Thanks so much for all who read the story. It's finally complete. I'd love to know what you think!

Happy New Year!


Dean sat on the cold floor across from the door of Bobby's house, watching the security monitors that covered nearly all the grounds. Sam had been gone for nearly one agonizingly long week, and Dean had since run out of what-ifs. He'd run out of patience. He'd run out of energy. He had been holding onto to, and fighting for his brother for so many years, he honestly didn't know if he could do it anymore. But if he didn't, there would be nothing or no one left to fight for.

For a horrifying, anxiety-ridden second, he'd thought Sam went to take Lucifer up on his offer, and said yes, but he heard his brother's voice and remembered the unmistakable pain eclipsing it: I set Lucifer free. You have know idea how much I'm punishing myself. Then, the reports started coming in, from hunters, and the police scanners, and local newspapers.

Unknown Do-Gooder Subdues Carjacker.

Stranger Traps Escaped Child Predator For Police.

Missing Man Found, Says He Was Possessed.

Meth Lab Explodes, No One Injured.

Does Rigby Village Have A Superhero?

And he knew it was Sam. Dean understood that he was talespinning and desperately grappling for a positive foothold. Dean had done the same after he had regained his memory of his time in Hell, charging into hunt after hunt, kill after kill with a bloodthrist and an intensity that scared even him. He'd gotten sloppy, and damn near got a family killed. Sam had put an end to it then, manhandling him into the Impala, and then to an abandoned cabin in the woods, where he made sure Dean slept and ate and vented his rage with an axe and band of helpless trees. Sam, apparently, didn't want his brother around for his breakdown. He'd thought about following, but Sam was moving faster than Dean could track. He'd left his old cell phone at Bobby's, making the GPS tracker useless, and took Ellen's truck in lieu of stealing a car or taking the Impala, which was lowjacked.

So that left Dean to wait. Castiel had showed up, not with a job, but to linger with him. He stared listlessly at the angel as he walked methodically around Bobby's living room, inspecting everything in it with childlike inquisitiveness. His eyes finally caught the ugly, green purse tucked in the corner. Curiously, he lifted a hand in its direction.

"Don't touch that," Dean barked.

Angels didn't scare or startle, but Castiel's gaze slid to his, beseeching. "You sound troubled. What is wrong, Dean?"

"It's Jo's." He simply said, and leaned his head back against the wall.

"Jo is no longer living, Dean." Castiel expressed with his own brand of gentility.

"Just rub in that salt," Dean grimaced. The morbid chill that had claimed him for past seven days made him shiver. "For someone who's observed humans for millenniums, you don't know squat about 'em."

"I understand that this defeat was hard on you and your brother," Castiel confessed, still eyeing the handbag. "You are without hope."

Dean heard the rustle of Castiel's trenchcoat, then felt the man beside him, sitting on Bobby's floor that probably hadn't been swept since the '70s. "Hard?" Dean scoffed. "The way Jo died…I remember how that felt. I remember feeling the spray of your own blood on your skin and the claws sink in so deep-" he broke off, feeling his stomach churn with nausea. "No one should have to go like that. Let alone someone like…her," Dean gritted out around the pain in his heart. He wondered if it was heartbreak for what could have been, because apart of him knew that Jo was a good woman for him. She knew the life, and understood him in the way no one—not Lisa or even Cassie—could. "It's easier just to leave the damn bag in here and pretend she's in the bathroom. Or something. This is too big to swallow all at once, Cas."

"It makes sense now." Castiel said, his eyes grew sad for a moment. "Samuel behaved similarly when you were…not living."

Dean did a double-take, staring at the angel with flared, glistening eyes. He could barely breathe out the question. Life for Sam after he'd died was another thing he barred himself from thinking about.

Castiel explained, probably reading Dean's thoughts. "I observed him briefly while you were 'in the pit.' He would take your duffle in and out of the car every day like you were going to need it. It was…peculiar until now."

Dean had no smartass reply for that bit of knowledge or even the breathe to say it, so he didn't say anything else. The quiet stretched out before them, and Dean hated it. As broody as Sam could get, he was never quiet. He breathed loudly. He cracked his knuckles. He clicked pens. He was clumsy. Dean missed the muffled curses when he knocked something over or the soft click of his brother's sure-handed typing.

Bobby was sleeping it off. Castiel still hadn't mastered small talk. Jo and Ellen were dead. That left Dean to watch the monitors.

And wait.

