Title: The Silence and the Noise

WARNING: Contains swearing. If such things bother you, please stay away.

THANKS TO: Warriora for being kind enough to beta-reading this. Her suggestions were invaluable, and her explanation about the difference between a restaurant and a diner in particular saved me from a major blunder. I'm Indian, and I've never been to the US, so I get a bit confused about these things. Hopefully, I've picked up enough from movies and TV shows to make this sound authentic enough that it won't jar anyone's ears, though.

And now, on with the story!

0-0-0

He almost forgot to get into the passenger seat of the Impala, only realizing that Dean had the keys after he'd reached into his pockets and found them empty. He had been heading out of habit for the driver's side, and then he'd had to about-turn suddenly and head for the passenger seat. Thankfully Dean had been loading the luggage into the trunk, and hadn't noticed. He slid into the car, leaned his head back against the car seat, and sighed. It felt...good...to sit in the passenger seat after so long. Like he'd come home, somehow.

Okay, now I'm officially losing it.

He sighed again, closed his eyes and tried desperately to think about the last six months that hadn't happened. He started when the car door opened and Dean got in, slamming the door shut with characteristic forcefulness that brought a lump to his throat, because he had gotten so used to the silence of living on alone that he had forgotten how noisy his brother could be. Dean started the car and then turned on Metallica, and glanced at his brother when he tensed slightly beside him as the music blared out from the speakers.

"What?" He asked, "My car, my music, dude. You know the rules."

"Yeah," Sam said, and Dean frowned slightly at the catch in his voice; and at the fact that rather than put out, his brother sounded...fond. "I know. It was just...it's really loud." Dean would not normally have made any allowances for his brother, but the way Sam was acting was seriously starting to worry him, so he reached out to turn down the volume.

"No! Don't turn it down!" Dean stared at him, and Sam flushed slightly as he realized how loudly he'd said it. "It's uh...its fine. I don't mind. You don't have to turn it down."

"Whatever, dude," Dean shrugged, completely confused by his brother's behaviour, and stepped on the gas. The sooner they left this town the better. Maybe then Sam would start acting like himself again.

0-0-0

"Uh, dude?" Dean looked at his brother quizzically. "Don't you think we should get a table?" Sam looked up at him; still half lost in thought, and then Dean's words registered and he shot up from his chair as if it had burned him. The look of guilt and pain in his eyes took Dean completely by surprise.

"I'm s-sorry, Dean, I wasn't thinking, I just...I'm so sorry..."

"Hey, take a breath, Sammy. Geez, it's not like you killed anyone! Come on, let's sit down here."

Dean's voice was light, but Sam could sense the confusion and the concern underlying it, and he averted his eyes the moment they sat down at a table. He didn't deserve Dean's concern. In the six months that he had lived alone, eating alone had been the most painful thing he'd had to face. He couldn't stand the sight of the empty chair in front of him so he'd always sat at the bar. And so when he'd entered the diner slightly ahead of Dean, he'd sat down at the bar out of habit, half lost in thought. The realization that even though he had ached for Dean's presence in all the months that he'd had to live without it, he had gotten used to life without his brother was making him sick to the stomach with guilt. He felt Dean's eyes on him and forced himself to look up.

"What?"

"You decided what you want to order?" Dean asked quietly, nodding towards the waitress.

"Uh, yeah; just coffee, thanks," He said, flushing at his inattention, which, he told himself sternly, could have gotten him killed on a hunt. He had to pull himself together, and fast, or Dean would start asking questions...and that was the one thing he could not face.

0-0-0

"Sam, this has gone on long enough," Dean said flatly. "I've had it with your brooding." But it wasn't brooding, not really. Dean knew what a brooding Sam was like, and this wasn't him. But Dean didn't have any other words to explain it. Sam had always been quiet, but never like this; never so silent, never so still. After watching his brother stare at the laptop screen for four hours straight without looking up or saying a single word or even moving more than an inch, Dean had snapped. He needed his brother, not this...statue.

"I'm not brooding," Sam said, sounding genuinely surprised at his brother's outburst.

"Yeah, you are," Dean said emphatically, "You're so...quiet," He said, disgruntled at the inadequacy of the word. "I mean...are you upset, or something?" I've never seen you like this before.

