Author's Note: Ok, so this fic takes place sometime after BUaBS and it's dedicated to my friend Gillian, who was unnaturally amused by Dean saying "Smack that smart-ass right outta your mouth" lol This one's for you, Gilly-Bean!

Disclaimer: Nope, I still don't own them. Just playing with them for a bit. I'll try to return them to Eric Kripke just like I found them, but I'm not promising anything.

*****************

Dean rested his sweaty forehead against the wall and he took a deep breath. The darkness of the kitchen was pressing in on him more and more with each passing second.

He couldn't remember what time it was, hell, he couldn't even remember what day it was. It felt like he'd been fighting for hours; his body and his muscles were exhausted, his head was pounding, every movement was a new adventure in strain. He couldn't even remember the last time he'd eaten.

It had been the longest two days of his life, and throughout his years as a hunter, he'd seen some long ones. Hunts where he'd been alone and had no one to watch his back…evenings and nights where he'd nearly fallen apart and had no choice but to patch up injuries on his own. Stitches, bruises, bleeding…it was his job to suffer and he'd accepted that the day he'd turned fourteen.

The younger man in the other room, however, wasn't supposed to suffer.

He was Dean's responsibility.

Take care of Sammy. Suffer for him.

Every moan, every cry and every scream of pain that came from his little brother's lips tore at Dean in ways he'd never be able to explain or get over.

He'd heard Sam call for him a few times, in the middle of all of the wailing and cursing…all the Latin and chanting…but it was only glimpses of the brother Dean knew. Sam was fighting for control of himself, and with every minute that passed, Dean found himself worrying more and more.

It had been two days since Dean and Bobby had tied Sam to the old wooden kitchen chair. Two days since they'd trapped him in the enormous Devil's Trap on the ceiling of the library. Two days since the demon inside Sam had vowed that Dean would never talk to his little brother again. It had been two days, and the rock in Dean's stomach just kept on growing.

"Dean?"

He heard Bobby's soft voice from just behind him and Dean opened his eyes, taking another deep breath. "Yeah."

His voice was rough and raspy, and his throat itched and burned.

"Do you wanna…get back to it?"

Did he want to get back to it? If Dean could answer that truthfully, Bobby wouldn't know what the hell hit him. The idea of walking back into that room and looking at Sam's face; the sarcastic sneer that was completely out of place, the casual scorn in his voice, the eyes that were black as pitch.

Evil was wearing his brother's face.

"Dean?"

Dean pulled away from the wall and ran a hand through his sweat-drenched hair, turning to look at the weathered face of the older hunter. Shadows cast across the both of them and the only sound was the heavy breathing and the occasional moan coming from the library.

Bobby's voice was still soft. "You ok?"

"Am I ok?" Dean's voice was hoarse from lack of use and he shook his head, a cold and bitter laugh escaping him. "No, Bobby…I'm not ok."

"Dean-"

"Why the hell isn't this working? We've been at this for two damn days, this should be over by now-"

"I know."

"We've tried exorcism rites from ten different religions, twenty different books-"

Bobby sighed, leaning back against the counter. "There's somethin' else at play here."

"Oh, you think?" Dean couldn't stop the anger or the sarcasm, he was beyond caring. He moved slowly across the kitchen to the doorway of the library and leaned heavily against the frame; Sam's head was hanging low, his shoulders rising and falling quickly as he quietly gasped for breath. The demon was flexing his arms, straining against the thick ropes that bound him.

The fire was crackling in the old grate and almost every flat surface around the room was completely covered with bottles of holy water, bunches of rosaries, exorcism rites and books, as well as several copies of the bible—some in English, some in Aramaic, some in Latin— and all had been as effective as poking Sam with a sharp stick.

It had done nothing but piss the smoky bastard off.

"What is it? A binding link again? What?"

Bobby shook his head, scratching underneath the peak of his grease-covered baseball cap. "There are no markings on Sam's body; no brands, no burns…not even a hint of magic marker."

"So how's it doin' it?"

"Could be an oral link. A specific line of Latin or Aramaic-"

"And we'd break that how?"

