Disclaimer: This is a transformative work of fiction for entertainment purposes only. It is based on the original creation of E. Kripke.

A/N: Without further ado – part two!

HAPPY PREMIERE DAY!!!!!!!

*flails* *iz ded*


Sam was silent as they left Ava's apartment.

"Dude. You had no way of knowing there was a demon waiting for her," Dean rationalized, trying to get his brother to see sense for once, not to take every wrong onto his own shoulders.

"I should have known she was in danger. We should have come as soon as I couldn't get her on the phone." Sam's voice was low and tortured, his eyes on his feet as he slumped back toward the Impala.

"Jesus, Dean. What if having something to do with me is what drew the demon to her in the first place?"

"Damn it, Sam! Why would you go there? There isn't any reason to think that. She had visions before she met you. It's just a given that she was already on somebody's radar." Dean laid a hand on his brother's shoulder. It was only partially meant to comfort his brother. He also needed to steady himself as the world seemed to want to tilt somewhat alarmingly all of a sudden.

"It just seems like these other "special" kids are all fine until I come into their lives..." Sam trailed off as he climbed into the Impala.

Dean was grateful that his brother climbing into the Impala meant he missed Dean's stagger around the back of the car and the way Dean leaned on the car to make his way to the driver's side door.

Sam was so preoccupied by his own thoughts that he missed the quiet groan that Dean couldn't quite stifle as he slumped behind the wheel.

"Let's look for a motel close by, Sammy. We'll find this girl. You'll see," Dean tried to be as optimistic as possible; even if he didn't think they'd ever find the girl, he knew it was important to his brother.

There was no way he was going to suggest leaving town and give his brother the chance to tell him that Dean could do whatever he liked, but Sam was staying. No way was he giving his brother an excuse to ditch him again.

"Thanks, man," was Sam's quiet reply.

He was lost in his own thoughts and was already planning how to go about the search for Ava. Sam didn't notice that his brother's hands were shaking before he gripped the wheel tightly with his right hand, his left arm wrapped protectively around his torso. If Sam had taken a closer look at his brother, he would also have noticed that he was too pale.

It didn't take Dean long to find a motel that would suit them. He always did seem to have some innate sense of where the next motel would be.

"Can you get this?" Dean asked his brother.

"Sure," Sam agreed and slid out of the Impala to check them in, thinking nothing of it.

Dean sat slumped behind the wheel. He had no idea where he was going to get the energy to make it from the car to the motel room.

"Dean?" Sam's voice held a tinge of concern.

"What?" Dean croaked and then cleared his throat, speaking more strongly and trying not to be freaked out that Sam had managed to climb into the car without him even noticing.

"What?"

"Are you okay?" Sam was sliding into mother-hen-mode. He suddenly noticed that in addition to being completely spaced out, his brother was much too pale, his freckles standing out in stark relief across his nose.

"I'm fine, Sam," Dean growled.

"Well, I told you the room number three times...."

"Uh..." Dean knew he was going to have to admit to something. "So I'm a bit tired, okay? I just chased your ass all over the country."

Dean knew it was cruel. He knew that it would send Sam on a guilt trip. But he also knew that it would distract Sam and get Sam to leave him alone.

"Oh. Sure. About that..." Oh shit! Dean thought. Emo was the other way this conversation could go.

"Don't." Dean cut his brother off. He did not want to have this conversation now on so many levels. He just.... he just couldn't right now.

"We're in 14," Sam offered. His tone was clipped.

"Sam. I just... I'm too tired to have this conversation right now, ok?"

"Fine. Just send me a memo when you're going to be ready to talk – I won't hold my breath, seeing as how we both know how much you like to talk."

Great, Dean thought. Now he'd hurt and provoked his brother. He'd pushed him away again, just when he'd got him back. He sighed and drove the length of the motel to their room.

Sam barely waited for the car to come to a stop before pushing out of it and moving to the trunk.

Somehow, Dean managed to get out of the car and move to the trunk, opening it for his brother. Sam grabbed his duffle and made his way into their room without even a glance at his brother. Dean stared stupidly at his duffle still lying in the trunk. He had no idea how he was going to be able to carry it into the room, but he knew that he had to. He allowed himself the luxury of a groan now that Sam couldn't hear him. He added the medical kit to his duffle from the trunk and then as carefully as he could, he lifted the duffle out and slammed the trunk.

