Summary: As one brother's life hangs in the balance the other begins to understand the pain of being a helpless bystander as time runs out. Not all dangers are supernatural. Originally written before the start of season 3 for a SFTCOL(AR)S contest and now revised. Takes place about three months after 'the deal'.

A/N: Thank you so very very much to everyone who has taken an interest in this story. You have no idea how much the reviews and the story alerts mean to me. I'm sorry I haven't had a chance to reply to the latest reviews. We've been a bit frantic trying to get ready for Shenandoah. So I should also warn you, I'm sorry for any typos or mistakes in this chapter. I promised I would post it this week, so I was up overnight writing a good portion of it. We're blasting off in less than an hour –gulp—so I'm rushing a bit to get it posted. I hope it comes out okay.

I hope I can get online while we're away to drop people a line. In the meantime please know I treasure each and every comment sent my way. Seriously. Do you think I would have been up all night if the people who are giving the story a shot didn't mean so much to me? LOL

Warnings: Spoilers for AHBL and maybe slightly for season 3. But not really. Geez…wishy washy much? LOL And the usual cursing.

Disclaimer: I don't own them. The incredible fun of playing with them is the only profit I receive from the story. Well, that and all the great people I've met in the fandom.

From Chapter 2:

Finally their hands were on Sam's ankles, gently pulling his feet from the mud—where were his shoes? They laid the backboard down and the bodies on the platform closed around it like a curtain, hiding Sam from view as they worked. It took a minute before the medic broke away from the group and turned to face the embankment. Dean's breath caught in his throat in the quiet moment before she lifted her hand and gave the 'ok' sign.

The rain began to fall harder, and at first Dean thought it was the sound of the drops hitting the mud, beating at the wooden sheets. A rhythmic noise that grew in volume. Panic bit deep for just a second when he realized it wasn't the rain and he feared another slide was fast approaching. Until he noticed it was coming from in back of him and he looked over his shoulder. Emergency workers, support personnel…a small crowd lined the road behind him, their hands in motion. They were applauding the rescuers on the platform, applauding his brother's survival.

Dean wasn't sure when his knees had hit the mud, but kneeling seemed like a good idea. Just until they got Sam off the platform. They weren't tears on his face, it was only the rain.


As the Clock Winds Down Chapter 3

Sam floated in a cocoon. To say he was warm and pain free would have been nice, but it would have been a lie. He was miserably cold, shudders wracking his body and bringing to life every bruise and pulled muscle. Exhaustion pulled at him, begging him to slip away, but the pain of broken ribs held him in place. It was a building ache, livened up by an occasional buzz-saw cut of deep pain.

He fought to hold in a groan as his body was jostled from side to side, the hard board under him being carried over a less than stable surface. Voices faded in and out around him as hands worked to steady him. They were gentle and caring, but none were familiar. None had the power to anchor him.

And then it was there. A soft voice that reached his core and warmed it. He could hear it through the hum that filled his head, keeping pace next to him as the head of the board tilted slightly upward. There were grunts of effort as the board moved higher, until it was set onto a solid, level surface. Almost immediately there was a familiar touch on the side of his face, reminding him that there were other sensations besides pain. The gentle brush of a calloused finger wiped the gathering raindrops from his eyes and pushed his damp bangs from his forehead.

Sam's eyelids fluttered, lifted. The gray clouds over him were somehow calming, and then Dean was there, his reddened eyes looking down at Sam. "Hey bitch."

Sam smiled, just a slight quirk of the lips, but Dean must have seen it through the oxygen mask. His answering grin was warm, if a little shaky. The comfort Sam found in that smile was simple and basic. He had lost count of the number of times they'd done this to each other, scaring the hell out of each other with close calls. The one constant that pulled them through was that no matter how deep the pit they fell into, the other was always there to ease their way back.

A cold chill snuck its way down Sam's back on the heels of that thought. It was like the point when you wake from a pleasant dream and reality comes creeping back in to steal the hazy happiness away. The smile faded and Sam's eyes slid shut.

"Hey…hey…c'mon Sam, don't you go anywhere. Open your eyes and look at me."

Dean's voice was soft, cajoling, it was big brother trying to make everything okay. But there was only one way that Dean could make this okay. Sam forced his eyes open and waited for the world to stop spinning before he spoke. He ignored everyone else around them, the poking and prodding of people wearing gloves and wielding stethoscopes, scissors shredding his shirt and sticky pads being placed on his chest. He fixed his eyes on Dean's face and struggled to get the words out and past the oxygen mask. Dean leaned close when he started to talk.

