A/N: Sorry this has taken so long. My health has been a little less than awesome lately, and it affected my writing and computer time. Thank you again, everyone, for your reviews and support, they really do keep me going. I hope you all don't mind, this chapter is a little long... Thanks much to TraSan for Sam insight, she helped me get it right (I'd tell you where, but hey, no spoilers.)

Man in the Wilderness

Chapter Three

I spend my life and sell my soul on the road
And I'm still in the dark
'Cause I cant seem to find the light alone

The screams bouncing around the warehouse had begun to take form. At first, it had been mindless shrieks of agony, then slowly, over the immensity of time he'd been there, they had reverted to the scream that had been torn out of him during his first decade in hell.

Of course, he was trying his best to just not scream anything, but that never had worked, in hell or this little slice of hell he was trapped in right now. Dean was still pretty, almost totally, yep, pretty damn sure, he was most likely not in hell. The fact his body was slowly habituating to the torture Delia was dishing out was his one clue. In hell, it never got better, but here...He wondered if Sam would think he was insane when he said the one thing he was clinging to was the fact that she kept having to change up the torture as his body became accustomed to the pain, and she needed to devise something else to make him scream.

She'd finally stopped asking where Sam was, he was sure she was feeling close to his breaking point, close to finally giving in, telling her and letting her kill him slowly. Oh, yeah, she promised that, but now a slow and torturous death actually seemed like fun compared to the moment to moment existence he had right then.

"Are you awake?" Delia purred.

"Nope, screaming in my sleep again." Dean managed to get his eyes open, the world had an odd pink edge to it.

"Lovely, I was thinking, you must be tired of laying around," she said conversationally.

"Nah, I like how pieces of the ceiling keep dropping into my eyes. It's nice." He ground his teeth together as she pulled the pins out of his arms and legs.

For a fleeting second he was almost pain free. Or it seemed that way—and that's what almost broke him. Tears were suddenly in his eyes and he took deep gasping breaths. In that moment the stray thought he'd kept firmly at bay crept in as well. Sammy? Are you still looking for me? I kinda fucked this up, didn't I?

Delia had walked away and Dean could hear her doing something against the far wall. He tried to push himself up, but his body refused to respond to any command other than "just lie there." She was back after several minutes of almost blissful rest. The smile on her face was terrifying. She ran a long fingernail over his chest, he felt skin peel away, but luckily, that was an area that didn't seem to respond to pain as well anymore.

"Let's go," she said, grabbing his wrist in a vise like grip, then dragging him over the floor of the warehouse, nails and broken glass tore at him during the passage. When she reached the wall, she hauled him up one handed and fastened a pair of handcuffs over his wrists. With a soft purr she pointed up, Dean looked.

A meat hook.

Oh god, oh no.

She laughed and lowered the hook down, letting it bang against his head and shoulders before grabbing it and running it along his chest and back, laughing softly as his breathing changed. Finally, with a last chuckle, she draped the handcuffs on the hook and hauled it up.

The rush of relief nearly killed him.

Then he saw what she had in her hands and he screamed again, the scream with meaning, the scream he'd been fighting all along, but in that moment he reached out to the one thing that might save him, might release him from this. The one thing that had always been there. He'd fought it, but it was there, torn out of him...

"SAM!" his voice echoed weirdly in his head. "SAMMY!"

XXX

Sam was getting desperate. In the two days since Dean had disappeared from the bar, things had gone from bad to worse. The police had started finding bodies in empty warehouses and buildings. All of them had been tortured to death, slowly, horrifyingly tortured. Sam had gone to the morgue to see what he was dealing with—because he was sure it was related to Dean. One of the bodies had turned out to be Dammond Johnson, a hunter Sam met over the summer while Dean was...was... gone. Johnson was a mess, Sam looked over the autopsy reports, then managed to keep his coffee down while the ME showed him the body.

"Haven't seen anything like this," the ME said with a happy sigh.

"What do you mean?" Sam asked, looking at the body.

"Whoever did this was a pro, knew just what they were doing—kept him alive for a long time."

"Yeah," Sam swallowed the bile that had taken up residence in his throat. Oh, god, Dean, hang on. Looking at the body, Sam knew without a doubt they were dealing with demonic torture. He was also beginning to suspect that the bodies were messages from Lilith aimed at him. "What?" he said, glancing up.

