Disclaimer: I wish I had the foresight to create the Winchesters, but sadly I'm not that creative. I hope the people responsible for such amazing characters don't mind me taking them out to play every now and then.

The bar was crowded and noisy; just the kind of place to get lost in. He stood near the door, with a beer in his hand, watching people dancing, flirting and drinking. There were pool tables in the back, but he wasn't in the mood to play. Honestly, he wasn't even in the mood to be at the bar, but his only alternative was to go back to his motel room alone.

"Hey there."

He looked at the young, blonde woman who was standing in front of him. Normally she was exactly the kind of woman he would have noticed. She was wearing a tight, low-cut sweater over a short black skirt and her long blonde hair fell over her shoulders in waves.

"What are you doing over here, all alone, in the corner?" she purred.

"Drinking a beer."

Not deterred by his monotone answer, she leaned closer to him. "How about I buy you another one?"

"I'm not done with this one."

She smiled. "You're not making this easy."

"Sorry, but I'm not really in the mood."

"I can change that." she whispered into his ear.

"Not tonight, you couldn't." he looked at her, a little disappointed, and walked toward the men's room.

He was standing at the sink, staring at his reflection in the mirror, when his cell phone started to ring. He looked at the caller ID and considered not answering it, but he could never deny his younger brother anything. "Hey, Sam."

OooOooOooO

He finally fell into bed sometime after three in the morning, though he'd been tired and ready for sleep hours before. Now even though he was a little too drunk, he knew he'd probably be feeling it in the morning.

He'd been almost okay for a change, but the phone call from his brother had been like a punch to the gut. Sam didn't call with bad news; in fact, he called for no other reason than to say hello. He didn't say it, but Dean could hear the concern in his voice. So the older brother did what he always did and tried to sound like he was fine so the younger brother wouldn't worry. Sometimes it was just too much.

OooOooOooO

The next morning actually didn't start until almost one in the afternoon and Dean was glad he'd thought ahead to book the room for two nights. He stayed in bed after his eyes opened, hoping the room would stop spinning. Deciding it was close enough when the room slowed down, he made his way to the bathroom thinking he might throw up. He was glad to be wrong and took a shower instead.

He stood under the hot water for a long time. He liked the way it felt, beating on his back, and he realized he had nowhere to be anyway. He hadn't had a lead on a job in weeks and he was spending way too much time not hunting and killing things.

What are you gonna do when it's all over?

It's never gonna be over. There's gonna be others. There's always gonna be something to hunt.

Dean shook his head, trying to block out that conversation he'd had with Sam so long ago. Instead, he only managed to make himself dizzy and he had to lean against the wall of the shower to keep from falling.

What if he was wrong, Dean wondered as he dried off a few minutes later. What if there wasn't always going to be something to hunt? Surely evil still existed now, but he was damned if he could find it. It had been weeks since Sam had a vision for Dean to investigate. And, when he thought about it, the conversation he'd tried to block out didn't happen that long ago, but it seemed like a lifetime.

OooOooOooO

The final battle with the demon happened two years ago. Six months after the car accident that nearly killed them all, they were healed enough to start the search again. John was in a wheelchair, but he was an expert at spotting patterns and putting impossible clues together and he used these skills to find the demon.

He didn't want his sons to fight it alone. Truth be told, he would have preferred them to be anywhere other than in the fight. Having nearly lost Dean when the demon possessed John, he realized that there were things he wasn't willing to sacrifice to the fight. He wasn't willing to sacrifice his sons.

But John had no choice but to let them fight. They earned the right to destroy the demon; they'd given their childhoods for that right. Besides, he was no good to them in a wheelchair.

I'm not gonna live this life forever. Dean, when this is all over, you're gonna have to let me go my own way.

But Sam hadn't wanted to leave right away. Their father was still recovering, mentally and physically, and Sam desperately wanted to mend their relationship before putting any kind of geographical distance between them again. And he wasn't ready to be apart from Dean, having watched him nearly die twice in less than a year.

Eventually, though, Sam was ready to leave. He arranged to get back into Stanford and this time, instead of leaving for school alone and scared, he was accompanied by his family. They helped him move into an apartment off campus and made sure he had what he needed before they left. They promised to keep in touch and spend as much time together as possible.

OooOooOooO

Dean got dressed and sat down on the edge of the bed. He looked at the laptop Sam had left with him and thought about starting another search for something supernatural to fight. Instead, he laid back on the bed and stared at the ceiling.

He wasn't sure how much time passed before he decided to go look for something to eat, but he was sitting in a corner of a fast food restaurant when his next gig presented itself.

