The surgery had been tedious and had taken hours to complete but had been a remarkable success.

The ulnar and radial arteries in Sam's right arm were repaired from where both had been significantly nicked when the assailant – also known as the Alpha Vamp for those who believed in such things – had savagely sliced into Sam's skin during the knife attack in the alley...or at least that was what the hospital staff had been told.

The Winchesters had learned long ago that any story would suffice as long as it wasn't the truth.

While the muscle and surrounding tissue damage was concerning, the surgeon felt confident it would heal with time and was pleased – although surprised – that the radial, median, and ulnar nerves had all been spared and were not only intact but were also functioning as they should.

Although, he warned, there could be intermittent tingling due to the overall trauma sustained, and the surgeon encouraged the family to be patient; reminding them they would know more about just how functional Sam's right arm and hand would be after he awoke from surgery and began physical therapy in the weeks ahead.

In addition, Sam had received multiple blood transfusions – and would receive quite a few more over the course of the next several days – and would be kept on IV fluids as well as antibiotics for the duration of his stay at the hospital. Pain meds would be administered and adjusted as needed, and Sam would remain on oxygen for at least the next 24 to 48 hours to ease the stress on his body as it began the healing process.

Overall, the surgeon was impressed with Sam's obvious will to live – commenting how most patients would have bled out and died within minutes of sustaining the kind of injury Sam had – and was optimistic about Sam's recovery; assuring the Winchesters as he left the room that they should be, too.

But that had been over an hour ago; almost two hours ago by Mary's estimation.

And during that time, Sam hadn't budged or made a sound; was still as pale and motionless on the mattress as he had been when the orderlies had first brought him to the recovery room after surgery.

Mary sighed as she paced around the small room – back and forth...back and forth – wondering why her husband and oldest son seemed so calm about this.

Someone besides her should be freaking out.

Because two hours was a long damn time when you were waiting for someone to wake up...and that's all Mary wanted – just for Sam to wake up.

She wanted to see her youngest smile; wanted to see if he still had those dimples he had even as a baby; that feature that had always melted her heart, much like John's dimples always had.

She wanted to see Sam's eyes; wanted to know if they were hazel like John's, blue like hers, or startlingly green like his brother's.

She wanted to hear Sam speak; wanted to hear if her youngest's voice was as deep and growly as John's and Dean's; wanted to hear Sam tell them he was okay.

But Sam hadn't done any of that; hadn't smiled, hadn't opened his eyes, hadn't spoken.

It had been almost two hours, and Sam hadn't moved.

Mary sighed again and glanced at John as she passed by him on her current lap around the room; feeling slightly annoyed how her husband was practically lounging in one the chairs next to the bed...but then reminded herself that John's overly casual demeanor was an often practiced, well-crafted façade.

Having been married to him for over 30 years, Mary knew how to see through the cracks; could see John's worry in the way he clasped his hands in his lap and repeatedly turned his wedding band around his finger...around and around and around.

Mary felt her heart soften as she noticed the familiar nervous habit; also seeing the fear her husband harbored for their youngest as it settled across his forehead and around his eyes; causing them to wrinkle and squint and thus making John look tired and worn.

Being supernaturally pulled from Purgatory and restored to your earthly body...and then having to save your youngest son from bleeding out – all in the same day in a matter of hours – would do that.

Mary smiled softly to herself; freshly appreciating her husband's quiet strength and overwhelmed by how much she loved that ornery, complicated man named John Winchester.

When they had said "for better or for worse" on their wedding day, they had had no idea what that would mean – and yet, here they were...still together after everything.

Mary swallowed as she felt tears sting her eyes and then glanced at Dean, feeling emotional for an entirely different reason.

It had been years since she had seen her oldest; and yet in a lot of ways, Dean was just as she remembered – strong, smart, capable...and an amazing big brother.

Mary smiled at the memory of how her sweet little four-year old had often dutifully watched Sammy while the baby had slept; had insisted on having a stool beside Sam's crib so he could fully see the baby at all times.

And it seemed not much had changed.

Because there Dean was – sitting on the edge of Sam's bed; facing his brother and watching him sleep; his gaze unwavering for the past two hours while he patiently waited for Sam to wake up.