"The fields of Heaven," Castiel began, awe-struck and somewhat sad, "are very beautiful. More than I can put into human expression. Good people, people who do God's work, find peace there. I believe your friends will as well."

Dean felt marginally warmer, and even moreso when Castiel stood, and declared, "I am going to go look for Samuel," and vanished in a twist of light.

Hours later, Dean was still watching the monitors, his eyes nearly crossing with fatigue. Bobby ambled restlessly around the ground floor in his wheelchair—his new version of pacing. He let his eyes close, rubbing the bruises that colored his forehead and his stiff shoulder. When he opened them, there was a blip on the monitors. Dean squinted, and leaned closer. It was Ellen's truck sloppily parked at the front gates with a broad-shouldered, shaggy-haired driver.

"Bobby!" He breathed before he was tearing through the door and hurdling the labyrinth of ramps.

The car bobbed in Dean's line of sight. The hunter in him was checking beneath the car and all around for any threat that could have tracked Sam to Bobby's compound. The brother in him was stuck on Sam, drinking in the sight of him, like a dying man would water. He sprinted through the labyrinth of cars, butterflies in his gut, when he emerged, Sam wasn't in the driver's seat anymore. He was on the ground, half-crawling, half-dragging his weary body towards the main house. Even from yards away, Dean could see the tremble of his arms as he tried to propel himself over the dusty ground. His head bobbled unsteadily between those enormous shoulders.

Dean skidded to his knees, and refused to think of Cold Oak. "Sam!"

Sam's head canted in his direction, but he didn't or couldn't lift it. Dean knew complete and utter exhaustion when he saw it. Sam was running on the last dregs of adrenaline. He ducked down, wincing at the grimacing at the fresh blood dribbling from his mouth, the dried blood caked beneath his nostrils, the bloated, purple face, the eye that was swollen shut. "Good grief, Sam."

"I'm sorry, Dean," Sam blurted through his busted lips. "'M sorry…" He was still crawling, fingers clawing at the dirt, making little progress.

A hand on his back revealed that he was trembling on the effort, and his shirt was wet with sweat. Dean didn't like how he struggled and gasped for each breath. "It's okay, Sam, we'll talk about it later. Take a rest, Sam," he said seriously, snagging the back of his black shirt to put a halt to the pathetic struggle. "Just rest."

Bobby arrived, bottle of holy water resting between his legs, panting from the effort it took to wheel out to wheel the distance out there. Dean took it, brushing Sam's hair back wiping the blood from his mouth with his bare hands. "You know the drill, dude; drink up." He pressed the bottle to his lips.

Sam stared at it with profound confusion as if he didn't know what it was for. Dean nudged him, a little. When Sam didn't react, he tipped the bottle. His little brother sputtered through a few sips, then gulped greedily.

Dean leaned down again, hand on Sam's knee. "I need to get you in the house; can you stand?"

Sam took several beats to answer, but when he did, it panicked Dean to the core. "I'm hurt, Dean."

Dean was inspecting him immediately, patting down his arms and legs, all while kicking him for letting the unfettered relief distract him. Sam shifted, swallowed jerkily, and let his right hand fall limply in his lap. The overturned palm was slicked with crimson.

"Son of a bitch." He scrambled for Sam's shirt, lifting the black one that was soiled with blood to reveal another one, Ellen's judging by the lavender cotton, was tied against a wound on his left side, the waistband and the top of his jeans were drenched in blood. "Jesus, Sammy. It's okay, you're going to be okay. We're gonna get you inside, and stitch you up. Then you'll tell me about your adventures as a super-hunter."

"Supa-hunta?" Sam whimpered in disapproval, clamping down on his jaw, as Dean pressed the heel of his hand against the friggin' hole in his brother's side. He tried to smile with his bloated lips. "I'm Batman."

Dean chuckled in spite of himself. "I'm Batman, bitch. You're Robin. Just waitin' for the big and tall green tights to come in the mail."

He craned his head over his shoulder, meeting Bobby's eyes with a loaded glance. Bobby nodded, face grim. He shook his head, darkly. "You idjits are gonna be the death of me."

Dean frowned as Bobby rocked in his wheelchair, gaining momentum until he tipped over with a grunt, rolling out of it with an experience that showed he'd done it before. His baseball cap fell to the ground, and he didn't bother to retrieve it. He pushed himself up on his arms, righted the chair and gestured to Dean. "Don't leave me out here like some ugly prom date, ya hear?"

