This was supposed to be posted tomorrow but you have aXforamnesty to thank for the earlier post time…her enthusiasm is too contagious to ignore!

Chapter Four

They entered La Cocina around 4 PM. It was a bit earlier than Dean liked to eat dinner but in deference to Sam's new anti-social ways, he'd agreed to go as soon as the place opened. His brother said he'd rather have Sam's company then eat at a later hour.

Sam was grateful. The less people he was around, the better off he'd be. When Lucifer had 'healed' him in the hospital, he seemed to have left behind a little gift that Sam didn't care for – the ability to read people's minds. Not Dean's and Bobby's, at least not yet. Relative strangers. The nurses and doctors at the hospital, the girl at the video store, the clerks in town. Scary thoughts of gluttony, lust, greed, wrath, despair, envy and pride. Instead of the Seven Dwarfs, Sam was stuck with the Seven Deadly Sins. Again. And no magic knife was going to save him this time.

Brenda their waitress was split between lust and wrath. She liked the looks of Dean, thought it might be nice to take him home tonight and show him her moves, but Sam reminded her of her ex – someone she wanted to tie down and hold a lighter to various body parts to teach him a lesson.

Without his knowledge, Sam found himself sliding along the vinyl seat, seeking comfort. He stopped when he hit the solid wall that was his brother's side, grateful for the contact. Brenda's inner monologue about flames and body parts came to a halt and Sam breathed a sigh of relief.

Dean poked him in the side and he coughed up his drink order, 7-Up. The un-cola was caffeine free and Sam tried to adhere to the twelve step program. He couldn't embrace the whole higher being part, the faith that had sustained him throughout his youth had finally abandoned him, but many of the other steps made sense.

He just wished there was a twelve step program for hearing people's thoughts.

-0-

Dean had observed the way Sam pretty much shied away from most people who weren't either him or Bobby these days. Dean had noticed it in the hospital and since then it had only gotten worse. Sam only left Bobby's house when Dean made him, putting a little pressure on his brother be it guilt or cajoling.

So when Brenda of the dyed red hair brushed Sam's sleeve and his brother nearly jumped out of his skin, Dean took note. When Brenda leaned over to deliver their drinks, dark roots gleaming under the low lighting, Sam slid along the rounded booth seat until he collided with Dean's side. He was ready for it, hooking his arm around the back of the booth so that his hand could pat his brother's shoulder.

Brenda huffed off, her disappointment at thinking Dean's sexual orientation didn't mesh with hers all too apparent which made Dean chuckle. There was a time when people mistaking the brothers for lovers had really bothered him but not anymore. He didn't care what anyone thought of him except for Sam and Bobby.

But Sam's overreaction to Brenda's chichis threatening to overflow from her top was a bit of a concern and Dean intended to get to the bottom of it. Sam shot him an apologetic look before sliding millimeters away from his side. To cover the discomfort, his brother took a sip of his 7-Up. Sam had embraced much of the philosophy behind Alcoholics Anonymous, including not drinking caffeine. In a show of support, Dean had ordered ice tea instead of the Corona or Modelo Negra that he usually had in a Mexican restaurant.

Taking back his arm, he dumped sugar into his drink and stirred it around. Motioning to where the very buxom Brenda was standing with another waitress he asked, "So care to tell me what all that was about?"

Embarrassment turned Sam's cheeks pink and he dipped his head. "I, uh, was going to tell you later but I guess no time like the present. Sometimes I can read people's minds. And it's usually not very pretty." The last two sentences flew out of Sam's mouth so fast, Dean thought maybe he'd misheard him.

Glass halfway to his mouth, Dean set it down with more authority than he'd intended. "Come again?"

Sam's attention was firmly fixed on the straw wrapping he was tying in knots. The lies and the subterfuge…Dean thought they'd gotten past all that.

Eyes downcast, Sam set aside the wrapping and resorted to pushing his straw around his drink. "It started happening at the hospital and I thought maybe it had to do with…whatever he had done to fix me. But it hasn't faded away. I don't want to know what people are thinking but I haven't figured out how to make it stop."

