Author's Note: I'd originally planned a sequel to The Amulet, but since subsequent spoilers have rendered that entirely AU... This doesn't follow from it any way. My thanks to Cheryl for the title (as usual), for plenty of encouragement and suggestions, and for talking me out of keeping this to a one-shot.

Disclaimer: Nothing's mine.

Spoilers: Up to 5.22

Summary: After weeks back on the road together, things still aren't quite the same. It's up to the boys to figure out how to fix things.

Chapter 1: Sammy, and Not Sammy

Two months? Around two months, I think... Give or take a bit. I'm not sure.

Oh, who am I kidding? Eight weeks, three days, five hours and seventeen minutes since I dropped the platter I was loading into the dishwasher, not caring that it broke into about a million pieces, because a very familiar feeling was creeping up my spine. Eight weeks, three days, five hours, sixteen minutes and forty-five seconds since I flung open the front door and threw myself at the man standing on the doorstep with his hand raised about to knock, not even bothering to check if it was really him because when has my Sammy-sense ever been wrong?

Sometimes I really wish I could have stopped time just then, and that one minute when Sam practically melted into my arms, his head nestled on my shoulder like he was a kid again, could have gone on forever.

But Winchester luck being what it is... Well.

I think I would never have moved, because it felt so right to be able to hear Sam breathing, because moving would mean talking and talking would mean questions whose answers I wasn't sure I wanted to know, but when Sam stiffened and raised his head I knew Lisa had come out to see what was going on.

I kind of wish now that I'd never let him go when he did that, that I'd just held him tighter until he settled down and then walked him straight to the Impala. Because when Sam lifted his head off my shoulder and met Lisa's eyes, everything changed.

I love Lisa – I really do – and I love Ben, but I've never needed angels to tell me that Sam is... well, he's Sam. He's the other half of me, and even now when we spend most of the time – not fighting, exactly, but not on the best of terms either – I'd still rather be here than anywhere else. I've always known it, and I knew in that one minute that if Sam asked me to pack up and hit the road with him I would.

Sam knew, too, and he didn't ask. He just stepped away, stepped back, as though he thought he was intruding and he was going to make a discreet exit. But he didn't just step away from Lisa, he stepped away from me, from us, and although I knew it I couldn't do a thing to stop him.

Sammy stirs suddenly, breaking into my thoughts, and I bend over him to check on his fever. It's still raging, but not badly enough to need a hospital. A few days' rest should fix him.

It makes me feel like the most horrible brother in the world, but now I've started to feel a little more comfortable when he's sick or hurt. It's what I'm used to, stitching and bandaging and cajoling some food into him and feeling him sidle up against me when I sit on his bed. The sidling part doesn't happen now, but the rest of it is the same, and it makes me feel like I know what I'm doing. It makes me feel like he's still my Sammy.

I sigh. You'd think that considering how long it's been since I've seen Lisa and Ben, I'd be agonizing over them instead of missing the brother who is within fifteen feet of me at least twenty hours out of every twenty-four. But when are things ever that simple when Sammy's involved?

It doesn't take much to soothe Sam. I rub his arm and murmur to him – doesn't matter what I say; right now I'm describing the ways to identify a werewolf – and in a few minutes he's sleeping. Not peacefully; Sam never sleeps peacefully now. But he won't talk about it, won't discuss his nightmares, and I've learnt that asking about them is about as effective as trying to run the Impala on chocolate milk.

Yeah, the Impala. She's the one bright spot in all this. I couldn't bear to look at her after... well, after... so I kept her in Lisa's garage under a tarp. It was easiest that way. I couldn't drive the Impala with anyone but Sam in the passenger seat – it would've been an insult to his memory – and I could hardly tell Lisa that she had to sit in the back with Ben.

Now she's back. It sort of makes things right again.

We're screwed up, sure. In fact, I didn't realize how badly screwed up we were at first. When we finally hit the road again I hadn't driven the Impala or hunted with Sam for a year. I thought it was just a matter of getting used to being out with my baby and my baby brother, and maybe of them getting used to me again. Score zero for Dean Winchester.

But here's the thing. Lisa's home was Lisa's home, and I loved it there and I was welcome there, but it wasn't my home. My home is the Impala on the open road and Sam sitting next to me making a face and muttering about my taste in music or how nobody's used cassette tapes since 1982. And I have the Impala, and I have Sam, and maybe it's not perfect but it's as close to it as I'm going to get.

So, yeah, about Sam. The kid's changed.

Not the kind of change that happened when I was in Hell, and if I weren't still pissed off at God for everything he put us through I'd be down on my knees thanking him for that. There's no demon blood, no temper tantrums, no running off behind my back. He's as cheerful as I could hope for, not nearly as moody as he used to be, far more efficient and practical as a hunter... Damn it, he's everything Dad shouted at him to be and I wished he would be when we were growing up.

And he's not Sammy anymore.

Damn it. Damn it. Damn it.

I don't know why it's bothering me so much. I was the one who told him to lighten up. I was the one who told him to keep his head in the game and not get distracted and...

Damn it. Who'd've thought I'd miss the Sammy Winchester bitchface?

Oh, but it gets worse. I hate myself for it, and I try my hardest to suppress the thought because I remember what Ruby said about Sam not needing a feather to fly, but I even miss the guilt trips. I mean, it's not that I want the kid to start blaming himself for everything that goes wrong on earth again, and I know better than anyone that he's more than paid his dues, but...