OooOooOooO

Sam frowned when he got Dean's voicemail again. When he spoke to him two nights before, Sam could tell something was wrong. It sounded like Dean was in a bar and, while Sam had never denied him his fun, Dean denied it. Sam didn't push him, instead tried to keep the conversation light. He was worried about his brother, but knew if he pushed too hard Dean would only put up the walls it took Sam so long to break down.

After his last class, he walked into the coffee shop near his apartment and ordered his usual drink. Nodding to some acquaintances at a nearby table as he left a few minutes later, Sam resisted the urge to call Dean again. He left four messages and he knew Dean would call as soon as he got them. It bothered Sam not to know where he was, and that he was okay, but it wasn't unlike Dean not to be in touch for a few days.

Back at his apartment, he took his coffee and a textbook out to the balcony and spent the next couple of hours reading. When his phone rang later, he assumed it would be Dean. He was wrong.

OooOooOooO

Sam borrowed a friend's car and headed for Phoenix, Arizona. It took just over twelve hours to make the drive; he didn't stop longer than it took to pump gas. Each hour on the road felt like an eternity and by the time Sam made it to his destination, he was completely on edge. His hands were shaking as he approached the information desk and his voice cracked when he asked about his brother.

Dean's eyes were closed when Sam stepped into his hospital room. Sam looked at the familiar machines monitoring his brother and was somewhat relieved to see that his condition appeared stable. He would search out more information later, but right now Sam was content to sit by Dean's bedside and talk to him. He quietly moved a chair closer and took up his position, laying a hand gently on Dean's arm. His brother stirred, but didn't wake.

Sam had no idea how long he'd been sitting there when a doctor walked in. "Oh, hello. You must be the brother. I heard the social worker had gotten in touch with you."

"Sam." he stood up. "How's my brother?"

The doctor glanced at Dean's chart. "He's stable. He has two broken ribs, sprained ankle and a head injury. He's been unconscious since he was brought in and we've not been able to determine the severity. Your brother is in a coma."

Sam wasn't prepared for the doctor's bluntness. "Do you know what happened?"

"I'm sorry, no. He was brought to the emergency room in an ambulance. I know he was found in an alley by a coffee shop worker taking out the trash. A police officer was here earlier waiting for your brother to wake up; I imagine he'll be back."

Sam nodded. He wasn't sure if the doctor was overly cold of if his own exhaustion was coloring his opinion, but Sam realized he was his only source of information at the moment. He stood in a corner of the room while the doctor examined Dean.

"His vital signs are strong." the doctor told Sam. "That's a very good sign. I'll be back to check on him later."

Sam nodded again and returned to his brother's side. A moment later a nurse walked in. Sam judged her to be in her mid-fifties and he was immediately made comfortable by her warm smile.

"Sam?" she guessed. "I'm Elizabeth. I've been with your brother since he was brought in. Lucky me; I'm working a double shift."

"Hello." Sam shook her hand.

"It looks like you've worked a double shift, too."

"I feel like it. I drove all night to get here."

"You met Dr. Reynolds, I assume?"

Sam nodded.

"Don't let him bother you. He's much better with his patients than with his patients' families." she said as she fussed around Dean.

Sam suddenly liked her very much.

"There's some coffee out at the nurse's station. I'll get you a cup." Elizabeth smiled.

"Thank you."

She looked at Sam encouragingly. "Your brother is in excellent shape. I'm sure he's fighting this very hard."

Sam glanced at his brother. He wasn't sure he agreed with Elizabeth.

She left the room and returned a few minutes later with a cup of coffee, a doughnut, a pillow and a blanket.

"Thank you very much." Sam began. "But –"

He was interrupted by an orderly pushing a reclining chair into the room.

"Your brother will need this when he wakes up." Elizabeth said. "In the meantime, why don't you make use of it?"

Sam was grateful for her kindness, but he knew he was tired when he felt tears in his eyes.

Left alone with Dean, Sam ate the doughnut and sipped on the coffee. He didn't mean to, but he was exhausted, and fell asleep a few minutes later.

OooOooOooO

Dean knew that Sam was with him. He heard Sam come into the room and felt it when Sam placed a hand on his arm. Even if he'd been able to respond, Dean wouldn't have. He was comfortable in the near darkness and was able to rest for the first time in a long time; maybe the first time since his mother died. Even as he listened to Sam talk to him, Dean could see Mary off in the distance. She was wearing the long white nightgown she'd died in, her blonde hair falling on her shoulders. She almost seemed to glow in the fog that surrounded her.

God, can you imagine if we actually found that damn thing? That demon?

Let's not get ahead of ourselves.

I know, I'm just saying what if we did? What if this whole thing was over tonight? Man, I'd sleep for a month. Go back to school. Be a person again.

