Title: Five Months

Rating: T (violence)

Summary: Dean and Sam meet up with another wendigo. This time the results are even worse than the first time. Set Season 1ish, after "Wendigo". One shot.

Author's Note: Not beta'ed, so all mistakes are mine. I wrote most of this a long time ago, but only just got around to finishing it. I'm not entirely pleased with the end, but it just didn't want to flow and I really hated how it was just sitting around! P.S. I'm not a doctor, and don't play one on TV, so any medical mistakes are mine.

Disclaimer: The boys from Supernatural aren't mine. I own nothing, except a little belly button lint.

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

"Did I mention I hate hiking?" Dean said sourly as he straightened up, wiping the mud off his hands from where he'd caught himself after slipping in the treacherous footing. "Are you sure this is the right trail? He looked around, "IS this a trail?"

Sam sighed exasperatedly, "I told you, not a lot of people come up here- "

"I don't see how they could!"

"But in the past year four people have gone missing. And when I looked farther back I found that at least that amount have gone missing every twenty years or so, but rarely is there a death in between those twenty years."

"And this warrants me getting my feet wet because?"

"Because the way the park ranger described how the campsites were shredded. There was a lot of blood, but no sign of any bodies."

"So, it's a big, angry bear?"

"A big, angry bear that hibernates for twenty year stretches?"

"So he gets laid in the meantime and passes his love of humans on to his offspring."

Sam stepped closer to his brother, raising a hand as if to hit his brother in the head. Dean saw the hand coming and ducked playfully, raising a hand to ward off the blow, "Watch the hair man!"

"Look, let's just take a look around. It's not like we were doing anything."

"Speak for yourself." Dean pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. There were numbers written on it, "I was going to spend some "study" time with the lovely waitress from that diner. Turns out she's studying massage therapy. She was going to try some new "techniques" on me." he looked around, then grunted as he almost slipped again, "Now I'm really going to need some therapy when we're done."

They walked in relative silence for the next hour, each concentrating on putting one foot securely in front of the other in the wet footing. It had rained recently, and the ground was still slick in some places.

Around noon they came across the remnants of the latest campsite. Most of it had been cleared up. A couple had gone camping two weeks earlier. While not highly experienced campers, they had spent several weekends in this and other nearby forests with never any problem. They had planned to camp and hike for the long weekend, coming back to work on Tuesday. When no one had heard from them by Thursday, co-workers had gotten concerned. No evidence of them returning was found at their house, and a search in the woods had turned up the torn remnants of their campsite, but no evidence of the hikers. The same thing had happened earlier in the year.

"Let's stop here, have some lunch and then take a look around. Maybe we can find something that the rangers missed." Sam said.

Dean grunted affirmatively but said nothing. He shrugged off his pack and pulled out half a Subway sandwich, a bag of Doritos and a can of Coke. Sam sighed. His brother's eating habits were legendary. He pulled a bottle of water and a bag of trail mix out of his own pack while he wandered around, looking for anything that might give him some idea of what had happened.

The brothers finished lunch and continued their search around the campsite. While they had said almost nothing to each other in the past two hours and in fact had wandered off in different directions, the both knew instinctively where the other was. Years of watching out for each other had left them with an almost sixth sense as to the other's whereabouts. Dean was the older brother who had saved Sam's life as a baby and watched out for him ever since. Sam, four years younger, had idealized his older brother. Even in those two years before that fateful day when Sam had left Dean and their father behind to go to college and a life that didn't involve hunting, Sam had tried to protect Dean from the growing animosity between himself and their father. He didn't want Dean to try to play peacemaker- which he often did- and at school had even stopped talking to his brother in a twisted attempt to protect Dean from the tension between Sam and john. When reunited they had fallen easily into old patterns, each attempting to protect the other.

It was Sam who found the first evidence of what had attacked the campers. It was quite a distance from where they had originally started. He called Dean over and pointed to the drawing on the tree over his head. It was a crude Indian drawing, man shaped, but eerie. It was similar to the drawing that they had seen soon after reuniting.

"So, you were right," Dean began, "looks like a Wendigo. Any evidence of its lair?"

"None so far. I did some research before we left. There aren't any old mines in the area, or even any caves. I have no idea where his lair might be."

"Well, it's got to be around here somewhere. Let's just keep looking."

Evening found them with no more clues. Two weeks and a rainstorm had passed since the latest disappearance. Any trail had evidently been washed away.

"Do we make camp here or start back down the mountain?" Sam asked.

Dean looked around, frowning, "While I'm not keen on spending a night in the woods sleeping on hard ground, we're fairly sure a Wendigo has been in the area. I'd rather be on the inside of a protective circle if it tries to come back in the area again. One up close and personal meeting is enough for me."

There eyes met for a moment, then they went about their duties. Sam remembered that feeling of loss, knowing he might have lost his brother so recently after losing Jess. He remembered the feeling of dread when he'd looked up from where he'd landed in the cave to see Dean hanging so still and lifeless. He remembered the relief when his brother had regained consciousness. He remembered the nightmares that the two of them had had for days after, more than once finding both of them awake in the middle of the night watching infomercials while sharing a bowl of microwave popcorn.

Dean rolled his right shoulder and massaged his wrists, feeling for a moment the long past pain of hanging in the beast's lair. Wordlessly he set about collecting enough firewood for the night while Sam made a barrier to separate them from whatever might be haunting the woods.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Hours earlier and miles away the smell of fresh meat had come to the wendigo. It lived far from any civilization and its preferred hunting opportunities were limited. It slept and hibernated frequently, hoarding its cache of meat like the starving animal it was.

It looked over at the bodies hanging from the wall. The latest were still alive, but made no movement, hoping the creature would ignore them. It did, but not for the reasons they believed. It was still eating the kills from much earlier in the year, stripping the meat from the bones as the need came upon it, savoring each bloody piece. It would hunt for the remainder of the year, eating only what was necessary, until the winter, when it would gorge itself on the remaining bodies in an effort to sustain itself thru a twenty year hibernation. It had five months left in its hunting season and many humans left to hunt.

The wendigo had not lived for over two hundred years by being impulsive. it stayed quiet as it approached the campsite, not wanting to expose itself too early. It smelled the campfire. Fire was the only thing that could truly hurt it. He approached slowly, looking for traps that might have been set to hunt lesser animals. While unable to hurt it, a trap would inconvenience it and give its prey a chance to escape.

There were no traps, but the wendigo quietly snarled when it came within sight of the two brothers. He could feel the spells of protection and see the ring of salt that had been laid around the boys. It would be unable to capture them this night.

It snarled silently. It had not traveled all this way to be thwarted by the two hunters. It settled down to wait. It had time, it was patient.

Morning came and with it found Dean and Sam packing up their supplies and getting ready for the long hike down the mountain.

"Well, that was a waste," Dean complained. Sam didn't reply, "I could have spent the night in a nice soft bed with a warm body next to me. Instead I spent the night on a bed of pine needles and wake up next to a tree. Any other bright ideas Sammy?"

"It's Sam, and shut up. It was worth a try."

"humph, not really."

"Let's go."

It waited silently, high up in the trees. It was patient, waiting for the brothers to get far enough from their protected circle for them to be unable to reach it in safety when it finally attacked. It followed them down the mountain.

An hour passed, Dean saying nothing to his brother, still in a funk from a wasted day and night in the woods. It would be an easier trek down the mountain to the Impala and his mind wandered as he realized he could be getting a massage by mid afternoon and by evening, well, he could be getting something even better.

He smiled briefly and started coming out of his funk. It wasn't really Sam's fault, and it HAD been worth checking in to, even if it was inconvenient.

Even distracted, Dean was ever the consummate hunter, with Sam a close second. Their father had trained them well, and at almost the same time they stopped, eyes wide, looking around.

"Why did it suddenly get so quiet?" Sam whispered.

"I'm not sure, but I have a bad feeling." He looked around, peering intently into the forest that the morning sun's rays had yet to pierce fully and drive away the fog.

Suddenly there was a piercing screeching wail from above them and they looked up at the same time to find a humanlike creature come hurtling thru the branches above them. Dean launched his shoulder into Sam's side a moment before the wendigo landed atop his little brother. He cried out, his face going pale as claws raked down his back.

Sam stumbled to his knees after getting pushed aside. He looked back when he heard his brother cry out and saw the wendigo half atop his brother and blood welling thru four gashes in his back.

"Dean!" he yelled, scrambling to his feet and pulling off his pack, reaching for the flare gun. He looked down to pull out the flare gun, and looked up just in time to see the wendigo's arm coming towards his face. He ducked and brought the gun up to bear and pulled the trigger. The wendigo was faster and leapt out of the way. Sam attempted to reload when he suddenly felt a blinding pain in his head and the world went black

Dean lay sprawled on the ground, head spinning and barely conscious. His back was on fire and he could barely move his legs. He saw his brother go down and stay unmoving. He attempted to crawl over to his brother, his fear and concern over his brother's safety overriding his own personal pain. A shadow fell over the ground in front of him and the rancid smell of rotting met assailed his nose. He tried to move back, away from the pale legs that now filled his vision, when he felt laws grab him thru his shirt and drag him onto his back. He struggled weakly but gained nothing but a gash above his eye. In the end his hands were tied together and yanked above his head. He felt a sharp yank thru his arms then he found himself being dragged upwards into the trees at blinding speed. He caught only a glimpse of his brother lying motionless on the ground before his head slammed into a tree limb and he lost consciousness.

The wendigo snarled in rage as it dragged its prey upwards. It was injured. The projectile from the flare gun had not entirely missed and had laid open a furrow in its right arm. It would need to rest and heal. While not broken the arm was damaged and it was all the wendigo could do to drag its just one victim into the trees with the damaged arm while it used its undamaged arm to pull itself thru the trees to safety. It rarely lost any prey. It started the long journey home.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Dean awoke hours later to the painful feeling of being dragged on his back. If the wendigo's claws didn't cause an infection, surely the dirt and debris he could feel being driven into the gashes in his back would cause one. His hands were numb but his wrists and arms were burning with pain. His shoulders felt like they were dislocated. He grunted as he slammed into a log. Correction- he was sure they were dislocated.