Sam stared at him for a moment, and then bitter, painful comprehension dawned. He sucked in a breath and squeezed his eyes shut. Fuck. Had the habits of being alone a few months become so ingrained in him? His life, without Dean's smartass comments and snarky banter, had been completely, achingly silent. He had woken up in the mornings and longed to hear the sound of water running in the bathroom, or the sound of even breathing from the bed beside him, or the sound of someone moving about the room, or fiddling with the radio channels to find a good station. Any sound that told him he wasn't alone. There had been days on which he hadn't spoken a single word, because...well...there had been no one to speak to, no one to hear him.

When Dean had come back, and Sam had wrapped his arms around him, weak and shaky with relief and gratitude, the silence, the emptiness, hadn't gone away. It had become less oppressive, less pressing, but no less painful, lodged in his throat and chest- a dull ache that he was learning to live with, which scared him in itself, because he had to believe he'd be able to get rid of it. That he'd be able to take for granted the casual touches, the exchanged glances; Dean's hand dropping briefly on his shoulder as he crossed the room, the wide plethora of expression that belonged to Dean alone, and the particular expressions reserved only for Sam. He longed for the time when all of it would stop making his breath catch and his throat ache so fiercely that he didn't dare speak for fear that Dean would catch on to it.

"Sammy? What's wrong?" He heard the concern in Dean's voice, and opened his eyes.

"Nothing," He said, not sounding convincing even to his own years, "I'm fine."

"No you're not. You are upset- you've been upset ever since the Trickster. And I want to know why."

Sam stiffened. "Dean..."

"No. That's not going to work this time. You're going to answer my questions. Exactly how many Tuesdays did you have to go through?"

"Dean, I can't..."

"Yeah, you can. You have to."

"I lost count, okay?" He muttered, dropping his eyes.

Dean closed his eyes briefly. "But..." He faltered. "You woke up the second I died, right? You never had to..." Sam flinched, and Dean sucked in a breath. "Sam... You didn't have to live with-?"

"No!" Sam cut Dean off before he could finish that sentence, because it hurt too much for him to even think it, let alone hear it spoken aloud. "No." He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself, knowing he'd have to say something to explain his behaviour, or Dean wouldn't let him hear the end of it. He settled on telling him a part of the truth. "Look...you didn't always die immediately, okay? Sometimes...it took a while, and..."

...and then you'd cough out your dying words, always the same ones, and I'd hold you in my arms, and beg you to hang on, just till the end of the day and please don't die on me like this. And then, when it got too much, I'd start to wish that you would just die already so that you'd stop hurting and I could go back to the start of the day and try one more time to fix things, one more time to save you.

Dean was just staring at him, stunned. "I died in your arms, didn't I?" He said at last, sounding winded.

"A few times," Sam said in a strangled voice, the lump threatening in his throat threatening to tear it to pieces.

"And there were Chick Flick moments?" Dean asked, making an effort to sound his usual self when he said it, and it must have worked, because Sam smiled in spite of himself.

"What do you think?" He asked.

"You're such a girl." He shook his head, fake smile fading. "So that's why you've been so..."

"Yeah," Sam whispered tightly.

"And that's what the nightmares are about?"

"Um."Sam shifted uncomfortably. He'd been hoping Dean had missed those somehow. "Yeah."

Dean was silent for a few moments. Then, "Damn. Sammy..

"Yeah. I know."

And you don't even know the half of it.

0-0-0

"SAM! Have you lost your mind?!"

"I'm sorry," Sam muttered, flinching. He quickly focussed his attention on a piece of glass that had dug particularly deep into his thigh, unable to face his brother. Guilt was making his stomach churn. He couldn't believe he'd slipped in the middle of a hunt. He had hunted with Dean for years- six months of hunting solo should not have become so ingrained in him that he couldn't...he' didn't even know how to explain it to himself. But he'd been on this Hunt before, without Dean, and it had been instinctive to do what he'd done the first time around. So he'd jumped out at the ghost they were hunting, and alone, the element of surprise would have given him all the advantage he needed. Save that a horrified Dean had jumped into the fray immediately after him, changing the sequence of events as he remembered them, with disastrous results.

