Hello everyone! Just joining the ranks of people who have posted tags to 'Born Under A Bad Sign'…so I guess it wasn't just me who was frustrated with the episode? We so needed more closure and if ever a chick flick moment was needed, it was in this episode! Anyway, spoilers abound here for BUABS and references to a couple of other season two episodes, and major fluff and brotherly moments…so if you don't wanna read a chick flick, you're in the wrong place! If you're still reading, hopefully you'll enjoy my fanfic and remember, I don't own the boys or anything Supernaturally related…otherwise you'd be seeing something like this on the show! Looking forward to hearing from you all again :)

'When I stand before you at the day's end, thou shalt see my scars and know that I had my wounds and also my healing.'

-Rabindranath Taqore

After their initial conversation in the car, Sam didn't say much.

Dean kept glancing over at him, kept searching his brother's face for some clue as to what he might be thinking. He had quite a few ideas about what thoughts might be swirling around in Sam's messed up head, and none of them were good.

Dean knew his little brother well enough to know that Sam wouldn't just shrug the last week off. He couldn't simply chalk it up to a bad experience and let it go.

Sam would brood and worry and replay every second in his tortured mind; finding ways to make the whole mess his fault.

Finding ways to feel guilty about it.

It was never a good idea to let Sam be alone in his own head for too long, especially in the last twelve months or so. The youngest Winchester thought too much, and not about lollipops or candy canes.

They had been driving for hours, and still Sam stared out the window into the rain soaked night, his expression unreadable, almost vacant.

It was the emptiness in his brother's eyes that scared Dean, and he spoke again. "You okay?" The same question he'd asked hours earlier as they left Bobby's, and a stupid one, he knew. Of course Sam wasn't okay. A demon had just possessed his body for over a week, making him do and see horrible things, including kill an innocent man and shoot his own brother.

Sam was a long, long way from okay.

Whether in support of this fact or whether Sam simply didn't hear him Dean didn't know, but his brother's expression didn't change and he didn't make any sign of acknowledgement that Dean had spoken.

He just kept staring out into the darkness.

"I'm going to pull over at the next town." Dean decided out loud, still trying to watch his brother and the road at once.

Whether Sam approved of the plan or not or whether he didn't care, or whether he simply didn't hear his older brother's words, Dean didn't know.

Dean had never been good at the 'emotional stuff'.

He could physically protect his brother and did almost every day, on every hunt they went on. He could patch up nearly any wound or injury; could keep a watchful eye on Sam while it healed and declare it good as new when the process was done.

But the wounds Sam was carrying after this latest supernatural encounter were not physical, unless you counted the burn on his forearm and the bruise on his face left by Dean's fist.

These hurts were deeper, under the surface, and Dean didn't know how to heal them, or even patch them up.

Sam was quiet, too quiet. They'd been staying in this small, out of the way cabin for almost a week now, with Dean justifying it by saying they both needed time to recover and to find a new hunt. He knew Sam thought instantly of the bullet wound in Dean's shoulder, because something flickered behind his little brother's eyes at the words and he turned away.

He rarely spoke to Dean, and when he did it was only if the older Winchester initiated the conversation. Of course, it was never about anything that had just happened, always about something trivial and safe like the car or the weather or a hunt or what they were going to eat for dinner.

Sam's replies were always short and stilted and spoken without expression, usually while gazing away from Dean, out of a window or at a wall.

Sometimes he lay on his back for hours on end and stared at the ceiling and that bothered Dean most of all.

This was what the older brother had expected after Ava's disappearance; a huge dose of angst and patented Sam Winchester guilt trips to deal with.

That situation he thought he might have been able to fix; might have been able to talk Sam out of his supposed accountability. This was different. He had only the vaguest of ideas of what might be going on in Sam's head, and no idea how to talk to him about it. After all, Sam was the one who had been possessed, who had watched a man bleed to death after slitting his throat with his own bare hands, and Dean couldn't even pretend to try and understand what that must be like.

He gave his little brother space, and time, and hoped desperately that he was making the right move, and that this was what Sam needed, and that soon he would snap out of it himself.

He should have known better. He had, after all, practically raised the kid, and Sam never did anything the easy way.

On the sixth day Sam woke up screaming.

He'd fallen asleep in his usual position earlier; flat on his back staring up at the ceiling, a slight frown on his features, telling his older brother he was deep in thought.

Seated at the small table in the centre of the room, one eye on the laptop and one eye on the television set, Dean had unobtrusively studied his brother.

