Hello, Hello, muffins :)

I've been writing again for a little while but haven't put any notes on any of my recent work...so I just wanted to say hello, mostly to the familiar 'faces' that are reading and reviewing :) lovely to talk to you all again!

Being in Australia I am WAY behind in my Supernatural episodes...so I am going way back and finally posting a tag to 'Heart'. It's been done, I know, but I had to have a go at it! It was such a moving episode, and I can, as usual, identify with Dean...wanting to protect your siblings from emotional pain and suffering but just not being able to leaves you feeling helpless, and suffering just as much as they are. I would rather feel pain than watch one I loved suffer it any day. So, without further ado...my tag to 'Heart'.

"The heart is the only broken instrument that works." -T.E. Kalem


It's the quiet that is getting to him most of all.

Sam has never been quiet.

He was a good baby, but good babies didn't necessarily equal silent ones. Sam was always making noises, cooing, gurgling, hiccupping. Burping, farting, puking.

When he could speak, it seemed like he never shut up. When he first managed to say his big brother's name, his first word, he wouldn't stop repeating it.

"Dean, Deee-an, Dean," he called, his face a mixture of delight at his own achievement, and excitement at hearing his own voice. The delight never faded when his brother answered his calls, and that memory mixed with the fact that it had been his name that Sam spoke first, had for years secretly warmed Dean from the inside out.

As Sam grew and his vocabulary extended, his love of talking grew too, or so it seemed to Dean. His little brother was all about the questions. What makes the Impala move, Dean, if it doesn't have legs? What food group do Lucky Charms fit into, and who puts the prize in the box? Although Dean answered these questions with a slight show of irritation, what he really felt was a faint stirring of pride. The kid was smart. He wanted to know things.

Sam kept getting older, and taller, and the questions got harder. How did Mom die, Dean? Where does Dad go all the time, and why does he always leave us alone?

And then, with puberty and eventually adulthood, the questions got impossible to answer. Don't you ever want something else out of life, Dean? Why can't you understand that I have to leave? Why do you always do what Dad says?

The slight irritation grew into something close to resentment, tempered only by Dean's steadfast love for his little brother.

A few years of relative quiet, then, while Sam was off at college, but Dean imagined that while they were quiet for him, they were anything but for his likeable little brother. He imagined Sam surrounded by friends, by the gorgeous Jessica, talking and laughing and tangled up by fun and friends and noise.

Then that world fell apart, and Sam was once again the centre of Dean's world again…as if his absence had ever really changed that.

Dean welcomed his brother, welcomed his noise, the sound of Sam talking, laughing, even the small sounds that Sam made when he was sleeping, showering, just moving around the room. It was a welcome change from the quiet of being alone.

Sometimes, sure, he still got irritated. He and Sam were very different, and Dean was no saint. Patience had never been one of his virtues. He loved Sam, but they were very different. In his own way, Dean could be described as the quiet one.

Most of the time he was loud and brash and in your face, but a lot of that was just swagger. When it came to the important things, Dean found it hard to be vocal. Talking about his feelings was out of bounds, no matter how much Sam nagged and pushed and tried to squeeze it out of him.

In that, at least, they were alike.

Sam was no fountain of information when it came to his own feelings, either. After the tragedy at his apartment, the talking stopped. Sam closed in on himself, taking his feelings and noise with him, and Dean was left wishing that his brother would talk to him.

They were back in the same place.

Sam was quiet.

He sure as hell wasn't talking, except when he had to. When Dean asked him a direct question he would answer, but even then his voice was dull, flat, and quiet.

He was moving quietly, shuffling around the room, touching things tentatively.

When he turned taps on, he turned them on slowly, no splashing or squeaking of the water in the pipes.

He was even quiet in his sleep. Dean had lain awake last night listening, waiting, expecting Sam's sleep to be troubled by nightmares, for his brother's torment to be given away by Sam whimpering, thrashing.

