Author: Cheryl W.

Disclaimer: I do not own Dean, Sam or any rights to Supernatural, nor am I making any profit from this story.

Author's Note: Well, here's the final chapter! Two warnings: It's long and it's sappy and full of comfort scenes because my motto is: If you break the boys you have to take the time and responsibility to fix 'em. (Ah, such a bittersweet task.)


Chapter 21: On The Mend


Hearing the shower turn off, Sam's focus became divided between the tv and the bathroom door, his knee bouncing in impatience as he sat on the end of the bed. He only managed to hold out for another few minutes before he surged from the bed and knocked lightly on the bathroom door. "Dean, you decent?" he called through the thin wood, his head tilted so close that it almost rested against the door.

"Yeah," came Dean's gruff reply. "You gotta hit the head or what?" he asked as he opened the door, hair wet and newly purchased jeans on but not having had time yet to shrug into the new button down shirt.

Whatever relief Sam envisioned he would feel at seeing Dean cleaned up, didn't make an appearance. Instead he swallowed hard at the sight of Dean's drawn, pale face and his brother's bruised torso and wounded side. Shifting his look up from his brother's wounded side to Dean's face, he quietly began, "Dean you look…"

Having seen Sam's eyes unmistakably fixate on the wolf's parting gift to him, Dean gruffly agreed, "Yeah," looking away from his brother down to the scratches on his side. Roughly he brushed his fingers over the puckered, pink, ripped flesh as if the wound was a nuisance he was tired of babying.

"Don't, Dean," Sam rebuked, his hand brushing aside Dean's, interrupting his brother's callous inspection. "I'll take care of it."

But Sam's look said 'I'll take care of you,' and Dean skittered away from that sentiment, had just spent twenty minutes striving to wash away any lingering vulnerability along with the mud that coated his body. Stepping back from Sam, he tried for nonchalance. "It's nothing serious, not since you cleaned it with the holy water."

Pain flashed in Sam's eyes and a wince contorted his face at the reference to the torture he had inflicted on Dean. 'No wonder Dean doesn't want me to touch him, that he is determined to take care of himself.' "I'm sorry Dean, if there had been another way…" he apologized, his sorrow evident in the look he bestowed on Dean.

Instinctively reacting to Sam's pain, Dean took a step forward, closed in the space between him and Sam. Tilting his head down so he could look into Sam's slightly bowed face, he praised softly, "Hey, you did great, Sam, did what I needed you to do. I wouldn't have gotten far running through the woods if you hadn't dispelled the wolf's effect on me."

Biting his lip, Sam nodded, knew Dean was telling the truth but it didn't dull the memories of Dean's agony when the holy water soaked into his wound.

Sam's anguished look wasn't lost on Dean. 'Ah Sammy you're wearing that kicked puppy look again! I hate that look! I can't deny you much when you're wearing that look and I wonder if you know that.' Nearly sighing, Dean gave in yet again to his little brother's wishes. Sidestepping Sam he walked out of the bathroom, knew Sam had swiveled around to watch him, knew his brother was opening his mouth to make another well meaning speech. Without a word or a look to Sam, Dean sat down on the bed, then held his ribs as he made the transition to lying down. Surprised when his brother reacted neither in sound or action, Dean raised his head and leveled an expectant look upon Sam. "What? I gotta set up an appointment, Doctor Winchester?"

Surprise and relief settled on Sam's features, anchored by a smile as he quickly came and sat beside Dean on the bed, hands anxiously reaching for the medical supplies on the nightstand. But as he pulled out a sterile pad doused with antiseptic wash, his eyes sought out Dean's. He needed his brother's permission to continue, had to see forgiveness in Dean's eyes for whatever pain he was about to inflict on him, knew he had no hope of keeping his hands steady without that understanding.

Reading Sam like a book, Dean's look softened, "Sam, I trust you, alright." Then with a smile he tacked on, "You think I would ever let you drive my baby if I didn't?"

A bittersweet smile turned up Sam's lips before he focused on his brother's torn side. Placing a steadying hand on Dean's chest, Sam dabbed the pad into the wolf's claw marks, felt Dean stiffen when the antiseptic bubbled as it did its duty. But to Sam's utter relief, there was no choked back scream from his brother, no recoil from his ministrations, no repressed pleas for him to stop the torture. Finding enough bravery in that knowledge, Sam flicked his look up to Dean's face, saw a twinge of pain there but not the agony he had in the barracks. Though Dean offered up no words, his eyes conveyed his sentiments: 'good job Sammy' and 'I'm alright' and 'keep it up.'

Sam worked in silence, his own throat too tight to allow words to come easy. Satisfied that he had cleansed the wound, he applied some antibiotic cream and strategically placed some butterfly bandages along the torn flesh before he covered the entire wound with a sterile pad. He felt some of the tension ease in Dean's body as that task was finished, just as he felt the same happening in his own muscles. But he didn't allow himself to skitter away from the rest of his brother's hurts.

Looking to Dean's colorfully bruised torso, he tried hard not to wince. With gentle fingers, he traced Dean's ribs under the bruises, knew where the source of pain was not only by his sense of touch but by the hitch in Dean's breathing. Purposefully he didn't look to Dean's face, didn't want to gauge the level of pain by the look in his brother's eyes. "I'm not feeling any breaks or cracks so I'm thinking badly bruised," he diagnosed, only then meeting Dean's eyes for confirmation.

"Yeah, feels that way," Dean agreed, his voice tight with repressed pain, his eyes flickering away from Sam's almost immediately.

At Dean's concurring diagnoses, Sam leaned over and snagged the chemical icepack that he had already prepared. Dean jolted a little when he laid the pack onto the section of his torso that was the deepest bruised. "Sorry," Sam apologized, a hit and run sad smile of regret on his face.

"It's cold," Dean hissed, raising his head far enough to look down to the offensive icepack.

"Yeah, that's why they call it an icepack, Dean," Sam couldn't help retorting with a teasing smile.

"Smart aleck," Dean tossed out, letting his head fall back against the pillow. He purposefully kept himself from flinching when his brother's fingers brushed over the cut on his cheek.

"Feels like there are still some glass shards in there," Sam softly announced, leaning down to better inspect the wound.

"Yeah?" Dean countered, his hand reaching up to make an inspection of its own. But Sam's long fingered grip around his wrist prevented his self examination. Before he could stifle his reaction, Dean stiffened at the flare of pain that had awakened with Sam's contact with the raw skin around his wrist.

Instantly Sam released his hold and his sorrowful words started. "Crap, Dean! I'm sorry, I forgot…don't know how but I forgot about…"

"It's alright," Dean cut in, conveying the truth by the look he sent to Sam. Offering up a smirk he said, "But I think I'm officially done with the whole bondage scenario."

"Yeah," Sam gave a laugh of exhausted agreement. "Ditto." His face settling back into its determined cast, he calmly stated, "Alright, let me clean this out first," as he gently gripped Dean's jaw and turned his head to the right to gain easy access to his left cheek. Dean didn't fight the manipulation, didn't even offer up a grumble. Picking up tweezers and the magnifying glass from the nightstand, Sam inspected the wound, grimaced when the glass shards became visible. With steady hands, Sam set to work extracting the shards, was glad Dean's jaw never clenched in pain the entire procedure. When he ran his fingers over the wound and finally felt no protruding glass, Sam swabbed the area with antiseptic before he applied the antibiotic ointment.

Scooping up some of the medical supplies, Sam skirted around the bed, methodically moving onto the task of treating another of his brother's wounds. Careful to not jostle Dean, he sank down by his brother's right shoulder. With gentle pressure, he examined the cut almost hidden by Dean's hair line.

"You're good at this," Dean said quietly, looking at his brother's face as Sam worked.

"Yeah," Sam snorted with derision, keeping his eyes on his brother's gashed open skin.

"You are," Dean emphatically stated. "You're good at all of it, Sam." And that at least earned him an incredulously look from Sam. "You said you weren't as good at this hunting stuff as Dad or me…but you are, Sammy. Most of the time you're the one figuring out how to defeat the stuff we're up against."

