A/N: A thousand apologies for the inexcusable delay in posting! (grovels for forgiveness) I've been out-of-control busy this week, trying to prepare for having surgery on Monday on both my knees, and I've been a little distracted. :( Despite the unpleasant things my surgeon has planned for my poor legs (there will be drilling of holes in bone – OMFG!), there is an upside! Two months off my feet means A LOT of time to sit around and write, so I'll most likely finish this story soon and move on to another. Plus finally finish my House, MD fic, which I've had terrible writer's block on for months (sorry to those who're reading!) Okay – enough apologizing – onto the chapter!

Chapter Soundtrack: "Forever and Ever, Amen" by 8mm
Despite feeling wrung out and exhausted, Dean couldn't sleep.

He was perched anxiously on the edge of Sam's motel bed, watching his little brother sleep and trying uselessly to fight back the overwhelming shame he felt.

Sam looked pale and washed out, as though he might fade into the surrounding white of the sheets, and Dean kept a hand resting gently on his brother's forearm to reassure himself that Sam wouldn't actually disappear.

They'd gone to the ER hours before, where a suspicious doctor had tsked over the damage to Sam's shoulder and asked pointed questions. Sam had sprawled in a daze on the gurney, his confused and unfocussed eyes drifting between the doctor and his irate brother. Dean had fed the MD a story about his brother falling off his motorcycle, then demanded that the man focus more on treating Sam than writing his life story.

There had been some colorful language involved, and Dean was pretty sure he had called the doctor's parentage into question more than once. Nevertheless, it had gotten the job done with no more prying inquires, and he hadn't really cared about anything else just then.

His brother's less-than perfect physical state had had him slightly distracted, to say the least.

It turned out that Sam had not only dislocated his shoulder, but had also sustained a shoulder separation, three bruised ribs, a concussion, and multiple abrasions and contusions. Dean had felt a sting of guilt with every painful diagnosis, and had thanked God and modern medicine that Sam was sedated for the duration of his unpleasant treatment.

Dean was sure the grusome pop of Sam's shoulder being pulled back into place would haunt his dreams for weeks.

The doctor had wanted to keep Sam overnight for observation, but Dean had talked him into checking his brother out early with an essentially truthful statement about no insurance and limited financial funds.

Amazing, the way money dictated health care these days.

They'd be really pissed when the credit card came back as fraudulent he'd thought vindicitvely as he'd driven Sam back to the motel. His brother had been silent and disturbingly still for the ride, head lolling gently with the sway of the Impala.

His brother had been difficult to maneuver into the room, left arm strapped securely to his torso and system full of drugs. He'd never truly woken up, despite several jolts and near-collapses; just grunted and staggered with his brother's support into the room, collapsing bonelessly onto the bed. Dean had left breifly to grab his things from the other room, knowing he wouldn'y be sleeping there tonight.

Sammy needed him close.

He always needs you close, dumbass...

Dean had been sitting there for hours now, heart full of remorse as he stared at Sam's battered form.

How could he have let things get this bad? God, he missed Sammy. Missed the easy banter, the unspoken communication of brotherhood.

Now, things were just… unspoken. Distant and cold.

And it was his own damn fault.

Sam had never stopped reaching out to him, annoying and grating as it had been. Dean had shut him out. He'd let his emotional shortcomings get so out of hand that they'd literally threatened Sam's life.

Dad would've been pissed.

A familiar wash of grief and longing mingled with the newer feelings of regret and shame. His family was falling apart, disappearing one by one like a line of dominos, and he was fucking terrified. He lived in a world of danger and questionable ethics, subterfuge and duplicity. Dad and Sammy, they were what grounded him and gave him direction. They kept him from going too deeply into the darkness. They pulled him back from the edge. But now...

Dad had been taken from him.

He'd let go of Sam.

And he had no idea how to find his way back.

As though sensing his turmoil, Sam moaned and shifted on the bed, his head rolling lazily toward Dean.

Dean leaned forward, squeezing his brother's arm gently. "Sam?"

Sam's eyes blinked open glassily, and seemed to peer at Dean without really seeing him.


"Yeah, geek boy, it's me. Can you sit up? It's time for you to hit the painkillers again."