"Oh, I said, sometimes the cruelty people can manage amazes even me."

"Yeah, me too, thanks," Sam shook the man's hand and walked out. He took several deep breaths to control the nausea burning through his body, then went on. As he headed out the door, he groaned. "I haven't found him, I don't know where he is, I don't know what's going on. Leave me alone," he said as he walked towards the Impala, the angels trailing behind him,

"We have information," Castiel said.

"What?" Sam turned back.

"We heard that Delia is in town."

"Delia?" Sam asked, madly running through the list of demons in his head, the name didn't pop off the list.

"She knew Dean in hell," Castiel said grimly.

"So, she's got Dean," Sam said eagerly. "Where are they?"

"We don't know."

"You were just letting me know who had him?" Sam growled, breathing through the anger that blossomed every time the angels put in an appearance. "Thanks. I'll get on that."

"When you find him, you call us," Uriel said.

"No." Sam got in the car and turned it on, he was proud of himself when he resisted the urge to flip off the angels as he pulled out.

Once he cleared the parking lot, he turned towards the warehouse district that lined the railroad tracks. He'd been through it several times, trying to find something, anything, to help him located Dean. The bubbling desperation hovered on the edge of blind panic most of the time and it was making it hard to think. He had to find his brother, they'd hash out the reason Dean took off once Sam was sure he was okay. Then I am kicking his ass, helping him up, kicking his ass again, getting him a coffee, and kicking his ass. Sam sighed, the idea Dean had left was still hard to get around, still impossible to accept. Dean only left once before, and he'd come back that time.

Past

The arguments had slowly ceased, silence had descended between Sam and his father. They spoke to each other only as much as was needed. Sam was angry that Dean was gone, he was pretty sure his father blamed him. He still had no idea what had caused the argument the night Dean left, but it was there between them like a huge wall they were both ignoring.

Sam watched his father pacing around the hotel room like a caged tiger. John would walk to the windows, look out, pace to the bathroom, turn on the lights, walk to the door, open it, pick up the remote, change the channel and then back around again. Sam wondered if either Dean or John realized they both did that. Pacing when they were angry, or nervous—or worried. Because Sam knew that's what was going on with his father, John was worried. Dean had been gone a week with no word except the evening message on Sam's phone to let them know he was okay. Sam made the mistake of answering the first night, Dean had hung up, since then, he and John would wait through the ringtone, and hold their breaths until the phone beeped to indicate a message. Every evening for a full week.

And there was more.

Sam and John had finished the hunt that they were working on before Dean left. It hadn't gone well. Sam still wasn't sure what happened, but when he came to, his leg ached and now the wound on his thigh was deeply infected. The fact his father was making "hospital" noises terrified him. They didn't go to the ER unless it was life and death.

Of course, Sam knew how bad it was, he could feel the fever coursing through his body, slowly sapping his energy. He could smell the wound, knew what the odd throb meant. He wanted his brother, wanted to be able to say sorry and goodbye and everything else he worried about never having said during long fevered hours.

"I'm calling Dean," John said for the fifth time that hour.

"No, dad," Sam said, blinking at the blurry form bending over him.

"Sam..."

"He needs to get his ass back here," John continued, undaunted.

"You told him not to come back if he left, dad," Sam said reasonably, then realized what he said, all the color drained out of John's face. "Sorry," he mumbled and closed his eyes.

A cool hand was placed on his forehead. "We need to go in, I've let this go too long," John said. Before Sam could protest, he was lifted up and carried to the truck. John latched the seatbelt around him.

"I'm okay," he said. When his phone started ringing, Sam answered it without thinking. "Hey?"

There was a long, long pause on the other end, Sam almost broke the connection, but his fingers hadn't caught up with the commands his fevered brain was trying to send them. "Sammy?" Cautious, suspicious. "Sam?" Dean asked.

"Dean."

"What's wrong?" That snap had a ring of urgency to it.

"Nothin', Dean, s'fine." Sam glanced at his father, John's jaw was clenched so tight, Sam was sure he'd break a tooth. He needed to finish this before his father grabbed the phone.

"Sam?"

"Din sleep good last night, tired."