As best as he could he looked around. He didn't recognize where they were. The trees and terrain looked different. It was drier, with less pine trees and more scrub trees. What grass he could see was sparse and not as rich. With a start he realized he was miles from where they had begun.

Sam woke groggily to the sounds of crickets and birds. His head ached. He cautiously brought a hand to his head and touched the knot that he knew had formed near his left eye. It came away wet and sticky. He took stock. Aside from his head head- which hurt immensely- he could feel no other real injuries.

A thought flashed across his head. "Dean!" He cautiously picked up his head, fighting the dizziness as he looked for his brother. There was no sign of Dean. He crawled to where he thought he had last seem him. The ground was disturbed and blood stained the leaves, but that was the only sign that anyone had been there.

"Dean!" he yelled again, ignoring the searing pain that flashed across his head. "Dean! Where are you?!" There was no reply save for the squawking of birds that he had disturbed.

Not bothering to wait for his head to stop spinning, he started searching, leaning heavily against the trees for support. Finding no sign in the immediate area he expanded his search. He wasn't sure how long he searched before the blackness of unconsciousness claimed him again.

* * * * * * * * * * *

He must have lost consciousness again, Dean thought groggily to himself. His head pounded. He could feel his pulse throbbing in his temples. He moaned as he attempted to open his eyes. He wasn't sure if he had succeeded. I was very dark. Slowly his eyes adjusted to the very limited light. He really couldn't see anything, just that some areas were darker than others. Slowly his other senses returned.

He was hanging by his wrists, arms strung up over his head. His hands were still numb but his arms ached, his shoulders screaming in protest at the unnatural position they were forced to hold. The gashes in his back throbbed in time with the pulse pounding in his head. His feet didn't touch the ground and it was too dark for him to see how far above the ground he was hanging.

His sense of smell was the next to come back. He wished it hadn't. all he could smell was the thick cloying smell of blood - and he was sure that there was a lot of it.

Hearing was next to return, but that too was useless. The harsh sound of his own breathing hilled his ears. His heart was pounding so loudly he was sure it would attract attention. He tried to still his breathing and slow his heart so he could hear if there was anyone - or anything - else nearby. After a few moments he gave up. He could hear nothing else, but whether it was because he was making too much noise or there was nothing else to hear, he didn't know.

Unable to move his hands and in no position to help himself he settled down for what he was sure would be a short wait. Any moment now, he thought. Any moment now Sammy would come bursting into wherever he was, guns blazing, and save the day. He would never let Dean suffer, never.

* * * * * * * * * * * * Five months later

"Another round barkeep!" a man yelled. The bartender nodded. He pushed his shaggy hair out of his eyes and wiped away the sweat that was the inevitable result of working in a room packed with loud and sweating people. He poured the man another drink and sent it sliding down the bar to the man who had requested it.

It was after midnight and finally the bar was starting to quiet. The customers who came to dine had finished their meals and left. All that remained now were the diehards- those who wanted to drown their day - or night - away until closing time in a couple of hours.

The bartender had been one of them - for a little while at least. His time of drinking hadn't lasted long. He had drank to forget the bad times, the pain that at times seemed almost unbearable. He would drink himself into oblivion for a few hours, and for a brief period he would feel better. But then one morning he woke up and had trouble remembering - not just the bad - but the good as well. He forgotten the smile, the glances, the teasing remarks. For a brief moment Sam had forgotten Dean.

He stopped drinking after that. He never could figure out why - as an ex drunk - he had taken up bartending. Maybe to prove to himself that he was strong enough. Maybe a reminder of what he didn't want to become again. Maybe he just didn't know and never would. But he did know that sometimes, only occasionally, but sometimes, some people drank a little bit less because they saw something in his eyes, or because a chance word or phrase from Sam registered with them.

It was 2AM and the last drink had been served. By experience Sam knew that within twenty minutes the bar would be virtually deserted. He started cleaning up the bar and putting the empty glasses into the dishwasher. Within the hour he and the others had gotten the bar cleaned up and ready for the next day.

He looked down at the stack of napkins with various phone numbers on them. Invariably several young women tried to get his attention every night. He sighed and tossed them in the trash. He tried not to lead them on. In fact, he rarely talked to them beyond what was necessary, but the girls tended to see it as a challenge, rather than a turnoff, and he was too polite to ever really say no.

He left the bar with the others who worked there. Invitations were passed to each other, usually involving a late dinner - or early breakfast. As usual Sam was invited, but he politely refused. He didn't have much interest in doing anything now. He'd go home to his cramped studio apartment and try to sleep. Sometimes he succeeded - for a few hours at least - until a nightmare woke him up. This would continue on and off until it was time to go back to work. He repeated the cycle daily.

The sound of his cell phone ringing woke him several hours later. He rubbed his eyes, looking around, briefly confused, until his brain processed the information and he grabbed his cell phone to answer it. He looked at the caller ID. He didn't recognize the number or the area code. He decided to answer it anyways - he was already awake.

"Hello?" he said, his voice a little scratchy and still half asleep.

What he heard next shook him to his very core.

"Sa-ammy?"

* * * * * * * * * * *

Sam burst thru the front door of the hospital, nearly knocking people down in his haste to get to the administrative desk. The nurse looked up, a bit startled at the noise, "Dean Winchester's room?" Sam blurted out, breathless.

The nurse looked up the name on the computer, "Third floor." she pointed to the elevators, but Sam was already on his way, sprinting down the hall. She called after him, "He'll be on your left!"

Sam exited the elevators at a slightly more sedate pace. His brother hadn't sounded too steady on the phone and the doctor he had spoken too had said that Dean was in a very fragile way, both physically and mentally. He didn't need any extra stress right now, but the doctor was sure he needed his brother.

He went first to the nurse's desk, having been told that he would need to check in before being allowed to visit his brother. The nurse smiled gently as he approached, "I'm Sam Winchester," he said, "I was told my brother is here?"

The nurse looked at her chart, "Yes, Sam Winchester, I do have your name down. Why don't you wait here a moment and I'll call Dr. Toms. He's your brother's doctor and you'll need to visit with him before you can see your brother." She picked up the phone to place the call.

"Please, I need to see my brother," Sam begged, "It's been so long." his face crumbled and there were tears in his eyes.

The nurse smiled softly, "I understand, I really do, but you need to talk to the doctor first." She paged the doctor then turned back to Sam, "Your brother has been thru a really hard time and is going to need a tremendous amount of support from you to recover. The doctor wants you to be prepared first." she paused as the elevator doors opened again, "Look, here he is."

Sam turned and looked at the doctor. He was an older man, in his fifties with graying hair. He was not quite as tall as Sam but looked to be in good shape. He smiled as he approached Sam and extended his hand.

"I'm Dr. Toms. I'm your brother's doctor. It's nice to meet you, though I wish under better circumstances." He motioned towards the chairs, "I know you're anxious to see your brother, but let's talk first."

Sam nodded and sat down. He clenched his hands together, anxiety threatening to overwhelm him.

"Your brother was found by several hunters about six weeks ago. They were tracking a bear- or what they thought was a bear - in the northern part of the Cache Valley area in Idaho."

A thought flashed across Sam's head. Cache Valley. That was nearly a hundred miles from where he and Sam had camped that last, fateful night. No wonder he'd never found Dean.

"They're not quite sure what it was, but whatever it was, they did manage to kill it, although one of the hunters was killed in the process." The doctor paused for a moment. Death was an inevitable part of life, but that didn't mean he had to like it. "Upon further exploration of the cave system near where they killed the beast, they found several people, one of them being your brother. Several of the people were dead, their bodies appeared to have been eaten, presumably by whatever it was that the hunters had killed. Your brother was alive but unresponsive. He, along with the rest of the survivors, were airlifted here. Your brother was in a deep coma by the time he got here and just barely alive. He was severely malnourished and dehydrated. There were several serious wounds and assorted slash marks on his body, most of which were infected. He was running a very high fever and had several seizures before we could bring it down." he paused after his recitation of Dean's injuries, studying Sam's face closely.

Sam had gone pale, his lips nearly bloodless. He looked at the doctor with tears welling into his eyes, then looked away and brushed his hand across his eyes, wiping away the tears. He sniffed a few times and cleaned his throat, then looked back at the doctor, "Continue, please." he said hoarsely.

"There was no identifying information on your brother. The flesh on his hands was mangled. It appears he - and several others - had tried to claw their way out. We couldn't even get a print to try to identify him that way. Until he woke up he was a John Doe. He woke up two days ago." The doctor waited a moment to give Sam time to absorb the information, "As soon as his head cleared enough to remember your phone number we let him call you. I'm glad you were able to get here so quickly. Your brother is a very scared young man."

Sam looked at the doctor, "Five months," he said simply. The doctor looked at him blankly. "Five months. That's how long he's been gone. Five long months since I last saw my brother. I thought he was dead."

"My God," the doctor said, "I had no idea. Your brother hasn't said much. He really doesn't say anything at all."

"Can I see him now?"

"Of course. We can talk more later."

He rose and Sam followed after. They walked down the hall, stopping in front of an open door. The room was brightly lit. there was a curtain drawn around the single bed in the room. The TV was on, but Sam couldn't see what was playing. "He likes the light on round the clock," the doctor said quietly, "and likes to have background noise. He hasn't turned the TV off since he woke up."

They entered the room. "Dean?" Doctor Toms said quietly, "Dean, there's someone here to see you. Is that O.K.?"

"Yeah." came a soft, weak voice.

Sam drew the curtain aside and stepped into his brother's view. "H-e-ey." he said softly, not sure of what to say or do.

Dean was lying slightly on his left side facing the door when the curtain parted to admit Sam. He looked up when he heard a voice he had thought he would never hear again. For the first time in five months Dean smiled. "Sammy," he said, his voice barely above a whisper. His hands twitched on the mattress.

Sam approached the bed slowly, a little afraid to make any sudden movement. He could scarcely believe this was his brother lying on the bed. He was so pale, he looked nearly as white as the bleached hospital sheets he was laying on. There were bandages on his arms and hands. Sam could only assume there were more bandages underneath the hospital sheets. The once muscled arms were little more than twigs.

