First off, I would like to thank everyone who read, commented, added this to their favorite story list and story alert. I just recently figured out how to respond back, so forgive me if I missed someone. Your kind words and interest warms my heart and gives me that little extra confidence I need to continue writing. Thank you so much.

I read and reread this final chapter a hundred times before posting it. I was (and still am) a bit nervous about Dean's speech and the advice he gives to Sam; I hope it makes sense, doesn't sound like it's coming out of left field, and keeps at least a bit in character for Dean.

With that said, I hope you all enjoy!

~ SPN ~

Dean sat quietly observing his brother, giving him the time he needed to pull himself together. He knew every one of his younger brother's tells; Sam's posture was a bit too slouched, his shoulders a tad too slumped. Dean didn't need to see through the long bangs obscuring his face to know that they had only just hit the head of the proverbial iceberg.

There was something else bothering him.

Dean nudged Sam's shoulder with his own. "What's this really about, Sam?"

" 'm fine," Sam shook his head and all but mumbled, looking up and glancing quickly at his older brother before fixing his gaze on the distant horizon. Sam blinked as what he was seeing clicked in his tired, somewhat hazy mind. The afternoon sun that had blazed high in the sky when he had first found his way out to the remote corner of the yard to vent his growing frustration was now settling. Dusk painted the sky in wispy shades of pink and orange. "It's nothing. Don't worry about it."

Dean snorted out an incredulous laugh. "You wanna try that one more time? Only this time, let's pretend you're not talking to someone who knows you better than you know yourself?"

Hanging his head, Sam shrugged one shoulder, kicking the dirt around underneath his foot with the toe of his boot.

"Talk to me, Sammy," Dean softly pleaded. His little brother looked so lost and confused that is broke Dean's heart. "What's got you this upset."

Sam scrubbed an unsteady hand across his face as he took a deep breath, trying to put his runaway thoughts into some sort of order that would make sense, desperate to find the words to make his brother understand.

Easier said than done when he couldn't even explain them all to himself.

Sam blew out the breath he had been holding very slowly, determined to keep his voice and emotions steady as the words finally came tumbling out.

"Except for that one sentence in a hundred year old journal, we had no proof, you know? Of anything. Sure, there was no immediate reaction when you spilled the ash on your skin, but ingesting it?"

Sam looked at his brother and shook his head. "We were weaponless, surrounded by Demons, Cas had no power and we were at the total mercy of a five foot nothing slip of a girl more powerful than the Angels."

"It's just, ah…," Sam cleared his throat, forcing the words past the tightness in his throat, but they still emerged as rough as sandpaper. He briefly met his brother's gaze, and Dean was taken aback by the shear anguish that he saw there.

"…when she bit your neck, all I could think of…all I could see…," Sam's voice wavered and nearly broke as he continued, and Dean didn't miss the barely contained shudder that ran through his little brother's body, " were those damn hellhounds dragging you away. I was helpless all over again."

"I get why you did it, Dean. I do. I really, really do. It's just…" Sam stopped, and ran his hands through his hair. As if in doing so he could grab onto the raging thoughts that were running rampant in his brain and hold them still.

"I can't loose you Dean. I won't. Not again." Sam's voice hitched and he drew in a shaky breath. "Not now."

Some distant part of Dean's brain told him he should be surprised that after all these years his brother still thought of him being dragged to Hell, though in his heart he knew he shouldn't be; Cold Oak and Stull Cemetery still gave him nightmares.

He supposed that seeing your brother be ripped to shreds by hellhounds, feeling his last shuddering breath as he dies in your arms or watching helpless as he willingly jumps into Hell while being ridden by Lucifer isn't something you ever get over.

Dean brought his left hand up to the nape of Sam's neck and squeezed gently, massaging the tense, rigid muscles; grounding him, giving his brother some of his strength to continue and the reassurance that he wasn't alone.

"I know," Sam let out a broken, wet laugh, "I'm being childish and irrational and selfish…that neither of us can even guarantee or promise something like that."

"But this wall," Sam tapped his head as he looked at his brother out of the corner of his eye, "when it falls, and we both know it's going to….I don't know if I can…I can't do it alone, man." I don't want to do it alone echoed unsaid in his mind. An ironic smile briefly curled his lip. "I'm not too proud to admit that."