Dean gruffed a "thanks" and swiftly, but carefully, hefted Sam into the chair. It took too long to for Dean to haul his gigantic brother up the ramp and into the house. He kicked the table in front of the couch out of the way, and eased Sam out of the chair and onto the shag rug beneath it. Then, he retrieved his switchblade, slicing through Sam's shirts in a few seconds. He quickly, but gingerly peeled the make-shift bandages off that were tacky and crusted in some areas. Sam groaned in pain, but Dean ignored it, peeling back the layer to get to the wound.

He was expecting a stab wound or even a gunshot, not the nasty ring of gouges and torn flesh. "What the…" he leaned closer, examining.

Sam had been gored.

"…broken b-bottle," Sam chattered out.

Dean cursed, bewildered by the violence of the injury. If there was glass still in the wound…He needed Bobby. He groped on the couch for anything for Sam to apply pressure with, fingers closing on a frilly green scarf. He bunched it up, and pressed it to Sam's abdomen, shoving a gurgled cry from his little brother's lips. "I know, Sammy. I know."

Delirious, Sam touched the fabric. "Dean, stop…it's Jo's."

"I don't think she'll mind, dude. This is more important."

"Is this…how it felt…for you…and fo' Jo?" He asked, voice fading to a mere whisper.

Dean looked at the injuries again, flinching somewhere deep within him. Dean wasn't the only one who had been traumatized by hellhounds. "Yeah, Sam...but you…hey," he patted Sam's ashen cheek, "no dying, right?"

"…mhmm…" Sam's head fell back and rolled agitatedly on the shag. "Shouldn't have…let them…do it. Should have stayed, made a stretcher…could have…gotten 'em out…"

"Shut up, Sam." Dean pleaded, still holding pressure. Beyond the blood, the left side of his torso was painted with beautiful hues of purples and reds. Dean thought seriously about taking him to a hospital. "Why did you do this to yourself, huh? You know the rules, big brother gets to come along for the breakdown."

Sam choked a laugh. With his brother's blood-stained teeth and swollen lips, it was terrifying and crazed. "…broke…Lucifer's vessel."

"Hey, that's my little brother you're talkin' about." Dean said distractedly as he realized the bleeding had finally slowed.

"Hold that there, Sam." He snagged a pillow and tucked it under Sam's head. He folded Sam's hands over his gut and grabbed his eyes again. "I need Bobby. Hang on for just a few more minutes, okay?"

His little brother's eyes were dark and dilated. He licked his lips with a desiccated tongue, fighting to stay conscious. "…hurry up…"

For not the first time, Dean wished he had the luxury of being squeamish as he and Bobby stitched up the last of Sam's wounds. He'd encountered many people over the years of hunting who had never seen a more than a few drops of their loved ones' blood outside of their body.

Dean never had that privilege. He'd dropped hundreds of stitches, removed a few bullets, even popped in a few joints, hating the numerous reminders that Sam was just a collection of organs and blood; instead of stubbornness and knowledge. Fortunately, Sam wounds, while nasty, weren't as bad as he'd originally thought. The glass bottle never completely penetrated Sam's incredible Abs O' Steel, which was a blessing.

He cut the thread, and gently wiped his side with gauze soaked in alcohol, cleaning them of blood and grime. Sam, whimpered, fingers pawing at the thick nap of the carpet. He was aching, shallowly under, and still reacting to what had to be severe pain, and it was making Dean sick. They'd wanted to move him to a bed, but Sam's sheer size, the location of his injuries prevented that, so he tucked pillows under his legs while he triaged. Dean sat on the floor and tending to Sam's red knuckles, shredded by teeth and the fervor of violence. He let his mind go numb as he scrubbed and bandaged Sam's hands, ignoring how much they looked like their father's. He moved up to his arms, flinching at the defensive wounds lining the bones—a testament to how hard Sam had fought for to give strangers the happy ending they couldn't have.

Life for Sam and Dean was the knowledge that they were pawns between two forces powerful enough to eradicate the planet. He couldn't tell his brother it would be okay. He couldn't tell him that they wouldn't lose anymore than they'd already had. There was nothing he could say to ease the loss of Jo and Ellen, and he loathed it as much as he hated the sensation of his brother's dried blood under his fingernails or the way Sam's Adam's apple bobbed spasmodically when he was in great pain.

Dean was wiping his face, now, laving away the sweat and tears that covered a bloated face he barely recognized. In a moment of sobering weakness, he pressed his forehead against his brother's, and just breathed in him, and just held him. To remind himself that he still had Sam. This wasn't Sam breaking of the last seal. This wasn't Sam stealing off in the middle of the night for another hit of bitch-blood. This wasn't Sam leaving him bleeding in a hotel room. This was his brother, hurt, from a quest to save as many lives as he could. This was his Sam.

