And we're nearing the end on this story. For those of you who are wondering how that is possible, there are author's notes at the end of this chapter that will explain it. But I guess reading the chapter as such won't hurt in finding out, either. So without further ado, here it is.

Enjoy!


Chapter 18 – Family Business

Sam told Dean everything that had happened since their drive to New Hope. Well, nearly everything. He left out how he had clung to Dean's body for the entire drive back to Bobby's, in fact he left out all the sissy chick-flick moments, and he kept the details about his post mortem stitching job to a minimum. The breakdown at his dead brother's bedside went unmentioned as well, and it was Bobby who picked up telling the tale once Sam reached the part where he had lost consciousness after the demon had cut him open in that motel room.

That was also the one time when Dean interrupted their account of what had happened. As soon as he heard that Sam had been injured, his priorities shifted. Suddenly, getting to know what had happened to bring him back to life lost all importance. And in typical Dean Winchester pit-bull fashion he wasn't willing to let go until he knew what had happened to his brother and how badly he had been hurt. Sam already regretted that he had told Dean about the injury in the first place.

What followed was an embarrassing minute or two of discussion between the two brothers that wasn't really a discussion at all. It was Sam trying to argue against his brother when Dean had already set his mind to something. In effect, it was Sam using up precious air in his attempts to convince Dean that he was all right. And there was only one way it could end – with Sam eventually relenting. Though he felt stupid, he pulled up his shirt for his brother to inspect the wound on his chest. The only thing Sam was glad for was that Ruby's Wiccan remedy had really been working wonders and the wound no longer looked only half as bad as it had done the previous day. The goo covering his wound didn't smell as bad anymore, either, which Sam was eternally grateful for.

Sam felt like an object at an auction as his brother critically eyed the injury for an endless minute, his eyes narrowed and his lips drawn into a thin line. Sam knew that expression on his brother's face, and he didn't like seeing it there. It was that gut-wrenching mixture of unleashed anger at whoever had dared to hurt his brother, and a large portion of guilt for not being there to prevent Sam from getting hurt in the first place.

It was the exact expression that made Sam want to yell on top of his lungs that not everything that happened to him was Dean's fault, that sometimes bad things simply happened beyond anybody's ability to prevent them. But then Bobby continued talking, and Sam took that as his cue to lower his shirt again and hope against better knowledge that his brother would forget about the wound on his chest.

It was Sam who finished telling the story. He told Dean what had happened at Bobby's house, everything including Ruby's betrayal and how she had killed Lilith. There was only one part of the events that Sam deliberately left out of the story. True to his promise to himself Sam didn't mention anything Ruby had said about her plans for Dean. He told all about her idea of bringing on the final war between humans and demons, the war that would bring back Lucifer, but he left out that Ruby thought Dean was going to help her fight that war. The fact that Bobby didn't protest, didn't even as much as look at Sam when he left out that particular moment of his conversation with the demon let Sam's hope grow that the older hunter maybe really hadn't heard any of what Ruby had said. It would make keeping it a secret from Dean for at least a little while longer a bit easier.

When Sam was done telling, he felt tired and exhausted. This hadn't been tale worthy of the half a cup of cold coffee he was currently running on, it had been a tale that shouldn't be told without at least a six-pack slowly being absorbed into his metabolism. As it was, he had to make do with being sober, but once he finished talking and silence filled the hospital room once again, Sam suddenly found it hard to look to look up at his brother.

Bobby shifted uncomfortably in his chair, but he didn't seem inclined to say anything to break the oppressing silence, either. But what worried Sam even more was Dean's silence. He would have expected his brother to scream and rage at the fact that Sam had worked with Ruby for a while, he had expected I told you so's as a reaction to Ruby's betrayal. Anything really, because Dean wasn't one to hold back with his opinion on something. Yet here Sam had just told him that he had died, gone to hell, and only been able to come back because their souls were bound to each other, and Dean was meeting all those revelations with silence.

When Sam finally dared to look up, Dean was staring straight ahead. He wasn't looking at Sam or at Bobby, but had his eyes turned on the pendant around Sam's neck which Sam had pulled out from underneath his t-shirt at an earlier point. Dean had worn that pendant for years, but right now he was looking at it as if it was the first time in his life he had laid eyes on it.

