A/N: So this fic mentions, briefly, a Sam and Ruby doing things over the summer type of deal. I'm not shipping Sam/Ruby in this, however, just stating it was possibly something, in my mind, that happened over the summer while Dean was gone. So if you continue to read this, even after this note, I don't want any comments about how terrible a person I am for it, okay? Got enough of them already, 'preciate it.

The ride away from Carthage was tense, even after the apology Dean had given. Dean wasn't stupid; one little apology wasn't going to take back the words he'd practically screamed at Sam, and they sure as hell weren't going to take back the punches. He winced and stole a quick glance over at his brother, whose lip still bore the well pronounced cut on his lower lip. No, the apologies weren't going to work. He wouldn't have accepted it from Sam, if Sam had been the one doing the yelling and the hitting.

Honestly, Dean didn't know what to do.

Despite the initial week of them both being too happy, Sam at having Dean back, Dean at being back, things had been okay. A little tense, and Dean hadn't understood why at the time, but there'd been a definite tension and invisible barrier keeping them just slightly out of reach of the other.

The barrier was a huge wall now, thick and solid, and Dean wasn't really sure which one of them had had a hand in creating it more. Sam's lies were in there just as much as Dean's physical and verbal violence were.

It was the punches that were getting to Dean the most. After the fiasco with Gordon a few years before, Dean had sworn he'd never lay a hand on his brother in anger again. He'd felt deserving of the punches earlier, and had felt that Sam had gotten off lucky.

And just like Gordon, Sam hadn't fought back, wasn't saying anything about it.

He did probe his lower lip with his tongue, and Dean watched as Sam winced and looked away towards the window again. The hurt on his face was palpable, and had nothing to do with the sore lip he was bound to be feeling.

Dean wished like hell Sam had punched him back. That would've been better.

He didn't want to feel sorry for Sam, Sam who'd been lying to him for a year about all of this. He'd had a whole frickin' year to get this in his head, all neat and sorted out, and hadn't bothered to share it with Dean when it was sort of important. Like heading towards a possible apocalypse type of important.

The car suddenly felt tense, suffocating, and Dean made a quick decision to slide into the right hand lane. It was only as they started up the exit ramp that Sam seemed to notice what was going on. "We're stopping?"

"My head's killing me," Dean half-lied. It was aching a little bit, and he wanted to lay down and wish the past couple of days hadn't happened. Or, you know, the entire year, or while he was at it, the past forty years, when Mary had been a Campbell and a hopeful innocent who wanted a normal, safe life.

Like Sam had, only four years ago.

He pursed his lips tight and forced his gaze out of the windshield, because there'd been enough crying over the past few days, and Dean wasn't about to start that up again.

He finally found a parking lot that looked fairly occupied, but not stuffed, and parked down towards rooms 11 and 12. Sam slid out silently and made his way to the office. That left Dean alone in the car with his thoughts and the vision of his brother, shoulders up to his ears, walking away.

The car door was opened fast, and Dean was out getting the bags. Had to be done anyways.

Sam returned just after he'd pretty much unloaded everything from the trunk. He paused and gazed at Dean for a moment, and Dean almost hoped he'd start talking about everything again, and Hell had to have done something screwy for him to want a chick-flick moment.

When Sam spoke, though, it was only a soft question. "Do you want me to look at your head?"

Wasn't exactly Dean's own head he was worried about. He hadn't been the one to get clobbered with a heavy piece of metal. "I'm fine," he said. "Just a headache."

Sam bit his lip for a moment, then nodded slightly to himself, as if making a decision. "Eleven," he said, tossing Dean a key. Dean nodded and hoisted his bag up, then made for the door. All he wanted was a bed at this point. Tomorrow...

Tomorrow he'd try and get it through Sam's head what he really meant to say about everything. Tomorrow he'd make sure Sam knew he was truly sorry for hitting him. Tomorrow, he'd-

Sam stepped away from him towards the door to 12, and Dean froze, the door to 11 barely open. "Sam?"

Sam let out a sigh that sounded sad and deep, as if it'd been stored there for awhile. He let his bag fall from his hand to the ground, then dug inside until he pulled out a small notebook with symbols carved into the leather exterior. A journal, Dean realized, and Sam's journal. One he obviously had to have been keeping after Dean died, because Dean didn't recognize it.

It looked well worn and used, and it was stretched out in front of Dean. "I don't want you to think you're missing anything, or that I'm lying about something," Sam said quietly. "You'll want your space while you read it. I'll be in room twelve, so...well, so you know."

Dean's initial need for space, the feeling of suffocation, was quickly falling into a twisted feeling in his gut. He snorted and forced a grin on his face. "What, think I'll forget you're here and take off without you?"

