Dean knew what everyone said about him and Sam. "Unhealthily co-dependent," was the general consensus. Too intertwined. Each other's Achilles heel. Whatever. He'd let the slurs and insults go over the years, because, really, what the hell did he care what other people saw or thought?

Lisa, under the spell of 'truth' had put it bluntly, 'The minute Sam walked in that door…I knew it was over.' She'd said Sam always came first.

And, maybe it was all true. Maybe, if someone ever put Sam and him under a microscope and tried to label their relationship, it would fall into some category of 'unnaturally close' or 'enabling' or some such crap. But, screw it. No one else had lived their lives. None of them had had to be able to trust, unquestionably and unceasingly, another person with your life. And, not just once, but over and over again, practically from birth, like he and Sam had had to do. They'd kept each other's confidences and secrets, faced death and loss and injury nearly every day of their lives. And, no one there to make sense of it all, except each other.

So, yeah. Dean got it. He got that they were a little too reliant on each other, a little too much in each other's pockets. But, so the hell what? It worked for them, got them through betrayal and fury and fighting and hell and evil.

Because, at the end of every day, no matter what else he'd had to face in any random 24 hour period, Dean knew that he had Sam at his back. He had Sam to rely on, to believe in him, when push came to shove. That didn't mean that they always got along, or always said or did the right thing with each other, but it was a true constant in a world that didn't hold much constancy. A world that, in fact, held a hell of a lot of scary-ass things that wanted to bury them.

So, this? This RoboSam with no soul? Yeah, he was hard to take. And, if Dean did what was he was feeling? If he relied on cues from his emotions or whatnot? Well, then. Dean would have hit the road for sure. He might have even ended this guy for the good of the rest of the population. This guy was beyond weird. He was cold and calculating. Killed anyone who interfered with his hunting. Felt nothing but physical pain, and even that didn't seem to bother him much. He didn't smile, not a genuine, throw-the-head-back Sammy smile. He was rude and inappropriate, and wanted to get laid all the damn time.

But, the worst thing, the thing that crawled up Dean's spine and skeeved him out? This Sam didn't give a two craps about Dean. He said he had Sam's memories, his brain. But, Sam's brain was not where Dean had ever related to him. He'd always let Sam have his thinking space, didn't really care how smart he was or how many facts he retained. It was just what Sam used to do his nerdy thinking, his analysis and research. To have that brain as his only link to Sam? It didn't work. It was unnerving and eerie and just plain wrong. This kid looked at him like Dean was some kind of textbook in the school of 'how to be a human boy.' He didn't even pretend to like Dean. Which, okay, mutual.

But, the kicker was, this Sam didn't need Dean for jack. Didn't rely on Dean to cover him, didn't ask Dean's opinion on how to proceed on a case, how to talk to someone to get information, or, just, what was his take on some movie or town they'd been to. Just, Dean didn't factor in on anything. Honestly? It didn't just piss Dean off. It hurt him.

Because, this guy didn't feel any of the history between them. He wasn't the guy who'd shared the Impala for 18 years of childhood. He wasn't the one who'd looked at Dean like he could do anything. Like, he had faith in him. Like they were friends and brothers no matter what. He didn't respect or acknowledge all the shit they'd waded through together. It wasn't just that he didn't have Sam's wry sense of humor, or his prissy OCD way of keeping his side of the room, his need to respect and not objectify women. He had none of the familiarity, none of the sense of home that generally made all this shit doable. He watched Dean, tried to pick up cues for how to behave, tried to give Dean something that was familiar. But, without his soul, Sam was just going through the motions. And, badly, at that.

Technically, this guy was not his brother. This guy was responsible for keeping his brother's body safe, for keeping it fed, keeping it close. But, he didn't have Sammy's heart. He didn't have his facial expressions or his warmth. He was just…a shell.

Dean could live with that, for now. He could make himself ride with this guy, work with him, talk to him. Because, Dean? He was just biding his time. He was working for the day when this weirdo would disappear for good, and damaged, guilty, kind, sad Sammy would move back in. For that? To get his brother's soul out of hell and back where it belonged? Dean could live with almost anything. Because before this guy had come to him in Cicero, he'd thought his brother, the one who'd looked at him with love and resolve in Stull Cemetery, the one who'd needed that connection with Dean to give him the courage to jump into hell? He'd thought that Sam was gone for eternity. It had messed him up in ways he didn't want to think about.

Dean could live with a lot. He'd proven it many times over the years. But, living with knowing Sam was irretrievably in the pit? That had been nearly undoable.

Now, he had a chance. He had a real chance to bring Sam back, with no more apocalypse, no more demon deals or angel dicks screwing them over. Just, a chance to have him and Sam, in the same place, at the same time, with nothing hanging over their heads but the weight of the past and the possibilities of the future.

And, that? That was worth everything.

So, Dean could watch the blank looks when soulless Sam heard that he couldn't shoot innocent people. And, he could live with the questions about whether or not he had to keep pretending to care about Dean or Bobby. He could live with this guy who picked up hookers and waitresses and didn't sleep. He could live with all that shit. No problem.

Because, he was going to get the real Sam back.

And Dean wasn't an idiot. He could see that RoboSam was edging away from the idea. That this Sam was starting to understand that having a soul? It kind of sucked. It only made life harder, as far as he was concerned. Having to care, having to feel. The kid wasn't dumb. He was starting to understand that, to have a soul meant that you had to mourn and cry and feel emotional pain. Dean didn't know how to tell him the rest. That, when you had a soul, you could also feel love, loyalty and friendship. You could be kind and laugh and find peace at the weirdest times. Because of who you were with. Because of a job well done. Because the ones you loved were safe, and close, and that they loved you back. He couldn't explain all that. But, it's what kept him going.

This guy might not want his soul.

Dean could give a shit.

He was getting it back to its rightful place, no matter what it took.

Finally, in the long, sad march that was their lives for the last few years, he could do something. He hadn't been able to keep Sam from dying in Cold Oak. He hadn't been able to get out of his damn demon deal. He hadn't been able to stay out of hell. He hadn't been able to keep Sam from going dark side. And, he hadn't been able to stop Sam from sacrificing himself and jumping into the pit to stop Lucifer.

But, he could do this. His will was like frickin' forged iron. Salt-soaked, demon-proof, silver-lined iron. Whether this shell dude wanted Sam back or not was immaterial. Dean was going to do anything and everything to make it happen. Because, this time? Dean Winchester was going to put one in the 'win' column. He was going to get Sam back.

And that? Was all she wrote.

The End