By the time Dean crossed the threshold to their room, Sam had set up the laptop and was buried in it. Dean thanked his lucky stars and made a beeline for the bathroom, not giving himself a chance to think about it. He didn't stop to put his duffle on the bed, he just took the whole thing into the bathroom with him.

As soon as the door shut behind him, Dean crumpled soundlessly to the ground, his world going dark, all his energy reserves and stoicism gone as the door clicked shut.

SNSNSNSNSNSNSNSN

Dean moaned softly as he became aware of the hard, cold surface he was lying on. He had no idea how long he'd been out, but he knew he had to get up and start making bathroom noises if he wanted to avoid Sam growing curious. Dean managed to prop himself up enough to reach the faucet and turn it on. Unfortunately, the change in altitude resulted in his stomach's severe displeasure. Dean pivoted on his knees to face the toilet as he dry heaved. He could feel the spasms caused by the heaving pulling at the wound on his side.

Once the heaving had stopped, Dean stripped off his clothes sitting on the floor of the bathroom. He crawled over to the shower and leaned in and turned it on. He then crawled back to the sink and turned the water off there. He was shaking with cold, but sweat was running down his body mingling with the blood from his re-opened wound. The wound on his arm still hurt like a bitch, but at least it had stopped bleeding. Now the only problem with it was that his whole arm ached.

Dean opted for avoiding another change in altitude just yet and crawled under the hot spray, sitting in the bottom of the tub. He let the water cascade over his head and shoulders, washing away the blood and sweat. He had to get it together for Sam. Show Sam that he could rely on him. Dean really didn't think they would ever find Ava, but Dean would be there for Sam. He'd be a better brother. He'd convince Sam he could be there for him. He'd win back Sam's trust. He'd show Sam that he wasn't just the mindless killer Sam had accused him of being back in River Grove.

Finally, the water began to cool and Dean leaned forward and turned it off. He reached for one of the too small, scratchy towels and attempted to dry himself off. The wound in his side was weeping again. It had grown red and inflamed as had the wound in his shoulder.

Just great, he thought tiredly. He really couldn't do anything right. Dean leaned his forehead on the side of the tub. His head was pounding. He was pretty sure that the two initial hits to his head from Gordon's rifle had resulted in a pretty decent concussion. The subsequent physical persuasion to call Sam probably hadn't helped either. It was getting harder and harder to form anything like a coherent thought.

Taking a deep breath, Dean heaved himself out of the tub. He pulled the med kit closer to himself. Rummaging through, he grabbed the antiseptic cream. His hands were shaking so badly by this time that the cap went skittering across the floor. Dean sighed and pulled out a couple of pressure bandages. He spread some cream over the wounds, too tired to do more, and covered them with the bandages. Scrabbling across the floor, he found the cap and took several tries to get it back on. He took one look at the ibuprofen bottle and couldn't be bothered to even try opening it. He doubted whether he'd be able to keep it down anyway. He dragged a clean henley and some sweat pants out of his bag and stuffed his dirty clothes and the med kit into his duffle, zipping it closed. He dragged on the clean clothes. The long sleeves would prevent his brother from seeing the wound in his arm.

By this time, sweat was running into his eyes. He could only hope that the cream would take care of the obvious infection. Taking another deep breath and wincing as it pulled at the wound in his side, Dean gripped the sink and dragged himself upright. The world tilted alarmingly and his stomach flipped. There was nothing left to come up, though, so once the world reached some form of equilibrium, Dean splashed cold water on his face and braced himself to deceive his brother.

He needn't have bothered. Sam was so immersed in his search for Ava that he barely glanced up when Dean finally came out of the bathroom. Sam certainly had no idea of how long Dean had been in there. Somewhere at the back of his mind it occurred to Sam that Dean had been longer than normal, but Sam chalked it up to Dean's typical evasion tactics.

Fine. If Dean didn't want to talk, Sam was through forcing him. Dean obviously had no problem keeping secrets. It was one of the things about their dad that had always driven Sam crazy. That information on a need to know basis. And Dean's need to always be the good soldier and follow their father's orders, regardless of the fallout. Sam wasn't even going to waste his breath.

Dean sighed in relief as he made it to his bed and crawled under the sheets. Sam hadn't even looked up.