Mary inhaled shakily as a surge of love and pride made her want to cry.

Dean glanced at her as she made the sound – his expression unreadable – and Mary forced a smile as she finally stopped pacing; sensing she was unintentionally annoying her oldest with her nervous habit.

Dean held her gaze before directing his attention to the monitors surrounding Sam – his eyes scanning their screens, double-checking their numbers – and then refocused on his sleeping brother.

Mary glanced at the clock on the wall and sighed. "Shouldn't he be awake by now?" she asked worriedly, staring at Dean as she approached and stood on the opposite side of Sam's bed in the small recovery room.

John shook his head from where he sat in a nearby chair; having lost count how many times his wife had asked that same question since Sam had gotten out of surgery.

Mary cut her eyes at her husband; knowing his thoughts. "Well, shouldn't he be?"

"Mary..."John warned; his patience wearing thin. "You know I love you. But if you don't sit down and shut up..."

Mary glared at the implied threat; knowing it was just another way John dealt with stress; to grumble and growl. "You shut up," she told her husband – though there was no heat to her words – and then turned her attention back to her sons. "Dean..."

Dean made no response as he sat on the edge of Sam's bed and continued to watch his brother sleep; monitoring Sam's vitals in his own way – his hand lightly resting on the kid's chest – and feeling ridiculously excited that color was beginning to return to Sam's pale face.

It was about damn time for a sign of something good.

Because except for being pulled from Purgatory with his parents, being back with Sam, and finding the amulet...the rest of the day had sucked.

Seeing the other hunters again had been nice, but it had only been a reminder to Dean of what they had lost.

Having John and Mary back topside was an unbelievable second chance, but Dean was sure it would only make life more complicated.

And then there was Sam's condition...

Dean would never forget how his brother's blood had literally covered that room at the Alpha Vamp's house and had completely soaked his own clothes as he had carried the kid out; how Sam's pulse had barely fluttered under his fingers while he had held his brother in the backseat of the Impala on their way to the hospital; how Sam had stopped breathing in the ER and then had been frantically resuscitated and whisked to surgery in a flurry of yelling and running as the stretcher had been pushed onto a waiting elevator.

Dean swallowed, remembering how slowly time had ticked by once Sam had disappeared behind those elevator doors; how he had felt like he would go crazy as they had waited for the almost four hour surgery to be completed.

Some of that time had been killed as Dean and his parents had given bogus statements to the police – they had said Sam was attacked, after all – and then Dean had left John and Mary in the waiting room and had returned to the Impala; had tried not to notice the amount of Sam's blood that had been streaked across the entire backseat as he had grabbed his duffel from the trunk...and Sam's, too – maybe because of habit...or maybe because Dean had just needed something close by that reminded him of his brother.

Dean sighed as he remembered retreating to the hospital's bathroom; both duffels in hand as he had locked the door, had turned on the faucet at the sink...and then had just stood there staring at himself in the mirror; his hands shaking as he had gripped the counter; silent tears brimming as he had finally seen just how much of Sam's blood had covered him and had wondered how his brother had any of it left for himself.

Dean didn't know how long he had stood there in that bathroom; maybe an hour...maybe a little more. But when he had emerged, he had made sure his quiet breakdown was over and that his game face was back in place; that he was the Dean Winchester the rest of the world knew; that he was the confident fearless badass others always expected him to be.

It was the version of himself that Dean had known his parents would accept as he had joined them in the waiting room because they didn't know any better...even if Sam would've seen right through it and would've called him on his bullshit – because Sam always knew.

Yeah, I know you...better than anyone else in the entire world.

"Damn straight, little brother..." Dean murmured to a sleeping Sam as he smiled softly; remembering the words his brother had said to him all those years ago as they had argued in the middle of that motel room; Sam calling Dean on his bullshit about not being afraid of dying and going to Hell.

But now that fear seemed trivial compared to the overwhelming fear of losing Sam; because while Dean knew his brother had already successfully cleared multiple hurdles in his fight to survive, Dean also knew the race was far from over.

Sam was still severely injured, severely dehydrated, and severely hypovolemic.

