He was running. He didn't know where he was, but it looked like a hospital. He needed to find his family, needed to know where they were. Were they ok? He remembered the demon, his Dad with yellow eyes, pain, and yelling, and then.. They'd been in the car. His baby. And Sam was watching him in the rear-view mirror, his face worried and.. Something else. And then there was a bright light and screeching metal and now he was here. He had to make sure they were ok.

Oh thank God! There was Sammy and he looked fine. Well, scared but fine. Why was he scared? Oh – right, that explained things. Can't be good if I'm hooked up to so many machines. Dammit, Sam you did NOT just take hold of my hand! Remind me to slap you for that later.

There's Dad. He doesn't look like he got off as easy but hell, at least he's awake. Damn, I wish it didn't make me wince like that, hearing his voice. It was the demon. It was not my Dad. Wish I could make myself believe that.

Great – now they're fighting. You can't even wait until I wake up to do this? Wow. Hey, that was kinda cool! Who knew the makers of that chick-flick got it right? Guess spirits can really touch stuff – ok, wait. I am NOT a spirit! Just temporarily misplaced that's all. Sam will fix it, he'll find a way. I can tell by that look he's got on his face. Thanks for not giving up on me Sammy – I really need someone on my side right now.

Lady, I don't care what you say I am not leaving my family! They need me, I don't care what that thing said! And besides, I'm supposed to trust you? You're a Reaper for crying out loud!

Oh, come on Sam! A Ouija board? Are you kidding me? If anyone ever finds out we did this.. Oh hell, it's worth it for that look on your face. I'm kinda glad I'm not really 'here' though cos sure as hell with THAT look you'd be wanting to hug. Yeah, I know it's bad little brother. Me running from a Reaper and you can't even help me. We can do this though, we can – I'm not leaving you, I swear.

Angry spirit. I never really thought about what makes someone into one of 'them'. Best not to when you're the one who has to destroy it. But now.. How am I supposed to choose? Become what we hunt or leave my family, leave Sammy, forever? Don't ask me to choose, please don't..

Wait. Something's wrong. Something's coming.. I don't...

Dean woke with a gasp. Clutching at his chest, he tried to get air into lungs that were straining but it wasn't working. He could still feel the pain – from the demon, from the Reaper, from everything. His head was throbbing and his stomach churning. Pulling at the bedclothes tangled all around him, Dean staggered out of bed. He made it to the bathroom and clutched at the sink. Turning on the tap with fumbling fingers he splashed cold water on his face. He was shivering and his t-shirt was soaked with sweat. Dimly, he was aware of Sam getting up, heard him calling his name, and then the light was switched on. Dean closed his eyes against the brightness and reached out for the edge of the bath. Finding it, he sank down and leant forward, resting his head in his hands and his elbows on his knees.

"Hey, it's ok. You're alright, it was just a nightmare. Come on Dean, just take deep breaths ok?" said Sam, worry clear in his voice.

Dean was too shaken to even berate Sam for trying to teach him how to breathe even though he'd been managing to do it just fine for the last 27 years. The images from his dream were so fresh in his mind, so vivid. He hadn't remembered any of it when he woke up – why hadn't Sam told him? And why did his brain choose now to helpfully play a little re-run for him?

He jumped when he felt something touch him.

"It's ok, it's just me." said Sam softly.

Dean looked up and realised Sam was putting a blanket round his shoulders. Crouching down in front of him, Sam regarded him with open concern on his face. Seeing Dean's quizzical look he gave a small shrug.

"You're shivering." he said, responding to Dean's unanswered question. Dean found it strangely comforting, the way Sam seemed to know what he was thinking sometimes. Course other times it was just plain annoying.

Pulling the blanket round him, because he was indeed shivering like it was the middle of winter in there, he closed his eyes again and tried to get his breathing under control.

Sam said nothing, letting Dean get his composure back the way Dean had for him so my times before. He didn't know what had triggered this nightmare, which appeared to have been a pretty nasty one, but he was willing to wait until his brother was ready to tell him.