Good, Dean thought and tried to convince himself that it was, that he didn't care. That it was ok and didn't matter. Even if Sammy was ignoring him, at least he was still with him physically. Of course, if Sam was pissed at him, he might leave again.

"We'll find her, Dude. We won't leave until we do," Dean managed to keep his voice from shaking.

Sam's response was a non-committal grunt.

Dean burrowed into the blankets, shaking and sweating. He was exhausted but couldn't just fall asleep. He'd almost drift off and then startle himself awake, listening for the tapping of the keyboard or Sam's breathing. Eventually, his wounds and the exhaustion won.

Sam did notice when Dean's breathing evened out in sleep. Sam sighed. He wished that his brother would stop trying to protect him all the time. He wished that Dean would realize that he wasn't a kid anymore. That he was ready... long past ready and that he needed to be treated as an equal. And the first thing Dean needed to do was start learning to talk to him. It was Sam's turn to sigh.

Kneading his neck, Sam closed his eyes. He was tired. And he was sore from the fight with Gordon. It suddenly struck him as a little odd that Dean hadn't made a big deal about checking him over again. Dean'd made sure he was more or less ok back at the house but hadn't insisted on checking him out more thoroughly since. In fact, when Sam was hurt, Dean almost always made sure that Sam took the first shower so if the hot water was going to run out, there was enough to sooth Sam's sore muscles. Sure Dean would make it look like Sam was getting one up on him, but the end result was that Dean'd work it so Sam went first.

Sam rolled his neck, popping it. He was too tired to make any headway into finding Ava tonight. He'd grab a quick shower and then turn in. They could start checking around tomorrow once they could visit the hospitals and sheriff's office without raising too much suspicion.

Grabbing clean clothes out of his duffle, Sam made his way into the bathroom. Turning on the water, Sam stripped out of his clothes and stepped into the shower. The water didn't seem all that hot, so Sam was as quick as he could be. Glancing at the drain as he rinsed off, he thought he saw the water turn a little pink.

Hmmm, he thought, some of my cuts must be bleeding again.

Sam stepped out of the shower. He towelled off carefully, fully expecting to find some blood on the towel. He was pleasantly surprised when it came away clean. His stiff muscles felt better too. Sam tossed his towel into the corner where Dean had left his. As his towel covered Dean's, Sam thought he did see a flash of red. He bent to pick up his towel. He hadn't missed anything – at least not on his towel. The blood was on Dean's towel.

"What the hell?" Sam said out loud, frowning. Sam picked up his brother's towel. There was more blood on it than could be explained by any of the wounds and bruises Sam had seen on his brother.

Typical. Dean was keeping secrets again. Sam was tempted to simply ignore the evidence in his hand. But he couldn't. He wasn't oblivious to the fact that when he'd needed his brother he'd been there without having to be asked. If Dean hadn't tracked him down at the Blue Rose, he'd probably be dead by one of Gordon's bullets. He dressed quickly and made his way out of the bathroom.

"Dean?" Sam's quiet voice broke the silence as he made his way over to his brother. He was suddenly more aware of the night's events. Dean spacing out in the car. Dean making a beeline for the bathroom. Dean taking forever in the bathroom. Once Sam thought about it, Dean had been in there for a very long time. Blood on the towel.

"Dean!" Sam's voice was more insistent.

"S..ss..Sam?" Dean slurred. "Don't wanna talk t'night...K? Jussst sssleep."

Sam noticed that Dean was curled carefully on his right side, buried in the blankets. His hair was wet, which could have been from the shower except that sweat was running down his face. But Dean was shaking.

Sam knelt beside the bed. He reached out and gently cupped Dean's cheek. Instead of flinching back from the contact, Dean leaned into it. That was bad. Dean's skin was burning up.

"Dean?" Sam prodded gently. "Dean? Where are you hurt? What happened? Did Gordon do something to you before I got there?"

"Mmmm. Naw... M'fine Sammy. Don't worry 'bout me. Won't let you down 'gain...be fine ina mornin'" Dean slurred.

"What?" Sam was completely disconcerted. He had no idea what his brother was talking about.

Let me down? What the hell? Sam thought.

"Dean," Sam grasped his brother's bicep to get his attention.

When Dean's eyes flew open and he jumped and gasped at Sam's touch, Sam almost fell on his ass.

"Dean! Talk to me, man!" Sam leaned over his brother, now afraid to touch his brother for fear of causing him more pain.

