A/N: I know that I don't reply to each individual review, to which I'm truly sorry. Time doesn't truly permit, and I figured you as the reader would enjoy what time I have being put into new stories. And while I may not be able to reply to each review, I certainly do read them. Any and all questions people have in reviews I make sure to reply to, and any and all messages I receive are replied to, though it might not be right away. If this bothers you, you're welcome to simply read the stories and not leave any reviews whatsoever. I do love to see everyone's thoughts on the stories, though, so reviews are very welcome. I hope this helps those who might've been hurt in thinking I was ignoring them, and I hope you enjoy the end of this fic! ~N

Despite the stress that Dean had felt before worrying over Sam, the 'vacation' itself was peaceful. Boring, almost. Tedious. Dean loved being able to be bored with tediousness.

Sam slept for most of the time. When he did wake, it was only to ask for things like water. Other times, Dean woke him to give him medication, and Sam would drift back off again immediately after. Hadn't stayed awake for more than seven minutes at a time, if Dean had to wager a guess. Essentially, all Dean did was watch his brother sleep.

Surprisingly, Dean was more than content to do that. No television, but that was okay, too. The less noise there was, the easier it was to listen for Sam.

Around the fifth day, Dean decided to venture out and really explore the house, safely sure that Sam was sleeping peacefully and deeply. The house wasn't huge, but it still took him awhile before he discovered a stack of books in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Nothing mystical about them, nothing with hunting as a topic. Real books, like Moby Dick and A Tale of Two Cities and even a comic book that looked to date back to the 60's. Dean had almost forgotten stuff like this existed. Things that didn't revolve around hunting. The stack got taken downstairs to be dusted and reviewed. There were probably things in there that even Dean'd be willing to read, starting with the comic book.

He was going through the pile at the kitchen table when movement alerted him to a presence. Dean glanced up and found Sam leaning heavily against the doorway. "Sammy?" he asked even as he hurried over to his brother. "The hell did you get up-"

"I just...I couldn't stay in bed," Sam whispered. Kid hadn't spoken in a normal voice since they'd gotten to the house. "Need to get up."

"Then you call me," Dean said. He wrapped his arm around Sam's back and walked him over to the kitchen table. "If you'd tripped or something-"

"You'd have caught me."

Dean was glad that Sam couldn't see him while he helped him into the chair; Sam had to say stuff like that and leave Dean with a silly warm feeling inside. Sweet that he'd said it, but still. Too mushy for Dean's tastes.

Even if it was true.

Sam sat with a relieved sigh, one which promptly turned into a cough. "Tea or water?" Dean asked immediately, heading for cupboards. Stockpiled nicely with all sorts of mugs, cups, wine glasses. Anything Dean could possibly want. Anything Sammy could need.

"Uh, soup, actually."

Dean glanced over his shoulder. Kid was sitting easier, though he still leaned heavily on his elbow that was resting on the table. Eyes weren't as glazed over. Not like they had been that first day they'd shown up. "You sure?" he asked anyways. "Wanna do tea first, then see?"

Sam shook his head. "Soup it is, then," Dean confirmed. A small smile thanked him, and he started searching for where exactly he'd put the Campbell's. No other soup for when you were sick. He'd learned that way back when Sam had been three and agitated by a fever. Bright eyes and flushed cheeks and floppy hair every which way, but still polite and sweet with "pwease" and "f'ank you". Only complained twice, but the kid had been sick.

All these years later, that sweet kid hadn't changed all that much. Not enough to warrant watching in case he became evil incarnate, and Dean found himself shaking his head helplessly. God. He hated thinking about Gordon, about Dad's last words.

He focused back on the soup and banished all thoughts of hunting and demonic destinies from his head. A little more searching took place before he found it hiding behind the box of tea, a sure sign that he was supposed to do both. He set to work on both, sneaking a glance over at Sam.

Despite being sick, the kid looked happier and calmer than he had in awhile. Too long. After the fiasco with Gordon, Sam had been more...hollow, in a way. The hunter's insistence to kill Sam had only been a sledgehammer to the nail that Dad's last words were. And Dean knew that Sam didn't think he saw Sam's added tension, the way his fingers hesitated before he dipped his hands in holy water. Or the way that he looked at Dad's journal like he'd been slapped, but Dean knew. Knew and hated it.

And if Dean had thought he'd been floundering, Sam was a thousand times worse. Worse not just because it was all focused on Sam, but because Sam had learned the keep-it-inside trick that Dean had so perfectly shown him only a few months before. As much as Dean hated that Sam was sick (nearly hospitalized sick) he was secretly glad for it, too. It meant that Sam had to stop and take a break, at least for a little bit.

Though he hadn't expected his brother to give into Dean's big-brother mode so fast, but hey, Dean wasn't complaining.

