Disclaimer: I do not own Supernatural or any of it's characters-- they all own me.

His head was pounding out a rhythm and his shoulder was keeping time to it. His mouth was so dry he couldn't even swallow, and every twitch sent icy spikes of fire through his chest and ribcage. The music and laughter and people and talking weren't helping.

The talking especially.

If one more person sat down next to him and started a conversation with, so you're Sam's brother, he was going to fuckin' scream – or punch something. No shit, Sherlock, he was Sam's brother, they'd pretty much announced that over a megaphone when he'd first come in.

It was driving him insane, all these friendly people. Christ. Did he look like he wanted to talk to a middle aged woman about whether there was too much garlic in the pasta?

He'd had to escape; snapping at Sam's wedding reception was not an option.

"You didn't eat the dead cow on your plate," Jill murmured, coming to stand next him.

Dean glanced down at her. He'd wondered since he met her how something so small – 5'1", 100 pounds soaking wet – and so cute – curly light brown hair, big blue eyes – could be Satan's favorite spawn.

"Go away," he said.

She eyed him. "What are you doing out here?" she asked.

He remained silent. Maybe if he ignored her . . .


He sighed. "Don't you have any chickens to sacrifice?"

"Sacrificing chickens is so passé," she offered haughtily.

He rolled his eyes; he was too tired to deal with Jill.

"What do you want?"

"Sam is asking everyone where you are. He's getting that panicky, puppy-dog look that makes Jess get that angry why-the-hell-isn't-someone-finding-Dean look." She arched her eyebrows at him, "We got a lot of that today."

Dean remained silent. He sure as hell wasn't going to apologize to Jill for today.

"The party's inside..."

"And I'm outside. Go away, kid."

"You're such an ass," she huffed, scowling at him; she always got so riled up when he brought up her age.

"What the hell is wrong with you? It's their wedding!" she continued and he scowled at her.

"I don't need you to lecture me!" he snapped.

"Well you need someone to tell you to pull your head out of you ass because you're acting like -"

He shifted to face her and felt satisfied when her mouth snapped shut. He wasn't in the mood to be the Dean she knew.

"I needed some air. You're sucking it all up. Go. Away," he stated coldly.

She blinked at him, something in her gaze shifting. "You okay?" she asked him softly.

The burst of frustration that welled up inside him was surprising and he had to clench his fists to keep from lashing out at her. "I'm fine," He grated out; and then stared at her. He refused to tell her again.

"Yeah. Okay," she murmured, her gaze suddenly sharper. She took a step towards him instead of away.

"Jill," he spat. Last warning.

Her mouth was drawn into a straight line and her gaze was fastened on his, studying him. And then as abruptly as it had begun, her gaze was gone and she was turning around, heading back to the hotel lobby, back to the party.

Dean sighed and shifted to face forward again, leaning back against the wall. He was standing at the side of the building, trying to pull a deep breath that didn't make him want to double over. What he really wanted to do was find a motel with strong water pressure and take the longest shower known to man.

He closed his eyes and held himself absolutely still. If he didn't move, if he didn't breathe too hard, then it didn't hurt at all.

He couldn't hold still inside the hotel. Hell inside that place he couldn't hear himself think. There were so many people . . . and it seemed every single one had something to say to him – about Sam. All of them wanted stories; all of them had questions – it was just . . . fuckin' hard.

And there weren't enough friggin' exits in that room. Just people. People everywhere – dancing, eating, talking, laughing . . . knowing Sam; wanting him to know how they knew Sam . . . God . . .

He wouldn't have minded so much if Metallica's drummer wasn't doing a solo in his head; but right now if he turned too quickly the world did a lovely impression of blurred watercolors for him, mixing and shifting and making him want to puke.

"Christ, Dean."

Sam's voice, so close, made him jump and tense, eyes shooting open and body jerking away from the wall. His little brother was standing directly in front him, eyeing him with that vaguely panicky look Sam had perfected.

Jumping and jerking weren't exactly holding still; Dean hissed, wrapping an arm around his ribs and bending forward a little. It hurt now – thanks, Sam.