"Sorry?" Dean was beside himself, but he was crouching beside Sam and examining his injuries even as he yelled at him. "Sorry? Are you fucking kidding me? You don't just jump out at an extremely pissed off ghost, without any warning whatsoever to your brother- who, by the way, is supposed to cover you - and nearly end up getting us both killed, and then say 'sorry!' I want an explanation, Sammy!"

Sam hissed slightly as his brother pulled the glass out from his leg and pressed down with his hands to staunch the blood that immediately began to flow. In spite of his anger, he could tell that Dean was taking care not to cause him too much pain, and the gesture nearly undid Sam. He had missed this so much, and yet...he couldn't stand it. Wasn't used to it anymore- didn't think he deserved it, anymore. "I got it," He said softly, batting Deans' hands away and replacing them with his own.

Dean shot him an annoyed look, but some of the anger was already leaving him now that he'd reassured himself that Sam was safe, and had not acquired any life-threatening injuries. For a moment there, he had thought...his brother's recklessness really scared him. Sam wasn't reckless; he was thorough and meticulous as hell. It was Dean who was the reckless one, and even he would not have done what Sam had just done. "I'm still waiting on that explanation, Sammy," He said, anger mingling with confusion now. Sam had nearly gotten them killed.

"I wasn't thinking," Sam said tonelessly, "It won't happen again."

"It should never even have happened the first time," Dean sighed; frustrated by his brother's evasiveness, but the fragility he saw in his brother's eyes when the younger man glanced up at him stopped him from pushing any further. Not until tomorrow, at least. "Come on, it's time to finish this. Rock salt won't keep that spirit away forever. You up to a salt and burn? Your injuries..."

"I'm fine." Sam scrambled to his feet, stubbornly ignoring the pain that shot through his wounds at the movement. He was a Winchester, after all, and Winchesters never backed down from a hunt... unless there's family involved, he added, thinking of the Trickster whom he'd sworn not to go after. The Trickster that could take his brother away from him on a whim, by just snapping his fingers again. He released a shaky breath, and forced the thought from his mind.

The salt and burn was thankfully uneventful, and they went through the motions without saying a word to each other. The drive back to the motel was just as silent. Sam had the keys, and he headed straight for the bathroom the moment he got the door open. Dean frowned after him in half-hearted indignation. He always got first shower, those were the rules they'd lived by for years. But tonight, he didn't have the heart to insist. He couldn't understand how he'd missed his brother becoming a stranger. He didn't know how to act around him anymore. Sam never reproached him anymore for making a mess of the toothpaste tube, or leaving the bed in a mess, or for his lack of table manners- none of it seemed to bother him anymore. As a result, a kind of silence had descended over their lives which Dean was growing to hate more and more with every passing day. The fact that he was no longer able to get a rise out of his brother meant that there were no more lively arguments, no more banter. No more laughter, either- Sam was too quiet and subdued for that.

Dean knew that some of it was a result of what he'd gone through at the hands of the Trickster, but some of Sam's behaviour just didn't make any sense, and today's Hunt was right at the top of that list. Sam's constant depression didn't make sense to Dean either, in spite of what Sam had revealed the previous day about what he'd had to go through. He knew Sam's strength. His little brother had both been through a lot of shit lately, especially with Dean's deal hanging over their heads all the time like a darkly ominous cloud. But even that had not sunk him into a low like this. How could a fucking Trickster have brought his brother to this, after everything they'd faced? He knew Sam wasn't telling him something.

He sighed and shook away the puzzling thoughts, knowing he wouldn't get any answers just by thinking. Sinking wearily onto the bed, he began to take stock of his injuries, concluding that none of them were too serious. There were three or four nasty bruises that would hurt like hell tomorrow, and a couple of deep cuts which would need to be cleaned out with antiseptic cream, but nothing too serious. Of the two of them, Sam had fared worse. The thought made his brow furrow, and the frowned deepened when he glanced at his watch and realized how long his brother had been in the bathroom. Forty minutes. What on earth was taking Sam so long? A sudden fear shot through Dean. Had Sam been injured worse than he'd thought? Was he out cold, or bleeding out, or...? The opening door made him sigh with relief, and Sam emerged from the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist.