There was only silence from the other bed. Not even the rustling of sheets as Sam moved, he stayed still, on his back all night, no tossing or turning, and that suggested to Dean that his younger brother hadn't slept at all.

Any attempt that Dean had made to talk about what had happened, to draw Sam out of his shell, was met by silence, or by a short, soft refusal to talk. "Dean, I'm fine."

"I don't want to talk about it."

"It doesn't matter."

All lies, or at least half truths. Of course it mattered, how could it not? The first girl that Sam had shown any interest in since Jess, certainly the first that he had slept with…now dead and cold, probably lying in a morgue somewhere…

And that wasn't even the worst of it, not even close.

Dean used the silence to berate himself. The room may have been quiet, but his head was very noisy. Why? What if? How could you?

The self recriminations echoed in his mind, jostling for centre place in the swirling crowd of emotions, guilt, remorse, concern, grief.

Why didn't he stop Sam? Why didn't he take the gun from him? How could he let his little brother shoulder that weight, how could he have let him shoot Madison?

How could he have let this happen?

The door to the bathroom clicked open, very softly, but it was enough to jolt Dean from his guilt. He raised his eyes from where he stood at the small breakfast bar, seeking out his brother's, but Sam only met his gaze for a fraction of a second before his eyes skittered away.

Only a heartbeat, but Dean had seen the pain and fear and grief there, written in Sam's wet brown eyes for the world to see, and the naked anguish took his breath away.

Sam swallowed once, Dean saw his adam's apple bob up and down before his brother moved quietly towards the bed that he had lain in, but not slept in, last night. His movements were slow, and still so damn quiet. Dean had to strain to hear the soft brush of his brother's feet on the carpet.

There was silence between them, but it wasn't empty.

The room was full of pain, his own and Sam's. It was so obvious to Dean that he imagined the pain in the room to be tangible, touchable. He wished it was, so that he could physically tear it away.

Physically protecting Sam was not an easy job, but it was one that came naturally. Dean slid into the role of protector every day, his big brother instincts finely tuned, sharply honed by years of filling the role.

He preferred the enemies that he could see, that he could punch or kick or attack or drag away from his younger brother.

He couldn't see this enemy, but it was destroying his brother before his eyes.

Sam's grief and pain and hurt were tearing him apart, and he was bearing it in silence, but Dean knew that Sam didn't feel silent. He knew from experience what it was like, to feel such overwhelming grief that you had to shut yourself off, shut yourself in, because if you broke even a little, if you let any of that pain through, then you would break altogether.

He remembered the days after John's death, and Bobby's junkyard, and the Impala, and the crowbar. Dean knew about bearing the unbearable.

Back then, Sam hadn't been quiet.

He'd been right there with the questions, again, the ones that were impossible to answer. "Why won't you talk to me? What can I do? How can I help?"

Dean had lashed out at him, and he regretted that, but it was only because Sam was putting cracks in the wall, breaking down Dean's barriers, and Dean couldn't allow that. He couldn't afford to let his emotions show, because he was afraid that their intensity might destroy him.

Sam had wanted to help, Dean knew that, but what Sam didn't know was just how much he had done exactly that. The questions frustrated Dean, even enraged him at times, but they were a sign, a reminder that Sam was still there, that he might not have a mother or a father but that he did have a brother and he wasn't alone.

That helped more than Dean could ever say.

The memories prompt him, and he finds himself moving across the room towards where Sam is sitting listlessly on his bed, facing the window, his face unreadable.

Dean might not know how to fix this or what to say, but he has to try. And even if Sam doesn't react, even if Sam doesn't let him help, maybe just the trying would be all the help that Sam needed. At least it was something.

He stops when he is standing in front of his brother, and Sam raises his head slowly, looking up at Dean questioningly. His eyes are big and brown, wide and wet, and the expression there rips at Dean's heart, and he feels a physical ache in his own chest, in answer to the pain in his brother's expression.