"It's five in the afternoon, Sammy, what's wrong?"

Every fiber of his being was screaming at him to tell Dean what was happening. Dean promised long years before that Sam would never be alone in a hospital. "I'm okay. Where're you?"

"Sam?"

"Gotta go," Sam hung up the phone before his father's reaching hand could close over it.

"What the hell?" John snapped. "He needs to be here."

"No, he doesn't want to be here, I'm not telling him." Sam looked out the window, aware of tears coursing down his cheeks.

"He needs to get his ass back here."

Sam was silent, watching the town go by until they pulled up at the ER. By the time he was settled in a bed, IV tubes in his arm and nurses asking him questions, sticking him with things and muttering, he wished he'd ask his brother to come home. The combination of the fever, the stress of the hospital and his father growling at everyone without exception. He demanded answers from the doctor, pestered the nurses, and paced up and down the short length of corridor outside of Sam's room.

They'd been there for nearly an hour when Sam's phone rang. He pulled it out. "Hey," he said, then stopped, hoping Dean hadn't heard...

"Sam? What's wrong?"

Of course he heard it. "Nothing, Dean, I'm okay," Sam said, carefully ennunciating each word.

"Yeah, okay, fine, nothing's wrong."

"Where are you?" Sam asked, the words were out of his mouth before he even though about it. Not sure I mix well with morphine.

"Sam?" Dean was quiet for a moment, Sam could picture him standing with the phone in his hand trying to hear what was happening on Sam's end. "I'm at a bar, found a hot waitress, I think I'll spent a little time with her tonight," Dean chuckled. "Talk to you later, Sammy."

"Dean...?" Please come home, please, Dean.

"Yeah, Sam?"

"Have fun."

"Right."

Sam took a deep breath, almost told Dean everything, but then just hit the off button on the phone. He could see his father talking to the doctor, John was angry. Sam could tell from his stance from the way his hand clenched and unclenched. His father was shaking his head, then cast a worried glance in his direction. Sam tried smiling, but he was suddenly just too tired to do anything but clasp his phone to his chest and close his eyes.

"What do you mean?" John's angry growl pulled Sam out of a dream.

"Dad?" Sam opened his eyes, they felt gritty and glued closed. He was in a different room, there was a TV on the wall and sunlight was peeking through the partially closed curtain. John had his back to him, talking to a man a white coat. "What's going on?" he asked, or he thought he did, John didn't turn, so Sam let his eyes drift up to the TV and the black and white movie. Creature from the Black Lagoon, Sam identified it with a twinge. One of Dean's favorites. The light form the windows was making his head hurt, he closed his eyes again.

The room was quiet when he surfaced the next time. His skin felt hot and stretched, he was thirsty, his throat ached and his leg was throbbing in time with the beeping coming from beside him. He tried to get his eyes open, they wouldn't respond. After several breaths, he heard someone moving in the room and a hushed conversation by the door, he couldn't make out the words, but he knew his father was upset. He tried to push beyond whatever was holding him, but gave up and sank back into the fevered darkness.

"Who's Dean?" a female voice was asking the next time he hovered close to the surface..

"His brother," John said.

"He's asking for him."

"I know, I tried calling, he's not answering."

Dean? Where are you? I want to go home, I hurt. Where are you?

Sam drifted away again.

That pattern seemed to go on forever. Barely waking, trying to focus on the sounds around him and drifting off in a haze of increasing pain and confusion. He started talking, he didn't even realize it at first, but after awhile, he could hear his own voice—asking for Dean, asking to go home, asking for Dean, asking for the pain to stop. Sometimes voices answered, sometimes a cool feeling would slide into his arm and everything would become silent for awhile.

"I want to go home," he said.

"You need to get better first," a quiet voice answered, a cool hand was placed on his forehead, the fingers trembling.

"I hurt, I want to go home."

"I know, but you need to get better first," the voice said patiently. The thumb on the trembling hand was gently stroking his forehead

"Want Dean."

"Sammy," the voice said gently.

"Dean?" Sam asked, the tone in the voice finally clicked.

"Can you get your eyes open?"

"Yeah." He tried, and after what felt like an hour, light crept in. Sam blinked slowly and focused on his brother. "You're here?"