He glared at the younger man. "What?" he asked, and it came out sounding a bit more like a growl than he'd intended.

"You look like shit, that's what," Sam stated, reaching out to grab his arm. "Come on . . ."

That would hurt too, Dean realized quickly, and stepped back against the wall again.

"Dean -" Sam's voice sounded aggravated. Dean sighed softly. He hadn't meant to aggravate his brother today.

"I'm okay, Sam," Dean told him, gentling his tone. "You go back inside. I'll be there in a minute."

Sam arched an eyebrow at him, "Why are you out here in the first place?"

"How did you know I was out here in the first place?"

"Jill," Sam answered instantly, a smile tugging at his lips. "The little-sister gene made her tell on you."

Dean remained silent. Sam arched an eyebrow, the smile slipping away, "Well?" he asked.

Dean offered his brother a small smirk. "Too many people -" he murmured, letting the sentence trail.

Sam was silent a moment, then returned the half-smile. "- Not enough exits," he finished.

Dean's smile widened a little, "Or weapons."

Sam laughed at that, "Yeah, seriously. Some of those people..."

"There's this creepy lady that keeps pinching my cheek."

"Yeah, well, there's this one lady that keeps telling me as a married man I should really cut my hair."

"When I got up from the table someone pinched my ass."

"I had to dance the waltz."

Dean grinned widely, "Yeah, and it's totally on tape."

"Shut up."

"Go inside. You graceful, married man, you."

"Yeah. Come with me."

"Sam -"

"Come on... just... come, would you?"

Dean sighed; his brother was giving him that pathetic, puppy dog look again. He hated that look. Someday he was going to develop immunity to that look – someday soon, even.

"Fine," he hissed, bracing himself for a moment and then pushing off the wall again. He started down the street, painfully aware of his brother's unflinching gaze glued to his back.

"So yeah. How many walls did you get thrown into?" Sam asked as he fell into step beside him.

Dean rolled his eyes. It was going to be a long night.

It was almost over. It had to be. Mike had given a sweet, polite, perfectly acceptable speech in lieu of the best man after Dean flat out refused. Things had been tossed and caught and photographed and awwed over and cried over. The crowd was thinning, the music had gotten softer, the lights were dimmer – and really, he didn't know how much more of this he could take. So yeah, it had to be almost over. Because if he heard one more fuckin' glass tinkle he was gonna pull out his .9mm and make the fuckin' glass tinkle for real – and that could be a problem.

But seriously, Christ on crutches, whoever had come up with the 'bride-and-groom-kiss-at-every-glass-tinkle'tradition ought to be taken out back and shot. And even though he wasn't sure he could actually make it out back, he'd volunteer to do it. Because yeah, he wanted to see Sam and Jess to suck face as much as the next guy, but there was no friggin' reason why they couldn't do it quietly.


Dean looked up. Jill was standing next to his chair, holding a closed hand out to him.

He stared at it. He'd moved his head too quickly and had to blink a few times until the room stopped shifting. He took a moment to swallow and was about to ask her what when she sighed.

"Oh wow..." she murmured, sounding slightly amused.

And suddenly she was holding his wrist.

"Open your hand," she ordered.

He did, frowning up at her. Jill dropped three pills in his hand. "Sam told me to give you these before. It's taken me like years to get over here. There's family here I forgot I had!" she added, waving her hand towards the dance floor.

Her gaze went back to him; she was staring at him again. Waiting for something?

He tried to swallow once more. "Oh," he murmured in response, dismissing her; and searched across the ballroom until he found Sam. His younger brother was standing with two older men.

"You need to take them, Dean." Jill's voice startled him a little. Even from here Dean could see the tautness of Sam's smile.

She was sitting next to him suddenly, which was where she was supposed to be sitting anyway. Except that this thing was almost over and people weren't sitting anymore – most people.

Almost over. Yeah.

"Dean?" she said, and he remembered – take them, right.

He nodded and put the pills in his mouth. He'd started swallowing before he remembered that his mouth was dry, that he'd need water and that he hadn't asked what they were.

Jill placed a glass of water in his hand, "Tylenol," she told him as he drank.

Dean nodded, putting the glass back on the table. They were silent.

