Sam had been out of hell for 18 months.

He had been with Dean for 7 of those months, give or take.

Dean hasn't seen his brother, his Sammy in almost two years.

It was like Stanford all over again but only worse because now, he couldn't just get drunk and forget about having a brother for a night because Sam was always there. On the laptop, in the passenger seat, next to him while working a case. Sam was just…there.

Sam was there. But Sammy wasn't.
Add that to losing the one bit of normality he ever had and being a demon's bitch boy, and Dean was just fucking tired.

Dean had just finished cleaning the guns and slipped into his bed when Crowley had decided that he wanted "his grunts out on the field" again, popping into their room in Madison, Minnesota at 6 am with a newspaper clipping and a story about a man slaughtering his family (read: ripped them to shreds and ate them for dinner and saved some for desert).

"Werewolf attack. His name's Andrew James, he's still on the loose not too far from here, up in Odessa. Up and at 'em boys, I want this one. Alive this time, if you please."

Dean was about to tell him to shove it up his ass, but by the time he looked up, Crowley was gone. "Fuck…" Dean groaned out, dropping backwards onto the pillows and covering his face with his hands. Sam walked over and picked up the clipping from Dean's bed, "At least this time it actually is a werewolf attack, and not another case of Kujo the killer pet. Why don't you get onto the research and I'll-"

"No." Dean said shortly. He sat up on the bed and grabbed the clipping out of Sam's hand, glancing over it quickly before looking up, "I'll go to the town. You stay here and see what you can dig up."

"But Dean—"

"Sam. You may be Terminator Hunter, but I'm still the big brother and what I say goes, got it."

Sam didn't answer him, just ran his hand through his hair and clenched his fists at his side.

"Sam."

"Yeah Dean, I got it." Sam bit out, walking over to the small table in the corner of the room they were staying in and dropped into one of the seats, the old wood of the chair creaking in protest.

"It's only like 40 minutes away; I'll call you if anything, k?"

"Yeah Dean, sure. I'll let you know if I find something." Sam mumbled back, booting up the laptop and strumming his fingers against the table while waiting.

Dean didn't want to leave it like that, but he didn't want to get into it again with Sam, so he just nodded to himself, grabbed his jacket and keys and left quietly.

He pretended to not hear the laptop slamming shut hard enough to break it in two.

**

After an hour of scouring the town and asking questions, Sam called him and told him the street Andrew James lived on. Dean had to do some serious guilt-tripping to get Sam to just stay the fuck in the motel room (and it's not exactly the easiest thing ever to guilt someone when they have no soul) but after that, it was cake.

Dean actually found James' house pretty quickly. It's kind of hard to miss a house that had bloody streaks on the stairs and fingerprints on the door (even though, okay, they were pretty damn hard to see while driving by. But after doing it for more than 20 years, it was like a neon sign for him).

Dean thought about calling Sam and telling him that he had found James' house. His finger hovered over the 2 button to speed dial Sam, but then he just put his phone away, grabbed his gun from the glove compartment, made sure he had a round of silver bullets, and went in alone.

The smell of blood and death instantly hit him and he swallowed against the urge to gag. His eyes traced the trail of blood leading out of the foyer and behind a door at the end of the hall. It didn't take a genius to guess what was going to be behind door number one.

Dean pulled his gun out, checked the clip again and then went over to the door, opening it slowly. There were three bodies on the floor, a woman, and two little kids, a boy and a girl. Dean's grip on his gun tightened. After all this time hunting, kids were always the thing that got to him the most.

He was about to search the rest of the house when something moved out of the corner of his eye. He raised his gun and pulled the hammer back, "Move and I shoot, Andrew."

"P-please….please j-just kill…kill me. I-I don't deserve t-to live."

Dean didn't lower his gun, but he walked over slowly. The closer he got, the better he could see. Andrew was sitting curled in a ball in the very back corner of the room. There was blood splattered on the carpet around him and streaks of it on the wall near him and on most of his skin.

"M-my family…I…please, just d-do it."

Dean sighed and lowered his gun to his side. "I'm not going to kill you, Andrew."

"Why not! Please…I don't want…I can't, not without them…" The man in front of him curled into a ball and cried onto his knees, trembling.
Dean looked him over before glancing back down at the gun in his hand. He knew Crowley wanted Andrew, knew that Crowley was going to torture him for information on the Alpha and purgatory, but it was obvious to Dean that Andrew knew nothing and really just…wanted to die.

"I'm sorry." Dean said quietly, bringing his gun up and pulling the trigger.

"Now Dean, didn't I say I wanted this one alive?"

Dean whipped around and saw Crowley standing in the center of the room, gripping Andrew by the bicep while he cowered on the ground next to him.

Dean glanced behind him and saw that it was, in fact, devoid of the werewolf before turning back to Crowley and clicking the safety on his gun, storing it in the back of his jeans.

"He doesn't know shit, Crowley, it's obvious. Just let him die like he wants to." Dean growled out angrily.

Crowley tutted at him like he was a child and snapped his fingers, making Andrew disappear.

"He knows everything Dean, that's why I wanted him. He was turned by the Alpha. Torture him long enough and his sire's bound to come by eventually." Crowley told him matter-of-factly. "This is the Alpha I wanted. I've been looking for ones he's personally turned for months now."

"Well, good for you, that's just awesome. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get back before Robocop goes AWOL on me."

"About that…I don't think you need to worry about him leaving. He'll be too busy trying to not rip his brain out. Or his heart, if you want to get technical."

"Wait…what." Dean took a step closer to Crowley, tilting his head towards the demon, "Run that last part by me again? After all these years of gunfire, my hearing's kinda shot."

Crowley rolled his eyes and sat down at the table nearby, completely careless of the three corpses at his feet.

"I'm feeling generous, and hey, I actually kinda have a soft spot for you and your moose. You know the powers I possess…well, more or less, and I know just what strings I'll need to pull if I need your help again. So, for now, Sammy's off the hook…or rack, whatever."

"H-how do I know this isn't a trick?" Dean asked him, gritting his teeth in anger. It just…couldn't be this easy, could it? After all these months, just…bam?

"You have my word on this, Dean."

"Demons lie."

"Don't clump me with the rest of those halfwit animals, that's insulting. I say you have my word, and so, you do. Your dear ole Sammy now has his soul back."

Before Dean could say anyt
hing, Crowley stood up, fixing his coat and walking towards the door, "We'll be in touch." Dean blinked, and he was gone.

He stood there for a minute looking at nothing before shaking his head slightly and running back out to the car. He couldn't believe this was happening, that he could actually have his Sammy back. He was backing out of the James' driveway when his phone began vibrating in his pocket. He jumped slightly before digging it out of his pocket. Sam it read, and his hand suddenly began trembling.

"Sam?"

"D-Dean.

Dean had to force himself to not breakdown then and there. He hadn't heard Sam say his name like that since Lucifer had him up against the hood of the Impala over a year ago.