He can see the grief, even if he can't hear it, he can see the silent scream there in Sam's tortured eyes.

What could he say? What was there to say, after your brother had killed the last woman that he slept with, after his last girlfriend had burned to death in front of his eyes, when your parents were dead and your father said you might have to kill him and all that and much more pain was there, exposed, in his grief stricken expression?

He crouches down, bringing himself to Sam's eye level. Usually this position would make him a little lower than Sam, but his brother is hunched over, even his body language speaking of holding himself together, holding something in.

He licks his lips, opens his mouth, shuts it, sighs. Chews his lip and looks away for a while, over towards the wall. Listens to the hum and roar of traffic outside on the highway, studies the framed pictures on the wall, sighs again.

Sam stays silent.

Finally Dean looks back at his younger brother, trying to find some clue in his face as to what he needs, as to how Dean could help.

Sam isn't looking at him anymore, is looking down at his faded jeans, staring blankly at his lap in silence. Even his breathing is quiet, so quiet that Dean leans forward a tiny bit to catch the sound.

Unable to bear the hush any longer, Dean clears his throat. He does it quietly, but even that small sound seems loud between them.

The first words that spring to Dean's lips are habitual. "Are you okay?"

Silence is his only answer, and a memory of John springs to Dean's mind. "A stupid question deserves a stupid answer."

He tries again, this time reaching out physically as well, to rest his hands lightly on the sides of Sam's legs. "Is there anything you need?"

His younger brother shakes his head slightly, still not looking up. "Are you hungry?" This question earns him a slightly more definite shake of Sam's head, a slightly more passionate denial, and Dean isn't sure if this is a good or a bad thing. "When was the last time you ate?" Dean asks, his voice so gentle he hardly recognises it as his own.

He doesn't want to make this into a confrontation, doesn't want Sam to feel bullied or bossed, doesn't want to hurt him anymore than he has already been hurt, if such a thing is even possible.

He has to ask, though, because his big brother instincts make him, and he thinks as he waits for Sam's answer that it was a good question, an open ended one, one that Sam can't answer with a shake or nod of his head.

The silence stretches on, and Dean waits a good five minutes before he squeezes Sam's legs gently, prompting his brother. Reminding him that Dean is there, and that his question remains unanswered. "Sammy. When was the last time you ate?"

He is mentally searching for the answer to the question for himself, recalling the last time that they ate together, what they ate, how much Sam ate. Wondering if Sam and Madison ate together in the time that the brothers were separated? Hoping that they did, and also that they didn't…that they didn't make one more memory for Sam to carry like a weight on his shoulders.

He realises that Sam still hasn't answered, and his concern cracks up a notch. He looks more closely at his brother, at his vacant expression, and wonders fearfully whether Sam is sliding into some kind of catatonic state, unable to deal with this horrible situation.

He moves his right hand from Sam's leg and curls his fingers under Sam's chin, gently lifts so that Sam is facing him, but his little brother's eyes are still downcast, they don't move.

"Sammy. Look at me." His voice is still gentle, but there is a firmness there too, a big brother giving a little brother an order-a gentle one, but an order none the less. Dean knows how to inject just the right amount of authority into his voice, a trick that John never learnt.

Sam habitually raises his eyes to Dean's face, and the older Winchester has to force himself not to look away, because Sam's eyes are hollow and full and dead and alive with pain, all at the same time, twin pools of deep brown that speak to Dean of hurt and grief when Sam will not. It hurts him to see Sam like this, and he wants to look away, doesn't want to bear witness to such suffering.

But Sam beats him to it, his gaze flickering away as he takes a small, shuddery, quiet breath. He can't stand to look at his brother, either, to see the compassion and the concern there shakes him, reaches him where he has locked himself away from the world. Dean is the only one who can reach him now, but he doesn't want him to. Doesn't want his brother to pull him out of his quiet place, where he is hiding, because he knows the pain is lurking so close, too close, and if he lets it find him…

There's too much pain, it's too big and real and solid now, it's been building for days, months, years, since Madison, since Dad, since Jess, since Mom. Too much death, too much pain. He can't fight it anymore, can't push it away. He's not strong enough, and he knows it. All he can do is hide, and he doesn't want Dean to give his hiding place away.

