Here you are, faithful readers...if you even remember this story...here is the end to it!!!
...Or is it???
So here they are.
Everything that could of gone wrong, has gone wrong, and Sam has only now, over a week later, started to show even the first signs of healing.
Dean is cautiously optimistic.
He wants his brother to be okay, more than anything, but he can't trivialise the trauma that Sam has been through. The experience was bad enough for Dean; he sometimes finds himself bolting awake at night, gasping for air after dreaming of flames and pain and screaming.
God only knows what fills Sam's nightmares.
He waits and watches, the morning following Sam's tentative declaration that he is feeling better.
Sam still seems a little lost, sometimes hesitating in the middle of what he is doing, a lost expression on his face as if he has forgotten something but can't remember what.
Still, he manages to make it into the shower on his own steam, and when he emerges thirty minutes later, the stubble is gone from his cheeks and Dean can smell the sweet, clean scent of shampoo and conditioner and soap lingering on Sam's skin.
He grins broadly at Sam, unable to contain his pride and relief at this show of independence, of Sammy-ness, and Sam flushes a little as if he knows what Dean is thinking and gives his brother a shy smile back.
Each smile, each word, each small action that Sam undertakes for himself, lifts Dean's mood, makes the weight on his shoulders a little lighter and a little easier to bear.
Sam even agrees to a late lunch at the diner down the road, and orders for himself, nothing more than a chicken and salad sandwich, but when it comes out he eats it all and finishes his chocolate milkshake without being prompted once by Dean.
When he snags the newspaper on the next table over from them, Dean's expression changes and he frowns slightly as he studies Sam across the table.
His brother looks up, in tune as ever to Dean's moods. "What?"
"You're not doing what I think you're doing, are you?" Dean asked carefully. He is both impressed and delighted with Sam's show of improvement this morning, and is torn between nurturing it and protecting his younger brother.
"What do you think I'm doing?"
"Looking for a hunt."
Sam sighs a little, but there is no irritation there. "Dean, we have to hunt again sooner or later. It's been a week, man."
"A week during which you haven't slept one night through, and that's been the least of your worries, Sam." Dean's voice is gentle, and when Sam lowers his eyes, he even reaches across the table and taps Sam's hand gently with a closed fist, then lets his hand rest very lightly on top of his younger brother's. "Hey. I am not judging you or criticising you in any way, man. That last hunt sucked. Big time."
Sam shivers slightly, although the diner is warm, and his eyes are locked downwards on the paper in front of him, his too long hair soft and loose from being freshly washed helping him to hide from his brother's gaze.
"Let's not talk about that." He says, a little hoarsely, and that confirms what Dean already knew, that Sam is not ready to get back on that horse. Not yet.
"We've been through this." Dean reminds him quietly. "You don't have to be okay. You take your time with this. But don't pretend with me, all right? You don't have to do that."
They are both thinking of the long week just passed, of all the sleepless nights and tears and Sam crying in his big brother's arms and Dean's endless patience.
Sam lets out a long breath, shakily. "You're not getting…impatient?"
"I like it here." Dean lightens his voice, just a little. "There's cable in the room and this diner has 5 kinds of pie, Sammy. What more could I want?"
Sam smiles a little, but it is a sad smile. "A hunt. I know you get…I know that the hunt is important…"
"Sam." Dean waits a moment, and when Sam doesn't respond, kicks him lightly under the table. Sam looks up, his expression weary and guilty and a blend of another couple of emotions that Dean is tired of seeing. He catches his brother's gaze and holds it. "You're important." He tells him, firmly, openly, Dean Winchester with no guards up. "You're the most important thing to me. If you don't get that by now, man, we've got issues."
Sam laughs a little, his eyes a little too bright. "We've got issues any way you look at it." He mumbles, then swallows and gives Dean a much more genuine smile. "But I do know that. Of course I know it, Dean."
"Good." Dean says briskly, giving his brother's hand one last, firm squeeze before letting go. "So we're staying a bit longer. And since we are, I'm going to have another piece of pie."