Dean could deal with this. This wasn't so bad. Not like drinking demon blood or sending demons back to hell with the power of his mind. But if Sam could read his thoughts…shit. "What about Bobby and me? Can you hear what we're thinking?"

That question caused Sam's eyes to flash at Dean with worry, his teeth worrying at his lower lip. "No, God no. You have to believe me. I would never…"

But if his brother had no power over this new trick then who knew what would happen? Sam looked sick, his face pale and glistening with sweat.

Nudging Sam with his elbow, Dean tried to make light of this new development. "Maybe we can take a little trip to Vegas, see if this new skill pays off." At the stricken look on his brother's face, Dean back pedaled. "Sorry, bad joke. It's no big deal. As long as these people don't harm you, it's fine."

When Sam didn't say anything to reassure him about the harm thing, Dean's worry-meter went up a notch. "Sam, they can't hurt you, right?"

Actually Sam didn't look worried at the moment. His face had that lax dreamy look and his eyes stared into space, vague and cloudy. Dean knew that look – Sam was communicating with a certain someone.

Sam had picked up another neat little habit since the thing at the hospital with Lucifer. He'd rub that spot on his forehead, the same spot the blue-eyed freak had kissed, and he'd disappear into another dimension. His face and body would relax and he'd just kind of be somewhere other than the here and now.

It had taken his brother a longer time to figure it out, but Sam had been a bit freaked when he'd realized the creature that had cured him of his kidney problem could also speak directly to him in his mind. Dean had been more than a little freaked but there didn't seem anything they could do about it and he was just so happy to have his brother healthy again, he could deal with this little yip. As long as Lucifer didn't cause Sam any other problems that is.

Snapping his fingers in front of his brother's face, Dean rapped out his brother's name.

Sam jolted in his seat but his gaze swung back to Dean's, guilt and apology apparent in the wry twist of his lips and the way his eyebrows pulled together.

Brenda chose that moment to come forward for their orders and Dean ended up doing the manly thing, ordering for both of them; Sam wouldn't lift his head up to look at their waitress and he'd gone mute.

"Sam, listen, we can leave if you want…" Dean couldn't even get the words out of his mouth before Sam was jerking nervously.

Eyes wide and beseeching, Sam pleaded his case, "No, please, you deserve a night out. This is your night to celebrate and Bobby deserves a break from us, too. I promise to get my act together and we'll have a good time."

It was like looking at a five-year-old Sam, one promising to behave and using his big eyes to win over Dean.

Despite knowing Sam would just push his chiles rellenos around his plate and redistribute his rice and beans from one side to the other, Dean caved in. They were here and the food was ordered and nothing sounded tastier than his shredded beef enchiladas with red sauce. And Dean kind of had earned it. He had started refinishing classic cars and then selling them for a tidy profit. Today he'd sold his first project – a 1968 Camaro RS SS Coupe with a 383 small block engine. Its only flaw was its color – a light sky blue that had reminded Dean of Lucifer's eyes – but it had lined his pocket with cash and he was eager to find another car to work on.

Dean could make enough small talk to last throughout the meal. While he spoke of an air conditioning kit he'd found on Impala Bob's, he watched Sam's glaze over with boredom. But at least Sam had lost that freaked out panicky look.

He just wished he knew how to keep Sam away from Lucifer's grasp and what to do with his newest reveal. Life with Sam was never dull, that was for sure.

-0-

They were on their way back to Bobby's, dinner a surprising success despite its rocky start. Once Sam had relaxed and avoided all contact with Brenda, he'd been able to enjoy himself. He'd always gotten a kick out of spending time with Dean when it wasn't related to the hunt and tonight had been no exception.

A tingling in his forehead broke through his thoughts but he ground the heel of his hand into the throbbing area, forcing back the contact. Talking to Lucifer freaked Dean out and Sam had to admit he felt much the same.

Why was Sam worth the effort anyway? He'd served his purpose, broken the last seal and paved the way for Lucifer's welcome back party. Why?

Because you are my child, a very special child. Together we are stronger.

He clunked his head against the passenger window, trying to drown out the words. When Dean swerved, a mild curse word on his lips, Sam turned his attention to his brother.

