Author's Note: This idea came to me quite randomly, but I hope you enjoy it! To be honest, I myself am a little surprised at how it turned out--this wasn't at all what I imagined when I first started writing it lol My muse kinda grabbed me and ran away with me, I guess. Please let me know what you think, and hope everyone is having a great weekend! :o)

Disclaimer: After nearly five seasons of wishing for them, the boys still don't belong to me. Still waiting somewhat patiently...

Uh huh, yeah right.

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The whiskey bottle hung loosely in his hand as he sat there, leaning forward in the old wooden chair.

The sun had long since set and only in the cover of darkness did he finally let his tears fall—they were tears of frustration, anger and pure helplessness. Tears bred of feeling insanely small in a world full of enormous problems. A world full of dark and evil monsters that he was somehow all of a sudden responsible for fighting.

The weight of everything was on his shoulders, and anyone could see that his shoulders were already overloaded.

There were two parts of him, two parts of his existence that made him who he was—he was a big brother, first…and a hunter, second.

And at that moment, it was the big brother in him that had taken over.

He'd watched it all happen in slow motion, completely powerless to stop what was quickly becoming his own worst nightmare. The smashing, the panic, the pain and the agonized screaming. He'd watched Sam smash brutally into the metal shelving…he'd watched the dark red of the blood start to seep through the side of Sam's shirt…and a shout of horror had finally escaped him has he'd watched Sam fall bonelessly to the ground, as if a plug had been pulled.

He'd stood there and watched it happen.

The get-away had been a new kind of hell—Sam nearly unconscious in the passenger seat, Dean straining to reach across the car and hold a battered t-shit against the gaping wound in his little brother's side. All the while trying to steer the Impala as the tires ate up the pavement.

The Impala's engine had screamed, tearing down the back country blacktop as if she could feel the urgency, as if she understood what—or who—was at stake.

Their first stop had been a small-time hospital just a few hours outside of Tulsa.

Dean had frantically searched for the emergency, planning on stopping the car right there in the ambulance bay and carrying his failing brother through the doors himself. However, the older man's panic had skyrocketed into hysteria when he spotted the half-dozen police cars parked outside the ER doors.

The fight a few days beforehand had put Dean on the local PD's radar after what must've been a truly colorful description from the owner of the local bar. The brothers once again found themselves faced with the struggle of driving a car that was designed to attract attention--the bar's owner knew the car intimately (minus, of course, the elaborate weapons locker in the trunk), having admired it out in the parking lot before the copious amounts of whiskey and testosterone.

Sam had still been conscious enough at that point to recognize and understand Dean's worry and had strongly vetoed the hospital visit, promising that he was well enough to make it to the nearest motel.

And against every instinct in his heart, Dean had directed the car back onto the main road; away from the police cars, away from the parking lot and away from the only building within miles that could soothe his nerves.

The hole-in-the-wall motel he'd stumbled across was below their usual standards, but the room had a bed and a bathroom. All that they needed.

Getting Sam into the room had taken ten minutes.

Cleaning and stitching up the rigidly inflamed wound had taken nearly an hour.

And it had taken only seconds for Sam to submit to unconsciousness.

Two days had eventually passed and Sam had hardly moved— the sheen of sweat on his forehead, the sickly pallor of his skin and the occasional moan of pain were the reasons for the whiskey bottle in his older brother's hand.

Without something to numb the brutal anxiety, Dean was sure he'd go insane.

He hadn't eaten. He hadn't showered or shaved. He hadn't left the room.

Dean's attention, focus and time was all for Sam. The younger Winchester was all that mattered. Everything else, including Dean's own well-being, was peripheral.

There was a miserable unconscious moan of pain from the bed and Dean chased it immediately with another pull from the bottle. "It's ok, Sammy." His voice was a near-whisper, hoping against hope that the kid could hear him. Dean had been talking to him for those two days, trying his best to crack jokes and be positive…but his positivity was gone. His sense of humor was non-existent.

He was quickly becoming a shell of the man he'd been.

And it had only been two days.

Dean felt the presence with him in the room before he saw anything and it took less than a second for him to rocket to his feet and pull his handgun from the waistband of his jeans. He aimed without hesitation at a darkened corner of the room and then waited, able to see something shifting in the shadows but unable to make out what it was.

