This is a re-post of a story that was here well over a year ago. It was removed and successfully zined by Agent With Style, and now is back on the web for public consumption. This is a season three AU that has exploded into something I wasn't ready for. The initial response was quite overwhelming, and I'm hoping this re-post will bring the same, as well as new readers into the fold. There is a sequel to this story, so keep your eyes peeled. Author alerts are wonderful things!

I'm trying to catch the few typos that remain. If you spot any, please forgive me. And as always, please feel free to review. Otherwise I don't know if these stories "work". Enjoy the ride, and THANK YOU!

-Kam : )

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Of course Dean was scared. He was no dummy. He'd heard all the fire and brimstone lore, all the stories of burning alive and being forced to live your worst nightmares over and over, of the eternal torment and excruciating pain coursing through cells that should be dead, but instead stings with the agony of being alive. He knew what his deal had cost him, every time he saw the anger in his brother's eyes. Sam clearly preferred his own death over the definite knowledge of Dean's fate.

This is why Sam wasn't flinching from the gun that Dean aimed at him, and why Dean was crying.

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Dean Winchester knew something was different, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it.

Maybe it was the moist, supercharged air that settled over the plains like a stifling blanket, disquieting enough to make nuns moody. Then again, maybe it was the odd swagger Sam used as he walked up to the two men that had insulted Dean, or hell, maybe it was the fact that Sam had bothered to approach the men at all. In the dim lights and noise of the smoky bar, it was easy to mistaken a movement, a gesture, or a comment for anything other than what is was supposed to be. And Sam had been on edge.

Hell, they'd both been on edge. Maybe the weather had little to do with it, after all.

Going to the bar was supposed to take the edge off. Grab a few beers, play pool and swindle a few losers, eye a few chicks, and get the hell back out before anyone had a chance to look twice or take names. Sam was about to screw with that. In no way, shape or form did the plan include his brother taking out a load of lumberjack wannabes. They were large, burly men in flannel shirts with faded trucker's hats covering their bald spots. And at the moment, they were ripe targets for the six-foot-four wall of rage.

Dean set his bottle on the small side table with a thump, widening his eyes against the drunken tilt of the room, making sure he was seeing what he thought he was seeing. He rubbed his thumb over the smooth wood of his cue stick, trying to decide if he should intervene. It would piss Sam off, but Dean was in no condition to carry his broken ass back to the car. That and he didn't exactly want to see his brother get the snot beat out of him. Even if he was annoyed with him, and felt Sam deserved to have his cage rattled.

Well, almost.

Dean was annoyed with Sam because he wouldn't let Dean out of his sight. It had been going on for three solid weeks now; three weeks since he made that damn deal, three weeks since life as he knew it flipped a one-eighty and gave him a one finger salute at the same time. So he tried to fix it, because that's what he did. He fixed things. He fixed cars, he fixed people's haunted houses, he fixed dead things that shouldn't be roaming around the living zone. He fixed Sam. That left only one, no, two more things to fix. One being the fucking mess that opening the gates of hell stirred up, and didn't he feel responsible for that one? Two, being his own mess, something he didn't know how to fix, or even if it could be fixed. He wished Sam would back the hell away from it before he found himself in a world of hurt. But Sam wouldn't let it go, no more than he was going to back away from the flanneled lumberjacks that were now looking at him like he had encroached on their masculine territory and declared it National Arbor Day.

They had been watching Sam and Dean all evening, and the rude comments could just be heard over the clinks of thick glasses, loud music and drunken laughter. Sam had insisted they ignore it while staring pointedly at Dean's clenched jaw. And Dean had complied, because dammit, he wanted down time with his brother. He wanted to enjoy himself. So he ignored the jibes and concentrated on the pool game, playing with one injured hand and still beating the crap out of Sam.

Hell, Dean even apologized when one of the large men knocked into him on the way to the head, leering and muttering something into his ear that sounded suspiciously like "faggot". Okay, so the apology was forgotten at that point. Dean had gone as far as, "Yeah, you wish your face was as pretty as mine, you acne pit-assed son of a. . ." before Sam yanked him to the other side of the table to take his shot. And Dean relented, reluctantly.

But he felt the heat. Rage burned in Sam's eyes as he watched the yellow one ball bank and curl into a side pocket, and it was unsettling. When the guy returned from the head and knocked hard into Dean's bandaged hand, that was it. Sam had flung down his cue and walked over to the lumberjacks. Dean was in mid-swig, and just about did a spit-take when he realized what Sam was doing.