Dean had closed his eyes and was clutching his arm with his other hand, rocking back and forth slightly.

Sam reached out and gently peeled the covers back to expose Dean's arm. The pressure bandage was easily discernable beneath the sleeve of the henley. He gently rolled up the sleeve and peeled the bandage back to see the wound. It was obviously a gunshot wound and was rapidly becoming infected.

"Dean! What the hell?" Sam insisted. "Have you been shot?"

"'M sorry, Sssssam," Dean said through chattering teeth.

"Dude," Sam breathed, "why would you think you need to apologize for getting shot?"

"Screwed up. 'gain. Let you down." Dean let his eyes shut. He couldn't bear to see the disappointment in his brother's eyes.

Sam sighed.

"The only thing you've done to disappoint me is shut me out again, bro. Why can't you see that that's always gonna end badly?" Sam didn't say it loudly enough for Dean to hear. He gently stroked his brother's head, cupping his hand comfortingly behind Dean's neck.

"Where else, Dean?" Sam raised his voice. Hating himself, but channelling his best John Winchester voice, knowing that Dean could never deny that voice. The last few months had been a testament to that. Dean's inability to deny any of John Winchester's commands.

In hindsight, if he was honest, Sam could begin to see that at least some of Dean's torment over the last few months was a direct result of obeying that last command, of keeping that secret. Because Sam knew that at the end of the day, Dean was the most honourable man he knew. Keeping a secret from his brother would have eaten Dean up. But there were two things that Dean had to abide by first: protect Sam and obey Dad. Sam suddenly had a flash of what those warring directives would have been doing to his brother's psyche. And Sam could be honest enough with himself to admit that leaving Dean the way he had would have opened up all of Dean's old insecurities about being abandoned.

Dean grimaced and swallowed thickly, but the compulsion to answer that voice, the John Winchester special, was too much.

"Side," Dean breathed.

Sam gently pulled the sheets lower, exposing the pressure bandages. He pulled them back as Dean shook beneath his hands.

"Dude," Sam breathed, "this is infected and it should have been stitched."

"'k," Dean managed to reply.

"Where's the kit, Dean?"

"Duffle."

"Ok, just rest man. I'll get it and have you good as new before you know it." Sam placed his hand gently on Dean's head and pulled the covers up on him while Sam got what he was going to need.

First, Sam retrieved the thermometer. After convincing Dean to open his mouth and worrying that he was going to snap it the way his teeth were chattering, Sam was almost relieved when Dean's temperature was only 102. High enough, but ibuprofen and getting the wounds cleaned should bring it down.

Sam suspected that Dean's body was also worn down. He had no way of knowing what Dean had eaten while they were apart but the M&M wrappers and empty coffee cups in the back were a pretty good clue. Sam also had no idea how much sleep Dean'd gotten, if any. Sam knew his brother well enough to know that he would have been frantic while they'd been apart.

Sam wasn't proud of the fact that he had caused his brother distress, but he also wasn't ready to feel a whole lot of guilt over it either. Dean needed to accept the fact that Sam was an adult and had needs of his own. And he'd needed answers. Answers that Dean didn't have and apparently hadn't wanted to look for.

Sam tipped two ibuprofen into his hand and pressed them into Dean's hand, waiting while his brother fumbled them into his mouth. Sam held the glass while Dean managed to swallow enough water to get the pills down before pushing the glass away weakly.

"Dean, you should try to drink some more," Sam encouraged.

Dean just shook his head and clenched his jaw.

"Lucky if I can keep that down," Dean mumbled.

Sam pulled the sheet back down and lifted Dean's shirt, removing the dirty bandages. Sam gently wiped the wound clean with antiseptic, cringing as Dean groaned and tried to move away. Sam laid a comforting hand gently on Dean's arm and sighed as his brother stilled at the touch. Dean's skin was slick with sweat yet clammy to the touch.

"Ok, Dean, this isn't that deep, but it should have been stitched. It's infected so I'm going to have to clean it out," Sam prepared his brother.

"'K, Sammy," Dean's voice was resigned.