"Dean."

The voice was deep and familiar, and when he heard it, Dean wasn't sure whether or not to sigh in relief, howl in frustration or growl in fury. "What the hell are you doin' here?"

The tall figure emerged from the shadows and the recognizable face seemed to explode with concern. The deep and stormy blue eyes narrowed, scrutinizing and studying, as Dean slowly lowered the gun. The Winchester's unshaven face, sunken eyes and trembling hands. "You look terrible."

Dean snorted bitterly and replaced the gun in his waistband--almost mad that shooting it wouldn't do any kind of damage. "Get the hell outta here, Cas."

Castiel watched intently as the younger man took another long drink of whiskey, his hands trembling as he lowered himself back into his chair. "I'm afraid I can't do that."

"If you can't, or won't, help Sam? I don't want you here."

"I wanted to make sure you were alright-"

"Alright?" Dean chuckled bitterly this time, his eyes on the carpet. "Oh, I'm better than alright. Havin' the time of my life, can't you tell?"

"Are you drunk?"

"Not yet, but I'm workin' on it."

Castiel's eyes narrowed even more and he took a few obviously cautious steps forward; Dean tensed in reaction and he watched the angel out of the corner of his eye.

He was sick of it…all of it. The war, the Apocalypse, the seals, humanity depending on him. He was sick of the pain, the disappointment, the stress and the never-ending misery. The never-ending bullshit.

But most of all, Dean was sick of watching Sam pay the price because he was weak enough to break the initial seal in the first place.

He hadn't been strong enough to hold on and because of that Sam was suffering.

The world was suffering due to Dean's choices, but all he could see was his little brother. If Sam was in pain, the rest of the world didn't matter. He'd happily trade every soul on earth to save his brother; he knew in the depths of himself that he wouldn't even hesitate.

That was the fourth and final reason for the bottle of whiskey.

If he was willing to sacrifice mankind to keep his little brother safe, what the hell kind of person did that make him? What kind of warrior was he?

"It makes you a warrior capable of loving, Dean."

Castiel's voice broke into Dean's consciousness and he blinked slowly, his tired eyes settling on Sam lying in bed only a few feet in front of his chair. "Is that supposed to make me feel better?"

"You blame yourself for what's happened to your brother."

It was a statement, not a question.

The angel appeared in Dean's line of sight as he slowly walked to the other side of Sam's bed, his eyes staring down at the sickly looking kid and festering with a deeply rooted worry.

Castiel's face was stoic but Dean knew better.

"There's no one else to blame." He responded hoarsely, swallowing hard. "I was there, Sam got hurt and I couldn't stop it. That's it."

"Your sense of responsibility is staggering to me."

Dean raised his eyes and looked across the bed in tired confusion.

"You feel guilt and shame…accountability…for things that aren't in your control." Castiel's voice was soft as he leaned forward, tenderly running the fingers of one hand through Sam's sweat-drenched hair. The movement was so startlingly human and affectionate that all Dean could do was stare. "You take fault onto your shoulders so easily."

Dean had no response whatsoever. He couldn't even be bothered to sum up the brain power to come up with something. So he redirected his eyes back to his brother, watching the irregular rise and fall of Sam's chest under the blankets.

"He's emotionally and physically exhausted." Castiel spoke quietly, his hand now resting on Sam's forehead. "I can feel it."

"It should've been me."

The stormy blue eyes snapped up and Dean felt them examine his face. "What do you mean?"

"Everything—the demon blood, the visions. Sam shouldn't have had to deal with any of it. It should've been me."

"You shouldn't say such things, Dean." Castiel responded, quietly but seriously. "Never wish something like that on yourself."

"So I should wish it on Sam instead?"

"Such atrocities shouldn't be wished on anyone."

Dean swallowed another mouthful of whiskey, ignoring the burning sensation in the back of his throat. "We're just lucky, I guess." He whispered, clenching his hands into fists when he noticed they were still shaking. "It never ends."

"It will end, Dean. Believing in something is the first step to ensuring that it will, at some point, come to fruition."

"Yeah, whatever." Letting out a slightly helpless sigh, Dean asked, "What are you really doin' here?"

