Hey! I'm back. Thanks a billion for all your reviews. :) Sorry this took so long, but I've started a new job, and since this chapter is the climax I didn't want to rush it. That said, this chapter contains lots of action, guns, and language. You should expect that from me by now, but I figured I'd say it all the same.

Note: if Dean says anything outloud and I put it in italics, that means it doesn't make a scrap of sense to anyone around him. He might as well be speaking Greek. Oh, and Brandon's still got the invisible thing going on, so no one can even hear anything he says.


Sam's heart rate skyrocketed as he recognized the woman from his vision. Her stiff posture, the way her hair stuck out at odd angles from her hood (not to mention the flicker of metal in her hands) were all dead giveaways, really. Dead giveaways, he thought savagely, popping open the door like he hadn't seen certain death lurking outside the parking lot. He strolled into the heated lobby toward the dump's conceivably only night employee—yet another testament to the gaping deficiency that was his luck. The kid (because that's what he was, no way he was working there legally) had both elbows propped on the counter, listlessly doodling spirals and what looked like a horribly deformed hunchback on a brochure—though in his defense the artistry was probably the result of zero creative talent. He looked up when approached, blond strands of hair caught in his eyelashes. "Sir?"

"Hi. I'm back," Sam said, reaching the counter. A myriad of all too crystal windows draped with threadbare curtains framed his peripheral vision. The marble top felt too cold under his skin. "I'm afraid I have to report a bit of an inconvenience."

"Are the lights flickering?" the teen asked professionally, "I'm sorry, sir. That happened for a few months, but I thought we had the electrical bugs fixed."

"No," Sam said, squinting at the kid's professional brass name tag, "Er, Melvin, it's not that," Sam said. He stretched one hand into his pocket and brought up a text box from memory. To his brother, he sent one word.


"It's not the lights?" Melvin said, and changed tracks smoothly as he swept his doodles underneath the keyboard, "Oh. Well, would you like to…" he paused, eyes closed briefly as if recalling a script, "File a personal complaint with management?"

"No. Smile for me."

He blinked. "What?"

"Look, I'm a paying customer. I'm paying for a room and I'm having a terrible day and I want some friendliness, got it? Smile."

Melvin smiled overzealously. "You're kinda freaking me out," he forced out between his teeth, "Are you a psycho killer?"

"No. Keep smiling and listen close. There's a woman outside loaded down with fancy explosives and guns, and she wants me and the group I came with dead."

"Uh…?" the smile, which had already been severely lacking in sincerity, iced over on his face.

"Don't act weird about it!" Sam snapped, head askew so that his expression couldn't be seen from outside. "She's watching. You're dead if she knows I know that. We both are."

The kid snickered, relaxed, and pushed the hair from his eyes. "Nice trick crazy. I'm not fallin' for it though. I'm in the eighth grade, honor classes and everything."

"You better change your mind unless you want to end up a dead honor student," Sam said, eying the room for any weapons the kid might use. There was an ugly broom propped up in the corner. A few lamps dotted the vicinity—all equally Victorian styled and disappointingly miniature. And…that left the keyboard. Yeah. That would work fetchingly against explosives and a fray of bullets. "Do you have a gun?"

"Man, but I wish," he said, wheeling his chair closer to Sam and peering up, "Look Mr. No Name, what's your real deal here? Most guests only come to me complaining that there aren't enough towels—"

"Oh, yes, we need those too," Sam found himself saying, furiously contemplating his odds of not getting shot the second he stepped from the building. One lone .45 burned a hole through his pocket in a reassuring kind of way.

It would have been a great deal more reassuring if it had been a heat sensor tracking missile. He'd have to bring that one up with Dean; they should really order some new toys.

"How many towels do you—"

"Not now! What part of 'explosives' and 'guns' do you not get? Just stay here and hide under something, got it? Don't go outside, no matter what you hear."

"Should I call the police?" The kid was lit up like a Christmas tree of sarcasm.