"Sam, h-hey. Um…Crowley he…he uh, he said he gave you your…soul back."

Instead of answering, Dean just heard labored breathing on the other end and a grunt of pain.

"Sam?"

"Dean…it hurts. P-please…"

Shit. "Sam, I'll be there as soon as I can, just hang on."

"Hurry." Sam breathed out before the line went dead.

Dean apologized to the car in his head and then yelled for Castiel to get his fucking ass down there before pushing his foot down on the pedal as hard as he could.

**

It took about 45 minutes to get to Odessa. It took Dean a little over 15 minutes to get back to Sam

He was surprised he got there completely unscathed seeing as how the whole time, his mind was just a constant litany Sammy could really be back and Cas please, we need you.

It was just his luck that the only parking spot was on the other side of the lot, but Dean just ripped the keys out of the ignition and ran to their door, almost dropping them in his hurry to just fucking get to Sam.

He shoved the door open and looked around the empty room.

"Sam? Sam!"

He heard a something break in the bathroom and made his way towards it, nudging the door open.

"Sam? Oh god…" The vanity mirror above the sink was smashed, cracks spidering out from a hit in the middle, pieces of glass in the sink and on the ground, splatters of red all around.

The small bar on the wall to hold towels was ripped out of the drywall, dangling inches off the ground, and then there was Sam. he was curled into a ball in the corner of the bathtub gripping his head, hands threaded so tightly through his hair Dean was sure there were going to be strands of hair in his fists. Dean saw smears of blood on the edges of the tub and on various places of his clothes. Sam's phone was on the ground, the battery and face plate strewn across the floor. Dean figured that was what he heard break.

"Sam, it's okay, I'm here." Dean told him, walking over to the bathtub and crouching down.

"N-no…you're not…you can't b-be…Nononono—"

"Sam, you need to snap out of it. I know this place is crappy, but this isn't hell. Sam, please. You need to listen to me. Sam…Sammy."

Dean reached over and closed his hands over Sam's fists, thumbs rubbing back and forth to try and calm him down enough to stop trembling while at the same time, they were trying to get him to let go of his head.

"D-Dean…?"

"Yeah Sammy, it's me. You called me before, remember? And I told you about Crowley? He gave you your soul back. You're not in hell, you're here. With me." Dean said quietly.

Sam stopped shaking and Dean felt the grip under his loosen slightly.

"That's it Sammy, c'mon, s'ok. I'm here, I've got you, I'm not going anywhere."

"Dean…it…it hurts."

"I know Sammy. Dammit Cas, please, we need you. Sam and I need you."

"C-Cas?"

"Yeah Sammy, if he could get his angelic butt down here, he might be able to help you out a bit."

"W-what's happening Dean…"

Crowley's voice suddenly rang out in his head 'He'll be too busy trying to not rip his brain out. Or his heart, if you want to get technical'.

"You haven't felt anything in almost two years, Sam."

Dean bit off a curse as Castiel suddenly appeared next to them, head tilted in curiosity.

"About damn time."

"I didn't need to come here Dean, I trust you understand that."

"Yeah, whatever, what the hell is going on with Sam?"

"Crowley returned Sam's soul to him…but with that also comes two years' worth of feelings; emotions, pain, guilt, everything he's gone through since Lucifer inhabited his body, it's all coming back and flooding into him at once. And that's just his body, not his actual soul, which has been in the cage with Michael and Lucifer, who had nothing else to occupy their time with but him."

"But…couldn't that—"

"Kill him, yes, which is why I came. I cannot stop what he is going through, but I can lessen its impact. This isn't going to be easy, Dean. It's going to take some time."

Dean remained quiet and turned back to Sam, whose hands were now gripping Dean's fingers in between his own, still holding his head and whimpering every now and then.

"It doesn't matter. I'll do whatever it takes to get Sammy back to normal, Cas, you should know that."

"I do, Dean."

"Good," Dean sighed, closing his eyes briefly before glancing back up to Castiel. "So…how're you planning on helping him exactly?"

"I can slow it down marginally. It will take a bit longer for him to feel everything that has happened over the last year and a half, but at least this way, it will be a bit more manageable for his body."

"How long then?" Dean asked impatiently, squeezing Sam's fingers every time he shivered in the tub.

"Three days."

"Three days? Sammy has to go through this for three days? What the fuck, Cas—"

"D-Dean…" Sam whispered, pulling everyone's attention towards him

"Yeah Sammy, what is it?"

Sam slowly pulled their hands away from his head, hands and arms shaking. It was the first time Dean really got a look at his face and he didn't know if he wanted to cry or summon Crowley and kill his demonic ass once and for all.

Sam's eyes were dull, almost gray, and the skin around them was red and puffy, tear tracks evident on his cheeks and his still-wet eyelashes. Dried blood was smeared under his nose and around his mouth, his lips chapped and bleeding in places and Dean had flashes of almost three years ago when they trapped Sam in the panic room, hyped up on bitch blood.

"Dean…please, j-just let him do wh-whatever he needs to do…I-I can't…I can't take th-this much. Please."

Dean looked into Sam's eyes, searching. Sam's entire body would not stop trembling, but when their eyes met, Sam's gaze was steady, strong.

Dean nodded and looked up at Castiel, "Okay…help him."

Castiel looked over the brothers before nodding, taking off his trench coat and rolling up the sleeves of his shirt.

Dean began to move away to give the angel some room, but Sam's grip on his hand tightened to almost painful, and so Dean did the next best thing.

"Move over, sasquatch." Dean stood and helped Sam scoot towards the middle of the tub, the whole time holding his hand. Dean squeezed in behind his brother, legs bracketing Sam in, and then reached around Sam to grab his other hand. The tub could barely hold Sam as it was, but Dean was determined to make it work.

"It's gunna be ok, Sam, I promise."

Sam nodded and learned the hard way that that was not the best idea he ever had. Pain ratcheted through his head and down to his very core and he just wanted it to fucking stop. He hadn't felt pain that badly since…Hell

It was like Hell all over again.

Or…maybe it was Hell and this was all some fucked up trick Lucifer was doing to pass the time.

It wouldn't be the first time Lucifer made Sam think he was back with Dean.

That had to be it, it was a hallucination. Which meant he was still in the cage and he just needed to wake the fuck up before it got to him too much.

"Fuck, just stop. I know this isn't r-real you fucking prick, so just stop!" Sam yelled, thrashing in Dean's grip and trying to pull away.
The pain just kept coming in waves and he felt as if he was two seconds away from throwing up, but he had to get away, he needed to wake up.

"Sam, Sammy, calm down, it's me. You're not dreaming and this is real. Please! Sam!" Dean tightened his arms and locked his legs around Sam, grunting with the effort to keep his huge younger brother steady.