Dean cleared his throat, shaking his head. "I really wish you wouldn't do that when I'm driving. The whole pounding your head against the glass thing is a real attention getter. So what does he want this time?" The words were mild but Sam could hear the concerned edge in his brother's voice.

So much for hiding his little talks from Dean. Not that he wanted to, he just didn't think his brother needed the stress. Dean's whole life had been turned upside down while he tried to stop the apocalypse and take care of his brother, both things that were the fault of said little brother.

But Dean had asked about Lucifer and although he didn't want to spring the whole "special child" and "together we're stronger" thing, he did want to run something by his brother. "Do you think he can hear people's thoughts and that's why he's so disgusted with the human race?"

Sunlight streaked across the western sky, highlighting Dean's stoic profile, bathing it in a bright light. His brother pursed his lips together in thought, no snarky comeback on the horizon. "I'm not sure, Sammy, and I'm not so concerned with all of the human race at the moment. You're my main concern."

Sam could have attributed the warmth cascading through his chest to the bright afternoon sunshine pouring into the Impala but he knew that wasn't it; Dean's words had warmed him.

No longer feeling like a duty or curse, Sam felt like Dean's little brother for the first time since their dad had whispered Azazel's plans for him into Dean's ear.

-0-

Dean returned from the video store with his prize in hand – the DVD of "Slap Shot". They'd seen it so many times they could both quote lines from the movie but somehow Bobby had escaped viewing it so Sam and Dean planned to remedy it.

Running to the video store had also given him a chance to think about things. Like his brother. And Lucifer. And why there was nothing happening on the apocalypse front. And how the angels had used his brother as bait…Castiel could have healed Sam at any time but the plan had been to draw Lucifer in. The only flaw with the plan was that no one put Sam in harm's way. Dean and Castiel had parted ways, much to Dean's relief. He could spend more time with his brother now. And he needed to do that now more than ever.

It was an epiphany a long time in the making but now that it had arrived there was no ducking around it – Lucifer had lost interest in his war on humanity and had instead turned his attentions toward his special child.

Dean had heard Lucifer's intent, loud and clear, at the hospital but he'd been so freaked out what with Sam in acute kidney failure with his heart and lungs right behind…it hadn't been a good time for thinking.

"When you are ready I will come for you, my special child, and we will rule together." Lucifer had also said he wouldn't hurt Sam, or Dean for that matter, which left swaying him to his point of view. And the freaky mind power and talking to Sam were just the start.

Zachariah had said Dean would defeat Lucifer; if Sam was the new battlefield, then that finally made sense. And for once the odds were stacked in the Winchesters' favor.

Picking his way through the abandoned hunks of metal, Dean found his brother where he thought he would – leaning up against the great oak tree. His long legs were sprawled before him, his barefeet peeking out of the ragged hem of his jeans. One hand held a book next to his body, the other was resting across his stomach. His face lifted up to catch the rays of the sun and Dean could hear music softly seeping from his brother's iPod. One of the earbuds dangled on Sam's shoulder and Dean made a note to pick up a new one for his brother. He didn't know anything about them but he figured he could learn.

The melody was haunting and the feminine voice pure…Dean was surprised because both brothers favored male singers. In fact despite teasing Sam about his emo choice in music, this song was so far from what he was used to Sam listening to that he found himself leaning over to hear more of it.

He must have blocked Sam's sun because his brother's eyes blinked open. The frown of the abrupt awakening melted into a smile of greeting and Dean noted with satisfaction the healthy glow of his sibling's face, stress lines marring the young man's skin a thing of the past. Sam might not be happy – it was hard to tell because Dean still had to work hard to get Sam to share his thoughts – but his brother seemed content. At peace.

The song drew him in again, percussion kicking up the volume as the singer's strong voice rose above it.

"It's called 'Here with Me' by Dido…Jess loved that song." At the mention of Jess, Sam actually smiled instead of giving off his usually depressed air when his dead girlfriend's name came up.

Sam's eyes slid over Dean's shoulder, unfocused, and Dean knew he was hearing another voice. Lucifer was talking to his brother. Crap.