The older hunter sighed. "There are a couple books I can check out, I'll make a couple calls-"

"And then what?"

"Find the line of Latin or Aramaic that counters it. That's where we'll run into trouble; it could be anythin', anywhere, in any book or scripture."

Dean closed his eyes tiredly and banged his head lightly against the doorframe in frustration. "We gotta get that son of a bitch outta him, Bobby." He said, his voice low and gravelly. "I don't care what it takes, we're gonna end it."

Bobby approached slowly, placing a gentle hand on the younger man's tense shoulder. "Whatever it takes."

"I want Sammy back."

Thankfully, Bobby didn't comment. All he did was give Dean's shoulder a tender squeeze before dropping his hand and walking quietly from the kitchen; he soon heard the loud thud of a heavy volume slam down onto Bobby's old wooden desk.

The heat was finally starting to get to him and Dean took a deep breath, running his hand through his hair again. He could feel the heat and perspiration underneath his clothes—running down his back, on his forearms, the back of his neck—and all he wanted was to go outside and breathe fresh air.

But as his tired eyes fell on the slumped form of his brother silhouetted in the firelight, leaving him for a single minute—even for something as simple as taking a fresh breath—seemed impossible. He didn't even want to think of actually doing it.

Even though Sam was trapped in his own body, he was in there, and Dean hoped that his little brother could still feel his presence there with him. He hoped that Sam knew he hadn't been left alone.

"Dean."

Sam's soft voice reached his ears and he snapped his eyes up, watching as Sam slowly raised his head. The voice he knew so well was full of pain and exhaustion; his eyes were sunken, his skin pale, beads of sweat resting on his forehead and cheeks. Only Sam could sound like a kid and an adult at the same time. It was something only his little brother could do.

Swallowing hard in preparation for whatever was coming, Dean moved into the library and crossed his arms across his chest; he tried his best to project strength and steel, even though he could drop down to the hardwood and sob in Sam's lap.

Sam took a raspy breath, all of his weight seeming to rest on the rope wrapped around his chest, binding him to the high back of the chair. He was bruised and bloody from thrashing, his clothes wet and singed from holy water. A lump formed in Dean's throat at the sight, knowing he and Bobby were putting Sam through it even if it was for his own good.

"Dean, please."

The quiet plea hitched Dean's chest and he swallowed hard again. He forced hardness into his voice. "Please what?"

"Help me. Please."

"Help you?" Dean leaned forward, painfully looking at his brother's battered face with a sneer on his face. "You're tryin' to take Sam from me…and you want me to help you."

"Dean-"

"You've been torturing him for two days-."

"It's me-" Taking another raspy breath, Sam slowly opened his eyes. Dean's breath caught at the sight of the familiar hazel eyes when they met his--and all of a sudden, he was looking into the face of a five-year-old Sammy, crawling into his bed after a nightmare. Tears were welling in Sam's eyes as he looked up at him. "Dean, it's me."

He wanted to believe it, he wanted it so damn bad. But he knew how demons operated. Dean knew that they played on weaknesses, emotions and connections…the one way to break Dean down was to give him a glimpse of his little brother. Whether or not it was his little brother, he didn't know.

"Help me, please."

"Exorcizo te omnis spiritus immunde, in nomine Dei-"

Sam threw his head back and an inhumanly deep cry broke free from his lips as Dean recited the line of Latin; his face was strained as he squeezed his eyes shut. Sweat glistened off his face.

Dean felt ice water suddenly flow through his veins. "You must really think I'm stupid."

Sam's eyes snapped open, and as Dean expected, they were a terrifying black; the flickering of the flames from the fireplace flashed in the dark eyes and Dean suppressed a wave of nausea. "What can I say?" The demon said with cold amusement. "Your reputation precedes you."

"Go right to hell."

"Been there, done that." A weak laugh. "We've been at this two days, Dean. You should really start thinking about giving up-"

"And give you evil bastards my brother?" Dean shook his head, clenching his fists to keep himself from firing out. "Don't think so."

The demon tilted Sam's head to the side in interest, the black eyes looking more and more sinister. "You see, that's the problem. You're far too attached."

"Is that so?"