Dabbing at the wound with the antiseptic pad, Sam muttered, "Yeah, I'm the geek boy and you're the action hero."

"What?" Dean returned, face screwing up in confusion and objection.

"I do the book work and you're the one vanquishing evil," Sam explained sullenly, scowling not only at the topic at hand but at the depth of the cut he was treating. 'Dean you're the one always going toe to toe with the stuff we're up against, getting your head bashed in on every gig,' he remorsefully thought but didn't say.

"Vanquishing evil, I like that," Dean appreciatively repeated, bold smile lighting up his face before he tilted his head at the glum look on his brother's face. "Dude, that's what we both do. Together," he emphatically clarified.

"You're the one physically taking them on and defeating them, not me," Sam pointed out, never realizing before that it was something that mattered to him.

"What? You're wrong!" Dean exclaimed, jerking upright before he remembered that his body wouldn't appreciate the motion.

Startled to have his patient moving on him, Sam jerked his hands back before his brother could bash his head on his elbows. Then, dropping the sterile pads onto Dean's chest, Sam pressed his hands on Dean's collarbones, used gentle but unyielding force to halt his brother's motion. His face inches from his brother's, Sam saw the flare of pain and exhaustion sweep away the defiance in his brother's eyes an instant before Dean crashed back to the bed with a grunt of pain. In anguish, Sam watched his brother clamp his eyes shut and wrap his hands around his ribs, because bruised ribs were no picnic even when you didn't move.

Laying a light hand on Dean's breastbone, Sam soothed, "Hey. Hey, just lie still for a little bit. We can talk later." Cursing himself for choosing now to unearthed his issues, Sam hated that the conversation had evoked Dean's protective instincts, that Dean was using energy he didn't have to sooth his little brother's hurt feelings. He tried to instill levity in his next words, "Later, you know, when I'm not playing Dr. Frankenstein and I can hang on your every word like I usually do." His efforts earned him a small snort from Dean and he found himself under the scrutiny of his brother's green eyes. He felt his own breathing even out as he felt the expansion of his brother's chest under his hand return to a calmer pace. But he didn't remove his hand, didn't want to break the connection just yet.

And Sam knew by the look in his brother's eyes that as soon as Dean could regulate his intake of air again, could wrestle the pain back into the box he kept it in, that Dean would be back to the issue at hand, back to defending him. "Dean, I'm not jealous of your abilities. I'm in awe of them," Sam confessed quietly, sincerely, eyes holding his brother's surprised gaze. "I just wish I felt like I was pulling my weight in our partnership all the time, you know."

"Dude, do we need to take a tally?" Dean managed to gasp out, shook his head at Sam's worried frown and entreating of "Dean just…" Swallowing, drawing in more air into his restricted lungs, Dean continued more steadily, with more of an even tempo, "Taking out the clown-wanna-be…that was you. Meg's swan dive…that was you. The reaper…well the first one…you again dude. Who took down Gordon after he tied me up like a Thanksgiving turkey? And the ones you think I took out, I didn't do it alone! Who came and rescued me from being beef jerky for the Wendigo so I could turn around and light him up like a Christmas tree, huh? Who figured out that a skinwalker had taken on my form? And yeah, who was that guy playing the slumber party game of mystical talking hands with me so I wouldn't just cash in my chips?"

A blush and a shy smile hued Sam's features at his brother's examples.

"I was right, you know, we both were. We make an awesome team. Whether it's as partners or brothers or even escapees from a work camp," Dean boasted, eyes bright as they latched unshakably onto Sam's.

Removing his hand from Dean's chest, Sam ran his fingers through his own hair and agreed with a release of pent up breath, "Yeah, yeah, we do." But then he pointed a finger at Dean, "But I'm never opting for the work camp get away package again."

"Ah come on, Sammy. It would have taken years of therapy for us to have this relationship breakthrough and instead, with Dylan's little camp time retreat, we did it in only a few short days," Dean sallied back, smirking as Sam shook his head.

"Well, from here on out, when you need therapy, I'll just set you down to watch your favorite show: Oprah," Sam tossed back, a self satisfied smile on his lips.

"It's not my favorite show," Dean denied, disgruntled.

"Oh right, you've probably moved onto Dr. Phil like all the rest of the stay at home moms," Sam taunted as he returned back to his ministrations, began applying antibiotic ointment to the cut on his brother's head.

"Eat me," was Dean's classy comeback, wincing slightly at Sam's ministrations.

"Thought the Benders taught you why that's sooo not a good thing to say," Sam shot back. Leaning closer to inspect the wound, he debated if stitches were possible on the days old cut.

"So not funny. Tied up in that house…I felt like Bugs Bunny taking a bath in the stew," Dean grumbled, not altogether without truth. Feeling a little self conscious with Sam leaning over him, inspecting his head like it was a science project he was immersed in, he ached to push Sam back a few inches to regain some space to breathe. He almost sighed in relief when Sam pulled back, that was until Sam's hand settled onto his forehead.

"You're a little warm," Sam announced, worry creasing his brow at the heat he felt under his hand before he slid the back of his fingers across his brother's cheek for further results. "Your body's probably fighting off infection."

"Yeah, that's me, a fighter," Dean glibly rejoined, hoping to ease the worry and the inclination to mother hen him from his brother.

Sam snorted, "Yeah, who's the real Rocky in this scenario." Having made his decision, he began the application of butterfly bandages along the cut. Then, slipping his fingers to the back of Dean's head, he began his inspection through his brother's short hair.

"Sam," Dean warned, his tolerance for his brother's doctor routine about at it's limit, his hand reaching up ready to forcefully remove Sam's hand.

Dodging Dean's grasping hand, Sam sighed, "Dean, come on, you think just because there's no blood gushing that I can't tell when something is hurting you? I know your head's still killing you, man. Maybe if you let me take a look at it, put some ice on it, you might feel better."

For a moment, Sam couldn't read the expression in his brother's eyes, didn't know what would come next in their negotiation. But he feared the worst when Dean grabbed the ice pack from his ribs and shoved it at him. "Ah, Dean…" Sam whined in protest but the rest of the words fell away as he watched Dean, with painful, slow motions, roll over onto his stomach.

His voice muffled by the pillow, Dean admitted, "Right now my head hurts way worse than my ribs." But his breath was caught in his chest, was trapped there waiting for Sam's response. Dean knew how his Dad would have reacted to his blatant admission to pain and found he needed to know what Sam's reaction would be. He couldn't keep trying to second guess his brother's feelings, to continue to make comparisons between his father and brother or struggle to decipher which mask he was expected to don. Not when he was barely keeping himself together, was barely able to face each new day with his father's deathbed order and his own guilt at his father's sacrifice coiled around his soul.

Sam's breath caught in his throat, not only at Dean's admission to pain but his brother's willingness to open up to him, to allow him to help him. "Bet it does," Sam said, his voice unsteady and sympathetic as he skimmed his fingers over the back of his brother's head with feather light pressure. Finding the swelling under Dean's hair wasn't so much a victory as a crushing defeat. It made Sam wonder bleakly how Dean had even been conscious the last few days as badly hurt as he was, let alone done the physical triathlon he had. 'He did it for you. Stood up to Chase and Dylan, didn't let their abuse break him, didn't let his body break him, not when it would have meant you getting hurt.'

Sam's voice was hoarse when he spoke, "Skin isn't broken but you've got some impressive swelling."

Sam's tender touch, his gentle words were proof enough for Dean that his brother did not find his weakness contemptible, was not mocking his pain, was, instead, seemingly grieved over it. Feeling his tension fade away and the fortifications that he had erected against condemnation crumble, Dean sank further into the comfortable confines of the bed. "I'm all about being impressive," he mumbled through the pillow, surprised to find himself suddenly fighting off sleep, that his brother's light touches were easing some of his pain instead of hiking it. He stiffened slightly as Sam's touch was replaced by the ice pack but when Sam's hand settled onto the base of his neck, he felt himself loosening up again.