Sam fell to his knees next to Dean's bed, his hands reaching up to gently cover his brother's bandaged ones, tears falling unashamedly from his eyes. Dean's hands reached around to lightly grip Sam's hands. Sam said nothing and they sat like that for a long while until Dean fell asleep, his features finally relaxed and a ghost of a smile across his face.

When Sam was sure that Dean was asleep and would stay asleep he gently disengaged their hands and stepped away from the bed. He quietly pulled the curtain closed and stepped out of the room. His heart felt lighter than it had felt in a long time when he approached the nurse's desk.

She smiled at his approach, relief evident on her face. She nodded in the direction of the other hall. "Dr. Tom's is in his office. He asked that you stop in to see him. There's also coffee and a vending machine at the end of that hall." she smiled, "I figure you'll be here for awhile."

Sam laughed quietly, "As long as you'll let me."

* * * * * * * * * * *

It didn't take as much fast talking as Sam expected to get his brother released into his care. The worst of his physical injuries were mostly healed, requiring only simple cleaning and bandaging for the next few weeks before they could be left to heal unhindered. As to Dean's mental state, Dr. Tom wanted Dean to get some professional counseling, but was street smart enough to realize that forcing the traumatized young man to do anything would be counterproductive.

"He's still very weak," Dr. Tom reminded Sam a week later, "his stomach still needs to adjust to eating regular meals, although he's had no difficulties with the light meals we've been giving him. He's going to want to move around and that really is the best thing for him, but you should stick close to him for awhile until he's stronger before letting him venture off on his own. He'll probably tire very easily, so keep your forays short and close to home. Have you found a place to stay?"

"Yeah," Sam replied, "I was able to rent a lake house at the marina. It's not too far from here so we'll be close by for our regular doctor visits."

"That's a great choice. Some water therapy could be very helpful."

"Yes, that's what I thought. It's quiet enough o give us some privacy, but close enough to other houses and to town so that he won't feel totally isolated. I've gotten a six-month lease with the option for another six months after that if we want it." Sam had realized early that his little studio apartment - while perfect for him - would be inappropriate for his recovering brother. He knew that Dean would need to be able to move around and that there was very little room inside his apartment to do that.

Sam had briefly considered Bobby or one of the other hunters that his family had befriended over the years. He knew they would find a long term welcome with any of them, but Dean seemed uncomfortable with anyone but Sam at his side, even his regular nurses and Dr. Tom's, who were extremely patient and caring. Dean was attempting to put up his old wall and separate himself from his emotions. The more time he spent with relative strangers the harder he would try to put up his shell. Even without the strangers Sam had little idea how he was going to get Dean to deal with what had happened.

Sam had put the Impala into storage when he had come fact to face with the reality that Dean was gone. It didn't feel right to him to drive the classic car on mundane errands, but he knew there was no way he would ever sell it. Now, as he backed the black beauty out of the storage compartment, he was glad he had kept her. While Dean had yet to say anything about the fate of his car, Sam was sure it had crossed his mind. He couldn't wait to see the look on his brother's face when he walked out of the hospital and saw his car.

Dean's bandaged hands lightly traced over the top of the car when he stopped at the door. He had refused to stay in the wheelchair once they had gotten past the hospital doors. Ignoring Sam's mother-hen routine he had pushed himself to his feet, determined to walk to his beloved car. He was a little wobbly, and Sam wasn't entirely sure that Dean's caress of his car wasn't to help steady himself, but he said nothing.

"She looks good." Dean commented, "Thanks."

"Well, I thought about selling her, but couldn't find any buyers for this old bucket of rust!"

Dean gaped at his brother, "Don't listen to him baby," he said lovingly to his car, "he just doesn't appreciate your sweet curves like I do."

"Dean, it's a car, not a woman!"

"Never met a lady that treated me as good as this car - or looked as good as this car. Now, you gonna drive, or are you unsure on how to handle a real woman?" Dean said suggestively as he slowly sat into the passenger seat, quietly refusing any help from his brother. Sam could only laugh as he crossed around the front of the car and slid behind the wheel.

Sam started the car and smoothly slid out of the hospital parking lot and into the road towards their beach house destination. A "softer" song from Van Halen played in the tape deck. The brothers were quiet, and after a few minutes Sam sneaked a sideways peak at his brother. Dean was slouched against the window, eyes shut. At first glance he appeared relaxed, but Sam knew otherwise. Dean's arms were crossed around his chest, his hands clasped against his arms as tightly as the bandaging and wounds would allow. While his right shoulder was against the window, he held his neck and head stiffly upright. Sam wasn't sure if Dean's position was pain induced or an attempt to distance himself from his brother. The beginnings of doubt and worry began to appear in Sam's mind.

In truth, the drive was fairly uncomfortable for Dean. While he loved his car, it wasn't always the most comfortable, especially for an injured person. He was glad to be out of the hospital- needed to be out of the hospital - but he was far from 100%. The various injuries across his body seemed to throb in time with the thrum of the engine.

But some of his discomfort was mental as well. One question was forefront in his mind, but he was afraid to ask it. "Where were you Sammy? Why did you leave me alone for so long?"

Sam fought his innate desire to hover and mother hen his brother when they got to the beach house. After talking with hospital staff, they believed the closest thing Dean would be experiencing would be something akin to PTSD. From his research, Sam knew that Dean needed to feel as self-sufficient as possible. Even little things such as getting into and out of the car on his own would go a long way towards Dean's recovery. Crucial to the recovery of any PTSD victim was the need to feel in control of any decisions affecting his life.

So it was with a great amount of self control that Sam only watched while his brother levered his weary boy out of the car and onto his feet. Sam had parked the car as close as possible to the house, but still there were a dozen low steps that had to be traversed before they reached the house.

Dean paused at the first step and looked around. He pursed his lips thoughtfully, "Nice place."

The beach house was a small, bungalow like building. The stone stair walkway led to an enclosed front porch. It was set in the middle of a low, grassy hill. There was a stone pathway that emanated from the side of the house that led to the beach. It was not a white, sandy beach as seen in the movies, but rather a lakefront beach with hardy native grasses that reached to the tideline. There was a little bit of driftwood along the shoreline. In front of each house was a covered picnic table. Each house was set far enough back from the water to allow for privacy from anyone who wanted to walk around the lake.

Sam noticed but said nothing as Dean turned his left hand so that his knuckles were resting on the handrail as he slowly started up the walkway. He kept his right arm close against his body and his shoulders were tense as if to provide a barrier between himself and the outside world. As they approached the last steps Sam could see that Dean was leaning heavier and heavier on his upturned hand and knuckles. He sneaked past Dean and opened the porch door so that Dean wouldn't have to stop. By the set of his shoulders and the tension on his face Sam wasn't sure Dean would be able to get started if he stopped. Dean grunted his thanks but said nothing as he passed his brother. There was a slight pause as Sam fumbled with the lock on the front door, but not long enough to stop Dean's momentum.

Sam turned to Dean when they were both in the house, "The bedrooms are off to the right side. I gave you the closest one," He turned to look at his brother, "Oh."

Dean was settling himself heavily onto the couch that was near the front door, "I'm good here," he grunted. He gently lowered himself partially on his side so his back was against the rear of the sofa and closed his eyes, exhaustion evident on his face.

"Can I get you anything?" Sam asked softly.

"Turn the TV on, would ya?"

"What channel?" Sam asked, looking around for the remote to the 21 inch TV.

"Doesn't matter."

Sam flipped thru the channels, not sure of what Dean would be comfortable with. Normally they would settle on some cheesy horror flick, but Sam wasn't sure that would be a good idea right now. As it was mid-day afternoon, Sam was finally able to find a soap opera. He turned back to his brother to ask if it was alright, but his words died on his lips, Dean was fast asleep. The tension on his face that had been evident throughout the day finally eased from his face.

Sam was chopping up some vegetables when a harsh cry from the front room brought him running. He slid to his knees next to his brother gently grabbing at the wrists that were flailing about. Rather than helping settle his brother, this only made it worse, "No!", his brother cried out, "Leave me along! Don't touch me!" Dean struggled harder and Sam struggled to keep Dean from hurting himself. Suddenly he felt a sharp pain in his chest and found himself pushed backwards as Dean kicked him in the ribs. He lost his grip and sat back heavily, barely catching himself from falling onto his back. Dean's eyes shot open and he pressed himself hard against the back of the sofa. "Sam! Oh my God! I'm so sorry." Dean rolled forward off the couch and fell to his knees next to his brother, reaching out his bandaged hands to check his brother for injury, "Are you alright?"

"Dean, I'm fine. A little startled perhaps, but you didn't hurt me." Sam responded. He made no attempt to stop his brothers hands from pressing against his ribs. He knew Dean wouldn't be content until he had personally checked him out. Once he was content with Sam's self-diagnosis he sat back heavily. He looked away from his brother. Sam reached a hand out to gently touch his brother's arm. Dean flinched but didn't move away. "Hey, you want to tell me what happened?"

Dean shook his head, "Just a bad dream." he mumbled.

"Do you remember what about?" Sam pressed.

Dean shook his head sideways, his lips pressed so tightly together they were nearly bloodless.

"Dean, you need to talk a bout it." he clasped his hand a little tighter around his brother's upper arm.

Dean pulled roughly away from his brother's grip, "I don't want to!"

"Dean!" Sam reached out to his brother.

"Just leave me alone!" Dean moved roughly away from his brother's attempt to reestablish contact with him. He pushed himself to his feet. He looked back at his brother who was still sitting on the ground, sadness and shock warring on his face. Dean's face softened a little and his shoulder's slumped. "I can't talk about it." he said a little more softly. He walked to the bedroom that Sam had pointed out would be his. He didn't look back as he closed the door firmly behind him, further distancing himself from his brother.

After a few moments Sam clambered to his feet, sadness heavy in his eyes. He walked quietly over to the door that his brother had just closed. He put his ear to the door, but said nothing. His hand hovered over the doorknob. His care and concern for his brother in his heart warred with the common sense voice in his head that told him to give his brother the space he evidently desired. After a few moments his head won out over his heart and he walked away from the door and back to the kitchen.

Dean, for his part, sat huddled on the bed, his back pressed against the headboard and his head between his knees. He heard his brother's footsteps across the carpet and knew when they stopped that Sam was poised outside his door. He tensed, waiting for the inevitable knock. After a few moments he realized there would be none, but it was not until he heard his brother's footsteps retreat to the kitchen that he began to relax.