Sam didn't grin back. "You have the car keys," he said, and Dean's tight grin fell away into shock, because if Sam seriously thought he'd leave him, then-

"Goodnight, Dean," Sam said softly, and the door to 12 was shut before Dean could come up with a reply.

He stayed there for a moment, stunned, then slowly let his gaze fall to the book in his hands. Guess he wasn't going to sleep tonight.

At least, not yet. He'd asked for this, asked Sam to tell him what was going on, asked him to speak up about what had happened. Guess Sam had decided to grant his wish.

And he obviously thought it was bad enough for Dean to leave him behind.

Dean slowly trudged into 11, feeling uncomfortable and tense and wishing Castiel had never told him about what Sam was doing.

Shutting the door behind him, he'd thought, would be the hardest thing.

No, the hardest thing Sam had to do was sit. And wait.

It'd been over two hours now, since he'd handed his journal over to Dean and closed the door. Shutting the door had been easy, actually: a barrier between him and Dean's reaction, which was going to be...interesting. To say the least.

Because everything was in there. Everything.

The first few weeks after Dean's death, with pages stained and torn and filled with Sam's own blood after a hunt when all he wanted was his big brother. The day when he met Ruby and realized she was back. The day after he'd met Ruby, when she'd found him trying to drink himself to oblivion, because of the two people who had gone to Hell that day, it had been the wrong person who had come back. The weeks after that, of trying to get motivated into living, with Ruby a surprising strength beside him. The month of training, of headaches, of being sick and trying anyways in order to help people. The two months of Ruby being an available body to feel, to touch, to try and stay connected and involved in the world of the living. The four months after Dean had died, of an ache that had never been filled.

Even now, it still wasn't filled. Dean was back, Dean was back, and the joy that thought always brought now slid sideways inside of Sam, making him want to be sick to his stomach.

Because he wasn't really back. He was freaked about the whole angel and God thing, obviously, and freaked about the lack of remembering anything concerning Hell. When Dean was awake, at least: Sam heard him at night, and that wasn't worth thinking about.

And he wasn't the Dean Sam remembered. He wasn't the big brother who was larger than life, who was always there when Sam needed him, who always listened to Sam's fears, hell, who always listened to anything Sam had to say, always being stupid and putting Sam first above everything, and god, Sam didn't want it to go back to that, but...

But Sam wanted to at least be first somewhere in Dean's book. And these days, it wasn't happening.

He knew he was being unreasonable; Dean had only gotten back a few weeks ago. Wasn't even a month yet. He kept hoping that eventually, the big brother he'd come to rely on, the one he'd missed, would show up eventually.

He glanced at the clock on the wall and had to blink several times to keep the tears at bay, because it was almost five in the morning. They'd pulled in around one. And the journal was maybe a forty-five minute read. Hour, tops.

Dean wasn't coming. Sam glanced at his cell phone, but there were no missed messages, no texts, nothing.

Slowly he rose from the chair and moved over to sit on the bed. Taxi in the morning, well, later morning, after breakfast. Or maybe he'd just call Ruby to drive over to the hotel. She'd come get him, fill him in on the man from the other night. Then...

Then he'd be right back where he started, just as if Dean hadn't come back. The contents in his stomach rolled heavily, and he had to close his eyes and focus on breathing.

The knock on the door made him whip his head around and stare. It came again a moment later, and Sam finally moved, hurrying to the door and freezing when his hand actually wrapped around the knob. He opened the door slowly, Sam stepping back and standing well inside the room as it moved.

Dean stood outside, journal firmly grasped in his right hand. He still had his boots on, but the jacket had been shed. In the darkness of the morning and the only light from the lamp behind Sam, the wound on his forehead looked exceedingly red. So did his eyes, but the lighting wasn't good, so Sam didn't think he was really seeing things right.

For a long moment, nothing was said. Sam could hear his heartbeat quickening with each silent moment that passed, and tried to breathe in deeply. If Dean had come over, it was a good thing, right?

"You're an asshole."

Or...not. Sam swallowed hard and forced himself to not cry, because dammit, he was done. "I can't believe you," Dean continued, stepping forward and into the room, right up to Sam. Sam shut his eyes and waited for Dean to punch him. Again. Because it was bound to happen, if Dean's voice was any indication.

The arms that threw themselves around him made him jump and open his eyes again, because this felt suspiciously like hugging. "Dean?" he managed, his voice much smaller than he'd thought it would be.

Dean's response was to tighten his arms. "You actually thought I'd leave you behind," was whispered fiercely near Sam's ear. "God but you're a dumbass."

Oh. Oh. Sam's arms came up and wrapped around Dean, though not as tight. "Sorry," he mumbled, because it was really the only response he had at the moment. Dean was lucky he had any breath left in him to talk with. It felt as if he'd let all the air out of his lungs, releasing the breath he'd been holding since he closed the door between them.