"She probably cut the phone lines already. Now give me some towels."

"You said you didn't want—"

"Towels, Melvin! I can't just waltz out of here empty handed, she'll get suspicious. Now smile at me, kid. This is a normal interaction, got that? She's watching. Smile."

Melvin tried to smile. He really did, and it was a good effort that wound up looking like a really fake grin. He reached under the counter and threw a stack of ratty towels at him. "Hang on…oh fuck…fuck, you're not kidding?"

"No." The towels were sandpapery in his hands. Probably as old as the motel, maybe older. Disgusting. "And don't swear. Didn't your mother ever teach you that? How old are you, anyway? Ten? Your voice hasn't even changed."

"I'm not—"

"Shut it. She's still watching us, if you look in the mirror on the wall—for god's sake, don't look!—you can see her. Flush with the tree line."

"Okay. Why hasn't she shot you yet?"

"Kid, I don't even know who she is. Probably wants to wait and kill me up close and personal; that's what everything I've ever ticked off seems to want. Now stay here, keep your head down, and act normal."

"But she's got a gun—"

"I said I'll take care of it, now read your brochure and look cheerful about it!"



Dean stared down at the text, cursing silently because in his mind, Sam's 'here' roughly translated to:

Hey bro. The mystery freak with explosives and firearms is outside, tracking me. I'm probably going to get shot, 'cause I'm out here by myself armed with towels and it's dark and there's been a demonic bulls eye on my forehead since birth.


He shoved the phone under Chris's nose to fill him in. Chris read the word and promptly didn't get it.

Dean could've throttled him.

While the elder Winchester furiously gesticulated from the phone to the door in a crude charades match, Brandon paced up behind them and squinted at the message. 'Here.' His gut clenched as he understood, and he was secretly glad Chris was being dumb; Sam's message might as well have been his death sentence. The woman was here? Now? Not to be self-centered or anything, but those machines were all stood between him and a six foot grave, and no way was his brother going to leave him behind. The Winchesters wouldn't either if their track record stood.

Another glance at Chris's expression clarified that he had managed to piece the puzzle together as well. "She's here?" he said, hushed. Crestfallen. "But we drove forever!" He reached out his arm desperately, held on tight when he connected with Brandon's frigid apparition. He needed the contact, 'cause shit were they screwed. Again.

Locked in fiercely protective older brother mode, Dean grunted, already moving away toward the dresser. Doesn't matter. Ignoring the stabbing pain in his arms from all the recent activity, he snatched up the gun bag and tossed it onto the bed. Rifling through it, he tried not to imagine that Sam was already dead. He wasn't. There hadn't been a shot, or an explosion, and Sam was a smart kid. Smarter than anyone. And damn if I couldn't use him right now to magic up a half-assed plan.

"What…what can I do?" Chris asked, an acidic taste burning his throat. He waited, watching Dean blatantly ignore his question and pull guns, knives, and clips from the pack. A tug at his sleeve drew his attention back to his own older brother.

Brandon tugged Chris over to the far side of the room to the laptop perched atop the antique bedside table. Their lingering contact sent involuntary shivers through Chris's frame. When Brandon glanced over in concern and actually spotted white puffs of breath coming from his brother's mouth, he hedged back guiltily. "Sorry," he whispered, cuing up the computer, "Sorry."

Chris tightened his grip. "No. Don't. I'm fine," he said pleadingly, trying to quell the goosebumps inching across his skin. "It's not you, I'm just worried." Lies; their proximity made it cold enough that he might have been outside in the dead of winter minus a coat. He still had no intention of letting go.

Words flew across the laptop screen. "I'll go outside. See if I can spot her."

"No!" The shout flew out of his mouth before his brain could even process the statement. He didn't need time; that was easily the dumbest idea his brother had ever thought.

Then Dean was hovering over his shoulder, an almighty avenger or bounty hunter, guns heaved over his back and gleaming under his arm. He squinted at the words, nodded approval.