His heartbeat galloped in his ears – what if Lucifer was promising that Sam could reunite with Jessica? That was a feat Dean couldn't match.

Stepping to the side, so he now stood in Sam's direct gaze, Dean offered his hand to Sam. "Come on, let's go find Bobby and plug in the movie."

Dean waited for Sam's eyes to refocus again, the dreamy expression sliding off his face. It was still disconcerting but Dean knew if he made a big deal out of it, Sam would clam up. And the last thing Dean wanted to do was push Sam toward the opponent.

Turning off the music, Sam leaned forward and grabbed Dean's hand, letting himself be pulled to his feet. Instead of letting his brother find his balance, Dean wrapped his arm around Sam's waist and tugged him along. He liked the contact, of having Sam near. And the more Sam depended on him, the harder it would be for his brother to leave him. To choose Lucifer over him.

Dean carefully guided Sam through the salvage yard, cognizant of the fact that Sam wasn't wearing shoes. He made a mental note to pick up some flip-flops. If Sam wanted to run around without shoes, that was one thing but Dean didn't want him stepping on a nail or piece of metal and getting hurt.

They passed the chain in the ground where Bobby's dog would normally be kept while outside. It had been a long time since Rumsfeld had disappeared and the older hunter still hadn't gotten a replacement.

Sam had always liked dogs. As a child, he would have settled for any pet, even a goldfish, but their dad had pointed out that they couldn't drag a fish around the country and that had been that. No pets. But there was no reason why Sam couldn't have a dog now. That was something he could give his brother.

"So Bobby's been talking about getting another dog," Dean said as he tugged Sam up the front steps. Bobby had said no such thing but Dean knew he would play along – their friend would do anything to keep Sam safe, see him happy. And the older man thought fast on his feet and would play along. "You think maybe a dog like the one in Slap Shot…what's her name? The one Braden sleeps with before games?"

Dimples lit up Sam's face, health and vitality glowing from the sunshine and excitement. "I think maybe a dog from the shelter. One that could really use a good home." His brother's tone was wistful but the undercurrent of happiness was unmistakable.

It bugged Dean that Sam identified with the strays of the world. Like he was the last kid on the playground picked for kickball, unwanted and invisible.

Sam was anything but. The creatures above and below the earth's surface were jockeying for his favor, intent on recruiting him to their respective side.

Cupping the back of Sam's neck, Dean gave it a quick squeeze. He didn't have a problem spoiling his brother. After all of the crap that had been done to him – losing his mother, girlfriend, father, future – he deserved the good life. He'd made mistakes along the way but didn't everyone?

And as much as Dean thought spoiling Sam would swing things in his favor, he had an ace up his sleeve.

Sam was his brother and would do anything for him. He had already done anything for him, including changing himself into something else so that he could kill Lilith. Dean had once told his brother that he had no idea the lengths he would go to, the things he would do, to keep Sam and their dad safe. He hadn't realized the street went both ways.

Dean wasn't worried about Lucifer stealing his brother's affections. Sam was right where he wanted to be and Dean would do everything in his power to see that didn't change.

It wouldn't be easy, Lucifer was a wily old fox of a fallen angel with years of experience on his side. But now – having watched Sam endure the stress of detox and face major illness with such grace while supporting Dean's quest – he thought he knew what made his brother tick once again.

Sam was no monster. Just a man, a man who tried too hard and lost everything. Except Dean. And Dean had finally gotten what he'd always wanted…his little brother back.

This was one fight Dean couldn't lose.

A/N: So that's it! This is my Pay It Forward story for the wonderful and talented (and creative and patient and witty, etc.) Faye Dartmouth. I'm pretty sure there were one or two things from her wishlist that made it into the story. And she so deserves it!

A huge thank you to my beta's -- Bayre and Gidgetgal9. They are so wonderful to have around!

And speaking of Gidget, I'd like to quickly mention that Floralia and I have co-written a story, To Vent One's Spleen, in honor of Gidgetgal's birthday which is today (happy birthday girlfriend!). You can find the story under Floralia's account and she's under my profile as a fave author.

Thank you for reading!