"You're so…hell-bent on defending him. Protecting him. You can't do it, Dean. You're not strong enough. Sometimes…you just gotta let people go-"

"Not Sam."

"Right, because without little Sammy, you have nothing." Dean swallowed hard and clenched his fists tighter, his fingernails dug into the palm of his hand. He didn't feel it over the anger that was pounding in his ears and burning through his veins. "All these years, all you've been through, and what have you got to show for it?"

"Shut the hell up-"

"Sam. That's it. Your little brother. He's smarter than you, been given more opportunity. He had friends, a girlfriend, a life. He had an address-"

Dean didn't even feel it when palms started to bleed.

"You've given everything to this punk-" The demon contorted Sam's face into a wicked smile. "Has he ever given anything in return?"

"He never had to."

"Oh, yeah, that's right. Because he's family." He laughed, the high-pitched noise making the hairs on the back of Dean's neck stand up. "He's the only person in the world who ever cared about you, loved you…mommy and daddy included-"

Dean lost control.

He pulled a fist back and landed a violent punch to the side of Sam's jaw. The sickening sound of flesh-on-flesh brought Bobby barreling into the room, a horrified look on his face as he watched Sam slump over once again, a string of blood and saliva dripping from his mouth.

"Dean!"

Bobby's yell forced its way into Dean's consciousness. At the same time, a tidal wave of regret crashed over him; Sam was hurt, exhausted and beaten…and Dean, his self-appointed protector, had just contributed to it.

He felt a hand grip his upper arm in a weak hold and felt moisture well in his eyes against his will. Sam's shoulders rose and fell gently with every forced breath.

Bobby audibly swallowed. "Dean-"

"You find the rite?" There was a hesitance from Bobby and it did nothing but pile more shame onto Dean's already overloaded shoulders. He could feel a weakness in his knees and fought to stay upright. "Bobby?"

Bobby swallowed again. "Yeah, I think I got it. Universal bind breaker. Called another hunter, good friend. He said to give it a try."

"Then do it."

"Dean-"

"Bobby-" Dean turned and glared, pulling his arm from the older man's hold. "Do it."

And without a backwards glance, at either Bobby or his little brother, Dean turned and walked out. He angrily wiped at the tears in his eyes as he went.

****

He made his way outside, settling himself heavily down onto the old and splintering wooden steps of the front porch.

The salvage yard was dark and deserted, the only sounds the occasional howling of the wind or the clank of metal-on-metal. Dean's eyes scanned automatically for any kind of threat, supernatural or otherwise, and found himself almost disappointed when his search turned up nothing.

He wanted to beat on something.

But as he looked down at the bloody knuckles of his right hand—Sam's blood—the desire for more violence seeped out of him quickly.

You're so angry, Dean.

Man, just let it go.

Sam's voice, his brother's voice, from a few days earlier echoed in his mind and he almost found himself smiling. He'd been taught growing up that there was no such thing as too much anger. Anger was a tool…a sharp emotion that would always help him hunt, help him think. If he was hurt or weak, his anger would serve as his fuel. As long as he was angry, he would never be forced to quit.

That was absolute crap.

At that moment, he'd never been more angry in his life. He felt as if he might explode, overflow, with it. His brother had been attacked...he'd been tortured and beaten…forced to do things that would probably haunt Sam for the rest of his life.

And Dean had had to watch all that happen, listen to all of it.

Expressions on his brother's face he'd never seen before, tones of voice, sounds and thoughts. All coming from Sam, but they weren't Sam.

They were something else.

He was furious. And all he wanted to do was quit.

From inside the house, he heard Bobby's loud but shaky voice yelling Latin verses that Dean couldn't understand, verses he'd never even heard before.

He heard the screaming and crying of his little brother. Some screams were high and shrill, others were deep and demonic.

The complete pain of it set Dean's teeth on edge.

"Malum diabolus of barathrum—"

Bobby's voice grew louder and Dean felt his eyes slip closed.

"Per to order of polus—"

There was another deep howl of pain, like a tortured animal.

"Vomica vos tergum in incendia of Abyssus!"

Dean slowly opened his eyes.