Now Sam was staring them down. Dean had a vague feeling that these particular lumberjacks didn't wear high heels, suspenders or a bra at any point in their very large, barrel-chested lives. The Pythons would be disappointed.

Sam didn't seem to care if they were elephants. Of course he had a height advantage, his near six-foot-five frame towering over the stoutest of them. And they were stout, make no mistake. Sam wasn't exactly a bean pole himself. He was broad of shoulder and almost had more muscle than Dean. It was a troublesome fact that Dean tried not to dwell on, but when it came down to it, his little brother was anything but little these days. Still, it was one against six, and while he was certain Sam could narrow the odds on his own, something in his own drunken gut told him that if he didn't intervene, Stanford educated brains would be hiding the cigarette butts that spotted the floor. One thing Sam couldn't do was hold his drink, and that was a definite disadvantage against the men who were scraping their chairs back and standing up, facing Sam in a room that had suddenly gone just a shade more quiet than before.

Crap.

Dean set his pool cue aside, cursing his six beers, guzzled more quickly than he had a right to. He'd lost count of Sam's consumption, his concentration being locked on the pool table at the time. The slight swagger and tilt to the right told Dean that this fight was going to be short and end with a hospital trip if he didn't get the Leaning Tower of Piza out of there.

But it was too late. The first punch was thrown.

Fortunately it wasn't Sam who threw it, so that would go down well with the cops. Heh. Of course the way Sam charged at the man, barreling him over his chair and onto the floor screwed any defense they had in their favor.

Dean sprang into action, his adrenaline overriding the dizziness of the motion. No cops. No cops, no cops, last thing they needed was cops, dammit Sam! He wasn't supposed to be the reckless one, what the hell was this?

Dean shoved chairs and people aside, cursing loudly, yelling Sam's name. He easily punched the face of a man who dared block his way. After that, his senses blurred. He caught glimpses of Sam in between angry faces and clenched fists. He threw punch after punch, each one like slamming his knuckles against a brick wall. He felt the pain and crack of punches flung back at him, and the more he got, the more he fought, dammit.

The world suddenly turned upside down as he slammed backwards onto a pool table. Landed right on top of three pool balls, which spat out from beneath him as he tried to remember how to breathe. It took him a moment to realize he was staring at the ceiling before he could raise his head. The large man that towered over him with a promise of making his life hell, was yanked backwards. People yelled into the fervor, laughed at the chaos, cried out in pain. Bottles smashed, tables splintered. He finally felt hands tugging him to his feet, and was shoved back towards the exit. To his surprise, they were Sam's. The large hands gripped his button-down shirt, and in turn he twisted round to grab hold of his brother's wrists. To make sure that Sam got out, of course. Not because he needed help.

They hurried outside as best they could, both hurting, both running lopsidedly, and hell, since when did they run from a fight? Dean fumbled for his keys as Sam bounced on his toes, looking over his shoulder anxiously, his face promising to be a swollen mass of bruises in a few hours time. Dean felt like shit, and somehow managed to pull himself together enough open the car door. He didn't usually lock the doors to his Impala unless the place they were outside a place that looked too seedy. This place probably sprouted demonic weeds. He quickly reached across to unlock the passenger side as the hefty men lumbered out, but Dean had the car cranked and spinning out of the lot almost before Sam closed his car door.

Driving was not a good idea. But he had little choice, and man was Sam going to hear about it.

Dean managed to keep the car on the road until he found a slight clearing off to the side. He swerved onto it, skidding in the loose gravel, and turned off the engine. He didn't even have time to turn to face his brother before Sam squeaked opened the passenger side door and staggered out into the night air, leaving the door ajar. Dean clenched his jaw and threw open his own door, slammed it shut, and rounded the back end of the car. He hurried forward and grabbed the back of Sam's jacket, jerking him to a halt. "What the fuck, man?" He swallowed hard and tried to ignore the nausea, and the world spinning around him. Stomach punches and alcohol did not mix.

Sam jerked away and whirled around to face him, adding to the vertigo. "Don't start, Dean."

Dean swallowed again and swore he was not going to reach out to steady himself. No weakness, not while he was pissed and spitting nails. "What the hell was that? Huh?" He punched his palms at Sam's jacket, shoving him back. "You trying to get us killed or something? I though we were going to have a nice relaxed evening, just drinking and playing pool and doing all that brotherly schmoop and you had to go screw it up!"

