Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken --- Ecclesiastes 4 : 12

Takes place right after 'On the Head of a Pin' AU hurt/comfort, angst

Dean's voice was still raspy from the ventilator, not that he used his voice much these days anyway. Sam couldn't tell what was worse, the silence as they drove along, or the yelling that ensued when Dean learned he killed Alistair. But this silence was different; it felt as if it came without blame to anyone but Dean. The normal silence, as Sam called it in the past, was accompanied by loud music and became such a staple in lieu of conversation that it was almost peaceful. Metallica always signalled a separate peace, an uneasy knowledge that somehow things would be okay again.

Sam wished the silence was accompanied by those exasperated sighs and concerned glares that would have been oxymoronic with anyone else but they never were with Dean. Somehow Dean was always able to say you screwed up and but we can fix it with one look. Maybe it was his turn to say those things to Dean. But the weight of the truth Dean put on him was as heavy as when Dean told him that if he couldn't save him, he'd have to kill him.

Dean pulled over. He knew he shouldn't have insisted on driving. He'd only been out of the hospital for two days, and AMA at that. The damp air went to his bones and settled in his body the minute he left the stifling cocoon of warm hospital air. It wasn't raining but the wipers beat the fog from the windshield. The odd light at the end of a farm driveway was the only thing separating the endless darkness on the country road.

"Can you drive for a bit, Sam? I'm tired."

Sam's heart dropped into his stomach. Yes, he'd changed while Dean was gone, become stronger, harder, fortified with the same poison that started this whole mess when he was a baby, but it broke him to hear those words. The last time Dean said he was tired; it was when he gave up, ready to die and go to hell.

Sam got out while Dean shifted over, the popping of his joints audible and aged. Dean watched Sam as he paused on the driver's side of the car. His baby brother was huge, probably finished growing unless he kept eating his Ruby-ohs. Dean studied Sam's face, trying to see the monster inside that the angels kept telling him would appear one day when Sam took things too far. But it wasn't there, not yet. Not ever.

It was clear that this was a good time to stop. Sam didn't get in the car immediately. He raked his hands through his hair. He looked up to the sky, and that's when Dean saw it. Sam still prayed. And damn was he mad. To think his little brother had a warrant out for his head if he crossed a line that was invisible to both of them so far.

Dean already said his piece two days ago about what he called Sam's Ruby booster shot vaccination, but he only said it once. Sam wished he'd have gone on yelling until he remembered the defeated slump in Dean's shoulders as he turned over and went back to sleep, his face planted so firmly into the hospital pillows that he thought Dean would suffocate. As Sam leaned against the car, he wanted to ask Dean about the unnatural sleep he fell into in the hard plastic chair back at the hospital when Castiel arrived, knowing without a doubt that once again, an angel shunned him and spoke to his brother.

Sam got back in the car, the familiar squeak of the doors he always complained of welcome; the only familiarity they had now.

Sam looked like he had something to say. Dean was amazed that Sam could come back with an answer he would take on faith, with no way of knowing if he'd been answered or not. I mean, Castiel outright told Dean that only a few angels had ever seen God, yet here was Sam, getting into the car with a little more peace than he left it with. And the blind faith in his brother's eyes nearly killed him.

They sat for a few more moments in the Impala that had been their nursery, their home, their hospital, and their place of peace both wanting to confess every one of their fears but afraid of shattering the other further.

Dean could absolve Sam of his actions now. How could he not? Not only had he tortured souls to free himself of the same fate, he broke the first seal, he helped lower the fire escape to Lucifer a little more. Neither of them knew how to make the other believe that none of this was their fault; they were both so eager to accept the blame. So thoughts as loud as speech floated between them unread when once, not so long ago, a gesture or a glance in the each other's direction would tell the whole story without words.

I broke the first seal, Sam. With demons.

I used my powers when I was specifically told not to. By angels.

To save you. Both of them thought together but the silence won.

The only thing they actually discussed was the plan to go on fighting all the evil sons-of- bitches they came across while tracking Lilith. They both knew damn well that Bobby was literally and figuratively tossing them a bone when he practically insisted they take a good old-fashioned zombie hunt together, spend some time planning, driving, and thinking. It was turning out as well as handing them a Coke after their bout with the siren took away what each of them feared was the last bit of what they'd fought so hard to build during the last few years. They had each gotten drunk that night, separately. And they'd been alone together ever since.

XXXX

Bobby had done all of the research on this case, including where the zombie would most likely be found. True to his word as the brothers pulled up to a spot behind Montgomery Junior High at exactly midnight, a crowd already formed.

Sam and Dean stepped from the car, listening to the taunts and jeers from the crowd.

"Too bad you hadn't stepped up for Jim before I had to take him out, or should I say the Late Jim? I don't know why I even showed up. You're only going to last a minute. What am I going to do to entertain the crowd for the other twenty nine minutes?" The huge jock with the football jersey spitting the hateful drivel continued. "Jim couldn't fight his own battles. Who are you? Lancelot?"