Like hell. "He's not going—"

"I'm invisible and if she fires at me while I'm like this her bullets won't do squat," Brandon typed, mind made up. He tugged his arm and then, when Chris still wouldn't relinquish his hold, phased out of his grasp.

The sudden absence of cold chilled Chris a hundred times worse than Brandon's proximity ever had. "No," he choked out. Begging.

A hand rested on his arm for a few heartbeats, gone before he could grasp at it.

Fighting back the urge to dart to the curtains and peek out the window, Chris sank down onto the yellowed bedspread. The situation reeked of desperation. It was so stupid. Wordlessly, he held his arm out, palm extended upward.

Dean plunked a shotgun into his hand, repressing an equally gripping need to rush out the broken door and shoot at everything that so much as twitched. Damn Sam for always getting himself into these situations. Damn him for making him fucking worry all the fucking time. For god's sake, he just went out to get towels. Who the hell gets attacked while getting towels?


Swallowing back the urge to glance at his would-be assassin, Sam departed from the lobby. He carried the towels in what he hoped was a natural, carefree, I'm-definitely-not-expecting-an-attack kind of way. It was awkward to fake, what with keeping the .45 hidden between the stained folds of fabric. Fingering the trigger, he leisurely made his way to the opposite side of the lot. Like hell he was leading her right to Dean and the others, so he decided to stop at the ice machine. Fill a bucket. Move slowly. Not get shot.

Sounded like a plan. Was that the plan? If so, important factors were missing. Like how he was supposed to survive.

Why hadn't she shot at him yet?

Still balancing the towels, he plopped a plastic bucket under the machine and pressed it against the lever in the back, watched as a snowfall of ice chips tumbled into the container. He filled it to the brim. Shook it slightly until the ice settled, filled it a little more. Stalling.

An icy hand gingerly tapped him on the wrist holding the bucket. His mind screamed Brandon, and he fought down all previous training and instincts to react defensively. Hesitating at the machine, he waited as Brandon wrote something on his hand.


Sam didn't even nod, just rotated on the spot to his 4:00 position, holding the ice bucket, crappy towels, and the .45. She was shrouded in darkness just beyond the cusp of the hallway. Metal glinted.

The chill retreated, and he assumed Brandon had taken off to get the others. Good. Taking a step forward, he made a show of readjusting the stack of towels on his arm while actually raising the gun into position. He fired.

Seconds later he found himself pinned back against the wall amidst the clatter of ice as the chips shattered at his feet. The air was heavy against his skin, pushing him back like a thousand sticky strands. Even as he twisted and fought it was all too clear that he had become a tiny fly on a web.

The young woman leapt toward him unnaturally fast, hair frizzing out behind her, a cloth doll clutched tight in her left hand. Sneering, she shifted her grip on the doll so that her fingers encircled its neck, and Sam couldn't breathe. It was like a rock was lodged in his throat. He gagged and coughed, desperate to dislodge whatever it was that was suffocating him.

Right before he blacked out, amidst the silent chorus of what the hell looping in his mind, he remembered the hunt, and the forest, and Nick begging Chris not to kill him because he had a daughter.


Brandon charged at the door, barreling it open with a crunch and a bang that nearly disconnected the hinges. Before either man inside could so much as swear he snatched up Dean's arm and half dragged the hunter across the threshold.

Dean stumbled into the brisk morning air. His battered body protested the treatment but Brandon didn't relent, digging his nails deep against Dean's skin in his haste. If Dean was already scared for his brother, Brandon's frantic movements were making him downright terrified. He allowed himself to be pulled across the lot, barely noticing as a handful of crows that had been pecking for food took flight as they darted past. He narrowly scraped past the bumper of a badly parked pickup truck—the lightheaded feeling creeping up his spine could go screw itself because his brother needed him, damn it—and rounded the final bend into the core of the motel.