"We're it, Sammy. You and me. I know it sucks to carry this, but they picked us for a reason. They picked us because we can do it. People die for no reason at all…they get hit by busses or fall in the shower, but Jo and Ellen died for something. And that's more than most people can ever say, dude. Just hang on to me, and we'll do what we have to, okay?" He whispered the words with conviction, knowing his brother could hear him.

"Hate to interrupt your bonding session, but Gigantor here needs a bed and fluids."

Dean glanced up and nodded.

Bobby was more awesome than Dean would ever say. Not only did he have real suture kits, and IV setups, but an extra king-sized mattress. They rolled up the rug and replaced it with the mattress, easing their finally resting patient ontop and bundling him blankets, after starting him an IV, which Bobby strung from his wheelchair. Dean started a fire and camped out on the floor-bed, next to his brother.

It was Bobby who noticed Dean's belt buckle studded with glass in Sam's discarded jeans, and the "girly necklace" around his neck. Dean had seen the bloody knife if their dad's in the truck. Sam had struck out carrying the possessions of the dead, of the lost. "God, kid. You really a sentimental freak, huh?"

Sam slept on.

His eyes opened rimmed with tears like his body knew how horrible he felt even before his mind did. His throat was dry, his entire body throbbed with an ache dulled by really good narcotics, belly cramped with nausea from the blood loss. He burned from the heat of the fire, but was cold by the chill of the fever. His face was painfully tight, swollen skin stretched like a purple balloon. Once the duet of raspy, open-mouthed snores and the clammy grip of Dean's hand in his registered, Sam was still miserable, but the crushing loneliness he'd nearly choked on was gone.

He was home. And he'd wished he'd never left.

The world may have been ending, but for those quiet moments, it simply consisted of Bobby's warm living room and the weight and breath of his brother beside him.

Sam shifted on the makeshift bed, breath hitching as the fire in his side sparked again. He'd felt like something had been carved out of him. He'd hoped it was the evil part that made him Lucifer's meat suit.

"Time for more drugs yet?" Dean asked, instantly awake. Something he could only do when he was watching over Sam. Otherwise, he could sleep through a hurricane.

He managed a rusty, "not yet."

"You okay?"

Only one of Sam's eyes appeared to be working, and vision in that was garbled and swimming, "…feel like an apple." Dean would know what he meant.

He snorted a laugh. "Well, you got cored pretty good."

He disappeared for a minute. He knelt down side Sam, let him sip some water through a straw before he placed a bag of frozen vegetables against the swollen side of his face, wincing in sympathy, so Sam didn't have to. "If it weren't for your chicken legs, I wouldn't have recognized ya."

"You're the las' person to be…criticizin' my legs," Sam said, hoarsely. As his mind finally managed to catalogue just how awful he felt, it was fading again, body weary from the pain. He focused on breathing—short and shallow—and found that exhausting too. "Sorry for leavin'. Hard habit to break…"

Dean was nothing but a voice now, a reassuring rumble beside him, tucking in the blankets and sweeping his sweaty hair off his forehead. "You came back, dude. It's all right. Saved some lives, too."

"…I tried. Tell Bobby…'m sorry 'bout the rug."

"Don't be, it was friggin' fugly anyway. We'll steal him a new one when you're better."

The pain spiked and Sam groped for Dean's hand, toes curling from it. "Saw Jo…few times…before you came back…"

"Yeah?" Dean said, fingers scraping through his hair. It was as hypnotic for Sam as it was reflexive for Dean. "You gotta tell me about it when you wake up again. You need some more drugs, kid. You're about to break my hand."

Sam didn't argue, even though there was more he wanted to say. He swallowed whatever Dean gave him, and let the water the wash the taste of blood out of his mouth.

"I know there aren't word to express how bad this is…but we have memories, Sam. That's more than just things…"

As he was dragged back down, Sam thought maybe it was…

He'd made it to the graveyard just in time, yanked Jo out of the grave, and finished the salt-and-burn amidst a spectacular storm of rain and wind and lightning. When it was over, he stood, drenched and silent, and ignoring the flash of angry in a very wet, very irate Jo Harvelle.

She looked like her mother.

"She called you, didn't she?" Jo sneered, pushing her wet hair out of her face.