"Oh, but my brother can fight his own battles," came a small voice that was almost lost to the crowd's laughter, until Jim stepped from behind a dumpster against the far wall. "Can't you, Jim?" And this time there was hint of pride in the small voice. It took a full minute for the crowd to register that Jim, a kid they'd buried a week ago, was back. The jock gaped and went pale before shoving through the crowd knocking people down with practiced tackling skills. Those who didn't go down like dominos ran screaming into the nearby streets.

By the light of a flickering streetlamp in the teachers' parking lot, Dean and Sam got their first full look at Jim and the small voiced guy beside him.

"That's right, run!" yelled the boy, turning to give orders to the former Jim. Only Jim didn't take orders as such. He picked the boy up and began shaking him, anger flashing in the sunken eye wells.

"Jim! Please, it's me, Ken," the boy pleaded, nearly breathless with fear. "Put me down! You're supposed to be teaching them a lesson. Please, let me go!" Fear mixed with sorrow and morphed into realization on the face that was being snapped back and forth fiercely.

"He's not Jim anymore, Ken," Dean said, aiming carefully, a bead of red light from his gun timed rhythmically with the shaking movements of the zombie. He took his shot.

Are you sure that what you brought back is one hundred percent pure Sammy? Dean shook his head as the zombie dropped his prey. Ken fell to the ground holding his ears and moaning. The zombie recovered and ran away.

"Ken," Sam called, stepping forward to help the shaking boy up. "We don't have much time. Where did you perform the ritual to bring your brother back?"

Ken looked about to deny doing any such thing. Dean only had to look at him as an older brother does to a little brother. Ken's shoulders slumped.

"At … at the cemetery two blocks down," Ken admitted. "That guy, Tad who just ran away, the police let him go; said my brother hit his head in a 'normal' school yard incident."

Sam would have had something to say to comfort Ken once upon a time but that Sam was tucked carefully away because he would get in the way of keeping his brother safe and saving the world. Missions first, care later. Sam looked at Dean for a cue as to their next move. He wanted to give Dean a sense that he trusted him, that he didn't really believe Dean was weak; at least not permanently so.

"Go home and lock the doors," Dean commanded, "and don't open them for anyone, not even Jim if he goes that way. Got it?"

And there was the cue Sam was looking for. Something decisive, because God how he needed to hear Dean sound confident about something again. Baby steps.

Sam and Dean set off on foot to the cemetery, scanning yards as they ran.

The low-lying fog gave no warning of the sticky mess on the ground that sent Dean sprawling onto the pavement. It was a soft, squishy, wrong landing. Dean stared down into the lifeless body of the schoolyard bully; the face frozen in horror that he probably deserved. Sam nearly tripped over Dean, cursing as he bent down to help Dean to his feet. Their hands slipped in the blood that covered Dean's palms.

"Yours?" Sam asked of the blood as Dean wiped his hands on his jeans.

"Not mine," Dean assured.

"Good, let's go."

They entered the cemetery through the kissing gate and had no choice but to turn on their flashlights. They each aimed toward the ground, hoping to keep eyes from the neighboring condos off of them.

Movement to the left caught their attention as the zombie dodged behind a small, metal tool shed. The whole shed rattled as rivets popped from metal with a squeal that set their jaws on edge. Dean started to make his way around to the back of the shed to see if there was any way of trapping the zombie inside when the zombie burst through the flimsy metal front door of the shed, having made a man sized hole through the back.

Sam and Dean both fired repeatedly, thuds of bullets hitting soft, rotted meat and pinging back off the swinging shovel making both men cringe. Silencers would do nothing if the reverberation of bullets hitting metal alerted the neighborhood to what they were doing. Before Dean's finger caught up to his line of thinking, he pulled the trigger one more time, hearing the report of the ricochet, followed by the soft thud he knew so well, bullet hitting flesh.

Sam dropped beside him, hissing in pain, using every swear word Dean had taught him when they were kids. The zombie retreated at the sudden ceasefire, picking bullets from his skin like they were nothing more than stingers from a bee.

"Sam, how bad?" Dean rasped, grabbing his brother's shoulders. Dean kept watch for the zombie as Sam lifted his shirt and jacket. Blood trickled from a wound in his left side but there was no entry or exit wound.

"You're lucky, flesh wound," Dean ground out.

"Joy," Sam quipped.

"Can you get up?"

"Yeah," Sam grunted as Dean extended his hand.

"Zombie at ten o'clock," Dean whispered, covering Sam who took a few steps to retrieve his weapon.

Both sets of eyes trained on the woods that separated the new part of the cemetery from the old, but the noise was too quick to get an accurate bead on where the thing might come from. Sam let the barrel of the shotgun lead his eyes. The moonlight struggling to penetrate the dark of the wood didn't do much to aid the beams of the flashlights.

