This is a "two-shot," which is basically a two-part one-shot, but anyway it will eventually serve as the launching point for a longer story. It's about little brothers and big brothers, and what obsession and desperation can lead to.

Special thanks to Phx, for giving the basis of this idea (even if she didn't know it!), and to geminigrl11, for being the kind and benevolent beta she is.

And, I promise, I'll get back to Truth and Consequences after this. The plot bunnies trample me sometimes.

I own nothing, but I'm addicted to reviews.

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Six Months In, Six Months Out

Dean stared at his brother, sadly contemplating another attempt to get the younger man to eat. It was six months to the day, now, since Dean had made the deal to sell his soul in exchange for bringing Sam back from the dead. Dean didn't regret it---much---at all. He'd been desperate, and he'd gotten wanted he'd wanted, more or less.

More than a year would have been nice.

Sam had put on a brave front at first, vowing to find a way out of the deal, promising to do anything to prevent his older brother from being dragged to Hell. The bravado didn't get them far.

As the days and weeks passed, Sam grew more determined---or maybe obsessed was a better word---with solving this not-so little problem. He'd read more than a hundred books and tomes from every source they could think of; most of them had even been in English. He had taken so many notes that he'd had to get a new journal to keep them all in.

Sam was running himself ragged, and still he hadn't found anything that might help save Dean from his fate. He ate, when Dean forced him. He slept, a few hours a night, usually not even managing to make it to the bed, but instead passing out over some dusty old tome or midway down some obscure paranormal website. Dean had carried Sam to a bed more times in these months than he could remember. And the kid wasn't even getting drunk. Usually.

For Dean, he didn't seem to feel the urgency Sam did. In some ways, it was almost…peaceful. For him, at least. He found himself growing more nostalgic as the weeks passed. He wanted to sightsee. He wanted to spend quality time with the one person important enough to sell his soul for.

Most times, his suggestions panned out, and they'd find themselves laughing or drinking beside some impressive landmark or near some scenic wonder. America was a beautiful country, when you really stopped to look at it.

He'd curtailed the drinking, though, since those days more often than not ended with Sam sobbing himself to sleep, and Dean couldn't bear to listen to the agonized sound of his baby brother's hope fading. So, he kept Sam sober.

As the calendar pages flipped by, though, Sam withdrew further into himself. Dean was finding it increasingly difficult to keep the younger man from simply self-destructing in the midst of his crusade to undo the deal. And, he was pretty sure that the self-destruction would only accelerate as the end drew closer.

Dean already planned to make Sam pledge not to do something stupid---like, say, sticking a gun in his mouth---on the last night. He'd quietly asked Bobby to "adopt" Sam…after. Bobby could be trusted to keep the kid alive, and Dean had urged the old junk-dealer/hunter to try and steer Sam into a normal life, a better one.

At the rate things were going though, Sam would starve to death long before any of that happened.

Dean frowned. "Sam…you need to eat."

Sam was jotting something down at a furious speed in his notebook. One finger holding his place in the oversized Latin book he'd discovered in Pastor Jim's rectory the week before, and he didn't look up when he replied. "'kay…."

Dean sighed and rubbed his forehead in frustration. "Sam…."

"Hm…?" He was still scribbling rapidly. Dean had glanced through the notes a few times, and found most of them illegible. How Sam himself could read them was anyone's guess.

"Sam, come on, man…."

"Let me get through this page, I'm almost done," Sam said distractedly. It was the same thing he'd said two hours before.

"Sam!"

The shout startled his younger brother into looking up, surprise etched on his haggard features. "Huh, what?"

Dean couldn't find it in him to be angry at being ignored. "Can we please go get something to eat? I'd like to get dinner before the hell hounds get here."

He regretted the words as soon as they left his mouth, and chided himself that he should have thought before speaking. His macabre humor was something that used to make Sam laugh. Now, a look of utter horror settled on Sam's face, and Dean winced as the exhausted younger man scrambled to find something with the date written on it…as if he'd lost track.

He stood and stepped over to the table just as Sam found a buried newspaper and noted the date with a short, determined nod. There was no relief in his expression. Dean grabbed his wrist and tugged his sibling up out of the chair. It was easier than it should have been. Sam was losing weight.

"Let's go, okay?"

"Okay," Sam nodded, sounding reluctant and shaky.

Dean really regretted the joke, now. He watched Sam cast a longing look at his notebook, and he gave the younger man a gentle push before he could grab the book and take it to dinner with them.

Dean followed Sam out the door to the waiting Impala, and he couldn't help but notice the slumped shoulders, the unkempt hair, and the listless gait that had appeared recently. Before long, he feared they would need a visit to a hospital more urgently than a diner. Sam hadn't been this screwed up since Jess died.