"Did you mean it?" He watched Dean's eyes, looking for the truth. "What you said…out there. Did…you…mean it?" It became harder to talk as the pain around his ribs bit deep into his belly and up to his shoulder. "We do it…my way?"

Dean's eyes flickered away for just a split second, but it was enough. Sam barely heard the words Dean spoke. He didn't need to. "We'll talk about it after you see a doctor. Okay Sam?"

Sam wanted to be angry, he wanted to push Dean away, but he found himself grabbing onto Dean's wrist instead, his fingers looking for something to hold onto as pain tore at him, hot and sharp, and he bit down on a groan. "Dean…hurts…"

"Sam? Sammy?!" Dean's voice reverberated with fear. "What's going on? What's the matter with him?"

"Pressure's dropping—"


Dean's hand was on the top of his head, stroking. Sam tried to hold on to that comfort as the world went dark and crashed around him.

"Get that line started—"

"Marked rigidity—"

"We're out of time here, people! Let's GO!"

He was moving and Dean's touch was gone, leaving him alone in the dark.


Dean looked down at the solid hand resting against his chest and then up into Percy's concerned face. He took a step backwards, shaking his head. "It's okay, dude. I knew I couldn't go with them," he said, his voice low and strained. He ran his hand over his face and took a deep breath. What the hell had just happened?

Percy's hand moved from his chest to his shoulder and gave it a small squeeze. "The hospital's close Dean, they'll have him there in no time. Damn fine institution. Best trauma center in the state."

His mouth didn't seem to want to cooperate with a polite response and so Dean kept it shut, just nodding his head. His eyes tracked the activity around the helicopter sitting just far enough down the empty road to prevent its rotor wash from disturbing the rescue equipment. The ambulance and helicopter crews made quick work of transferring the backboard from the ambulance to the chopper and then the boxy vehicle was moving away from the slick aircraft.

Almost immediately the helicopter's rotors began to turn with a loud whine, the sound increasing as they picked up speed. The large blades scattered raindrops in every direction as the chopper lifted gently from the ground. It hovered a few feet above the pavement for a couple of seconds before climbing away at an angle. The pilot banked it into a graceful turn and then it was heading away from them, pushing powerfully through the gray afternoon sky.

"You're lucky Janie was flying today. Some of the pilots won't take off if there's a cloud three states over, but she's too damn good to let a little weather stop her." Percy scowled and looked up at the heavy clouds over them. "I'm real sorry I can't take you to the hospital myself, son. But I can't leave here. These people," he jerked his head at the crews rushing to stow away all of the rescue gear "they're my responsibility. And if there's another slide it could push across this road."

Dean pulled the Impala's keys from his pocket, his eyes already searching for the big car in the middle of the emergency vehicles. "Take care of your people, Perce. I'll get myself to the hospital." Dean tried not to bite the words out. He owed the man more than that. He just…he couldn't…he had to get to the hospital. Now. The look on Sam's face before things had gone south had been everything that Dean hadn't let himself think about for the past three months. "I just need the directions," he finished, his voice softer.

"Jake'll drive you there in my Yukon," Percy informed him as though it was a done deal.

The hell with that. He could get himself to the damn hospital. Contrary to appearances through this whole ordeal, Dean was not helpless. "I just need the directions, Perce." He didn't care if he was biting the words out this time.

The annoyance he expected to see on the fire chief's face never materialized. The look Percy gave him was sympathetic, and a little too perceptive. "I'm thinkin you want to get your ass over there as quick as you can, and to do that you need Jake takin you in the Yukon. That Chevy of yours is a beaut, but the most direct roads between here and the hospital are a mess right now. The Yukon'll get you through them, and it'll get you past the police barriers. One of my guys will take the Chevy around the long way to the hospital for you and then hitch a ride back with Jake."

Dean's shoulders slumped as he silently handed the Impala's keys to Percy.


Level 1 Trauma Center or not, a waiting room is a waiting room. The modern facility's furniture was a little plusher and the decorating a little brighter than Dean was used to, but the atmosphere of fear, hope…despair…that cloaked the room was depressingly familiar. Except the emotions were maybe even a little sharper here, a little more intense. Trauma centers caught the rockiest cases. Dean was grateful that it was surprisingly empty. He wasn't sure how he would have handled being mobbed by such strong emotions. It was tough enough keeping his own reined in so tightly without seeing them mirrored on other faces. Minor complaints were being routed to other hospitals, leaving the trauma center free for more serious cases. There weren't too many yet, but that could change if the dam went.