Brandon let go. Dean skidded to a stop, hands flung up to the concrete wall to catch himself from falling. Sam was pinned, lips blue and gasping, against the far wall beside an ice maker and a dusty Coke machine. The latter had a failing bulb that threw a constant strobe of shadow across half his face. Even as Dean pushed himself from the side and fumbled with his gun the woman was turning her attention toward him, M-16 coming up lazily against her shoulder to point at his chest.

She didn't expect Brandon to tackle her—invisibility did have its perks—and she hit the ground baffled and maddened with curses whizzing from her lips. She dropped the doll. Sam fell lifelessly down, smacking the pavement hard just in time for her already tightened trigger finger to let loose a stream of bullets, chipping at the walls mere feet away from Dean. He hit the deck and scrunching his body into a smaller target while still bringing his .45 back up. As he fired she twisted at the last second in an effort to dislodge Brandon and the bullet sank into her shoulder.

The wound didn't even slow her; she grappled for the doll again and held tight, pressing it against the floor. The empty M-16 clattered to her feet.

"Sam! Get out!" Dean shouted, (or tried to, really) pulling his gun up to fire again. His muscles shook under the strain and sent frantic signals to his brain that movement equaled stabbing pain, ultimately killing his chances of making a good shot. Any other day he would've fired for the hell of it, but no way was he about to play a round of chance when Sam was right there, practically underneath her. "Go!"

Sam still couldn't understand him. It didn't matter. He knew what his brother wanted because it was what he always wanted—for him to be safe. This time, he couldn't oblige. "I can't move!" he hissed back, frustration darkening his words while he struggled against invisible bonds, "Dean…I can't!"

Noting the situation, Brandon adjusted his strategy and fought harder, trying to push her away from Sam to give Dean a clear shot. As he worked to inch her away she stretched to reach a shotgun she had dropped earlier, grasping it as Brandon bent her other arm back painfully. One swift kick sent him stumbling back a smidge, leaving her free to fire.

Rock salt exploded from the barrel. "No!" Startled, Sam fought with renewed vigor to get up.

It felt like something was ripping through his soul. Screaming, Brandon let her go and pushed out with his feet to crawl backwards, to get away. But she was right there, unfolding her long limbs and towering above him, the undertaker already aiming blindly for another shot. "Chris! Chris!"

"Where are you, you little shit?" BAM "Didn't think I'd be—" BAM "Ready for you huh? What the fuck—" BAM "Are you still alive for anyway—"

Dean could've sworn that Chris hadn't been behind him up to that point, but now he blurred past and hurtled himself in the small gap between the woman and the wall where he imagined his brother would be. "Don't. You. Touch. Him!" he roared, knocking the barrel of his shotgun tight against her temple.

One lip curled. "Oops."

"Get back," he snarled. He's fine, he is, he has to be. "Or I shoot."

"You couldn't kill Dad. You won't kill me."

Dad? What the hell does…oh. He looked at Dean and saw the same revelation dawning in his eyes. The whole apple falling from the tree curse. Really? Hadn't they dealt with enough shit lately? Was it too much to ask for the bastard's vengeful kid to be a peace loving dentist? A preschool teacher? Maybe a hippie? Christ. "I will," Chris said icily, "Now back up and put down the damn shotgun." He fought the urge to glance back, knowing that he couldn't see his brother anyway. C'mon man, what're you waiting for? For the love of god just grab my ankle or something so I know you're okay—

He'd stalled too long. In one swift motion she dropped the gun and pulled Sam's doll from her belt, squeezing the neck for a second time.

"Whoa! Hey!" Chris yelled as Sam doubled over.

"I've got a better idea. You put your shotgun on the floor and you kick it to me or I'll snap his neck faster than your trigger finger can twitch," she said coldly.

"D'n—" Sam gasped, fighting for air, "S't 'r—"

She turned and spat out a mouthful of blood on Sam as he dropped, hands to his throat, gasping. "You killed my dad, you bastard. You had no right!" She caught movement out of the corner of her eye and dropped to her knees, holding Sam against her chest as a shield from Dean, who had already aimed his gun to kill.