His gaze went back to Sam, his brother was still smiling – still miserable. He wanted to go over and help him out, but whenever he'd tried to talk to anyone here he made things worse. They were so friendly and welcoming it made him a little nauseous – or maybe that was pain in his ribs. Either way, he'd learned it was best to just sit tight.

Every once in awhile Sam would come and sit next to him; sort of recharging before heading back out there. God alone knew where Jess was.
"That's Uncle Lou and Uncle Kenny with Sam. He's bored to tears because they're probably telling him how to invest his money. Or the ways that he won't make money. Or things that he shouldn't do with money he has or will have, etcetera . . ." she sighed. "I actually feel bad for him."

Dean almost chuckled, but remembered his ribs in time and instead just widened his eyes comically. "Really?" he asked.

She shrugged, smirking, "I wouldn't wish Uncle Lou or Uncle Kenny even on you."

That did make him chuckle and he winced immediately after. She was watching him.

She was standing then, patting his shoulder, "Just another hour and then we're finished here."

He watched her flit over to where Sam was standing and watched as Sam actually relaxed a bit. Dean smiled a little. The devil you knew . . .

The girls were buzzing around him. Drunk. They were all definitely drunk. He was vaguely following the talk about shoes and boyfriends and photographers . . . or the photographer, whatever.

The giggling was distracting . . . and the barely covered legs and arms and breasts . . . they were distracting too . . .

They were all off limits, he knew that – and yeah, he was pretty sure he should be hospitalized or at least medicated, but hell – he wasn't dead. Kerrie, Lacey, and even Jill were looking good tonight, wearing the same mid-length, low-cut, backless lavender dresses. So following their conversation was low on his priority list.

They were asking him questions though, to which he would nod or just stare. They were smiling at him too, and trying to button the top button of his shirt and tilting his face one way and another to look at the bruises. One of them brought him a bowl of soup – soup, and offered to feed it to him, because he hadn't eaten dinner; which apparently they'd noticed.

He mostly ignored them and after awhile they magically drifted away, patting his shoulder and giving him weird, funny looks. Kerrie actually patted his head and murmured a quiet, such asweetheart, as she glided away on stocking feet, shoes in one hand. He blinked at her bare back. Lacey was doing the same –Lacey, gliding on the polished floor . . . they were definitely drunk.

He didn't feel like a sweetheart. He felt . . . tired.

Dean startled when he felt a hand land on his arm. Wincing, he slowly turned his head. Jill was still sitting next to him. She was watching him with those wide, blue eyes that were identical to Jess's – only not as friendly. The thought made him smirk a little.

"Eat the soup," she told him.

Dean blinked and stared at the bowl in front of him. His stomach recoiled at the idea. "I don't – do soup, babe," he murmured, but it was hard to do snarky when your stomach was roiling around.

She stared at him for a moment, before nodding. "Okay," Jill agreed and removed the bowl from his line of sight.

He was grateful for that; the smell had been making him nauseous. He lifted his gaze to the ballroom again. Sam was nowhere in sight.

"Soup's gone," he heard Jill state, her voice a curious tone between soft and amused with something else added in that he'd been hearing all night from her.

He turned to look her. "Where's Sam?" he asked, and nearly cringed at how pitiful he sounded. Christ, no wonder the girls were looking at him like that . . .

"He's seeing people off," she told him. "Party's over. He'll be right back."

He nodded – and instantly regretted the motion.

His sight clouded over; Dean took a deep breath as black spots danced in his vision, ribcage burning and pain shooting through him. He lost his breath, closing both eyes tightly; Dean wrapped an arm around his ribs, bending forward a little as he tried to breathe, to stamp down the stabs of pain.

"Hey," a warm hand was suddenly splayed across his back.

He blinked his eyes open slowly, "Sam . . ."

The hand on his back rubbed gently. "Yeah man," Sam's voice was soft, "How're you feeling?"

Dean blinked again, trying to clear the haze. "M'fine," he murmured, frowning when the words slurred.