The tea and soup nearly finished at the same time, and Dean brought both to the table. Sam was pouring over the books, looking almost halfway through Moby Dick already. "You read fast," Dean said with a nod to the book.

Sam gave a quick grin as he carefully placed the book aside. "Nah, just jumping to my favorite part. Where'd you find all these?" he whispered.

"Upstairs. If you finish your soup like a good little boy, I'll let you go play with the nice books," Dean said sweetly, grinning when Sam reached out and poked him in the side. "It's mostly broth, but I promise there's really noodles and chicken in there. Really. Saw 'em slide out of the can myself."

"I'll take your word for it. Thank you," Sam softly added, lifting a spoon out that was nothing but broth. He still sipped it and let his eyes sink shut in happiness.


"Feels good on the throat," and Sam did sound better even after the one sip. He turned back to the soup and began to eat. Three more sips in and Dean stood, tearing a sheet of paper towel off and handing it to Sam. Sam paused to take it, then cast a raised eyebrow up to Dean. "Saying I'm messy?"

"You will be," Dean said knowingly. "I know you and soup."

"I was four, Dean. You ever gonna let it go?"

"Actually, I was thinking of the diner six weeks ago."

Sam stared at him incredulously. "The waitress tripped. It wasn't me being messy."

"Who'd she drop it on?"

Finally, a burst of laughter, though a tiny and weak one. Enough for Dean, who let himself smile with satisfaction for having garnered it.

A few more sips were all Sam managed before he set the spoon back into the bowl. Without hesitating Dean slid the mug of tea over, checking overtly to see if it was still warm. "Thanks," Sam said, a sheepish grin matching his red cheeks. He took a long sip before cradling the mug in his hands. "You put honey in it?"

"Obviously," Dean replied absently. The red flush wasn't going away; it wasn't embarrassment. A quick press of his hand to Sam's head revealed heat. Fever was back.

Sam, amazingly, didn't lean away from his brother's hand. He did attempt to set the mug back down on the table, but it wobbled and slid the remaining two inches from his hands to the tabletop. Dean stilled it quickly, his eyes darting to Sam's hands.

The slight tremor he saw, coupled with Sam's soft, "M'cold," was all the incentive Dean needed to pull Sam's chair out. "Back to bed," Dean ordered, though gently. "With all the blankets you could want."

Sam didn't argue, his eyes already drooping. Kid looked ready to topple over, if Dean wasn't careful. Standing, Sam wavered even more, and Dean guided a hand around his waist. Kid had been wavering for a long time, long before he'd ever gotten sick.

And just like before, Dean was there to keep him upright.

"Hate not being able t'stay 'wake," Sam said, yawning at the tail end of his sentence. They finally made it back to the bed where Sam sank with a grateful groan. "Cold."

"I gotcha," Dean replied softly. Sam's legs were carefully tugged up and placed onto the bed, where Sam immediately pulled them up towards his chest. The blankets were soft and thick in Dean's grasp, easily pulled over from the opposite side of the bed. "And don't worry about not being able to stay awake," he continued and draped the blankets over Sam. Twenty-three years of practice made it easy, and the gentle tucking in afterwards was instinctive. "You need rest, Sammy. Doctor's orders."

"Your orders," Sam whispered. Dean snorted and a small smile played at his lips.

"Good thing you know who's got top authority here."

Sam's lips twitched, but his eyes were already closing. "Don' lose th'books," he mumbled. "Wan'...wan' read'm."

"I won't," Dean promised. Sam's eyes slid all the way shut, and a few moments later, the steady sound of his breathing was audible. Already it sounded ten times better than it had five days ago. Still a ways to go for recovery, but he sounded more peaceful. Like breathing was easier.

Dean hoped that it was. That for a little bit, Sam could trust that Dean wouldn't let Gordon get him, wouldn't let Dad's words become a reality.

A small strand of Sam's hair slipped into his face, and Dean tucked it back to join the other strands. "I won't," he murmured again.

He gazed down at his sleeping brother until his feet tightened. He left then for the kitchen, his stomach already concerned with the rest of the chicken noodle soup waiting in the pot on the stove.

Leaning against the railing, I was able to but glimpse her as she left the vernissage. Her laugh drifted up to where I stood, a viewer charmed and entranced. She was radiant, even without sunlight, and her companion did not but know it. I watched as she walked away, my heart heavy in my chest. We had made our farewells all too clear so many years ago. It would not be fair of me to say hello now, not when she was so obviously cheerful and full of love for

"Good book?"

Sam laid the book open across his covered lap and nodded. "It's not bad," he replied softly. Honestly he hadn't been expecting anything great, but so far it had been fairly decent.