Sam stirs again, and I move quickly to rub his back, wondering if he sensed what I was thinking. Sam's seemed more... perceptive... since he came back. Not better at guessing what I'm feeling, because he's always been insufferably good at that, but better at figuring out things he's never been told about.

As Sam settles down, I think back to the day he came back.

When he told me he'd been around for months but he hadn't come to see me, I was furious. I don't think I've been that mad at him ever, not when he left for Stanford, not when he lied to me, not when he chose Ruby, not when he broke the last seal. It wasn't a well-intentioned mistake or a bid for freedom this time, it was Sam deliberately, wantonly leaving me to think that he was still in Lucifer's cage. I'd rather have burnt in Hell myself than gone through those months of imagining him there, and he knows it.

And what do I get from Sam? "I'm sorry, Dean."? "I know I hurt you and I'll never do it again."? No, what I get is, "Well, I told you not to worry about me."

Yeah. My brother, the man who blamed himself for a murder that happened when he was six months old as a consequence of a deal that our mother made ten years before he was born, the man who held himself as responsible for the Apocalypse as though he'd broken all sixty-six seals himself, that man told me it was my fault for worrying about him when I was safe and happy – well, safe, anyway – at Lisa's house and he was in freaking Hell with two very pissed off archangels.

And the worst of it? He's not even lying. He actually considered coming to see me as soon as he was out, but he decided against it because he thought that if he gave it a few months I'd be normal and happy and carrying quarts of ice-cream to soccer practice.

As soon as I figured that out, I nearly let loose and clocked him one right there.

What stopped me was Lisa. She stepped between us with a very determined expression on her face. I couldn't tell whether she wanted to protect me from Sam or Sam from me or both of us from each other, but whatever it was, it was wrong. Sam and I have our problems, but one thing we've learnt is that they're our problems and nobody, however much they may really think they're helping, can be allowed to interfere.

When I looked in Sam's eyes I knew he was thinking the same thing, so we let it drop.

And then we never took it up again.

Sam won't talk about it. Come to that, there are a lot of things Sam won't talk about. He won't even tell me exactly how long he was in the cage; all he says is "long enough". Which, seeing that the kid's a former pre-law student, could mean just about anything.

I miss Sam's talking, too. When I think of all the times I shut him up, all the times I told him not to bother me... If I'd known there would come a day when Sam would be a split-second too late to save a high-school student, and would then tell me he isn't going to waste time worrying about what he can't help and no he damn well doesn't feel guilty about it –

His eyes flicker under closed lids, and I run my hand through his hair.

Lying to me again, Sam?

Like hell he doesn't feel guilty. Sam tends to go on about how he hero-worshipped me as a kid and followed me around everywhere and so he knows everything there is to know about me. I'm not denying that he does know me better than anyone else, but he tends to forget that I know him, too. Considering that he's been watching me since I was eight years old but I've been watching him since the day he was born, I'd say I know him a lot better than he knows me.

Haven't got an argument for that, have you, geek boy?

But maybe that's even worse. A Sam who's feeling miserable but won't come to his big brother is a Sam I never thought could even exist. Monsters, demons, rogue angels, Lucifer on the loose, all those things I could at least try to fix. With this I can't even start coming up with a plan.

Thing is, I can't even ask Sam what's wrong. It's not like he's not talking to me. It's not even like he's mad at me. He's just too practical, too sensible. I mean, what am I supposed to say? Sam, I want you to fall to pieces so I can have the satisfaction of holding you together? He's in pain and hiding it, sucking it up and soldiering on the way I told him to do, and now that I have what I was willing to do anything to get, I hate it.

Yeah, our lives are really screwed up.

Sam rolls over, deeper in sleep. His hand brushes my knee; I tense, afraid he'll pull away, but instead he curls closer.

I do not have tears in my eyes. I mean, what kind of psycho girl cries because his brother moved a half-inch closer to him in his sleep? I do not

Sam's shivering. I curse myself – should've thought of that, Dean, it's a cold night – and cross the room to where I've dumped our bags by the far wall. One of his hoodies should do the job. I open the bag. There's a black one right on top, but I ignore that. That's the one I like to wear when I'm sick – not that I'd ever tell Sam that wearing his hoodie makes me feel better – and since, given our luck, I'm going to come down with this bug as soon as Sam starts recovering, I don't want it to be in the laundry.

It shouldn't be hard to find another, considering how many he has, but somehow they all seem to have wormed their way to the bottom of the bag. I curse and dig deeper, and just as I'm about to give up and put the black one on him, my fingers snag the grey one that's a couple of sizes too big for him – perfect – and I pull it out.

Something else comes out with it. I hear a dull clunk as it falls to the hardwood floor, but with Sam shivering in the bed behind me I don't bother to examine it. I get him awake enough to sit up so I can pull it down over his arms, try not to be too thrilled about the fact that he snuggles into my jacket and makes a tiny noise of protest when I ease him back down, and go back to pick up whatever fell.

I'm not really looking, worrying about Sam and me and the mess we've gotten ourselves into, so when my fingers brush something cold and metallic and as familiar as the sound of my brother's breathing, my knees very nearly give.


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