"Yeah, sure." His little brother didn't sound convinced. "You need to get some rest." Sam's voice was gentle, like he was talking to frightened kid or something –Dean hated that voice. He particularly hated it because it was comforting, because with that voice and Sam's hand smoothing his back he was having trouble keeping his eyes from slipping shut . . .

"Okay, let's get you out of here," he heard Sam say. His uninjured arm was across his brother's shoulders suddenly and he knew that Sam was going to pull him up, was going to straighten him out. He meant to brace himself, but didn't do it fast enough.

Pain slashed across his torso and he gasped.

Sam's hold shifted a little, "Sorry," he muttered, easing Dean along his side. Dean hung there for a moment, catching his breath, leaning into Sam, head lowered. It took a moment, but when his breath came back so did his awareness – and Christ there were people watching this.

He pulled himself away. "I can walk," he griped, shrugging away from Sam.

Sam let him go, but didn't back away. "I'll walk you to your room," he offered instead. Dean blinked at him. Room? Had he missed part of that conversation?

"Room?" he asked, shifting his feet, finding his balance, "Here?"

"Yeah man, here." Sam responded.


"Because I'm not going home and you're not driving yourself."

He frowned, "I can -"


"I don't -"

"The entire wedding party is booked in a suite, no one is going anywhere tonight. It was the plan all along. I booked your room already."

Dean didn't give a shit what the wedding party was doing. He didn't like Sam's tone. He scowled. "I can -"

"You're not driving anywhere."

Truth was he didn't really want to drive anywhere, but Sam was using that tone – as if it were law or something just 'cause he'd said it. And it was an older brother's sacred duty to not allow that tone to win. He opened his mouth to argue, when Jess stepped in front of him.

She patted his chest gently. "Oh honey, you look exhausted," she murmured, looking up into his face, blue eyes wide and concerned.

"Come on, Dean," Sam repeated and that I-said-so tone was gone, replaced by the gentle one and Dean sighed. The I-said-so tone was easier to fight. "It's a nice room," Sam continued, guiding him towards the exit of the ballroom. "And then you can go home tomorrow if you want. Jess and I are staying the weekend so you can have the apartment all to yourself – tomorrow. Tonight you stay here . . ."

"You'll like the room, Dean. It has a big TV and a bar and a snack station . . . you'll love it," Jess added, coming around on the other side of him. They were at the center of the dancing floor now. He could see people cleaning up, putting equipment and tables and chairs away – the party was over.

Sam was married.

"Jus' wanna bed," he murmured, exhaustion weighing him down suddenly.

He stumbled. Sam came closer, supporting his weight a little and Dean didn't have the energy to shrug out of his brother's hold. It seemed to take forever to reach the ballroom exit, but the sight that met his gaze wasn't particularly welcome – a hallway stretched before him, and a foyer beyond that, and who knew what else after that.

He was exhausted and Sam was married and Dad had left.

Dad had left, and he hadn't said where he was going or what he was hunting next. He'd left without seeing Sam or meeting Jess. He'd left without trying at all.

He'd left and Sam was married.

Dean swallowed hard, trying to stave off an imminent wave of weariness, forcing himself to draw his thoughts away from where they were headed. A place where choices were made, sides picked—lines drawn. A place where nothing he did stopped him from wondering just how long, how far middle ground would really stretch.


"Yeah, I know."

They'd been having the same exchange since leaving the lobby; where Dean had tripped for the fourth time and Sam had refused to be shrugged off. His brother was leaning heavily on him now, his head hanging low, steps sluggish, skin feverishly warm – and Sam was starting to feel touches of panic.

Dean had looked fine for most of the reception-- until he just hadn't.

It had been an abrupt change, he'd looked over and suddenly Dean had looked ill – pale and dazed, dark bruises standing out vividly.

Thankfully, the night had almost been over at that point. And god . . . it had been a long night.

Jess's night.

He'd just wanted to marry her, she'd wanted a wedding. She'd wanted the dress and the dancing and the family and the pictures – for once, she'd wanted more normal than he had.

Dean stumbled against him and Sam tightened his hold instinctively. Dean hissed in pain, tensing. Sam winced. "Sorry," he muttered again.


"Yeah, I know."