"Fuckin' A, Cas, just do whatever the hell it is you need to do to stop him before he kills himself!" Dean grits out, hissing in pain when Sam head-butts him.

"Hold him still."

"I'm trying here, in case you didn't fucking notice."

Castiel knelt next to them and, without preamble, shoved his hand into Sam's gut. Sam's thrashing got worse and his swearing at Lucifer became screams and cries for help.

"Dean, he needs to stay still." Castiel told him, staring intently at Sam's stomach where his arm was buried.

"This is as still as he's gunna get, Cas! He doesn't even know what's real right now, I highly doubt he's gunna do us the favor of not moving."

Dean tightened his hold further and whispered into Sam's ear to calm down and believe it was really him.

"Sammy, please. I know what you're feeling right now, I do. But you need to believe me that this is real. Remember the last year; you were here, with me. And Crowley? All that really happened. Me and Cas, we're trying to help you. Let us help you."

Sam slowly stopped pulling against Dean and instead began pushing into him, trying to get away from Castiel.

"H-hurts…"

"I know Sammy, it's almost over, I swear." Dean looked up to Castiel and the angel nodded in agreement. After a few more seconds, Sam stopped moving all together and Cas withdrew his hand.

"I-is that it?"

"For now, yes. I have done all I can for him."

"Good. That's good, right Sammy?" Dean looked down and Sam was completely unresponsive.

"Sammy?" Dean shook him gently, but Sam's head simply lolled on his shoulder, completely lax in Dean's grip.

"Cas, what—"

"His body is exhausted, Dean. And not only from what I just did. Remember, he hasn't slept since coming back. I'm surprised he's stayed conscious this long as is."

"So what, I just sit here waiting for him to wake up?"

Castiel grabbed his coat off of the ground and stood, "There is little else that can be done for him Dean. He is in such a deep sleep that he is almost in a coma. Waking him is ill advised. His body is so passed the point of exhaustion that it could harm him further if you wake him. So yes, waiting is your only option."

Dean looked back down at Sam and swiped the hair out of his face. "Fine, then can you help me—" Dean looked up and Cas was gone. "…With Sam."

Dean sighed and ran his hand over his face. "You live to make my life difficult, huh kid?"

He pushed and pulled Sam's body until Sam was lying in the tub, head crooked in an angle against the wall, and Dean climbed out of it, staring down at his unmoving form.

Dean reached over and laid his hand flat on Sam's chest, feeling his steady heartbeat and the slow rise and fall of his chest. Dean stayed like that for a minute before heading out of the room and over to the beds, turning down the closer one and grabbing Sam's duffel from the corner of the room, pulling out Sam's favorite t-shirt and sweatpants.

He then went back into the bathroom, "Might as well get it over with." He sighed, crouching by the tub and wrapping Sam's arm over his shoulders and grabbing Sam around his middle, lifting him out of the tub.

"Fucking hell dude, you're so gunna lay off the fucking 'roids when you wake your big ass up."

He had to lean against the wall to keep his knees from buckling under two hundred pounds of his little brother's body and slowly made his way across the small bathroom, careful to steer clear of the shards of glass on the floor.

Dean gently laid Sam's head down on the pillow and crouched down to pull off his shoes and socks and then reached up to unbuckle his jeans and pull them off. His body was slowly going into autopilot as he methodically slipped sweatpants onto Sam's legs and unbuttoned his plaid shirt, leaving him in a gray tee that had splatters of blood on it still.

Dean sat on the bed next to his brother, turned the tv on low and reached over to grab Sam's wrist, thumb rubbing calming circles over the thin skin on the inside.

He was tired, exhausted even, but no way in hell was he going to get any sleep tonight. Sam's pained groans and whimpers solidified that fact.

Besides, he was well rested compared to his baby brother.

Baby brother. He hadn't thought that of Sam in well over a year. Because he wasn't his baby brother, he was just RoboSam, a stranger in a familiar body.

But now he was back and now Dean got to get back into the role he's known since he was four years old.

Protect Sammy.

**

It was around 2am that Sam began panting in his sleep, head thrashing back and forth on the pillow and his eyes tightly screwed shut.
Dean dropped the remote and reached over to push Sam's hair out of his face and was shocked to feel the warmth that was radiating from his brother's skin before he even made contact.

When Dean laid his hand on Sam's forehead he hissed at the heat coming off of his little brother and sprung off of the bed and into the bathroom, soaking one of the threadbare towels with cold water, squeezing out the excess before returning to place it on Sam's forehead.
Now that Dean paid closer attention, Sam's entire t-shirt was soaked with sweat and, after laying his palm flat on Sam's chest, he realized Sam's heart was racing.

fucking perfect, Dean thought, this is exactly what we needed, for him to have a fever on top of everything else that's going on. Nothing else can fucking go wrong.

And that's when Sam began yelling.

"No, stop, please! I-I'm sorry, just—ahhh!"

"Sammy, please, you hafta…you need to stop."

"No! nononono!"

Sam went clear past yelling and began screaming for help.

"This is not good, this is so so so not good." Dean mumbled to himself as he tried in vain to stop Sam's screaming.

It was obvious he was having a nightmare, a bad one. Dean knew all too well about how scarring a trip downstairs was. But compared to Sam's, well, his stay was like a paid vacation.

And unlike Sam, Dean was able to wake up from the things that haunted his mind. But for now, Sam was trapped in his subconscious, his body's need for sleep trumping everything else, giving his nightmares full reign.

Sam soon began thrashing his entire body around and Dean had to straddle him to keep him from falling off of the bed

"Dammit Sam, you need to calm down. Please. I know you can hear me. It's not real."

"Please, just, Dean. DEAN!"

Dean's eyes began to well up as he continued to try and help his brother. If Sam was yelling his name now, then that must mean that Sam was yelling for him in the cage too.

Just like Dean had yelled for Sam when he was in the pit.

HELP! NO! SOMEBODY HELP ME! SAM! SAM!

"DEAN. God, please!"

"Sam. Sam! I need you to stop—" Dean was cut off by banging on the door and someone ordering for them to open up.

He ignored it and went back to trying to calm his brother, but the banging was incessant and Dean growled as gently untangled himself from his brother and stalked over to the door, ripping it open just enough to keep Sam hidden.

"What the fuck is going on in here?" The man, whom Dean recognized as the owner, asked angrily, keychain dangling from his fist.
Dean realized it was a good thing he opened the door himself before the owner barged in on them. That would have made this whole thing a million times worse.

"I'm sorry i-it's my brother. He uh, he's sick and…he has PTSD. He was, ya know, in the war. And sometimes he just gets these night terrors. It's not a big deal, really. Sorry for waking you up."

"I don't care."

"Excuse me?"

"I don't care if your brother is about to keel over, I want you gone. I've had more complaints about this room all day than I've had in years, so get the hell out!"

Dean hadn't been this close to killing a human in ages, but he was willing to make an exception.

