Ever since the Shtriga tried to kill his little brother, Michael had been obsessed with protecting Asher and his mother, learning about the supernatural world, and trying to learn defenses against the evil that could possibly threaten his family.

His mother had engaged him in conversation several times about how grown up he seemed to be, how much of a man he had turned into since Asher had gotten out of the hospital. He never told her what happened, never wanted her to lose the innocence that she had, never wanted Asher to know what was out there in the dark, never wanted him to know that evil touched him and tried to steal his life away.

So, he read voraciously, often hiding the books from his mother. He plowed through the new age section at the library quicker than anticipated and then began frequenting old bookstores, and new age shops, which were few and far between in Wisconsin. He found all he could, and he kept digging, kept reading the internet, trying to decipher what was fact and what was fiction, trying to keep his attempts to protect his mother and brother from the supernatural world a secret, keep them from finding out the things that would destroy their lives.

A little over four years had passed since Sam and Dean had opened his eyes, and he was looking on the internet to find the thing that had tried to steal his brother's life force. Sam and Dean had never really said what it was, they must have figured since he was 12 it didn't matter, he wouldn't understand anyway. But now he was 17, he was a man, he was old enough to know the truth about everything. So he searched, he finally found what it was called, Shtriga, the word singed his lips, boiled his blood. Michael had never wanted anything or anyone dead before, but as he read about the thing that had almost destroyed his family he felt the hatred, and felt the overwhelming satisfaction that he had been a part in the thing's demise.

He continued to look, continued to read each internet site, evaluating it for accuracy, and then he came across something he didn't know what to do with. A book. It was entitled "Something Wicked" and as he read the synopsis, his mouth went dry. He lived this book. His name was in the book. Sam and Dean were in the book. He immediately grabbed his jacket, ran downstairs, and yelled to his mom, "I'll be back!" and he went to the old bookstore that he bought a lot of his older and stranger occult books from and ran to its horror section and found himself not only starring at that particular book but at the series. He grabbed each one, mindless of the price on the back and went to the counter and dumped them unceremoniously onto the counter.

"These? Little too fictiony for your taste I think Mikey." The older man at the counter said with a smirk.

"No. I want these." There was no humor in Michael's tone and his face was stone. He had spent years trying to perfect that older brother look that Dean had shown after he had put a bullet in the Shtriga's head.

"They really aren't written that well."

"I don't care. I just want the damn things."

"Okay, okay, don't' get yourself so worked up Mike." The older man charged him far less than the books were worth and as soon as the money was exchanged Michael was out of the shop and in his car. Michael never felt anticipation quite like this. He itched to read them, it creped up his spine and he reached out several times and touched the books, feeling a connection to them that he couldn't explain.

Once home he hurried to his room, slammed the door and tore through them, he fell asleep reading them, forced himself to go downstairs to work for his mom around the motel, and eat, but every spare moment he had he was reading those books. And when he read the last one, read the one where Dean died, and went to hell, his heart stopped. Dean was dead. Dean was in hell. He died for Sam. The seriousness of the words "I'd do anything for my little brother." rang in his head.

He simply didn't accept that. There was no way in the world that Dean Winchester could be dead, no way in the world that he could have possibly gone to hell. No.

"This guy has to be twisting things, you know to make it fiction." Michael said distractedly as he sat down at his computer and began the frantic search for the author. "No. Dean isn't dead. No. No. No."

***

"You know these rib tattoos really and truly are just freaking useless." Sam said rubbing at his chest. "I mean, the most we're going to get out of them anymore is arthritis from our bones being carved…"

"Like we'll live that long…" Dean said as he continued to sharpen the knife in his hand.

"But still, all of these angels keep finding us. We're never going to be able to keep away from them."

Dean looked up and gave his brother a quizzical look. "Lucifer been talking to you again?" He asked. Sam didn't usually go on a rant about angels, or anything really, something must have happened. He didn't sleep last night and today he had been edgy. Dean figured he was having nightmares again, he didn't think that Lucifer had had a starring role but the devil himself had come to Sam in a dream before, what was to stop him from doing it again? The angels most certainly didn't find him a threat, and hell if they wanted to they could make Dean sleep for an eternity. His brother, hell he himself, was essentially defenseless when they slept, any angel from either camp could come and do whatever they wanted to the prized vessels when they were sleeping, it was really a disturbing thought and Dean decided that less sleep would be a good thing from now on.