"Where else?" Dean smirked at him.

"You still mad?"

"Doesn't matter."

"You gonna leave?"

"I just got here."

"Not what I meant," Sam said, trying to stay awake.

"We'll talk when you get better. I'll stay at least that long."

"Promise?"

"Yeah, I promise," Dean said with a smile.

"TV?"

"I'll turn it on, but you have to try and sleep, okay?"

"Yeah," Sam let his eyes close. "You came home." The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. He was already drifting away when he heard his brother's quiet words.

"Yeah, I did, Sam."

Present

"SAM!"

Sam stopped the car and turned the engine off. The memory fell away as the warehouse came into focus.

"SAAAAAAAM!"

It was a scream of unbelievable agony.

Sam got out of the car, trying to get a better idea of where that cry had come from.

"SAMMYYYYY!"

He was moving towards the huge building in front of him before his brain caught up with his legs. Sam raced along the side, trying to find an entrance—door, loading dock, hole, he didn't care, he just had to get to Dean to stop that sobbing agony that was drenching the air. He finally spotted a door—it had a heavy padlock on it and it looked like it have been screwed shut. Sam put his weight against it—it didn't shift. He cast a desperate glance up and down the wall, hoping for another entrance, then tried the unmovable door again. Still nothing, there's a surprise. He hit it with his shoulder. The boards creaked a little, but still no movement.

"SAAAAAAMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!"

He would never know what happened. Never have an explanation for it. One second he was slamming into the door, the next he was inside, racing for a set of stairs. Somehow he knew Dean was up those stairs. When he reached the bottom he slowed, he didn't want to alert the demon he was there until the last moment. He eased up the stairs, taking them four at a time, but trying to stay silent. As he neared the top he ducked down to get a look at what was happening. While Dean had been... been.. gone... Sam had learned to be a little careful on the attack, having no one at his back made him cautious—at times.

"What do you think this is for?"

"Frying chicken? I could use some," Dean answered. It took everything Sam had to not just barrel over the top of the stairs. Oh my god, oh god.

"You got the frying part right. So, shall I ask about Sammy?"

"It's Sam," Dean growled.

"You've been screaming his name."

"It just slipped out."

"Right, it slipped out for what? Twelve years in hell,too? Huh, Dean? He's not coming. Just tell me where he is."

"Fuck you."

"Ah, Dean, so sweet."

Sam was still hesitating when he heard the very distinctive sound of a blow torch being lit. He was up over the top of the stairs less than a second later, tearing across he space separating him from Dean and the demon. She was slowly lowering the torch towards Dean's naked chest when she noticed Sam.

"Sammy," she sigh happily and backhanded Dean so hard his head snapped back on his neck.

"NO!" Sam said diving towards her, he hit her with enough force to knock her away from Dean. "Dean?" he said, trying to lift his brother's head. Dean's eyes fluttered. "Dean?"

"Sammy," the woman, Sam assumed it was Delia, said from behind him, "I was wondering when you'd show up." She grabbed him and threw him away from Dean, he slammed into the floor, stunned for a moment. "Dean's been waiting a long time." She laughed and ran a hand over Dean's face. "Haven't you?"

"Fu..."Dean mumbled.

Sam watched in horror as she pulled a long thin piece of metal out of her back pocket and rammed in into his brother. Dean screamed, no words that time, just a scream of unbearable pain, she was twisting the metal, driving it deeper when Sam stood.

"Stop."

"No," She said with a laugh.

"Stop," Sam repeated desperately. "Hang on, Dean!" Sam tried to focus.

"Make me," she purred. Dean's screams changed tone as she pushed another piece of metal into him. Sam took a step towards her, but she held him off with a wave of her hand. "Not that easy."

"Stop," Sam said, slowly drawing on the power to drive her back to hell.

"Or what?" she asked conversationally, Sam didn't see what she'd done, but Dean's screams ramped up another notch. "Lilith wants to talk with you."

"Let him go," Sam said, his desperation giving way to a blinding rage, he could feel it building in his chest, like the pressure of a breath held to long. The power was building too, slowly, warming him with a soft fire.

"I like him. We got to know each other well while he was in hell with me."