Dean glanced above Sam's bed; his gaze tracking the various IV lines to their respective origins and to the bags filled with solutions to battle three of his brother's biggest enemies right now: infection, blood loss, and dehydration.

Other lines and wires led to other equipment; the nasal cannula delivering oxygen while the Foley did its own job. The arterial line inserted into Sam's left wrist connected to its own monitor; the small, round electrodes on the kid's chest connected to the cardiac monitor; and the pulse oximeter clipped to Sam's finger also connected to a monitor.

There was a lot going on in the small room – a lot to keep track of – and Dean was glad that he felt more like himself, more alert and in control; was glad he had washed up and had changed into fresh clothes after his breakdown in that bathroom.

Dean glanced down at his chest, remembering how he had also cleaned the amulet and then had promptly put it back where it belonged – around his neck – and then had joined his parents as they had waited for news about his brother.

...and waited...and waited before finally receiving word that Sam was out of surgery and was headed to recovery.

And now here they were – waiting for the kid to wake up.

From the opposite side of the bed, Mary sighed; alternately looking at Sam as he lied motionless beneath the blankets and then at Dean as he sat next to their youngest on the mattress. "Dean..."

"He's okay," Dean assured his mom; his gaze never leaving Sam's face.

Mary frowned; because she could see no signs that indicated that was true. "Are you sure?"

"He's sure," John told his wife; his tone dry yet confident as he continued to lean back in his chair; because he knew from experience that if Dean said Sam was okay...then Sam was okay.

And the rest of the world could just wait to see for themselves.

Mary stared at her oldest. "Dean..."

Dean sighed; willing himself not to snap at his well-meaning mother. Because he knew Mary was just concerned and reminded himself that their mom didn't know Sam well enough to know what was normal. And she didn't really know anything about Dean, either – since he was no longer four-years old – because Mary didn't seem to realize that her hovering was grating on his nerves.

Mary shifted where she stood beside the bed. "Dean – "

" – Mom..." Dean interrupted; his tone and expression similar to his dad's when John had earlier warned Mary to sit down and shut up.

Mary blinked expectantly.

"Sam's fine," Dean told her. "And yes...I'm sure."

"But how do you know?" Mary pressed anxiously; her knuckles white from how tightly she was gripping the bedrails.

Because what if Sam was quietly slipping away right in front of them...and they didn't even notice until it was too late?

"I just do," Dean responded simply; realizing that for as much as Mary already knew about them, she still had a lot to learn. "Sam's fine. Or at least as fine as he can be at this point..."

Mary nodded and sighed; brushing her blond hair from her face and tucking the loose strands behind her ear as she made an obvious attempt to calm down. "I'm sorry..." she apologized, glancing from Dean to John. "I don't mean to be a pain in the ass. I'm just...worried."

John widened his eyes dramatically. "Really? We had no idea."

"Shut up," Mary growled even as she offered a small smile and finally sank into the chair beside John.

John chuckled tiredly and wrapped his arm around his wife; kissing Mary's forehead as she leaned toward him and rested against his shoulder; knowing Dean probably didn't remember that Mary was annoyingly talkative when she was nervous.

And also knowing that Mary probably didn't remember that Dean was extremely protective and possessive of Sam – especially a sick or injured Sam – and didn't like to be questioned or hovered over while he was taking care of his brother.

That's why John had parked his ass in one of the chairs as soon as they had arrived in the recovery room and hadn't moved since; had only spoken to lightly reprimand his wife about her pacing and her generally irritating behavior.

Because unlike Mary, John had the advantage of actually knowing their sons; knew Dean took his job as a big brother seriously – the only thing he took more seriously than hunting – and was thus in charge of Sam and would fiercely challenge anyone who tried to take that role from him.

And Sam – sweet, stubborn kid that he was – had always been overly sensitive to medications and anesthesia and would wake up when he was damn good and ready...and not a moment before then.

Which meant all they could do was wait...

But even John had to admit that was getting harder by the second.

Because while John knew their sons better than Mary, he also knew he had a lot to learn; knew that Sam and Dean weren't the same boys he had left behind several years ago and was eager to start getting reacquainted with his sons...even if it scared the shit out of him.