"Oh, so says Mr. Machismo!" Sam was trying to force words from a closed throat.

"So it's like that, huh? I've never started a fight, Sam, especially not when I was drunk!" He checked himself, because that didn't sound right coming from him and he was pretty sure it wasn't true, but there it was. "Now what the hell?"

"Fuck off, Dean."

"Excuse me?" He grabbed at his brother again, and was slammed into the side of the Impala. Air escapes his lungs in a pained whoosh. Son of a bitch, it hurt. Dean seized Sam's hand with his good one, trying to pry away the grip while trying not to fall on his face. All he could manage was to hold onto him as Sam's temper slowly faded, as he stared into Dean's eyes with more agony than should ever be put into a man's being.

Dean loosened his grip, then tried again to pry his fingers away, but with less effort. Release and pry, until he was almost massaging his brother's hands, soothing the tension away from him, seeing Sam's face fall until he let Dean go and turned away, his shoulders slumped. One hand rose to his face, Dean didn't know if it was to wipe away tears or rub away the headache that was sure to come. He didn't move, allowing Sam to regain a measure of control. It wasn't until Sam's arm dropped to his side that Dean spoke. "Dude. You get pissed and wanna beat up something, you beat me up, okay? It ain't worth all this."

There was a forced laugh, and Sam turned, wavering slightly. "Not worth all this? Beat you up? Are you fucking serious?"

"I'm just saying it's probably safer in the long run, 'cause I'm not as likely to turn your face into Jello as those guys. I mean I can do it, sure, but I probably won't."

"Because you're such a good guy."

"That's right."

Sam snorted and turned away. "You may be a good guy and all, Dean," he said to the night air, "but right now I swear I can't stand to look at you." His voice choked.

Dean just leaned against the car, saying nothing. It was sinking in. After three long weeks, the reality of their situation was sinking in, and the helplessness and panic Sam was feeling was tangible. Dean knew it, and he knew nearly getting himself killed on their last hunt had upped the tension level, oh, about eight million degrees or so.

They had been staking out a demon in Ohio. Found it in an abandoned house. The damn thing had him cornered, his weapon having been pulled away. He could remember his gun skittering across the floor, how it sounded so pitiful, so helpless. So useless.

To say the demon had been enraged was the understatement of the century. There was nothing playful about this one; no taunting words, no anecdotes, no monologues. It simply wanted to kill, and Dean was the victim, and for a moment as the demon came for him with outstretched hands – Dean hesitated.

He actually paused. He refused to move, and watched death come for him.

Sam was witness to that hesitation, and had been freaking out ever since. But on the inside, of course, because he had spent the past week getting Dean back on his feet again after barely saving him from the attack.

Dean had slept for two days as his body healed. His face still held a scar, cut straight down his cheek, and his right hand and wrist was still bandaged. A cast hadn't been needed, thankfully, though he had spent four days with his arm in a sling. That combined with Sam's hovering was enough to make him want to string up Sam's ass in one. Not that he had any room to say anything. Sam's occasional glare was more than enough to put him in his place. In recompense he endured the pain, and the looks, and Sam not letting him fend for himself until he finally had enough, threw the sling away, wrapped the strained wrist, and insisted they both go out and get drunk.

Then this shit had to happen. Fan-fucking-terrific.

"So you can't stand the sight of me, huh? That's ripe, coming from someone who started a fight for no good reason other than to find someone else to blame for this shit. And so help me, if I broke my wrist for real this time? You're never hearing the end of it." He hadn't even realized it until that moment, but man, his hand hurt like crazy.

The rebuttal and subtle accusation made Sam turn. He hesitated, then huffed slightly and walked to Dean, carefully taking his arm and holding the injured wrist, angling it slowly in the moonlight. "Does it hurt?"

"Of course it freakin' hurts, Sam! What the hell do you think, that was all sunshine and roses back there?" Dean pulled his hand away, thought to be honest he was glad Sam had touched him. Far be it for him to use an injury as a ploy, but dammit, there was something going on here that he just couldn't get a hold of and he didn't like it a bit. He was ready to pull out any trick he could find to get Sam to talk to him.

Sam just winced slightly. "I'm sorry."

"No," Dean muttered, "you're not sorry. You're not sorry in the least."

"How do you know?"

"I have eyes, Sam. Now tell me what's going on or I swear to god I'm going to leave your ass on the side of the road and call that bar and tell them where they can pick you up."