"Think you can get some sleep?" Sam soothingly asked, was rewarded with a murmur of agreement before he heard his brother's breathing shift. With tenderness, Sam gave a squeeze to Dean's neck before he slowly got off the bed, tried hard not to jostle his brother's sleeping form in the process. But he couldn't walk away, stood there a moment, looking down at his brother, watched as Dean turned his head in his sleep, giving him a full view of his right profile. Reaching down, Sam drew the covers up to cover his brother's back before he headed off to take his own shower.


Standing beside Dean's bed, his hair still soaking wet from his shower, Sam found it unnerving how still his brother was. Was disconcerted that Dean hadn't done his traditional tossing and turning, was in the same position he had left him in: lying on his stomach, ice pack still in place, face still turned to the left, even breaths barely causing any motion in his brother's muscled frame.

Sam smiled at the one concession to his brother's normal sleeping habits…the hand dangling over the edge of the bed, as if the mattress wasn't big enough for just that part of his body. As he had done in the past, when their rooms were so small that he couldn't negotiate to the bathroom without running into his brother's appendage, Sam intended to slip his brother's hand back onto the bed, back under the covers. But his fingers froze before they touched Dean's arm, hovered just above the bloody, harshly bruised ring around his brother's always so seemingly strong wrist.

It jolted Sam to see Dean's wrist as a fragile conglomeration of flesh, muscle and bone, as able to be bruised, able to be broken, to be shattered…not so unlike Dean himself. Sam swallowed at the comparison, felt his chest tighten as he saw the physical proof of just how hard his brother had fought to keep him from falling to his death when he had stumbled off the cliff, to keep them together. But even as that thought came, another vague memory of panic surged through him. A memory of coming awake in the water and feeling his brother's hand slipping away from his own, knowing with some uncanny dark certainty that he was soon going to be inexplicably alone. Sam understood now that Dean had believed himself an anchor, that he was weighing him down, that Dean had sought to cut him free in order to save him. 'Stupid jerk,' Sam chastised, a tender smile on his lips at his brother's devotion to him.

Skirting around his brother's out flung hand, Sam came to the nightstand, gathered the supplies again in his hands before turning around. Sinking down to his knees between the two beds, Sam slid his hand under his brother's and gingerly began cleaning Dean's wounded wrist. It felt less fragile under his fingers, more like the unshakeable lifeline that he had had complete faith in.

His eyes flickering up to his brother's face, Sam was relieved that Dean didn't stir under his touch. That his brother unconsciously trusted him to keep him safe, to not exploit his weakness but to protect him in his vulnerability…just like Dean always protected his little brother.


When Dean woke up, it took him a moment to identify that the white he saw inches from his face was a cloth bandage wrapped around his wrist. 'Huh, never even felt you putting it on, Sammy. Tricky,' he thought as he rolled over, grimaced in pain but could happily say that he felt better than he had in days. Scanning the night shadowed room, he saw Sam sitting at the motel room's small table, newspaper spread out under his fingers, his eyes upon him. "Time is it?" he mumbled, wiping at his eyes.

"'bout nine," Sam answered, coming out of the chair and crossing over to his brother. Sitting beside Dean, he snagged the bottle of painkillers from the table, tapped two pills into his hand before putting the bottle back. Picking up the hand that Dean had resting on his stomach, Sam turned his brother's hand over and poured the pills into his palm.

Too beaten to even offer up an eye roll at Sam's coddling, Dean lifted his head up and tossed the pills in his mouth. He found a water bottle pressed into his hand an instant later. Taking a swallow of the water to down the pills, he then took a long pull on the bottle. It felt like he hadn't had the pleasure of the refreshing taste of water for days.

Having nearly drained the water bottle, Dean came up for air. Dropping his head back onto the pillow, he studied his brother as Sam took the bottle from him and put it back onto the nightstand. "You're looking better," he commented, glad to see the reduced swelling in his brother's battered features. Snagging Sam's hand, he inspected the fight inflicted cuts on his knuckles and then slid his brother's left shirt sleeve up his arm to reveal a bandage wrapped around his forearm where he had been cut. "Physician heal thyself…" he quirked which got a quick smile from his brother.

"Was going to order room service.." Sam began but paused as he saw Dean smirk.

"Ah, room service. We've certainly come up in the world," Dean drawled, glad to get the opportunity to tease Sam.

"Don't get used to it Cinderfella," Sam shot back, standing up and crossing over to snag the room service menu from the table before returning to stand by his brother's bed. When Dean just smirked at him instead of taking the menu he offered, Sam sighed, "Alright, what?"

"Nothing, just…" Dean shrugged, let his eyes drop to the bed sheets. "You ordering from room service it just seems…"

"Stupid, right? You want me to go grab us something somewhere? A burger or some Chinese or.." Sam quickly offered, trying to be accommodating.

"It seems …natural, Sam," Dean cut in, sorrow in his eyes as they held Sam's. "Lawyers get room service all the time, don't they? Have big luncheons at Italian restaurants? Which they always put on the corporate credit card," he finished with a small smile that didn't reach his eyes, crossing his legs at the ankles as if he wasn't affected by his own words.

Sinking down to sit beside Dean, Sam allowed quietly, "Maybe," his eyes down and the menu now dangling between his long fingers. "Some of them make lots of money, have expensive cars, and big houses." When Sam raised his eyes again to his brother, the conviction in them matched the tone of his next words, "And most of them are too busy to spend time with their families, have rarely if ever saved a person's life." Giving a bitter chuckle he continued, "And I think it's pretty safe to say the majority of them would never do something as drastic as tracking down a faith healer to save their brother's life or think to buy a mystical talking hands board to communicate with their brother when he is in a coma."

"You're right, they wouldn't last a day in our cutthroat business," Dean joked, needing to deflect Sam's words, to downplay their effect on him. He told himself that it was just coincidence that his brother's examples revolved around him, involved Sam using his hunting skills to save him. He was sure it wasn't a conscious decision Sam had made, making the parallels, pointing out that he would be dead twice over if his little brother had chosen the life of a lawyer.

"A day?! They wouldn't last an hour," Sam corrected, smirking as he tried to envision his fellow law students embarking on one of their hunts. "Can't believe I actually thought I could be a lawyer," he admitted ruefully, shaking his head at his own foolishness. "I guess I just wanted something black and white, didn't want to continue to drown in the grays of our lifestyle."

Dean gave a small grunt, "Yeah, well, I thought our lives were all black and white. But now…with everything that's happened…" he shrugged instead of continuing and Sam was reminded of Dean's words after they had let Lenore go, had found a group of vampires that weren't killers. '..everything's jacked up.'

"Guess its back to just us against the world, huh? Saving people, hunting things?" Sam said with a soft smile, stealing Dean's own words.

"Ah give me the menu," Dean groused, snatching the menu from Sam's slack grip and beginning to peruse his choices while he pointedly ignored the smug expression on his brother's face.


Dean was running through the forest, heart pounding, breath heaving, could feel his pursuers gaining ground. He was about to look behind him, to see if he could make out their features when his brother called out his name. The sound of that familiar voice evoked a powerful enough response in him to mercifully shatter the cold embrace of the dreamscape, to allow him to begin to claw to consciousness. When his ankle was grasped and shaken, Dean felt the last tendril of sleep slip away.

"What?" he groggily said, struggling to get his eyes open, for the room to come into focus, for the dream, the memories to scamper back into the lock box in his mind.

"Dean, wake up," Sam demanded, giving his brother's ankle another shake as he sat at the end of Dean's bed beside his brother's legs, eyes glued to the television.

Looking over his shoulder at his brother and the tv beyond, Dean growled, "Great, you woke me up to see that detergent bear commercial? You know I hate that friggin' bear."

"No, no. The news," Sam explained, sparing a backward glance at Dean, his eyes sharp and jumping with adrenaline that got Dean's own heart beating faster. "You awake? I want you to watch this too."

"Yeah, I'm awake," Dean mumbled, rolling over onto his back and using his hands to lever himself into a seated position just as the commercial break was over.