Sam couldn't really read the expression on his brother's face. It was obvious that Dean was thinking about what he had just heard, but he couldn't tell if Dean was angry, surprised, confused, anything. He couldn't read a single emotion on his brother's face.

Dean had put up an impenetrable mask like he always did when he didn't really know what to make of something himself. Sam knew that there was a lot going on beneath that surface, but no matter how hard he tried he had never been able to find a mechanism to break through that mask. Sam still depended on Dean lowering it and allowing Sam to see what was going on inside of him, and those occurrences remained rare, no matter how much closer they had become over the past years.

"Dean?"

With a second's delay, Dean looked up and met his brother's eyes.

"Do me a favor and check in with that doctor, will you Sam? I really want to get out of here."

Sam drew breath to say something, but he knew that it would be just a waste of breath. Dean didn't want to talk about it. And there was no way to make Dean talk about something he didn't want to talk about.

"Okay."

Sam got up from his chair and turned towards the door. He kept his steps deliberately slow, but Dean didn't call him back. There's be no talking about anything Sam had just told his brother, not until Dean had made his mind up about it. No bargaining on that one.

But despite Dean's urge to get out of the hospital as quickly as possible, it was not in his hands to decide. Even once Sam located Banks, that didn't get them closer to having Dean released. Banks was adamant about waiting for the lab results before Dean could leave, and while his brother could theoretically discharge himself even before that, it was one point Sam agreed with. Dean's blood results had been strange the previous night. And that meant that they were going to wait out those new results to make sure that everything was all right.

Dean wasn't excited about the idea, to say the least. But it was one thing Sam was not ready to bargain on, so Dean had no chance but to sit it out. And he did – silently. The tension was rising to the point when it became tangible, and both Sam and Bobby were clever enough not to try and engage Dean in a distracting conversation. No need to provoke an outbreak right in the middle of a crowded hospital.

It was early afternoon when the results of Dean's blood work finally came in and he was cleared for discharge. It was obvious that Dr. Banks still had his reservations about letting Dean go, but he too seemed to sense the tension in the room and decided not to argue his case any more than necessary. He suggested Dean stay another night, Dean brushed him off before the man had even finished his sentence, and that was that.

Dean was cleared to leave the hospital.

Before Sam knew what was happening, they were sitting in the Impala again – Bobby driving, Dean on the passenger seat and Sam sitting in the backseat – which was free of any blood stains, though the leather looked somewhat lighter in the spots where Bobby had scrubbed at it.

Sam was watching his brother closely for the entire drive, but all he could see were Dean's shoulders and the back of his brother's head as Dean stared out the window at the city outside. The silence was oppressing, and once or twice Sam was tempted to say something. But every time he drew breath to speak, he saw the subtle tensing of his brother's shoulders and thought better of it.

Dean didn't want to talk.

So all that remained for Sam was to wait until his brother started talking, no matter how frustrating it was. Sam needed to talk about it. He wanted to talk about everything that had happened. In all honesty he simply wanted to hear his brother talk. He had gone too long without hearing his brother's voice, with the prospect of never hearing his brother's voice again, right now he'd even settle for Dean singing along with the radio, or talking about one of his romantic exploits of the past. Anything just to hear Dean's voice.

But Dean remained silent for the entire drive, brooding while staring out of the window. And even as they pulled the car up in front of Bobby's house he got out wordlessly and went inside. Sam climbed out of the backseat and stared after his brother's retreating form, a sigh of epic proportions escaping his lips. Bobby walked around the car and stopped beside Sam.

"He doesn't want to talk about it."

Bobby harrumphed. "And knowing Dean, that surprises you?" He shook his head. "Go on in. I still have stuff to take care of out here. You know your way around, shout if you need anything."

Sam knew what Bobby was doing, and he knew that Bobby was just as worried about Dean's brooding silence as Sam was. Bobby was hoping that Dean would be more inclined to talk if he left the two brothers alone for a while. Sam doubted that it was that easy, though. Nothing with Dean was ever easy. But Dean was always worth the trouble of giving it a shot.

"Okay."

Bobby gave Sam a pat on the shoulder and rounded the house towards the back. Sam took a deep breath and followed his brother into Bobby's house.