A few hours later Sam had approached Dean's door and knocked softly. "Dean, I made dinner."

"I'm not hungry." came the muffled reply.

"I didn't think you were, but how about you try to eat a little," Sam replied, "Your body needs it."

There was no reply for a moment, then came the Dean's quiet reply, "Yeah, O.K." Sam stepped back as the door slowly opened. Dean stepped out and walked to the kitchen without saying anything more to his brother. Sam followed, adroitly watching his brother for any signs of pain. While Dean appeared stiff and tired, he seemed no worse for the wear.

Rather than going to the table to sit down, Dean went to the stove where the kettle of stew was simmering. "Where are the bowls?" he asked.

"Go ahead and sit down. I'll get it."

"I can serve myself Sam!" Dean snapped, "I'm not an invalid." Dean turned to look at Sam, eyes flashing. Sam stared, surprised at the vehemence of the outburst. Dean grabbed the ladle and threw it across the room. "Forget it!" he turned and started to storm past his brother.

"Hey!" Sam exclaimed, reaching out to grab his brother by the upper arm, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. Let me find the bowls and you can serve yourself."

Dean pulled his arm away, "just forget it. Leave a bowl out and I'll eat something later." His tirade was interrupted by the sound of knocking on the front door. He stopped, eyes going wide and instinctively stepped back towards the safety of his brother.

"Hello?" a feminine voice called out. There was more knocking.

Sam looked at his brother, a little surprised at the sudden change in his demeanor. Dean had deflated and sunk in upon himself. He stepped in front of his older brother protectively. "Hold on, I'm coming." he called out to whoever was at the door.

"Hi!" the woman said brightly. "I'm Nancy, your neighbor from down the way." she motioned over to the shoulder to the house in front of them, which was about one hundred yards away, "I knew you were moving in today and wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood." She lifted the covered dish up higher so that Sam could smell its appetizing contents. "I made lasagna. I hope you like it."

"You didn't have to do that." Sam said with a smile on his face.

"I know, but I wanted to. I know how hectic things can get when you first move in . I wanted to make things a little easier for you."

"Well that was very considerate of you." he sneaked a nervous glance back at his brother who remained in the kitchen. Sam could only see his shadow from where he was standing. He opened the screen door to take the proffered dish. Nancy held onto the dish and made as if to step inside. Sam stayed in front of the door to clock her entrance.

"I'm sorry," he said to the confused woman, "My brother isn't feeling well and he really isn't up to visitors."

"Oh!" she said, "I understand," she lifted the dish up to Sam, "No problem. I'm retired, so I'm almost always home. If you need anything you just give me a call, O.K.? my phone number is written on the bottom of the dish."

Sam smiled, relieved, "Great, thanks." he took the proffered dish and let the screen door swing shut between them. He watched the older woman walk off the porch and down the front steps before closing the heavier door with his foot and walking back into the kitchen.

"Well, we've got lasagna too." Sam said brightly as he stepped into the kitchen. Dean was sitting at the table. He looked up at Sam as his brother walked into the kitchen.

"She seemed cheerful." Dean commented.

"Yeah. Smells like a good cook too. Want some?"

"Sure." came the slightly subdued response. Dean made no attempt to rise, so Sam cut him a small piece. He put the dish and a fork down in front of his brother. He sat down across from his brother with his own much larger piece and began to eat. He snuck a few surreptitious looks at his brother.

"It's not going to get eaten if all you do is stare at it." Sam said.

Dean threw a look at his brother, eyebrows raised. He fumbled with the fork in his still bandaged hand, but managed to get a mouthful.

"Eat slowly." Sam reminded him, "This is a heavier meal then you're used to."

Dean threw another look at his younger brother around. "I know." he said, exaggerating his words so Sam could see the partially chewed mouthful of food.

"Dude, that's just gross."

"My specialty." Dean replied, his mouth still full of food.

* * * * * * * * * * *

He awoke to darkness and an almost unbearable burning pain in his arms as his full body weight hung from them. H was not sure what had awoke him, until his eyes adjusted to the limited light and the harshness of his own breathing was not so loud in his ears. The sound of harsh breathing now his own came to his ears, accompanied by a cloying, fetid stench from nearby. In the dim light his eyes could finally distinguish a shape in the darkness directly in front of him. He sucked in a hard breath, kicking his legs to try to push himself away from the shape. Even in the almost utter blackness he knew it was the wendigo. His gut clenched with fear and thoughts of his brother crossed his mind. As long as he'd been hanging - hours, days, weeks? - he knew he didn't have a prayer of fighting successfully against the monster. He was too weak, and his arms nearly useless, his hands so numb he had no prayer of holding a weapon in the near future.

He only could imagine the growl as the creature stepped forward towards him. He cried out, "No!" and again attempted to thrust himself away from the creature.

Rather than grabbing him as Dean expected, the creature reached upwards and grabbed the knot tying his hands together and holding him upright. With a yank the knot was pulled loose and Dean came to the floor with a crash, his legs unable to hold his weight. He cried out when his arms remained over his head, the wendigo still had a hold of the knot that held his wrists together.

With another snarl it started walking, dragging Dean across the floor. He tried to move his legs to walk and follow but couldn't convince them to move properly. He fell to his knees; this barely slowed the wendigo and in the next step he was half on his stomach being dragged across the rough floor. The pain was excruciating and he struggled to control the tears that threatened to fall as the pain overwhelmed him.

After a few moments he felt his body being heaved and then felt himself falling. He landed with a thud and started coughing as the air was pushed out of his lungs. It took him a few moments to recover his senses. When he did he realized that there were hands on him and he recoiled, screaming hoarsely. He struggled to regain his feet but failed.

For a few moments he fought against his captors until he realized that they were not hurting him. He was finally able to make out the sound of voices talking to him, encouraging him to relax and let them help. Soon her felt the bonds from about his wrists come off and a container of liquid thrust in his face. His hands were too numb to hold the cup, but gentle hands held the cup to his lips and other hands supported his back and head. He eagerly drank the sweet water, expressing dismay when the cup was removed from his reach before his thirst was quenched.

"You must drink slowly. You've been two days without water." The cup was brought back to his lips and he drank again, slower this time. When the cup was empty he slumped back against the supporting hands and looked around.

There were five other people surrounding him. In the very dim light he could only make out vague human shapes and wasn't entirely sure whether they were male or female, or what kind of condition they were in. His mind, starting to calm, realized that these were probably the other missing campers.

"Sam?" he called out hoarsely, terrified that his brother could be here, but scared of his being alone, "Sam?" he tried again , stronger.

"There's no one named Sam here, unless that's your name. I'm Margaret." a feminine voice told him.

Dean shook his head, "My name is Dean. Sam is my brother. We were hiking…" he trailed off.

"We were all hiking or camping." another voice - a male - answered. "We were caught a month ago. I'm Mike."

"You've been here a month?" Dean exclaimed.

"I think, it's hard to tell. I lost my watch last week. The creature throws food and water down here for us to eat. I think it's keeping us alive for some reason."

"Yeah," Dean agreed somberly, "It wants you alive."

"You know about it?" another voice asked. Dean thought it belonged to the hands helping him to stay upright.

Normally Dean would be hesitant to reveal what he knew but in this instance they knew more than most people. "It's called a wendigo. It's a supernatural creature. It survives by eating human flesh - preferably live flesh - then hibernating for twenty or so years. There's an old belief that those who eat human flesh develop supernatural powers, thus its ability to move so fast and with such strength. It was once human, subjected to a time of extreme deprivation when human meat was its only food source."

"So - so, it's -" Margaret started, but stopped, unable to continue.

Dean nodded, "It's keeping us alive so it can gorge itself before it hibernates. This one seems smarter than most. I've never heard of one providing food and water for its' victims."

Mike huffed, "It's trying to fatten us up."

"Probably figures we're the strongest and therefore have the best change of surviving the longest. Easier for him in case his hunting is unsuccessful." another voice said cynically.

Dean grunted and hunched over in pain, holding his arms stiffly against his chest. The circulation had started to return to his hands and the pins and needle feeling was excruciating. He felt a hand soothe comfortable against his back. "Just breathe through it," it said, "It'll get better soon."

It was another fifteen minutes before Dean uncurled from his ball of misery. The others were nearby, sitting now, in a half circle around him. He was glad it was too dark to distinguish details. He knew he didn't want to see what else was around him.

He didn't know how long he was down there. Nights and days blurred together into an unintelligible haze of terror. The wendigo did provide food and water, but only just enough for them to stay alive. He lost muscle mass, his body eating itself in a desperate attempt to supply the nourishment it craved. He had tried to climb out, but it was too far and too slick, even with the help of the others. He tried several times, the last time earning him open wounds on his hands which quickly became infected in the filthy environment. He found himself growing weaker, eventually barely able to move from his spot against the wall. He knew one day soon he would die and then the wendigo would eat him, just like it had done to Margaret last week when she finally succumbed to a fever due to her own injuries. It had feasted on her body only a few feet away from then as they cowered in fear. Her gruesome remains were still a pile on the floor.

A harsh cry woke Sam from his slumber. He had positioned the beds so that his bed and Dean's were against the same wall. It partially satisfied his need to hover without being so obvious to his brother that that was what he was doing.

He was out of the bed before the echoes of the scream had faded from his head. He didn't bother to knock on the door and pushed himself in and to his brother's side without asking. He only vaguely noticed that it was dark outside but there was a light on in the room. He only registered the look of fear on his brother's face. He stopped before touching his brother, remembering what had happened last time.

"Dean?" he said softly, edging his hips onto the bed. His only response was Dean's harsh breathing. "Dean?" he said again, more urgently. He reached out a hand to gently touch his brother's shoulder, ready to move back if his brother should react violently. Dean flinched, but didn't pull away. His eyes were focused on something directly in front of him and his breath came in harsh gasps. His arms were wrapped around his knees.

Sam gently began to rub his hand up and down his brother's arm, trying to snap his brother out of his daze. After a few seconds it had the desired affect and Dean took a long drawn out breath and let it out raggedly before blinking and sitting upright. "Yeah," he said quietly.

"Dean, you O.K.?"