He wondered how much sleep Sam was getting, and figured it had to be very little, because although his brother hadn't ventured outside in days, hadn't done any physical activity to sap his strength, Dean could see him struggling to keep his eyes open.

Finally Sam lost the battle to stay awake, his lashes lying peacefully against his cheek, his breathing evening out and the little frown on his features smoothing away as he rested.

Dean rose quietly and covered his brother with the blanket from his own bed, and when he rested his hand on Sam's shoulder for a moment his sleeping sibling rolled onto his side as if to press into the touch.

Satisfied that Sam was finally getting some much needed rest, Dean returned to his seat and the television, wondering idly what they should have for dinner.

Sam had barely been asleep half an hour when Dean realized something was wrong.

The first noise he heard was only a soft whimper, but his trained ears heard it easily and it brought his head up, his eyes seeking out his brother.

Sam whimpered again in his sleep, and tossed his head fretfully, pressing his face into the pillow.

Dean started to rise, slowly, unsure if his brother would simply calm himself or whether Dean's presence would be needed.

In the time it took him to cross the small room to his brother's bed Sam had made a choking, gasping sob and then was crying out, and even as Dean leant down to take his shoulders Sam sat up, his eyes flying open and his screams dying on his lips.

His frightened, teary eyes met Dean's, and the older brother spoke quickly.

"It's okay, it's okay, you were having a nightmare." He soothed, sitting down on the bed with his brother and reaching forward to lay a comforting hand on his shoulder.

"Dean, please get it out of me," Sam's voice hitched and caught on a sob, the plea a result of the sleep fog still invading his brain, and Dean felt him trembling slightly beneath his hand. "Get it out of me," Sam said again, his voice catching, more desperate, and Dean pulled Sam against his chest and wrapped his arms around his brother's quivering form.

"Shhhh," he hushed his little brother, even as Sam hid his face in his older brother's chest and let a few frightened sobs escape. "Shhh, Sammy, that's all over now. It's all over now."

He held his brother against his chest like he used to when Sam was a frightened kid waking up from a nightmare, rubbing his back, feeling the little sobs shaking his slender frame.

After a few minutes Sam's breathing evened out, and Dean could feel his body stiffen with confusion. "Dean?" Sam asked finally, his voice still a little frightened.

"Yeah, right here." Dean eased his brother back gently, trying to see his face, but Sam's hand reached out quickly and knotted in the front of Dean's shirt. "It's okay." Dean reassured him softly. "You were having a bad dream, Sammy."

Sam looked at him blankly and swallowed hard, once. "This is why I didn't want to go to sleep."

"You can't stay awake forever." Dean's arm was still around his back, holding him up. "Maybe we need to talk about this, huh, kiddo?"

Sam's eyes searched his face for a second, then his little brother pulled away, and Dean let him go. He was struck by how young Sam looked when he leant back against the headboard and scrubbed at his eyes with the palms of his hands, wiping away tears and sleep that still lingered there.

"Sam." He said again, quietly, when there was still no response moments later. "Can we talk?"

"Usually I'm the one asking you that and you're the one saying no." Sam said dully, lowering his eyes to the twisted blankets and picking at a thread absently.

"So you're saying no, we can't talk?" Dean pushed gently.

"Dean, I just…" Sam shook his head, sighed wearily. "I'm not trying to shut you out or push you away. I just…I need time. To get my head around all this."

"I've been trying to give you time, Sammy."

"I know you have, and I appreciate it. Just give me a little longer, okay?" Sam stood up then, and Dean was left looking up at him, wishing for the millionth time the damn kid wasn't so tall.

He didn't know whether pushing his brother to talk would be the right thing, not after Sam had already been through so much, so he just nodded and let Sam wander away onto the porch.

He knew his younger brother wouldn't go far. Ever since the incident Sam seemed scared to let Dean out of his sight, and that suited the older Winchester just fine.

Hours later, and Sam was on his back staring at the ceiling again.

"Dean," he said, and his older brother turned quickly to him, hoping that Sam might be about to initialize whatever conversation he needed to have so that he could move on and heal.

"Yeah, little brother."

"I need to ask you something. Don't get angry."

Dean studied him for a minute, wondering what he was getting himself into. "Okay, Sam, I won't get angry."

"You're never going to kill me, are you? No matter what." The question was almost emotionlessly delivered, the only note of any feeling Dean could discern a faded resignation.