Sam breathed a sigh of relief when they reached Dean's room. He leaned Dean against the wall and opened the door, then carefully maneuvered his brother inside and sat him on the bed.

Dean immediately curled sideways, leaning down onto the mattress.

"No, no . . ." he said, gripping Dean's arm. "Not yet – let's take a look at you first."

Dean blinked at him, not even frowning. ". . . M'tired . . ." he murmured, eyes half-closed.

Sam reached out and gently pulled him up, straightening him so that he was sitting up on the bed. "I know; just a quick look," he responded.

Dean didn't argue and Sam felt something tighten inside him, his mouth going dry. A compliant Dean was never a good sign.

He started carefully unbuttoned the shirt and pulled it off. Dean jerked a little as the shirt came off, but he said nothing. Sam grabbed the ends of the undershirt and pulled upwards--

Ice hit his veins when Dean gasped, pain contorting his features.

Sam released the shirt instantly, "What!? What is it!?" he asked urgently.

". . . Shoulder," Dean breathed, chest rising and falling rapidly, grimacing as he worked to control the pain.

Sam swallowed hard. "Which one?"


He nodded and took a deep breath; then resumed taking Dean's shirt off. Carefully and slowly, he pulled it off the left arm and shoulder first. "Duck your head a little," he told Dean.

Dean let his head drop forward limply and Sam felt his heart skip a beat – not a comforting image.

Gently he eased the shirt over Dean's head and then slowly down the right arm. Dean winced as the material rubbed against the bruising.

Sam couldn't stop the gasp at the sight of them. Dean's shoulder was one big mass of dark bruising. The area of his ribcage was a mottled display of them ranging from yellowish to deep purple, some areas red and inflamed looking. Sam lifted his gaze to Dean's face, "Do you have broken ribs?" he stated, not caring that the question sounded like an accusation.

How could Dean not say anything?

Again those dazed blinks. Then a quiet, "Maybe."

And Sam felt his anger vanish as suddenly as it had appeared, "Oh god, Dean," he murmured, realizing the pain he had to be in. "Just . . . lie back . . ." he said, reaching behind his brother to stack pillows against the headboard. The he eased Dean back against them; Dean didn't argue, didn't comment, didn't insist he was fine. He let Sam handle him, glazed eyes staring blankly ahead.

Sam drew in a deep breath and tried to swallow past his dry mouth; he knelt and removed Dean's shoes, then lifted his legs onto the bed, stretching him out.

Dean's eyes had slid shut, his breathing evened out in sleep, too shallow for Sam's liking. His brother looked so exhausted and pale underneath the fever's flush. The idea of waking him up bothered Sam. Dean needed the sleep as much as he needed anything else.

But his breathing was too shallow and a fever shouldn't be ignored – there were some things that had to be done.

Sam collected ice and towels, water and pain medicine before he sat down next to Dean on the bed. He settled the palm of his hand high on Dean's chest. "Hey," he called softly. "Wake up." He tapped fingers lightly against his brother's chest. "Come on, dude," he added.

Eyelashes fluttered.

"Yeah, that's it – wake up."

Dean swallowed hard, blinking owlishly. "Sam?"

Sam smiled. "Yep. Here – take these." He lifted Dean's head slowly and carefully fed him the pills and water. "You're running a light fever," he explained quietly. "We need to ice your ribs for a little bit, bring the swelling down – it'll help your breathing. All the moving around and sitting up tonight didn't help . . ." he continued, adding softly, "You really should have said something . . ."

He knew he was babbling, but he was hoping to distract Dean. His brother hadn't yet registered the word ice and Sam hoped to keep it that way for a few more seconds.

He pressed the ice gently against Dean's skin.

Dean reacted violently, arching away and growling, "Shit!" His arms swatted at the offending item. "FUCK, Sammy," he gasped.

"Sorry, sorry, sorry . . ." Sam muttered over and over again, even as he grappled with Dean to get him still.

"What are you doing here?" Dean spat out, trying to turn away.

"Hold still!"

Dean squirmed a moment longer before slumping onto the bed, too exhausted to struggle for long. He eyed Sam accusingly. "Hurts," he muttered.