"Dean…!"

"We're going." Dean growled out, slamming the door in the owner's face and grabbing the closet duffel, shoving all of their things into it as quickly as possible, mentally flipping off the owner and deciding that no way in hell was he paying the 100 bucks for the room.

"I'm right here, Sammy, I swear. It's gunna be okay."

Dean silently thanked his father for his drill sergeant ways because in less than three minutes, Dean had everything packed and had scoured the room twice.

"I'll be right back, Sammy." Dean said quietly as Sam began whimpering again before tearing out of the room and running across the parking lot to the car. He threw the bags in the backseat and sped over to their room, throwing open the passenger door and running back inside to grab Sam.

Sam groaned in protest at being moved, but Dean continued blathering on about everything and anything, pretty sure that just the sound of his voice was bringing at least minimal comfort to Sam

Dean wrapped his leather jacket around Sam's shaking form before sitting him gently in the passenger seat. When Dean got back into the driver's seat, he reached over and pulled Sam down, resting his head on his lap and running his fingers through Sam's sweat-dampened hair.

After a few minutes, Sam seemed to have calmed down some and was now totally lost in his dreams. Dean removed his hand from Sam's head and leaned over to his grab his phone for his coat pocket. Quickly jabbing 3 on the phone, Dean sped down the road waiting for an answer.

"Dean? What the hell is the matter that you need to call me at three in the damn morning?"

"Bobby…I-it's Sam."

Dean heard rustling and could instantly hear the change in the man's voice.

"What happened, is everything—"

"Crowley gave him back his soul…it's Sammy, Bobby, really Sammy this time."

Bobby sighed in relief, "That's great boy, you two should come on over in a few—"

"See uh, Bobby, that's kind of the thing. We're on our way there now. It's um… it's not as simple as it sounds."

"How long?"

"We're in Madison, Minnesota, so the drive is about two and half hours."

"See you in an hour then."

Dean just closed his phone and pushed the Impala to 120mph, returning his hand to his brother's hair.

Dean pulled into Bobby's yard just a little after 4am and he had the suspicion that someone had made sure no cops were around to see him pushing 140.

**

Bobby was already at Sam's door by the time Dean pulled the keys out of the ignition and together they got Sam out of the car and into the house.

The moment they put Sam down on the couch (Dean didn't want to even try lifting Sam's heavy ass all the way to the bedroom) Dean sat on the arm of it, immediately sinking his hand into Sam's hair and pushing it back, gently massaging his head, something Dean quickly learned was an instant way to calm Sam's trembling.

Bobby raised an eyebrow but didn't say a word, instead heading back out to grab the boys' duffel bags and then going into the kitchen to grab both Dean and himself cups of coffee.

When he got back to the living room, Bobby noticed Dean was now sitting on the couch, Sam's head on his lap, one hand in Sam's hair, the other resting on his chest, protective, claiming, over Sam's heart.

Bobby put the cup of coffee down on the table next to Dean and sat in the chair across from the brothers, taking a long swallow of coffee before beginning.

"So…wanna fill in the details now, boy?"

Dean's eyes flickered up to Bobby's before returning to Sam, his eyes flying over every inch of Sam's body, over and over as if he hadn't seen him in forever. Which, well, is kind of true for Dean.

"We uh…Crowley had a case for us, but I went at it alone, a werewolf. I didn't go through with killing it and Crowley appeared, finished the job for me. After that, he went on and on about some stupid shit and then he uh…well, he gave Sammy his soul back."

"That doesn't explain why—"

Dean cut him off, speaking on autopilot.

"When I was leaving, Sammy called me in pain and I gunned it back to the motel. Cas was there, said he could help. Said he could lessen the pain for Sam, but that it would still take a few days."

"Lessen the pain?"

"His soul's been in the pit for over a year, while his body's been here. So everything that's happened since then, both in Hell and here is coming back at once. So all the shit he went through there physically and um, all the emotional crap from the last year is hitting him now in one shot. All that alone would most likely kill him, so Cas did…something so he could get it all in waves, I guess."

"So then what, Castiel put up like a wall or something to block it out?"

Dean nodded and finally looked up at Bobby, "Yeah, I guess so. But it's still bad. I-I dunno just how much he can take, Bobby. And it's only been a few hours."

"It'll be okay, Dean. Sam's a strong kid, we both know that. And when it's all over, we'll have our Sam back, alright? Just think of it like that." Bobby was waiting for Dean to make a smart-ass remark at the way Bobby was coddling him, but none ever came. Dean just nodded again and looked back down at his brother, hand tightening marginally over Sam's chest, the t-shirt material bunching around his loose fist.
It broke his heart to see Dean this way, so lost and unsure of what the hell is going to happen. Bobby knew Dean, and so he knew Dean hated not knowing just what was going to happen, especially when it concerned his brother.

Bobby Singer always had a soft spot for the Winchester boys, ever since he first saw a five-year-old Sammy gripping a nine-year-old Dean's hand when John first brought them to Sioux Falls.

Hunters didn't do kids. Period. But John Winchester had two and he owed John a favor.

The boys had been family ever since, especially once John was gone and the boys needed someone to fall back on. For all intents and purposes, Sam and Dean were his boys and right now they needed him.

Bobby drained his cup and went to put it in the sink, coming back with an old, holey blanket that he draped over Sam and handing Dean some pills and a water bottle to give Sam for his fever.

"Thanks Bobby."

Bobby nodded before glancing at the wall clock, realizing it was almost 5am.

"Why don't you get some sleep, Dean, I'm sure Sam—"

"No."

"But Dean, nothing—"

"No, Bobby. I'm not leaving his side and I'm not falling asleep. I'm okay; I don't need it, not tired anyways. I just…I gotta be here for Sam, alright?"

Bobby sighed but agreed, deciding there was nothing that could be done for the moment. He told Dean that he was going to go back to sleep, but instead he went into his study, pulling out every book he could mental and physical harm that could come to a soul.

**

By nine pm, Sam had had five screaming fits (or 'episodes' as Dean and Bobby were now referring to them), the last one going on for so long that Sam's body wore out and stopped mid-scream, passing out in Dean's arms, tears still streaming down his face. By then they realized Sam's voice was beyond hoarse and Dean worried that anymore yelling could seriously injure Sam's throat, just adding onto the already infinite amount of worry Dean had for his brother.

During the day, Bobby managed to get Dean to eat something, get tea down Sam's throat along with the pills to help him, and get Dean to take what was probably the quickest shower known to man. Dean had gone, washed, and came back in jeans that were too long and an inside out t-shirt in less than four minutes, his hair still wet and standing up in a million directions. The neck of his shirt was slowly dampening from the drops of water falling out of his hair, but Dean didn't mind it, just lifted Sam's head gently to take his position back on the couch, hands instantly going to Sam's hair and Sam's heart. Bobby didn't miss how Sam's breathing evened out and his eyelids stopped fluttering.