"No, Sammy, I'm not." He wanted to say more, to reassure and try again for the hundredth time to convince his brother that it would never be necessary, that he, Dean, would make sure it never came to that. But Sam was rolling away now, onto his side, and Dean got the feeling that his younger brother had already got everything he needed from the conversation, and that any further words from his big brother would fall on deaf ears.

It was like Sam was just gathering the facts.

Dinner was eaten in awkward silence, the same way it had been consumed for the past week, with Sam pushing his food around on his plate and Dean watching, willing him to eat just a few more bites, at least.

"I thought you liked chicken stir-fry," he said at last, his voice sounding too loud in the silence that had become their norm.

"I do like it." Sam said blankly, immediately, but with no move to do anything that would prove his statement, like eat what was on his plate.

"Did I do something wrong?" Dean was talking about the food, but Sam gave him a look that was disbelieving and sad and shook his head, pushing the food away.

"It's nothing you did."

Dean hesitated, unsure what to say next. It was pretty obvious they were having a conversation that was only masquerading to be about food; or at least, Sam was. His younger brother's words, the slight inflection on the word 'you', implying that the one who'd committed the wrongdoing was Sam.

"Try and eat some dinner, Sam." He said at last, because he didn't know what else to say, and he wasn't good at subtlety. He didn't know how to have a conversation about what was on his brother's mind and pretend they were talking about chicken stir-fry.

Why was Sam so confusing?

His younger brother picked up the fork again between his fingers as if it weighed a ton, and slowly transported the food to his mouth, obeying his brother's softly spoken command habitually.

Dean watched him eat everything that was on his plate for the first time all week as if he was on auto pilot, and when Sam was done he cleared the dinner mess away himself, beaming widely and wishing he'd just told his brother what to do earlier.

Half an hour later and Sam was vomiting up every last scrap of what he'd eaten, and long after he was done he heaved and retched on his knees by the toilet, his distress wringing and forcing the food from his body with a violence that scared his older brother.

When Dean tried to lay a comforting hand on his back Sam pulled away, flinching back from his brother's touch.

"Dean, don't touch me," he warned his older brother breathlessly, as if he was something dirty or disgusting that might taint his brother's hand.

Dean sat on the bed in the next room and listened to his brother throw up, and remembered a time when they were younger and Dean had reached to pat a filthy stray dog on a small town street.

"Dean, don't touch it," Sam had said, his voice distressed and disgusted, as if the thing was threatening both in its' potential for violence and its' state of filthiness.

Dean hated the way that Sam's voice and words had sounded nearly exactly the same only moments earlier when speaking about himself.

The next day they cleaned the Impala and Sam found the shirt he'd been wearing when Dean was reunited with him a week earlier, the shirt soaked and stained with his victim's blood.

He straightened and stood by the back seat, clutching the shirt, staring at the stain with the colour draining away from his face.

Dean came out of the cabin and saw what he was holding, saw the look on his face and the pallor of his skin, and snatched the offending object from his hands instinctively.

He didn't want anything that made Sammy look like that anywhere near his little brother.

Sam tore his eyes away from the fabric that was now being balled up tightly in his brother's hands, and raised them to Dean's face, and his older brother wanted to sob at the lost, frightened expression in those big brown eyes.

Instead he screwed the shirt up tighter and tossed it into the bin standing by the car.

"Man, I don't know what you were thinking when you bought that shirt, anyway." He said, forcing his tone to be light, forcing a chuckle he didn't feel. "We're not wasting more time soaking the damn thing."

Sam drew in a shaky breath, looking like he wanted to speak, but then he lowered his eyes and went back to cleaning, not saying another word, and Dean tried not to notice the way his little brother's hands shook for hours after that.

That night Dean was woken yet again by his brother tossing and turning beside him, by Sam's little whimpers of distress.

"Sammy," he murmured, reaching out to him, but Sam shrugged his hand away and stumbled into the bathroom, banging lightly into the wall on his way, still shaky from sleep but unwilling to allow himself the reprieve of his brother's comfort.

Dean lay and waited drowsily for his brother to come back to bed, dozing fitfully in the silence, unable to completely relax again until he felt his brother's warmth beside him, until he knew Sam was safe and sound within reaching distance.

Time passed and he knew Sam had been in the bathroom too long; almost half an hour and the sound of running water had not yet ceased.

He got up with a little groan and made his way to the door, knocking gently once before pushing it open. "Sammy?"

Sam was kneeling by the tub, his arms plunged into steaming water up to his elbows, the skin red and burnt, chafed raw as he scrubbed determinedly with a rough wash cloth.