It didn't take long for Sam to find Dean. His brother was in the spare bedroom upstairs. Not surprising, considering that this was the room they always stayed in when they were at Bobby's. Bobby had cleaned up here too, the salt and the Devil's Trap had been wiped away, but still merely entering the room gave Sam the creeps. Remembering the hours with Dean's dead body in here made Sam want to hurry over to his brother and cling to him, touch him just to assure himself that all this was over now like the nightmare it had been. It took more than just one deep breath to calm himself and chase away those thoughts.

One of their duffle bags was standing on one of the beds in the room, the bed that Sam had deposited Dean's dead body on a lifetime ago, and Dean was busy rifling through it. Sam took a step into the room, not bothering to make his presence known. It was hard to sneak up on Dean, even for Sam. He knew that his brother had noticed him the moment he had stepped into the doorframe.

"Most of our stuff is still downstairs. I'm guessing that Bobby threw most clothes into the washer."

Dean looked up from inspecting the weapons he had pulled from the duffle, a frown on his face. "Bobby's doing our laundry? That's scary."

Sam shrugged. "Gift horse and all that. It could be worse."

Sam sat down on the second bed and watched how his brother cleared the remaining weapons out of the duffle bag and checked them to see if they were loaded, had been shot recently or needed cleaning. It was their Dad's marine training, checking the arsenal and making sure that it was in working order always a priority to talking about whatever it was that had happened. It was a well-known routine, and to the soldier in Dean it was probably a soothing and somewhat therapeutic process. Once Dean had lined up the weapons on the bed, he looked up at Sam.

"There's a bunch of guns missing."

"They're in the trunk."

Dean nodded and looked down at the small arsenal on the bed, but soon his gaze became distant again as his thoughts wandered somewhere else. Sam watched his brother silently, waiting for Dean to get his thoughts in order. Finally, Dean straightened up and ran a hand through his hair with a sigh.

"So this pendant…"

Obviously, Dean had mentally gone through all the revelations of the past hours and had figured out what he wanted to talk about. Sam found his hand automatically close around the pendant that rested against his chest.

"What about it?"

Dean stepped away from the bed and leaned against the wall with his arms crossed loosely in front of his chest.

"So what you're saying is that it's that thing that stopped me from going to hell?"

Sam shook his head. "Not stopped you. Brought you back. And yes, that's what Ruby said."

Dean pulled a face, but didn't let the thought of the demon deter him from whatever mental path he was walking on. After a moment, he loosened his arms with a slightly pained grimace and shrugged.

"So if this thing is strong enough to save a soul from hell…"

Dean's sentence trailed off into silence and Sam looked up at his brother with a frown.

"What do you mean?"

"Nothing. It's just…you didn't want to give it to me initially. Remember? And I can't help thinking that if you had given it to Dad instead of me, he might still be alive."

Anger flared up inside of Sam at those words, white hot fury suddenly blinding all reason as he realized that not even dying and coming back to life had changed Dean's screwed up perception of his own worth. Without thought he jumped up from his perch on the second bed and crossed the distance towards his brother in a few large strides. Dean's eyes widened in surprise and then narrowed in pain as Sam non too gently pushed him up against the wall.

"Don't!"

"Don't what? It's true, Sam. That pendant was a present for Dad. If you hadn't wasted it on me, it would have been able to save Dad's soul after he made that deal with the yellow eyed demon."

Red was blurring the edge of Sam's vision, and it took every bit of restraint he had not to try and beat some sense into his brother. Dean was injured. And Dean couldn't help it. It was not Dean's fault that he thought that way. It was what their father had ingrained in Dean from early childhood on, ingrained so deeply that Dean could never quite shake it off.

But that didn't mean Sam would ever stop trying.

"You will listen to me now Dean, and listen good. I don't ever want to hear you say that again."

Dean roughly pushed Sam's hands away, creating a little distance between himself and his brother.

"But it's the truth, isn't it?"

"No!" Why couldn't Dean see it? "The truth is that giving this pendant to you was the right thing to do, the only right thing. The truth is that even though I didn't know how powerful that pendant truly was, the moment I decided to give it to you I wanted you to have it. I wanted you to have the protection I thought it gave. You, not Dad. The truth is that I think I was meant to give you that pendant, and it's the truth that even if I had given it to Dad it wouldn't have worked!"