Because John could tell that Dean was different; was truly his own man now and would not take orders quite as easily; would be more likely to challenge John and make his own decisions.

And while John was proud of his oldest, he was also uncertain what that meant for their relationship. He and Dean had been drill sergeant and soldier for so long that John honestly didn't know how else to interact with his oldest...and was already dreading the awkwardness of navigating this new life.

And then there was Sam...

John sighed; staring at his youngest as the kid continued to lie motionless on the bed; marveling at how much Sam had physically grown and matured and wondering how their relationship would be now.

Because John didn't want to yell and argue and constantly butt heads with his youngest; didn't want the quiet venom of past anger and resentment to poison their fresh start.

John wanted Sam to understand that although he didn't approve of some of the kid's choices, he was still proud of him – just like he was of Dean – for everything he had faced and everything he had done believing it was right at the time.

Like delivering himself to the Alpha Vamp and attempting a life-threatening blood spell on the chance it would bring Dean back...

John shook his head; wanting to be annoyed and pissed by such recklessness...but feeling only love and pride as he wished he could take credit for the kind of man Sam had obviously turned out to be.

But John knew better; knew that credit belonged to his oldest. Because Dean had raised Sam – and himself, for that matter – and had done a damn good job.

John swallowed against the emotion that suddenly lodged in his throat and rubbed his wife's arm as she continued to lean against him; wondering if Mary even knew how awesome their sons were and how incredibly lucky they were to not only have them but to also have a second chance to be with them.

It was truly amazing.

John sighed; surprisingly content.

There was a beat of silence.

"I still can't believe all of this happened..." Mary commented, seeming to sense her husband's thoughts as she continued to watch their sons; Sam sleeping while Dean kept vigil.

John nodded his agreement and then tilted his head as he stared at the IV pole stationed near Sam's bed; remembering seeing a similar setup beside the chair Sam had been strapped to at the Alpha Vamp's house.

Seeming to sense John's focus, Dean glanced at his dad over his shoulder and then at the IV pole. "What?" he asked; his eyes checking the amount of IV fluid left in one bag and the amount of blood left in the other; wondering if John saw something he didn't.

"It's fine," John soothed, assuring Dean that his focus on the pole had nothing to do with Sam's care. "I was just remembering the IV pole back at the Alpha's house..."

Realization lit in Dean's eyes and he nodded; because he had noticed that as well and had remembered seeing other IV poles in the study where he and Sam had been taken during their first trip to the Alpha's house.

Mary frowned. "Do you think he did something else to Sam?"

"Like take a little extra blood for himself?" Dean asked; freshly pissed at the idea of the Alpha Vamp doing whatever he fucking pleased with his desperate, vulnerable little brother.

John nodded. "That's what vamps do."

Not that they had any proof; the blood bags being long gone with the Alpha...and Sam's right arm having been too damaged to show signs of needle pricks.

But still...there was no doubt that was exactly what had happened.

"Why would he want Sam's blood?" Mary wondered aloud, sitting up a little straighter in her chair. "Just for consumption..." She inwardly cringed at the thought of a vampire drinking her child's blood. "...or for something else?"

John shrugged. "Hard to say. Definitely for consumption...but maybe – "

" – maybe for his own blood spells," Dean finished, knowing John's train of thought and exchanging glances with his father.

John nodded.

"Just one more reason to kill him..." Mary announced; her hard tone matching her expression as she glanced at Dean. "Do you have extra machetes?"

Dean resisted the urge to laugh at that question; wondering how many other sons had ever been asked that so seriously by their mom.

"Do you?" Mary pressed. "Because I want that sonuvabitch dead."

"He will be," John assured. "Just as soon as Sam can travel, we'll – "

" – we'll make the decision together," Dean interrupted; cutting his eyes at John and silently informing his father that he could not return from the dead and resume his role of drill sergeant.

John arched an eyebrow but nodded; receiving the information and reminding himself that Sam and Dean had changed and would not respond to his orders as they once had...which was a reminder John knew he would have to constantly tell himself in the weeks and months to come.

After all, old habits died hard...

Mary frowned at the sudden tension in the room; her gaze flickering between her husband and oldest son. "Of course we'll make the decision together," she soothed, smiling encouragingly at Dean. "Me and your dad and you and Sam..."