"You okay?" Dean asked, eyeing his brother's torso, which was littered with cuts and bruises.

"Fine." Sam crossed the room and began to rummage in his duffle bag for a change of clothes.

"Some of those cuts looked liked they needed stitches," Dean said, his eyes following him, assessing his movements.

"They did. I took care of it."

"You what?" Dean didn't think he'd heard correctly.

"I stitched them up," Sam muttered, not meeting his eyes. "Aren't you going to take a shower?" He pointedly changed the subject.

Dean ignored him. "You stitched them up?" He asked in disbelief, "By yourself?" Sam had never had to perform sutures by himself-he or Dad had always been at hand to take care of it. In the years after Sam had left for Stanford, Dean had been forced out of necessity to learn those things, because then he'd been hunting solo. But how on earth would Sam know how to perform sutures on himself, when he'd never hunted solo in his life?

"Yeah. Cleaned them out with hydrogen peroxide, stitched them, applied antibiotic cream, and bandaged them."

"Let me see."

"What? I'm not lying, Dean! And anyway, I've already bandaged them. I'm not going to undo the dressings!"

"Yes, you are," Dean's tone brooked no argument, "Don't make me come over there and rip off that towel."

Sam grimaced, knowing when he was beaten. "Yeah, yeah, fine. Just let me get into my boxers first, alright?" He sighed.

"Hey, I won't argue with you there, Sammy."

Sam grabbed his underwear and disappeared into the bathroom. When he re-emerged, Dean ordered him onto the bed, and he obeyed reluctantly. "There were two things that needed stitches." He started to undo the dressings, but Dean batted his hands away and took over, shooting him an annoyed look. When the dressings came undone, he found himself looking at the neatest set ofsutures he had ever seen, and he stopped short, stunned. "You did these yourself?"The stitches were so neat...it had to have taken practice. The implications of that thought made him shudder a little. It didn't make any sense...

"Yeah, I did," Sam answered, refusing to meet his eyes. "Can I sleep now, please? And for God's sake, go for a shower. You stink."

It was a pathetic attempt at deflection, but Dean took the hint. He needed a moment to gather himself. As Sam began to put back the dressings, he rose abruptly and headed for the bathroom, shutting the door behind him and leaning against it, his heart rate quickening a little at the sight of the bloodstained towel poking out of the hamper. His mind was whirling with confusion. Nothing was making sense anymore- Sam wasn't making sense any more. He knew his brother better than he knew himself, and no longer being able to read him was terrifying him. He felt anchorless, adrift, like he'd lost part of his identity, and didn't know how to get it back.

0-0-0

"No... no...I'm supposed to wake up. Oh, God, Dean..."

Oh, no. Not again.

" Sam, wake up. Wake up. It's okay...I'm here."

"I have to wake up...fuck, Dean, not like this..."

"Sammy," Dean said sharply, shaking his brother lightly, "Wake up!"

He knew he was missing something. Why did Sam sound so desperate, so heartbroken? Sam had told him that each time Dean had died, however long it took for that to happen, he'd woken up immediately. So there wouldn't have been any time for a breakdown of the kind his brother was reliving, would there? And why the hell wasn't his brother waking up, anyway? It was almost as if something subconscious was preventing him from waking up...which didn't make any sense. None of this made any sense. This nightmare wasn't like the others that Sam had had.

"Sam! Wake up!"

"No, this isn't supposed to happen today. Please." Tears were seeping down from under Sam's tightly closed eyelids, staining his cheeks. "I'm supposed to wake up..."

Dean ruthlessly pushed down the helplessness that was threatening to overwhelm him. The way Sam was begging to be woken up was really getting to him, and he was willing to do anything to do get his brother out of this nightmare. He hesitated only a moment before raising his hand and bringing it down on Sam's cheek in a ringing slap. Sam's eyes shot open, and he sat up with a harsh gasp. "Dean," He said, clutching at his brother desperately. "You're alive." The naked relief in Sam's eyes send a knife through Dean's heart.

"Yeah, Sammy," He replied, his voice low and soothing, his hands gripping his brother's shoulders. "You're awake- it was only a nightmare. I'm here, okay? I'm alive."