Bobby also didn't miss how worn down Dean was. He had no idea when was the last time Dean had slept, let alone ingested something that wasn't toast or coffee. His stubble was becoming more prominent and as the hours ticked by, the circles under his eyes darkened.

"Dean...ya gotta take care of yourself too, boy."

Dean just grunted in response and smoothed Sam's new t-shirt down –before taking a shower, Dean made sure to take care of Sam first—.

"I'm fine Bobby, don't worry about me—"

"The hell I will. You're no good to Sam if you run yourself ragged!"

Bobby guessed that if he didn't have a lap full of baby brother right now, Dean would probably be up in his face. A sleep-deprived Dean was usually a grouchy Dean. Adding onto the fact that his brother was in unfathomable pain, both mental and physical, and Dean was practically a ticking time bomb.

Bobby sighed before getting up and leaving the room, heading back into his study even though he had no real idea of what to even do anymore.

"How's Sammy doing? Bit peaky, eh?"

Bobby's eyes flew to the armchair in the corner of the room to see Crowley sitting there, legs crossed, and smiling without a care in the world, smug almost.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Bobby asked angrily, pulling a gun out of his vest.

"You hunters sure are a trusting bunch. I bet you even sewed a gun holster into your pj's."

Bobby pointed the pistol at the demon's head, "I'll ask again, what are you doing here?"

"Testy, testy. No need to get your trucker hat in a bunch, Robert, I'm just here to see my boys, paying a friendly house visit to my employees, if you will."

"We're not your fucking employees, Crowley."

Both men turned around to see Dean in the doorway, gun trained on Crowley, jaw clenched tightly.

"Dean! Nice of you to join us, I was just going to come looking for—"

"Cram it, Crowley. I don't give a rat's ass about whatever it is you have to say to me, we're done."

Crowley raised an eyebrow and in a blink of an eye, he was inches away from Dean, smug smile still plastered on his face.

"We're done when I say we're done, Dean."

Dean raised his gun, pressing it against Crowley's forehead, ".Done, Crowley.

"You do realize I could kill you, Sam and Bobby by just snapping my fingers, right?"

Dean said nothing, opting to instead cock the hammer on his gun.

"I need you to do something for me, Dean—"

"No."

Crowley's smile returned, "I never said you had a choice. But, I'm guessing you need incentive." Crowley's eyes focused behind Dean and then they heard it- Sam crying out for help.

Dean lowered his gun but before he could even move, Crowley tilted his head, sending Dean flying across the room and pinning him against the wall while Sam continued screaming.

"Don't even think of moving to help either." Crowley told Bobby before walking across the room slowly towards a struggling Dean. "Now that I have your attention, I need you, Dean; nothing major, just…a cleanup. You won't even need to leave South Dakota."

"God, fine, whatever. Just leave my brother the hell alone!" Dean growled out.

"Good man." Crowley snapped his fingers and there was a muffled thump in the other room, but Sam's screams finally stopped.

"Bobby, go check on Sammy."

"What did I say, Dean—"

"I don't fucking care! I'm yours, Crowley; I'll do whatever the fuck you want. Now let Bobby go help my brother or I swear to God, I will not fucking stop until I find a way to kill you."

Crowley didn't respond, but Dean suddenly dropped to the ground, the hold on him disappearing, and Bobby took it as an okay to go check on Sam.

"Now, back to business. Not too far away from here is a Rawhead. Already killed four children. And I want its daddy."

Dean hated the thought of leaving Sam behind, but he knew if he didn't, they'd both be worse off.

"Fine, where?"

"Just down in Augustana."

Dean stood up and hit the safety lock on the gun, "I swear, you do anything while I'm gone, I'll-"

"I won't touch him. Scout's honor. Just do what I want."

Dean didn't answer, just walked away and down the hallway, back to Sam, Crowley was gone before he left the room.

"He alright?" Dean asked quietly, crouching down next to Sam, eyes surveying every inch of his brother, searching for anything Crowley might have done to him.

"He's fine. Fell off the couch during his episode, but other than that, he's okay. So…what's going on?"

Dean pushed the hair away of Sam's face and rested his hand on Sam's neck, thumb rubbing soothingly on the corner of Sam's jaw.

"Wants me to hunt. There's a Rawhead in Augustana, he wants the alpha."

"You gunna do it?

Dean scoffed, "Course I'm gunna do it. I don't have any other choice, unless you suddenly found a way to ice the goddamned King of Hell."
Bobby stayed silent as Dean tucked his gun into the waistband of his jeans and went over to where their things were kept, putting on his socks and boots and slipping on one of his other jackets, his leather jacket still wrapped around Sam.

Dean scrubbed a hand through his messy hair and took one long look at his brother before walking straight to the door.

"I'll be back soon. Take care of Sammy."

Dean was out the door before Bobby could even reply.

Dean didn't even know what time it was when he parked the Impala in Bobby's dusty junk yard, one of the closest places he ever had to a home. He cut the engine, laid both hands on top of the steering wheel and rested his head on top of them, closing his eyes and sighing deeply for a moment before heading back inside the house.

When he walked in through the door he glanced at the wall clock to see it almost 4am. Bobby was asleep in his armchair which was now placed right next to Sam on couch and Dean never felt more grateful for having Bobby in their lives. He went straight over to his brother and sat down on the floor. "Hey, Sammy," Dean whispered quietly, laying the back of his palm against Sam's forehead to check his temperature, glad that it seemed to finally be going down. Dean rested his head against Sam's forearm and his eyes had begun drooping.

He was exhausted. He couldn't even remember the last time he had slept. But he also couldn't remember the last time he wasn't worried about Sam. Sam was all grown up and saving the world now, they all knew that. But Sam would always be a scrawny twelve year old in his mind, just a kid who thought his older brother was the coolest guy on the planet and could do anything.

Dean missed those days almost as much as he missed his own parents.

Sam was always someone Dean had to protect. He was positive that somewhere in his body was a Protect-Sammy Gene, something so embedded into his psyche it was practically in his DNA. Even in the past months where he's just been RoboSam, Dean still had the innate desire to protect him.

Dean exhaled slowly, allowing his eyes to close for just a moment when he suddenly heard Bobby wake up.

"Hey Bobby." Dean said quietly, raising his head to look over at the older man, a tired smile ghosting over his face.

Bobby didn't answer, just looked Dean over before getting up, turning on the lamp and heading out of the room, coming back quickly with a dingy box Dean knew to be Bobby's first aid kit.

"So, what's the damage, ya idjit?"

It took Dean a moment to realize what Bobby meant before snapping out of it. "Oh uh, nothing too bad. Just this," Dean pointed to his temple where there was a small mess of dried blood in his hair and down the right side of his face, "And it sliced up my leg pretty good, too." Dean sat with his back to the couch to stretch out his right leg, showing shredded denim with dark patches on it.