Honestly, he wasn't expecting to stay awake long enough to see if it went from decent to fantastic.

As if to prove himself right, he yawned, and the yawn ended in a few coughs. Dean paused near the side of the bed, hand automatically reaching for mug on the small table, brow tightened in concern. Sam held up a hand to still him and took several deep breaths. The sharp knife, thankfully, subsided. Just a warning, then.

Sam'd had enough with warnings lately.

It didn't come back, though, and he let his hand fall. Dean's own hand took a little longer to do so, and when it did, it was done reluctantly. "I'm okay," Sam whispered. He could probably talk normally now, eight days in, but with the looming threat of sharpness in his throat again...no. He'd stick with whispering for a few minutes.

It wasn't like he had to fight to be heard over any noise anyway. Dean moved around the house silently in order to not wake Sam up, his ears practically tuned to a frequency that was Radio Sam.

Dean's hand brushed and stayed against Sam's forehead, gentle touch that felt warm. "Not as warm," Dean finally confessed. "Still warm, but not boiling, either. Rather not have boiled brains for lunch."

Sam raised his eyebrow at Dean. "Either I'm feverish and I'm hallucinating, or you're just...saying really weird things." Which probably meant Dean hadn't been sleeping: Dean got odd when he didn't sleep. He either tended to get violent and angry, like a two year old who'd missed their nap, or he got...well, goofy. Said random things and giggled at random intervals that never ceased to amuse Sam.

Except Sam wasn't going to be amused if Dean wasn't sleeping because of him. Sam'd let him play big brother because it was supposed to be helping him, and the dark circles were gone, sure, but-

"Nah, just my being random," Dean said. "And I slept, don't worry."

"You're not gonna go Hulk on my ass?"

Dean did grin at that. "I've never turned green in my life."

"I beg to differ. That one tunnel we slipped down-"

"We're not talking about that."

"Sure we're not," Sam said quietly with a knowing smirk. Dean rolled his eyes, as was expected, and Sam's response was a small laugh. The usual brother thing to do. It felt nice to just be brothers for a change. Not just hunters, or sons of John Winchester even. But brothers.

And Sam had let Dean play big brother so Dean would feel better because. Well. It was Dean. Dean relaxed when he knew where Sam was, how Sam was, knew that he could help. Even with Sam sick as a dog, it was still better than them on the road hunting something. This, this sickness, this Dean could deal with and handle, and god knew that Dean could handle anything they hunted, but here he didn't have to watch both of their asses to get out alive.

They were safe. Dean could stay focused on Sam and for some reason, one that Sam could never understand as a little brother, it really helped Dean to help Sam. Sam was totally okay with helping Dean.

Something cold and wet was laid on Sam's head, and he was sliding halfway down the bed before he realized it. "Dean-"

"Sorry kid; you spaced out on me. And your temp's a little higher than I'd like, so...cool cloth it is. They generally work better if you're laying down. And since rest is also something you need, let's go with it. Twofer here, works all around."

As much as Sam's body craved sleep, though, he couldn't help but want to stay awake for more than, say, five minutes at a time. "I haven't even been awake all that long," he protested feebly, because if he didn't argue with Dean a little, Dean was going to assume he was seriously ill.

"You were reading," Dean countered.

"Not even a paragraph," Sam managed to say before a yawn overtook him. Dammit.

Dean gave a small, though still triumphant, smirk. "As I was saying, rest. Considering how you much sleep you missed out on to land you this sick in the first place..."

He trailed off when Sam glanced away. Sam had honestly wondered how long it would take for it to come up. Dean cleared his throat, at least giving Sam warning, before he continued. "You obviously need to catch up on that sleep. That's all I'm saying."

That...didn't sound at all like the chew-out Sam had realized was going to eventually come his way. Not eating, not sleeping would all lead Dean to his pissed-off-worried state. All of that lending itself to pneumonia? Yeah. Chew-out.

Which Dean wasn't doing. Sam turned his gaze back to his brother. "Later," Dean said to his unspoken question.

"When I can better defend myself?" Sam whispered.

"You don't really have an argument because I know why you were doing it." Dean paused and ran his fingers through his hair. It looked softer, like he hadn't put any gel in it. Another defense down, just like the socks. "But later. Okay?"

Sam merely nodded. For now, Gordon and Dad's secret weren't allowed in. It was as if Dean had locked every type of door and window on the place, no evil things admitted, the sign on the fort clearly reading brothers only, anything demonic and bad keep out.

"Good. Sleeping now; you've come a long way, but your body's still demanding rest Sammy, so-"

"Okay," Sam said hoarsely, and further settled himself on the bed to comply. Dean paused mid-sentence, suspicious big brother frown on. No doubt wondering why his stubborn little brother was still being so compliant, but he probably wouldn't really guess. Probably also thought that he'd been subtle all these years, and that Sam really didn't know how much he sometimes needed to play big brother and nothing else. To be the one that took care of Sam and could fix everything.