Dean shook his head. "Why wouldn't it? You said it yourself earlier, that pendant bound my soul to you. Now if you had given it to Dad, it would have saved him from hell after he made his deal, it could have brought him back to life like it did me! And if he had been around, you probably wouldn't have died and I'd have never had to close that deal with the crossroad demon. We'd all be alive!"

Sam shook his head as he was trying to keep up with his brother's logic. "So what, I wouldn't have died if Dad had been around? Dean, I was alone in Cold Oak, whether or not Dad was still alive wouldn't have stopped Jake from stabbing me either way."

"Dad wouldn't have let it come this far, Sam. He'd have protected you."

Once more Sam had to resist the urge to smack his brother. Was Dean really blaming himself for the fact that Sam had been taken by Yellow Eye? There had been nothing his brother could have done, and also nothing that their father could have done to stop it. Hell, John Winchester had known about Sam's connection to the demon for over twenty years without spilling a single word about it, Sam doubted that he'd have said anything if he had lived on. And Sam was sure that there was nothing their father could have done to save Sam from what had happened. For all his life, Dean had always done a much better job at protecting Sam than their father had.

"Why do you keep insisting that everything would have been so much better if Dad was still around? You think it's your job to protect me from everything because he drilled that lesson into you since you were old enough to remember, but I'm a grown man now, Dean! It's my own responsibility to watch out for myself, I can't load that onto anyone else. I don't want to load it onto anyone else, least of all you! I gave that pendant to you all those years ago because I wanted you to have it. Because you were around, because you cared about me and Dad didn't! And even if I had given the pendant to Dad it wouldn't have worked the same way! It wouldn't have worked for him!"

Dean shook his head angrily. "You keep saying that, but you don't explain why!"

Sam sighed and pushed his hair out of his eyes with his uninjured hand. "I told you in the hospital, that's not how that pendant works."

Dean rolled his eyes. "Yeah, because you know so much about how these things worked. Because Ruby told you."

"Yes, Ruby told me. And I know that you were right and it was a mistake to trust her, and that I can't take anything she says at face value, but so far I have no reason to believe that she was lying about the soul catcher. And she said that those things don't simply work by handing them over. They only work if there's an intent behind giving them. That thing only saved your soul because I wanted for it to be something to protect you. I wanted for it to keep you safe, and it only worked because over the years after I gave you the pendant those feelings didn't change. It worked because there was a bond between us for the soul catcher to draw upon."

"So what, it all comes back to some wussy girl crap? To the fact that you and Dad batted heads ever since you hit puberty and we didn't?"

"No Dean, it comes back to the fact that I loved Dad, despite all the fighting and yelling. I loved the man fiercely but I just…"

The words choked in Sam's throat. Dean just shook his head again.

"You just what?"

Yes, Sam wondered that himself. He just what?

He had loved his father, but he simply hadn't loved him enough. It hurt to even think such a thought, but it was the truth. Sam hadn't loved his father enough. Not enough to carry the weight of his soul when he himself no longer could. Not as much as he loved Dean. Not the same way he loved his brother.

Sam shook his head.

"It just wouldn't have worked, Dean. Can't you just accept that? Dad and me, that's always been different than you and me, and that's that. So for once in your life, can you simply accept that something good happened to you and not think about who possibly might have deserved it more than you? Is that too much to ask?"

Sam felt himself deflate. He didn't want to argue with his brother, not after everything they had been through. And he also didn't want for his own mask to slip right now. If there was one thing his brother had never been able to deal with, it were emotions – his own just as much as others'. But Dean's eyes suddenly turned distant and with a sigh he looked down on the ground, studying the ugly pattern of the small throw rug he was standing on.

"But what if it isn't a good thing?"

"What do you mean?"

Dean shrugged awkwardly. "You said it yourself. I went to hell. Who knows what that did to me. People aren't supposed to go to hell and come back. So what makes you say it's a good thing?"

"You're back, Dean. That's a good thing in my book."

Dean shook his head again. "That's not what I mean, Sam. What if it changed me? What if I'm not the same anymore?"

Sam sat down on the bed and rubbed his hands over his face. He had no idea how to answer that question. He was too afraid of the answer himself.