"Where the hell did it go?" Dean hissed through clenched teeth.

First leaves rustled, then twigs broke to their left. As they scanned for the abomination they were too late to attack when the footfalls and heavy groaning came from the right. The zombie leaped in search of prey, Sam raised the wood and steel to defend himself, but the weight and momentum was too much to keep his footing.

His skull met concrete. His blood painted the engraved lettering of someone's well wishes to rest in peace. The pain, pure white in the back of his head. Any thoughts of zombies, or anything supernatural, washed out in the blossom of agony.

His eyelids working at half the speed they normally would, he tried to focus. Blinking once, twice, he saw...a woman.

"Who --" he asked out loud to no one.

Things started to come back, clearer now. A sorrowful stone angel watching over the dead.

Sure, some of us get angels. A demon answers my prayers and I'm damned by the blessed for fighting their fight. Yet I still pray, to a God even angels don't understand.

Sam shook his head to try and clear it from the pain and his thoughts, but he quickly closed his eyes from the mistake as dizziness threatened to take him.

"You ok?" Dean asked, reloading his pistol.

"I'll live," Sam responded, feeling the warmth of his own blood on the back of his head.

"Think I stubbed my toe kicking him off you."

"Thanks."

Sam didn't get much time to stave off the vertigo as noise sent he and Dean scrambling back into action.

Mist swirled around Sam's ankles as he spun, the sawed off shotgun full of consecrated iron shot raised shoulder high as he tried to track the revenant. Dean stepped up beside him, his Colt Patterson raised and at the ready.

"Damn. That sucker can move."

"Yeah, don'cha wish freakin' zombies watched a few more stupid movies?" They again tried to track the reanimated corpse of the high school junior. The moonless night and the low fog made it more difficult. Sam lowered the shotgun, listening for noises that would accompany the revenants footfalls.

"I can't get a bead on the bastard." Sam said, again raising the gun just as the kid stepped up out of the fog from behind the high tombstone directly off to Sam's right. His fist connected with the gun, ripping it from Sam's grasp as he smacked Sam hard, shoving him backwards. Sam's back hit a large tree and he slid to the ground in a heap, landing awkwardly at the base of the tree in the dew-laden grass.

"Sam!" Dean said, firing at the zombie as Sam grunted. The kid staggered but didn't go down. "Sonuvabitch!" Dean continued to fire while advancing on the brown haired boy, who was repelled by the slugs that continually bored their way through his already dead body. He finally was pushed backwards into the grave he'd fought his way out of after being raised. Dean slid down the mound of dirt, pulling a long bowie knife with a blackened iron blade. The zombie fought, punching Dean squarely in the jaw. Dean turned the knife in his hand and used both arms to propel the blade through the zombie's chest and into the floor of his coffin. The kid sighed once and fell still, his clawed hands sliding down Dean's chest to rest against the dirty satin lining of the casket. Dean caught his breath and climbed out of the casket, his eyes falling on his brother, who still sat at the base of the tree.

"Coulda used some help there Sam." When Sam didn't look up at the sound of Dean's voice Dean felt his stomach lurch. "Sammy?" Dean asked, rushing to his brother's side.

He lifted Sam's head, fingers sliding on the blood that had flowed from the corner of his mouth and also from the gash that matted Sam's long hair to the back of his head. Dean grasped Sam's jaw with more force than necessary to keep his fingers from sliding and lifted Sam's head, seeing the whites of his open eyes, his lids fluttering uncontrollably.

"Sammy!" Dean cried, as Sam began to shake in his arms, making choking sounds. Dean held him steady and finally…finally breathed a sigh of relief when Sam's eyes focused on him, bleary blue green finally showing as they righted themselves, one just a little more sluggish than the other.

"De'n?"

"Yeah, Sam, it's me. I gotcha."

"Five-oh, Dean you need to get out of here."

Dean didn't need to look behind him. He saw the flashing blue and red in his brother's eye. The police cruiser approached from the side street, sirens off, strobe lights searching the very same yards Sam and Dean had just searched. Dean sighed at the temporary reprieve that was the police stopping, obviously finding the body he'd tripped over moments before.

"Sam, we have to hide. Now. You have to get up."

Dean's voice was terrifying. Sam tried to obey, he really did. He tried to focus his eyes on his brother. Strong arms reached around his back and he tried not to cry out. He wondered who yelled, giving away their position. Then he blamed himself.

Dean lowered Sam back down. Sam couldn't manage the sitting against the tree any longer and slumped to a lying position. He gasped as the cold dew contrasted with warm blood seeping from his head.

"No, Sam, no, you have to open your eyes. Look at me, man."

Sam's right eye opened slightly, making him look like one of those dolls whose eyes are supposed to close when you lay them down but one eye is always broken, giving that creepy, watchful stare.

The shed was eighty feet away and would provide little in the way of a hiding spot. Dean's heart beat faster as another cruiser pulled up to the one already stopped in the distance. It was only a matter of time before a grid search was under way.