Dean released pressure on the trigger when he realized he was targeting his brother's heaving form. He lowered the weapon with a growl. Sam's eyes snapped up to signal that he was alrightand that they would figure a way out of the mess. Since he'd never been able to pull off a lie in front of Dean, the attempt was doomed from the start. All Dean could see was fear, pain, and a little brother trying not to call out for help.

"Either of you two so much as breathes funny, I'll end him," she threatened, gripping the doll tighter until Sam was wheezing in short squeaks.

"Okay, okay," Dean said, undone by the noises projecting from his brother's mouth. As his throat went dry he set his gun down on the concrete floor. "Just let him go."

"Sorry, I didn't quite get that, I don't speak zombie," she replied. She squeezed harder.

Sam balked as his air pipe cut off completely. Dean—

Dean tensed, inched back with hands up to placate her from…what? Where was the way out of this? His mind swirled, spiraling down a hundred avenues that ended with one—or all—of them getting shot through like Swiss cheese. Nevermind that it was agony to even think with Sam looking at him like that, like he was trusting him to have a plan. Dean's recent inability to say anything (hold on, Sammy. I'm coming, I swear to god I'm gonna get you out, just hold on a little longer for me, just a little longer) tore at him with renewed despair. "Goddamn it, bitch! What do you want?" he shrieked, wanting nothing more than to run to his brother and rip him away from her.

"You know, you should try learning English," she taunted him, "Once this guy's dead you'll have loads of free time, right? I hear the Rosetta Stone works wonders."

Dean's arm shot out, gun up again. "I'll kill you—"

"Oh put it down. With your arm shaking like that, you're more likely to shoot him than me," she said, "And you know that."

It was getting impossible to think. Sam couldn't get up, couldn't fight his way out. The sound of Dean's voice was the only thing that made sense. He clung to it all lightheaded and blacking out, knowing that if he ever stopped listening he'd stop fighting. He could barely keep his eyes open; aggravating yellow spots peppered his view of Dean, threatening to overcome him completely. He didn't want to shut his lids, didn't want to die yet. Not with his brother sitting right there.

"Just…don't," Chris pleaded, "Tell us what you want. We'll get it for you."

"Me?" she said, slowing her words to screw nails in Sam's coffin, "I want my Dad back."

Great, Dean groaned inwardly, The one thing that they absolutely couldn't give the bitch, and she wanted it. How long had it been since Sam took a breath?

"Listen," Chris said, still trying desperately to reason with her, "Nick was killing people."

"I loved him. He was my Dad!"

"Sam, c'mon man, stay with me," Dean pleaded, words coming out all twisted. His brother had all but stopped gasping, and his eyes were drooping dangerously shut. "Don't you give up!"

"He'll only last a minute more," the girl said. She adjusted her grip on Sam's form as he sagged.

"Let him breathe. There's gotta be something else we can do," Chris pleaded, "To make amends."

"Amends?" Her face hardened. "You're all assholes. Condemning Dad for killing people…look in the damn mirror, you hunters! You hypocrites! How many people have you killed?"

"I haven't—" Chris started.

"You!" She shrieked, pointing a bony finger at Dean. She hugged Sam tightly around the neck, keeping him from falling further, "How many have you killed? Who gives you the right to decide what's good or evil, who lives and who dies? Well? Hunter?"

He ignored her. His brother's eyes were shut. "Sam!" he growled.


No no no— "Sammy! Don't you dare!"

The kid's eyelids twitched. Barely.

"I'm playing hunter tonight," she told him, running her fingers possessively through Sam's hair, "And like all good little hunters, I get to play god. I say this one dies. He's tainted anyway."

A growl exploded from his throat. Seeing red, he raised his .45 and fired a shot. The bullet splintered through the wall a good couple feet beside her head. Chris jumped back and crouched, hands up to shield his face.

Dean fired a second shot. "Sam!" The bullet went wide again, nearly nailing the corner.

Sam didn't move.

A smile. "I think he's dead now, hunter."