"Depends on your definition of O.K."

"I heard a scream." Sam responded.

"Yeah, that was me."

"Kinda figured that, unless there's someone else in your room."

Dean smiled, it was half hearted but I heartened Sam to see a little more active response from his brother. The pale, lifeless entity in front of him held little resemblence to the brother he had known so well.

"Nightmare?" Sam asked quietly.

Dean nodded, "Oh yeah."

"Want to talk about it? It'll help."

"Not hardly, I just want to forget."

"Dean, you need to talk about it. It's not healthy to try to bury it. You're going thru - "

"Just leave it!" Dean interrupted, "I'm fine! Now leave me alone and go back to bed."

"Dean -" Sam started, before finding himself half falling off the bed as Dean gave a weak push with his arm.

"Go!"

Sam stepped away from the bed, his eyes brewing with tears that threatened to fall. His brother was shutting him out, the thing he had feared the most.

Dean turned his back on his brother as he lay down facing the wall. It was a defensive posture, but also covered the fact that tears were falling down his face and his hands were trembling.

Sam dozed restlessly for the remainder of the night. He heard no further outbursts from his older brother but whether it was because Dean had slept peacefully of because he hadn't slept at all he wasn't sure. At some point Sam knew he had fallen more deeply asleep because he awoke to sunlight pouring thru the windows.

He got the coffee going before he cleaned himself up in the bathroom. He hoped the smell of coffee permeating thru the air would bring his brother out of the bedroom and into a better mood. They might even be able to talk a little bit.

Not long after the coffee finished brewing Sam's hopes were rewarded by his older brother walking stiffly out of his bedroom. Sam set a mug out but didn't offer to fill it as Dean walked quietly into the bedroom. He sat down at the table, watching Dean as unobtrusively as possible over the brim of his mug.

It was a little difficult with the heavy bandages on his hands, but Dean managed to pour himself a cup of coffee without spilling any. He sat down across from his brother, accepting the coffee for the peace offering that it was. He blanched a little at the taste of decaf, but knew that Sam would never let him near real coffee with all the medication he still had to take. Eventually, even the decaf coffee began to add some energy into his sore and stuff body.

"Look," he began, "About last night," he stopped, not quite sure how to say what he needed to say.

"Yeah, I get it." Sam answered, "Don't worry about it. It's okay."

"So we, umm?" Dean looked at Sam apprehensively.

"Yeah."

After a few minutes Sam said, "Listen, I'm sorry. I don't mean to push, but…" he trailed off.

"I know. It's just - not right now. I can't. There's - it's - too much."

"Yeah, I get it."

Dean started to rise. I'm gonna go sit outside for awhile, enjoy the sun."

Sam started to rise after him, but Dean stopped him. "Don't hover. I can make it by myself. I'll call if I need help."

Sam sat back down, "Okay, sorry. Remember we need to change your bandages later. Every day the doc said."

"Yeah, I remember, later alright?"

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

The sign said "The Lucky Shamrock", Dean noticed as he exited the cab. He paid the taxi driver and walked into the bar. It wasn't particularly crowded even though it was evening. Dean had requested the cab driver bring him to a fairly decent less populated bar, and this was it. Like most bars, it was dimly lit and smoky. There were tables along the sides, a few pool tables in the back and several TV's placed along the walls.

Dean took a seat along the bar near the wall and positioned himself so that he could see what was going on around him. He wondered how long it would take for his brother to figure out where he'd gone. He had snuck out when Sam had gone out for groceries. He knew Sam had tried to give him his space, but he felt stifled in the beach house. Sam had offered to take him grocery s hopping, which didn't appeal to Dean at all, or to the movies, which was only slightly more appealing than grocery shopping. He needed to get away, to cut loose and lose himself for awhile. And a crowd of strangers in a smoky, dimly lit bar was just the place to do it.

He put a few dollars on the bar and asked the bartender for a beer. Sam was gonna kill him, but he didn't care. Visions of blood and death tumbled thru his head, of pain and loneliness, enough so that he would be glad if Sam really did kill him. He took a long draught from the mug, wondering how long it would take for the alcohol to interact with the medication he was taking, and what the effects would be. He finished the mug quickly, glancing at the bartender and nodding for another. He laid a a couple of dollars on the bar as the second mug was slid in front of him and downed half of it. He didn't return the quick glance that the bartender thru at him, and just signaled the guy for a third. He wanted to get drunk, to forget. He wanted even just a few minutes of rest where there wasn't a nightmare; a flash of terror bursting thru his mind of the horror show he had been forced to live in for three months.

Dean took a little bit longer to drink his third beer. He was feeling a bit of a buzz now. Usually he didn't feel one after only two or three beers. He figured it was the combination of the drugs and alcohol that was affecting him so quickly. He didn't care either way. He just knew it felt good.

He looked longingly as the pool table but knew he couldn't play. The heavy bandages were off his hands, but lighter ones were in their place. He could probably get his hands around a pool cue, but doubted he could close his hands correctly around it, never mind the friction that would result from the cue sliding across the injured fingers of his left hand. A couple of weeks maybe. He sighed in frustration and signaled the bartender for his fourth beer.

"Don't think so buddy." The bartender said.

"What? I'm not driving, it's ok." Dean responded testily.

"You don't look like you should have anymore. I'm cutting you off."

"That's bull crap. What are you, my keeper? If I needed one of those I'd still be at home!" Dean replied angrily.

"Well, I think that's where you need to be. Now, do you want me to call someone to come and get you, or can you be trusted to take a cab home."

"Fuck this! I want a beer, not a phone call! Just give me another beer!" he raised his voice.

People were starting to notice now, looking over at the confrontation between the bartender and Dean. One man pulled a phone out of his pocket and started to make a call.

"Listen man. Don't make a scene. People are starting to notice." the bartender said softly, trying to calm Dean down.

"I don't care! It's all your fault! Just give me the beer and I'll calm down!"

"No. I'll call someone to give you a ride home, but that's it."

"Screw you." Dean grunted. He staggered to his feet, using the bar to support him until he could get his balance. "I'm getting out of here. Someone else will give me a drink."

"Not around here buddy. We're not into drunk, rowdy types around here. We bartenders take our job seriously. The state you're in, no one will give you a drink. You might as well go home." But Dean was already on his way out the door. He threw his hand back in a one fingered wave at the bartender and the people that were now standing and watching. He let the door slam behind him and staggered down the street.

The bartender shook his head wearily. What a way to start the night. He looked over at the man who had pulled out his phone, "Did you call the cops Joe?"

"Yeah. Gave 'em a good description so they should be able to pick him up easy enough. Did you see those bandages? Guys been in some kinda wreck."

"Yeah, that's why I cut him off. Figured he was on some pain meds. He didn't look quite right when he got in here. Those beers didn't help any. I shouldn't have given him any."

"Naw, let it go Mike. You cant be everyone's keeper."

"Guess not, but he sure did look like he was hurting. Don't think beer is what he needs right now. Maybe a therapist, but not booze."

"Well, hopefully he's got someone at home that can take care of that. Now, will you get ME another beer?"

The bartender laughed, "Yeah, you lush. You can have another. Give me a sec."

Dean hadn't gotten very far down the street when a police car pulled up beside him. "Hey buddy," the cop called out, "Can I talk to you for a sec?"

Dean's first instinct was to run, but he knew causing a scene would only land him in jail. If Sam was mad at Dean's little disappearing trip now, he would be furious to find him in jail. He needed that kind of confrontation even less than he needed a confrontation with the police.

"Yeah officer?" Dean responded. He watched the two cops get out of the car and approach him. He looked down the street warily, away from the officers, looking for a route of escape in case things went south.

"We got a call from someone at the Lucky Shamrock. Said you were getting a little upset."

Dean rubbed a hand thru his hair, damn those nosy customers. "Yeah, sorry about that. I wanted another beer and the bartender wouldn't give it to me. Don't see what the problem is. I wasn't driving."

"Well, the bartender thought you looked a little ill, so he cut you off. It's his right to do so."

"Well, if he thought I was ill why did he even serve me in the first place."

"I can't answer that sir. All I know is that we got a call from a concerned customer."

"Concerned, yeah right."

"Actually, yes. He was concerned that you were going to do something foolish."

"Well, the bartender said no one around here would serve me."

"Around here, no, but there are less reputable parts of town where they don't have as good a set of ethics as Mike and other bartenders around here." the cop answered.

"Really?" Dean perked up, "Now where would those be."

"I don't think you need to know that right now sir." one of the cops answered, "Why don't you tell us who we can call to come pick you up." he reached out a hand to Dean's shoulder.

Dean stepped away nervously. Images ran thru his mind, images of another hand reaching for him, a hand with claws. Dean stepped back and shook his head, trying to shake that flash of horror from his head. It wouldn't do to have a full out flashback in front of a couple of keystone cops.

"No, I'm alright. I think - I think maybe I just need to walk around for a bit. I'm sorry. I promise I won't cause anymore trouble." Dean backed away.

"Hey man, we're not going to hurt you. We really do just want to help." the other cop said.

"Yeah, right. Helping cops. Now that's an oxymoron if I have ever heard one."

The cop shook his head in exasperation, "Sir, you can think whatever you want, but I don't feel comfortable letting you walk around out here on your own. You've had a few to drink and you're obviously not in tip top shape to begin with. So either you give us a number so we can call someone to get you, or we give you a ride downtown, but either way we're not leaving on your own." He stepped to the side to block the escape route that Dean had been looking at.

Dean's eyes widened. He knew he was trapped. These might not be hardened cops from L.A., and might not be Chuck Norris wannabe's, but they were not the typical donut eating coffee guzzling stereotypical cops, and he was sure that in his weakened conditioned they could easily take him down.

He raised his hands up in surrender. "Listen man, I don't want no trouble now. Just stay calm alright."

"We're not going to hurt you sir. Why don't you just come with us." the cop reached a hand out and took a hold of Dean's arm. His grip wasn't especially hard, but he'd had the misfortune of closing his fingers around one of the deeper wounds on Dean's arm.