Sam never enjoyed seeing his brother get hurt, and patching him up was always worse, regardless of how necessary it was. The fever had Dean shaking and shivering, which made cleaning out the wound even that much more difficult. Sam had to gently but firmly pull the wound apart and then swab into the wound to clean it. Sam opted to use some butterfly bandages to hold the wound together instead of stitches. If he stitched it, they ran the risk of an internal infection taking hold. By keeping the wound open and reasonably accessible, Sam would be able to monitor it and clean it out again if need be. Both brothers were bathed in sweat by the time Sam was applying more antiseptic cream and clean bandages.

Sam rolled up Dean's sleeve. The through and through wouldn't need stitches, and here too, keeping it open would facilitate getting rid of the infection by allowing the wounds to drain should they need to. So Sam cleaned the wounds as well as he could with the antiseptic, spread on more cream and re-bandaged it.

Sam grabbed a towel from the bathroom and soaked it with rubbing alcohol. Then, he quickly wiped the sweat from Dean. The alcohol would help to bring the fever down. Sam drew the covers back up over his brother.

"Get some sleep, Dean," Sam said gently, ghosting his hand over his brother's head.

"'K, Sammy," Dean murmured, obviously more asleep than awake already, having gradually relaxed under his brother's gentle touch.

Sam made short work of cleaning up and climbed into his own bed. Sam was awakened a couple of hours later by the sounds of his brother muttering and moving restlessly beside him.

Sam got up and made his way over to Dean, grabbing the thermometer on his way. He found Dean moving restlessly beneath the sheets, which he'd almost succeeded in pushing off of himself. Dean was bathed in sweat again. Sam was actually relieved. NOT sweating was bad; sweating should be working to bring the fever down, even if it was unpleasant.

"Dean?" Sam tried quietly, getting no response. Sam raised his voice.

"Dean!"

"Sssa-am?" Dean slurred, his eyelids fluttering as he struggled to open them.

"Yeah, Dean. Let me take your temp again, ok?" Sam waited for Dean to open his mouth and popped in the thermometer and sank down on the bed beside him.

"So, I didn't really find anything online earlier, but I did start to mock up some missing posters that we can put around town," Sam figured he'd better keep talking to keep Dean awake.

Dean grunted in acknowledgement.

"We can check in with the local authorities. I should probably avoid filling out an official missing persons report though, what with what happened to her fiancé. She might or might not be a suspect, but it'd probably be best to keep our distance." Sam reached out to retrieve the thermometer.

Shit! Dean's temp had gone up not down. It was 102.5. No wonder he was getting restless. Sam retrieved the barely used water glass. It was a little soon, but Sam grabbed a couple more ibuprofen too.

"Dean? I need you to take a drink and take some more pills," Sam said quietly, sliding his hand under Dean's head to help him drink after making sure the pills made it into his mouth first. This time Dean managed to swallow slightly more water. Sam was concerned that he would become dehydrated on top of everything else.

Sam went into the bathroom and soaked a cloth in cold water, returning to place it on Dean's forehead. Dean had gotten more restless while Sam was in the bathroom.

"Sam?" Dean croaked, trying futilely to push the sheets off of himself and trying to get up.

"I'm right here, dude. Where do you think you're going? Just lie back and settle down," Sam laid a hand on his brother's chest to hold him down. His eyebrows knitting in a frown. Dean wasn't quite awake.

"Where'd you go? Thought you'd left," Dean muttered but stilled under his brother's touch.

"It's ok, Dean. I just went to the bathroom to get this," Sam said gently laying the cool cloth on his brother's sweating forehead.

Sam waited until Dean's breathing deepened and evened out in sleep then retreated to his own bed and let sleep claim him again.

It was nearly dawn when Sam was again awakened by Dean's voice and restless thrashing. It was definitely worse this time and Sam made short work of crossing the distance between their beds.

Dean was again bathed in sweat and his tossing in bed had opened the wound on his side leaving blood dotting the sheets. Dean was mumbling and groaning quietly but was seemingly still asleep. Sam sank down on the bed beside his brother, laying a comforting hand on his chest in an effort to still him again.

"Dean? C'mon bro. I need you to settle down for me here," Sam kept his voice quiet; he didn't want to startle his brother.

Sam was the one who was startled, however, when Dean's eyes shot open and he grabbed Sam's wrist and held on tightly. Sam could barely stop from wincing.

"Don't leave, Sam. Please don't. Please. Hate being 'lone. 'm sorry. I'll be better. Promise. 'm sorry," Dean's words were slurred and barely above a whisper but they cut Sam to the quick. The guilt he'd been denying up until then came crashing down on him.