So he looks away from his brother's gaze, away from the concern there and the care that Dean obviously wants to give.

He hears Dean speak again, and he wants to open his mouth to say he is fine, to tell his brother to go away, but even that is too big a risk and he thinks even that might be enough to break him.

"Sammy." Dean says again, really worried now, and moves his hand to cup the side of Sam's face, to push gently against it and make Sam face him again.

Sam won't look, though, he closes his eyes and Dean feels more shut out then ever. He thinks maybe he should take a hint, Sam obviously wants to be left alone, but he can't, he's never been able to leave Sam alone, not when his brother is hurting.

He has to try and fix this, even though he knows it is unfixable.

"Sammy, open your eyes. Come on." He tries, and although Sam swallows hard, Dean sees his adam's apple bob, he doesn't obey this time, and his eyes remain closed.

His little brother won't look at him, and won't talk to him, but he is obviously still listening, so Dean does the only thing he can think of and talks.

"Look, man, I get it. You're hurting and you just want to be left alone, and I can't…I can't blame you or…or tell you that you're going about this the wrong way, because I'm guessing that like almost all your bad habits, you got this one from me." No answer, and Dean swallows hard and continues. "But Sammy, I've been here. Well, not here exactly, I can't even…I can't pretend to know exactly how you're feeling. But I know it must feel like shit, and I've felt like shit before, too." He is struggling, because he is Dean Winchester, and he doesn't always have the right words to convey the deep love that he has for his brother, the need to protect him and shelter him and keep him safe. "I felt like shit, and I wanted…I kept pushing you away, kept telling myself, and you, that I wanted you to leave me alone. And you wouldn't, and it drove me up the freakin' wall, but Sammy…" Another shaky exhale, then he forces himself to continue. "But I know now, Sammy, that you were what I needed. That I didn't want to be alone, not truly. If I had of been alone…it would have been impossible. I would have…I would have lost my mind, killed someone or killed myself or something, I don't know…but you were there. I wasn't alone. I've never thanked you for that, not really." Sam doesn't respond, but Dean feels a little tremor run through him, where his hand still rests against Sam's left leg.

"I wasn't alone, and you're not, either, Sammy." He doesn't know if he's saying the wrong thing, god, what if he's making it worse, because Sam is trembling harder now, and his face is paler, and Dean thinks he should shut up but he has to finish, has to say what he's trying so hard to say.

"I can't…I don't know how to make this better, Sammy, and I wish to God I did, because it kills me to see you like this, but I don't. I don't know how to fix it, and I'm sorry, I'm so sorry for all this and for the way that you're feeling and for not being able to make it better." His voice cracks, just a little, and he takes a breath, forcing himself to get it together.

"I can't make it better, but I just…all I can do is be here, and that's what I'm gonna do, Sammy. I know it's not enough, hell it's not nearly enough, but it's all I can do, and I'm gonna do it, just like you did. We've got each other, kiddo. You're not alone."

The trembling is more like shaking now, and Dean doesn't know what to do, because Sam is shaking like a leaf in a storm, like he's going to fall apart or collapse or snap with anger, who knows, but Dean reaches behind his brother and in one fluid movement has snagged the spare blanket sitting on the bed behind him, shaken it out and wrapped it tightly around Sam's shoulders, trying to still the shaking, trying to hold him together even as he falls apart before Dean's eyes.

"You're not alone, Sammy. I'm here." His voice is cracking, desperate, he can feel tears building in his own eyes in response to his brother's pain. "I'm here."