Sam threw his hands up in obvious frustration and confusion. "No. Well, no…I don't think so…I've been having dreams. But they aren't vision they aren't Lucifer invading my dreams….but I see him, and he's trying to get me to say yes. And a couple of times I've just about said yes…"

"What do you mean you've almost said yes?"

"I don't know Dean. I just…I get scared for you or something, and then…"

"You say yes."

"No. I always wake up right before I say yes." Dean starred at his brother for a second and then wiped at his forehead with the back of his hand.

"I don't know man."

"And now it seems like every single time one of the angels gets a hair up their asses they come and find us. These rib carvings are damn near useless. Maybe we need to grow beards and shave our heads or something." Dean raised an eyebrow.

"Dude, seriously. Think about what you just said."

Sam threw his hands up. "I don't know Dean. We have to do something. Can we lay a little lower?"

"If we go any more under the radar we will be dead and six feet under."

"Not like we haven't been there before." Sam said ruefully. Dean nodded and went back to his sharpening. Sam pulled his hands through his hair.

"Dean…we have to do…" There was a knock on the door that interrupted Sam's thoughts. He looked at Dean and Dean gave a shrug. He didn't know who it was either.

Sam went to the door, pulled his gun, Dean got a better grip on his knife and nodded to Sam.

"Who's there?" Sam asked.

"Michael." Dean cringed back. Sam's eyes grew wide. Michael. How had he gotten into a human being? Wasn't Dean the only one who could house him? Maybe he had found a substitute vessel and was burning through it the same way Lucifer was burning through that Nick guy. Maybe Michael had come to talk Dean into taking him in. The worry and fear burned in Sam's stomach. The idea of some other soul residing behind his brother's eyes was unthinkable. That son of a bitch was not taking his brother, no way, no how.

"Who sent you?" Sam asked with an angry edge.

"Chuck." Sam suddenly hated that little man. The next time he saw Chuck he was going to tear that spineless ass limb from limb.

Sam looked to Dean for guidance. He indicated that he should open the door, Dean's back was rigid and his brow was drawn together. Sam indicated that Dean should go into the bathroom, be invisible to Michael. There was a brief wordless soundless fight before Dean acquiesced and went into the bathroom and shut the door quietly.

Sam opened the door and there stood a tall blonde young man. Sam's anger grew by leaps and bounds, how dare an angel, one of the supposed good guys who was going to save them all from the apocalypse, use a kid as a vessel that he was going to do nothing but burn through until he convinced Dean to say yes. The kid could barely be 17, he had barely begun to live and this angel had taken over, and essentially signed this kid's death warrant. Sam really disliked angels.

"What do you want?" Sam asked coldly.

"Where's Dean?"

"None of your business. You can't have my brother."

"What?"

"You can try to convince him all you want to say yes, he's not going to. And I'm not going to say yes to Lucifer, so you can just go take that back to the barracks and chew on that for a while."

"Lucifer?" the boy asked.

"Don't play innocent."

"Sam….don't you remember me?" Sam stood a little straighter and looked the boy in the eye.

"What are you talking about?"

"Fitchburg, Wisconsin. About four years ago. You and Dean saved me and my brother from the shtriga." Sam's mind raced and he did recall, and Dean came out of the bathroom.

"Michael?" he asked as he stepped next to Sam. Michael's eyes widened and he stepped closer to Dean, he looked as if he wanted to hug him, but stopped short. Relief was evident in his eyes.

"Chuck said that you were okay. But I didn't believe it, I had to see it with my own eyes. I read about your death. I read the books, I read that you went to Hell. If I had known I would have come and helped Sam. I mean, little brothers need to be looked after." Sam's eyes squinted and he cocked his head to the side. He needed to be taken care of by a 17 year old? Really? Seriously? This kid thought that he could have done something? He looked to Dean expecting to see incredulity running rampant on his features, but instead he only saw compassion and understanding.

"Thanks. If I knew that you were into that kind of thing I would have let you know. Sam could have used someone."

"I don't need taken care of by a child." Sam said suddenly.

"I didn't say you needed take care of. I said you could have used someone to lean on." Dean clarified. The boy nodded.

"Losing your big brother had to be rough." Michael said understanding. "I don't know what I would have done if Asher had died." Michael chuckled. "Probably the same thing Dean did when you died." Sam shifted his weight from one foot to the other, suddenly uncomfortable with this conversation. "Are you guys okay?" Michael asked.