The angel stood up straight, his arms hanging down at his sides. The older Winchester could once again feel the penetrating blue-eyed gaze sweeping over him and he fought down the urge to rocket out of his chair and start shouting at him from across the bed.

He was always being studied, always being scrutinized. Angels or demons, looking at him and sizing him up…wanting to know what he was thinking or evaluating what kind of threat he was going to be.

Despite how annoyed he was getting with the situation—being ordered around by beings who considered him inferior—he'd always been tolerant of it all. He accepted it for what it was, simply because he knew none of it would be happening if he'd just held on a little bit longer.

Down in the pit, the creatures and monsters he'd spent his life hunting had gotten the best of him. They'd broken him down to less than half of the person he'd been.

And now, his weaknesses were affecting others.

His weaknesses were affecting Sam.

"As I said, I wanted to make sure you were alright."

"That's crap."

If Castiel felt surprise at the sudden tone of Dean's voice, he didn't show it. His face remained as stony as always.

"You never show up unless you got a reason for it. You're not that selfless."

After a slight pause, Castiel responded, "You don't think very highly of me, do you?"

Dean chuckled. "I call it as I see it."

There was a slow and painful looking movement from under the blankets as Sam shifted, his face straining as he turned further into his pillow. The hurt on the younger man's face was enough to make Dean's chest ache.

Setting the bottle of whiskey down on the carpet beside his chair he slowly stood up, ignoring the stiffness in his muscles. Castiel didn't move an inch as Dean approached the bed, crouching down next to it and reaching a hand across to gently touch the side of his little brother's face.

The lines in Sam's forehead gradually smoothed themselves out at the familiar contact and he subconsciously leaned into Dean's hand.

There was a definite heat to his skin and Dean found himself swallowing hard.

"He has a high fever," was Castiel's brilliant observation and Dean didn't even spare him the second and a half it would take to nod his head.

He mentally did an inventory of their first aid kit and nearly growled out loud when he remembered that they'd run out of Tylenols—the only pills that worked when Sam was feverish.

In their world, it was nearly a capitol crime to neglect their first aid kit. They stocked it before and after every hunt, ensuring they had everything they would need for every manageable injury—gauze pads, antiseptic, pain killers, needles and thread.

It fit right in with their horrendous bad luck that the one time they actually needed the kit stocked with Tylenols, they hadn't taken the time to pick any up.

Trailing a hand down his roughly unshaven face, Dean shook his head. "I don't have anything to give him."

The hopelessness in his own voice was embarrassing—appearing weak was terrible enough, but appearing weak in front of Castiel was damn near unacceptable.

Along with Sam, Castiel was the one being in the world that Dean wanted, needed, to fool.

He had to appear together and collected. Only at that particular moment, faced with his wounded and ill baby brother, the concept of appearing 'together and collected' was lost on him.

Except he'd already cried once. He wasn't going to do it again.

"I guess it'd be too much to ask for you to help me out, huh?"

There was a short silence, only lasting a few seconds. "I'm sorry, Dean-"

"But you can't." Dean rubbed his eyes tiredly. "That's what I figured. Can't help out unless there's somethin' in it for you…right?"

Castiel looked down to the carpet. "That's not true."

"Yeah, it is."

The angel was about to respond but was interrupted by a soft and pained voice floating up from the fever-soaked blankets. "Dean..."

The voice was small, and it was fragile. It wasn't the voice of a twenty-six year old man. It was the voice of a seven-year old child, who was looking for his big brother in the hopes that the big brother magic could make the sick feeling go away.

Big brother could get rid of ghosts and monsters, surely a slash to the side and a fever would be just as easy?

Despite how sore and stiff he was, Dean shot to his feet—knocking over his chair and the whiskey bottle in the process.

But a downed chair and spilled booze was the farthest thing from his mind.

Sam's eyes fluttered before he slowly pulled them open, staring with a glazed expression from inside his cocoon of covers.

Dean could tell that it was taking Sam a while to register his surroundings and how he was feeling, but when the kid breathed out another soft, "Dean."—this time in recognition—the older man felt a small smile grace his lips.

"Hey Sammy." He spoke quietly, running his fingers reassuringly down Sam's warm forearm. He knew from experience that no matter how old Sammy got, a comforting and familiar touch made all the difference when he was sick. "How you feelin'?"