After a few minutes Dean found he could breathe normally again, although he still felt like he'd run a marathon. The shivering was easing too and he opened his eyes again to look at Sam. His brother gave him a small smile.

"Better?" he asked and Dean nodded.

"Yeah, I think so." he said, noticing how rough his voice sounded.

"Come on, lets go back in the other room," said Sam, reaching out to take Dean's elbow.

Dean gave him a tired glare.

"I got it, Sam." he said, pulling his arm away.

Sam rolled his eyes exasperatedly but dutifully let go, watching as Dean swayed a little when he stood but managed to make his way out of the bathroom without any assistance.

Dean pulled the covers straight on his bed and sank back down onto it, pulling the pillows behind him so he was sitting up against them. Sam, instead of sitting down on his own bed, sat on the edge of Dean's next to his outstretched legs. Dean found the closeness comforting and so he let it go for now. He'd been more spooked than he'd ever admit by the feelings that had been stirred up by the nightmare.

Realising Sam was waiting for him to get the conversation started and knowing from the look on his brother's face that a simple 'it was just a nightmare' wasn't going to cut it, Dean tried to work out where to begin. In the end he blurted out the first thing that came to mind.

"A Ouija board Sammy? What were you, a 12 year old girl having a slumber party?"

Sam frowned at him in confusion, and then Dean could have sworn he actually heard the penny drop as Sam's eyebrows shot up and his eyes widened.

"Oh my God! You remember?" he said, staring at Dean in disbelief.

"Yeah, I remember. Particularly the parts where my brother held my hand and then re-enacted scenes from a chick-flick movie." said Dean dryly.

Sam glared at him. "Could you be serious for just one second here Dean? You just said you remember being in the coma. That's amazing – I thought after you said you couldn't remember any of it when you woke up that you never would."

"Well, if that was the case why the hell didn't you tell me about it?" said Dean and Sam shook his head.

"Oh yeah, cos that would have been a great conversation! 'Hey Dean, you know when you were in a coma and nearly died? Well guess what – you were in fact wandering the halls getting chased by a Reaper and talking to me through a Ouija board. You're not freaked by that are you?'. At what moment exactly would you have liked me to bring that up? When you'd just come off the ventilator or after Dad.."

Sam's voice trailed off and he swallowed, unable to even talk out loud about those awful moments in the hospital.

Dean sighed and rubbed his hand over his face. "Ok, fine – there wasn't really a good moment to bring it up. But you could have told me afterwards, Sam. It's been months now and all the stuff we've talked about, you never mentioned it once. Why the hell not?"

Now it was Sam's turn to sigh. "Because I didn't want to think about what it was like then. Sitting in that room, waiting for you to wake up and getting told by the doctors that you probably never would. And then finding out that you were there but that you were in trouble and there was nothing I could to help you. I was so scared, Dean. I really thought I was gonna lose you this time."

Dean nudged Sam with his knee until his brother looked up at him.

"Yeah, well you didn't remember? I'm still here." he said quietly and was rewarded with a grateful smile from Sam.

Realising they were straying into Hallmark territory, Dean cleared his throat.

"I guess since I do remember now, I owe you a thank you." he said.

Sam frowned. "For what?"

"For not giving up on me. I can remember how scary it was, seeing myself lying there and knowing that a Reaper wanted me. But it helped, watching you trying to find a way to help me. Hearing you say you weren't gonna give up." he said softly.

Sam shook his head. "What did you think I was gonna do, Dean? Doesn't matter what it took, I'd have found a way in the end. I couldn't just give up on you – not then, not ever." he said like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

Dean smiled at him, and for a moment they just sat there in companionable silence, each lost in their own thoughts.

It was Sam who spoke first, watching Dean a little warily as if wondering just how much his brother would be willing to reveal to him.

"So.. What exactly do you remember?" he said in the end.

"You mean aside from the hand-holding and the slumber party moment?"

"Dean!"

"Ok, ok – don't get your panties in a twist, Francis."