Dean's chin rested on his steepled fingers as he stared at the wall opposite him. He didn't bother with acknowledging Jake as the red haired man settled on the couch next to him with a tired sigh.

"You want that freshened up?" Jake nodded at the half full coffee mug on the table next to Dean and blew softly across the top of his own brimming cup as he waited for a reply.

Dean gave a quick shake of his head and the small man sighed again as he sank further into the couch's cushions. The hunter was grateful that the firefighter withheld any falsely optimistic platitudes. Because they didn't know that Sam was going to be okay. They didn't know a damn thing yet.

The staff had heard about the excruciating rescue and they were being overly solicitous, offering him coffee in a real mug and towels to blot at his soggy hair. But in the one area that mattered most to Dean their efforts fell woefully short. Information. If he had to hear one more time that 'the doctors are working on him, I'm sure they'll come talk to you as soon as they can'…

His breath caught in his throat when Jake sat up suddenly next to him, and he slowly raised his eyes to the doors leading to the treatment rooms. As much as he was craving news, he wasn't sure he was ready to hear it. Disappointment washed over him when he realized that the doors were still closed and Jake's attention had been caught by the man coming in from the parking lot. The man looked familiar and it only took a second to place the face. One of Percy's men.

The newcomer stopped in front of them and handed the Impala's keys to Dean. "It's in Lot B. Any news yet?" His expression softened when Dean just shook his head. "Damn, that sucks," he said softly and Dean let out a quick snort of amusement at the blunt but accurate sentiment.

"You could say that again," he muttered with the hint of a smile.

The man's mouth twisted apologetically. "I hate to do this, but we gotta get going. Jakey, we gotta fly, bro. The dam ain't looking good and they need us in staging if it goes."

Jake put his coffee down and rose to his feet with a groan. "I'm gettin too old for this shit,' he scowled. "Dean, you got my number, you got the chief's, you got the station's…keep us in the loop, okay? We'll be calling in to the hospital when we can." He held his hand out and waited until Dean grasped it before finishing with a quiet plea. "I'm serious here man. We all wanna know how he's doin."

Dean clamped down on the emotion rising in his chest. "I'll let you know when I hear something," he promised, surprised to realize he meant it.

Things were quiet after the two men left and Dean went back to staring at the wall as the mud on the bottom of his legs slowly dried and began to fall to the floor in large flakes that settled gently onto the ground around him. Jake's presence hadn't exactly been a comfort, but it had been the incentive he needed to keep his thoughts under control. There were certain things he just wouldn't let himself think about with an audience.

He refused to look at the clock. The more time that passed, the closer his fear edged to panic. He couldn't lose Sam again. What kind of friggin cosmic joke would that be?

He didn't regret the deal, even if he'd only gained Sam three months. The deal would have been worth it even if it had just gained Sam an extra day. Taking care of Sammy had been the driving force in his life ever since the kid had been placed in his arms when he was four years old. It was his obligation. A duty based as much in responsibility as in love. It was what made him who he was. When Sammy had died in Cold Oak… God. He'd let everybody down. Mom. Dad. Sam. Sam was all he had left, and he'd let his brother slip away. It just wasn't in him to let it end like that. Not if there was anything he could do to save Sam. Anything he could give. No matter the cost to himself. Sam just didn't get it. Dean had had no choice.

There was a certain elation, a certain freedom, after the deal. He could never feel like he had failed Sam again. Hell, he'd sacrificed everything for Sam. He'd gotten his brother back. After that all that was left was to ride his last year out having some fun and kicking some butt at Sam's side. Go out in a blaze of glory. He'd earned it.

Dean had no doubt that Sam could survive on his own. He'd already done it for years when he went to Stanford. He hadn't just survived, he'd owned that place. Full ride, beautiful girl, friends. He'd done it before, he could do it again. Hell, without Dean dragging him from place to place Sammy might even be able to cobble together a little bit of the life he really wanted.

Only problem was, Sam didn't seem to be with the program. He'd known Sam would have a tough time with everything at first, but he should have been accepting the inevitable by now. Instead he seemed determined to win a Darwin award. Today…Ah crap. Today had been tough.