Sam's head swiveled back to the tv as the male newscaster began to speak, "Now to recap one of today's top stories is Nancy Preston." Then Nancy Preston was there, microphone in hand, in front of an all too familiar background. "Early this morning, this illegal inmate work camp behind me was raided by FBI agents. According to our sources, nearly forty inmates were among the camp's occupants at the time of the raid. Over fifteen men who were serving as guards for the camp have been arrested." The scene shifted to the work camp, panning across the work trucks and the sewer line pipes as the reporter narrated. "As evidenced by the equipment in the camp, the inmates were working in, what can only be surmised as, a wide scale housing development. But with four bodies having already been unearthed from an unmarked burial pit, this is no habitat for humanity project."

When the reporter returned to the screen, she was no longer on location at the camp, was instead standing in front of a building that had the look of federal funding, the darkness of night among her backdrop. "Tonight, after further investigation, we have determined that the inmates were removed from their prisons and brought to the camp's location where they were forced to either work or be buried in a shallow grave."

"Not so shallow.." Dean mumbled, his eyes fixed on the screen.

"Though the agent in charge still refuses to comment on what evidence led him to the camp," a clip of Agent Henricksen growling out a "no comment" was spliced in there for a flash of a second before the newscaster came back onto the screen, "our own investigations have tied the convicts to a work program that is in place at three of our state's prisons, a work program sanctioned by Governor Montrel. Though the governor refused to comment on possible allegations that he was using this "work program" to subsidize his lagging campaign support which came hard on the claims of misconduct at his family run construction business, investigations have begun working to uncover the name of the owner of the land in which the work camp was located and the source of funding for the project. Now back to you, Phillip."

"Holy crap," Sam breathed, turning to face Dean, disbelief on his features.

"Yeah, who knew we were working for the governor," Dean drawled with fake enthusiasm.

"Dean, we barely got of there before Henricksen arrived, we almost made national news…again!"

"I can't believe Henricksen didn't give us credit for leading him to this awesome collar?" Dean complained, eyes alight with his own humor.

"He looked pretty pissed actually. I think the only one he cares about getting is you," Sam declared, hating that it was the truth, that Dean was Henricksen's focus, felt guilty that he himself was viewed as little more than the sidekick.

"Well, he's gonna have to work harder than that," Dean boldly stated with a cocky smile on his pale features.

'A heck of a lot harder,' Sam vowed before he shook off the dread of that worry. One threat at a time was the only way he could make it through the days. "Think they got Dylan and Chase?" he asked, uncertain if he wanted the two men "rescued" so they could serve jail time or left to rot in the woods.

"I don't know but, let me tell you, if I was one of those other stooges working that camp, I would offer to personally lead the hunt to find them. No way would I want to take the wrap myself," Dean said, scooting backwards with a wince until his back was against the headboard.

Shaking his head at the way his brother's mind worked, Sam got up and clicked off the tv. "Serial murder raps, bank robberies, now illegal work camps run by governors. Life with you is never boring, Dean," he said, eyes on his brother.

"Course not 'cause I'm not boring," Dean boasted, a wide smile turning up his lips.

"Just crazy.." Sam countered, wanting to get a rise out of Dean, to keep that smile on Dean's pale face a while longer.

"Don't forget handsome…" Dean played along, watching as some of the tight lines on Sam's face eased as his brother broke into a smirk.

"And reckless…" Sam lightly accused without the edge that claim had carried earlier in the day.

Knowing the difference between Sam passing judgment and teasing him, Dean corrected, "You mean daring, heroic…"

"Not to mention humble…" Sam threw in with a laugh.

"One of my best traits if I have to say so myself," Dean rejoined with a smile.


Parked beside an abandoned barn twenty miles away from the motel, Sam leaned against the 2001 Impala, squinting against the first rays of the rising sun. He was still mulling over how easily Dean had left him go. He had only offered up the vague explanation of "I'm going to go trade up the car again," and that had been enough for Dean to mumble an "OK" and turn over and fall back to sleep. All without insisting on coming along or offering up a threat if he picked a vehicle he would classify as wussy. That battle Sam had been prepared for, had his arguments up and ready to go. But Dean's capitulation? His utter weariness? That was cruel proof that Dean was still off his game, still hurting, should spend another day or two sacked out in bed.

With the stark realization of just how vulnerable Dean still was, Sam felt his uneasiness at being away from his brother skyrocket higher at every minute that ticked by. Couldn't help but shuffle his feet, bite his lip and dig his hands deeper into his pockets until he heard the welcoming sound of an approaching vehicle. Pushing off the stolen vehicle to stand upright, he didn't even bother to try and hide the smile that lit up his entire face.

Bobby doesn't think for a moment that the smile was for him, but he was somewhat taken off guard by which Winchester was grinning so happily at the car he was hauling on the back of his tow truck. Dean getting all misty eyed over the Impala he had come to expect, but Sam?!

Pulling to a stop, Bobby hopped out of the truck, was utterly unprepared to be engulfed in a bear hug from Sam as the younger Winchester reverently offered up a "Thanks Bobby," before letting him go. Feeling disoriented at the exuberant reception, Bobby shrugged and mumbled a "yeah, no problem" as his eyes slide to Sam, wondering if the boy had gone and gotten himself possessed again.

If Sam noticed the look, he didn't react to it, simply trotted back to the bed of the tow truck, eyes fixed on the gleaming black paint of his brother's car. "Everything go ok?" he asked, at Bobby's silence his eyes slid to the older man.

Shaking off his uneasiness, Bobby replied, "It was so easy I'm ashamed for them. Just told them Agent Henricksen wanted the car hauled away as evidence." Moving to unload the Impala, Bobby felt himself grow about as nervous as he would be if Dean was the one standing there, watching his every move, making sure he didn't hurt his baby. Stealing a glance to Sam, he read the relief in the younger man's face, noted the way Sam looked at the Impala like it was some long lost treasure being returned to him. Not for the first time, it hit Bobby how bound together these two brothers were, that what hurt one brother, hurt the other, what one brother valued, the other valued: like the Impala.

A year ago that point had been sharply made when he stood at Sam's side and watched as a look of devastation crumbled the youngest Winchester's features at the sight of his brother's car, mangled and broken and seemingly irreparable. Vividly Bobby recalled picking up his phone, hearing Sam's broken voice asking him to tow the Impala back to his place, barely able to choke out an explanation, to tell him that Dean was hurt, was on life support.

/////////// 1 Year Ago////////////////

"Yeah," Bobby had growled into the phone, disgruntled at being awoken practically at first light. He barely recognized the quiet voice on the other end of the line.

"Hey Bobby, it's Sam."

"Sam, you find your dad?" Bobby asked with honest interest, turning on the light beside his bed as he sat up, rubbing sleep from his eyes.

"Yeah, yeah we did," but Sam's voice cracked amid the seemingly good news and the silence that fell made Bobby's throat go dry with dread. "We had…" and the younger man's voice fell away, was replaced by a trembling intake of breath, "a truck…" Clearing his throat, Sam finally managed to force out a complete sentence. "Can you pick up the Impala, Bobby? It was towed to a lot off I90."

"Towed?!" Bobby exclaimed, sleep having been replaced by fear, wishing he understood Sam's ramblings enough to piece together the whole picture. But Sam wasn't replying and Bobby could barely hear him breathing on the other end of the line. And a quiet Sam …well that was more proof than Bobby wanted that something was seriously wrong. "Were any of you hurt?" he asked, his concern unmasked.

"They say Dad's awake….gonna be alright…" Sam supplied but there was a ribbon of despair in his tone if not his words, as if the boy's very world was shattering around him. And Bobby knew that if there was one thing on God's green earth that could break Sam, it was the prospect of losing his big brother.

Bobby found he couldn't not ask his next question, because, against his better judgment, he had gotten way too attached to John Winchester's boys. "Dean?"