"Stitches?"

"Probably. So, how's our boy doing?"

"His fever's gone down. Only had two episodes and they weren't that bad. He uh, seemed to recognize my voice, I think. I'm guessing we're reaching the end with this."

"Thank God for that." Dean answered tiredly.

Bobby had Dean take a seat in the armchair and quickly cleaned the blood out of Dean's hair and off of his face. After cleaning the area, he realized the cut wasn't that bad and put a small piece of gauze over it to keep it from bleeding again. Bobby was once again surprised at how well Dean was taking all of his coddling, but decided to not make an issue out of it. Bobby took a step back and looked down at Dean's leg before looking back up at him, raising an eyebrow.

"Just cut it, they're trashed already anyways. I'll buy him a new pair."

It took Bobby a moment to realize that they were the same jeans Dean put on yesterday and that the jeans actually belonged to Sam. He guessed that after living in each other's pockets for more than twenty years, they learned to share their clothes without second guessing.
Bobby quickly left the room again, coming back with a knife and a bottle of whiskey, taking a mouthful of the liquor himself before kneeling down and cutting off Dean's jeans from the right knee down.

Dean hissed slightly when Bobby pulled the material away, taking a long pull from the bottle in his hand when Bobby needed to pick at the wounds to make sure they were totally clean.

Dean had one long gash going from the right side of his knee down to the bottom of his calf and two shallower cuts on both sides of the wound, only a few inches long and not that deep.

"Why don't you try and sleep or something while I do this, Dean?"

"Oh yeah sure, I'll just take a nice nap while you're sewing my bloody skin back together, no problem." Dean answered back gruffly, taking another drink.

Bobby sighed but expected the answer, "So, tell me what happened then." He said quietly as he began pouring alcohol on the cuts.
"Rawhead decided to make camp at this warehouse across the street from an elementary school. It already killed four kids and when I got there, there were two kids in the basement. I guess it was keeping them for dinner or, ugh, whatever." Bobby pierced the needle through just as Dean finished his sentence.

"And?" Bobby prompted, slowly stitching his leg back up.

"I got the kids out of the basement just before it found me on the steps, that's how I got that," Dean nodded down to his leg. "It pulled me down the stairs and threw me across the room. My head hit a desk or something when I landed, which is how I got the head wound, and before it could lunge at me, I pulled out the taser and killed it. …Thank God there wasn't any water around this time." Dean said the last part quietly, remembering six years ago when the last Rawhead they fought landed him in a hospital bed and on Death's doorstep. Sam will probably kick his ass if he ever finds out.

"And what about the alpha?"

"Huh?"

"The alpha, Dean, the reason Crowley sent you off in the first place?" Bobby said, pushing the needle in harder than he needed to to get Dean's attention.

"I dunno, Bobby. Usually Crowley's just there to take the monsters away and get what he wants but he never showed. And to be honest, I wasn't gunna sit around and let it play with me while I waited for his fucking majesty to get his ass over there. I killed it, it's done." Dean said with finality, putting the bottle down on the table and scrubbing a hand over his face.

"Maybe Crowley never wanted the alpha." Bobby said after a few beats of silence.

"Excuse me?"

"Think about it. Rawheads aren't very high on the supernatural foodchain, what the hell would he want one of them for? I think he did this just to mess with you."

Bobby looked up when Dean didn't answer and saw the determination in his eyes, the anger.

"He's dead."

"Dean—"

"No, Bobby, he's fucking dead. I'm not stopping til I find out how to kill him once and for all."

"Alright well just, cool your jets for now because you're needed here, Dean."

Dean stayed quiet and looked away from Bobby, opting to instead look at Sam. Bobby was right, he knew it, but he still wanted nothing more than to summon Crowley and shank him then and there.

"There, done." Bobby tied off the thread and tapped a piece of gauze over the wound to keep the stiches in. He patted Dean's knee and stood up, "Come on, I'll make you some breakfast."

Dean looked over to see it was just after five am. He didn't really want to eat anything, but he hadn't had much in days and he was pretty sure at this point Bobby was ready to force feed him.

"Yeah, sure. Food sounds good." Dean stood up gently put his weight on his leg. Now that he was home and more relaxed, all the adrenaline had gone out of him, leaving him with all the pain he didn't feel before.

"Here." Bobby said, handing him a couple of pain pills. He dry swallowed them and followed Bobby into the kitchen, dropping down into a chair and resting his head in his hands while Bobby started taking things out and making them food.

Dean closed his eyes and drowned out the sounds around him. He just wanted his brother back already. The feeling of loss and missing his brother was like a physical ache for Dean. They were so close to getting him back but Dean was still scared out of his mind.
What if it didn't work? What if once he wakes up Sam goes out of his mind from everything that happened to him? It had been two years since Dean got out of hell and every single day down there was still fresh in his mind, haunting him when he let his guard down. Sam was stuck in hell for more than double the time Dean was and he was stuck with two pissed off archangels who had nowhere else to vent their anger than at him.

Dean didn't know what he'd do if Sam didn't survive this.

Well, actually, he did. If Sam didn't survive, then neither would Dean. Not this time. Not again.

He was sick and tired of one of them constantly losing the other. If Sam didn't come out of all of this alive, then neither would Dean, plain and simple.

Maybe that would be the easier option; just blowing their brains out right now, make everything easier for everyone—

"Dean? Food's getting cold, son."

Dean's head flew up to see Bobby sitting across from him, a plate of eggs, bacon and toast in front of him along with hot coffee

"Thanks, Bobby."

"Don't mention it; just don't make me throw out perfectly good food. I ain't made of money ya idjit."

"No, not just for the food. For everything. Thank you."

Bobby stayed quiet and, after a few moments, reached for his fork, "Eat your damn food."

Dean just smiled and did as he was told.

**

Around 9:30 am, Bobby was done messing around. He helped Dean get into a pair of sweatpants and a clean t-shirt, he managed to get Sam to swallow his pills and he convinced Dean to lay off of all things Crowley. And now he was going to convince Dean to shut the hell up and sleep.

"Your stubbornness puts your daddy to shame, boy."

"Kinda being a broken record right now, Bobby."

"And you're just kinda broken right now. Have you looked at yourself lately, Dean? Because to be honest, you look like shit."

"Thanks for the love, Bobby; I can really feel it in my bones."

Bobby sighed exasperatedly and scrubbed a hand over his face, "Look, either you get your ass upstairs or you get the hell out of my house."
"Bobby, come on! We've been through this shit; I'm not going to sleep until Sam wakes up. I already had to leave because of Crowley; I'm not fucking leaving his side again!" Dean replied angrily.

Bobby sighed so deeply it came out more like a growl and he left the room the shaking his head. He went out through the backdoor and to his porch taking his cell phone out of his pocket, thumbing through the contacts. His finger hovered for a moment before hitting the call button. He waited, but no one answered. He hung up before it went to voice mail.