The anger was filling him with power. It was heady, dizzying. "Let him go," he said softly, surprised at the almost toneless quality in his voice, it was an odd counterpoint to the white rage filling him, to the power licking along his body.

It felt good.

He could end this, save Dean. He let it build more, let it flow through him. He could end this misery, stop her, stop all of them. "Let him go."

"No," she said, pouting at him. "He's mine."

"Never," Sam whispered and held his hand out. He'd banished demons before, this shouldn't be hard, not with the power pulsing through him.

It felt really good.

He could stop this, save Dean, save everything, maybe. Sam focused the power, felt it move through him and out his hand.

"Nice try." Delia blinked at his first attempt, then laughed, he felt the little push as she resisted him. "Not good enough for this, that little skank hasn't taught you how to deal with anything like me. Now, where was I?" Dean screamed, the cry cutting off suddenly, like a switch had been turned off. "Look what you made me do."

"Get away from him," Sam said, his voice deepening. He focused the rage, the power I can end this... and struck out at her again. She staggered that time. Sam laughed at the surprise on her face and concentrated.

It felt so damn good.

There was nothing but the amazing flow of power through his body, nothing but the look of increasing shock on Delia's face. I can end this...It was all there in that moment, everything else stripped away.

Delia started screaming.

The demon was starting to leave its host, the smoke wisping around the body frantically as if it didn't understand what was happening. I can end this... A tiny part of Sam wondered if the body still had the human soul in it, the rest was full of that amazing power, blood-red, tinged with black, filling him to the point of bursting. He could do anything. Somewhere far, far off, he sensed something tremble and laugh "yes, yes"—but it didn't matter. Nothing did.

It felt so fucking good.

"Yes, yes, yes" the laughter whispered.

He listened to the voice laughing in his head, listened focused and then power...power...POWER! Enough to do anything he wanted. He heard himself laugh as the last of Delia was blasted from the body, watched as it fell to the floor with a sickening dead thud. There had been nothing there, no soul, not spark of humanity--he could sense that, so he focused, getting ready to blast the body into hell along with Delia... Getting ready to...

"Sammy?" a far off whisper, pain-laced.

He turned to the body hanging from the meat hook, the power pulsing through him, sparking off his fingers.

"Sammy?" Dean mumbled. "Sam?"

Dean, oh god, Dean. The power, the anger, drained out of him, Sam stumbled to his brother. "Dean?" No response. Sam put his hand against Dean's throat, feeling for a pulse. He'd been so sure he'd heard his brother speak. "Oh god, hang on, oh god," he breathed, carefully pulling the metal from Dean's body. After he dropped those, he looked around for a way to get Dean down, when he couldn't spot the release, he just lifted his brother until Dean's hands slipped free of the hook. He caught the dead weight easily, cradling Dean against him as he carefully lowered him down. "Dean?" Tears were flowing down Sam's face. "Dean?"

"Sammy?"

"Yeah, Dean, I got you." Sam dropped to the floor, laid Dean down and picked the lock on the handcuffs, trying ignore the wounds on Dean's body long enough to get him out of there. If he really looked, he knew he'd break.

"Sam?" Dean said desperately, his eyes fluttered.

"You're safe," Sam said.

Slowly, so slowly Sam didn't notice the movement at first, Dean's arm lifted towards Sam. "Sam?" Dean seemed stuck on that one word, his arm trembling as he reached for Sam.

"I've got you, Dean," Sam said, pulling Dean against him, and feeling Dean's arm wrap around him. "You're safe."

"Safe,"his brother sighed. "Sam." Dean turned his head into Sam's shoulder and with a soft sobbing breath, relaxed.

Sam tightened his hold for a minute. "I am, too. Thank you, Dean. I think you might have..." He let the words stop, carefully picked his brother up and carried him out of the warehouse.

XXX

Awareness was creeping back. Dean waiting for the smell to come back as well, the scent of hell, sulfur and rotting flesh, but it didn't come. Neither did the screams that had usually come with awareness. Instead of the hard broken ground, he was lying on something soft and a cool breeze was softly touching his face. Huh, weird. The odd throbbing that wasn't pain, but would be, was there, but it was different, too. Huh.

"Dean?" Sam said gently.

Sammy?Ah, Sammy, why are you in hell?

"I'm sorry."

I am too, I don't want you to be here.

