Turned out, the proper materials weren't easy to come by. In fact, one thing was going to be downright impossible.

C'mon, why the hell did they need ectoplasm?

When he asked Sam, though, Sam just gave him a look. Not because he couldn't answer; no, Dean knew the difference from that look already. This was a look that Dean was very familiar with, had been familiar with for years.

This was the look of 'Dean, you dumbass, it's obvious' that only his little brother could pull off with the right amount of exasperation.

Sam had located a probable haunting, and off they'd gone. Dean had found himself awkwardly silent for the first ten minutes in the car, then had started talking about nothing of any real value. Menus he'd memorized, his favorite bands, that one hunt in Mexico with John. He'd been worried at first that his attempts to fill the silence would only rub salt into the wound, would make Sam wish he could talk, too.

When he'd paused, unsure of how to proceed, Sam had reached out and clasped his shoulder, and hadn't let go until Dean had started talking again.

Dean had talked all the way to the abandoned barn.

Now, however, he was keeping silent. They'd made a pact that if they could get rid of the spirit tonight, then they'd do it, but if they couldn't, they'd just take the ectoplasm and go, come back another night. Dean knew, without a doubt, that if given a choice his brother would help others first. Normally, that was Dean's first thought, too.

Except where Sam was concerned. Sam came first before everything.

The wood above them creaked, and both froze before slowly continuing inward. Sam nodded towards the stairs in the far right corner, and Dean moved to take front position. Closer up, he could see something oozing out from between the wood, and pursed his lips grimly. Ectoplasm was nasty enough as it was; he didn't need the visual to remind him of what he'd be gathering up in a few seconds.

Then the wall beside him blew in.

Dean shouted as he was thrown to the left and onto the hard packed dirt floor. He pulled his shotgun out from under him and fired fast. There was a wail as the spirit apparently took a hit, but Dean couldn't see anything disappear. It didn't matter at the moment, though: it was gone, and that was all he cared about.

That and Sam, who he couldn't see now. "Sam?" he shouted, even as he knew that Sam couldn't answer him. That didn't help him or his worry any. "Sammy!"

He was shoved backwards then, and he grunted as he hit the floor once more. "This is getting old," he grumbled, straining to look around him. The ectoplasm was only coming from the stairway and that wall, and Dean was going to take a huge ass bet on a body being trapped in the walls. He grimaced at the thought, then quickly rolled to the side as a wooden block fell towards him. "Sam!" he shouted, voice louder now as he stood. "Grab the ectoplasm and let's-"

Suddenly something shoved him forward, and if Dean hadn't felt the rest of his brother lean on him for a second, he would've thought it was the damn spirit again. Sam was pushing him towards the door, and Dean ran without a word. If the kid was angling to leave, that meant they'd gotten what they'd come here for. Which meant they could leave; fine with Dean.

A few more things were tossed their way, but all Dean cared about was getting the hell out of there. Then they were out, still moving together, and Dean didn't stop running until they were back at the car, out of the spirit's reach. "That wasn't fun," Dean said, panting as he slowed to a stop. "If the next items on the list to break that damn stone aren't beer and pizza, I swear I'll-"

Sam didn't stop moving, bumping into Dean, and then continuing straight on down. "Sam! Woah, woah, woah," and Dean went down with him, catching him moments before he landed. "Sam, what-"

And then his eyes caught on the dark stain that was growing on the front of Sam's jacket. Sam was pale and panting, grasping weakly at Dean's sleeve, and all Dean could do was stare and remember kneeling in mud with another stain just like that one.

Sam shuddered, and Dean forced himself out of Cold Oak and into the Middle of Nowhere with Sam. "Just hang on for me, Sammy," he whispered, digging through his pockets for something, anything to stop the bleeding. The stain was getting bigger, and the life in Sam's eyes was getting smaller.

He found a cloth and pulled it out, then realized it was wrapped around something. The damn wish stone. The reason they were in this mess, the reason Sam was dy-

Not. Going. There.

Dean gritted his teeth and pulled it from his pocket, sliding the handkerchief free and letting the stone drop unceremoniously into his lap. "Hang on for me, little brother," he whispered. "Sammy, stay with me..."

Sam was shivering now, tiny tremors wracking his big frame, and his eyes stayed on Dean. When Dean pushed against the wound as gently but firmly as possible, Sam didn't even seem to notice.