"Shit!" Dean yelled, wrenching his hand away and grabbing at his arm. He stumbled back, away from the cop, but directly into the other cop. The other cop grabbed both of his arms, trying to calm him, but the attempt backfired when Dean struggled to break free, forgetting momentarily that it was a cop that was trying to help him. Instead he remembered the arms of the wendigo tearing into its victims. He tried to pull away, and succeeded in pulling one arm free, and he twisted away from the officer. The cop held on tight to the other arm and swiftly succeeded in putting Dean into an armbar hold and had him on his knees.

"Sir, you need to calm down. Please don't fight us or you'll only make this worse."

Dean continued to struggle, but three beers, a couple of painkillers and a very effective armbar made his fighting ineffectual.

"You want to cuff him?' the other officer asked.

"No, not unless he tries to do something really stupid. See if you can find a wallet or a cellphone. Maybe there's someone we can call and get this taken care of. I don't think jail is where this guy needs to be right now."

The other guy took a hold of Dean's waistband with one hand and patted him down with the other. He found a wallet in his back pocket but no cell phone. Dean had left it at the beach house, wanting a little peace and quiet from his brother. He pulled a license out of the wallet. "Hmph, out of towner. Where you staying?"

"Beach house." Dean gritted out.

"On the lake? The little rent houses?"

"Yeah."

"You know Nancy?"

"The lady who makes good lasagna?"

"Yep, that's the one. Everyone knows Nancy. I'll call her." He turned to his partner who nodded, before stepping away to the other side of the patrol car.

The officer with the armbar hold put his head closer to Dean's. "Sir, if I let go are you going to try to run? I know this isn't comfortable but I don't want you running or trying to hurt us or yourself."

"No. I'm alright. I won't try anything." Dean responded.

The officer let go of Dean's arm and quickly stepped back out of Dean's reach. A part of Dean nodded appreciatively at the officer's sense of safety. Never trust anyone had been drilled into these guys skulls. The other part of Dean's brain was dead tired and overcame any thing else that was going thru his head. He leaned back and sat down heavily. He slid backwards until his back was up against the wall. He crossed his arms over his chest and put his head down, not wanting to look at the officers, not wanting to look at anything. He just wanted it all to stop.

Several miles away Sam was driving around town, stopping at bars and asking around inside about his brother. He was getting nowhere and his frustration was mounting. "Damn older brothers and their stubborn pride!" he muttered quietly to himself, "Why'd he have to go pull a foolish stunt like this."

His phone rang in his pocket. It was Nancy. He had called her after he had returned home to find his brother missing. She reported seeing a cab pull up to the house and Dean get inside. She didn't know where it had gone too, and hadn't thought to get the number of the cab.

"Sam, it's Nancy. I just got a call from the police. They have Dean."

"What? Shit! Is he in trouble?" Sam asked worriedly. He didn't know how Dean would react to being in jail. Under normal circumstances it wouldn't be a big deal, other than getting a little unwanted attention. But these were far from normal circumstances, and he wasn't sure if Dean's mental state could handle the things that could happen in jail without lashing out in a way that could get him, or someone else, hurt.

"No. These are pretty good cops here. They were trying to find someone for him to call when he freaked. He's near the corner of Rusk and Whitney Street, on the west side. It's right off the main drag. You shouldn't have any trouble finding it."

"Thanks Nancy."

"No problem. You call me if you have any problems. I'll call them back and let them know you're on your way."

Sam hung up the phone and hurried to the Impala. He found the main street easily enough, and Whitney street was right off it. He came to the intersection of Rusk and Whitney and looked in each direction. To his right was a cop car and two cops standing over a man sitting on the ground. From the hunched position he knew it was Dean. And he knew the cops were trying to get Dean to talk and Dean would be having none of it. He turned quickly and parked the car behind the patrol car. He stepped out of the vehicle slowly when he saw the officer's turn and face him warily. He kept his hands in the air as he closed the door to the Impala as gently as he could with his foot.

"Easy guys. I'm Sam. Nancy called me."

"You're the brother?" the closest cop asked.

"Yeah. Is everything ok?"

"If you can get him to go home with you it is. He got a little upset when the bartender over at the Lucky Shamrock cut him off after his third beer. One of the customers called us. We really don't want to take him to jail if we don't have to. Don't think that's where he needs to be right now."

"No, it's not." Sam agreed. "I'm sorry officers. He was in a real bad accident awhile back and is still having some problems."

The officer nodded and looked down at Dean. Dean had his head up and was looking at his younger brother. His eyes were sad, even a little fearful, as if he wasn't sure what kind of reception he was going to get when they got into the privacy of the car.

"Sir, your brother is here and he's going to take you home. Will you go with him?"

"Yeah." Dean whispered hoarsely and nodded slightly. He started to get his feet under him. The officer stepped back and made no effort to help him to his feet, and Dean didn't want any.

Dean climbed to his feet and walked by himself to the car. Sam was on the passenger side with the door open, an expectant look on his face. Dean met his gaze for a moment before dropping his head and sliding into the seat. He let Sam close the door and leaned his head against the window, eyes closing, breath coming out with a sigh.

Sam started back around the car to the driver side when a call from the officer stopped him, "Sir, can we talk with you for a moment?"

He looked back at his brother. Dean had his eyes closed and looked to be on the edge of drifting off. "Yeah." He stepped towards the officer.

"Listen, I'm sorry about all this. Thanks for not taking him to jail. Its been a really tough couple of months. Real tough."

"Yeah, we can see that. We're not all like what you see on TV you know. Most of us really do care. And we can see that this guy is hurting and he needs some help. Will he talk to anyone?"

"No, not yet. I try, but he just closes off. A lot of things happened…" Sam drifted off, hoping the cops would understand and not press the issue.

They did, "It's alright. No harm no foul. But keep an eye on him. If he had tried to hurt one of the guys at the bar or intentionally taken a swing at us we'd have been forced to take him in."

"Yeah, I will." Sam said softly.

"Go easy on him too alright? He's really hurting right now and he doesn't need a lecture. Not yet at least. When he's a little more sober maybe." he laughed a little.

Sam smiled, "Yeah, you're probably right. Thanks."

The cops turned to leave and Sam started to walk back to the car. One of the officer's stopped and called out, "Hey, tell Nancy that Matt Drummond said Hi and I'll be over for some of her lasagna one of these days. She makes one heck of a lasagna."

"Yeah, I'll tell her. And she does cook good."

Sam waited till the cops had drove off before starting the Impala and driving away from the curb carefully. He said nothing and tried to avoid looking at his brother. He was unable to avoid a few surreptitious glances and saw his brother with his eyes closed and head resting against the window. They were dark circles under his eyes. He knew Dean hadn't been sleeping. The combination of drugs and alcohol had only made Dean's skin look paler, and now what had been dark smudges before looked like he'd gone a few rounds with Mike Tyson and lost. And Sam didn't know what to do to make it better.

They pulled in front of the beach house a half hour later. They hadn't spoken a word to each other the entire ride. In fact, Dean appeared to be almost asleep. Sam hated to wake him, but wasn't going to let him spend the night in the car. He reached over and carefully tapped Dean on the arm, making sure not to touch him where any of his wounds were.

Dean woke quickly, looking around and slightly disoriented, "What? Where?"

"Relax. We're at the beach house. Do you want help getting inside?"

"What makes you think I need any help?" Dean replied angrily.

"Hey dude, chill." Sam put his hands up in surrender, "I'm just asking. You don't have to get all hostile on me."

"Listen, I don't need your help. I don't need anyone's help! Least of all you or some fucking keystone cops!"

"Hey, give the guys a break. They were just doing their job."

"Well, they can go do it on someone else. Wish you'd all just leave me alone and mind your own business."

"We will man, just as soon as you start doing things that make sense. Running off in a taxi to get yourself drunk while I'm doing the damn grocery shopping does not make sense!" Sam was yelling now, forgetting what the cops had said earlier about taking it easier. He was so mad at his brother, furious for all the needless worry he had gone thru when he had returned home to find him gone.

"Fuck you!" Dean yelled angrily, getting up and in his anger slamming the door on his precious car. "You are not my fucking keeper!" Sam didn't have a chance to reply before Dean was up the steps and into the house, all traces of his intoxication gone as he took the stairs up to the house unerringly. Sam chased after him, determined that they needed to get thru this, together, if either of them were ever going to heal.

He caught up to him at the top of the stairs, "You need help Dean!" he yelled, grabbing his brother by the shoulder and turning him to face him.

"Well, what am I supposed to do?! It's not like I can step into some shrink's office and just pour out my heart, "Well, you see Doc, I was captured by a wendigo and left to rot for months so he could eat me whenever he got hungry. Oh wait, you don't know what a wendigo is - well, it's a supernatural creature." Yeah, I can see it now Sammy. It'll be a padded white room and a funny shirt for me." Dean scoffed.

"Then talk to me!"

"I can't!"

"You have to, because right now I'm the only one who will understand. Because if you don't, the pain is going to eat you up and it will never let you go. One day you'll just give up and blow your brains out!" There were tears in Sam's eyes now.

Dean sucked in a ragged breath, "God Sam, I couldn't -" he choked up.

"You say that now, but if you don't get thru this, one day you will, and I'll be all alone again." Sam raked a hand across his eyes, "I went thru it once Dean, thinking you were dead. I don't think I'm strong enough to do it again."

Sam's left hand closed around Dean's right wrist. His other hand was behind his brother's neck. He used his extra height to his advantage and let his head fall gently onto his brother's head, resting there, trying to impart onto his hurting brother just how much he cared. With a ragged breath Dean stepped into Sam's embrace.

"I'm scared." came the ragged words.

"You don't have to be scared anymore." was Sam's response, "We'll get thru this."

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

Another nightmare, another night of incomplete sleep for both of the brothers. Dean wasn't getting any better. His physical wounds were slow to heal - his most recent doctor visit had left his physician surprised at just how slowly his injuries were healing. Eventually Dean had closed off again. The outburst from the night before had left both of them drained, but the issue unresolved. The next day had been strained and tense, and the day's check up at the doctor's hadn't made either of them feel any better. Sam privately believed that Dean's emotional state was hindering the healing of his physical injuries.

Sam left Dean's room dejected. It was the same every night. He awoke to Dean's harsh cry and ran into his room, only to have his brother turn away from him after a few moments. Sam entered the living room and turned on the TV. He curled up on the left side of the couch and watch disinterestedly as some cheesy B-rated horror flick played across the screen.