Evil devil of the underworld—

As a devoted servant of the heavens—

I curse you back into the fires of Hell.

A sudden gust of air blasted out the open front door of the house, stirring up dirt and dust from the old wooden planks of the porch. The explosion of air was accompanied by a spine-tingling screech as the demon was pulled—by the sounds of it, violently—from Sam's body.

And then, just as suddenly, there was silence.

Dean listened hard for any kind of sound. Sam's voice, Sam's tired thank-you's or acknowledgements.

The only sound Dean got was Bobby's frantic yells.

"Dean! Get in here!"

He was moving before he was even aware of it. The heat of the house hit him like a brick wall as he ran into the library and what he saw made his stomach clench.

Bobby was hovered over Sam, a hand on either side of his face. Sam's face was pale and sickly looking, bruises and bloody gashes covering a good portion of his skin. The ropes, which were still tied around the younger man's wrists, were nearly soaked through with blood…Sam's wrists were raw and chaffed…his hands shook.

Dean approached quickly, unceremoniously elbowing Bobby out of the way and taking his brother's face into his own hands. Sam's skin was hot. "Sam?" Sam didn't respond, didn't even twitch.

There was a river of blood dripping from the corner of Sam's mouth and Dean felt an all-consuming panic when it ran down the side of his hand. "Sammy! Come on, man-"

"Here-" Bobby had reappeared at Dean's side, a fluffy white towel in his hands. Dean watched protectively as Bobby mopped up the blood running from Sam's mouth.

"What the hell kinda exorcism was that!" Dean's anger exploded and he found himself fighting to keep his hands gentle on Sam's face. "He wasn't this torn up before!"

"I dunno, but it broke the binding spell-"

"Whoever that hunter friend of yours is, I'm gonna find him and kick the holy crap out of him!" He nodded his head in the direction of the ropes still binding Sam to the chair. "Get the damn ropes off of him, he needs to lie down." Bobby nodded and dropped the towel, going to work on the blood-soaked ropes with a small silver knife he'd pulled from an old ankle sheath; Dean swallowed hard, running the pad of his thumb tenderly underneath one of Sam's sunken eyes. "Come on, Sammy-" He said quietly, feeling his eyes burn again. "Open your eyes for me, let me know you're in there."

"We takin' him upstairs?"

Dean shook his head. "I'll never get him up there without hurtin' him."

"Hospital?"

"I wanna look him over first." Swallowing hard, he added, "How you doin' with the ropes?"

Bobby grunted lightly as one of the ropes was finally frayed enough to snap. "Just about." He quickly moved to the other side of the chair to start on the other arm.

Dean looked back to Sam's face and almost cried out loud in fear and frustration when he saw that Sam still hadn't moved or shown any sign of anything.

"Sammy, come on man, please."

The second rope snapped and Bobby jumped up, letting the now bloody knife fall to the hardwood with a clatter. "Ok, ropes are cut."

Quickly, Dean rounded to the back of Sam's chair "Ok Sam, come on." Dean cautiously slid his arms under Sam's and tried to lift him from the chair; as soon as there was the slightest movement, Sam gave a quiet moan of pain; Dean swallowed again. "I know it hurts, I'm sorry-" Glancing at Bobby, he said, "Get ready to grab his feet."

"Where to?"

"Living room, the couch."

Again, Dean started to lift Sam from the chair, and again, there was a small and weak moan of pain. With his teeth clenched, Dean finished the movement, supporting all of Sam's weight against his chest. Bobby immediately made a grab for Sam's feet and Dean kicked the chair out of the way as best he could; with a silent agreement, they moved swiftly into the living room, adjusting themselves as they carefully laid Sam down on the plushy couch.

The younger Winchester almost seemed to deflate as he settled into the cushions and Dean wasted no time in kneeling down beside him, smoothing his soaked bangs out of his face.

"Bobby?"

The other man knelt down beside Dean. "Yeah."

"I need a first aid kid, some more clean towels…everything you've got."

Bobby nodded and grunted as he stood up again. He left the room in a blur, flipping on lights as he went.

Dean kept his one hand on Sam's forehead, the other settled gently down on Sam's heaving chest. His breathing was forced and raspy, Dean could feel him trembling.