That thought gave him pause. Not for the first time, Dean had second thoughts about his deal. He'd been so desperate to bring Sam back, so desperate not to have to live in a world without him, that he never considered what the effect would be on Sam later. At the time, the more pressing matter had been saving Sam, not worrying about the events of the next year. Hell, sometimes it was a long shot of them surviving the day, let alone twelve months.

Looking back though, he realized he'd been short-sighted. It had been cruel, really, sidestepping his own grief at Sam's sudden and pointless death by condemning Sam to a long and lingering version of the same grief. A year's worth of slow-torture, trying to reverse a deal that might be irreversible, that would leave Sam a hollowed out shell in the end.

Maybe he deserved to go to Hell for doing that.

He tried to squash those thoughts for a moment and concentrate instead on keeping Sam focused, at least until they'd eaten. He made sure Sam got into the car first, before dropping into the driver's seat. He stared at Sam's profile---something he'd been doing a lot of lately, sometimes unconsciously---for a moment before speaking.

"I wanna head out to Hoover Dam tomorrow."

Dean waited patiently, wondering how Sam would react. As he expected, he saw hesitation. Probably doesn't want to take time away from his research.

Well, Dean wasn't gonna wait anymore.

It was amazing to think how quickly and how much their priorities had shifted, in just a matter of months. They only hunted for friends, nowadays. Bobby, Jefferson, Joshua, Ellen…all of their close contacts could ask for and receive their help whenever it was needed. Beyond that, they'd effectively dropped out of hunting.

It wasn't fair, really. The demons Jake had released from Hell were still out there, wrecking havoc where they could…but without a leader for the yellow-eyed demon's army, the war hadn't heated up the way everyone had thought it would.

One demon Bobby had exorcised had revealed the reason.

The demons were keeping quiet, trying to organize, a task made more difficult by the lack of a leader. Demons were not known for cooperation, even with their own kind, and with no one to look to for guidance, infighting and confusion were crippling the effort and hunters were picking off demons one at a time.

Dean sometimes wondered if that's why the yellow-eyed demon had wanted a human to begin with. Maybe he'd needed someone for the "army" to rally around, someone different enough to focus their effort and who could be seen as neutral in whatever demonic disagreements and feuds had developed over the centuries.

Knowing all that, the Winchesters had withdrawn from the field. Dean wanted to live his last year as best he could, and Sam wanted more time to research and save Dean. So, they pulled back. The world could find others to save it. It always did.

"Dean…I think, maybe we should stay here. Bobby's bringing this book he found---"

"Jesus, enough with the research and the all-nighters, Sam!"

Sam seemed confused and taken aback at the same time. Dean plowed ahead. "Sam…I just wanna travel, man. I wanna see everything I can…with you. Can we do that? Can we just be brothers? Sam…I feel like…I feel like we're wasting the time we have left…."

He tried to ignore the quiver in Sam's lower lip at that last part. It needed to be said. Sam blinked a few times, trying to control himself, Dean knew.

"I can't…Dean…I can't just let you die. I have to find a way. You get that, right?"

Dean's expression softened. "I do, Sammy, I do. But, I wanna live. I'm tired of watching you waste away in motel rooms, looking for something that you may never find." When Sam looked like he might protest, Dean kept on, "you told everybody that you were on a road trip after you left Stanford. Let's do that! I want us to see everything, while we still can. Can we do that, Sammy?"

Sam wavered, and Dean could see his defenses slipping. He could tell he was getting through. Finally, Sam nodded, looking resigned. "We can do that, Dean."

Dean was sure the smile on his face could light up a city, and he clapped his younger brother's shoulder in approval. Sam tensed though. Round two was coming.

"But, I'm not giving up. Whenever we're not traveling or when you're driving, I'm gonna keep working. I'm not gonna let you just die."

Dean smirked. "That's touching, man, really. I mean, I've got this warm, bubbly---"

Sam sighed and dropped his head into one hand. "I thought you were hungry?"

Dean laughed, and let it drop. From the bags under Sam's eyes, he figured his little brother wouldn't be able to keep up the banter anyway. He put the car in gear and pulled out of the parking lot. He fired one more at Sam, trying to lighten the mood before they ate.

"You look like crap, dude. Did you even take a shower today?"

Sam laughed for the first time in weeks. "Shut up, jerk."

Dean glanced at Sam, reveling in the spark of happiness he saw in the worry-lined face. It had been too long since he'd last seen it. But, for some reason he couldn't fathom, Bobby's words from more than a year before echoed in his mind.

Storm's comin'. And you boys are right in the middle of it.

TBC

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A/N-There will be a second chapter, finishing this story. The part will reach an end, but it is only the prologue to another story.