Dean leaned forward, resting his forehead on the heels of his hands and looking down at the patches of dried mud on his pants. Today had torn some things up inside of him. It wasn't just the fear, it was the helplessness. Having to just stand back and leave his brother's fate in someone else's hands. Not being able to lift a finger to help while his brother was dying. It hurt with a unique kind of pain. He wasn't stupid. He'd known that every minute that passed, every second, had brought Sam closer to death.

And all he could do was watch. And curse. And feel a little bit more of himself die with each passing, useless, second.

It felt like someone kicked Dean solidly in the gut, his breath pushing out in a grunt. Nausea swept through him and he was afraid for a second that he would be sick. He slid his hands up into his hair and fisted them, tugging, feeling the burn at the roots.

He had spent a day helpless while his brother faded away and it had left a part of him tattered and torn. A day.

Sam had been dealing with the same torture for three months now. With another nine to go.

Legs clad in blue scrubs moved into his line of vision and halted in front of him. "Mr. Norris?"

Dean had been particularly proud of that name. Sam had just rolled his eyes.

The doctor sat down next to him and Dean lowered his hands to his lap and blew out a long breath, preparing himself.

"I'm Dr. Valdez. I was with your brother until he was taken into surgery."

Surgery. Dean's hands tightened on his thighs, his fingers looking for something to hold onto.

"Sam suffered two broken ribs, numerous contusions and abrasions, some sprains, and mild hypothermia. There's no indication of aspirated mud, but we'll be watching for it. The biggest danger is internal bleeding. We performed a procedure called a peritoneal lavage and it confirmed there was bleeding in his abdomen. Quite frankly, we didn't feel Sam was stable enough to risk the time that would have been needed for a CT to pinpoint the source, so we took Sam right in to surgery. I'm sorry we left you out here waiting but I wanted to wait until I had some real news before coming out to talk to you."

It was difficult to pull in a deep breath, but Dean managed. His eyes strayed to the treatment area doors as though he'd be able to see his brother hidden behind them. "And?"

"The laparoscopy found what we expected, damage to the spleen. It's not uncommon in this type of injury."

Dean looked directly at the doctor and cut to the chase. "Is he gonna be okay?"

"The length of time between the actual injury and treatment allowed things to reach a critical stage, but, oddly enough, the mud also helped. The pressure helped to stabilize his BP. Once that pressure was gone, Sam crashed." Dr. Valdez smiled. "Luckily, by then our chopper was ready and waiting. It saved his life."

Pressure built in Dean's chest, but he refused to embrace the feeling yet. "Saved his life? You're saying he's going to be okay?"

"There are no guarantees," the doctor cautioned, "but now that they're getting the bleeding under control he's stabilized nicely and the surgery is proceeding smoothly. His surgeon is even hopeful that the spleen can be saved. Sam's a strong young man," the doctor shook his head with a bemused smile, "and from what I've heard he's quite the fighter. We're going to have to keep a close eye on him after surgery to make sure the damage to the spleen is the sole source of the bleeding, but…barring complications…I think it's safe to be cautiously optimistic."

No one knew just how strong, and stubborn, Sam was better than Dean. He dropped his guard and let the feeling sweep through him. The emotion was uncommon enough in his life to cause a tingle down his spine. Hope.


The monitor next to Sam's bed beeped softly and steadily. Dean was no expert, but the flashing numbers looked good to him. He'd spent enough time in hospital rooms to know when a blood pressure was too low, a heart rate too high.

Sam had barely moved since Dean had settled onto the chair next to him. He couldn't pull his eyes away from the still form, letting himself really look at his brother for the first time in three months. The hair was a little longer and more ragged that usual, the bones in his face sharper. The most disturbing change was around his eyes and mouth. Tiny lines were just becoming visible at the corners of Sam's mouth, and they sure as hell hadn't been etched there by Sam's brilliant smile. They were the slowly forming scars of a mouth perpetually twisted in pain and grief.

Sam's eyes…how long had it been since Dean had seen that light in them? The humor, the quick mind, the unending curiosity, the concern for everyone who crossed their path. That light in his eyes had been slowly dimming, the loss keeping pace with the growing shadows staining the skin around them.

Dean glanced at the clock. Another five minutes and they were going to kick him out for a while. His best smiles weren't budging the ICU nurses at all. His eyes stayed fixed on the second hand, watching it sweep steadily forward, and the tension around his mouth began to ease. They'd gotten to reset the game clock and it was a hell of a feeling. He was gonna try like hell not to waste the second chance.

A low moan pulled his attention back to the bed. Sam's head was slowly shifting on the pillow, the skin around his eyes tightening as he tried to open them.