Gurgling noises erupted from Sam's throat when Dean tried to move him again and Sam's mouth opened in a silent scream. Ribs floated in Sam's back as Dean panicked and laid him back down.

"Ca … can't, Dean. Hurts. Everywhere." Sam curled on the ground, a soft sob escaping him as both hands flew to his head.

"It's okay, Sam."

It was a lie. Sam knew it but damn it sounded so good right now. Until his brother's retreating footsteps replaced the comforting words.

Sam shivered. Of all the ways to die in this war, a stupid zombie was going to take him down? But then again, it was better than being smote by an angel, right?

Yes. This is better. Dean won't have to kill me. Castiel won't have to put up with Dean if he was the angel sent to kill me. I won't turn darkside … well, more darkside than I'm probably already labeled. I'll stop screwing up. Score one for the light side ... wonder if they really do have light sabres ... Dean'd know. Oh no, wait, Dean would have had a red one ... Huh, I'm losing it! was Sam's last lucid thought.

"Dean, I think I sprained my brain. I'm going now, kay?" Sam said aloud to the fog. What little focus he had in his one open eye was fading as explosions of light erupted into pain worse than any vision had ever brought. His vision narrowed until all he could do to take his mind off the pain and cold was imagine shapes in the fog like he and Dean had done with the clouds when they were little. He wished it was daylight so he could tell Dean what he saw in the clouds, because that was always joyful. All he could now see was strobe lights, mixed with the red flashing lights playing hide and seek in the mist. And Dean had left him.

He finally left me…Sam's eye slid shut, his heart willing itself to follow.

XXXX

Just let him keep breathing. Let him keep breathing. Dean searched the tool shed frantically for anything that would help him get Sam out of the cemetery. There was nothing but shovels and rope, hanging in varying states of disruption from the zombie's newest renovations to it.

Dean finally grabbed the rope and ran back to where Sam lay. Sam was still, eyes closed, the only thing assuring Dean that he was alive were the small plumes of warm air hitting the fog and making small clouds near Sam's nose.

"I'm sorry, Sammy…" The nickname tore from Dean's throat like sandpaper. He hadn't called his little brother that in months before tonight. He'd been a fool. They both had.

Dean grasped both of Sam's arms and bound them at the wrists tight enough to be convincing for the only plan he could come up with. He winced as the rope bit into his brother's flesh, backing off only enough to ensure blood flow, if that could be ensured at all with as much as Sam was losing. Dean reached into Sam's pocket, taking all but one piece of fake ID.

Sam gagged and choked and Dean almost leapt back in guilt and surprise. His eye flew open but there was no focus. Sam's back arched in agony as his eye rolled back in his head.

"Damn it, no, Sam, you have to hang on. I'm gonna get you out of here. I promise, you just have to wait for me." Dean's fingers slid to the pulse point on Sam's neck. A faint, accelerated pulse beat through to his blood stained fingers but he wasn't breathing.

Dean tilted Sam's head back and pinched the bridge of Sam's nose and breathed for him a few times, stopping to listen, praying that CPR wouldn't be necessary on Sam's broken ribs. After six repetitions, Sam started breathing again, as if he'd simply needed a reminder that he had to do that in order to stay alive. Sam started shivering again. Dean shrugged out of his leather jacket and placed it around Sam.

"Wait for me, Sam," Dean whispered. He climbed high into the tree that had tried to kill his brother and taking out his cell phone, dialled an anonymous tips number that guaranteed no traced calls. Dean flattened himself against a wide bough that would hide him.

In minutes that seemed like an eternity, emergency vehicles screamed into the cemetery, cutting the fog and eerie silence with wailing sirens. Feet hit the wet mud, running to the open grave first.

Come on! Dean screamed silently, willing them with gritted teeth to find his brother, to save him. Flashlight beams scoured the area until they fell across the pale man lying on the ground.

A police officer, gun drawn, nudged Sam with his foot angering Dean to the point of almost leaping from the tree to yell at him.

"The one in the grave is dead," some genius shouted.

Yuh, think! Now save my brother!

"We have a live one here!" shouted a young cop. "Barely! Call the paramedics!"

Another cop helped untie Sam, cursing about ritualistic crimes and hoping this wasn't the beginning of a cycle. Sam was covered in a silver blanket up to his waist as the officers started basic first aid until the paramedics could get there.

"Damn, this kid is bad off. I don't think he's gonna make it."

Don't tell him that! Dean seriously wanted to punch someone.

The ambulance screeched to a stop, two paramedics jumping out and grabbing gear from the back. From that point, Dean could barely see his brother. Voices floated up at him; someone talking to the hospital, reporting blood pressure and a list of injuries that would befit a corpse better than a living person.

"Kid's bottoming out on us!" shouted a voice. Dean bit the inside of cheek, anything to keep himself from jumping out of the tree to see his brother one last time. If he was caught, even if Sam lived through this nightmare, neither of them would ever see the light of day again.