She was soaked to the bone, and probably weighed all of ninety pounds. It was sheer insanity and orneriness that had her trying to dig a grave of a venegeful spirit alone.

Sam nodded, tight-lipped. His stomach was knotted with shame and guilt, as he hadn't seen her since Meg had possessed him, and used his body to terrorize her.

He hadn't seen her since Dean had died.

She seemed to notice that he was alone and turned to look at the Impala parked in the distance, and just stared. After a long moment, she turned back with tear-filled eyes and stumbled out, "That rumor…about Dean, is it true?"

"You don't see him with me, do you, Jo?" Sam snarled.

He flung into action, still spastic and broken around people—especially those who knew his brother—and began refilling the smoldering grave. Jo joined him.

When it was done, Sam left her at the cemetery, bought a few bottles of liquor and checked into a hotel room, prepared to drink until he passed out.

Sam was halfway through his first bottle when Jo picked the lock, entering as if she owned the place. She was clean, out of her muddy clothes, and in comfortable purple sweats. She smelled of soap and perfume. "You look like shit, Sam."

He was still in his wet, dirty clothes. "Whaddyou want?" He slurred.

"I wanted to ask you how you were, but it's pretty clear."

"And you're not scccarred?"

Jo's eyebrow arched. "Of you right now? God, no."

Sam was on his feet in a second, closing the space between them until he could see vivid fear in her eyes and feel the heat of her skin. He was bigger now, and gladly used his size as a weapon. "What about now?"

"This isn't you, Sam. And that wasn't you. I know that."

"You should be scared. People around me have a tendency of dying. Bloody."

Jo wedged her hands between them, fisting Sam's grimy shirt. She pried the bottle of his iron grip, and shoved him towards the bathroom. "Shower."

He did, until the bathroom was opaque with steam and the hot water ran lukewarm. He shaved too, and emerged feeling clearheaded and loose from the heat. Jo was still there, lying casually on the far bed, clothes laid out on the near. In an attempt to find some clean clothes for Sam, she'd opened Dean's duffle that he habitually carried into the room, and rifled through it. He should have been upset—he couldn't even think of opening it or leaving it in the trunk without crying—but he wasn't. Because someone still cared enough to try to find him clean clothes. Someone still loved him enough to overlook his spectacular flaws, the curse that hung over his head, and wait for him while he showered. So he put the clothes on. Dean's sweatshirt fit barely fit, but the sweatpants were soft and worn and comfortable.

Jo smiled, eyes still locked on the television, "Buy me breakfast in the morning. And not from that dump down the street." Her eyes slid towards him, "you sleep?"

Sam shook his head grimly, "not anymore."

She jerked her head towards the bed. "Why don't you try. I'll keep watch."

Sam stretched out on the bed, and closed his eyes. "Put down salt lines. And get a gun out of bag."

He might have even smiled at the racking of a shotgun that immediately followed. "Not my first time at the rodeo, Sam. Go to sleep."

And he did for the next twenty hours.

When he woke up, Jo was still in the room, flipping a knife in her hands as she pawed through a magazine. "Whatcha doin'?" He asked around a massive yawn.

"Dreamin'," Jo said wistfully. She squinted at him and uncharacteristically hesitated before speaking. "What was Stanford like?"

Sam, all stiff muscles and long limbs, wearily sat up. Letting his Dean-less reality rattled back home with the gentleness of an earthquake. He dropped his head and breathed around the pain of his fractured soul, the ache of his missing brother. Stanford felt like a hazy dream, a beacon in the midst of ever-deepening darkness. But he lifted his head to Jo's hopeful face. "Let me get dressed. I'll tell you over a shortstack."

Jo smiled then, face lighting up like a Christmas tree. "Awesome." She stood up, swiping her room key. "I'm going to go change."

He walked up to Jo, and kissed the top of her head. "Thank you."

**

When Sam was strong enough to stand, he dragged, hobbled and swayed to the sink and attempted to wash Jo's scarf clean with scrubbed the blood out of Jo's scarf with the Winchester's special concoction. It probably wouldn't smell the same, but it wasn't ruined. He would add it to the collection of precious possessions, relics of those lost in the battle. Gone but not forgotten. Dean careened into the kitchen, half-panicked because Sam wasn't in the floor-bed. But when he saw his little brother hunching over the sink, legs shaking with weakness and fever, he didn't chastise him or even tease him for his chick-flicky tendencies, he merely came up behind him, and with gentle hands under his armpits, he held him up while he washed it clean.