For a moment he thinks that being there is not enough, that all he has done is enhance his brother's pain when all he wanted to do was to try and take at least some of it away. He doesn't know what to do now, what to say, whether to move away or stay or speak again or stay silent, and for a moment he is lost.

Then Sam makes a noise, finally, a small quiet sob that tears its' way up and out of his little brother's chest, and it sounds like it hurts him to make it, and Dean instinctively reaches out, wanting to help but not knowing how.

Sam reaches out too, at nearly the same time, blindly because he is still looking down, not at Dean and his eyes are full of tears anyway, but his hand hasn't gone far when it encounters the rough cloth of Dean's flannie, and he grips it tightly between his fingers, wanting comfort, needing his brother to anchor him because the pain is starting to break upon him like waves on a beach and he thinks they are strong enough to wash him away.

Dean intercepts the shaking hand, wraps his own, stronger hand around Sam's wrist, and speaks again, firmer. "I'm here, Sammy, I'm here."

But Sam needs more, he can hear Dean's words but he can also hear the echoes of a gun shot, loud in his head, and the thump of a lifeless body hitting the floor, and he sobs again and suddenly hurls himself forward, seeking out his brother, seeking out comfort and protection and shelter.

Dean isn't prepared for this, lets out a soft grunt of surprise and pain as Sam collides with his chest, knocking the air from his lungs, half-knocking him off the precarious balance he has on the balls of his feet.

"Whoa, whoa…" He soothes, keeping his grip on Sam's wrist with one hand and using the other to steady himself. Sam is half on and half off the bed, but he freezes for a fraction of a second, and Dean realises that his words sound like rejection in his brother's sensitive state.

Luckily the beds are quite close together in this motel room, and he can shift so that his back is against his own bed and they are both squeezed into the space between the twin beds. He lowers himself to sit with his legs stretched out in front of him, almost touching the bed opposite, and tugs gently on Sam's wrist. "All right, come here." He says gently, and Sam doesn't need to be invited twice.

He half tumbles from the bed, trying to get as close to Dean as possible, not really sure what he wants except that he knows he wants Dean, and it is almost like being a small child again, when the mere presence of his big brother was enough to calm and comfort him no matter what the problem.

Dean catches him in strong arms, stops him from crashing to the floor in a tangled mess of blankets and tears. He gathers Sam up, scoops him in, and although Sam is so much bigger than the last time he tried this trick he still manages to get him settled, half in the space between his legs and half on his lap, pressed up against his chest and Sam gives another small sob, grief mingled with relief, and presses his face into the hollow between Dean's neck and shoulder, hiding from the world that right now seems so cruel.

Dean holds his little brother close with one arm, and with his spare hand fixes the blanket, smoothing it out and tucking it around Sam snugly, until little brother and blanket are a neat bundle that he can easily hold against his chest and wrap both arms around.

He can feel Sam's tears and breath, hot against his neck, and knows that this is only the beginning, that the dam has cracked but not yet broken, that Sam is still struggling to hold himself together. But he doesn't need to do that. Dean plans to do it for him.

"I'm here, I'm here." He soothes, croons, and feels Sam's hands find his shirt again, feels his little brother clutch at him, feels more tears, another small flood, another small sob. "It's okay to let it out, Sammy." He tells his little brother, and Sam makes a strangled denial.

"No…Dean…"

"Right here." Dean says again, firmly, gently. "I'm right here, and I've got you. I've got you and I won't let go, not until you're ready."

Sam thinks, dully, that he should apologise for this, that he should pull himself together, because he is in his twenties and he is huddled in his brother's lap and crying all over his neck and shirt, but he doesn't have the strength to pull away.

Then there is another wave of pain, of grief, and he has to grit his teeth because he feels like he is tearing apart, ripping into a million pieces, the pain is physical and he can't stand it, it is attacking him and it hurts more than anything has ever hurt before.

Instinctively, he burrows in closer to his brother, feels Dean tighten his arms around him in response and he can feel the strength in Dean's arms and in his chest and he knows his brother will keep him safe, will protect him no matter what.