Dean pulled away and looked him straight in the eyes, and there was no mistaking the red eyes this time. "Did you...did you read it all?" Sam asked hesitantly. His brother immediately narrowed his gaze, and Sam felt his cheeks flush. The duh wasn't being spoken because Dean would consider it a waste of breath. Of course he'd read it all.

"I didn't like most of it," Dean admitted, before he snorted. "Okay, I didn't like any of it. But...I get it. Sort of."

Sam wearily raised his eyebrows. "How much is 'sort of'?"

He received a heavy sigh in return, even as Dean rubbed a hand across his face. "The drinking, the wanting to help people, even the sex." Dean glanced up at him then, giving a glare that was tinted with exhaustion. "Though I gotta tell you, a demon wouldn't have been my first choice."

Hadn't been Sam's first choice either, and even though the words formed in his mind, his face flushed with guilt again. "And the...powers?" he finally asked after a long moment.

Dean's lips pursed a little tighter, and Sam tried to remember that Dean had come over for him, had read and said he'd understood part of it. He found himself standing a little straighter, waiting for whatever Dean would throw his way.

"One, I don't like it, but two, I know you're gonna do it again. And don't try and tell me you're not," Dean said quickly, cutting off Sam's protest. "Give me a break, Sam. I know you, okay? And I know when you're lying to me." He paused, then gave a small, wry grin. "Well, most of the time. And three, stop looking at me like I'm gonna punch you again." Even if Sam hadn't seen the wince Dean gave, he'd have heard the regret in his tone.

There was a rush of a large truck passing by the hotel on the highway, and Sam glanced up briefly out of habit to watch it go. When he looked back, Dean was right in front of Sam. He reached out carefully, his thumb brushing lightly over Sam's lower lip. Sam gave a tiny cringe at the touch of tender skin, and Dean's wince deepened. "I'm sorry, Sammy," he whispered.

Sam shrugged and smiled slightly. "S'okay. I kinda deserved it."

"No, you didn't, and I don't want you to even think you did," Dean said vehemently, and Sam's smile couldn't help but widen further, because this was his big brother. This Dean was the Dean he'd missed for four long months. The thought released the tension he'd been holding for too long.

With the release, however, came the exhaustion that he'd been keeping at bay as he'd waited for Dean. He couldn't stop the wide yawn that almost popped his jaw, and resisted the urge to rub at his eyes.

"Yeah, I'm with you," Dean agreed, and Sam's yawn slid into a soft laugh. Dean was smiling back, and things felt okay again. Let him hope, at least, that maybe things could be the way they were before blood had been spilled and deals had been made.

Dean's smile slowly faded away. "You, uh, gonna come back to the other room?"

Sam bit his lip, remembering at the last minute that that particular move wasn't the smartest thing to do. "Not sure I was ever in it enough to come back to it." The words registered at the last moment, and he winced for a whole new reason. "I mean, yeah, that's...I can..."

"No need," Dean said, heading for the door. Sam felt his stomach twist at the thought of how it had gotten so right again until he'd opened his mouth, before he realized Dean was coming back in, all his bags in hand. A firm kick had the door shut and then Dean was tossing the bags near the bed closest to the door. Dean toed his boots off before falling back onto the bed with a sigh.

Sam didn't realize he was standing and gaping until Dean said, without opening his eyes, "You gonna try and see how many flies you can catch, or are you going to bed?"

Sam shut his mouth and moved towards the bed, but the thoughts still raced through his mind. Dean had been prepped and ready to join Sam. Dean hadn't given up on him. Dean wasn't giving up on him.

It was easy to sink into the other bed, and Sam had to admit, there was a sense of relief in it too. The bed closest to the door had been his for too long. He reached up to the table between the beds and switched the light off.

"Castiel's an angel, you know. Straight from Heaven with news of what's evil and needs to be stopped."

Sam froze, fingers still outstretched towards the light.

Dean's voice returned, softer in tone, firm in determination. "But you're my brother. Something I remembered, and something I intend to tell Castiel. Whatever happens...you've got me as backup, and you're stuck with me."

The smile spread slowly, and if Sam hadn't been as tired as he was, it would've been enough to split his face in two. As it was, it stayed with him as he slid under the covers. "God I missed you," he whispered. He had, in more ways than one.

The sky was lightening through the threadbare curtains hung over the window, enough for Sam to see the small smile on Dean's own face. "I know, Sammy," he replied softly, eyes closed and tone all too understanding. A second later, and the lips quirked into a grin. "Don't think I'm gonna be the one to go out and get coffee today, bitch."

Sam's own eyes closed, and he rolled over onto his back. The past few days had been horrible, some of the worst he'd ever lived through, but this?

This had been worth it all. Because things were finally...


...back to normal.