But that night was different. The door to Dean's bedroom opened and Dean walked out. He said nothing as he sat down on the far side of the couch away from Sam. They sat in silence for a few minutes, each watching the TV, but not really paying it any attention.

"Where were you?" Dean's voice broke the silence.

"Huh?" Sam looked over at him, confused by the non-sequitur.

"That day - those days - weeks after -" his voice trailed off, then started again, "After the wendigo got me. Where were you? Why did you leave me?"

Sam took a breath. He was waiting for this and dreading it all the same. He steeled himself, then plunged into the history.

"I don't know how long after the attack I was unconscious. I kind of remember waking up and looking for you, but couldn't find you. I'm not really sure what happened after that, but the next time I woke up I was in the hospital. The doctors said I had hit my head so hard it actually cracked my skull." Dean looked over at Sam sharply. He hadn't known any of this.

"The wildlife service sent out more search teams as soon as they found out that you were missing. I discharged myself AMA the next day and called Bobby. We searched for weeks and found NOTHING!" he clenched his fists in frustration and pounded his thighs. He turned to look at his older brother. "Gosh! I couldn't believe it! I thought for sure there would be some kind of sign. A mark, anything!" he screamed, "But there was nothing." his voice dropped to a whisper. "I didn't want to give up the search for you, but after a month Bobby dragged me back into town. I found myself the nearest bar and drank myself unconscious. After that I just drank. In a matter of a few short weeks I was a drunk, stumbling from bar to bar, all day, all night, every single freaking day!"

"Bobby left not long after that. He couldn't stand to see me that way. I think he kept tabs on me - maybe called in a few favors, cause I know I got into a lot of trouble, but I always woke up in my own bed. Rent was paid too - a little tiny studio apartment, but someplace I could come home too and be in peace, away from prying eyes. I wanted to find you so badly, but I had no idea where to start again. Bobby and I had searched, the forest service had searched, volunteers had searched. No luck. When those hunters found you, you were over one hundred miles from where we had camped."

Dean stared at Sam. "I guess I didn't know. I think," he paused and licked his dry lips, "I think I thought you had abandoned me, left the hunt, gone back to your normal life." He said this last almost a whisper.

Sam rounded on him, "Dean! How could you think that! God! You are everything to me! You've always been there, supporting me, protecting me. I wouldn't be who I am - I wouldn't even be alive - if it wasn't for you."

Dean didn't say anything, just closed his eyes and leaned his head against the back of the couch. They sat in silence for a few minutes, Dean finally sitting up and opening his eyes to watch the TV, not because it was interesting, but because he didn't want to leave his brother.

After a few minutes of companionable silence Sam said, "Do you want some popcorn? This is a terrible movie - least we can do is brighten it up with some good food."

"Umm, popcorn. One of the five basic food groups. Sounds good."

Sam laughed at Dean's reply. It felt good to hear his brother's off beat sense of humor. He hadn't heard it in a long time.

He returned a few minutes later with a bowl of popcorn and two sodas. He put the sodas on the coffee table and set the popcorn between the, moving closer to his brother. He was glad for the excuse to sit closer and hoped that Dean wouldn't react.

He didn't. Dean's only response was to dig a hand into the popcorn and munch contentedly. His eyes watched the TV while his brain played over Sam's words. He felt better than he had in a long time. The fear that his brother had left him to die in tortured agaony was gone. He knew it had been irrational to even think that, but those months of horror weighed heavily on his soul. His soul felt a little lighter. His brother loved him. Thos whole gig with the beach house wasn't just a charade, or an attempt to ease Sam's guilty conscience. It was a place for Dean to get better - for both of them to get better - and a chance to reconstruct the bond that had been apart for so many months.

It wasn't long before lack of sleep caught up with Dean. He didn't fight it this time. He felt his eyes grow heavy and didn't fight the urge to close them. After a few minutes his head rolled to the side and he was deep asleep.

Sam saw the onset of sleep approach his brother but said nothing. He didn't want to break the moment. When he was sure that Dean was asleep he put the bowl of popcorn on the coffee table and turned down the sound of the TV to just barely audible. He quietly moved closer to his brother, positioning himself so that his shoulder could act as a pillow to Dean's head and provide some support to his neck. Dean wasn't that well off that he could afford to be sore and stiff in the morning.

After a few moments Dean moved closer into his brother, curling up partially on his side. Sam put his feet up on the coffee table and an arm around his brother. He settled deeper into the couch and closed his eyes. Within minutes, sleep too had overcome him and he slept the sleep of the content.

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

"How far did you want to go today?" Sam asked as they started their walk down the beach. They had begun taking daily walks together ever since that cathartic night when Dean admitted to thinking his brother had abandoned him. At first the walks were short and required breaks at the various picnic tables, but in two weeks Dean's stamina had improved and they were walking for an hour or more each day. Sam wondered how much stronger his brother would become when he finally really opened up to Sam about the hell he'd been thru. He knew Dean had yet to sleep thru a night without being woken by a nightmare.

"I want to get to that stand of trees today." Dean replied.

"Dude, that will take us over an hour just to get there. It's clear around the far side of the lake!"

"You got something else to do Francis?"

Sam thru him a dirty look, "No, it's just that it's pretty far."

"Tell you what, if you get tired we can stop and rest."

"Jerk."

"Bitch."

As Sam had predicted it took over an hour for them to reach the stand of trees. Dean's pace had slowed and sweat was dripping off his forehead, but he continued on, determined to reach his goal without stopping. He pushed himself, maybe harder than Sam would have liked, harder than his doctor would have liked should the truth be known, but to him, not hard enough. He hated the weakness. He hated the bandages. He hated the tiredness. He hated everything his body was right now, and was determined to get back to the way it should be - sooner rather than later.

They walked into the woods a little ways, enjoying the change of scenery. The wind was brisk and blowing away from them, and neither were really paying attention, so it was a bit of a shock to find the bloodied remains of a deer almost directly in their path as they turned a corner on a trail they had found.

"Whoa man!" Sam remarked, stepping back quickly. He had almost stepped into a bit of intestine. "Yuck. Looks like something was hungry but forgot to clean his plate." He didn't think anything more of it and blithely stepped around the mutilated deer with its dead staring eyes. He didn't bother to look back at his brother, having no reason to think he wouldn't be followed.

After a few steps he realized Dean wasn't following him. He turned back, "Hey, you coming? We got stuff to eat at the house. We don't need to eat here." he joked, wondering why his brother wasn't moving.

Dean was staring at the dead, sightless eyes of the mutilated deer. It's belly had been torn open, internal organs were missing or half eaten. Clots of dried blood encompassed the area. The slick grey intestines were stretched out in a line, partially eaten.

But Dean didn't see this. In his eyes the trees were gone. Instead of trees he saw stone walls, smeared with dark stains. At his feet was not the deer, but the grotesque remains of Margaret, and Michael, and countless others whose names he had never known. Their bones were cracked open, the marrow sucked out. Instead of maggots climbing in and out of a deer carcass he saw the rats, chewing on the leftovers of the human remains. He could feel the bite marks from the rats on his own arms; where they had bitten at live flesh in their feeding frenzy.

He gave a strangled cry then turned and vomited up the contents of his stomach. In a second Sam was next to him, helping to support him. But Dean panicked, not seeing his brother next to him. Instead it was the wendigo, coming to claim his final meal. Dean thrust a hand back violently, pushing Sam away and ran blindly forward, all weakness vanished.

Sam stared for a moment at his brother's swiftly retreating form. "Dean!" he yelled.

Dean didn't slow. All he heard was the monster's growl, angry that his pray was attempting to escape. He ran faster, spurred on by his brief success, escape the only thought in his mind.

Realizing that his brother wasn't thinking straight and probably having some sort of flashback he took off after him. "Stupid," he chided himself, "I should have thought about what that mutilated deer might have looked like to him.

He thought he would be able to catch up to his brother quickly, but Dean's fear and adrenalin made up for the weakness in his body. For fifteen minutes dean ran at breakneck speed, stumbling blindly over driftwood and sand dunes, but keeping just out of his brother's reach.

Finally, Dean's blind terror caused him to lose his footing and stumbled to his hands and knees. Before he could recover Sam wrapped his arms around Dean's torso, pinning his brother's arms to his side. He used his long legs to his advantage, wrapping them around his brother's legs, effectively immobilizing Dean.

Dean screamed when he felt the hands on him. He struggled, but his captor was too strong and his limb were pinned. He threw his head back, attempting to hurt his captor that way, but Sam was too smart and twisted his head to the wide.

"Dean!" he yelled, "Dean, it's Sam! It's your brother! You're O.K.! You're Safe! I'm not going to hurt you!" But Dean didn't hear him and he kept struggling.

Sam stopped trying to talk to his brother than, knowing he just needed to wait this flashback out and Dean came back to his senses.

For several minutes Dean struggled blindly against the arms that bound him. He waited for the pain he knew would accompany his capture. When it didn't come he slowed his struggling, confused. Eventually his addled brain deciphered that the sounds he heard were not sounds but his brother attempting to soothe him. The arms wrapped around his body were not the limbs of the wendigo, but his brother's arms, and he was safe in his brothers embrace.

"Sammy?" he asked cautiously.

"Dean? You O.K. man?" Sam started to cautiously lessen his grip.

"Yeah, I think so."

"You gonna run if I let go?"

"No. I'm good man. Sorry. I -"

"Don't worry about it." Sam relaxed his grip upon his brother and moved away to give Dean some space. Dean rolled onto his left side, away from his brother, but did not attempt to rise.

For several minutes all that could be heard was the labored breathing of the two brothers as they rested. Sam cautiously put a hand out to touch his brother's arm. Dean flinched slightly but did not pull away. After a moment Sam felt the pressure against his arm get stronger as Dean leaned into his brother's touch.

"I'm sorry." Dean whispered quietly.

"There's nothing to be sorry for. I should have been paying more attention."

"It's not that." Dean whispered hoarsely.

"Then what is it?"

"Everything. The way I've acted, the way I've treated you. The way -"

Sam cut him off, "Dean, No. Don't blame yourself. It was outside your control!"