Dean didn't know why he kept thinking about this conversation with his brother, but his mind insisted on going back to it. He and Sam were a motel room in Chicago, getting weapons ready to fight what they thought was the demon that killed their mother. It turned out to be a trap intended to ensnare their father, but luckily he was smart – or lucky – enough to avoid it. He was in their room when Sam and Dean returned, but the three of them were almost killed by shadow demons and ended up splitting up again.

Dean knew Sam didn't want to live as a hunter, but this had been the first time his younger brother actually voiced it.

I'm not gonna live this life forever. Dean, when this is all over, you're gonna have to let me go my own way.

It hadn't been easy for Dean to let his brother go, but he had done it. Sam was back in school, living a fairly normal life – as normal a life as someone with visions could live – but what did that leave for Dean? How could he be the older brother, the protector, when that isn't what Sam needed anymore?

Dean heard Sam take a sudden deep breath. Having heard that same sound many times before, he knew Sam had just woken up from a nightmare.

OooOooOooO

Sam's eyes flew open and he rushed to Dean's side. His brother was still breathing; his heart was still beating. The monitors indicated his condition had not changed while Sam slept, but still the younger brother was worried. Not all of his dreams came true and that's what he kept telling himself as he struggled to breathe normally. He wasn't always able to tell the difference between a normal dream and a premonition and either way, he didn't like seeing Dean die.

"Dean," he whispered to his still unconscious brother. "I don't know if you can hear me, but – man, you have to wake up. Things will be okay if you just wake up."

He glanced up as the door opened. A man wearing a suit stepped into the room.

"Are you Sam Winchester?"

The brothers had used hundreds of aliases over the years and even though it was rarely necessary anymore, it was strange to hear a stranger use his real name. He nodded.

"I'm Sergeant Gregs with the Phoenix police department. How's he doing?"

"No change."

"I'd like to talk to you; can we step outside?"

Sam didn't want to leave his brother's side, but he also didn't want to risk Dean overhearing their conversation and he knew that was possible. Reluctantly, he walked to the hall with the police officer.

"Do you know why your brother is in Phoenix?" Sergeant Gregs asked.

"No." Sam could answer truthfully. He had no idea. "He moves around a lot."

"What does he do for a living?"

"Odd jobs. We were pretty transient growing up and I guess he just got used to that."

The detective nodded, making notes in a small book. "When was the last time you talked to him?"

"Two or three days ago."

"Any idea who might have wanted to beat him up?"

"Dean has a way of bringing that out in people. Is that what happened to him?"

"Judging from the injuries, yes. He was found in an alley – do you have any idea why he might have been in the alley?"

"None." Again, Sam could answer truthfully. "Are you sure that's where it happened?"

"Fairly. There's enough evidence to suggest that's where it happened. There are a couple of bars near the same alley –"

"Sometimes Dean plays pool for money." Sam offered, hoping the detective wouldn't look too closely into his brother's activities. The Winchesters were almost part of regular society now, but there were things from the past that probably didn't need to be scrutinized by law enforcement.

The detective nodded. "That's not always the safest way to earn extra money."

"No kidding." Sam agreed.

"You're in college?" the detective asked.

"Law school. Stanford."

"Good for you. Is there any other family?"

"Our father in Oregon. I haven't told him about this yet. I was kind of hoping I wouldn't have to."

"I understand. Well, I don't think I need anything else for now. I'll check back to see how he's doing. Is there somewhere you can be reached?"

"I don't know where I'm staying yet. I'll give you my cell number."

The detective wrote it down then closed the notebook. "Your brother was registered at the Desert Inn; we found the key in his pocket. His personal effects were turned over to the hospital. We searched his room at the motel and didn't find anything – he had car keys in his pocket, but we don't know what kind of car to look for yet and –"

"It's an Impala." Sam said quietly, immediately regretting it.

"Honestly, Mr. Winchester, I don't hold out a lot of hope for finding whoever beat up your brother, but we're not closing the case. You can collect his things at the motel if you want to." the detective said. "Including his car, if it's there."

"Thanks." Sam said slowly, noting a change to the police officer's demeanor.

I'll be in touch, Mr. Winchester."

Sam nodded as the detective walked toward the elevators. He saw Elizabeth behind the nurses' station desk and walked up to her.

"Hi, Sam." she smiled.

"Hi. I – uh – I was thinking I'd take off for a while; find a motel room, get cleaned up. I just wanted to make sure I got to thank you for earlier –"

She waved her hand. "No need. Besides, you'll see me again. Oh, I have something for you."

He looked at her curiously as she handed him a large envelope.

"It's your brother's stuff. I thought you might want it."

"Thank you."

"The Desert Inn is about ten blocks from here." she said and gave him directions.

"Thank you." he said again. Walking toward the elevators, he could have sworn he felt a hand touch his arm gently, but he was alone in the hallway. Even the nurses' station was empty.