They shot Sam full of epinephrine and put him on a hundred percent oxygen but nothing was working. Dean watched as the paddles were brought out and he turned his face skyward like he'd seen his brother do only tonight.

"Clear!"

When everyone leapt away from their frantic efforts, Dean got a second's worth of unobstructed view of Sam. Electricity shot through as his body convulsed, dew flying from his hair as his eyes jerked open and closed like a camera shutter. For a second, Sam lay still, both eyes open while someone checked his vitals. Dean held his breath and jumped as his brother's entire body flopped like a fish as they shocked him again.

Sam felt like hot, white lights erupted in his skull, finding any opening from which to escape and creating new ones to seep out of. Shocks clawed at his bare chest sawing at his ribs and burning his oxygen starved lungs.

"He's back!" someone shouted in triumph.

Sam's blood rushed in his ears. Where did I go if I'm back? He felt hands ghosting over his entire body. He tried to smack them away. Where was Dean? Why didn't Dean make them stop, 'cause damn, they were hurting him. Oh yeah, Dean left. He couldn't get enough air. He felt his head tilt back again; all of his senses assaulted as his chin was held, his mouth opened and something choked him. He tried to claw the hands away again but there were too many. Tears stung his eyes as something rammed down his throat, through his larynx and he arched in agony and bliss at the same time as oxygen rushed through his chest.

The ambulance sped off and Dean wanted to chase it like a lawyer. He shivered in the tree for hours, watching the crime scene as evidence was taken and the body was removed from the open grave to be re-examined by the coroner and lastly, reporters were hustled away after getting a few good shots for the morning news. He clung to conversations about the 'victim' found at the site. Sam Nichols was alive, but barely. An uncle had been notified and was on his way to the hospital.

Dean's pain medication was forgotten at their hotel room, not that he felt he deserved it anyway. His heart ached worse than any body pain ever could. And he was tired. He thought about the brothers he met tonight, well, one brother, one undead. Love existed in the world, no matter how misguided. Tonight's mess was proof of that.

The fog cleared, giving a stellar view of the constellations as Dean lay in the tree, above the lights that would have obscured them. Bet Sam knows what each of 'em are called. He'd give anything to go back to the days when Sam would research and try to tell him every single detail of an upcoming hunt, including the weather forecast on the day of said hunt. Now everything was on a need to know basis as if they'd both finally become the soldiers they trained to be their whole lives. Except for now it felt as if they were on opposite sides.

Dean barely breathed or moved for two more hours. There was no let up to the work that was going on, he could only be thankful that no one bothered to look up. Suspects rarely rained from the sky. Well there was that one time with the vampire …Sleep tried to lull him away from his pain but his brain kept him focused on the sudden, deadly stop that would occur if he dared to fall asleep and rolled off the bough.

A loud creaking beside him on the bough made Dean cry out in surprise. He held his breath. No one on the ground seemed to notice.

"Hello, Dean." Castiel sat beside him on the bough, legs dangling, obviously invisible to the humans below.

"Cas," Dean croaked. "Sammy, is he…"

"He's alive. I don't know for how much longer. Before you ask, yes, I did try. No, I don't know what the answer is. Yes, Bobby is at the hospital with the insurance forms for his 'nephew'."

Dean sighed at the teaspoon of relief that Castiel had provided but he could tell there was something more the angel wasn't telling him.

"I need to get out of here to see Sam. Can you get me out of here?"

Castiel looked torn as his eyes went skyward and Dean's heart sank when he saw the same questioning plea cross the angel's features that had crossed Sam's in prayer. For the first time, Dean felt sympathy for Cas. Not that the angel's faith was as blind as Sam's, but still, to be able to hold onto such loyalty in the face of losing so many of his brothers and sisters from his garrison, and to be tempted by Uriel and turn away from the fallen to stay the right course. Castiel was the embodiment of hope; something he and Sam had forgotten long ago under the loads of guilt and quests that had been piled on them.

"Do you know why Lucifer was cast out of the Kingdom?" Castiel asked.

"Not really," Dean replied, caught off guard by the question. "Does it have anything to do with you getting me out of here so I can get to my brother, or you finally telling me what happened to my father after he got out of hell, 'cause I gotta tell you, I'm not really in the mood for any more enlightenment from you, especially where Sammy is concerned."

"He disobeyed. Dean, I can't tell you what happened to your father. Most angels do not know what happens to the humans after death that are not sent to hell to be stripped of their humanity. I have not seen God, but Lucifer has. Lucifer has seen Paradise. As a result he quit believing his place was at our Father's side."

"Why are you telling me this?"

"Because you need to know. The miracles on earth have become the mundane. I can't help you get out of here."

"Damnit, Cas, I need to see my brother."

"A demon is a human soul that loses its humanity. Do you know what your brother is becoming?"