"You don't have anything to apologize for."

"Didn't tell you. Listened to Dad. Didn't protect you. 'M sorry, Sammy." Dean's voice was anguished.

"We can talk about this when you feel better, Dean. I've had some time to think. You just did what you thought was best," Sam soothed.

"No. Screwed up again. Don't blame you or Dad. Just useless." Dean breathed, grimacing as the fever burnt through him.

"Don't! Don't EVER say that! You are so far from useless," Sam's raised voice caused Dean to flinch. Sam reached out a comforting hand, resting it lightly on his brother's head. It was suddenly painfully obvious to Sam how much pain both he and his father had caused Dean by leaving him. Sam shook his head at the irony that he and his father had constantly accused each other of not appreciating Dean and they had both in the end managed to inflict the most pain in the same way. Sam realized how much Dean must have been torn over the past months over the promise he'd made to their father. Even without Sam knowing it and even with Dad dead, the two of them still managed to try to tear Dean in half.

"Couldn't talk to you. Promised. Had to learn to keep you safe. But I'm not a heartless bastard. Really, 'm not – I know you think I am, that I like killing things. But I gotta do the job... Dad said," Dean's voice trailed off as he slid back into unconsciousness.

Sam's head sank into his hands. He was suddenly overwhelmed by a rush of feelings, many of them old and familiar ones. Frustration and anger at his father and the way he'd treated both himself and Dean. Sam had hated being kept in the dark on a need to know basis. He'd hated being treated like he couldn't pull his own weight. But he'd also hated what his father had done to Dean. His father had been too forthcoming with Dean, expecting – no, demanding that Dean not only know but deal with everything. He'd placed an impossible weight on Dean's shoulders, giving him impossible choices. His final order and directive almost managing to destroy Dean. Pushed him into almost becoming something he wasn't. To make him want to just give up. Sam hadn't forgotten his shock at Dean's words in the clinic in Seattle. That he was tired. Tired of this life. Of his life. Of life.

But what was really eating at Sam was the knowledge that when push came to shove, he hadn't treated Dean a whole lot better than their father. He'd refused to talk to Dean. He'd shut him out and left him. Again.

Dean was strong, though. Sam knew that. He just had to give his brother some time to heal. To get his bearings again. He'd actually listened to him, after all. He'd let him take care of Gordon. Dean had let Sam go to Peoria, and had agreed to the search for Ava.

Sam needed to find Ava. He owed it to her, and it might lead to more answers about what the Yellow Eyed Demon wanted the special children for too. Sam could look, and Dean could rest and get the time he wanted to think. It was a good plan.

Sam sighed and shrugged his shoulders trying to work the kinks and soreness out of them. He was tired and watching over Dean hadn't allowed any of the stiffness and soreness to work its way out of his muscles.

Dean seemed to have settled somewhat. Sam quickly moved back into the washroom, wetting another cloth with cold water and alcohol and returning to gently wipe his brother's face.

Sam was struck as always by how young his brother could look in these unguarded and vulnerable moments. Dean seemed to have fallen into a more restful sleep, so Sam was hopeful that he'd gotten the infection before it could really take a hold. He quickly re-checked Dean's wounds, using more butterfly bandages on his side where they'd pulled off when Dean was thrashing around. The wounds looked less angry already. He suspected that the fever was as much a function of how worn out his brother was.

Leaving the cloth on Dean's forehead, Sam crawled back into his own bed and was soon asleep.

SNSNSNSNSNSNSNSNSNSNSSNSNSNSNSNSNSSNSNSN

Sam was woken by a combination of light filtering into their room and Dean's snoring. Sam smiled. Dean really only snored when he was totally relaxed. And Dean rarely ever did that – unless he was exhausted. Even so, Sam knew that Dean wouldn't allow himself that luxury unless his defences were down.

Sam rolled over.

Dean was sprawled on his bed, blankets twisted about him. Sam was relieved to notice that Dean appeared to be as relaxed as he sounded.

Glancing at the clock, Sam was shocked to see that it was almost noon. He rolled out of bed, suppressing a groan as his own aches and pains made themselves known. Rather than disturbing his brother, Sam opted to just gently touch Dean's forehead. Dean was still warm, but not as hotly feverish as the last time. He wasn't hot enough to be sweating.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Sam decided to hop in the shower before doing anything else.