Dean rolled over to face him. His face was angry, "But that was it! I lost control I can't do that!"

"Sometimes it just happens. You've been thru a lot." Sam sat up to face his brother.

"Not to me it doesn't!" Dean started to roll away. Sam reached over and grabbed his arm to stop him.

"You're NOT superman!"

"No, but -"

"No buts. It's not your fault. You're doing the best you can." Sam said softly, trying to quiet his older brother.

"Well, it's not good enough."

"Then maybe you need to let someone else in. you've gotten pretty far. It's o.k. to ask for help."

"I'm the strong one." Dean started to pull away. Sam held onto his arm, unwilling to let go.

"And you can be stronger if you let me help. It's not a crime, and there's certainly nothing to be ashamed of."

Dean said nothing for awhile after that. Sam could see the emotions warring across his brother's face. He wanted so much to say or do something but knew this was for his brother to do alone. It pained him to think that Dean could still try to walk this path alone.

Dean sat up. For a moment Sam was afraid he was going to get up and walk away, but realized Dean was just getting more comfortable. They sat next to each other, knees bent and arms draped loosely over their knees for several minutes, neither saying anything.

Finally Dean spoke. "It was smarter than the other wendigo's we've hunted." he started softly. Sam said nothing, not wanting to interrupt, knowing Dean needed to talk about this.

"It would take the food from some of the campsites it raided. We were in a big pit and it would throw foot and water down to us every couple of days. There were six of us when it got me. We didn't get a lot, but we got enough to survive. We had no weapons, or even anything that could be a weapon. The walls were slick and tall. I tried to climb them." He stopped and lifted his hands as if to show the result.

"I don't know the rhyme or reason it had for keeping us alive for as long as it did. There was this lady -" he hesitated, "Her name was Margaret." he stopped and looked away for a few moments. "She was nice I guess. Everyone was - we didn't know what was going on. She got sick. Guess the wendigo has a strong stomach. I remember -" He stopped again. Tears were streaming openly down his face. "She looked kind of like that deer." he forced out. He clasped his hands around his knees and turned away from his brother. Sam inched closer, cautiously laying a hand across his brother's back. Dean didn't lean away from him - if anything leaned towards him, seeking some comfort and safety.

"I'm sorry." Sam said softly into his brother's shoulder. There was a muffled response from Dean.

They sat in silence again for several minutes. Sam felt Dean's weight grow heavier against him and he smiled. He felt Dean's breathing even out and realized Dean was falling asleep. He smiled and shifted slightly to get more comfortable without waking up his brother.

Dean's catnap didn't last long. He woke with a start, shifting quickly away from his brother. He looked around groggily. "Did I fall asleep?"

"Yep, like a baby." Sam smiled, trying to make light of the situation, knowing Dean would be a little embarrassed.

"Shut up Francis."

"Jerk."

"Bitch."

"Come on, let's go." Sam said, getting his knees underneath him, "My butt's gone numb while you were snoring."

"I do not snore!"

"Dean, you snore so loud the earthworms got scared."

Dean flared at his brother but said nothing. He stuck his arm out, plainly expecting to be helped to his feet.

You're getting old, older brother."

"Hmph. I can still kick your butt."

"Yeah, only if I'm passed out face down." he pulled his brother to his feet, about to make another comment when Dean's face went pale and Dean swayed into his brother's grip.

Sam fought the urge to hover and just held onto his brother's arm while Dean regained his balance.

"Think I may have overdid it on that run." Dean said when some color had returned to his face.

"Want me to get the car? It's still more than a mile to the house."

"No. I can make it"

They started walking. Sam knew Dean was tired when he didn't let go of Dean's arm and Dean never attempted to pull it away. They walked along the beach, neither saying anything as they slogged thru the deep sand. Sweat was pouring down Dean's face.

They'd covered less than half that distance when Dean's breathing became increasingly laboured. He was leaning heavily onto Sam's arm at this point.

"Dean. Let me get the car."

"I can make it!" Dean snarled.

"I know you can, but why bother? It's not that important."

"It is to me."

Sam looked upward. Heaven save him from stubborn older brothers. He tried a different tact. "I don't want to miss Oprah."

Dean looked sideways at his brother. "I knew you were gay."

"Hey!" he punched his brother lightly on the shoulder, but glad his attempt at levity had worked. "She's inspirational."

Dean rolled his eyes, "She's a rich socialite with her own TV show."

"So?"

"So you want to watch that?"

"Like I said, she's inspirational, and with you as a brother I need all the help I can get." Sam waited for the retort that was sure to come. After a few moments with no reply he looked at his brother closely.

"What?" Dean said crossly, "I'm saving up till a better time when you're not expecting it."

Sam rolled his eyes, "Twenty eight going on eight." he said lightly.

"That's two Francis. You might want to shut your mouth."

The sound of a vehicle being driven thru the sand brought the two brothers out of their game of repartee. A small truck was being driven thru the sand in their direction. It slowed as it came towards them and stopped in front of them. The window rolled down and Nancy's head popped out.

"Hi guys! I just got back from doing some grocery shopping and saw you guys walking up the beach. You look kind of tired so I thought you might like a ride."

Sam looked warily at Dean, unsure if his brother would accept the proffered help from a virtual stranger. He sighed silently in relief when Dean nodded affirmatively. "Sure. We'll take a ride."

They walked the few feet to the passenger side of the truck. The vehicle was a two door crew cab, so after unobtrusively assisting Dean into the passenger seat, Sam climbed into the bed of the truck. It was an older model vehicle with a slideable back window, and Sam was able to open it up and peer in to see his brother slouched against the door, eyes at half mast.

"Looks like you two boys took a long walk!" Nancy said brightly, either ignoring or not seeing Dean's closed eyes. "Where'd you go?"

"To the tree line." Sam responded when it was evident Dean wasn't going to be forthcoming.

Nancy looked back at the tree line as she maneuvered the truck around in the deep sand and headed to the house. "Yep, that's a long way. No wonder you're tired."

Sam nodded. He decided not to say anything about the dead deer, hoping the same animal that killed it would clean up the mess before anyone else ventured out there. Dean was quiet, almost asleep, and finally relaxed, and Sam didn't want to say or do anything to upset that delicate equilibrium.

In only a few minutes they pulled up next to the walkway to their house. Dean leaned heavily in Sam's arms as he stepped out of the vehicle. "Need anymore help boys?" Nancy asked worriedly, noticing Dean's exhausted state.

"No, I got it. It's all right, he's just lazy" Sam turned to his brother, "Come on man. You're too fat for me too carry."

"I'm not fat, I'm fit." came Dean's quiet response.

"Fit to be tied maybe. Come on, put a little effort into it."

In response Dean straightened up, lifting some of his weight from Sam's shoulder. He turned to Nancy, "Thanks Nancy, I appreciate the lift. Sam here wanted to get back in time to watch Oprah."

"Oh, I love Oprah!" Nancy gushed, "I think today's episode is about world religions."

Dean just shook his head, a half smile on his face. They were both so weird.

Sam gave a half wave with the arm that was around Dean's shoulder before turning them both up the pathway to the house. It was slow going, Dean trying to contribute as much as he could but there wasn't a whole lot left. When they finally got into the house and to the couch Dean was almost asleep before his brother even helped him sit down. He stayed limp and let Sam do the work of getting his jacket and his shoes off. He was too tired to response to any of Sam's inquiries as his younger brother laid him down on the couch. He hoped that his half smile and the slight wave of his hand would be enough for Sam to understand that he was fine, just tired. When Sam didn't press any further, he guessed it was and fell into a deep sleep.

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

It certainly wasn't smooth sailing after those past several days, but the improvement in Dean started to come faster rather than slower. The "chick flick" moments were over, but that haunted look finally started to recede from Dean's eyes, and he and Sam fell back into the sometimes easy, sometimes difficult sibling relationship they had had for all their lives.

"I want a dog," Dean said out of the blue after coming inside after playing 'catch' with Nancy's golden retriever on the beach for the past hour.

"Wha-what?" Sam replied, startled, "a dog?"

"Do you need your hearing checked? Yes, I said I want a dog. What's so difficult to understand about that?"

"Just a little out of the blue, don't you think? We don't exactly have the perfect lifestyle for pets."

"I know, and I didn't say I was going out to go get one, just that I want one. Who'd of thunk that tossing a tennis ball for an hour could be fun?"

"Seventy five pounds of golden retriever thinks it's second only to a steak dinner." Sam replied easily. He'd always wanted a dog when they were younger, but their dad had very quickly and firmly squashed that idea.

"Well, maybe one day, when we're old and gray and have kids and grandkids that can take over the hunting tradition."

Sam snorted, that was not something he'd thought would happen. One day, long ago, when Jess was still alive, he'd wondered what it would be like to have a normal family and a normal life, but with all that had happened…he hadn't thought about settling down.

"What?!" Dean said, "you don't see a bunch of little Sammy's and little Dean's running around?"

"I don't see you ever settling down long enough with one woman to have a bunch of little Dean's." Sam replied.

"Who said they were all going to be from the same woman?"

Sam gaped, only his big brother would come up with a comment like that. He took the dishtowel he was using to dry off the last of the dishes and tossed I with unerring aim at his brother's head. "Dude, you're sick."

"I know, but it's a good kind of sick." he looked over at their bags by the door, "You just about ready?" he said, changing the subject.

"Yep, just wanted to dry off these dishes, before putting them away, then we can leave."

"Good, hurry up, I want to get the heck outta dodge. It's been real, it's been fun, but I can't say its been real fun."

"Whatever man." He put the last dish away and took the dish towel away from Dean, folding it up and putting it on the counter. "Let's go," he said, "We got a hunt in New York that's been waiting for us for several weeks now. Bobby's getting anxious for us to get this done."

"Well then put the keys under the mat and let's go. A hunt is awaiting." Dean reached down and grabbed his bag and stepped out the door, heading towards the Impala. Sam watched him go, noticing the slight limp in Dean's step and the way he was a little careful before closing his hands around an object, but the light was back on in his eyes, and he knew the rest would come with a bit more time. He grabbed his bag, put the key under the mat and locked the door behind him, leaving behind nearly a years worth of difficult memories and looking forward to a hopefully a long lifetime's worth of better ones.

Fin