Dean's eyes closed, jaw clenched. He wanted to hit something. Hard. Instead, he replied, "And how exactly would you know what humanity is?"

Silence met his question, followed by a fluttering of wings. He opened his eyes knowing his vision would be clear of anything. Before he could curse, a technician from below announced, "Guys, we got blood and shell casings over here!"

They had found the scene where the zombie ambushed Sam and Dean. Dean glanced down and noticed the CSIs were moving off to tape of and tag for more evidence.

This is my chance.

As he made his way as silently as he could to the Impala hidden a few blocks away, Dean was unaware he was still being watched.

XXX

"He's right you know," Anna said.

"That I do not know what humanity is, Anna? His brother is on a dangerous path." Castiel replied.

"Humanity is about intentions. Abraham would become a murderer through faith, but the Word never teaches anyone to ignore the call of God."

"But you are one of the Fallen."

"And through it, I learned humanity."

"Uriel never received Revelation. How does one disobey without instruction?"

"Your doubt is growing with the more knowledge you gain."

"Wasn't that Lucifer's gift to humanity?"

"Maybe I don't know the answers to mysteries. But it is up to you to decide what is right or wrong."

XXX

Dean cut through the far side of the wooded area, tripping on broken headstones, paying no heed to his body's protests of pain from his previous injuries and stint on a hard tree limb. He reached the edge of the cemetery and cut around the block to avoid the two police cars and medical examiner's vehicles. Dean stopped in his tracks yards away from the Impala as a police cruiser slowed to peer in the windows. He turned and walked as casually as he could, willing himself to breathe normally. He looked over his shoulder and saw an officer open the door of the cruiser, clearly intending on stepping out.

And one angel watched and one did something to help Dean. Anna held her hand up, still able to joke after getting her grace back. "These aren't the droids you're looking for," she said, waving her hand in the air toward the cruiser, which promptly drove off toward the others.

Anna turned to Cas. "People still thank God for small miracles, Castiel, they don't have to be earth moving to be felt and appreciated."

Dean couldn't believe his luck as he got into the car as fast as he could and sped toward the hospital.

"Crap!" He looked down at himself and did a U-turn to go to the hotel first to clean up. If he showed up at the hospital full of mud and blood, there would be questions. He was back on the road clean and cursing the passing of time in ten minutes.

Bobby saw the change in Dean the minute he stepped through the sliding glass doors of the emergency entrance. The lost look in his eyes was still there, ditto for the defeat but there was also fire, small as a candle but there.

"How is he?"

"It's bad, Dean; Sam's in surgery. He's got a subdural haematoma, a brain bleed. The docs are putting in a shunt to take the pressure off his brain. They think he got here in time to save his life but they aren't sure if there'll be any damage. They're repairing his lung and wiring a few back ribs and setting the front ones."

Bobby never believed in soft-soaping. All he could do was help Dean into a chair before he fell down. If he didn't give Dean the whole truth, Dean would have rifled every nurse's station in the building until he got answers anyway. Despite the way things were between them lately, and how broken Dean appeared Bobby knew Dean would never give up his role as protector.

Bobby pressed a cup of coffee into Dean's ice-cold hands and followed him to the elevators to the OR. They sat opposite each other in a tiny waiting room with a TV hanging in the corner.

After all the silence that separated Dean from Sam in the last months, all Dean could think of now was how he would love nothing better than to hear Sam say anything, even fighting would be good. There was a lot of bridges to cross and the water running under them was at flood level.

Three hours later Bobby went to get Dean some food. Sam's doctor picked that time to come out to speak to family.

"Sam Nichol's family?"

"I'm his brother," Dean said, faltering as he stood. The doctor looked appraisingly at him and suggested sitting back down.

"I'm Dr. Needlemyer." The balding man said, extending his hand. For reasons Dean couldn't explain he expected there to be blood on the man's hands but of course there wasn't. He reached slowly and shook his hand, steeling himself for the news.

"Sam came through surgery better than expected. It wasn't necessary to leave the shunt in his skull since the haematoma clotted relatively quickly. That's not always a good thing as the clot can lead to a stroke but we were able to remove it without causing a further bleed. We took a pre-emptive strike in giving him tissue plasminogen activator, or TPA, which gives him a better chance of recovery if he suffered a stroke prior to being brought in. In your brother's unfortunate case, being a victim of violent crime with no witness to tell us about any seizures or how long he'd been unconscious, it was the most prudent course, but that coupled with the blood thinners necessary to prevent further clotting will mean a longer recovery for his other injuries."

"Can I see him?"

"Sam is being taken to recovery. Once he's settled, I'll have a nurse come for you. You should also know that Sam's jaw was broken and we won't be able to set and wire it until he comes off the ventilator."

So the news was bad but it gave hope, until, "The next forty eight hours will be critical. We'll monitor Sam for further brain bleeds or swelling and he'll be on full life support. We need to give his body a chance to rest and heal and the support will help him remain stable."