"Dean..." Tears were streaming down his face. "Don't you ever scare me like that again, okay? I can't keep doing this. Ican't keep losing you."

Dean looked at his brother closely...and that was when he realized that Sam was not completely awake, even now. "You won't have to, kiddo," He said, gently pushing Sam back down on the bed. "I'm right here. Go back to sleep."

"No! What if I can't wake up again?" Sam's voice was tinged with fear.

"I'm right here, Sam," He said, "I'll wake you up."

"You promise?"

"I promise."

Sam melted with relief, and relaxed back into the pillows. And as he looked down at his brother, gripping his hand tightly in case Sam forgot again that he was alive, Dean realized something. Maybe he didn't have an explanation for Sam's behaviour, but one thing still made sense- would always make sense. Sam was his little brother, his Sammy, and always would be. And even if it killed him, Dean would do what he always did, and get him through this.

0-0-0

"So, you had another nightmare last night," Dean said flatly, and Sam stilled, but didn't say anything. "It was pretty intense. Want to tell me what it was about?"

"I don't really remember," Sam said, looking anywhere but at Dean, "I'm sorry if I woke you."

"That's not what this is about, and you know it," Dean said heatedly. "This has got to stop, Sam."

"I really don't remember it, Dean." And he really didn't.

"Let me remind you, then." Dean knew what he was about to do was cruel, but they had to have this out now. This whole thing had gone on long enough. "You were begging and pleading with me to come back. You said this couldn't be happening, that you were supposed to wake up." Sam had gone steadily paler as he was speaking, but Dean forced himself to continue. He hated hurting his brother like this, but he needed to know what was going on with him, and if this was the only way to find out, then he would do it a hundred times over. "You said that this wasn't supposed to happen today. If you were reliving one of those Tuesdays, Sam, then why did you say this wasn't supposed to happen today? What made it different from all my other deaths?"

"It was a dream, Dean," Sam said, but his voice was shaking.

"No! You can't keep-"

"Hello, boys. Am I interrupting something?"

Both Sam and Dean jumped at the sound Ruby's voice. Neither of them had heard her enter - but that was Ruby's style, arrive as dramatically as possible and scare the crap out of everyone. Dean cursed under his breath. That chick had the worst possible timing. "What the hell do you want now?" He growled.

She raised one pencilled eyebrow. "Oh, I'm sorry, am I not invited to this party?" Dean just glared at her, and she sighed. "There's some demonic activity in Death Valley that needs taking care of. I know you think you know how to handle it," She said, turning to Sam, "But things have changed this time around. You-"

"What do you mean, this time around?" Sam's voice was like ice. "How the fuck would you know something like that, Ruby?"

"Don't take it personally, Sam," Ruby said evenly. "I needed to make sure that you could stay alive without Dean, that I'd picked the right side. And I needed to teach you how to survive on your own. You passed the test with flying colours. Even I was impressed. That's why I told the Trickster to let you find him and reverse the time loop."

Sam stared at her, red, hot fury coursing through his veins and clouding his senses.

"How long will it take you to realize, you can't save your brother! No matter what."

"There's a lesson I've been trying to drill into that freakish, Cro-Magnon skull of yours."

"Dean's your weakness. The bad guys know it too."

"Sometimes, you just gotta let people go."

"Like it or not, this is what life's going to be like without him."

Five deafening gunshots rang through the room.

"Sam!" Dean cried out in shock.

Ruby looked down at her chest. "It takes more than a shotgun to kill a demon, Sam," She said evenly.

"If Bella hadn't stolen the Colt, you'd be dead right now," Sam said, his voice shaking with suppressed fury. There was a cold truth in his eyes that even Ruby had not expected. "Get out of my sight," Sam said, "You come anywhere near me again..."

Ruby stared at him for a moment, her expression unreadable. Abruptly, she turned on her heel and walked out without a word. As soon as she was gone, Sam began to tremble. The gun clattered to the floor, and Sam stumbled towards the bathroom as he was hit by a wave of nausea. Emotions that he'd been suppressing for months were bubbling up, assaulting him physically. He dropped to his knees in front of the toilet and wretched helplessly. He felt Dean's hands rubbing small circles on his back as he gagged and heaved. When there was nothing left inside him, he fell backwards, finding the wall with his back. Dean reached over him to flush the toilet, and then crouched down in front of him.