"Sam's gonna need to rest and recover when he gets out here," Dean replied, still staring at John. "I'm not gonna have him drug all over the country...eating crap and barely sleeping while you chase down the Alpha Vamp."

Mary narrowed her eyes both at what Dean said...and what he did not say; knowing she was getting a glimpse of how life must have been for her boys as they had traveled around with John after her death.

Mary swallowed; suddenly wanting to cry. "I'm sorry," she quietly told her oldest.

Dean clenched his jaw; also swallowing against his own emotion as he realized what his mom was apologizing for. "It's fine," he responded; because what else was there to say? That part of their life was over and couldn't be changed now.

There was an awkward beat of silence.

Dean swallowed again and sighed. "Look...I'm not saying that I don't want the Alpha just dead as you do," he told his parents as they continued to sit beside Sam's bed. "Because I do. I want his fucking head for what he did to Sam. But I'm just saying Sam comes first. Not the hunt."

"Of course he does," Mary agreed – because no one could argue that their youngest's condition was still fragile – and then glanced at John.

John nodded.

Dean held his father's gaze – silently emphasizing that he wasn't fucking around about this issue – and then directed his attention back to Sam; shifting as he continued to sit on the mattress beside his brother and giving the kid a quick visual once-over.

All tubes, IV lines, monitor leads, and electrodes were in place; all screens were presenting acceptable vitals; and Sam's face was slowly regaining more color.

Dean nodded his approval but then frowned as he noticed Sam's slightly damp bangs.

Dean sighed and palmed his brother's forehead; reminding himself that the expected warmth of a post-surgery fever was better than the chill of approaching death that he had felt when he had touched Sam's skin back at the Alpha's house.

A fever this slight was manageable and was only further indication that Sam's body was rallying; that his immune system was doing as it should and he was fighting.

Dean smiled fondly, brushing Sam's bangs from his eyes and then feeling his smile fade as he focused on his brother's right arm.

Dean clenched his jaw as he stared at the layers upon layers of white bandages; only the tips of his Sam's fingers peeking out as the kid's right arm rested on a pillow beside him on the mattress.

Dean sighed; reaching to check the security of the bandages and then carefully slipping his own fingers between the gauze and Sam's skin; making sure the bandages weren't too tightly wrapped around his brother's arm.

Nodding his approval – because everything seemed fine – Dean repositioned himself beside Sam and once again rested his hand on his brother's chest; monitoring vitals and resuming his watch.

"He'll be okay," Mary soothed as she watched her oldest; unspeakably touched by how careful and tender Dean was with Sam; how attentive and patient.

Dean quirked a smile at the irony of his mom's words; Mary now comforting him, when just minutes ago he had comforted her. "I know," he agreed.

But that didn't make Sam's condition any easier to deal with – especially when the only reason his brother was so severely hurt was because of him.

Dean swallowed, refusing to allow himself to think about that now.

Because Sam was going to be fine; they just had to wait...

No one spoke; the cadence of the monitors surrounding Sam's bed and the soft voices and footsteps of nurses in the hall being the only sound in the room.

The relative silence stretched; John and Mary watching their sons from where they sat on the opposite side of their youngest's bed...while Dean watched his brother from where he sat right beside the kid on the mattress.

Mary sighed; hating herself for what she was about to ask but unable to resist. "Shouldn't he be awake by now?"

"Jesus, woman..." John groaned and shook his head.

Dean chuckled. "Sometimes it takes him a little while," he told his mom. "Sam's a big kid, but anesthesia knocks him on his ass."

Mary smiled; thinking it was sweet that Dean constantly referred to his gigantic brother as a kid and wondering if Dean even realized he did it.

"And pain meds..." John added; expanding the list of things that put Sam on his ass, having remembered that from when his youngest was indeed a kid.

"And alcohol..." Dean further listed and shook his head at the memory of his brother doing karaoke one time at a roadside bar after only two beers.

Mary smiled again and nodded; storing the information for later and eager for more tidbits; realizing she had so much to learn about her boys. "What else?"

Dean glanced at her, preparing to ask what she meant, when Sam shifted on the bed; the movement so slight it might have been missed.