"He was hurt…" and Sam's voice had broken apart on the word 'hurt'. It took a few moments before he spoke again. "Before…by the ….Bobby he was in bad shape …and then…" Bobby heard Sam draw in a trembling breath, let it out, struggle to get himself back under control. "He's …." And this pause felt conscious, as if the next words had to be selected carefully, would determine the outcome of some horrible event. "He's on life support."

With that revelation, the very breath was knocked out of Bobby, made his legs weak, had him crumbling into the nearest chair. "Sam I'm…" but he stopped the word 'sorry" from slipping out because it sounded too much like he expected the worst, like Dean was already gone. Instead he gave out a promise, "I'm heading out the door now to get the Impala."

"In the trunk…" and here when Sam halted his words, Bobby could sense it wasn't emotions but precaution that had him falling silent, hesitant to speak. It took Bobby only a few moments to figure out what lay inside the Impala's trunk, what was valued even as Sam's world threatened to implode: the Colt.

"I gotcha, Sam. I understand," he replied firmly, knew the kind of trust that was being laid into his hands with Sam's request.

"The Impala…" Sam stammered and Bobby corrected himself, knew that the greatest show of Sam's trust had nothing to do with the Colt.

"Sam I…Dean's a real fighter, you know that right?" he tried to put as much conviction in his tone as he could with his own heart racing in fear. By the catch in Sam's breathing, he knew his words weren't doing the kid much good. "He won't leave you or your dad without one heck of a fight, Sam. That I know for certain," and there was no deception in his words, no platitudes, only the truth as he knew it.

But Sam's desolate "Thanks' Bobby" and the click of the phone had Bobby thinking that maybe he didn't know the truth that Sam did.


Shaking off the memories as he settled the Impala back on terra firma and the tow lines were detached, Bobby watched Dean's brother. He didn't miss the caressing touch of Sam's hand as his fingers ran down the hood of the black car. Leaning against his tow truck, Bobby watched Sam inspect the car and thought back to the call he had gotten from Sam the day before to once again retrieve the Impala from a fate worse than death.

////////////////Previous Day////////////////////////

"Hey Bobby, it's Sam."

"Sam, you hunting any more aliens," Bobby had taunted, still amused at the line of bull the Trickster had nearly had the Winchesters swallowing.

But Sam's returning laughter was tired, seemed to teeter on the edge of control. "No, no more aliens. Hey, I know we've been putting you out a lot lately but…"

"Putting me out?" Bobby interrupted, "More like putting me back in the game. So what do you need?"
"Can you pick up the Impala?" And that was a request Bobby never wanted to hear again, not after the last time. Instantly he found himself attempting to interpret Sam's tone, to make comparisons to the last time Sam had called him to tow his brother's car.

"Bobby, you there?" Sam's voice came again, lacking in devastation, devoid of sorrow.
Pulling his own raging emotions under control, Bobby stammered, "Yeah…yeah, I'm here. What's wrong with her?" he asked but knew that the real question wasn't about the Impala's status, was instead 'what's wrong with Dean?' because that boy could fix anything on that car.

"Nothing…except I think she's in the hands of Agent Henricksen" Sam confessed, sounding like the boy who was calling his father to say he was sitting in the principal's office.

Bobby knew it was stupid to feel relief over the fate of a car, heck he was a junk man for pete sake, but this wasn't just any car they were talking about….or strangers he was worrying over. "I take it you and your brother aren't in federal custody," he surmised, the tightness in his chest loosening even before Sam gave his reply.

"No," came tiredly from Sam before a firmer, "No!" followed. "But you know Dean, he'll stage some stupid, reckless "rescue" if I don't find a way to return his baby to him."

"Oh yeah, the boy's a mite attached to the chrome beauty," Bobby returned with laughter in his voice.

"A mite?!" Sam scoffed back, as if he could hide the affection he felt for his brother from a man who knew the two of them since they were kids.

"So where do I find her?" Bobby asked, already grabbing pen and paper to scribble down an address.

But Sam's next words weren't an address, were hesitant, even as they conveyed his need, "I know it's a risk…"

"Nothing I can't handle," Bobby briskly reassured, wanting to return the Impala to its rightful owner nearly as much as Sam did. "So where do you think she's at…"


When his inspection of the Impala didn't uncover a single mar on his brother's pride and joy, Sam released an exhale of relief. Turning again to Bobby, he tilted his head at the look the older hunter was giving him. "What?"

Shrugging, Bobby calmly drew out, "You look like you went fifty rounds with a Wendigo," choosing to not take that moment to tease Sam about his attachment to the Impala. No, the older man could sense an undercurrent of barely controlled emotions in the younger man, would not open the floodgates over the car, not when more weighty concerns needed to be addressed.

"Feel like it too," Sam admitted, the words coming out with his tired exhale of breath.

Turning his most casual gaze on Sam, Bobby purposefully baited the hook with his next words, "While I was waiting to get the Impala, I heard the talk about the work camp…them finding bodies dumped into a pit." Watching all the color drain from Sam's face, Bobby didn't have to speculate on how narrowly he or Dean had missed being part of that body count. 'Since Sam's about losing his lunch, my bet's on Dean being the one that they nearly killed,' he silently surmised. 'Guess I know why Dean's the poker player in their partnership.'

Having mercy on the youngest Winchester, Bobby stepped closer, put a steadying hand on Sam's elbow. "I can see that's no surprise to you," he said, his voice pitched low, his worry for the missing Winchester tightening the breath in his chest. "Dean alright?"

Jaw clenched, Sam swallowed, nodded his head. Then, biting his lip, he looked across the flat plains, purposefully not meeting Bobby's too piercing gaze. It took him a moment to find his voice. "Will be."

Having taught himself how to read people, and having learned that sometimes well placed silence pried the lid off of the most tight lipped people, Bobby replied with simply a look of compelling compassion. But Sam's eyes jumped from his own almost immediately. And Bobby hated that Sam's words were not enough to send his worry packing, hated it enough to scurry across a line he knew not to cross with Dean, was wholly uncertain what a foray into that territory with Sam would get him. "Are you alright?" cursing himself as he heard the concerned lilt to his tone, knew that it could get the door slammed in his face.

The question mingled with the other man's genuine concern had Sam's eyes alighting back to Bobby's. "Yeah," he answered but it was a croak of sound, a lie that barely carried enough weight to travel the short distance to Bobby. The older man's intake of air told Sam that Bobby wasn't about to let things go, was going to push him for answers, was going to make him open up…like he had been forcing Dean to do for the past two days.

'Ah crap, sucks when the tables are turned. 'Least Dean's not here to see it,' but that thought only made Sam's gut clench tighter at the stinging absence of his brother from his side. Sharply it reminded him how hard it had been to walk out of the motel room half an hour ago, to leave Dean behind, to allow his brother out of his sight, to let him out from under his protection. It made him wonder if Dean felt the same level of apprehension, if the same fierce protectiveness always singed along Dean's nerves every time they split up. 'Or I disappear on him…either willingly or unwillingly,' Sam bitterly wondered, the thought of the torment Dean had gone through each of those times now making Sam's stomach roil.

Leaning back against the Impala, Sam bowed his head, could feel Bobby's gentle eyes upon him, waiting. "I …tried to protect him…" Instead of saying more, Sam gave a derisive snort, scoffed at his own pathetic attempts to keep Dean from harm. Raising gleaming, bitter eyes to Bobby, he bit out, "Crap, that's such a joke, me protecting him." Pushing off of the Impala, he walked a pace or two forward, putting Bobby at his back.

Unaccustomed to being Sam's confidante, Bobby drew in a breath and frantically strived to organize his thoughts before he spoke. "Now you sound just like your dad every time one of you boys got hurt?"

"How?" Sam demanded in angry disbelief, quickly turning around to face Bobby, defiance sparkling in his eyes at the comparison.

Shrugging, Bobby found it hard to put the parallels into words, "He would say just what you said, that he tried to protect you both. That maybe …" but Bobby broke off there, recanting his next words.

But Sam's interest was piqued. "That what?" an earnest desire in his eyes to know another side of his father, a side he hadn't seen.