Sam gave a small smile and after a moment Dean finally let the frown go. "I'll wake you up in a little bit with medication and food. Soup sound okay?"

Soup sounded more than okay, but not then. Not with sleep drifting just within reach. And Dean hadn't been wrong: his body was craving sleep. "Sounds wonderful," he murmured, yawning wide enough to bring moisture to his eyes. He let them drift shut, shifting his head on the pillow just so to find the most relaxing spot.

The washcloth began to slide from his jostling. Within seconds calloused fingers were brushing against his forehead to reposition it. Sam might've smiled a little: wasn't sure. He was more than fairly certain that those same deft fingers brushed through his hair, though Dean would deny it.

And he knew that those same hands were responsible for carefully lifting the book from his lap, keeping his place and marking the page with the soup-can label turned bookmark he found later.

Sixteen days later, and Dean had finally agreed that Sam was well enough to hit the road once more. He was walking without falling down (though how much walking he could do at one time still wasn't enough to make Dean ecstatic), talking without sounding like he'd swallowed shrapnel (and that wasn't an image Dean had wanted. At all).

The remaining food stuffs had gone into a plastic bag in the trunk: they'd finish it up over the next week. The rest of the packing had been done by Dean. Sam had offered to help, several times, and each time Dean had refused. Kid wasn't up to full strength yet. And bags were heavy. Especially theirs.

Sam was already starting to carry luggage, though. Nothing bag related. His shoulders looked a little more hunched, and the magic of the house, their brief vacation, was being left behind. Harsh reality beckoned. As did a job that didn't pay, didn't offer gratitudes, and was always demanding of them.

Especially of Sam. Too much of Sam.

Dean was feeling the pressure himself as he loaded the last bag into the trunk. He paused with his hand on the lid, staring inside at the contents. Nothing new or special about them. Well. There was the small cardboard box of the books that Dean had found, now nestled into the back corner of the trunk. They'd take light jobs for awhile, and Dean would make sure that Sam read something besides coroner's reports over the next few weeks.

He closed the lid when the sound of the screen door's hinges tattled on Sam's otherwise silent exit. "I told you to wait for me," Dean admonished and moved swiftly up the stairs. Nothing too tedious, but they were still steep. And Sam hadn't taken stairs in over two weeks.

"I'll be okay," Sam said softly. He could speak normally now, no complaints of an agitated throat for over four days. Still, Dean couldn't find himself to speak loudly, either. Not here. Not in the place that had become a sanctuary for the both of them.

Sam did let Dean help him down the stairs. Just a hand at his elbow, Sam's other hand steady on the railing. He didn't falter once, the pace slow and careful. Dean felt himself waiting for the snap forward, the sharp burst where everything went back to high speed, shouts and screams, out of control situations that they seemed to live in. Out of control life, world.

Sam made it to the car and slid into the passenger's seat, no smile on his face when Dean closed the door with care. Dean moved around to his own door, and before he could stop himself he gazed at the house over the roof of the Impala. It wasn't big, wasn't perfect, had no fences or security defenses.

But somehow, Dean had felt safer than he had in years in that house. He knew Sam had felt the same way. There'd been nothing else to protect Sam from in there. It'd been so easy to take care of him, to relax and just be able to breathe.

He finally opened the car door and sank into the leather. It comforted him as it always did. Just didn't fit into the same category as the stupid house did.

"I took the key from under the mat."

Dean glanced over at Sam, coat already pulled closely around his little brother's torso. In his fingers he held out the key Dean had found the first day. "Think Bobby would mind?" he asked.

Dean took his key ring in response and pulled the metal ring open to slide it on. Sam did smile then, carefully lining the hole up and pressing it on. An easy pull placed it alongside the rest of the keys. No, Bobby wasn't going to care in the slightest. Dean'd call him, let him know that they'd check up on the place a few times during the year to keep it looked after.

He flipped the ring around until he had the Impala's in his hand. The car started and Sam sank into the seat. "We got a ways to go," Dean told him. "Sleep if you can."

"Way 'head of you," Sam said, closing his eyes. Totally trusting, not worried. Tension sliding from his shoulders as Dean put the car into drive and pulled away. No house, no quiet enchantment.

Just a rumbling car and Dean.

Rest of the world wasn't as easy to control and watch out for, like a small house or pneumonia. Still, Sam seemed to think that Dean could handle it, twisted hunters and heart-breaking secrets included. He believed.

That was enough for Dean. Long as Sam was there to believe in him, that was more than enough for Dean.