"Sammy, what are you doing? Stop." Dean reached out and took the cloth away from him, his heart sinking as he guessed what this was about.

Sam looked up at him out of huge, sad eyes, his face wet from tears that were still streaming down his cheeks. "I know it doesn't make any sense, Dean, but I can still see his blood. I tried to wash it off, but I can't. I can't get it off, Dean, there's blood all over me." He said, his voice hitching, trembling, and Dean reached around him to pull the plug and let the water escape, hissing as his own skin came in contact with liquid hot enough to hurt.

"There's no blood, Sammy." He promised, lowering himself onto the tub so that he was facing his kneeling brother and closing his hands gently over his brother's red wrists, drawing Sam's arms out in front of him so that he could see them. "You've burnt yourself, though, buddy. You can't do this to yourself, Sammy." He stopped talking then, because his voice caught on his last words, and he busied himself turning on the cold water and letting it run, holding his brother's arms under the flow.

"Sorry, Dean," Sam said miserably, his voice shaking, and Dean knew his perceptive little brother had picked up on his own emotional turmoil and was blaming himself yet again.

"It's okay. I'm not angry at you, little brother."

"You could be." Sam said wearily. "This is a whole new level of weird, huh? Sneaking in here in the middle of the night to wash imaginary blood off myself?" He laughed shortly, but it was a broken, hurting sound and Dean wished he'd never heard Sam make it. "One way or the other, seems like I'm losing it, doesn't it?"

Dean didn't know what to say, so he lay his hand on Sam's head and guided it down until Sam's cheek was resting in his lap, and his brother leant his weight against Dean's knees, exhausted, watching the steady flow of water pouring soothingly over his own red flesh.

"You're gonna be okay." Dean whispered above him, his fingers moving gently through Sam's hair, and that and the soft noise of running water lulled him, making it possible for him to close his eyes without shuddering at the images that waited for him in the dark.

When his skin was cool again and Dean was sure it wouldn't blister he dried his brother's arms and took him back to bed, tucking him in securely and slinging an arm over him to guard him in his sleep, and that protective gesture and the warmth of his brother's closeness was enough to coax Sam into an uneasy rest, his eyes sliding reluctantly shut as he burrowed closer to his brother's dependable presence.

An hour later Dean rolled over in his sleep, his arm sliding off his brother, his warmth receding, and Sam slid back into the nightmares that were more like memories.

By the time the sun had risen in the morning Dean knew enough was enough.

He might not know how to handle the situation, but he had to try, because Sam was suffering, hurting himself, fading away fast and Dean had to find a way to reach him.

He watched his brother's restless sleep, watched the way Sam would twitch or whimper every now and then, watched how, when he woke, he didn't come to easily with a yawn and a stretch as he naturally should have done.

Sam's eyes flew open, filled with fear and horror, the word, "No," dying on his lips as he became aware of his surroundings, aware that whatever horror he had just experienced was a nightmare and nothing more.

Dean had been gathering fresh clothes so that he could have a shower, and he reached out and patted his brother gently on his way past, the brief touch on Sam's shin allowing his younger brother to breathe again and nod weary thanks.

Dean saw the weariness and defeat in his brother's eyes and posture, the same as he had last night in the bathroom, and knew it was time to act.

His worst fear was losing his little brother, and he could see that if he didn't do something soon, that fear could very well become a reality.

He let Sam have his own shower and resume his sitting position on the bed before he approached him, sitting down on the side of the bed opposite his younger brother.

"Let me see your arms."

Sam stretched them out obediently, forearms facing up, and Dean held his wrists and ran his eyes over the pinkish skin.

Satisfied, he let go and allowed Sam to pull his arms back toward himself.

"We need to talk."

Sam flicked him an unreadable glance, then looked away again at the corner of the room. Silence stretched between them uneasily, until Dean spoke again.

"See, Sam, when I say we need to talk what I actually mean is you need to talk to me."

Sam didn't look at him, but he spoke then, which Dean figured was a start.

"Dean, I appreciate what you're trying to do, but there's nothing to say. Talking won't change anything."

"You sound like you've given up." Dean observed, trying to hide the sharp note in his voice and failing.

"Not given up." Sam contradicted him. "Just…accepted."

"Accepted what, exactly, Sam?"

"What's happening. What's going to happen." Sam said the words as if it were obvious, his eyes still fixated on the wall, which was starting to irritate Dean. "That you're not going to keep your promise." He added, making Dean shake his head.

"Sam, it wasn't fair of you to ask me that. I'm your brother," he said, his voice harsh, hating the implication behind his brother's words that he was somehow letting Sam down.