He also knows that as much as Dean wants to, he can't fully protect Sam from this, and that Sam can't protect himself either.

But Dean can offer some kind of shelter, so Sam lets himself go limp against Dean's chest, lets the waves of hurt and grief wash over him and takes, greedily, what comfort there is to be found in his brother's protective embrace.

Dean feels the change, feels Sam's body go limp and a moment later the sobs aren't so quiet anymore, they aren't so far between, then Sam has abandoned his attempts at stoicism and is crying, really crying against Dean's neck, and Dean hold him tight and squeezes his eyes shut to hold his own tears at bay.

He wishes that he could take more of this pain, that he could feel even more shitty than he does right now, because he would trade his pain for Sam's a thousand times over, if it meant not seeing his brother like this, not knowing that his Sammy was falling apart and all Dean could do was try and hold him together.

"I'm here," He says again, "You're not alone, Sammy. I'm here, little brother, I'm here." He repeats these things over and over, not sure if Sam hears him over his own sobs, but needing to say something, to try and help.

This is all he can offer, because he can't say that it will be all right, he can't take Sam away from this life and this pain and he can't erase the things that have happened, much as he wishes he could do any one of these things.

"I'm here." His voice is hoarse from repeating it, but Sam needs to hear it, because every time Dean falls silent for more than five minutes, Sam burrows closer, or his hands clutch harder, and when Dean responds with a gentle, "I'm here," Sam's grip loosens.

There are long shadows in the room now, and Sam has stopped sobbing. There is still wetness on his and Dean's skin where it is pressed together, where Sam's forehead rests in the crook of Dean's neck. He still hiccups every now and then, or sighs shakily, and Dean still strokes him occasionally, still murmurs soothing words if Sam whimpers or trembles.

His legs and butt have long since gone to sleep, but he won't move, and he won't make Sam move. Not until the younger Winchester is ready. This small amount of pain and discomfort doesn't even register on the scale of what Dean would endure for his brother.

Traffic hums by on the highway as the world continues on outside, unaware of the small scale tragedy taking place inside the non descript motel room.

Sam has been quieter for a while now, sniffling occasionally, but that is all. Dean has relaxed the fierceness of his embrace, but his arms are still loosely wrapped around his little brother, still offering whatever protection he can to his little brother.

The silence is stretching on too long now, he thinks. He doesn't want it to blanket them, to undo whatever small amount of good has been done.

He shifts a little so that he can rest his chin on Sam's head, the too long locks tickling his skin. "Talk to me." He suggests, quietly.

Sam doesn't respond for a long moment, and when he finally speaks, his voice is hoarse and dull. "What should I say?" He sounds small and lost, and Dean snugs him a bit closer. Feels encouragement and gratification when Sam responds in kind, nuzzling his face further into his brother's collarbone.

"You say whatever you want to say, Sammy."

He has grown used to waiting for a response, and knows that Sam is sorting through the thousands of thoughts running through his mind. Struggling.

"I killed her, Dean." It is a whisper, like he is confessing to something horrible that Dean was not aware that he did, and his voice is haunted and a little afraid.

"You did what you had to do, Sammy. You did what she asked you to do." He pulls the blanket around Sam a little tighter when his brother shivers slightly. "I know that doesn't make it any less horrible. I know that didn't make it any easier." He doesn't want to downplay or trivialise his brother's suffering. He won't do that.

Sam is quiet, processing this.

It takes him a while, and Dean waits patiently.

There isn't much light left in the room now, and Dean realises that they have spent almost a whole day this way, but he doesn't mind. He waits for Sam to speak again.

"Do you think I'm a monster, Dean?" His brother's voice is tiny now, not just small anymore, and Dean shakes his head gently, the movements absorbed by Sam's own body.

"No, Sammy. I know that you're not."