"We're as good as we can be right now." Dean said and started towards the table at the far end of the room. Michael followed. "How did you find out about the books?" Dean asked and sat down. The boy followed suit.

"I was looking up shtrigas. And I came across a fan site for the books."

"Pretty creepy stuff huh?"

"Yeah, I didn't want to know about slash."

"Me either. No way in hell I'd ever do him." Dean said and hooked a thumb towards Sam who was getting more and more confused by the second. Dean was commiserating with a kid who was over 10 years younger, treating him like an equal, and Sam had to fight tooth and nail for Dean to simply act like he wasn't something to be taken care of, someone who needed his hand held through every day life.

"I'm going to go get some air." Sam said finally.

"Take your phone." Dean said as Sam headed for the door, Sam ignored him and slammed the door in his wake.

"What's going on?" Michael asked.

"Lots of things that you don't need to worry about."

"I've been studying everything I can find on the supernatural."

Dean sighed and stretched his legs out. "Kid. Don't."

"But I have to protect Asher. It's my job."

The phrase "it's my job" hung between them. Dean recognizing just how many times he had said that very same thing. Protecting Sam was his job, protecting Sam was his life, was his only reason for being. Look at what it had done to his brother. Forced him to trust a demon, forced him to make choices to prove that he was worthy of being treated like an equal, like a partner. Dean didn't want that for this young man, didn't want him to base his whole life on the protection of the younger. "Protecting your brother doesn't mean that you have to give up everything in your life."

"You did."

"There is more to life. I know that now. I screwed up before. And I'm paying dearly for it."

"You regret taking care of him?" Michael asked. He looked up to this man, wanted to be like him. Dean Winchester was his hero, every day he hoped that he could be one tenth of the big brother that he was, and here he was saying it wasn't worth it. He might as well have said that God didn't exist.

"No. I don't regret a single moment of it. What I regret is how I did it."

"But…"

"I smothered him with my protection. Your life should not be protecting your brother."

"But…I can't lose him."

"Losing people is a natural part of life. You have to be able to love them and let them go when they are ready to go." Dean said, wishing in some respects that he had been able to do that for Sam all of those years ago at Cold Oak. He knew now that he had more than likely ripped Sam's soul from Heaven and essentially forced it back into purgatory, or at the very least the outer ring of hell. "Don't protect your brother to the point where he feels like he's never going to be anything but a child."

"But evil…"

"Is everywhere. It's not going away, but you can't obsess about it. You need to just go on with your life…your normal life."

"But….but…you guys. You guys are heroes. You guys are extraordinary. I want to be like that."

Dean chuckled. "No. Really. All we are, are two guys who argue, ride around in a muscle car, live out of a duffle bag, eat crap food, stay in crap rooms, and live in each other's pockets. We aren't heroes. I'm not a hero." Dean said the last quietly, the screams of his victims ringing clear in his brain.

"Have you read the books?" Michael asked after a long pause.

"No."

Michael stood. "You should. You both should. You guys are heroes. I hope that you realize just how awesome of a little brother you have, and I hope Sam realizes how lucky he is to have you. Some people would kill for the bond you share." He sighed. "I came to make sure you were alright. I wanted to check on Sam if you weren't." he headed to the door. Hand on the knob. "Read the books. Please, call me if I can help." He pulled a receipt out of his pocket and took a pen off of the end table and wrote down his number and left.

When Sam got back, he found Dean on his bed reading the Supernatural book entitled "Supernatural" and sighed. "Why are you reading that trash?"

"Chuck may be on to something." Dean said

"Where's Michael?"

"I think he went back to Wisconsin. He wanted to make sure that I was okay. And if I wasn't, to make sure that you were okay." Sam scoffed and pulled his coat off.

"Yeah, like some 17 year old kid could have helped me back then. And what was with you treating him like an equal, I've had to yell and scream and whatever else to get you to respect me."

"I've always respected you Sam." Dean held out a book to Sam. "Read it. I'm not in the mood for a chick flick moment." He threw the book at Sam and Sam caught it and looked at the faux Sam and Dean and then back to his brother.

He sighed sat down on his bed and mumbled. "Maybe I'll find another clue that we missed." And opened the book and began to read.

"Whatever you want to think little brother." Dean whispered.