"I have to set your fingers, Dean." A second later an ice-cold, trembling hand touched his.

Fingers? Set my fingers? He paused as Sam picked up his hand.

"I'm glad you're out, this is going to hurt."

Not out, Sammy. Am I in hell?

"Ready? One, two..." Sam said, Dean felt a snap in his hand. It didn't hurt, relief flooded him. If Sam was there.... Maybe... Not in hell, Sam found me, not in hell, Sam got me out. NOT IN HELL. Sam was doing something else with his hand, then a towel full of ice was placed on it. Great, my fingers are broken again, glad Sam is good at that. Wait, why didn't that hurt? Oh shit, this might be bad. "I think that cut on your leg might need a couple of stitches, too. I'm not sure what to do about the..." Sam stopped, from the tone in his voice, Dean was pretty sure Sam was close to tears. "This might sting a little, but I have to clean the wound first." Cold swept across his leg, then Sam's icy hands. "Yeah, I think it might need stitches."

What happened? Dean let the thought drift around in his head, pinging from one side to the other like the old Pong game they'd played with the summer Sam was four. He was still thinking about it when he felt the tug of the first stitch. Shouldn't that hurt? He was worrying about that when awareness slipped away again.

A warm, familiar weight was resting on his chest the next time he woke. He knew what it was without thinking about it. Sam's hand. Dean opened his eyes and looked at his brother. Sam was asleep in a chair by the bed, his arm stretched and twisted at an odd angle so it could rest on Dean's chest. Comforting, but more than that—the patented Dean Winchester vitals monitor. He'd started doing it when Sam had been ill when Sam was seven. Dean could snatch a little sleep during the long hours waiting for Sam's fever to break, but his hand on Sam's chest let him know if his brother's breathing altered, if his heart... Dean shoved that thought away. He'd shown Sam and it had become just part of life for them, they couldn't always risk a hospital, but sometimes their condition was serious enough to need monitoring. Or so he told himself, truth was, when Sam was in that bad of shape, Dean needed contact.

Right now, Sam was the one who looked like he needed contact. Dean wondered when that sadness had crept onto his brother's face. Grief was etched on Sam's face, leaving deep lines and turning his mouth down—even in sleep. There were dark smudges of exhaustion under Sam's eyes, looking like bruises more than anything. Dean suddenly realized he hadn't really looked at Sam since he'd gotten out of the pit. Why? He should have noticed. I might have been a little wrapped up. He sighed softly, careful not to alter his breathing enough to wake Sam. Why did I leave? Oh yeah, pissed at everyone. All the reasons were still there. The anger was distant, like the pain he knew he should feel. When I can get up, I'll go again... Maybe... His eyes closed against his will.

"Delia's dead." Castiel's voice pulled him out of the dark.

"Yeah?" Sam sounded weary. "And?"

"What did you do?" Castiel asked. Dean opened his eyes, the angels were standing in the doorway, Sam blocking them from the room.

"Do?"

"There was blood there, too, human blood. Where's Dean?" Castiel said, a scowl on his face.

"I don't know," Sam said with a defiant lift of his chin.

I'm right here, wait... I did something. Spell, yeah, they can't see me, unless they get close enough to touch, or they are in a human body. Like Delia. What happened to Delia, did Cas say she was dead?

"We think you do," Uriel said.

"Think what you want." Sam shrugged.

"You know what we will do to you if we find out you're hiding him?" Uriel continued.

"I told you, I don't know. He left. I was trying to follow him, but you fucked that up, didn't you?" Sam said casually, anger reflecting in every line of his body. "He left. Walked out. I can't find him, he did something, you know that."

"But you found Delia," Castiel said.

"Maybe. Maybe Dean wasn't there."

"Sammy?" Dean whispered. He saw the muscles in Sam's back tense for a second.

"I think you're lying," Uriel said, putting his hand on Sam's chest to shove him out of the way.

"And I don't care," Sam said, the careful weariness still in his voice. Dean could hear the fear simmering under the casual tone.

"Sammy, be careful."

"Just leave me alone," Sam said, Dean wasn't sure if it was directed at him or the angels. "When I find him, I want to talk with him first."