"Sammy!" Another shot. Another miss.

"We're even."


He knew the word was different the moment it shot across his lips. It was a name, his brother's name, and it finally sounded right.

The girl turned her full attention to Dean, staring. "Did you just—"

Chris careened into her, knocking her down across Sam's body. "Dean!" he yelled, pressing her wrists against the concrete floor as she stretched catlike to scratch out his eyes, "Help!"

She kicked madly, landing blows on Chris's legs as she battled to crawl out. The doll had landed a foot away; her pupils glinted toward it.

Dean pressed his .45 to her forehead and squeezed the trigger. Her body bucked once more and then sagged underneath Chris. He pushed himself backward from it, wiping at the blood that had splattered on his face. It smeared. "Is she…is she…"

"Just help me, damn it!" Dean snapped. The words poured out of him effortlessly, like something had flicked a switch deep inside of him. About damn time, and much too late. He pushed against the daughter's body to get the weight off Sam, glad when Chris stooped down to help. Once she was out of the way he grabbed his brother's shoulders and spun him onto his back. Sam's body flopped. Fingers dug against his throat, searching.

"He's not breathing. You need to start CPR and…oh god," Chris choked, shaking as he spread his arms wide in the space, searching, "Oh god, Brandon's not here. He isn't here. I…I have to…"

He ran out. Probably back to the room, Dean couldn't bring himself to care. Sam didn't have a pulse.

"No," Dean groaned, starting compressions automatically. "It's okay. It's gonna be okay, right? I got this," he told him, leaning down and forcing a breath into his lungs. He started more compressions.




"Goddamn it man!" Dean hollered at his brother's lifeless form. He pounded his fist against Sam's chest, sure that something cracked. Was that two somethings now? Or three?

He took another deep breath and gave it to Sam. His chest rose with the air, then nothing. "C'mon Sammy, don't," he pleaded, slapping him hard across the face, "I need you here."

He slammed his hand down again, again, AGAIN, all restraint gone. There was no point in being careful. If Sam stayed dead—oh god, no—it didn't matter if he hurt him, or if he had a few cracked ribs. He's not dead, he can't—

His thoughts were cut off as Sam jolted up, nearly knocking heads with Dean in his ascent. Sam collided heavily against him, coughing in dry heaves. "That's it," Dean spoke, relief flowing in a voice rough from lack of use as he fisted his brother's shirt, "That's it. You with me?"

Sam gulped oxygen like there wasn't enough air in the room to fill his lungs. His head reeled. Dizzy and in pain, a spark of remembrance fought its way through all the fog. His brain ordered his limbs into defense mode. Where was she—she was right there—but then—

"Sam!" Dean shouted, trying to keep a hold on his brother as he lashed out, wild. He took an elbow to throat and leaned back. It didn't help. Why did his arms have to get so damn long? "Shit. Stop it, Sam, it's me. Sam. It's me!"

Sam only struck out harder. "No, can't…" he croaked out, "Where's…? I need to—need find—"

As the next punch barely missed his minced up shoulder, Dean smartly let go of his brother and backed out of the line of fire. "Dude, cut it out. I'm right here. You're safe," he said levelly. Brain damage? No. Hell no. He's just disoriented. "The crazy daughter's dead, Sam. I shot her."

A flicker of sanity appeared in his eyes. "Dead?"

"Yep. We're going to celebrate later. You know, as soon as you can form sentences. You're paying."

"Celebrate…what? But I…pay?"

"Wow," Dean muttered, worry building. Sam still hadn't really focused on him yet. He wanted to move closer, but wasn't sure if it would freak him out again, "Okay, you know what Sammy? Forget sentences. Let's start with the basics. Who am I?"

"Where's Dean?"

His heart sank. God, he couldn't have been without oxygen for that long. "Sam. It's me," he said with a twinge of desperation, "I'm right here. You almost died, you're just…out of it." And scaring the shit out of me, bro.