When he emerged, Sam's gaze immediately went to his brother.

Dean was lying on his side, facing the bathroom. His eyes were only half open and were still a bit glassy, but he still seemed a lot more aware than he had the night before. He had obviously been watching the door to the bathroom.

"Hey," Sam said. "How're you feeling?"

"Fine," came the standard response. Not for the first time, Sam wondered why he bothered asking. He was a bit disappointed that Dean's walls were obviously back up.

"Right. How's your side? Arm? Still feel feverish?" Sam shot out the list of questions even as he busied himself getting dressed.

"Fine, fine, ok," Dean's answer was typically succinct and non-informative.

"Well, I want to check them anyway."
"Figured you would." Dean grunted and pushed himself up to lean against the headboard.

He still felt like crap. Nauseous and achey. And he'd been lucid enough the previous night to add embarrassed by his own weakness to that list. And dread, because he knew that Sam would want to talk. Suddenly, that was the last thing that Dean wanted to do.

Sam surprised him. He checked Dean's temperature. It was down to 101. He checked his side, cleaned it, and re-bandaged it. He checked Dean's arm, cleaned it, and re-bandaged it. All done with a minimum of sorries, might hurt a bit, just going to do this...

Finally, Sam straightened from putting the first aid supplies away, grabbed water and ibuprofen and handed both to Dean. Dean accepted them both gratefully.

"I'm just going to run out for something to eat. Feel like anything in particular?" Sam said it as neutrally as possible, but he saw the look of panic sprint across his brother's face.

"Not really hungry, dude," Dean managed to mumble, dropping his eyes and picking at the blanket.

"You have to eat, Dean. I'll bring back some soup and maybe a couple of sandwiches..." Sam's voice trailed off. He could see Dean's breathing was increasing.

"I'm just going to the store. I'll only be gone 20 minutes tops. I promise dude. Just going on a food run..." Sam tried to keep his tone light."I know. It's ok, Sam. I'll be fine. I'm fine," Dean almost seemed to be trying to convince himself.

Sam had wanted to wait before clearing the air, but it seemed like he needed to do it sooner rather than later. He sank down on the edge of Dean's bed.

"Dean. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have taken off on you like I did. I wanted you to treat me like an adult and I acted like a child by just running away. I'm not going to do that again. But you have to treat me like an adult. Like an equal. No more secrets. If we don't have each other's backs, we've got nothing."

Dean continued to stare at the blanket between them.

Sam reached out and squeezed his brother's leg. Dean raised his eyes to look at his brother. His gaze was anguished, but only for a moment. The familiar walls were going back up. He'd hide away what he didn't want his brother to see. His weaknesses, his failures. And Sam mourned their loss. It would be impossible to help Dean see that he wasn't weak or a failure if he wouldn't talk to Sam.

"It's ok, Sam. I know that I should have told you. I understand why you felt like you had to leave. You go for food. I'm just gonna go back to sleep for awhile," Dean said, lying back down and pulling the covers back up over himself. He rolled onto his side, away from Sam, effectively ending their conversation.

"Ok, Dean. I'll be back soon," Sam said, pushing himself up. He was disappointed that they couldn't have come to a greater understanding, but he hoped that if he showed Dean he was ok with giving Dean some time to rest and get his bearings, that Dean would open up to him. They still hadn't really talked about what Dad had said or what it had been doing to Dean.

Sam waited a week, looking for Ava. As soon as Dean was able, he pitched in, running errands, checking at the police station, making contacts with the prettier admin. assistants. There was no sign of Ava anywhere. Then Ellen called about a new hunt....


A/N: As I noted before, this was written months ago. I was struck in doing a final run through of this before posting of how tightly written our show is. So many of the themes that whispered to me in this fic after these episodes, are the same themes only amplified that we are seeing in season 4 and going into season 5. I, for one, am looking forward to how these issues play out. I hope this little fic will also give hope to people that even while the boys are apart or angry with each other, at heart, they are always together and therefore, they always seem to make their way back to each other – it may be a long and hard road, but I am confident that's where Kripke is headed – and he hasn't disappointed me yet.

Happy season premiere everyone!

Thank you for reviewing, alerting and faving – and a special thanks to everyone who has been reading reviewing and patiently waiting for replies.