The Impala wavered slightly as Sam leaned hard against it. Dean felt it, almost like his car didn't know his own brother and had tried to back away from his approach. For Dean's part, he shifted and stood shoulder to shoulder with Sam, waiting patiently, not allowing Sam to ease away.

Sam just looked off into the trees, then finally smiled ruefully. "I don't know, man," he said softly, his eyes finding the scuffed ground beneath their feet, "I just feel like. . .I wanted to do something rash. I can't – I don't know what to do, I don't know how to deal with this. I can't deal with this. Now I know how you felt with Dad. I couldn't say anything to make you feel any better, and you can't say anything to make me feel better, so don't even try it." Sam angled his head to look at Dean. "I had no idea. I hate that I understand that feeling now. And I'm – I swear to god, Dean." Frustration had taken over again, and Sam pushed away from the car. Dean almost felt the car sigh in relief.

It was the first time they'd even come close to talking about what happened since that fateful night, and it was happening now only because they were too drunk to prevent it, though Dean had the shaky feeling that he was sobering faster than he cared to. Sure, little comments had popped up here and there. A bad joke, maybe, things like being in a diner and Dean saying, "I'll be in hell before we get served in this place." But no discussion, no emotional outbursts, nothing. Dean had been grateful, until he saw how it was slowly eating Sam up inside.

Now he listened. He had to. He had to save his brother's sanity, especially if it was a topic that was so traumatic Sam was willing to discuss it only when drunk. And that was yet another thing that just wasn't Sam. He was the one to bully Dean into opening up. He didn't believe in blocking off emotions. It didn't usually take alcohol to get him to talk.

Until now.

Sam didn't face him. He kept his eyes on the dark line of trees that bordered the desolate road. "I mean, I know why you did it. I might have done the same thing, hell, I don't know. I hope I never have to find out. But god dammit, Dean, didn't you stop to think? Huh?" Sam started to pace, spearing his brother with heated glances. "Didn't you stop to think maybe I can't live without you any more than you thought you could live without me?"

No, actually the thought hadn't crossed Dean mind. And damn him for bringing that up. "But you did, Sammy. You left all this behind when you went to school. You can do that again. You can start over."

"Don't you dare!" Sam growled. He looked like he was ready to slam Dean against the car again. His expression was dark, darker than Dean has ever seen it, and he understood, really understood, for the first time just how much pain he had inflicted on his brother by saving him. Son of a bitch.

"How the hell am I supposed to just drop everything and go back to the way things were, after all this?" Sam pleaded.

"I don't know, Sam. But you've done it before." It was a lame answer, god it was lame! But his head was spinning and he knew there was no convincing defense for his actions.

"No. Not after all this. No way."

"Aw, come on." Dean offered a smile. "Give it a year. You'll forget I ever existed."

Again Sam surprised him by rounding on him, slamming his hands against the car, right above Dean's shoulders. He leaned in. "I can't do that, Dean. You know that." His eyes burned angrily, almost painfully. "I can't believe you'd say that to me."

"Sam. . .I was joking, man."

"No." Sam backed off and winced, pressing his fingers against the bridge of his nose. "Why did you do that, anyway? It was useless. I'm still. . ." his finger twirled beside his head, "you know."

"Sam, don't." Don't go there.

"Dean, you saw what I did in there!"

"What you did was lose your temper! Hell, I lost my temper!"

"But it could mean. . ."

"Nothing, Sam!" I said don't go there. "It means nothing."

"You don't know that."

Dean was definitely feeling sober now. "I'm telling you Sam, this is bullshit."

"We don't know what's happening to me!"

"What, because you decided to knock down a few freaks in a bar? Are you seriously going to label that going darkside? 'Cause if that's the case then I was screwed way before I ever made that pact." Dean winced at the sudden pain in his brother's eyes. Shit, only the great Dean Winchester could talk about his pact with the demon like it was some goddamn vacation rental contract. "Look. You got pissed off. No big deal." Sam turned from him again, started to walk away, but Dean gritted his teeth and pulled him back. "Hey, I wasn't finished!"

"Yes, you were." Sam yanked his arm away.

"Dude, what is with you?" Dean frowned at him, studied him. "Look, just pull your boxers out of your ass and talk to me, huh?"

Sam's nostrils flared as he breathed heavily, his jaw clenching tight. He jabbed a finger down the road, back where they had left the bar. "Those people in there? That was nothing. That was nothing compared to what I could have done to them." He paused. "Or what I wanted to do to them."