For the first time in two days, Sam was back in control; only he was too beaten and exhausted to know the difference.

If Dean knew anything at that moment, he knew what it felt like to be exhausted. Sweat clung to his hair, his clothes were soaked with it; he could feel his body starting to shut down even as he forced it to keep moving, to keep thinking.

"It's ok now, Sammy." He said quietly, still smoothing Sam's hair back in the same way that had always calmed his younger brother as a child.

He had no idea if Sam was aware of it, but even if he wasn't, it was serving it's purpose; Sam's trembling slowly stopped, and under each touch of his hand, Dean could feel his muscles relaxing.

"I really need you to open your eyes, Sam." Dean whispered, his voice nearly desperate. Looking down at his baby brother's face, his stomach recoiled at the bruise that covered most of Sam's jaw; Dean knew, right away, that that bruise was his doing.

As his eyes moved away from the nasty looking bruise, Dean somehow managed to hold in a gasp; there, just barely, was the smallest sliver of hazel…the familiar hazel that had looked up to him—and down at him, as Sam grew taller—for as long as Dean could remember.

"There you are." Dean said quietly, leaning a little bit closer; he couldn't help but smile even though his eyes were blurring. "Was uh…wonderin' when you were gonna wake up, Sammy."

"De…"

"Take it easy, don't try to talk, ok?"

Sam swallowed hard, blinking slowly. "…'m tired."

His voice was weak and painfully scratchy, but it was Sammy through and through.

And Dean's smile widened so much his cheeks hurt. "Yeah, I bet you are. You've had one hell of a night."

"Try two nights." Bobby sighed and leaned down on one knee as he dropped the small bundle of towels and set down the small metal container that Dean knew was his first aid kit. Sending a small smile down to Sam, Bobby said, "You look like you went twenty with an anvil."

Sam nodded weakly and swallowed hard again. "A demon…"

"Yeah, kiddo, it was a demon." Grabbing one of the smaller towels, Dean bunched it up and started wiping the remaining blood from Sam's face; he desperately tried to keep his movements gentle. "Two days, now."

"Two…days?"

Before Dean could offer any comforting words, Sam made a distressed sound in the back of his throat. His eyes were squeezed closed and Dean's stomach recoiled again when a single tear leaked from his left eye. "Take it easy-" Sam's hand suddenly shot out and he grabbed a handful of Dean's shirt.

The contact was made out of sheer panic and fear. Dean remembered only too well what had happened the last time Sam had been ridden by a demon; he knew that Sam remembered, too. He also knew that the younger man still hadn't managed to get over it. Killing another hunter, another person, with his bare hands.

I watched myself kill him with my own two hands.

I saw the light go out in his eyes.

The horrible words that had practically been shoved down Dean's throat, the bullet wound that had healed—physically—within only a few weeks, but emotionally, had taken a lot longer. The gap between them that had existed for the days following; they'd treated each other normally, talking and joking, but both had felt it and known it was there.

Unable to think of anything useful to say, unable to imagine what Sam could possibly need to hear, Dean did the only thing he could think of.

As carefully as possible, Dean reached over and gently shifted Sam on the couch. Sliding a hand up into Sam's hair, Dean pulled his little brother close, holding him firmly against his chest. "It's ok, Sammy."

At the sound of Sam's first strangled sob, Dean felt his nerves heighten. His instincts to protect Sam were flaring; though there was no physical threat, not anymore, he could feel the emotional kind closing in.

The fear of having another two days that he couldn't account for.

Sam had lost a total of nine days to demons, and even though he had absolutely no idea what that felt like, Dean's heart broke right alongside his brother's.

********

It had taken only a few hours before Sam had felt well enough to tackle the rickety staircase to the bedroom they usually shared.

Dean had taken his time cleaning the wounds that needed it, icing the bruises that needed icing. Sam's arms were covered in bruises from his shoulders down to his wrists…his wrists were still raw and chaffed from the continued straining against the ropes…his legs were cramped and swollen from him being tied to the chair for so long…

Bobby had subtly stayed downstairs, wanting to give the brothers some privacy and Dean was grateful. He'd been without his Sammy for two days and it had felt like a lifetime; he wanted to be close to him, to hear him and be near him.