"Shoulda known as much."

"What do you need?" Bobby jumped spun quickly, turning to face Castiel.

"Don't do that! I'm old, remember."

"My apologies. Now, why did you call me?"

Bobby walked over to the rickety chair in the corner of his porch and sighed again, "Is Sam gunna be okay?"

"Bobby, I—"

"No, Cas. Just…please, give me a straight answer. Dean…Dean's not doing too well right now. In fact, he's a damn mess, especially with Crowley messing with him."

Castiel tilted his head to the side and walked over to stand in front of Bobby. "What do you mean? What has Crowley done?"
"You mean you don't know?"

Castiel stayed silent, so Bobby continued. "He came here yesterday and forced Dean to go hunt, came back pretty banged up. But that's not even what I mean. He's dead on his feet and worrying himself sick over his brother. If Sam doesn't come out of this okay, I'm seriously afraid of what that boy will do."

Castiel crossed his arms over his chest, "I honestly don't know what the outcome will be. But," he continued before Bobby could chime in, "I believe Sam is strong enough to overcome this; for Dean, if for nothing else. If there is one thing I have learned from the Winchesters over the years, it is to never underestimate what they would do for each other."

Bobby nodded and stood, going back to the door, "Can you help me out with Dean?"

"There's no need."

"Wha—" Before he could even finish, Castiel was gone. "Angels," Bobby sighed before heading back into the house and to the boys.

"Guess I know what he was talking about." Bobby whispered to himself when he walked into the living room.

Dean was completely dead to the world; he had one leg on the couch stretched out next to Sam and the ever-present hand on Sam's chest covering his heart. Dean's other arm and leg were dangling off the arm and side of the couch.

"Bout damn time." Bobby said to himself, turning off the light and heading over to his study to let his boys sleep.

**

Pain.

Pain and crying and blood and screaming were all that Sam had seen. All that he had known.

He didn't know it was even possible to feel that much pain and still be alive.

You weren't alive. And it's called Hell for a reason.

Sam has no idea how long he was down there, he lost count after a hundred years. He tried to forget everything that was happening to him, just block everything out. Block out everything except Dean. Dean and his family and everything important to him. He remembered his dad, the few times he saw his mom, their car. He remembered Bobby, Castiel, Jess. He remembered what he did over the years on Earth and why he did it. He remembered the reason he was the cage in the first place, and then suddenly he remembered why it was worth it.
But then he remembered what happened recently. He's out. He's home.

He's with Dean.

Sam slowly blinked open his eyes and squinted at the light, instantly shutting them again. He breathed in deeply and then slowly opened them again, letting them adjust slowly to the room's dim light.

He looked at his surroundings quickly and his brain quickly filled in the word 'Bobby's. He was about to move when he registered something else- the hand on his chest, the warmth beneath him. He tilted his head up slightly so confirm what he so desperately wanted to be true. Dean. Dean was there, with him, really there. Sam's eyes welled with tears against his will and he blinked, letting them fall down his face.

He swallowed and winced at the sharp pain in his throat before deciding to get up, see if Bobby was around.

Sam slowly picked up Dean's hand, placing it gently on the couch and got up slowly, not wanting to wake him. Once he was in a sitting position he turned to get a better look at his brother.

He was skinnier. That much was damn sure. And it could've just been the light, but Sam was pretty sure he was paler too. The circles under his eyes were deep and even in his sleep, he had worry lines etched all over his face.

This is all my fault.

"I'm sorry, Dean." Sam whispered so quietly, he wasn't even sure he actually said it aloud.

Sam stood slowly, Dean's leather jacket falling to his feet. He bent to pick it up and held it in his hands for a moment, feeling the broken-in leather, the familiar smell of leather and gun powder and Dean. It was everything he equated with the word 'Home' at his fingertips.

Sam gently put the coat down next to his brother and slowly walked through the hallway looking for Bobby, stopping to knock on the doorframe of the study once he found him.

"Knock, knock."

Bobby looked up and the papers he was holding slipped from his fingers. "Sam?"

Sam gave him a little smile, speaking quietly "Hey Bobby."

Bobby was out of his seat and across the room in seconds, pulling Sam down in a crushing hug. Sam hugged him back tightly, biting his lip to keep his emotions at bay.

Bobby pulled away and held Sam at arm's length, looking him over up and down.

"It's good to have you back, son. Really good."

"It's good to be back." Sam rasped out.

Bobby maneuvered Sam over to one of the chairs in the room to sit and then walked over to his desk to lean against the edge.

"So, how're you feeling?"

"Tired. Really tired, but uh, I guess that's what happens when I haven't slept in what, almost two years?" Sam huffed a laugh quietly to himself. Two years. It was less than two years on Earth. But to him, he was gone for almost two hundred.

He shook his head slightly and then looked up again, "I take it Dean was being a stubborn ass ran until he was way past empty?"

Bobby nodded and crossed his arms over his chest, "Damn straight. You two have been here for a little over three days and he hasn't slept once. Finally knocked out about three, maybe four hours ago. I don't even know when the last time was that he slept in general."

Sam shrugged, wishing he could dig through his thoughts for the answer, but coming up blank. Everything was a jumbled mess in his head. He couldn't differentiate what was Hell, what was his body's last year, and what was his. He was starting to get a headache trying to sort it all out, so he stopped, just glad that he was still able to walk and talk and remember who everyone and everything was.

"Maybe you should get some more sleep, kid, lord knows you need it."

Sam heard him, but didn't reply. Just shook his head and looked around the room slowly. It was still hard to believe he was out. He figured it'd be a while before he was going to be able to fully convince himself.

"Fine them, c'mon, your throat must be killing you, and I'm sure you could do with eating something."

**

Sam drank three mugs full of tea, having to stop himself more than once from groaning over how good it felt, to feel the warmth inside him.
Warmth, and not the hellfire-heat he's been living in. After being forced to live in heat hotter than lava, he didn't think he'd ever want to feel it again.

But this was different. This warmth was comforting and he couldn't get enough of it.

They both sat there for over an hour, drinking tea and eating toast –Bobby didn't want to push it and try having Sam eat real food—and talking about everything and nothing. Hunts Sam could remember being on, stories of when the boys were little. Nothing heavy, just easy conversation.

Sam couldn't ask for anything better if he tried.

He knew that Dean needed his sleep, but Sam was getting restless. He needed to talk to Dean; need to see him with his own eyes now that he was actually conscious of what was going on.

Bobby rolled his eyes but smiled. Sam looked like a five year old, all anxious excitement just bubbling under the surface.

"Alright, fine, go see your brother."

"That obvious?"

"Like a pink elephant in a crowd."

Sam smiled at him. His first real smile. Bobby didn't realize how much he missed that smile until just now. Bobby nodded off towards the door and Sam stood and went.