"Ssshhh…take it easy Sammy, you're okay." Dean leaned forward and placed his hand over the compression bandage wrapped around Sam's right hand and wrist.

Sam's face turned towards him and he blinked slowly, just tiny strips of hazel appearing briefly. "De…Dean…" His voice was a breathy whisper, muffled as though it was working its way through layers of sleep.

"The one and only, bitch," Dean grinned. "Just relax. They're only letting me sit in here for a little while each hour, so they're gonna kick me out in a minute. But I'll be right out in the waiting room. Okay?" He ran his thumb over Sam's exposed knuckles. "And I'll be right back in here as soon as they let me again."

Sam's eyes slid shut and he sighed softly, his right hand lifting slightly in acknowledgment of Dean's touch. It slowly lowered and Sam went so still that Dean thought he had fallen back to sleep. He was surprised when Sam grimaced, fighting to open his eyes again. "Dean…talk." The slices of hazel fixed on him this time, demanding attention.

"Relax Sam," Dean said softly. "We've got time. We'll figure something out, Sam. I promise. We've got time."


Soft voices from the upper corner of the room drew Dean's attention as he came through the door. The back of the hospital bed was raised, propping Sam up so that he could see the television easily.

"Girl's Gone Wild video?" Dean asked as he walked to the side of the bed. He sipped from the Starbucks cup in his hand and looked up at the television mounted near the ceiling. More news footage of people being ferried in flat boats and emergency personnel walking down flooded streets.

"More like Nature Gone Wild." Sam aimed the remote control at the set and muted the volume. "So, the dam went, huh?"

The corner of Dean's mouth twisted in a small grimace. "Yeah. I talked to Percy. He said it wasn't pretty, but at least nobody got hurt. Put on channel six. I was watching it in the diner and you can see the guys in the background on one of the clips they keep repeating." Dean settled himself onto the chair next to the bed and shook his head. "We're damn lucky we weren't the stars of the six o'clock news. Perce said the TV crews around here usually love stories like your rescue. If the weather hadn't been so iffy we would have had news choppers all over us."

"Henrickson would have thought it was an early Christmas gift," Sam muttered.

"Some of the guys are probably stopping by later. I told Perce you weren't exactly up for visitors yet but he said they just want to say hi. See that you're okay with their own eyes."

"Yeah, sure, that's fine," Sam said, easing himself down slightly in the bed. He wrapped his right arm across his abdomen and his movements were slow and guarded. His lips thinned into a straight line that didn't relax until he was settled into his new position.

"You want me to tell them to hold off?" Dean asked. Hell, between the broken ribs and the surgery he knew Sam had to be hurting. He looked a lot better than when Dean had left in the morning after seeing him settled into a regular room, but he was still pale and the smudges under his eyes were so dark they looked bruised.

"Nah, I want the chance to thank them."

Dean looked down at the coffee cup in his hand and nodded silently. He was surprised that the knowledge that he hadn't been a true part of the rescue still hurt. "Yeah, Sam, look…about yesterday…"

"I'm sorry," Sam said quietly.

"Huh?" Dean's head snapped up and he looked at Sam with his eyebrows raised. "What do you have to be sorry about?"

Sam bit at his bottom lip for a second and kept his eyes fixed on the ceiling as though he was afraid to look at Dean. "You were right that I've been careless lately," he finally said softly. "I acted without thinking and I could have gotten you hurt…" He took a shaky breath and turned his head so that he was looking at Dean. "I put a lot of people in danger." His eyes went wide at a sudden thought. "Hell, Dean. What if a news crew had gotten pictures? I would have led the feds right to us!"

"Dude, you thought somebody needed help. Stop beating yourself up. Yeah, you could have put a little more thought into it, but you were trying to help somebody. And even if you'd been more careful, what would have been different? You'd still have been down on that slope, except maybe with a rope around you. With the force of that mud, a rope tied around you might have killed you." Dean looked at Sam through eyes that narrowed at a chilling thought. "You're not telling me you purposely put yourself in danger, are you? I swear to God, Sammy, if you're planning on putting me through this over and over for the next nine months I'm gonna kick your ass." Dean couldn't help the steadily increasing intensity of his voice. He had to get through to his stubborn as a jackass brother. "I won't let you just throw your life away because…" he trailed off and continued in a whisper "because you don't want to be alone. You're stronger than that, Sammy."