"Liar," Sam mumbled, still looking away. He inhaled, breathing still uneven and heavily asthmatic, "Dean can't…"

Another coughing fit broke loose, and while Dean waited patiently for more it seemed as though that was all the explanation Sam was set on giving him. It didn't matter. He knew what the last word would've been: talk. Dean can't talk. He smirked. "You're overanalyzing this, college boy." He reached out and grabbed Sam's arm.


"Shut up, Sam. Look at me."

"Get off," he snarled.

"No. Look at me. Come on."

Sam looked at him. Really looked. "Dean?"



"Yeah, Sam," he repeated, allowing himself to smile as he was finally recognized.

"It's you?"

"Of course it's me. Who else were you expecting?"

Eyes narrowed, considering. "Her."

"Sorry to disappoint. She's out for the count."

"Already said," Sam mumbled, suddenly all too aware of the splitting headache ravaging his mind. He brought a hand up and rubbed at it halfheartedly. "Thought she killed you."

"You…what?" Dean said, rapping him lightly on the arm. "That hurts, bro. Didn't know you thought so little of my gun slinging prowess."

Sam snorted.

"On the other hand, your oxygen starved brain might be the culprit for that misjudgment. How many brain cells of yours did she just suffocate? Tragedy."

"Shut up, head…hurts. Ribs?"

Eyebrows rose. "Yeah, about that. I'll shut up once I'm satisfied you're all there and making sense. As of this moment, you're really not making a good case for yourself. Any chance I can get a full sentence soon? The next decade, maybe?"

"Gimme minute. Need air."

"That's what happens when you get suffocated, bro." He moved an arm to gently support Sam when he noticed him teetering off-balance. As Sam took a few more difficult breaths, Dean glanced toward the exit, unable to quite push down the guilty twinge from letting Chris run out—alone—after Brandon. But the homicidal girl was dead, right? And Chris was a doctor. He could take care of it, at least until Sam was…back, mentally aware, not choking on the goddamn air. Just a few more minutes. "While we're on the subject," he said aloud, "You need to stop making new friends. They have this nasty habit of trying to kill you."

"Not friend," Sam ground out, managing to slow his breathing to an almost normal rate. His throat burned savagely with each breath, every word, aggravated further by the stabbing pain in his ribs.

"Could have fooled me with all the hugging going on."

"We weren't…" Sam cut off suddenly. He paused, mind racing to catch up, and pushed himself back. "Dean."


"You're talking."

He grinned. "I wondered how long it'd take you to notice. Your observation skills have really—"

Sam lunged, and Dean found himself with an arm full of little brother. "You're talking," he breathed.

"Yeah Sam," he said, feeling his brother's grip tighten at the affirmation. Smiling, he gave his shoulder a quick squeeze and rested for a moment, satisfied when he could feel that Sam's breaths really were evening out. He pushed him back gently. "Sit up. I'm happy about it too, but why don't you focus on breathing open air for a bit. I don't really want you suffocating yourself against my jacket."

A smirk. "Wasn't."

"Wasn't?" Dean snorted, "Wasn't? That's the answer I get? God, it's good I know you so well, or you'd just sound ridiculous. Why don't you work on ramping your sentences up to two words each? I know it'll be challenging, but I'm sure a smartass like you can manage."

"Whatever, jerk."

With that, Dean knew that his brother was fine. He was still too pale for his liking, and needless to say he wouldn't be running any marathons for the next month or so, but he was aware enough to joke around and—gloriously—he wasn't dead.

"We need to go," he said firmly, making the decision to move. Standing unsteadily—he had just broken out of the hospital, after all—he offered a hand Sam. "Come on."

Sam grasped his wrist and stood. Wavered. Stayed up. "They okay?" he asked, guessing what had Dean worried.

"No idea," Dean admitted. He kept a hand at Sam's back as he walked him toward the exit.

Sam smiled faintly. "Dean. I'm fine. Really."

"I know," Dean said simply. He didn't remove his hand.

Please REVIEW! Only one chapter left.