For the second time in as many minutes, Dean wanted to kick himself. Yeah, sure, Sam had promised that he wouldn't scratch at the wall, and Dean had never doubted him.

But he should have remembered that this was Sam, his Sammy, he was dealing with. And not scratching didn't take into account thinking about it; turning over every little tidbit of information that had been said about it, or the consequences and possible outcomes of what would happen if it ever fell.

Cause that what Sammy did. What he was best at. Analyze, investigate, research. Never giving up until he found the answer to the puzzle. Except in this case, the puzzle was himself.

"It's not irrational or childish, Sam. If neither of us had any fears and doubts after everything that's happened, then I'd really be worried. You are the strongest person I know." Dean held up his hand, cutting Sam off before he could even open his mouth. "Just listen okay?"

Sam nodded his head in silent consent, agreeing to hold his comments or rebuttals until later and let his brother continue.

"I'm not talking just about physical strength here. You've been having shit tossed at you since you were six months old, man. You've always handled it and come out the other side stronger and smarter. This will be no different. You-"

Sam's loud, bitter laugh interrupted Dean. "I've handled it?"

Sam pushed off the trunk of the car, he could feel the agitation once again growing in the pit of his stomach. His long legs ate up the dirt as he resumed pacing between the tight rows of cars. "Have you not been with me the last few years, Dean? I did a real bang up job of handling things myself."

Dean took two quick steps forward and spun his brother back around to face him, cuffing him upside the head with his hand. He grasped Sam's chin, giving his younger brother no other option but to look at him.

"Stop, right there! You here me!" Dean's attempt at his authoritative listen-to-me, big-brother voice came out harsher than he had intended. But he wasn't about to sit idly by and listen to his brother's self derision, berating himself for things that no one else held over his head and he should have forgiven himself for years ago.

Dean took a deep breath and blew it out his nose, a futile attempt at calming himself. His nerves were pretty much shot at this point and he was surprised that his heart hadn't burst from his chest with how fast it was racing. He needed to somehow get across to his stubborn, headstrong, pig-headed little brother, and make him believe, that he had the inner strength to beat this.

If he couldn't do that, then they had already lost.

"Now," Dean drawled, "You gonna listen to me and not interrupt this time?"

"Yes."

Sam's answer was a sheepish whisper. Dean had to hide the smile that wanted to form, only his brother could look like a puppy that had just been kicked. His "no chick-flick rule" had been tossed so far out the window that Dean was convinced that he'd never find it again. But that didn't matter. He'd suffer through a lifetime of these with no complaint.

Well, with a little complaint. For appearances sake only, of course.

Because he'd had the alternative and it was no contest. He figured it was a small price to pay to have his brother back.

Not that he'd ever tell Sam that.

He gently cupped the side of Sam's face before dropping his hand to his side. "Okay, so, yeah, the Demon blood, shacking up with Ruby, not some of your smartest choices, bro."

"But," Dean poked his brother in the chest with two fingers, "if you're going to bring up stupid things, then we're going to be standing here all friggin' night, 'cause I can match anything you can throw out."

Dean fixed his brother with a determined stare. "The past is the past, Sam. All that stuff has long been forgiven and forgotten. It's high time you forgave yourself. Understand?"

Dean could see the wheels turning in his brother's head as he mulled over what had just been said. Sam's brows were knitted together in deep thought and Dean could see the internal struggle being waged to finally accept that the past was indeed the past and needed to stay there.

"Yeah." Sam said quietly.

"What was that? I didn't quite catch it." Dean joked sarcastically.

"Yes, okay. I understand, alright." Sam feigned exasperation as he waved his hand vaguely in the air. "It's all forgotten. Happy now?"

"Ecstatic." Dean grinned. "Because I would have really hated to have to have tattooed that on the inside of your eyelids."

Dean maneuvered his brother back to the Mustang, turning him around and gently pushing him so he sat on the bumper. Dean took a seat next to him and rested his forearms on his knees.

He turned his head to face Sam, and his expression was open; all the masks and walls that Dean usually held in place were gone. This was the Dean that only Sam saw; honest, unguarded and sincere. Not the hunter or hustler or the hundred other hats that had been forced on him.

Just a big brother.

"Sam, it's not about the choices you've made, but how you've handled them. This," Dean leaned across and tapped Sam's chest, right over his heart, "this is your strength, your passion, right here. Azazel, Zachariah, Uriel…none of them could intimidate you or break you."