"You tell us as soon as you find him." Uriel shoved Sam, his brother stumbled and Uriel took a step forward, but Castiel stopped him.

"Listen," Sam said, drawing himself up to his full height, he towered over the others. Dean almost laughed when he realized Sam was balancing a little on his toes to add to his height, but the growl in his brother's voice took the laughter away. "I might tell you when I find him, but if you won't leave him alone, I will make sure that whatever spell he cast to disappear lasts forever."

"You wouldn't dare..." Castiel said threateningly.

"You try that, and you will be sorry," Uriel said.

"Yeah, whatever, get out." And Sam slammed the door.

"Sammy?" Dean said softly, Sam had his head against the door, his shoulders were shaking. "Sam?" Dean started to get up, his body didn't seem to want to respond. "Sam?" His brother didn't move.

"Don't move, they're outside the door," Sam said almost silently.

"What's going on?" Dean asked, still trying to get up.

"Just stay there," Sam commanded. "No matter what, Dean, please." Dean saw the door beginning to tremble. "Oh, this is going to suck." Sam was moving away from the door as it slammed open, Sam was thrown across the room.

"Sam!" Dean made his body move that time, racing to where his brother had slumped against the wall."Sammy?" He put a hand against his brother's neck, Sam's heart was beating, he let out a sigh of relief and glanced over his shoulder.

The angels were advancing purposefully towards Sam, their anger palpable in the small room.

Dean looked at his brother. The emotions that had driven him away were still there, everything, anger, resentment, pain, but... Leaving was a mistake. I need Sammy at my back, and I think he might need me. I can't do this alone, and maybe he can't really either? He's protecting me from them, he... And it hit him. He didn't give up. He kept going. He found me. He saved me, from Delia, from ...hell. No, we're better together, no matter what.

"Hang on, Sammy," he said softly, and stood.

"No," Sam said desperately. "Dean, no."

Dean yanked the amulet he'd made off his neck, the cord snapped and the world made an odd skip. In that moment he put himself between the angels and Sam. "Back off," he growled.

They stopped so fast it was almost comical.

"No," Sam's voice was barely audible.

"Back off," Dean said, taking a step forward. "I think he said you needed to leave?"

"We need to talk," Castiel said.

"Not now," Dean said, shaking his head. "I need time."

"No."

"Yes." Dean took a step towards them. "I need time. And if you don't give it to me, I'll disappear again."

"You wouldn't," Uriel snapped, but Castiel held up a hand to stop his angry words, his eyes searching Dean's face.

"We will give you time, not much, but time." Castiel nodded at him, turned and walked out of the room. With a last growl, Uriel followed.

"He remind you of a rabid pitbull?" Dean said, turning back to Sam. "Sammy?" His brother was fuzzy around the edges.

"Dean!" Sam had himself up and moving as Dean's legs buckled, Sam managed to get them both on the edge of the bed.

"Nice catch," Dean said.

"Why did you do that?" Sam asked, tears in his eyes.

"It was time to come home, Sam," Dean said softly. Home. "Did you kill Delia?"

Sam took a deep breath. "Yeah."

Dean searched Sam's face. "You used your powers?" He didn't really need to ask.

"Yeah," Sam's expression fell. "Dean..."

"I thought I was in hell again, you know?" Dean started speaking, the words tumbling out of his mouth, unstoppable. "She was there, in hell, torturing me. It was like I never got out."

"Dean..." Sam's arm tightened on his shoulder.

"She had a blow torch, it was new, she hadn't done that before. Not in hell, not here, and I knew... I knew that would finally be the end, be the thing that broke me. I was waiting and..." He sighed, aware of tears tracking down his face. "It didn't happen," he whispered.

"That's when I got there," Sam said softly. "I stopped her... Dean... I..."

"You saved me, Sammy... From... Well, it might has well have been hell."

"You..." Sam took a breath. "You saved me, too."

"I don't think the angels would have done anything, Sam."

His brother laughed bitterly, then sighed. "Angels, yeah." A long, long pause. "I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry, too."

"When are you leaving?" Sam asked so quietly Dean barely heard it.

"Not." He let his head drop against Sam's shoulder and put his hand over Sam's heart.

"I'm glad you came back."