Sam exhaled quickly. "Sorry," he repeated, but held the ice steady.

Dean shuddered suddenly, the ice beginning to numb and spread. He blinked at Sam, as if seeing him for the first time. He frowned. "What are you – where am I?" he asked, panic touching his voice, eyes darting around the room.

"Hotel," Sam answered instantly. "I got you a room, remember?"

Dean stared at him a moment longer and Sam frowned in concern.

Another moment passed and then Dean sighed softly and ran a hand over his face, "Right, yeah . . ."

Sam shifted the ice, Dean gasped.

"Sorry, sorry . . ." Sam mumbled again.

He watched as Dean's eyes began to slide shut, watched as he jerked them open, "What're you doing 'ere?" His brother asked again, slurring a little.

Sam frowned, "The reception was here."

Dean was obviously losing the adrenaline-fueled energy of moments ago, eyes slid shut before he answered.

Sam studied the bruise on his shoulder – he knew without a shadow of a doubt that the faintest touch would set off waves of agony, but he couldn't let the joint freeze up . . .

Dean opened his eyes again. "Yeah," he muttered, loading the word with tired sarcasm. "You jus' got married . . ." he added.

Sam blinked, an image of Jess in her wedding gown flashing through his mind. "Yeah," he agreed, smiling.

"Dude," Dean continued, obviously forcing the words out, "Go be . . . with . . . your wife . .."

Sam nodded, shifting the ice again, "I will . . ." he agreed.

Dean only winced this time". . . shou' g'now . . ." he gasped.

Sam frowned. "I'm busy now," he noted dryly.

"You can't . . . leave Jess . . ." Dean was fading fast, "- alone on . . . her . . . wedding nigh' . . ." the last words were barely audible, and his blinks were getting longer.

"She's not alone; she and Jill are opening presents."

Dean's scowl was sleepily ferocious and Sam carefully lifted the ice away. "Your presents," he whispered. "Go . . . m'fine . . ."

Sam chuckled softly; they'd come full circle. "Let her gush about the wedding and the party with Jill – I swear our marriage'll start out smoother that way."

"M'fine . . ." Dean repeated, eyes slipping shut again.

Sam's smile faded. He set the ice and towel away, then laid a hand in Dean's hair. "Yeah, Dean . . ." he murmured, "I know . . ."

"Why would he do that? Why would he just leave?" Sam asked, pacing the floor in his and Jess's hotel room.

Jess was standing to one side. "I don't know, Sam. He'll probably be back though," she offered, sparing a quick glance at Jill, who was sitting Indian-style on the made bed. She rolled her eyes.

"He took his stuff!" Sam growled.

"But where would he go? He's still pretty beat up," Jess pointed out. Sam said nothing, just paced. "Do you think he went back to our place?" she asked, following his pacing.

Sam shrugged, "I don't know! I just . . . I don't get him! He comes all this way and makes such an effort and then he just leaves. And he doesn't even tell me . . . doesn't say where he's going or when I'll see him next – doesn't say goodbye, even! How am I suppose to -"

"Did you try calling him?" Jill asked.

Sam froze, head whipping towards the younger girl, eyes widening. The room was utterly still.

A moment later, Jill huffed and pushed herself off the bed.

"You know," she said, going to nightstand and picking up the handset, "I bet it's not too late." She handed the phone to Sam, eyes fastened on Jess. "You could still get this thing annulled," she advised.

Jess scowled, "Why don't you go find Mom and Dad?"

Jill shrugged, "I'm just saying! The most logical thing would have been to call! I mean seriously -"

"Good-bye, Jill." Jess's voice sliced into younger girl's sentence and Jill's mouth snapped shut.

"Okay," she drew the word out, "I'm going..."

The room was silent as she closed the door behind her.

"She's right," Sam stated, just as Jess released a long sigh.

"Yeah," she agreed after a pause, looking up at him. A moment later she offered him a small smile, "But logic and freaking out don't go so well together."

A smile tugged at the corners of Sam's mouth, "Was I freaking out?"

"Oh yeah," she confirmed, then waved a hand in his direction, "Call Dean, find out what's going on. Then come get me, I'm heading to the outdoor pool . . ."