"What do you remember?"

That was what Sam had been curious about ever since the first adrenaline rush of having his brother back had ebbed away a little. Dean walked over to the bed facing the one Sam was sitting on and sat down, too. His face pulled into another pained frown as the movement pulled on the stitches in his left leg. He stared down at his hands for a few seconds, then he shrugged.

"Nothing, really."

"What do you mean?"

Dean looked up and met his brother's eyes. "I mean that I don't remember anything."

Sam couldn't believe his ears. It just couldn't be true that Dean didn't remember anything about his stint in hell. Surely whatever had happened there must have been horrible enough to leave an impression on him.

"It's…the last thing I remember clearly is being at Bobby's. After that it's flashes. Just disjointed pictures. I mean, I get the gist of what happened, but I can't put it all together in the right order. Did I really kill a cop?"

"It was a demon."

"Oh." Dean nodded as if something suddenly made sense. "Good. I remember that. And that little girl. And Ruby. But then…the next thing I really remember is waking up in the hospital to see you crying like you had just watched Titanic again."

"If I remember correctly, you were going all teary when we caught that rerun on TV as well."

Dean waved him off. "That was from all that yawning. I mean come on, that movie lasted for over three hours. For what? I might not always have paid attention in history class, but even I knew that trawler was going to sink in the end. Kinda downgraded the movie in the suspense department, I can tell you that. So any tears you might have imagined seeing were caused by boredom and the lack of hot chicks, nothing else."

Sam just shook his head. He had had this discussion with his brother once before, after a particularly vicious rainstorm had kept them inside their motel room and the room's only TV channel had been the one showing a rerun of Titanic. The choice had been to either watch it or go to sleep, and it hadn't taken the entire length of the movie for Sam to realize that they had made the wrong choice. Watching a chick flick with his brother definitely wasn't something Sam ever wanted to repeat. It was just too pitiful to see Dean's denial.

So Sam silently shook his head and brought their conversation back on topic.

"We'll just have to do what we always do."

Dean looked up at his brother.

"And what's that?"

Sam shrugged. "We figure out what's going on."

Dean smiled briefly, but the mask quickly slipped back on his face. "We have to. We need to find out what happened to me while I was down there. We can't risk that it did something to me that's putting you in danger."

Sam bit his lip and said nothing. His own reason for wanting to find out what had happened to Dean in hell was concern for his brother, not for himself. But that was just the story of their lives.

"We have to find out what happened to you to make sure that it's not putting you in danger, Dean." He shook his head and continued before Dean had a chance to argue that point.

"We need to find out what happened because I'm fed up with being behind on information all the time. We need to stop Ruby, now more than ever."

Dean nodded, but after a moment a frown settled on his face.

"That's something I still don't get."

Sam's pulse sped up. "What do you mean?"

"Ruby. I mean I get it that she wants to become the grand Pooh-Bah downstairs. They seemingly all do. Lilith thought that putting my soul in hell and killing you would make her the great master of all demons. Right, I get that. And Ruby wants that position for herself, so the back-stabbing bitch makes demon shish kebab out of her. Up until that point I get it."

Sam shrugged uncomfortably. He didn't like the direction that this conversation was going in.

"I think that's about all there is to understand. Ruby wants the same that Lilith wanted."

Dean shook his head.

"Yeah, but then why did she let you live? And why help me get out of hell? That doesn't make any sense. If she wanted the same thing Lilith wanted, why not go through with Lilith's plan? What is her angle in all this?"

Sam had never been good at lying to Dean. His big brother had always been able to see through Sam without any effort at all. And Sam didn't like lying to his brother. But this wasn't a little white lie to cover up that he had taken the Impala without asking. This was a lie Sam considered necessary. If he told Dean about Ruby's plans now, his brother was going to brood about it without end. And he'd end up concluding that it had bee a mistake to bring him back, that he was a threat to Sam, and Sam couldn't have that. He couldn't have something like that shadowing the euphoria of having his brother back. He would tell Dean when the time was right. When he knew more about it all.

So this time, for the first time in Sam's life, he put everything he had into a lie.

"I have no idea."

His heart was pounding double time in his chest, but Dean seemed lost in his own thoughts about what Ruby could possibly be up to. He nodded at Sam's words, and they seemed to register, but he didn't question them. Sam breathed a silent sigh of relief.