Bobby would join them eventually, but right now he knew that they needed to be alone.

**

Sam knelt down on the couch next to Dean who was now completely lying on the sofa, foot dangling off the edge.

"Dean. Dean, wake up."

Sam grabbed Dean's forearm and shook him gently, calling his name again.

Dean groaned and screwed his eyes shut before slowly opening them. It took Dean all of five seconds to focus on Sam in front of him before he shot up into a sitting position.

"S-Sammy?" Dean asked breathlessly. Sam noticed the barely-there tremble in his brother's voice.

"Hey Dean," Sam smiled crookedly at him and ran a hand through his hair. "It's really me this time, I swear."

Dean looked him dead in the eyes, searching. "Sammy." Dean finally whispered before grabbing Sam's sleeve and pulling his brother to him, hugging him tightly.

Sam wrapped his arms tightly around him, burying his face into Dean's neck, tears pouring down his face without a care in the world. Dean just grabbed him tighter, one hand going to Sam's hair and holding him. Dean shut his eyes and let his own tears fall, resting his head against Sam's shoulder, allowing everything he's felt in the last few days leave him.

Neither of them knew how long they sat there, and neither of them really cared.

Bobby came in eventually, keeping a silent watch on the boys for a moment before making his presence known. Both boys tried to cover up the fact that they were crying but Bobby didn't mention it, instead he told Dean that they both could stay (read: had better fucking stay) until they were both better and ready to hit the road.

For the rest of the day, Bobby noticed that the boys stayed near each other the whole day, always within arm's reach of one another.
Dean told Sam the gist of everything- Crowley having his soul and giving it back, Cas helping out by slowing everything down, but he decided he'd tell Sam everything else later, for now just being glad he had his brother back.

"You look well, Sam."

All three men looked up from the kitchen table to see Castiel in the doorway.

"Hey Cas." Sam and Dean said at the same time.

Castiel didn't say anything, but Bobby noticed the minute changes in his face, the almost-there-but-not-really happiness, the ghost of a smile.

"Thanks, ya know, for helping me. I dunno if I coulda done it without your help."

Castiel nodded, glancing over to see Dean's face full of appreciation as well.

"I'll be in touch. It's good to have you really back with us, Sam."

Sam nodded and Cas disappeared.

Bobby set up their bedroom upstairs for them and told them they could head up whenever and that he was going to crash for the night.
After Sam and Dean bid him goodnight they sat on the couch to talk.

"So, you gunna tell me where that came from?" Sam asked, nodding to the gauze bandage on Dean's forehead.

"Oh uh…well…."

"Dean…"

Dean sighed and rolled his eyes, running his hand through his hair, "Well uh, okay, just. Don't get mad dude, okay?"

Sam raised an eyebrow but didn't reply. Dean took it as an okay to continue, "Um, yesterday Crowley came to 'checkup' on you. He then decided he wanted me to go hunt. I said no, but he forced me."

"'Forced you'? How the hell did he force you?"

"You. He fucked with you somehow, made you start screaming for help, worse than you had been during the episodes. I had no choice. But anyways, it uh, it was a Rawhead."

Sam's eyes widened and the blood drained from his face.

"Sammy, calm down."

"Calm down? Dean, the last time you fought one you almost died! You swore we'd never hunt one again!"

Dean sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face, "I know." Dean said, muffled behind his hand, "I know. But I didn't have a choice, Sam."
Sam pinched the bridge of his nose, "You okay?"

Dean nodded, "Yeah, just this and my leg, but it's not too bad, should be perfectly healed in a few weeks."

Sam set his jaw, "Never again, okay?"

"Yeah, okay."

After a few moments of silence, Sam spoke up again, "So um…so what did you do? While I uh, while I was gone. Did you just keep hunting or—?"

Dean blew out a small breathy laugh and shook his head, "Nah man, I uh, I actually did what you asked me."

Sam raised an eyebrow at his brother, "Wait, really? You went and had a normal life? You?"

Dean nodded and smiled, more to himself than Sam, "Yeah, it was actually pretty good, having Lisa and Ben and ya know, everything, just…stability, something we never got to have. A house, a normal job, knowing that every night I'd have food and a safe place to sleep…it was nice."

"And so…what happened?"

"You came back." Dean said it like it was the most obvious answer in the world.

"Yeah, so?"

Dean shook his head and ran a hand through his hair, "Both me and Lisa knew that I wasn't gunna be able to stay there with her know that I knew you were out there. And she didn't want me choosing between you two. So…yeah."

Sam nodded, taking in everything Dean had to say, "She sounds pretty great."

"She is."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. God Sammy, don't ever be sorry. It was a great life, with Ben and Lisa, but it wasn't my life, not really. Face it, our lives are destined to be guns, monsters, pool, bad motels and even worse food."

Sam smiled at him and then muffled a yawn and Dean looked him over. He was tired himself, but Sam must've been exhausted.

"C'mon Sammy, let's get some sleep, yeah?" He stood and offered a hand to help Sam stand up.

Sam stood and then looked Dean over, eyes lingering around his neck, "Yeah okay, just…hang on."

Sam slipped his feet into his untied boots by the door and grabbed the Impala's keys sitting on the table, heading outside.

"Sammy, where the hell are you going?" Dean called after him, putting on his own boots and following his brother as quickly as he could.
The Impala sat underneath one of the huge floodlights in Bobby's yard, illuminating the car as if it were daylight.

Sam unlocked the car's back door and got inside of the car, slipping into the foot well.

"Sam, what are you doing?"

"Looking for this." Sam stood up straight and held out his palm for Dean.

Dean walked over uncertainly. When Sam opened his hand, Dean couldn't help his jaw from dropping.

"Sammy…"

With a shaky hand, Dean reached over and grabbed his amulet from his brother's palm. The amulet he threw in the garbage more than a year ago. The amulet he had had his whole life and was positive he was never going to see again.

Sam seemed nervous as Dean looked it over, "I uh…I picked it up, in the motel before I left. I uh, I've had this secret hiding place, underneath the passenger seat, I found it when I was a little kid, used to hide army men and Legos and stuff in it, stuff that uh, was important, ya know? And um…it, you don't need to wear it, or even keep it, I just uh, wanted you to know that I had it…that's all."

Dean didn't say anything, just turned the amulet over in his hand, thumb rubbing over the familiar metal. Without a word, he slipped it over his head and he couldn't deny the feeling of contentedness that washed over him.

"Thanks Sammy."

Sam smiled, seemingly pleased with himself, and they both walked back to the house and to their bedroom.

"Hey Dean?" Sam asked once he was in bed, looking over at his brother.

"Yeah Sammy?" Dean asked; hand on the chain to turn off the lamp.

"Thanks for not giving up on me. And um, thanks, for being there. For being my brother."

"Anytime little brother," Dean smiled before turning off the light.

For the first time in God only knows how long, both Winchesters slept peacefully.