Sam was nodding, but she wasn't finished, narrowing her eyes at him. "At which point I expect your complete, wholly undivided attention, got it?"

He grinned. "Complete, huh?" he asked, coming closer.

"Yep," she nodded, letting him pull her close. The kiss was warm and brief. She pushed away. "And undivided too," she reminded him as she turned and headed for the door.

Sam chuckled, watching her leave. When the door closed the smile, and his good humor, vanished.

Dean had left the hotel without one word to him. It was – unusual. It set off alarms in Sam's head, making the freaking out more to do with scared than angry.

He sat on the bed and dialed Dean's cell phone number. It rang and rang and rang . . . he was about to panic, thinking that Dean wasn't going to pick up, when he did.

"Hey," he said simply.

Sam released a long breath, suddenly just scared. "What's going on?" he asked.

"Nothing, why do you -"

"Don't lie to me, Dean."

"I'm not -"

"So you just thought leaving without saying goodbye – hell, with barely saying anything to me at all since you got here, was a good idea? You thought it would be a good idea to drive in the condition you're in? You thought no one would notice -"

"Stop it. I get it. You're pissed... and yeah maybe I -"

"I'm worried, there's a difference."

Dean huffed and Sam could practically see him rolling his eyes, "Okayfine, worried, but just chill okay. I'm fine – better, and there's just . . . I had to go, Sam."


There was pause on the other end, then, "A job."

Sam blinked, his grip on the phone tightening, "A job?" The question slipped out before he could stop it and he cringed. He didn't question the jobs. It was part of their unspoken agreement, communicated through looks and tones and the way the air got heavier around them. He could ask about jobs, refer to jobs, joke about jobs – but never question their existence.

"Yeah, Sam. A job," Dean stated, voice a few degrees colder.

Sam swallowed hard, not backpedaling, "Today? In your condition? You scheduled a job the day after my -"

"Don't fall into the delusions you made for Jess, Sam. I don't schedule jobs."

"You're not up to -"

"I can't let the trail -"

"- hunting right now."

"- go cold."

They both fell silent.

Dean sighed first, Sam followed. The line was quiet again.

"Go enjoy your bride, Sammy."

"Dean, you can't right now. You're going to get yourself killed hunting like that! You know better!" He couldn't stop himself from yelling, from standing up and waving a hand in the air as if Dean could see him.


"NO. I'm not going to relax! You're not okay! I don't understand why you're doing this now!? I mean, its my -"

"It's not always about you, Sam!"

His mouth snapped shut. They were on shaky ground, now. The silence stretched and Sam tried to swallow, his mouth suddenly dry.

"I wasn't planning on leaving," Dean said quietly, a peace offering. "It just . . ." he paused, "I know you wanted me to stay longer. I was going to, but something . . . there's something -" he sighed. "Can you – just drop it, Sam?"

This wasn't about a job, Sam thought suddenly, panic unfurling inside him again; this was about something and Dean not telling him what it was meant it was something bad.

"Dean . . ." he said, unable to keep the panic out of his voice.

"It's gonna be okay," Dean responded, and the panic bloomed.

"What's gonna be okay?!" he asked, voice an octave too high.

"Just drop it, Sam. I have to go. I'm driving, you always tell me not to talk and drive." There was forced lightness in the tone now, a real effort to sound normal – that terrified Sam more than anything else.

"Dean, please," he choked out, sounding five years old, not a man just married.

"It's okay," Dean comforted, as he always did. "I promise. It's okay . . . enjoy your weekend. I'll talk to you later." Normal shifted to hardness, to Dean saying no and clamming up tight. Dean telling him this conversation was over, whether he wanted it to be or not.

Sam felt the ground shift, it was moving, changing . . . Dean wasn't telling him where he was going, when he'd be back . . .


"I don't know, Sam," his brother interrupted, already knowing what Sam would ask. The line was quiet for a moment. Then Dean added, "Stay safe."