But Dean sensed it; had watched his brother wake up countless times before and knew the the way the kid's face was now scrunching in that classic Sammy way.

Dean smiled – because this was what he had been waiting for – and turned away from his parents; John and Mary forgotten as he focused completely on his little brother.

"Sammy..." Dean called; his hand splayed in the center of Sam's chest and rubbing back and forth; encouraging the kid to wake while also keeping his brother grounded. "Sam..."

Sam shifted again; turning his head to seek Dean's voice.

Dean's smile widened. "Sammy..."

"Is he waking up?" Mary asked, standing from her chair and crossing again to the side of Sam's bed.

Dean glanced at her; nonverbally warning his mom to be quiet.

Mary blinked – surprised by the intensity of Dean's expression – but nodded; not saying another word.

John quirked a smile from where he continued to sit in his chair; having witnessed this event numerous times before – Dean keeping vigil while Sam finally woke up – and knowing from those experiences to keep his mouth shut and his ass out of the way.

Because Dean had this – and he did not want any help.

Sam sighed sleepily. "D'n..." he called; his voice hoarse and slurred; his eyes still closed as his nose wrinkled at the irritation of the nasal cannula resting on his cheeks and above his mouth.

Dean grinned; because he would never get tired of his name being the first word out of Sam's mouth whenever the kid woke up. "Yeah, Sammy..." he answered, rubbing his brother's chest. "I'm right here. Open your eyes."

Sam sighed again as if the request was too much trouble to fulfill.

Dean chuckled. "Hey. Sammy. Look at me."

"You're bossy," Sam replied in that loopy way he always did when he was drugged up and coming out of anesthesia.

"And short?" Dean finished, having heard this before.

Sam smiled – the expression sloppy and strangely sweet – and blinked his eyes open.

Dean returned the smile. "Hey-ya, Sammy..."

Sam stared at his brother; his forehead wrinkling as he tried to process what he was seeing now that he was truly looking. "Dean?"

Dean nodded; knowing he had to take this slow. Because Sam was usually disoriented when he first woke up from surgery and Dean didn't know how much his brother remembered about the blood spell...or everything else that had happened.

It was a good bet Sam had some expectation of Dean being there...but the kid sure as hell didn't expect John or Mary.

Dean sighed as his brother continued to stare at him; barely awake...and obviously confused. " with me?"

Sam titled his head on the pillow. "You with me?" he repeated, though his question had a different meaning.

Dean nodded. "Yeah. I'm with you," he confirmed and waited for Sam's next inevitable question.

Sam blinked but said nothing; continuing to stare blearily at Dean as if he didn't believe what he was seeing.

There was silence.

Sam blinked again. "Dean..."

"Sam..." Mary called, unable to keep quiet any longer; attracting Sam's attention before Dean could answer.

Sam slowly turned his head in the direction of Mary's voice; frowning as his mother hovered above him.

Mary smiled; feeling tears sting her eyes. Because this was her Sammy; this was her baby that she had held and had rocked and had tucked into his crib before everything had ended in fire and pain.

Mary swallowed as Sam blinked at her. "Hi, sweetie..." she said to him; the words choked by emotion.

Sam blinked again and then shook his head; the movement jerky and uncoordinated. "No..." he murmured; his voice quiet even as the monitors began to increase their tempo.

John frowned; concerned by the sudden change. "Sam..."

Sam's attention flickered to his dad as John stood and approached the bed. "No..." he repeated; anxiously shifting beneath the blankets; his movements clumsy from fatigue and medication.

Dean narrowed his eyes at his parents before calling his brother's name. "Sam..."

Sam continued to move on the bed; staring down at his right arm as if he had just realized it was elevated on a pillow and practically immobile due to the amount of bandages wrapped around it.

The realization did nothing to calm him.

Sam swallowed; his eyes wide as his heart hammered in his chest; his breaths shallow despite the extra oxygen supplied by the nasal cannula. "Dean..." he all but whimpered; his voice panicked as he blindly reached for the security of his brother.