"Dad thought…you might have to…to do the same thing to me…as what I did to Madison…"

"Screw what Dad thought." Dean says, firmly, but his tone is still gentle. "Who knows you better, Sam? Me or Dad?"

In answer Sam winds his fingers in Dean's shirt, curls still closer. "I didn't know…what I was asking you." His voice is a broken whisper now, it gives out at the end, but he doesn't have to say any more for Dean to know what he is referring to.

Sam had asked Dean to kill him.

"Of course you didn't." Dean says, gently. "You still don't." There is no anger in his tone, and he still won't trivialise what Sam has just gone through. It was horrible, but still not the same thing.

Sam having to kill the girl he had spent one night of passion with was not the same thing as Dean having to kill the little brother whose life he had guarded for nearly all of his own.

Sam nods understanding, and lets his cheek rest against Dean's chest, listening to the comforting thump of his brother's heart.

"I don't want you to have to kill me."

"I won't."

"It was…it was…I don't have a word for it, Dean."

But he doesn't need a word to explain it to Dean, because Dean can see it in his face, hear it in his voice, feel it in his movements. Dean knows, as much as another person can know, without having to have it explained. Maybe Sam understand this, because he falls silent again.

There is still something that needs to be said.

"Dean," Sam says at last, when the room is dark with shadows and Dean has started wondering if he will ever be able to move again.

"Mmm?"

"I'm glad you're here. I'm glad…that you're with me." Sam says it quickly, a little afraid that he has gone too far and that Dean will finally laugh and tease him, as if admitting this need for his older brother makes him weak.

Dean squeezes him, lets Sam lean into him without complaint. "I'm not going anywhere, Sam." It's comfort, and reassurance, and a promise.

The silence that settles now is not the same as before, it is comfortable, and peaceful, and while the hurt and pain still lingers in the air, it is now only smoke on the breeze whereas before, it was almost solid.

Sam sighs. "I need to sleep."

Dean nods and pushes him back gently, until Sam's back is resting against the opposite bed. He stretches his legs minutely, gingerly, and Sam watches with silent concern.

Dean is startled when Sam's hands land on his legs, one on each, and his little brother starts rubbing at them, chasing the pins and needles away.

He looks up and catches Sam's gaze, which is rueful and a little embarrassed. "Guess I'm getting too big to sit on your lap, huh?"

Dean snorts softly and Sam rubs a little harder, and life slowly starts to flow back into Dean's legs. "Was easier…and cuter…when you were four." Dean jibes gently, because it is too soon to use real sarcasm with Sam, he is still too fragile.

He gets to his feet awkwardly, stretches again, then reaches down to close his hands around Sam's biceps and draw him gently to his feet. "Come on, kiddo."

When Sam is on his feet, not as steady as Dean, his older brother studies him, noting the pallor of his skin, the sway in his knees, and knows that while Sam is a long way from okay, he is a lot closer than he was this morning.

"Do you need the bathroom?" Sam shakes his head no, his eyes already drooping, and Dean is already moving, lifting his brother's shirt up, over his head, dropping it at the end of the bed. He unbuttons Sam's jeans and they fall of their own accord, because Sam has lost weight lately, and Sam steps obediently out of them.

"Okay. Bed." Sam doesn't need to be told twice, and between him and Dean he is curled under the covers in minutes, settled on his side, his head on his pillow.

Dean tucks the blankets around him and hovers for a moment, his fingers tangling in Sam's soft hair. "Are you going to be okay?" He asks softly, and Sam smiles up at him, really smiles, and suddenly the ache in Dean's chest fades, loosens, and the weight on his shoulders suddenly feels bearable for the first time today.

"I'll be fine." His voice is sleepy, husky. "You're here."

His eyes close, weighed down, unable to stay open any longer, and as if from far away he hears Dean answer. "Yeah, Sammy. I'm here."

And as screwed up as 'here' is at the moment, and really most of the time, there is nowhere that Dean wants to be more than 'here'.