Sam fixed Dean with a glare until his brother rolled his eyes and held his hands up in surrender.

"Alright – truthfully? Only bits and pieces. I remember waking up and being worried about you and Dad. I was so happy to see you and then I realised it was my room you were standing in and there I was, in the bed. That was a little weird I gotta admit. I was there when you and Dad kicked off about the demon – that was me with the glass you know," said Dean proudly and Sam shook his head.

"I hoped it was, but I wasn't sure. You always did hate it when me and Dad argued." he said softly.

Dean cleared his throat, ignoring the implications of that particular statement, and carried on.

"Then I met the Reaper of course. At first it showed itself as a girl, another patient in the hospital. It told me I had to let go. That if I didn't, I'd become an angry spirit. But.." Dean stopped and looked away for a moment. Sam reached out and put his hand on Dean's leg.

"But what?" he said, and Dean turned to meet his gaze again. Sam was stunned for a moment by the pain suddenly reflected there.

"But I didn't want to leave you and Dad. Especially you, Sammy. But she said if I didn't I'd become what we hunt. How was I supposed to choose? I couldn't." Dean said, his voice barely a whisper.

Now Sam understood the pain. He could imagine Dean, stuck between two worlds, torn between leaving the people he loved and becoming 'evil'. Sam shuddered at the parallels to his own so called 'fate', but pushed those feelings aside. It was Dean that mattered right now. His heart ached for the fact that Dean had been going through all that alone, that he hadn't been able to help him.

"I'm sorry." he said, knowing it wasn't nearly enough.

Dean frowned at him.

"For what? It's not your fault, Sam. I know you were doing everything you could."

"Yeah, well it wasn't enough."

That simple statement hung in the air between for a moment, and Dean looked down at the bed for a moment, suddenly finding the blanket fascinating.

"Yes it was Sammy. It kept me going until Dad did – whatever the hell it was that brought me back. I knew how much you wanted me to stay, and that's partly why it was so hard to make that decision. That and the fact I didn't want to go."

Sam felt his eyes welling at Dean's words. He blinked, knowing Dean would kill him if he actually started blubbing everywhere. He could do this – he could be strong for his brother. It was the least he could do.

"I just wish it had been more." said Sam and Dean shook his head.

"I know, but like I said – you did all you could." said Dean with exasperation.

A thought occurred to him and he grinned suddenly. "Besides, you did the most important thing."

Sam frowned at him. "What?"

"You wouldn't let Bobby scrap my baby."

The statement was said with humour, Dean's smirk evident of that, but there was also a deeper meaning behind it and a genuine sense of gratitude that Sam could see clearly. Knowing Dean was trying to keep things from getting too deep, Sam just rolled his eyes and nudged Dean's leg with his elbow.

"Yeah, cos that was that was the important part – how could I forget?" he said dryly.

"Damn straight, Sammy."

Sam hesitated for a second as a thought occurred to him about what he should say next. It was something he should have said before, when Dean had confessed how John's death had made him feel, but at the time he'd been too stunned by the revelation and after Dean's brief breakdown he'd been quick to slam the walls back into place that prevented Sam from bringing up the subject again.

"Actually, since we're talking about this, there is something I wanna say."

Dean looked at him warily. "What's that?"

Sam took a deep breath – it was now or never.

"What you said – about it being wrong how Dad gave up his life for yours. I don't agree with you, Dean. Wait – just listen. You saw what it was like for me when you were in that coma, you saw how much I wanted you to be ok. Truth is as much as I miss Dad, I wouldn't have been able to cope if I'd lost you. And Dad knew that. He'd watched us grow up, he knows what our relationship is. And however bad he was at showing it, I know Dad loved you. He loved both of us, in his own way. And if he did make this deal, then it was because it was the only way to save your life Dean, and I am NOT sorry for that. I'm not, and I never will be. Because despite what the demon said in the cabin – and don't try and pretend that you don't still think about that because I know you do – this family has always needed you. You were the one who held it together, you were the one who had to put up with me and Dad, and you are the one who's always put yourself in danger to protect us. Well now it was your turn, and I'm grateful Dad did what he had to and in his place I would have done the same."