"Sam..." He didn't know what to say. "The Trickster..." He swallowed hard. There was only one possible conclusion to be drawn from the exchange he'd witnessed between Sam and Ruby and even the thought was enough to scare the crap out of him. "I died permanently?" He whispered. Sam flinched, the tremors wracking his body redoubling. "How long?"

"Six months," Sam whispered, too drained to lie to Dean any longer. "He snapped his fingers, and we woke up on Wednesday. I thought it was over. You went out ahead of me to put your bag in the trunk, and I don't know exactly what happened but I heard a gun go off and when I got there you were on the floor and I couldn't wake up..." He gasped slightly. The words were spilling out like blood from a bullet wound, the memories were taking over. "And then you were burning, and I was watching you...and I still couldn't..." Another gasp. "And then the Trickster standing at the edge of the crime scene photograph on the front page of the newspaper, fucking daring me to come after him...and I was always a step behind, and you weren't there...and I couldn't wake up..." He was gasping continuously now.

Speechless, eyes stinging fiercely, Dean could nothing but sit there. Six months, He thought numbly. He hadn't even lasted a day when the situations were reversed. Things were finally starting to fall into place, although now that he realized exactly what his brother had gone through, Dean almost wished he was still in ignorance. The reason why Sam was so quiet, the reason he sometimes looked at Dean as if he wasn't sure if he was really there, the reason he had sat down at the bar at the diner, like he'd come alone, how he'd learnt to treat his own injuries with such great efficiency- it all made a kind of horrifying sense that was making him want throw up. Even Sam's recklessness yesterday made sense now- jumping out at the ghost like that would have been an ideal move if had been on a solo hunt. Dean swallowed hard. "Sammy..." He said unsteadily, "I'm so sorry. I never meant to do this to you; I never wanted to -"

"Stop. Stop. Please." Still gasping, Sam pushed himself into the wall behind him with a desperation that sent a knife through Dean's heart.

"Sammy? What..."

"I can't hear those words from you, not again, please..." Sam's voice was tinged with panic. "Please, Dean..."

For a moment, he didn't understand, but he recognized Sam's tone from his nightmare the previous night, when he was begging him to come back. Dean knew himself, and he knew how he would feel if he was dying on Sam. Feeling sickened, he realized that what he had just said would probably have been his dying words to Sam, and he wondered how often his brother had heard them, and he cursed himself for causing him more pain by saying the words without thinking first. Sam let out a noise like a wounded animal, and the sound cut Dean to the quick. Almost before he knew what he was doing, he reached out and grabbed Sam's shoulders, pulling him roughly against him. Sam offered no resistance,literally slumping into him. Harsh, anguished sounds began to escape from his lips, his entire frame wracked with sobs.

"Dean..." He choked out a plea, a prayer. Everything had hit him at once- the grief that he'd suppressed after Dean's death, the six months of guilt at failing to save him, the anger and fear and pain he'd been trying to ignore since he had come back from the dead and Dean had made that stupid Deal, the agony he had gone through at the thought of Dean in Hell during those months- and he was breaking under its weight.

"Shhh. I'm here, okay?" Dean said, tightening his hold on Sam. "I'm not going anywhere."

The feeling of his brother's arms around him, his warm breath ticking the top of his head and his heart beating steadily against his own, broke Sam completely. He clung to Dean and cried harder than he had ever cried in his life. And Dean held on to him, whispering again and again that he was there, that he wasn't dead, that he would never let him go. And although he knew that his brother might not be able to keep that promise because of the Deal, he held on to it because it was the only thing he had left to hold on to, and because his brother always found a way to keep his promises. When the sobs finally began to abate, he leaned against Dean exhaustedly. And Dean continued to hold him without saying a single word about Chick Flick moments, and Sam was unspeakably grateful.

"I'm sorry I got used to living without you," He said some time later, when he found his voice.

Dean shook his head. "Don't be ridiculous, Sammy. It was six months." When Sam didn't reply, he shifted so he could look at his face, and was startled by the amount of guilt he saw there. "Sammy, it's human nature to fall into routine; you can't blame yourself. You'll get used to living with me again, faster than you think."