"I know, Dean, it wasn't fair." Sam admitted. "And I'm sorry. I never should have asked it…I shouldn't have put the responsibility on your shoulders, just like Dad did. It's not fair that you have to handle everything all the time. I need to do this myself."

"Do what yourself?" Dean demanded.

"Take responsibility for what needs to be done." Sam's voice was quiet, resigned and determined, and Dean's blood ran cold. Somehow he had a feeling that Sam wasn't talking about taking responsibility for himself as in not turning 'dark side'.

"And what needs to be done, Sam?" He demanded, his voice rough and angry. "You think you need to die, you think that's the solution, is that it?"

"If that's what it comes to." Sam was pale, but resolute in the face of his brother's fury.

"So you're just going to kill yourself?" Dean could feel himself trembling; with rage and fear. "Is that what you're saying? You think that's how you're going to fix this?"


The admission, when it came, was softly spoken and not meant to enrage his older brother, but that one little word made Dean angrier than he'd ever been with Sam. He clenched his fist and almost let fly, wanting to hit his brother, to hurt him, to make him see what an idiot he was being.

Dean had to get to his feet and pace away from Sam, and a second later his fist plowed into the wall, punching a hole right through the dry wall and making Sam jump, his eyes finally darting to his brother.

"You are one selfish son of a bitch, Sam." Dean snarled, his eyes cold and hard and flat with fury.

"Dean," Sam pleaded, "Don't say that. I don't want you to hate me. I'm not doing this to be selfish. I'm trying…I'm doing it for you, to take some of the burden off you…"

"Don't you dare ever, ever say that you are doing this for me!" Dean roared, and Sam flinched instinctively away from the rage in his brother's expression. "This is not what I want Sam, how can this be for me?"

"Because I hurt you." Sam said desperately, wanting his brother to understand. "God, Dean, I shot you, I beat the shit out of you, I wanted…the thing in me wanted to kill you. You're in danger around me, Dean, and you…you said that there was screaming, in your head, all the time, because of me and what Dad told you…you're under so much pressure, and you're always trying to take care of me, and I just want to…I want to take that away for you."

His eyes had slid back to the spot on the wall, and suddenly Dean was right in front of him, his hand gripping Sam's chin, hard enough to leave bruises, and forcing his younger brother's face around towards him. "Look at me, damn you." Dean growled. "You want to take that away for me? Understand this, Sam, you wouldn't be taking anything away for me, you'd be taking it away from me. You, Sam, looking after you, keeping you safe…it's all I have left. You're all I have left. Can you understand that, Sam? Is a word of this getting through to you?"

Sam tried to nod, tried to say he knew how Dean felt, because they were all each other had left, but Dean's grip was too tight.

"You are all I have left." Dean repeated, calmer now, his eyes blazing with intensity as he locked his gaze with his brother's. "And there's this thing, about you, and I need to take care of you, and that's that and nothing we can do about it. You don't get to tell me how I should feel about that, Sam. You don't get to tell me that it's too much for me to handle, that I'd be better off without you. You're wrong as hell but it's more than that. You don't get to choose how I feel. This is how I feel, Sam, and this is how I will always feel. You are my brother. I'm going to look out for you. I'm going to do everything I can to stop anything bad from happening to you. I never want to lose you. I can't lose you. Without you, I'd have nothing, and I'd be nothing. If you died, Sam…by someone else's hand or your own…there would be nothing left for me. Do you get that?"

Sam felt tears slipping down his cheeks and onto his brother's hand, and he tried again to nod, but Dean hadn't loosened his grip.

"I don't want to have this conversation again." His older brother's voice was quieter again now, but his eyes had lost none of their intensity. "You can talk to me about anything, and I want you to. I am always here for you. But I want you to stop questioning whether this is right for me, whether I'd be better off without you. Because no matter how much baggage you come with, Sam, I wouldn't be better off without you. I'd be nothing. I need you, Sammy."

Finally his grip on Sam's chin dropped away, and Dean turned away a little himself, exhausted, suddenly bone weary.

He could hear Sam sniffling beside him as he dropped down to sit next to his brother on the bed and stared blankly at the carpet.

He'd lost it; and all his emotions had come pouring out. Hazily he remembered some of what he had said, heard himself yelling at Sam, and wondered dully whether he hadn't just made things ten times worse. Sam was fragile at the moment, the last thing he needed was Dean yelling at him.