Wondering if he was going to do more harm than good, Bobby nevertheless pressed forward, "That maybe he hadn't taught you enough, hadn't trained you hard enough, hadn't prepared you enough. Always said it was his fault when you or Dean got hurt."

Sam's brow creased, not with anger but confusion, "Trained us enough? I don't think the Marines train as hard as he trained Dean and I…especially Dean."

"But it didn't keep you safe, either of you." With a small chuckle, he confessed, "I used to almost cringe when whichever one of you that had gotten hurt started healing. 'Cause I knew the second you were up to it, your dad would be putting you boys through the paces. Would do his best to rid you of whatever weakness he believed had gotten you hurt." Looking at Sam cautiously, reading the smirk on Sam's face as the boy nodded his head, the memories more sweet than bitter in retrospect, Bobby revealed, his voice quiet, "Bet you never knew that when one of you was hurting, he would sit by your bed, watch you sleep. Wouldn't say a word, just sat there, like he was counting every breath you took, memorizing your face…"

Bobby looked away, was surprised by his words, by his own sentimentality. Found the memories both good, touching and sad and gut wrenching at the same moment. When he looked back to Sam he knew the younger man felt the same way, heard it in Sam's shaken voice.

"I didn't know that…that he sat with us when we were hurt."

"Your dad …" Bobby ruefully shook his hand, "he was always one of those mysteries I saw as too frightening to figure out."

"Yeah," Sam agreed with a laugh, happy that he could remember his father fondly in that moment, that he knew his father had loved him, had loved Dean, had tried to protect them. Felt closer to his father than he had before knowing that they both knew the bitter taste of failing to protecting the ones they loved: Mary / Jess…Dean. After a moment, Sam drew in a breath, hoped the look he bestowed on Bobby conveyed his gratitude for the older man's words, for showing him a glimpse of the softer side of his father.

Wanting to shake off the seriousness of their conversation, Bobby pointed to Sam's stolen vehicle, "You steal that ride or did your brother?" a twinkle in his eyes.

Laughing, Sam replied, "I did. Dean was..well, almost Ok with it. Poor substitute and all that."

"Yeah, I bet," Bobby snorted, though the fact that Sam had stolen the car instead of his big brother had him worrying over Dean again. And the notion that Dean was "almost" Ok with being seen in some modern, neutered model of his car…that sent off warning bells in his head. "So, Dean's really OK? The …camp, those guys, they seemed pretty hard core, military backgrounds by the talk I picked up from the FBI."

Nodding, Sam replied, tried to distance himself from his own words, "He was hurt on a job, possessed wolf attacked him and then we got tossed into the work camp. And yeah, the guys who ran the place were military. Course they took a real shine to Dean," he said, a bitter laugh as if there had been some humor in the situation, as if any could be found even now. But even the fabricated humor left his eyes as he admitted, "Got pretty bad in there, escaping was no dance party and Dean's going to be hurting for awhile but on the bright side, we didn't need to break out our new insurance cards," a fake smile forcefully turning up his lips.

"You know if you two ever need anything…" Bobby began but Sam smiled genuinely.

"You mean besides Impala retrieval?"

"Yeah," Bobby snorted, "If you need me for something other than my flatbed…"

"We know, Bobby," Sam earnestly said, feeling that bond with Bobby spring forward that he had shared with the man as a kid. "Thanks Uncle Bobby," he taunted, eyes dancing as Bobby bristled.

"Ah, take that relic and get outta here," Bobby groused, throwing a set of keys at Sam as he fought hard not to smile, to not clamp a hand around Sam's arm and pull the too tall kid in for a hug.

Laughing Sam climbed into the Impala, felt his heart jump into his throat as he started the car up, heard the Impala's engine rumble to life. With a wave to Bobby he sent the car forward. Spitting stones from under its tires, Sam felt the car surge onto the road like an animal too long caged up, knew that feeling himself only too well. Tightening his hands on the steering wheel, he smiled as he anticipated the look on his brother's face when he saw his baby sitting in the parking lot, waiting for him.


The click of the motel door closing had woken Dean up, felt like a blast of frigid air from a ghost had swept through the room. It ripped the last vestiges of sleep from him like Sam's talking to him hadn't. Even Sam telling him that he was trading up the car, was going somewhere, it had not been enough of an incentive for him to shake off the comforting hold of sleep …until Sam walked out the door, the door softly shutting in his wake. And then it had hit Dean, not a resonating shout of 'alone' but instead one of 'not together', separate, out of each other's sight…for the first time in days.

Rolling over to his side with a moan of pain, his arm bracing his ribs, Dean was reminded again that the pain in his head had tapered off but hadn't left, seemingly had no intentions of leaving for awhile. Forcing his heavy arm into motion, he scrubbed a hand over his face, felt the rough texture of more scruff than he liked, remembered that Sam had banged on the bathroom door and came barging into the small room before he had had a chance to even really take in his reflection in the shower steamed mirror the previous day, let alone contemplate shaving.

'I'm surprised that wasn't one of Nurse Sammy's self assigned duties,' he kidded, but felt guilty almost instantly, not when he knew his brother's actions had been out of concern for him, were no less than he would do for Sam if the positions were switched. And suddenly he wasn't bitter that their roles had been switched the past couple of days from protector and protected, leader and follower. Because at the heart of the matter, what hadn't changed was their brother status, was their uncanny ability to do for each other what they couldn't do, wouldn't do for anyone else, for even themselves.

"Crap, maybe I have watched too much Oprah," Dean growled aloud to the empty room, feeling foolish for qualifying his relationship with Sam, for making it seem like it wasn't just the run of the mill brother connection. 'Brothers just take care of each other, end of story. Don't turn this thing into one of Sam's Hallmark moments. You save Sam's bacon, he saves yours. Easy, simple, just the way it works.'

Hoping to shut off his mind from ridiculing his foray into a chick flick moment, he rolled himself out of bed, wasn't prepared to almost fall to his knees as every muscle in his body ached and protested movement of any kind, caught himself by bracing his hands on the bed and the nightstand. Cursing, he slowly pushed himself upright, was ashamed at the way his arms trembled, only then remembering almost dislocating his shoulders trying to get Sam up from the cliff he was dangling over.

Finally standing, he cautiously squared his shoulders, winced openly and started to walk toward the bathroom, feeling like a hundred year old man. Wondered how he was going to shave when raising his hands was like trying to lift three hundred pound weights. And fought off the clench in his chest at the void in the room, of the space where Sam was supposed to be, at the absence at his shoulder where Sam had been for the past days, whether by his brother's choice or not.

The bitter part of him said Sam was out there joyriding, was deliriously happy to be away from him, to no longer be bound to him, by chains or circumstances. He didn't doubt that Sam loved him, that he didn't want him gone…but the question that always sprang to his mind was 'Did Sam want to be gone?'

Sighing, Dean knew he would let Sam go in the end, wouldn't deprive Sam of any happiness. Had left Sam go to Stanford without a word of protest, had not called Sam again when his brother had made it clear that he wanted a clean break, had wanted a life separate from him. And he couldn't crowd Sam now with his presence, wouldn't demand more from Sam than he was willing to give, would give him what freedom he could with the lifestyle they lived, sharing the same space nearly 24/7.

At that thought Dean found a smile twisting up his lips and a short bark of laughter escaping him. The work camp had taught them the true meaning of being with each other 24/7. 'And we didn't kill each other….almost killed a few other people but we didn't kill each other. Maybe there's hope for us sticking together for the long haul after all.'


As Sam entered the motel room, the ploy that he had been rehearsing in his head to get Dean out to the Impala instantly died, was replaced by dread. Because, even before he checked the bathroom, he knew the room was empty, that his brother wasn't nearby. With his stomach feeling as if it had turned into a hard rock, it made him glad that he hadn't been able to justify sparing even three minutes to stop at the local gas station for coffee, to instigate any delay to his return to his brother.