"…'m tired."

Dean nodded and swallowed hard, watching as Sam practically struggled to keep his eyes open. "Yeah, you've been pretty sick, dude."

"The…car."

"What about it?"

"We…were in it."

Realizing what Sam meant, Dean nodded again. "That was two days ago. We're holed up just outside of Tulsa—you wouldn't let me take you to the hospital, remember?"

A painfully slow blink. "Cops."

"Damn the cops, Sammy. You should've gone."

"Shut up…Dean."

He couldn't help but smile, moving his hand up so he could brush Sam's drenched bangs away from his face. Small and fragile, it didn't matter; the voice was Sammy, through and through. "'Cause you're sick, I'll let the attitude slide."

"Th…thanks."

Still absently running his fingers through Sam's bangs, Dean watched as the fever-glossy eyes fell closed once more, Sam's chest rising and falling at a more even rhythm. He was still leaning into Dean's hand, light puffs of his breath gently hitting the skin of his palm.

Once Sam had fallen completely back into sleep, Dean pulled his eyes away and looked up to Castiel…

Only he wasn't there.

The room was silent, almost eerily so, and Dean found himself examining the shadows for the angel's soundless presence.

Years of hunting and knowing how to study darkness made him positive he and Sam were now alone.

Letting out an exhausted breath, Dean ran a hand down his face again.

Sam was sleeping peacefully, and Dean felt his anxiety ebb slightly in happy response.

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

"Did you take those Tylenols I gave you?"

"Yes Florence, I took them."

Dean's eyebrows rose slightly and he smirked in spite of himself. "Feelin' cranky there, kiddo?"

"I haven't been outta bed in four days, so yeah…I'm a little cranky."

"You can get up if you want to-"

"With you watchin' like a hawk? I don't think so."

Turning his back to Sam, Dean started rummaging through his bag uncomfortably. "Yeah, well, after the last few days I've had? I'm entitled. Deal with it."

There was a short and slightly awkward silence and Dean nearly groaned out loud. Way to sound like a gigantic sap, Winchester—real smooth.

"Thanks for that…by the way."

Not expecting the softness of the voice that reached his ears, Dean dropped the shirt he'd been attempting to fold and turned to look over his shoulder. Sam was watching him intently, his enormous puppy-dog eyes aimed across the room at him—super strength.

Clearing his throat, Dean asked, "For what?"

"For getting me outta that warehouse. For…y'know…stitchin' me up, sitting with me-"

Those damn puppy-dog eyes.

Dean waved a hand dismissively, turning back to his bag. He didn't say out loud that a thank you wasn't necessary, but as was the way with the Winchesters, words spoken aloud weren't always needed. Silent communication was routine; body language and movements spoke a thousand times louder than any word ever could.

Feeling considerably chick-flicky—and absolutely hating it—Dean gave up on folding his shirt and just rolled it up, stuffing the ball into the very corner of his duffel.

Sammy was the clothing-folder.

Dean was the clothing-stuffer.

Folding a shirt neatly? Who the hell was he kidding?

"Just…don't do that again."

"Don't do what again?"

There was genuine confusion in Sam's voice and Dean let out a quiet sigh, letting his eyes slip closed as if praying for the patience to outwardly show emotion.

The phrase 'emotional-cripple' flashed through his mind and he opened his eyes.

"Gettin' hurt like that. Gettin' sick. Don't do it."

Even though Dean had his back to him, he could picture the change in Sam's facial expression easily in his mind's eye—confusion, morphing to the dreaded tearful puppy-dog eyes…and last but not least…the fond and warm smile. "I won't."

And he'd be damned if he couldn't hear that smile in Sam's voice.

It made him smile, too.

"So uh…you said that Castiel showed up?"

Mentally screaming obscenities at the angel who wasn't in the room, Dean nodded tersely. "Couple days ago, yeah. You wouldn't remember, you were pretty out of it."

"Does he have another job for us?"

"He didn't say, I didn't ask."

"Well he usually doesn't show up unless he's got something for us to do."

Dean snorted, glancing quickly at Sam over his shoulder again. "Funny, that's just what I said."

"Yeah?"

"Damn right. Friggin' angels, man."