But for better or worse, all his cards were on the table now, and Dean Winchester had finally reached the end of his tether.

There was no fight left in him now.

The past few months, the nightmarish last few weeks, and the intensity of the last few minutes sapped all his strength and left him drained and exhausted, barely aware of where he was.

If Sam had walked out the door at that moment, hell bent on finding the demon alone or even on finishing it in that other, dreadful way they'd just fought about, Dean doubted he could muster the energy to stop him.

But his words had finally reached his little brother, had broken through to where Sam had been hiding in his lonely, safe little shell of despair and depression.

Sam hated the look on his brother's face; the exhaustion, the weariness, the misery. He hated knowing that he had caused it, but now, on some new level, he understood that he didn't have to feel guilty about it.

That Dean wouldn't have it any other way.

Dean had crumbled and spoken his feelings when actions had always spoken louder than words for the older Winchester, and Sam recognized and appreciated it.

With that in mind, he leaned against his brother, letting his head slide down to rest on Dean's solid shoulder.

For a second Dean didn't react, and Sam wondered if he was even aware that his younger brother was there.

Dean was vaguely aware of Sam's presence, but he was in a daze of exhaustion.

Then he felt Sam's breathing hitch in his chest beside him, and as always, the need to be a big brother and provide what Sam needed over rode all his own needs.

He lifted his arm invitingly, letting Sam burrow closer into his side, and settled his arm around Sam's shoulders, pulling him tighter against him, letting his little brother bury his face in Dean's shirt and sob weakly.

"Sorry, Dean…" Sam said through his tears, his voice muffled by Dean's shirt. "I…I just…"

Dean knew Sam was bewildered by his own behavior, apologizing for the sudden storm of weary tears, and he shifted a little on the bed so he could put both arms around his brother and hold him against his chest.

"You're just worn out." He said softly, resting his chin on the top of Sam's head. "You've been through a lot, little brother. But it's gonna be okay now."

"For you, too?" Sam asked tearfully, his voice small.

"If you're going to be okay, then I'm going to be okay." Dean answered the question with one of his own and waited for his brother to answer.

"I'm going to be okay." Sam whispered, and Dean tangled his fingers in his brother's damp hair.

"For me, too, then." He agreed softly, suddenly feeling more alive and awake than he had in months.

Sam finally understood what he needed to understand, and it would give him the strength to fight.

Dean finally felt Sam understood, and knowing his brother would find the strength to fight recharged him.

Dean rubbed his hand up and down over his brother's back, feeling the sobs shaking his brother's body slow down and die away, but he made no move to hush Sam or try and stop his crying; willing for once to let his brother's tears fall and take their course. After all he'd been through, Sam deserved and needed the release only his tears could provide him. Dean just sat with him and held him quietly, every now and then rubbing his back or running his fingers through Sam's hair to remind him that his big brother was there; that he wasn't alone, now or in any of this.

"Thanks, Dean." Sam said finally, his voice hoarse and dry from crying. "You know, for being here."

"You don't have to thank me for that." Dean told him, his hand stroking lazily over Sam's hair, lulling him. "You want to try and get some sleep, kiddo? I think we could both use it."

Sam nodded without moving and Dean rearranged them, pulling Sam down with him, not letting him go, just loosening his hold enough so that his younger brother could nestle against him and lay his head on his uninjured shoulder.

Sam was dozing, lightly, about to fall into real sleep, secure in the safety of his brother's arms, when Dean spoke, his lips brushing lightly against Sam's hair.

"Thanks, Sammy." He said softly, his voice husky with impending sleep.

"For what?" Sam asked, confused.

"Being here." Sam knew what Dean meant, knew he wasn't just talking about that exact moment. Knew he was thanking Sam for finding the will to fight, the strength to go on.

He didn't know what to say, because it was him who should be thanking his older brother for convincing him, for being his reason and will and strength.

Actions speak louder than words, he reminded himself, and snuggled closer, burrowing his head under Dean's chin insistently, shrugging his brother's arm tighter around him.

Dean laughed sleepily and squeezed him compliantly, and a moment later they were both asleep.

Hours later, when the sun was sinking below the horizon, the golden light played gently on their sleeping faces, Sam still cuddled against Dean's chest, Dean still with his arms protectively around his younger brother, both safe and secure in the other's warmth.

They slept that way for almost twenty-four hours, and when they finally woke up Dean made jokes about chick flicks, and Sam being a huge girl, and Sam opened the laptop and started looking for something to hunt.

Like before, and yet not quite the same, life went on for the Winchester brothers.