Dean locked gazes with Sam. "And Lucifer sure the hell isn't going to be the first. You beat that bastard already, Sammy. It wasn't physical strength that defeated that sonovabitch, it was what was right in here." Dean tapped his brother's chest again lightly. "It was what was inside you. You stuffed his ass back in the hole where he belongs. He won't hurt you ever again."

Dean sat up, resting his elbows on his knees, letting his hands hangs loosely. "You have always grabbed whatever has been thrown at you by the horns and faced it head on," Dean's mouth lifted into a smirk, "in that unique, stubborn, determined Sammy way. Which I gotta say, frustrates the hell outta me most of the time."

"You'll do the same thing this time. You're stronger than this. Don't you ever doubt yourself." Dean said earnestly.

Sam swallowed hard, trying to keep the tears that were flowing once again from turning into outright sobs. And yeah, he had already accepted that a week from now, when this was all just a distant memory, that he was going to be teased mercilessly about being such an emotional little girl.

He might have nodded, but he wasn't all that sure, he did know that words at this point weren't happening. He dropped his head into his hands, awed by the shear power and love of his brother's words.

Sam took a couple of deep, shuddering breaths and blew them out his mouth as he rubbed his fingers across his eyes, wiping away the tears that were blurring his vision. He squeezed his eyes shut, pushing down the overwhelming emotions as he fought for control. His brother still didn't seem to understand…didn't see it…

Sam lifted his head, his moisture rimmed eyes looking at his brother. He cleared his throat, buying him a couple of additional seconds to gather his thoughts before he laid the last of his cards on the table.

Not caring how it made him look. Only caring that his big brother finally understood.

"All that - my visions, Azazel, Lucifer- every time, every thing I went through…I wasn't alone. Not really ever truly alone. I got my strength, that inner strength you were just talking about…that I needed…from you. I knew that you were always with me."

"Well there's your answer then." Dean said simply and then let out an amused sigh at his brother's confused look.

"And people call me dense. You know for a super brilliant geek boy, you sure are slow on the uptake sometimes, you know that?" Dean said fondly.

"Just 'cause you are strong enough to beat this and are able to do is by yourself, doesn't mean you have to. Or you will. The two of us," Dean waved his hand between the two of them, the conviction in his voice as strong as iron, "we're stronger together, Sammy. That's been proved time and again. Nothing will ever change that again. And that's how we'll deal with this…together."

Dean paused thoughtfully for a moment. "You remember what you told me after that debacle of a hunt with those freaky-ass mannequins?"

Sam hesitated, thinking back all those weeks ago. He nodded his head as their conversation while Dean had fixed a previously possessed Impala came back to him. "That no matter what happened I was here for you. That I would always have your back."

The words were no sooner out of his mouth when the point his brother was trying to get across hit him full force. It wasn't as if in his heart he hadn't already known that, but apparently he had needed some reminding.

"That goes both was, Sammy." Dean's said softly. He own voice thick with emotion. "You will not face any of this alone."

"When," Dean stopped and shook his head, his voice taking on a razor sharp hard edge. "No. If. If, this wall falls, I promise you with every fiber of my being, I will do everything in my power to help you. To get you back safe and whole."

Sam could see the blaze of determination in his big brother's eyes and wondered why he had even been worried in the first place. That by shear force of will, because he was Dean Winchester and he said so, that Sam would be kept safe.

And Sam didn't doubt that for a moment.

"You do realize though, that I can't promise you no more stupid stunts, right? Cause, hell, this is me we're talking about." Dean's cocky grin was back in place for a moment before growing serious again. "But, Sam, I am not going anywhere. You hear me? Right beside you is where I belong and plan on staying."

Dean brought his hand back to Sam's neck, giving it a brief squeeze. "You understand? You good now?"

Sam nodded his head. "Yeah. Yeah, I do. I am. Thanks."

Dean held his gaze for a moment, searching and Sam sat quietly, accepting the scrutiny. Satisfied with what he found, Dean slapped him on the back, a grin once again curling his mouth. "Good, 'cause any more of this Oprah crap and you'll be wanting a manicure and pink frilly dresses."

Sam shook his head laughing, dimples and all showing.

So okay, maybe thinking Dean would wait a week before teasing him was a bit too much to ask for.