A/n: The complete text of Dean's letter can be found in the Supernatural: The Official Companion, Season 5, by Nicholas Knight.

Still My Big Brother
K Hanna Korossy

"Only you, man," Sam sighed as he surveyed the wreckage of his brother. "Only you could make an angel go off the deep end."

It had taken a minute for it to sink in that Castiel, divine being and Dean's buddy, had been the one responsible for Dean swaying bloody and unconscious off Castiel's shoulder. But there'd been regret in the angel's voice when he'd confessed to losing his temper with Dean, and Sam's momentary rage quickly died. Dean had been the one pulling the great escape from the panic room this time, and that irony had Sam fantasizing about laying a few on the idiot himself. And Castiel had saved Dean from making the biggest, and final, mistake of his life. Didn't mean Sam hadn't taken advantage of Cas's remorse to get him to move Dean down to the panic room cot first before letting him off the hook.

Then told him to go away for a while. Sam had always been the one to take care of Dean, and he'd do so now, alone.

Shoulders rolling with a deep breath, Sam sat on the edge of the cot and got to work.

He wiped the blood off first, wincing at the deep bruising that pulled at Dean's jaw and puffed his eyes. A cut in the hairline would get by with just a butterfly bandage, and the trickle from his lips seemed to be from a gouged inner cheek, not something deeper. Even furious, Castiel must have pulled his punches; the angel was dangerously strong even neutered and could have killed Dean with a single blow. This was frustration overflowing, not hatred.

Sam got that, too well.

Face tended, the hands were next, but the knuckles were clean, no defensive wounds. Dean either hadn't had the chance to put up a fight, unlikely even against an angelic beatdown, or hadn't wanted to. Sam paused again to study his brother's slack face, sorrow suddenly as sharp in his chest as it had been watching Dean drive away back in Blue Earth. A Dean who wasn't fighting anymore, who had surrendered to fate and self-sacrifice, was as wrong as an angel with anger-management issues.

"What happened to Team Free Will, dude?" Sam muttered as he tucked Dean's hands to his sides. "'Screw destiny,' remember?" That oft-repeated mantra of his brother's had sometimes been all that kept Sam from panic. Somewhere along the way, though, Dean had lost the belief that Sam would be strong enough to do the right thing, that they'd find a way to win, together. And that left Sam…

A quick pat down of Dean's legs found no apparent injuries there. Sam eased up his brother's shirt next. He sucked in a breath at the bruising that lined his sides, and when Sam carefully rolled him, his back was even worse. Looked like Cas had tossed Dean into a couple of walls and…was that the pattern of a chain-link fence?

"Sorry, man, this's gonna hurt," Sam said sorrowfully as he began to move from one black splotch to another, checking depth and sensitivity of the bruising to make sure the damage was superficial.

Dean didn't respond, didn't even flinch. Angelic whammies were even better anesthetic than being knocked unconscious.

Sam felt along each rib, making sure nothing moved under his fingers and Dean's breathing and coloring remained good. There were other scars there, older wounds littering his body between the fresh injuries. Even if Dean had returned from Hell like new, he'd had plenty of time since to amass a whole new collection of battle scars. The outline of the welt near his spine from Alastair's manhandling as they'd struggled to defend Anna. The thin line of red high on his scalp from where the rugaru had knocked him out. The still-defined lump on the back of his head from Lucifer's vicious toss into a tree in Carthage. The knob of bone from the rib Sam had broken when he'd tried to kill his brother in the honeymoon suite in Cold Spring.

Not a single passive wound. Every one of them spelled out Dean's fight to the end for himself, for innocent victims, for Sam.

He clenched his jaw and kept going.

Ribs were miraculously intact, albeit probably bruised. Same with spine and lungs. Dean would probably be peeing a little blood for a while, but there was no swelling or the deep heat that would indicate a lacerated kidney. Just Dean flinching for the first time since Sam started the exam, and exhaling one weak word.

"Please…"

Sam's eyes stung at the naked plea. He snatched his hand away from the pain he was inflicting and cradled Dean's nape instead. "Sorry," he breathed, meaning it on so many levels.

Dean fell silent again, as still and pliant as Sam ever saw him.

The bruises would need liniment, and Sam needed air. He pulled a blanket around his brother and rushed out of the room.

Bobby looked up when Sam stormed through the living room but didn't say anything. Castiel wasn't in sight, which was just as well. Sam wasn't sure he could've kept from punching the angel just then. Frustration, not hatred.