They made their way slowly up the stairs, Dean patiently taking every step at the pace that Sam set; impatience was the furthest thing from the older Winchester's mind. He wouldn't have cared if they'd taken another forty-eight hours, Sam was walking under his own steam, and if that wasn't a reason for patience (and intense happiness) then Dean didn't know what possibly could be.

They walked into the darkened room slowly, Dean directing Sam to the closest bed. The beds were untouched, their duffle bags sitting halfhazardly right inside the door, and as Dean finally—and carefully—helped Sam lay down, he let out the breath he felt as if he'd been holding ever since arriving at Bobby's in the first place.

He felt his little brother's eyes on him as he gently pulled off Sam's boots, grabbing the heaviest blanket from his own bed and draping it over Sam snugly.

Sam swallowed hard as Dean, for the hundredth time since the exorcism, ran his hand carefully over Sam's clammy forehead; the older Winchester carefully sat himself down on the edge of the bed, fussing with the blanket distractedly.

It didn't take much to see how completely exhausted Dean was; his eyes heavy and bloodshot, his skin pale and flushed at the same time…he looked like he hadn't slept in weeks. Sam could also tell that his older brother hadn't eaten; that was a Dean-spidey-sense that Sam had perfected over years of diner food and long car rides.

Swallowing hard again, Sam rasped, "You…look terrible…Dean-"

He shook his head absently. "Don't worry about me."

"Have…you slept?"

"Yeah, couple times."

"Dean-" Sam paused, waiting until Dean met his eyes. When he finally did, Sam tried to shake his head; he barely moved, but he knew that Dean saw it. "Don't…lie."

The two brothers looked at each other intently for a moment, having a short stand-off with their eyes; Sam was calling Dean out on the lie and Dean was trying to bury it quickly. Throughout their history, it was usually Dean who won those staring contests…but with how exhausted he was, with how emotionally wrecked he was, he couldn't be bothered to see it through.

Dean sighed and looked away first, raising a hand and rubbing the back of his neck. Sam watched him carefully with a question in his eyes. When was the last time you slept?

"Two days…almost three." Dean shrugged and looked back towards his little brother, a tight smile spreading across his face. Sam recognized the smile instantly; it was Dean's 'I'm really in rough shape but I can handle it' smile.

Sam blinked slowly. "Why not?"

"Why not?" Dean chuckled lightly. "Why do you think?"

"Dean-"

"You think I could sleep when you were like that?" He asked quietly but strongly, once again gently moving Sam's sweat soaked bangs away from his face.

"Gotta…take care of yourself-"

"Gotta take care of you first, little brother."

"I'm…ok."

As Sam's eyes slowly and tiredly slipped closed, Dean mentally slapped himself at the burning sensation in his eyes, the tightness in his throat. "Yeah, sure you are."

The house was finally quiet, free from all the screeching and snarling. Dean could just hear Bobby's quick movements downstairs; the groan of the old wood as he forced open windows, whipped open curtains and drapes, moved dishes around in the kitchen.

The siege was over. The demon was gone. Sam was ok.

Back to normal.

Well, the brand of normal they were used to.

Dean carefully stood from the bed and raised his hands, dragging his fingers through his hair roughly; emotion hit him like a battering ram and he opened his mouth in a silent scream of frustration. He could feel the panic and fear that had been pounding in his ears for two days flowing through his veins…it was finally gone from his chest, he could breathe again.

Dean started at the nearly silent knock on the bedroom doorframe. Looking up, his eyes fell on Bobby's tired face. The older hunter motioned to Sam and visibly swallowed hard. "How's he doin'?"

Walking carefully across the bedroom floor, Dean gently pushed past Bobby and moved out into the hallway; Bobby followed, running a hand down his face wearily. "Ok, I guess."

"Finally fell asleep, huh?"

Letting out a breath Dean leaned back heavily against the wall, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jeans. "He was tryin' to stay awake downstairs."

"How are you doin'?"

"Sam's ok so I'm ok."