'Calm down, he couldn't have gone far, he wouldn't have gone far,' he reassured himself, stalking over to the nightstand, cursed when he found it void of a note with his brother's scrawl on it. When the small table turned up just as vacant, Sam swung around, scanned the room for clues to his wayward brother's whereabouts, unconsciously tapping his hand against his leg. He almost missed the obvious, knew that had been Dean's intent, to rub it in his face that he thought too much, couldn't be led by the simple things: like a stand up brochure blatantly sitting in the center of his bed. Stalking forward, Sam grabbed the advertisement with their hotel's logo, smirked as he read it.

"Complimentary continental breakfast served in our lobby from 6am to 10:30 am."

'I should have known free coffee and food would resurrect him.' Tossing the brochure carelessly back onto the bed, he headed out the door. Even as he negotiated the hallway, he told himself that it was the coffee and food that was drawing him to the lobby. That he certainly wasn't going there just to check on Dean, because Dean didn't need a babysitter, didn't need him hovering over him. His brother had taken on ghosts and Wendigos and ex-military wackoes, he could manage grabbing breakfast without his little brother having his back.

But the swaying argument didn't deter Sam's path or slow his pace. And Sam admitted to himself that he was reacting to more than what Dean needed. That it was about what he himself wanted, what he needed, even if Dean would never see it that way.

Coming through the double doors that led to the lobby, Sam scanned the tables and counters laden with food to his right for his brother's familiar form. It took him a moment to spot his brother at a table, a table that Dean wasn't the only occupant of. As if some sensor had gone off in Dean's mind, Sam watched his brother's head come up, saw Dean's eyes find his instantly almost as if he had called Dean's name across the room. A smile broke out onto Dean's face and he raised his hand, beckoning his little brother over. Sam almost felt ashamed at how affected he was by his brother's wide smile of greeting, by Dean's eager invitation for him to join him and his lady friends.

Hoping that the spike of joy that was rippling through him at Dean's eager welcome wasn't reflected by on his face by a goofy grin or flushed cheeks, Sam approached the table. He could hear his brother introducing him just as the other occupants of the table forced their rapt attention from his brother to him.

"Well, here's Sam, now. Sam, I would like you to meet the girls," Dean drawled, his charm outweighed by the kindness in his eyes for his fellow breakfast patrons and his brother.

Sam saw the three woman, not a one of them, he would guess, younger than seventy five years old, nearly blush and giggle as his brother labeled them "girls". His eyes tracked to each woman as Dean introduced them, Sam gave them as a whole his well-bred boy smile and "Nice to meet you," greeting.

"Grab a seat, Sam and load up on the food," Dean jovially ordered, nodding his head back to the spread of food on the counter behind them.

"Alright," Sam said, snagging a vacant chair from another table and placing it beside Dean before he made his way over to the food. As he stacked the offerings onto his plate, he couldn't help looking over his shoulder at Dean, watching his brother interact with the women, not flirtatiously but kindly, as if their age was something he respected instead of ridiculed. Slipping into the chair at his brother's side, he felt all three of the ladies eyes slide to him, wondered what his brother had claimed them to be that day: astronauts, rodeo clowns, secret agents?

"So what did I miss?" he asked, shooting an exasperated look to Dean, wondering what he had gotten himself into by acknowledging that he even knew his brother.

"Well, your brother was telling us how he got to lookin' like something the cat wouldn't even drag in," the woman to Sam's right announced, eyes on Sam.

A quick worried smile made an appearance on Sam's face and he shot Dean a look, was surprised to see his brother looking decidedly uncomfortable, even shifting in his seat. That, in Sam's book, didn't bode well.

"If he hadn't been so kind to me…well," the woman to Dean's left began, a look to Dean, who was smirking but had his head bowed almost in embarrassment. Breaking into laughter, the woman continued, "If my grandsons ever showed up at my door looking as well used as he does, I probably wouldn't have left them in the house."

"'Specially Harry. That boy's a trouble magnet," the woman across from Sam interjected.

The woman to Sam's right instantly agreed before her sparkling eyes alighted on Dean again, "But he probably isn't half the trouble magnet you are. My Philip was like that, could find trouble taking out the garbage. I'm guessing, with your good looks, you could incite trouble in a church choir. "

Dean laughed at the implication, "Yeah, probably," he admitted, blushing, raking a hand through his hair with an 'ah shucks' expression Sam loved to see gracing his cocky brother's features.

His enjoyment distracting him, Sam was unprepared when the three ladies' attention swung back to him and the woman beside Dean spoke to him. "The way your brother tells it, you do your best to keep him out of trouble. According to him, he would look a lot worse if you hadn't shown up."

Blindsided by the second hand praise from Dean and floundering for the thread of the conversation that would tell him just where he had shown up at and why, Sam swallowed his pancake and looked askance to Dean. "Well, I…" he stammered but was saved as the woman across from him spoke.

"Bars are no place to get into arguments, you know. Full of men already three sheets to the wind, thinking that taking a swing at each other is the same thing as winning an argument…"

"Or boasting their ego.." the woman beside Sam snidely tossed out.

"Doesn't solve a thing, " the other woman continued. "Your brother could have been killed in that brawl. Remember Donny Parson?" she asked her friends, head swiveling between the two woman.

"Shame that was. He was only twenty two," the woman to Dean's right clarified, shaking her head sadly.

"Thought he was nineteen?" The other woman contradicted.

"No, that was Ted Nilton. Got crushed in that mill accident,"

As the woman debated who would have ended up marrying Ted if the poor man hadn't gone and gotten himself killed, Sam slid his gaze to Dean. Finding his brother was already looking at him, Sam exchanged a knowing smirk with Dean. Knew they had matching mischievous tinkles in their eyes as they listened to the ladies, wondered how long it would be until their own arguments started to flitter around like that.

It was another five minutes before the conversation left the past, settled back onto the present and the ladies made their exit, intent on making the first tour of the basket weaving company. Waving to the ladies and both brothers fighting off the instinct to blush as they were ordered to behave themselves, they sat there a moment in silence, taking note that not many people were taking up the hotel's free offerings, made them wonder if the sign outside saying 'vacancy' really meant 'vacant'.

"Soooo," Sam drew out the word, didn't even try to hide his smile. "I keep you out of trouble, huh?"

"Don't you recognize a con job when you hear it?" Dean denied, shaking his head as if he couldn't believe the naiveté of his little brother.

"According to you, I saved you from getting the tar beat out of you….by drunk men," Sam prodded, relishing having the rare ammunition to tease Dean.

"Ah…NO! Story was that you stepped in and saved me from killing the other guys," Dean fabricated, wondered why he had opened up to the elderly women, had praised Sam to them when he wasn't quite ready to praise Sam to his face. 'I'm getting more like Dad everyday,' he thought, remembering how his father had always talked so proudly of his son that had gotten a full ride to Stanford, the son he had kicked out the family and said don't come back. 'Man our family's screwed up,' but there was affection in that thought now instead of bitterness.

"Yeah, sure, that was the story, those ladies just got confused right? Didn't remember that you were the hero of the story?" Sam taunted, all the while knowing that the women had had it right, that his brother had painted him out to be quite the hero, knew as certainly that Dean had never foreseen the story getting back to his little brother.

"I'm always the hero," Dean cockily shot back, smile in place as he stood up, gathered his tray from the table and made his way toward the trash can. He didn't have to look over his shoulder to sense that Sam wasn't more than two steps behind him. He was turning around toward Sam, was opening his mouth to talk when one of the male hotel employees stepped into the breakfast nook and asked the small group of hotel guest gathered there, "Does anyone here speak French?"

Frowning at the unexpected question, Dean when he noted that the employee's name plate said 'Fred Front Desk' looked to the check-in area. There, talking in quiet conversation among themselves, conversation decidedly not being held in English, were two striking women. Smiling, Dean started forward, was unprepared to be stopped by Sam's grip on his arm.

"Dean, you don't speak French," Sam accused but an instant later doubt and a flash of hurt sparked in his blue eyes. "Do you?"

"Sammy, there are all kinds of stuff you don't know about me," Dean bragged, eyes twinkling as his smile morphed from charming to cocky.

