Obvious spoilers for Season 4 and prior. Thank you Alaina for the beta :)

Disclaimer: Don't own'em, don't make money from'em. Please let me know what you think.

Dedicated to Trasan and our oddly connected muses :)

The After

Dean found Sam sitting on the edge of his bed in the small room they shared at Bobby's. It had been two days since Lilith had been killed but there was no celebration in that victory.

Lucifer.

Betrayal.

The cost had been too high.

And it was raining outside.

"I don't know what to do now." Sam's voice, soft and despairing met Dean at the door. Dean had almost had a heart-attack when he'd realized Sam had quietly slipped off somewhere else while he had been in the bathroom. He'd left his brother staring into a cup of cold coffee at the kitchen table. Thankfully the younger man had only retreated upstairs. Bobby was off somewhere else doing Bobby stuff and Dean was too worried about his brother to leave the kid alone for very long.

Dean had no idea how to answer that or even if there was an answer required. Sam had become so quiet it scared him that maybe he had been too late to stop more than just his brother breaking the last seal. Man, their lives were so screwed up. So he didn't say anything, instead he crossed the distance between them and sat on his own bed just opposite Sam's. He mirrored his brother's pose, body on the edge of the bed, feet flat on the ground, back hunched over, eyes on the floor, elbows on knees, powerful hands dangling loosely over the edge… Kinda symbolic actually, Dean would have thought if he was akin to thinking such things. But he wasn't. He had other things to think about: Sam and the apocalypse, in that exact order, screw what any one else wanted.

"I just," Sam was speaking again. Dean wanted to look at his brother, to see him, but there was just too much emotion in that voice for him to dare a peek. "I feel stuck…"

Stuck? That was an interesting way of looking at things, the older hunter mused.

"…like I know what I should do… but I'm too much of a coward to do it."

Dean kept quiet.

Sam's soft voice carried on. "I mean, what's left for me?"

Me, Dean wanted to remind his tormented brother. Me.

"…The thought of dying doesn't even offer the comfort of peace anymore. There's no Heaven for me and I really don't want to go to hell." Sam laughed but it was a broken sound. "Maybe I need old Doc Benton's live forever formula after all…"

A cold shiver crept up Dean's back. He growled, "Sam." That wasn't in any way funny.

"Don't worry," Sam's eyes lifted as high as Dean's dangling hands, "You could always kill me first."

"Oh yeah," it was Dean's turn to snort. He was watching his brother now, "that just makes me feel so much better."

"Ask Bobby then."

This conversation was going nowhere good. Couldn't things ever be as simple as a case of beer and a naked woman?

"Not funny, Sam." The words physically hurt as he forced them between teeth clenched so tightly his jaw ached.

"Sorry."

"Are you?" Dean challenged, it was time for a different kind of intervention. Tough love or some sort of crap. Finally Sam met his eyes, murky hazel wide in shock and hurt, but Dean soldiered on. "Sorry, I mean. Are you sorry, Sam, really?"

"Dean…" Sam's face paled and he seemed to struggle for a moment before he could say anything else. "How can you ask that? You know I am."

"Then stop this okay, just stop. All this isn't going to change or help anything…" Dean paused. "You want to know what to do? You really want to know what you're supposed to do now? Let me tell you, man, and you'd better be listening up 'cause I'm only going to say this once…" The intensity of Sam's gaze burned but Dean sucked it up with his own. "Be my brother, Sam. That's all. My brother…" Sam's intensity turned to water as his eyes shone brightly. He canted his head and swallowed. Yeah, Dean knew exactly what he was feeling. His own voice was husky as he punched it home. "Us, Sammy, just us. Me and you against the world." He frowned then amended, "and hell… and possibly even heaven… oh, and that Fabric Softener Bear."

Sam huffed out a startled laugh and Dean found himself grinning at the sound. It seemed such a long time since they'd just laughed, together. And damnit all, but it felt good even if it was inappropriate given the seriousness of – everything.

For a few moments they just enjoyed this and then Sam asked, "Is that all? It's that simple? Just be your brother and that's enough? That's it?"

The disbelief stung.

"Well, geez, I'm sorry if that isn't-"

"That's not what I meant," Sam hurriedly cut him off sitting up a bit but leaning towards Dean, something animated, urgent, flickered behind his eyes. It was the most life Dean had seen in them in days. "It's just never been that simple… and especially not the last couple of years. Things have just gotten so – complicated – for lack of a better word."

Dean understood.

When their mother made her deal with Azazel, Sam's life had been set up and then orchestrated towards a terrible end. Dean was really hoping, now that Sam had completed the horrible task, that there were no more surreptitious plans for his little brother; Zacharias certainly didn't seem interested in Sam beyond releasing Lucifer.

Let the kid just be, he fervently wished, for once in Sam's entire life; let him just be Sam, Dean Winchester's geeky little brother. It was his turn to deal with destinies and all that crap now.

"Yeah, well, I'm making it that simple." Dean vowed. He wasn't deluded, just determined. It would be a long time before he trusted Sam, and probably even longer before the kid trusted himself again, but if his brother could just do this one thing for Dean, then that would be a definite start. "Just be my brother." That is all Dean had ever wanted from him.

Sam's gaze drifted past Dean as he seemed to take serious consideration of the request and then he let out a shaky exhale as if releasing some of the tension in his body, and in place of defeat there was now only weariness and gratitude. "That," he breathed the word out, "I can do."

Dean smiled.

It was a start.

The End.