And with those words, Dean hung his head and let out a loud and heavy breath. Bobby's face fell as he stood there in front of the now oldest Winchester; the young kid he'd watched grow into a strong and loyal man…and as much as Dean tried to hide it, Bobby could still see that kid standing in front of him, slumped shoulders, heavy eyes and all.

Dean had been completely terrified, and now that his body was rid of the burden, he almost seemed smaller.

"Aw, kid." Bobby muttered quietly, slapping a hand tenderly to Dean's roughly unshaven cheek. "He's gonna be ok."

Dean nodded slowly. "Yeah, I know."

"You sure he don't need a doctor?"

"The cuts on his face aren't too bad, should heal ok."

"Everythin' else?"

Dean sighed, raising a hand and squeezing the bridge of his nose. "I bandaged up his wrists downstairs, his legs are still pretty swollen but I'm hoping that now he's outta the chair they might go down a bit."

"What about everything internal?" Bobby cleared his throat. "Any rigid bruising?"

"I checked him over pretty good, I didn't see anything."

"He's a tough kid."

"Yeah, too tough sometimes."

Bobby frowned gently. "What do you mean?"

"Nothin', nevermind." Dean sighed again and glanced down at his watch. "Jesus, it's late—or early, I guess."

"You should try and get some sleep." Bobby advised quietly, taking a small step towards Dean as if to emphasize his words. "Crash for a couple hours, I'll keep an eye on Sam in case he wakes up-"

"You don't need to—if he wakes up, I'll hear him."

"Dean-"

"It's ok, Bobby." Dean said quickly, trying his best to force a smile onto his face; he could tell by the disbelieving expression on the older hunter's face that he didn't buy it for one second. "Trust me, I'll hear him. I probably won't be sleepin' any time soon, anyway-"

"Will you just take a couple hours and focus on yourself?" Dean sighed loudly and opened his mouth to argue but Bobby shook his head, placing a placating hand on Dean's shoulder. "I mean it. I get that you wanna tend to Sam, but you won't exactly be helpin' him if you start gettin' sick."

In a voice oozing with a forced calm, Dean replied, "I'm fine, Bobby. I've gone a lot longer than a couple days without sleep."

"So when he's finally feelin' better and he wants to get himself back together, you're gonna be ok sleepin' through it? Because that's what'll happen, Dean—even you can't last too much longer."

"I'll sleep when I need to."

"And you need to."

Dean couldn't argue anymore.

No matter how much he didn't want to admit it out loud, he was completely worn out. The physical exhaustion, coupled with the emotional stress of the past couple days, had practically drained his gas tank and he ached to be able to lie down and close his eyes. He knew without a doubt that if there was any movement at all from Sam's bed that he would hear it; he'd spent far too many nights sleeping in the same room as his little brother to not hear it. He'd trained himself to listen hard while sleeping. Often times if Sam so much as turned over or sighed in sleep, it roused Dean into alertness.

The truth was, he was afraid to sleep.

He was afraid to leave Sam vulnerable and defenseless in the darkness of their shared bedroom.

Despite the fact that Bobby had promised to keep an ear open, he couldn't be guaranteed that Sam was safe unless he could actually see him safe with his own two eyes. He'd been that way for years and he wasn't about to change.

Dean trusted Bobby with his life…but with Sam's life, he trusted no one but himself.

Giving a shallow nod, Dean said, "Yeah, ok."

Bobby looked nearly ecstatic that Dean had conceded and let out a breath, squeezing the younger man's shoulder affectionately. "I'll wake you in a couple hours…sun should be up soon, bet you'll feel a lot better."

"I doubt it."

"Wait and see."

Bobby finally pulled his hand from Dean's shoulder and Dean took the opportunity, flashing a tight smile before turning and quietly walking back into the bedroom.

It was nearly completely dark but he knew the layout of the room well and found his way to the small space in between the two beds without any trouble. Casting his eyes down on his little brother, a wave of affection hit him like a wrecking ball; Sam was still out—whether asleep or passed out, Dean didn't know—but he looked peaceful. In the darkness, Dean could just make out the severe bruising on the kid's face, a few of the cuts even standing out, stark, against his pale skin.