"Then we'll have to find out." Dean finally concluded as he looked up from his contemplation of the carpet. "We'll do what we do best – we'll hunt that bitch down and make her tell us. And we stop her."

Sam forced a smile. Dean had no idea how much Sam agreed to his words. They were going to stop Ruby, and if it was the last thing he did.

"Yeah. But in the meantime, we should get some food."

A smile spread over Dean's face, the first real and true smile Sam had seen since his brother had woken up in the hospital. If he had needed any additional motivation to get to the bottom of this, that smile would have done it. Sam drew a deep breath and got up from the bed. In passing, he clasped his brother's shoulder for a moment and squeezed.

"Then let's go downstairs and see if Bobby has anything edible in the house."

Dean laughed and got up as well. "Yeah right. We'll just give him a whisk and he'll whip up a three course menu for us. And if you write to Santa, I'm sure he'll bring you that pony you've wanted ever since you were five years old. Stop dreaming, Sammy."

Sam shook his head and turned back towards his brother.

"Jerk."

The smile on Dean's face widened. "Bitch."

As they went downstairs, Sam thought that all things considered, they were doing good. Dean was back with him, that was the main thing. Everything else they were going to work out.

Downstairs, they found Bobby refreshing the salt lines on one of the living room windows. He turned around when he heard their steps on the stairs.

"Ah, there you are. I was just about to go upstairs and get you."

"Hopefully to tell us that there's food on the table."

Bobby looked at Dean with a frown. "Well, I guess I could drive into town and get us some burgers."

"Great. Just let me get my jacket and we can be off."

Bobby shook his head. "No, let me handle the food. You can get started here."

Now it was Dean's turn to frown, and as his brother looked at him with a questioning gaze Sam could only shrug. He had no idea either what Bobby was talking about.

"Started with what?"

Bobby jutted his head into the direction of the stacks and towers of books that lined the living room on all sides.

"Research."

"Research?"

"There an echo around here Dean? Yes, research. You know, the part of hunting where you read books and try to figure out what you're dealing with?"

Dean rolled his eyes. "I know what research is, and I have opened a book before. I'm just curious what kind of research is so important now that it beats going out for dinner."

Bobby only shrugged. "I figured we should get started as quickly as possible. We need to understand what happened to you in hell."

Sam couldn't help but flinch at Bobby's blunt words. Leave it to the older hunter not to beat about the bush. But neither Bobby nor Dean seemed to notice.

"Besides, if Ruby is truly as keen about starting a war against humanity as she seems to be, we need to be prepared. Knowledge is power, boys, and there's a hell of a lot of knowledge on demons in this room alone that's only waiting to be gathered. So I'll grab some food and you get started here."

Bobby put on his cap and shrugged into his jacket. Keys in hand, he turned back towards Sam and Dean who still hadn't moved from their positions.

"What are you waiting for, an invitation? We got work to do."


The End.


Yes, it is the end of this tale. Thanks to all of you for sticking around with me through my first multi-chaptered Supernatural fic. So everyone who read, reviewed, put me on story or author alert, thanks to you all. Knowing that I had people reading and enjoying this is what made me finish it and what made writing it so enjoyable. Once more thanks go out to Isis-SG1 for patiently listening to my storyline rants, encouraging me when she thought I had a good idea, and proof-reading nearly all of the chapters.

This started out from the idea that if the show was going to kill off Dean, then I simply had to bring him back. That was the intention of the story. But while writing it, the storyline grew quite a bit away from that initial goal. In fact, a storyline idea developed from it that I think deserves to be told in a separate tale.

So while this is the end of this story - Dean is back, Sam can start healing and they can figure out where to go from here, the story is far from over. Ruby is still out there, and she still has plans for Dean. Plans for, in her own words, "great, horrible, beautiful things". And that, my dear readers, is the story the sequel is going to tell. So while this story wraps up most things that need to be known to understand that Dean is back, don't worry if you think you are still missing an explanation. It's likely bound to come up in the next story because frankly, Sam and Dean really have hardly any clue as to what exactly happened and how it happened, either.

Thanks again for reading this, and as always, please let me know what you think. Thank you.