"Yeah, me too," Dean said softly. Consciousness was beginning to fade, he still wondered what was wrong, he was pretty sure he should be in a lot more pain, but it didn't really matter. He was home and they were good, well, he sighed, better. They were better. He closed his eyes and let himself relax the word home still in his head as he drifted away.

Epilogue

Sam carefully balanced two large coffees and a box of donuts as he walked back to the Impala from a small diner. Dean was perched on the hood of the Impala, watching something in the distance and scratching at his left hand. "Stop that!" he shouted, Dean turned to him with a guilty look.

"Bite me!" Dean called back with a smile.

It felt normal, almost. They'd talked a little more about why Dean left, why he'd come back. Sam knew the anger was still there in Dean, simmering under the surface, but he had come face to face with the fact that the anger had always been in Dean. He'd just missed it in all the years he'd watched his brother. He'd also realized his own tendency to keep secrets from Dean was part of his brother's anger. Sam was working on it, Dean was working on it, maybe they could move on without, as Dean put it two nights before "the huge freaking chick-flick Oprah calls Dr. Phil moments." Sam wasn't sure, but things felt nearly normal, nearly pre-hell normal.

"Don't spill on yourself this time," Sam said with a smile as he handed Dean a coffee.

"You're just upset that I get all the hot nurses."

"Yeah," Sam said softly, trying to keep up the banter, but the fact the torture Dean had endured had destroyed Dean's pain response was killing Sam. Not just because Sam had to watch Dean closely to make sure he didn't hurt himself, but because it was... Oh god. He swallowed, trying to imagine how bad it must have been for Dean's pain centers to shut down.

"Hey," Dean said softly. Sam looked up and met his brother's eyes. "I'm okay."

"You have blisters on your hand from the coffee yesterday," Sam said, trying to stop the words.

"I know, but they don't hurt," Dean said with that smile. The one he used to get everyone and their sister to do his bidding. It dimmed when Sam didn't smile back. "It's getting better," he said softly. "It itches, that's a good sign, right?"

"Yeah, unless you scratch bloody spots on your hand," Sam said.

"It's kind of cool, like having novocaine everywhere."

"Dean..." Sam paused, wanting to say more, but something on Dean's face stopped him. "Only you would think that was cool."

"It is cool, get with the program." Dean nudged Sam with his shoulder, but instead of pulling away, he stayed leaning against Sam, sipping his coffee staring across the empty parking lot.

Sam sighed. They needed time to talk, time to work through things without the angels, demons and pressures of an impending apocalypse. He'd called Ruby the night before and told her to leave him alone for awhile. She'd been annoyed, but he insisted and, surprisingly, she'd acquiesced without much more prodding. He wondered if she'd somehow found out how close it had come in the warehouse.

He wanted to tell Dean, let him know what had happened, but he wasn't sure he was ready to face what that meant, let alone share it with his brother. That was for another time. Dean had come back, Sam had always wondered what brought him back all those years before, but this time he knew.

And Dean was right.

Things were always easier when they faced them together. Maybe Sam had forgotten that in the time that Dean had been... been... He swallowed. When Dean had been dead and in hell. He had no idea what was coming, but for now, he was content to head out on a hunt and leave all the rest behind.

"My ass is asleep," Dean said after a companionable ten minutes of silence.

"How can you tell, novocaine man?"

"Bite me, bitch."

"Whatever, jerk."

Dean grinned happily. "Ready to hit the road?"

"Yep." Sam helped him to the passenger seat, for all his bravado, the time with Delia had taken a toll, and Dean still needed to recover. "What are you doing?" Sam asked as he dropped into the driver's seat. Almost normal. Sam was driving, so it wasn't all the way normal, but Dean was sitting in the passenger seat, and that was more than okay. "Dude? What are you doing?"

"Looking for... What did you do with it?" Dean was rummaging around under the seat.

"Do with?" Sam turned on the engine and pulled out.

"Ah, found it. This," Dean said, pushing a tape into the player.

Music blasted out of the speakers, Sam laughed. They were good, well, maybe not good, but better, and there was a hunt to start. He glanced over at Dean, then started singing with his brother as the vocals began.

Back in black
I hit the sack
It's been too long
I'm glad to be back

The End

A/N II: I'm still hoping to find a photo op for LA... If someone happens to have an extra one...