Sam looked away, his jaw clenching stubbornly. Dean stood up and perched on the edge of the bed, careful not to jostle the mattress. "Look, Sam. I get it," he said quietly. "I get how tough the last couple of months have been. Damn, Sam. Yesterday almost killed me when I couldn't do anything to help you. And I realized that that's what you've been going through for months. So I think we could, maybe, work something out. But Sam, no matter what happens, you can't give up. If there's no getting out of this thing…you will make it on your own. You are strong enough."

"You sure about that, Dean?" Sam asked with a sad, crooked smile. "You so sure that I'll be fine without you? Because I'm not." Sam looked away, shaking his head. The smile faded when he looked back at Dean.

"It's not because I'm afraid to be alone. It's not even the fact that it would destroy me to lose you." Sam lifted a hand and wiped impatiently at his eyes. He took a deep breath and lifted his chin, facing his brother. "It seems like I've been scared forever, Dean. Scared of myself and what I could become. Since the first time I had a vision. Even Dad…even he believed I could go darkside. Turns out it wasn't just paranoia, huh?" Sam chuckled bitterly. It was a broken sound and Dean had to fight the urge to reach for him. "In Cold Oak, when I fought Jake…I came so close to giving in to it." He looked at Dean with a shaky smile. "But I didn't. I beat that yellow eyed bastard by not giving in to what he wanted." Sam shook his head, the smile still in place. "I beat him. And then Jake took me out of the equation. Made sure I wouldn't have to go through that again. Hell, I didn't want to die, but better that than turning into the kind of thing we hunt. Turning into something worse than what we hunt. Maybe hurting you, hurting other people." Sam shuddered. He looked away from Dean, and when he continued talking it was in a monotone that chilled Dean. "But now I'm back in the middle of it. Fighting not to go bad. Become a monster. And I don't know if I have the strength to fight it again."

"You beat it before, Sam. You'll beat it again."

Sam looked at Dean with the wide moist eyes of a five year old, but his words were blunt. "I wasn't alone when I beat it before. I had you. I don't think I can do it without you." He pulled his eyes away from Dean, staring down at his lap. "And I can't take a chance on becoming a monster. Not without someone to stop me."

"Sammy, I can't take a chance on losing you again. Hell, it's not taking a chance, it's a certainty. If I try to get out of the deal the cross roads bitch will take you away so damn quick…I can't do that Sam. I can't…I won't sign your death warrant."

Sam's eyes squeezed shut, his face twisting with a pain that wasn't physical. Dean rested his fingertips lightly on Sam's arm. "So I can't be any part of it. I can't know anything about it." He waited for Sam's eyes to open and fix on him, understanding slowly edging into them before he continued. "Hey, what I don't know about can't hurt you," he finished with a small grin.

"You won't stand in my way any more?" Sam asked warily.

"I won't stand in your way," Dean hedged "so long as you don't involve me. If you want, we don't have to be glued at the hip quite as much. All I know is I like to play pool and my geeky brother likes libraries. I don't know what he's doing in there. You get what I'm saying? I'm not going to stop you from 'going to the library', as long as you leave me out of it, and don't do anything stupid."

Sam looked up at him, biting at his bottom lip.

"So, what do you think, Sam? I can't do any more than that. Is it a compromise you can live with?"

"For now," Sam said. The tension drained from his shoulders, and with it the last bits of energy that had kept him functioning when he should have been sleeping. The corner of his mouth twitched up in a small grin. "So how long is it going to take you to go get my laptop? And don't you need to go play some pool or something?" he asked lazily, his eyes at half mast.

Dean took the TV remote from the edge of the bed and moved back to the chair. "First you get some sleep, then we'll talk about letting geek boy loose."

"Deal," Sam said, letting his eyes close completely.

A small smile played over Dean's lips as he unmuted the TV and settled into the surprisingly comfortable seat. He prayed he hadn't just made a terrible mistake. But things had had to change, or Sam wouldn't have made it through the year. Now, for the first time in a long time, there was hint of that light back in Sam's eyes. Maybe there was hope for his little brother. Hell, if he stopped standing in Sam's way…maybe there was hope for him too.


A/N Well, I hope you liked it. Remember it was originally written before the start of season 3. Even though I did major revisions on this rewrite, I was stuck with the original premise. I tried to fit it into what we knew about the time after the deal. And for me at least, it answered some questions about all the times we see Sam doing research with Dean off on his own.

And now I'm off. My backpack is packed and there are trails calling me. You all have a safe week!