Sam swallowed hard. "You too," he whispered, because he wasn't getting any more out of Dean. A moment later the dial tone confirmed it. He ended the call and placed the phone on the bed. Something had happened; between last night when he'd left Dean asleep and this morning when he'd gone to check on him, something big had happened. Because his brother had just left and Dean never did that.

Dean never just took off; that too was part of their agreement.

Something had happened, changed things. Sam felt it with the instincts of a hunter. Something had shifted the ground they stood on, and he could only hope it wasn't permanent.

He should go back. He should turn around and go back to Sam's little weekend party. He should do it because one day didn't really mean the difference between being able to drive for twenty hours straight or not, because he felt like shit, because he hadn't let anyone know he was leaving. He should do it because his little brother wanted him to be there. He should do it because he should try his damnedest to make Sam happy this weekend. He should do it because he wanted to; he really, honestly did. Dean wanted to see Sam smile and laugh, to see him joke and play around because no matter how many times he saw that, it never got old.

He wasn't going back.

Something was wrong. He'd come to drop off his bag, to pick up the postcards Jess always asked for – he'd had every intention of going back.

The journal was in the glove compartment. The Journal was in the glove compartment. Dad had left it there. Dad never left the journal anywhere. It was always where he was, in the motel or in his truck. It had been years since the Impala was his to leave the journal in; the Impala was Dean's. There was no reason for the journal to be in the Impala.

But it was. His Dad had left it, shoved it in there, crumbling the postcards behind it. When Dean had opened the dashboard it had all fallen out, spilling into his hands, bursting like dirty water from a corroded pipe. He'd held it for a long moment, staring at it, letting the realization that it was there filter through him. Letting it tell him something was wrong.

It could have been an accident, he thought at first, an oversight.

Eight unanswered calls later he was sure it wasn't. His Dad wasn't the easiest person to get in touch with at times, hell usually.

But his Dad always picked up the phone when he knew Dean wasn't at 100. He could be short-tempered and gruff on the line if the call came at a time when he was busy or downright pissed if it came at a time when he didn't want it, but he always picked up when he knew Dean hurt.

Something was wrong. His gut was telling him that, screaming it and his gut had saved his life more than once. He trusted it, trusted his instincts enough to put the Impala into gear and screech his way out of the hotel parking lot.

He had to find Dad. He had to do it as soon as possible, now even. He'd go by Lucas's first, see if Dad had mentioned anything to him. If that turned up nothing, he wasn't sure where he'd go, what he'd do, keep calling, keep driving.

He'd set the journal on the passenger seat next to his cell phone. Dean would look through it later – after his talk with Lucas. Right now he concentrated on not passing out in the midst of getting his ass back to Michigan.

He could be overreacting, freaking out over nothing – except that he just knew he wasn't. Sam would be freaking out he thought suddenly, wincing as he envisioned his little brother going to his room and not finding Dean anywhere.

He should come up with something to tell him, something to make it better. Except that Sam wouldn't find comfort in any reason Dean gave him – even the truth. Dean had no way of putting his feeling into words, and even if he could, Sam would discount it. His little brother's instincts had dulled; years away from hunting had made him forget the power instinct held; how it could guide you when properly honed.

Sam wouldn't accept anything Dean had to say for leaving . . . just as Dad didn't accept anything Sam had to say.

His breath hitched suddenly, pain rippling through him. Dean gripped the steering wheel tight. Sam would be pissed and confused and unable to understand why Dean was doing this. He swallowed hard. Just as Dad had been when Dean had started seeing Sam again.

Sometimes he felt he'd snap under the strain of being their only link. Sometimes he wondered how long they could all go on like this . . . living with blinders on, seeing only what they wanted to see.

His phone vibrated suddenly. Dean glanced at it, Sam flashed on the screen.

Sometimes he wondered if he was the only who realized that middle ground just wasn't stretching far enough these days...

He released a shaky breath and slowly reached for his cell phone.

… that someday soon they would run out of it completely.

Author's Note: Thank you so much to everyone who has reviewed this story. It has meant so much to me! I appreciate and treasure your words greatly.

This is the last story to be posted in Middle Ground. However, it is not necessarily that last story in this 'verse. ;) I have a few things planned out.

And a great big thank you Lembas7 for your help and advice. :D