"Thank you," Dean said, barely above a whisper.

Bobby arrived with a tray of food and the smell of it made Dean's stomach turn. Coming down from the nerves of sitting vigil in the tree and the fact that he was supposed to still be in the hospital himself coupled with hearing of Sam's grievous injuries was too much. Dean stumbled into the men's room to be sick.

Bobby knocked on the cubicle door.

"Dean, you okay, kid, come out here so we can get the doc to have a look at you," Bobby coaxed.

"Had enough hospitals to last a lifetime, Bobby. I just need to see Sam. I'm fine."

The walls were going back up.

Nevertheless Bobby waited for Dean by the sinks, handing him a wad of paper towers soaked with cold water as he emerged. He slung an arm around Dean's shoulders and was surprised when Dean didn't protest. Dean looked at him like he was a traitor when he saw the wheelchair waiting for him on the other side of the men's room door.

"You're raspy, doc's not gonna let you get anywhere near Sammy unless he can confirm you don't have a cold."

"Let's get this over this, I need to see Sam," Dean ground out.

"I should send you back down to emergency," Dr. Needlemyer said "but I think you and your family have been through enough waiting and it's pretty full down there, you can just step into the room on the left and I'll be with you in a minute."

When Dean scowled, the doctor smiled in understanding. "Hey, be grateful, I'm a neurosurgeon, I haven't done check ups in twenty five years since I left family practice and you don't even want to ask what my usual fee is, and what's more, my wife expected me home two hours ago."

"Thanks, Doc," Bobby said, leading Dean down the hall.

A few minutes later Dr Needlemyer examined Dean. Dean had to lie and say he was a security officer who had a run in with a gang of rowdies at a concert he worked. A convenient story he and Bobby made up earlier to explain Dean's apparent injuries should anyone ask.

Satisfied that Dean wouldn't carry a virus to Sam, but concerned by the fatigue and the still far from healed wounds and the fact that Dean's reaction to food indicated he hadn't been eating, Dr. Needlmyer made a deal with Dean.

"You were released from the hospital when?" the doctor asked, taking notes on a chart.

Dean just looked at the floor.

"Uh huh, tough guy, eh? I'm guessing against medical advice."

"Got in one, doc," said Bobby, happy to have someone on his side in reigning Dean in.

"What's the deal?" Dean barked, not ungratefully but desperate to be by Sam's side.

"I want to put you on a round on IV fluids and anti inflammatory drugs. If you're good, I'll even give you some pain meds that you clearly haven't been taking. You can sit in Sam's room quietly on the lazy-boy. Otherwise, you're going to get sicker, making my patient sicker. You don't want that, I don't want that, my wife doesn't want that and you don't want her on your case."

Oh this doctor was good. It was as if he knew Dean. As Dean relinquished his shirt for a hospital gown but refused to give up his jeans, the doctor and Bobby stepped outside.

"You have the magic touch, doc," Bobby said.

"I have boys," was all Needlemyer said. "The nurse will be in to set Dean up and she'll take you both to see Sam. I'm on call but I hope not to see you until tomorrow."

XXXX

Bobby pushed Dean's IV pole down the hall as the nurse opened the door. Dean had pictured what Sam would look like but his Sasquatch of a little brother was nearly buried by medical equipment. There was barely a patch of skin upon which to rest his hand, to reassure himself that Sam was warm and alive.

Every few hours a nurse injected various medicines into Sam's IV. Dean knew they were there to help but he felt an urge to stand in front of his brother, take the needles, take the ventilator, and take everything that had been done to Sam. Because this wasn't supposed to happen to Sam.

When darkness fell outside the windows, the nurse took Sam's vitals, noting them on a chart, telling Dean that he was holding his own. She then took out a syringe with the name Dean Nichols taped to the side and told Dean that it was time for his pain meds. She winked at Bobby who smiled gratefully as she left. Dean's head lolled slowly forward onto Sam's bed and Bobby laid him back in the lazy boy and elevated the legs covering Dean with a blanket that he would thrown off if he was aware reminding everyone that he was fine.

Two days later, Sam's eyelids began to flutter and when both eyes opened at the same time, Dean stood up to hover over him. Sam reached for the ventilator in his mouth but Dean stilled his hands at his sides gently.

XXX

"Sammy." The one word he'd longed to hear, the only one that could drag him back to willingly face the pain and know that he was no longer alone in the world.

Revelling in all the things that were Dean as his big brother leaned gently over him, the leather mixed with light cologne, the pain filled smiles, the tears that did push ups in the corners of his eyes fighting furiously not to fall, the pendant he still wore despite all the mean words and hurt, Sam let himself out of the coma to sleep.

Bobby left the hospital that night to get some rest, only once Dean's shirt was returned to him and he ate a full meal without signs of sickness and was taking his meds on his own willingly.