"Yeah, wonder why," Sam mumbled, feeling again as if the connection he thought he had with Dean was an illusion, was all smoke and mirrors, that he would never be privy to the real Dean Winchester, would never earn that level of honesty from his brother. Seeing the confused look on Dean's face, Sam almost sighed, knew that he didn't want to endanger the connection he truly did have with Dean. "Seriously, Dude. French too?" he asked, fighting to accept that there were more secrets Dean had not shared, that there was more distance still to be bridged between he and Dean than he had realized.

Recognizing the hurt look in Sam's eyes, hearing the sadness in his brother's words, Dean spoke his next words with humbleness, almost shame, "Yeah, I know a few words." Seeing Sam draw in an unsteady breath at his revelation, Dean couldn't keep the smile from cresting as he unleashed his French vocabulary, "French fry, French Vanilla, French Bread." Waggling his eyebrows he added, "French kissing." Pointing to the beautiful women across the hotel lobby, he said, "Dude, for women that look like that, I'll find a way to communicate."

"Ah come on Don Juan," Sam laughed, shoving Dean past the French women, laughing hard as the women skittered out of his brother's path as if he were a dangerous criminal. "Apparently they can't see past your bad boy appearance like your other girlfriends this morning could," he kidded which earned him an elbow in the ribs but didn't hamper his laughter as, with a hand to his brother's back, he manhandled Dean out the lobby doors.

"Dude what are we doing?" Dean groused at finding himself outside, his brother's hand again latching onto his bicep, pulling him around the side of the hotel. But he stumbled to a stop at the sight of the Impala, its black paint gleaming in the morning sunlight. "My car!" he exclaimed. Slipping out of Sam's grip, he crossed the short distance to the Impala, greedily seeking the feel of the metal frame under his hands.

"Ah, baby, I thought I would never see you again," Dean murmured, running his hand lovingly over the car's roof before he turned to Sam who was leaning on the front panel of the car. "How?!" was all he could get out, was the only word he could formulate in reaction to his brother's gift.

"Bobby," Sam replied, not needing to give himself credit. It was enough for him just to see Dean's smile, to be able to restore something to Dean that his brother loved, had thought lost forever to him. When Dean's raised eyebrows beckoned for more of an explanation, Sam clarified, "Said he told them the car was evidence Agent Henricksen wanted impounded and that was it. He loaded her up and got out of there."

Stepping back from the car, giving it a sweeping once over, Dean faced his brother with a look of wonder and gratitude. "Sam…" he began, his voice hoarse with emotions, "…this..getting my car back for me…."

Not needing Dean to say the words, feeling like his brother's look said more than he deserved, Sam cut Dean off with one of his brother's own glib comebacks, "You're not going to hug me or anything are you?"

It only took Dean an instant to react. Landing a light punch to his brother's shoulder, he was unable to suppress the goofy smile he knew he was still wearing. Then, taking two quick strides forward, he opened the Impala's door and sank into the driver's seat.

Cursing himself for not foreseeing the inevitable, Sam leapt forward, wrapped his hands around the driver's side door before his brother could pull the door shut. As his brother's eyes shot up to him, his surprise slipping into protest, Sam worriedly began, a plea in the one word he got out, "Dean…." Because for all of his brother's display of cockiness and charm that morning, Sam wasn't fooled, knew Dean wasn't at 100, was barely cresting 50, shouldn't spend the day ripping around in the Impala.

After days of being a spectator to Sam's protective instincts when it came to him, Dean knew that expression on his brother's face only too well. "Lighten up, Sam. Driving is medicinal for me," he said with a smile that was supposed to sway his brother's opinion. Seeing that his tactics weren't having any effort on his brother, Dean appeased, "It's not like I'm gonna do the Cannonball Run or anything, Sam. I just need to take a drive to clear my head. I'm going stir crazy in that room." Seeing an easing in Sam's resolve, Dean said, "I'll be back before you're even thinking about lunch."

But Sam's weakening was derailed by Dean's last words, made the younger man realize that Dean meant to leave him behind, that he wasn't being invited to join his brother on his drive. That Dean meant to go it alone, wanted to not be with him. "Oh… Oh yeah, right," he stammered weakly, forgetting that a second ago he was the one deciding if Dean could go. "I'll just…be in the room," he said, throwing his hand over his shoulder in the vague direction that their room was in, "…doing research." But instantly he frowned as he remembered they weren't on a job, that there was no research to do. Not for the first time, Sam cursed himself for not being the consummate liar Dean was.

Reeling at Sam's transformation from protector to little brother, Dean was sharply reminded of a younger Sam, always wanting to tag along at his brother's heels. Saw the same look in Sam's eyes now as he had then whenever he intentionally left his little brother behind, chose to spend his time with boys more his own age.

Relinquishing his hold on the car door…on his brother, Sam shut the door, gave a tight lipped smile and turned back toward the hotel. The Impala's horn startled him, had him looking over his shoulder, eyes seeking out his brother.

Gaining his little brother's attention, Dean jerked his head to the right, toward the passenger seat. When his small gesture was rewarded with a huge smile from Sam, Dean couldn't fight his own urge to return the facial gesture. Tracking his brother's hurried motions until he sank down into the passenger seat, Dean didn't speak for a moment, simply met Sam's happy, relieved look. Understood then how wrong his earlier thoughts had been. Sam chose to be with him, to stay with him, not just when their survival depended on it, not because their lifestyle dictated it, but because he meant something to Sam, their relationship, strained as it was at times, was something Sam valued, treasured, wasn't willing to throw away..anymore than Dean was.

His stare having lasted too long, generating Sam's creased forehead and tilt of his head in silent question of 'what?', Dean shook his head, smile still in place. Then he brought the Impala to life, gripped his fingers around the steering wheel for a moment before he sent the car reeling backward, fishtailing around and bounding forward, laying down rubber as it grappled to be released.

The 1967 Chevy Impala took to the highway like a train took to tracks, seemingly maneuvering the road more than the road maneuvered it. With Sam at his side, the Impala under his hands and no road blocks ahead, Dean felt his world shift back together again. Shooting a quick glance to Sam, he saw the same look of contentment on his brother's face that he knew he was wearing.

They rode in silence for a few miles before a disturbing thought sprang to Dean's mind. Head turning to his brother, an anxious look in his eyes, he demanded, "You didn't tell Bobby about my whole Latin speaking thing, did you?"

"Course not," Sam scoffed but there was a mischievous gleam in his eyes. "You think I want him to know I have a geekboy as a brother?!"

Laughing, Dean ordered, "Shut up!" which only instigated matching laughter to erupt from Sam.

"No wait, its Scholarly boy, right?" Sam choked out in amusement.

"Sam…" Dean growled out in warning but Sam was only laughing harder, clutching his stomach.

"The look on everyone's faces when you were speaking Latin…" Sam shook his head, the memories that had terrified him before now humorous.

"It's not funny," Dean growled but Sam could hear the suppressed laughter in his brother's tone and when Dean shot him a look, his lips were twitching up into a smile. "Ok, so it's a little funny," Dean admitted, felt his connection to his brother tighten at the soft smile Sam bestowed upon him. Sam wasn't gone, didn't want to be gone, wanted to stay with him, even when he wasn't being funny at all.

Sighing contently, Sam leaned back against the Impala's seat, felt the last hold of his fear ebb away. Dean was Ok, he was Ok, they were together. And they were speaking the same language, knew in his heart that they always had been, even when they weren't speaking at all.


The End!


Thanks so much for sticking with this story through 22 chapters! I've had a lot of fun writing this tale and I really hope you enjoyed the ending.

I couldn't have written this story without every single encouraging word from your reviews. I've been horribly lax in replying to your kind words but you guys never let me down, someone always took the time to drop me a review that told me that the story should go on. Thanks for that!

And I always smiled in amazement when this story went on some of your favorite lists. Hope it stays as one of your favorites now that the last words been written.

I also want to thank everyone who put this story on their story alerts…it meant a lot that you were on the look out for the next chapter.

Thanks to everyone who took time out of their lives to read this story!

Have a wonderful evening!

Cheryl W.