Sam was silent for so long that Dean almost thought he hadn't heard him. Then, almost inaudibly, "I don't know if I can risk getting used to it again, Dean, when..." He shook his head, suddenly feeling very drained and empty. "Don't get me wrong- I'm not giving up on you. I'm going to fight as hard as I possibly can to save you, especially now when..." He exhaled shakily. "It's just...I don't know if I can go through something like this again. It was...it just hurt too much, Dean."

"Hey," Dean soothed him, his arms tightening around him again. "We will find a way out of this Deal, Sammy. I promised you I would never let you go, and I don't mean to break that promise anytime soon. We'll find a way, even if we have to fight every single Hell Hound and kill the Devil himself. So unless you kill me yourself, you're stuck with me." Rationally, he knew it wasn't a promise that he could afford to give. He knew he shouldn't be raising Sam's hopes when there was every likelihood that he wouldn't be saved, no matter how hard they tried. Faustian Deals couldn't be broken. But the depth of Sam's anguish had forced him to see something he'd been trying to deny ever since he had made the Deal. Sam couldn't survive this without him any more than he had been able to survive without Sam. They were in this together, and if one of them went down, then so would the other one.

"Thank you," Sam whispered huskily. The raw gratitude in his eyes made Dean closed his eyes for a moment, humbled by how much he obviously meant to his brother.

"No, Sam," He said softly, "Thank you."

0-0-0

"So, er..." Dean began, "Ruby showed up this morning while you were in the shower."

Sam stopped what he was doing, and looked up his laptop with great deliberation. "And?" He asked; voice carefully controlled.

"She gave me this." Dean held the Colt up. "Said we'd need it in Death Valley." Personally, he thought it was something of a peace offering.

"Bella?" Sam asked.

"Alive and for the most part, unhurt," Dean confirmed. It was the first thing that had occurred to him, too. They didn't kill humans, even the ones like Bella Talbot. At least Ruby had some sense of self-preservation, because with how tightly wired his brother was? One wrong move and she'd be dead faster than she could say 'Colt.' "Sam," He said, "You know we're going to have to keep working with her." He couldn't believe the words were actually coming out of his mouth, but Sam had been right. This was a war. Much as he hated Ruby for what she'd put his brother through, he knew he couldn't afford to not use her help.

"Yeah, I know." Sam said, wondering a little at this role reversal. Not long ago, it had been him who had been convincing Dean to work with Ruby."Just tell her not to come anywhere near me, okay?" He said seriously, "I can't trust myself not to shoot her if I see her."

"I think she already figured that. It's probably why she came to me instead of you."

Sam grunted in acknowledgement and went back to surfing the net for their next likely Hunt. It was time to hit the road again, time to get back to their routine.

0-0-0

Two weeks later...

A yelp, a thud, and then an incredibly pissed off Sam strode out of the bathroom, holding up a shoe. "Dean! Are you trying to get me killed? I nearly broke my head against the toilet tripping over this damn thing! Haven't I told you a million times not to leave your stuff lying around!"

"I didn't just leave it there," Dean protested, "I was testing your reflexes. Which, by the way, are getting rusty, if you tripped."

Sam stared at him in disbelief. "You actually expect me to fall for that one?" He asked incredulously. "How stupid do I think I am?!"

"I don't know, Sam," Dean said, smirking. "Why don't you tell me? Bitch."

"Jerk," Sam shot back, "Why don't you shut the hell up and stop leaving your stuff around?"

"And why don't you-"

As they bickered, the sounds of their voices filled the air, driving away the silence.

0-0-0

END.

Before you all kill me for getting the number of months that Dean was dead wrong, let me just say that I AM aware that in most of the 'Mystery Spot' tags, people have assumed it was three months. But I re-watched the episode and paid really close attention to what happened after Dean's death. The first time Bobby called, he said, "it's been three months since we talked." I assume Sam talked to him immediately after Dean's death, so that means it had ALREADY been three months by then. After that there were two more voice messages from Bobby, and I think there were more that we didn't get to see on the show. I got the feeling that there were a series of call that took place over a longish space of time. That's why I've assumed the time period is six months. I just thought it made more sense than three months. That said, please review!