XXX

The ventilator was removed two days after Sam started to show spontaneous respiration. When he was able to stay awake long enough, the neurosurgeon performed pin-prick tests and cognitive tests on Sam, telling Dean he could stay in the room if he didn't interfere or upset Sam in any way.

Dr. Needlemyer asked a series of questions suitable for head nods or hand squeezes. Sam kept his eyes locked on Dean's as he did his best to answer the questions. Sam's heart monitors ratcheted up a notch each time he was unsure of an answer.

"Sam, I need you to stay calm for me and follow my finger, okay?" Sam nodded and Dean watched as Sam's head followed the doctor's hand.

"No, just your eyes, Sam, don't turn your head." Sam tried but became frustrated and closed his eyes and turned his head away.

"It's perfectly normal to find it difficult to fix your focus right now, Sam. The fact that you were able to identify how many fingers were held up in the last test is a very positive sign."

Needlmyer moved on to a series of tests in which Sam's hands and fingers were pricked by pins. Dean wanted to shout with joy each time Sam flinched and that conflicted with his desire to punch the doctor for hurting his little brother.

"Well, overall, I'm amazed at the progress you're making, young man. We'll retest your fixed focus tomorrow and I think we can ship you off to a regular ward after that.

When Dr. Needlemyer left the room with the nurses, Sam tried to talk.

"You are such a girl, can't even stop talking when you have a broken jaw." Dean smiled down at Sam. The smile reached his eyes but hollowed his cheeks, showing weight loss and suffering.

Sam tried to smile but winced.

"Ah, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but they're gonna set and wire your jaw this afternoon," Dean told Sam.

XXX

The next day Bobby and Dean sat by Sam's bed in a step down ward as he slept off the heavy pain medication from yesterdays jaw wiring.

Sam moaned and Dean was by his side in an instant.

"Hey, kiddo, that's it, open your eyes," Dean coaxed, but a voice interrupted that drew Sam's eyes to the doorway, convincing Dean that his fixed focus problem was under control but bringing on a whole new set of problems.

XXXX

Sam flinched when he saw Ruby standing in the doorway. His weakness caused instant waves of desire in his belly. He would heal faster if he could have her. He wouldn't hurt so badly. He would be able to keep Dean safe.

But at what cost? Dean looked beyond furious.

"Out. Now." Dean brooked no arguments.

Ruby looked to Sam. Sam pushed his hunger for her down deep where it joined the pain in his body, stirring the agony awake even through the heavy medication. Sam looked away as Dean bodily removed Ruby from his room.

Sam closed his eyes and listened to them in the hall when the flap of wings sounded right beside him. Sam squinted. Castiel stood over him, studying him and then cocking his head toward the hall. For all the times for his jaw to be wired shut!

Castiel walked out the door to join Ruby and Dean in a whispered, but heated conversation.

Dean backed up when he saw the angel.

"I told you I was done. We're done! You get it? You can't keep killing us and replacing us like some goldfish you forgot to feed because each time we come back there's less! And it was you that wanted me to believe that Sammy was evil." Dean's voice broke, as he turned from angel to demon in accurate accusation. "And he saved your ass, Castiel. And you, Ruby, you say you remember humanity, and Cas, you say He loves humanity … neither of you knows squat about humanity. Now stay the hell away from my brother."

Dean fought against the sobs that wanted to escape the tightness of his chest. "Stay away from him, or so help me…"

"You're not Sam's daddy, Dean," Ruby said boldly, but she had the good sense to sidestep around him as she walked into Sam's room. Castiel watched as she made Sam look at her. Dean stood watching over Castiel's shoulder.

It broke another something in Dean, because his heart had gone to the scrap heap weeks ago, to see the way Sam and Ruby could clearly communicate though Sam couldn't say a word. Like he and Sam used to. Ruby offered her arm to Sam but he turned his head away and the thing that broke in Dean pieced itself back together. Ruby stormed past Dean assuring Sam that she'd be back when he was ready.

XXXX

Sam needed to show Dean that he was at least willing to wait to fortify his powers again so they could talk, really talk, and inventory the weapons they had for the war that was in their hands whether they wanted it or not. Sam was grateful for the time Dean bought them to heal. If he could have smiled he would have. He'd told Cas to stay away from Dean only last week.

Castiel didn't go as quickly as Ruby, battle of wills or something.

"It is written two are better than one," Castiel said. "I will seek revelation."

"You do that, Cas."

Castiel turned to walk away. "For what it's worth, Dean, goldfish are God's creatures too."

"Was that your attempt at a joke, Cas?" Dean asked, sounding amused.

Cas might have smiled at that. Dean wasn't sure. He was sure Cas would be back. He and Ruby both, but first he wanted to get Sam strong again.

XXX

Bobby insisted Dean and Sam stay with him until Sam was well. They left the hospital with the assurance that given time; Sam would make a full recovery. After that, they would weather whatever came with whatever hand they were dealt. Together. For two are better than one.