles all the little white bottles of pills back into the duffel and hides it under his bed.

The world just keeps on throwing shit at him, though, and in the end, he has to admit the truth. There’s no antidote for the poison they’ve unleashed into the world’s veins. Not this time. Turns out, even God doesn’t have one.

Chuck might come on all Thus spake the Lord when he wants his way, but from where Dean’s standing, he doesn’t look any better than the rest of them. Shutting himself up in the bunker, filling up on booze and porn and takeout so he doesn’t have to think about his sister out there, gearing up to kill the world.

They still put their faith in him, though. Well, maybe faith isn’t the word, because it isn’t like they have much of a choice. They go out recruiting, they let Lucifer in their goddamn front door, and they go after Amara. Fight fire with fire, like sweating out a fever.

It doesn’t work.

They head back to bunker, and Dean goes straight for the beers. For once, he doesn’t even bother handing them out to Sammy and Cas. No point pretending like this is social drinking.

He thinks about the pills hidden under his bed. This feels like a pretty good time to poison yourself. Better than sitting on your ass waiting for somebody else to do it for you.

But Sam and Cas are looking at him like he’s just kicked a puppy, and damn it, he doesn’t want them to go out frantically scrabbling around to save his ass. So he drains his beer, and announces, “This isn’t gonna be enough. No reason to die sober, right?”

Cas sits shotgun in the car. If this was some other end of the world, if they still had a snowball’s chance, Dean might get pissed at him. Hell, he should be pissed. Letting Lucifer pull his strings didn’t fix anything—and it meant that Dean’s spent the last five goddamn months with his family torn apart and now they’re never gonna get the chance to glue themselves back together.

But fuck it. Sure, Dean’s always said he was gonna go down fighting, but this isn’t the kind of fighting he meant. So he pulls the car over and looks Cas in the eyes and tells him he did the right thing. In reality, it’s a hell of a lot more complicated than that, but reality isn’t what Cas needs to hear right now. All Dean can do is offer him a painkiller, so that’s what he does. You were right.

His phone rings while Cas is still giving him that whole solemn-eyed look, like Dean’s just hung the moon and announced Christmas is cancelled both at the same time. It’s Sam.

“Dean.” His voice is tight with hope and fear. “Turn the car around—and forget the beer. I think we got something.”

Dean drives like a bat out of hell, white-knuckling the steering wheel, but he still doesn’t dare let himself hope. The idea there might still be a way out of this—it doesn’t feel real, too damn fairytale an ending to ever happen to them.

Until Rowena explains, “You’ll be the bomb,” anyway.

Yeah, that sounds more like it. Ain’t no bandage for this much blood. They’ll have to amputate instead; cauterize the wound.

(Dean thought about that, sometimes, when he still had the Mark. Imagined the smell of burning flesh and probably didn’t feel as sick as he should have done.)

He’ll do it, though. Kill to cure. Seems like all they’ve got.

In his bedroom, he pulls the duffel of stolen pills out from under his bed and tosses them in the trash. They rattle like rain on the roof of the Impala.

On the top, he sees the painkillers he swiped from the hospital the day Amara got free. They’re round and pink, like candy. He stoops to pick them out of the trashcan, just to take a look, and then there’s a knock at his door.

It’s Sam. “You, uh, wanna do anything before we get set?” he asks. His eyes flick to the bottle in Dean’s hand and he frowns a little, though he doesn’t say anything.

Dean swallows and shoves the bottle into his pocket. Hesitates a moment. “Yeah,” he says, at last. “Yeah. I wanna go see Mom.”

 

When he comes to find her again, he glows from within with the light of a hundred thousand souls.

He seems surprised that she can see it. Through the connection, she feels his most recent memories. How he agreed to this with a heavy feeling of inevitability. His reflection in the mirror seemed unchanged, but he could feel the souls, a great furnace compressed to the size of a football and crammed inside his ribcage. They churned and burned within him, and it hurt.

That was what convinced him this might work. Destroying them both is a kind of purification, for him, she realizes. A purgative.

You’ve already been through Purgatory once, she wants to tell him.

In this moment, they are mirrors. However many human souls she consumes, she is still Darkness. She may walk in the midst of her brother’s creation, but she will never be of it. She’ll always be outside, beyond, as alien as the blackness of space is to the humans who walk the surface of this little planet.

He’s full of souls, too; dragging them with him into destruction. Right now he’s the time-bomb he has always believed himself to be, the weapon into which his father forged him. This would be easier for him if he were less human. But however many times he offers himself on the altar of war, however much poison he drinks, the small stubborn spark of his soul carries on. Burning, needing, hurting.

He’s tired, just as she is. She looks again at the dead flowers in the planter and clasps her hands firmly before her. Already, she feels that malaise has taken root inside of her, her being fading along with the sun.

What’s the difference between ending the world and ending yourself but a matter of perspective?

She could let him trigger the bomb and wipe them both from the face of the earth. She could end him first, and the world too, and be left to drift alone in the black. That would be a kind of death. It might numb her enough to survive.

But she glances around the garden she cannot touch, and there is nothing pleasant about the numbness she feels.

Dean watches her face. Through their connection, she feels him hover, uncertain, on the brink of something. Then he moves toward her—cautious, fearful, a shiver of hope running from his mind to hers. He looks at her directly, past the bright mass of souls between them.

“I think you’re human where it counts,” he tells her.

“You don’t want to be alone,” he tells her.

“What do you want?” he asks her.

The question takes her by surprise. She has been caught between inevitabilities for so long. It isn’t that nobody’s asked her this before—but until now it has always sounded desperate, despairing, more accusation than question. This doesn’t feel like that. It’s an offer, and she accepts.

She reaches out to her brother, and uses her killing hands to cure.