Dean's heart practically deflated as he stood there; all the stress, the anxiousness, the severe worry and anger was seeping out of him slowly but surely.

And it was at that moment that he truly realized just how tired he was.

Not even taking the time to kick off his boots, Dean sat down heavily onto his own bed and forced himself to lie down. Eyes adjusting to the darkness, he bunched up his flimsy pillow to give him a better view of his little brother and he felt his body relax.

He didn't even remember closing his eyes.

*************

A soft light was piercing through Dean's closed eyelids and it was quickly bringing him back into consciousness. His mind was muddied, hazy, and as he finally allowed his eyes to open, he had to blink a couple of times to get his vision to focus.

For the smallest second, he couldn't remember where he was. The room was familiar but his mind couldn't connect the dots.

The medium-sized window, the glass glazed over with dirt and dust…the ratty curtains, parted slightly in the middle—the source of the light…the darkly painted walls…the familiar smell of a wood burning fireplace.

Bobby's house.

And as easily as that, it all came rushing back to him.

Searching for Sammy. Black, evil looking eyes. The screeching of the demon. The violent exorcism. Cuts, bruises and swelling. And his little brother, finally falling asleep in the bed next to him.

Dean shot into a sitting position and blinked wildly before looking over to Sam's bed.

Sam's eyes were open and he was watching Dean with a thoughtful expression on his face. They locked eyes and it took less than a second for Dean to throw his legs over the side of his own bed and stand up, only to sit down carefully on the edge of his brother's bed. "Sammy."

Sam smiled tiredly, blinking slowly. "Morning."

"You feelin' ok?"

He inhaled deeply and Dean impatiently rubbed at his eyes, trying to bring himself to hunter-caliber alertness right away. "I'm ok."

"Do an inventory for me."

"Legs are a little numb-" He answered in a rough voice; his words were almost whispered in their hoarseness. "Face hurts a bit. Wrists are killing me."

Almost instinctively, Dean looked down and carefully took one of Sam's hands into his own two hands. His eyes carefully passed over the bruised and raw skin of his wrists, probing with a gentleness that he only reserved for Sam. He noted, with some enthusiasm, that the swelling had gone down. "They're lookin' better."

"Hurts like a bitch."

Dean couldn't stop himself from smiling as he carefully set his brother's hand back down onto the bed. "I'm surprised you know that word, Sammy."

"Shouldn't be." Sam said quietly, now grinning. "You taught it to me."

God, Dean loved that kid so much.

His smile fading just a little bit, Dean asked, "You hungry?"

Immediately, Sam shook his head. "No thanks."

"You should eat somethin', Sam."

Sam swallowed hard and blinked slowly again. "Later." Sam's eyes were suddenly looking appraisingly at Dean's face and he couldn't help but feel self-conscious; whenever Sam looked at him like that, it gave him the fidgets. "You look better."

Releasing a breath, Dean gave a small nod and ran a hand through his hair. "Grabbed a couple hours sleep last night."

"Bobby made you."

Taking in the mother-hen expression on Sam's face, Dean was smiling again. "I can tell you're feelin' better, you're back to being all parental."

Sam didn't say anything. All he did was give a slight shrug of his shoulders as his eyes fell closed. Even though he appeared to be falling asleep, Dean knew that he was awake; he took a deep breath and said, "You gotta promise me somethin', Sammy."

Sam's eyes slowly opened and Dean could see the recognition in the familiar green of his little brother's eyes. He was listening intently…and Dean forced himself to take another deep breath. "Don't…do that again. Ok?"

Sam studied him carefully for a moment, the two of them simply looking at each other in the early morning light streaming in through the part in the curtains. A thousand different emotions and unspoken words passed between them in that moment; affection, worry, loyalty, protectiveness…all of it was there and they both knew it without having to speak a single word.

Still silent, Sam uncurled the fingers of his one hand and slowly lifted it off the bed, his palm turned upwards. Realizing the gesture for what it was, Dean grasped his little brother's hand gently and intertwined their fingers.

The gentle squeeze that Sam gave his hand said it all.

Silence was all they needed.