He was too far gone. Dean could feel it, the blood continuing to flow, the tremors subsiding one by one. Tears burned in his eyes, but he kept pressing the cloth down anyways.

"I'm right here, Sammy," he said, clearing his throat to speak up loud enough for Sam to hear him. He hadn't gotten the chance to really say goodbye in Cold Oak, and as much as he hated to now, he wasn't going to miss the chance this time. "I'm not going anywhere, okay? Right here, I'm right here, Sammy."

Sam was blinking slowly now, his eyes closing for a few seconds at a time before opening once more. His lips moved, something Dean couldn't read, something Dean might've been able to hear if it hadn't been for him and his stupid wish.

Sam blinked again, and this time, his eyes didn't open.

Dean stared down at the still face below him, not even noticing the tears trailing down his cheeks. Just like that, and Sam was gone. Sam was gone. He'd gotten his brother killed, and the thought made bile rise in the back of his throat.

"Give him back," he whispered, fingers clutching the cloth and touching the blood that was already cooling. "Please just...just give him back. You can't have my soul, it's already claimed, but...but please, I-"

He swallowed hard and hung his head. He didn't even know who he was talking to, who he was trying to plead and beg to, but it didn't stop the words falling from his lips. "If you could give me one wish, I'd just want my little brother back. Please."

His hands jerked as Sam suddenly arched his back and took in a huge gasp full of air, causing Dean to stumble back, cloth still clutched tightly in his fingers. Sam panted for a few moments, glancing around before finally seeing Dean. "Are you okay?" Sam managed, his voice hoarse. Then he blinked, blinked again, licked his lips and tried again with growing hope, "Dean?"

Dean dropped the cloth and grabbed his brother close, his bloody hands sliding through Sam's hair. Sam had his arms around Dean in a matter of seconds, and Dean closed his eyes and let himself breathe again.

"So...the ectoplasm wouldn't have worked, anyways."

Dean stopped dead in the doorway, Sam's sheepish face waiting right in front of him. "Come again?" he managed to ask, bag of food still in his hand.

Sam flushed and glanced over his shoulder at his laptop to a website Dean didn't remember having seen before. "Uh, turns out that there are only two ways to deal with a wish stone: either the person who got wished upon makes a wish to counter-act it..."

"Which you couldn't do, because you couldn't talk."

"Or another wish is made."

Dean frowned, finally stepping into the room and setting the food down on the table. The aroma began filling the room once Sam closed the door. "Dude, I must've made about ten different wishes afterwards, and nothing worked!"

"It has to be said in the same way."

"I did. Phrased it that way and everything, remember? Careless speaking?"

"No, not that way," Sam said, taking a seat as Dean did the same. "It has to be said in the same feeling type of way. You were really upset when you made both wishes. Both wishes were heartfelt, pleading of various types for something to change."

"So destroying it doesn't work."

Sam shook his head. "Wish stones aren't stones that have random spells attached to them; they come from the earth itself that way. You kind of can't mess with Mother Nature like that. Man made objects, yes. They're easy to destroy, if you have the proper stuff. Something that nature's had a hand in, like the curse of a dying man who then becomes one with the earth, or a rock that came from who knows where...?"

Dean sighed. "Who was it that said that he learned three things not to mess with, and one of them was Mother Nature?"

"Probably another 'great man'," Sam dead-panned, snickering when Dean kicked him.

"I liked it better when you couldn't talk."

"Yeah, right. You were panicked, Dean."

"Was not."

"Were too."

"Only because I didn't feel like reading your handwriting for the rest of my life."

"Yeah, because you have to save your reading eyes for Playboy."

"Shut up."

"Nice retaliation there-hey! What the hell did you do to my burger?"

Dean grinned unrepentantly. "You're welcome," he said cheerfully as Sam stared in horrified silence at the burger full of jalapeƱos, hot mustard, peppers, and barbecue sauce. That had been a special order.

As soon as Sam stopped pouting, he'd tell him where Sam's real burger was, carefully hidden beneath the fries still in the bag. He wasn't going to tell him how much he had missed Sam's talking and his voice, no matter how impatient or angry a tone it took.

And no matter how many times Sam was bound to ask, Dean wasn't telling him what river he'd chucked the wish stone into.