Dean felt the remnants of his anger dissolve into concern. "What are you talking about?"

"Forget it, Dean."

"That's why you pulled me out?"

"I had to leave. I had to, God, I wish – I wish I could explain it."

Dean felt like he had when he first learned of Sam's visions. Sucker-punched and not sure what to say. "Sam, that's a good thing, right? I mean you didn't go all postal in there. You controlled it. We left."

"I was holding back," Sam said. "But I tell you, Dean, after that man bumped you and I saw how you grabbed your hand – I snapped. It was like a bolt of energy. I felt like I could take out every person in that place. It scared me."

"And you got it under control," Dean reaffirmed. He found a smile, but it didn't linger. "So what, you were protecting me? I thought that whole protector thing was my gig."

Sam snorted. "Yeah, well, I did say it was my turn to save your ass for a change."

Dean acknowledged that with a tilt of his head and pursed his lips. "True. Not exactly what I had in mind, though."

Sam's mouth widened, and he laughed. He looked down at the ground and fucking laughed, his shoulders shaking, his hair flopping over his eyes. Dean tried to grin, but the knot in his stomach wouldn't allow it.

"Aw, God, I'm screwed, man," he said after the chuckles faded. "I'm so screwed." He still smiled, but it was rueful. He walked to the front of the car and sat on the hood, searching the night sky. There was nothing to see, only the spontaneous appearance of clouds backlit with distant lightning. "This thing in me – I can feel it."

Dean held up a hand. "Whoa, whoa, wait. This thing? What thing?"

"This – this feeling. This expansive. . .this power. I'm trying, but – I like it, Dean. I like how it feels."

Dean's chest constricted. His brows drew down over concerned eyes, and he angled his head so he could hear better, because this. . .this wasn't right, surely he was missing something. "What power, Sam?" He heard his voice harden. "You mean like visions-type power? 'Cause I thought that was done."

"No! It's – God, I wish I could tell you! It's like," his eyes had gone from dark to light, much like a enthralled child's. His hands were clasped loosely in his lap. "It's like that feeling you get around Christmas time, you know? When you're looking forward to something and you just know you're going to get it, but the waiting is killing you."

Dean slowly raised his hip and eased onto the hood beside his brother. "All I can remember about feeling like that is when I wanted those Transformers." He managed a desperate chuckle. "Man, that was ages ago. Can't even remember playing with the things. I think you ate them." He frowned again. "I think that was the last time we had a real Christmas."

"How old were we?"

"Dunno. Not sure. I think you were four."

Sam grinned. "And I ate your Transformer?"

"Well, the dog sure as hell didn't."

Sam's mouth quirked. "We didn't have a dog."

"Exactly."

Sam's head lowered again, and he seemed more like the Sam that Dean knew. He looked up at the sky again, and shook his head. "I don't know, man," he sighed, "it's just – something's going on, and I'm not as scared of it as I should be. That's a good thing, though, right?" His hazel eyes sought Dean's greener ones, needing reassurance.

Dean sure as hell hoped so. Dammit, was he ever going to reach a point when he didn't have to worry? "Hey, whatever moves your furniture." He looked up at the stars, wondering just what Sam was seeing up there. "Just don't freak out when I get a little backed into a corner, huh? Not like I can't take care of myself, just because. . .hell, Sam, you were the one that said to leave those dudes alone in the first place!"

"Take care of yourself? You mean like you took care of yourself in Ohio?" And Sam turned, and fixed him with a gaze so impassioned that Dean's breath caught. "Dean, all these years you've looked out for me. Can't I return the favor, just for a little while?"

Dean swallowed hard, and lowered his head. This was a feeling he was just starting to recognize, something deep within him that stirred when he heard the unabashed love in his brother's voice. It had always been there, but Dean had been so busy being the big brother that it never occurred to him that the years between them weren't many, and that adulthood had further closed the gap. This Sam was perfectly capable of taking care of himself and Dean, and more than willing to do so. "No, you can't," he told his younger brother firmly as a fat raindrop fell onto the hood, "because you're a wuss. And if you ever start a fight like that again I'll kick your ass after kicking theirs."

"Pfft. Glad to see some things never change." Sam smirked. Another drop fell, prompting him from his seat on the hood. He opened his car door.

"Damn straight." Dean climbed in behind the wheel and cranked up his baby. The rev of the engine combined with the sudden downpour drowned what Sam said next.

Above them the storm brewed, and watched them closely.