Outside, he stopped at the top of the steps, breathing deeply a moment. The cold Dakota night air was bracing, cooling his inflamed cheeks. It made his throat ache a little, and Sam was reminded again of Meg forcing her way down his gullet, filling every crack and crevice in him, stealing his very self. To give yourself to an archangel was, by all accounts, even worse, crushing the host into rubble in its wake. That was what Dean had been willing to offer himself up for.

"Jerk," Sam growled, breath blowing out white. The name held none of the fondness he usually bestowed on it. He strode off the porch to the nearby Impala, yanking the trunk open as soon as he got it unlocked.

The kit was nestled on the left, at easy reach in case of all-too-frequent emergency. But prominently to the right sat the big cardboard box addressed to Bobby that Sam had retrieved from Cicero along with his prodigal brother.

He'd barely given it a thought then. It made sense that Dean would leave what he had where someone could find it and get it back to his family. It might have been the stupidest thing he'd ever done, but that didn't mean he'd rushed into his doom without careful planning. He wasn't going to leave things as unsettled as their dad had with them. The goodbye to Lisa, the half-drunk bottle of the very good stuff, this box: Dean had thought his last actions through. And had still gone ahead with the plan.

Jaw clenching, Sam tore the tape off the box.

There wasn't much in it. Dean's—Dad's—leather jacket, neatly folded. Dean's beloved pearl-handled Colt. His master set of the Impala's keys, the originals Dad had passed on to him. All the things that mattered to Dean, willed to those he cared about.

And an envelope.

Sam stared at it a long moment before he unfolded the flap and drew out the letter inside.

Sam and Bobby—

Given what's about to happen, I'll be surprised if this package ever finds you. But if it does, I want you both to know what I'm doing isn't about giving up. John taught us better than that. This is about time. We've run out of it.

He didn't read on. He couldn't see the words even if he'd wanted to.

Sam swore under his breath, shaking his head before he glanced back at the house. Stupid, idiotic, dense— Sam didn't know if he wanted to wring his brother's neck or hug him.

Dean had fled to where Sam could find him. He'd reluctantly agreed to let Bobby and Sam look for another way, until Adam had forced his hand. He'd begged Cas to stop the beating, because no matter how stupidly resigned Dean was acting, he didn't really want to die. He was just willing to sacrifice himself, yet again, for what he thought was more important.

For his brothers.

Dean needed to love; it was engraved far more deeply into his bones than Castiel's etchings. But he needed just as much to be loved, and Sam knew he'd felt precious little of that the last two years. It was time to change that. Time for Sam to be the one to start believing in his brother, so Dean would believe in himself. Time to look after his brother the way Dean needed, not just by being his brother, but by being his little brother.

Sam grabbed a pair of handcuffs from the trunk along with the liniment, then shut it and turned back to the house, new determination in his step. He had no idea yet what the next move would be or how he could talk the others into it when it was time or whether they even had a prayer of winning this.

He just had faith.

00000

He'd lost Adam. Maybe lost Cas. Said yes to Michael, then took it back. Killed Zachariah. Watched the angel's true form flame out and lived to tell about it.

And somehow none of that mattered as much as Sammy lying on the warehouse floor beside him, watching Dean with naked adoration in his eyes even as he choked on his own blood.

Dean had dug out a handkerchief and was wiping at the mess on Sam's chin, focusing only on that so his brain wouldn't explode from what had just happened. "You all right? Can you breathe?"

Sam nodded, hair falling like a curtain over his eyes. He coughed again, leaning forward with Dean's help to clear his throat. "'M okay. Whatever he did stopped when he died."

"He" as in Zachariah. Dean had promised to stab him in the face when they'd first met, and he was only sorry it had taken him this long to deliver on his threat. He peered down into Sam's downturned face as he propped a hand against the heaving chest, trying to see for himself that he still had one sibling intact. "You sure? No stabs of pain, burning, trouble breathing?"

Sam looked up, his hand curling around Dean's wrist. "I'm okay, Dean."

Dean stared back at him, wanting to look away but stuck fast. For all he'd craved to see respect and affection in Sam's eyes again, the depth of it now, the love, was almost more than he could stand. Especially after he'd walked away from it all. "Sam…"

"Could use a hand to the car, though."

It was said almost playfully, although Dean could see just how serious his brother felt. Sam meant every one of those emotions that was laid bare in his face. And not one of them was disappointment.

That one small tip of the balance toward saying no suddenly became a rushing landslide. It built up in Dean solid and strong, his brother's belief and admiration, his own hope. He could do this. They could do this. It would doubtless still end bloody, but they'd go out fighting, and together.

Dean blinked, then tried on a slow smirk, seeing Sam echo it.

"You got it."

The End