Sam let out a soft chuckle. "Yeah, I hear you."

"I don't know 'bout you, but I vote we take a couple more days and just cool out."

"Cool out?"

"Yeah, maybe get back on the road—get the hell outta this damn state, find a new place to crash."

"Then what?"

"Then, when you're feelin' up to it, we'll find our own job. Been a while since we had a hunt that was ours, y'know?"

The change in the atmosphere made Dean smile again; Sam's curious nature had just rebooted and he could practically feel the kid itching to get his hands on the laptop again.

Research was one of the things that really got Sam's motor running and it'd been that way for as long as Dean could remember. Sammy was the nerd, the family book worm, and even though Dean made fun of him on a daily basis? He was pretty damn proud of the kid.

He was Sammy, the Wonder-Geek…but he was Dean's wonder-geek.

"But nothin' too intense for the first time out, ok? Somethin' nice and easy—maybe salt-and-burn the spirit of an arthritic ninety-year old-"

Sam sighed disgustedly. "Come on, man."

"What?"

"What am I, twelve?"

"No, you're just gettin' over a slash in your side and you're not a hundred percent. We take it easy at first, you hear me?"

"For how long?"

"Till I say so."

"Oh, that's just awesome."

Dean laughed and zipped up his duffel with one swift movement. "Relax, dude…you'll be back to 'geists and werewolves before you know it."

"Whatever."

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

With Zeppelin playing relatively quietly in the background, the atmosphere in the Impala was comfortable. Despite the rain that had fallen that morning, the sun was finally shining brightly and Dean reached up to push his sunglasses further up the bridge of his nose.

The brothers had left their motel room earlier that afternoon—Dean helping a grumbling Sam to the passenger seat and then quickly tossing their duffels into the back.

He hadn't voiced it out loud, but he was happy to see that motel disappear into their rear-view. As with every motel room that had housed a sick or injured Sam, if Dean never saw them again it would be too soon.

The small room just outside of Tulsa wasn't even close to being an exception.

"So…" Sam started, squinting in the sunlight as his longish hair blew wildly in the current of air from his open window. "You never told me what Castiel had to say."

Tightening his grip on the steering wheel, Dean shrugged lazily. "Nothin' important."

"Yeah?"

"You know what he's like—he talks for hours and says nothin' at all."

"So he was pontificating?"

Dean raised an eyebrow over his sunglasses. "He was what-ing?"

"Talkin' out his ass?"

Ah, there we go. Dean-speak.

Dean shrugged again. "Like I said, you know what he's like."

'Dazed and Confused' came to an end and within a few seconds the opening notes of 'When The Levee Breaks' broke the silence.

"So where are we headed?"

"I grabbed a couple newspapers from that gas station a few miles back, they're in the back seat—take a look, see if anything comes up."

"Are they national papers?"

"I wanna get the hell outta Oklahoma—you're damn right they're national."

Sam smiled, and as carefully as he could, he reached into the back seat. The small plastic bag was easily accessible and within moments he had The Herald, The Times and The Banner organized and open in his lap.

Searching through the printed pages, Sam focused on the two most important sections of any newspaper—the obituaries and the comics.

Dean left him to his research, smiling when he saw the curiously determined expression on his face.

At that moment, both brothers were in their respective zones—Sam was reading, researching and investigating…and Dean was driving, the engine roaring throatily and sending a familiar vibration up through the driver's seat.

Dean wasn't thinking about angels, demons or the Apocalypse. He wasn't thinking about the enormous responsibility he'd fallen ass-backwards into, or the millions of people whose lives he held in his shaking hands.

He wasn't thinking about how weak he was, or how breakable he'd become.

He wasn't thinking about the days he'd just spent sitting beside Sam's bed, watching an infection and a fever rip through his little brother, leaving a damage path a mile wide.

He was thinking about the growl of an engine, the sound of newspaper pages crinkling softly…and he was thinking about the quiet sounds coming from a little brother, completely lost in his own world of nerdiness.

And despite the fact that he had that responsibility, and he had all those people unknowingly depending on him…right then, he didn't care about any of it.

He was content and he was happy with Sam exactly where he belonged, riding shotgun at his side.

It didn't matter what the future held for them. They'd take it on together…and as long as they had that? It would be enough.