Sam's brow furrowed slightly in confusion, but he struggled upright with Dean's steadying hands. He gasped in surprised discomfort as he leaned against the headboard, hand drifting to his injured shoulder. Hazy eyes slid to Dean, questioning.

"You remember the plant? Birch?"

Sam nodded jerkily.

"You got smacked around again. Birch decided to play a one-sided game of ping-pong with your ass. Separated and dislocated shoulder. But don't worry that shaggy head of yours – we've got the good shit here."

Emphasizing his point, Dean rattled the prescription bottle of painkillers before twisting off the top and tapping two into his palm. Sam hadn't responded, watching Dean with a befuddled expression.

Dean was pretty sure his brother was still significantly dosed from the injection he'd gotten in the ER, but the doc had said to give two pills after four hours, and he wasn't about to let the medication wear off enough for Sam to feel his injuries.

"Over the lips, past the gums, look out tummy, here it comes," he chanted, pressing a glass of cool water into Sam's good hand. His brother squinted at him in confusion.

Then again, it must have been confusing - this sudden shift from verbal abuse and gut punches to the chanting of a rhyme oft used to coax Sam into taking pills as a child.

His brother swallowed the pills regardless, his unsteady hand sloshing water over his chin. Dean swiped at the dampness with the edge of the bed sheet, letting his hand cup Sam's cheek for a moment.

"I'm sorry," Sam blurted suddenly.

Dean's gut clenched. "It's okay, Sammy. You didn't do anything wrong."

"Yet," Sam choked out, lurching forward, his face a childish mask of despair.


Sam grasped at Dean's sleeve, his head seeming to wobble on his neck for a moment. Jesus, the kid was zonked.

Maybe one pill would have been enough...

"I haven't done anythin' wrong yet," Sam slurred. "But I will. Like all th'others… And then you'll hafta kill me, 'cause 'm a freak. And you won't have anyone to look after you."

Dean felt like someone had frozen the air in his lungs. "Sam, I'd never kill you, understand? Never. I'm not gonna let anything bad happen to you."

"If it's supernatural, we kill it. End of story. Tha's our job," Sam proclaimed unhappily. "You said so."

He had, Dean realized with a sinking sensation. The conversation he'd had with Sam months ago replayed itself silently.

"No, Dean - that is not our job! Our job is hunting evil. And if these things aren't killing people, they're not evil!"

"Of course they're killing people, that's what they do! They're all the same, Sam. They're not human, okay? We have to exterminate every last one of 'em."

"I'm supernatural," Sam whispered, blinking owlishly at him. "Visions are supernatural, Dean. I'm just like 'em, and tha's why you won't look at me anymore."

Suddenly, the look of horror and sadness on Sam's face as Dean had decapitated that vampire took on a whole other meaning.

"Sammy," Dean breathed.

He felt like the worst brother to ever disgrace the role.

"You listen to me," he said sternly, gripping Sam's bicep to steady him. "I'm a stupid, pigheaded asshole. I talk a lot of shit, Sam. What I said… I didn't mean it. I was angry and hurt – I am angry and hurt, but I didn't mean it like that Sam. Never you. Never. And I didn't kill Lenoreafter all that, now did I?"

Sam looked at him dubiously. "No…"

"Sam, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I've been an asshole lately."

"Yes," Sam said solemnly, nodding.

Dean chuckled, patting Sam softly on the nape of his neck.

"You're not supposed to agree with me, little brother," Dean complained, smiling at him.

Sam smiled back sleepily, and he looked so relieved and so hungry for Dean's attention that Dean nearly cried.

"…tired," Sam mumbled, his eyelids drooping lower with each heavy blink.

"I bet," Dean said sympathetically, easing him back to the mattress. "Get some sleep while you've still got the high grade hospital shit in your veins."

Sam was already half asleep, his face relaxing and the lines of pain around his eyes easing. Despite the empty bed in the next room, Dean stretched out next to Sam, kicking off his boots and shifting to get comfortable as he grasped the knife under his pillow.

They- he- still needed to finish off Birch.

But that could wait until tomorrow.

Tonight, Dean wasn't going anywhere.

A/N: I hope to update again this week, but I go in for my surgery Monday and I'll most likely be doped up on the "high grade hospital shit" Dean mentioned moments ago. So please be patient with me. :)