"Don't say that Sammy!" said Dean fiercely but Sam stood his ground.

"It's the truth, Dean. I would do anything to make sure you're safe, to take care of you. Because you taught me that's what you do for the people you love. And you can kill me for saying this if you want, but I love you Dean – you're my brother, and that means everything. So I am not sorry you are still here. I just wish you'd stop being sorry that you are. And I wish you'd let me help you sometimes."

There. He'd said it. Sam couldn't remember the last time he'd actually told Dean out loud that he loved him. He was probably about 6 or 7 maybe, an age when you could just about get away with saying such things if you were a Winchester. But Sam knew Dean needed to hear it right now, even if he'd never admit it. And maybe with his recently recovered memories of what it was like when he was lying at death's door, it might be enough to get past all the stubbornness and make him see just how important he was in Sam's life.

Dean stared at Sam, torn between so many different emotions he didn't know which one to deal with first. Hearing Sam talk about how important he was, how much he cared about him. It wasn't what Dean was used to. He knew Sam cared, of course he did, but that sort of thing usually went unspoken in their family. And knowing that Sam didn't blame him for John not being around, that he was in fact grateful? Dean didn't even know where to start with that one. But the biggest impact had been hearing just how far Sam would go to protect him – because he loved him. And he was seriously considering smacking Sam for actually saying the word out loud, but on the other hand.. He could feel the ache in his chest, that had been a constant for the last few months, easing a little. And he could feel a warmth spreading through him that wasn't entirely down to embarrassment at the chick-flick moment they were currently smack in the middle of.

Realising Sam was waiting for him to say something, Dean struggled to come up with the right words. He knew if he went for humour it would cheapen the moment and what Sam was trying to tell him. But he sure as hell couldn't bare all like his emo-brother just had. So that left one option.

He was so gonna kill Sam if he ever mentioned this to anyone.

To say Sam was surprised to suddenly find himself being honest-to-God hugged by his brother would be an understatement. Even with everything they'd been through in the past few months, contact had been limited to the odd supportive squeeze of the shoulder, or a pat on the back. But this – this was a full on hug, the likes of which they'd not had since they were kids.

Sam briefly wondered if Dean was possessed, and then dismissed the idea as extreme even for their family. Instead he simply returned the hug, knowing it was the only way Dean had of showing how much Sam's words had meant to him and feeling relief that he'd finally managed to show his brother for once how important he was.

As Dean pulled back, blushing furiously, Sam couldn't stop the affectionate grin that spread across his face. Dean glared at him.

"Ok first off, quit looking at me like that – I swear to God Sam, you even think about mentioning what just happened ever, ever again and I WILL shoot you. And I have the guns for it, just you remember."

Sam just grinned even more and Dean threw his hands up in disgust.

"I swear we are not even related sometimes. Just.. Go back to sleep, ok? We are so done with the whole damn Lifetime moment. We keep this up we're gonna have to start wearing pink."

Sam chuckled but he did get up and go back to his own bed. He knew exactly how far Dean could be pushed, and he really didn't want to ruin such a nice moment by having to pick his teeth up off the floor.

Dean lay back down, pulling the blankets up over him as Sam reached out and switched off the lamp. As he lay there he thought about what Sam had said and couldn't help smiling, glad that the room was dark so Sam couldn't see him. What had started out as a nightmare had actually turned out pretty ok in the end. Not that they were EVER going to be repeating the experience in this lifetime. But it had helped. And it had meant a lot to him.

Still.. It wouldn't hurt to discourage any repeat performances for now..

"Hey Sam?"

Sam had been almost dropping off again, feeling pleased that he'd actually managed to help Dean for once, and he jumped when he heard his brother's voice.

"What?" he mumbled.

"A Ouija board? Seriously, dude – could you have been a little more lame?"

Sam sighed and pulled the blanket over his head.

Maybe Dean was right after all – talking was definitely overrated.