Dean scowled at the blaring monitors – especially the skyrocketing cardiac output – and grasped his brother's left hand. "Sam..." he called back; leaning over his brother and angling to put his face in front of Sam's. "It's okay. Don't look at them," he told his brother, glaring again at his parents and then focusing back on Sam. "Look at me. You're okay. And I'll explain. Just calm down first..."

Sam's eyes darted to Dean. "Am..." He blinked; not nearly awake or coherent enough for this shit. "Am I dead?"

Dean arched an eyebrow at the unexpected question. "What? No."

"I am dead," Sam answered as if Dean hadn't spoken. "I'm dead," he repeated; his eyes misting with tears at his perceived failure to bring Dean back. "M'sorry," he told his brother; weakly squeezing Dean's hand in an effort to make him understand just how sorry he was. "I tried, but..." He swallowed. "M'sorry..."

"Sorry for what?" Mary asked; her expression confused yet compassionate as she leaned closer to Sam; not understanding why he was upset but nonetheless wanting to comfort her youngest.

Sam startled as his mom once again came into view; his gaze lingering on Mary before flickering to John.

And Dean instantly knew the problem.

Sam thought he was dead because as far as Sam knew, John and Mary were dead. Yet here they were; crowded around the kid's hospital bed.

And since the last thing Sam probably remembered was slowly bleeding out, the kid undoubtedly thought he had woken up dead...and since Dean was here, Dean was dead as well...and thus Sam had failed to save his brother.

"M'sorry..." Sam said once more, staring at Dean; his eyes brimming with unshed tears; his voice once again slurring as distress, fatigue, and medication attempted to pull him back into the depths of blissful unconsciousness.

Dean smiled and shook his head. "It's okay, Sammy," he soothed; rubbing his brother's chest in a familiar gesture of silent comfort. "You – "

" – Sam..." Mary interrupted, once again startling her youngest.

Dean frowned and instantly cut his eyes at her. "Mom..." he began; his tone sharp. "I love you, and I'm glad you're back. But you are freaking him out," he snapped, a little annoyed that Mary couldn't seem to realize that herself. "So back off..."

Mary's eyes widened. "But – "

" – Another word and you're out of this room," Dean growled; glaring at his mom and feeling Sam's heart continue to hammer beneath his touch as he rubbed the kid's chest.

Mary blinked; staring speechlessly at her oldest before she did as she was told; knowing Dean was just doing his job and protecting his brother...even from her, if need be.

But the harshness of Dean's words and expression still stung.

John swallowed a smile; knowing that being told a stove was hot was different from actually touching it yourself...which was similar in intensity to actually experiencing the results of pissing Dean off about his little brother and not just hearing about it secondhand.

"Let's sit..." John quietly suggested to his wife and pulled Mary away from the bed; knowing from experience that Dean was not fucking around; that their oldest would waste no time in kicking both of them out of the room if their presence continued to upset Sam.

Mary nodded at John's suggestion; allowing him to lead her away from Sam's bedside. "I'm sorry," she soundlessly mouthed to John and then sat on the edge of her chair while continuing to watch her sons; her hands nervously twisting in her lap.

Dean sighed; trying to soothe his own nerves as he focused again on his brother. "Sammy..." he called, still rubbing the kid's chest; the combination of his touch and his voice already having the desired effect as the monitors began to return to normal.

Sam blinked drowsily; obviously exhausted from trauma and surgery and emotional shock...but fighting to stay awake. "M'sorry..."

"Stop saying that," Dean lightly admonished. "There's nothing for you to be sorry for." He paused, making sure his brother was listening. "The spell worked, Sammy. It worked."

Sam frowned, glancing again at his bandaged right arm as if he indeed remembered what had happened. " did?"

Dean nodded; reaching to carefully reposition his brother's bandaged arm on the pillow from where the kid had disturbed it during all his moving around on the bed. "Yeah. It did."

Sam swallowed, digesting that information as he watched Dean tend to him. "'re not dead?"

Dean chuckled, satisfied that Sam's arm was properly supported again by the pillow and shifting on the mattress himself as he continued to sit beside his brother. "No, I'm not dead. And neither are you."

Sam titled his head; his hair fanning out across the pillow. "You're real?" he further questioned, seeming to have difficulty wrapping his fatigued, medicated mind around that fact.

Because in their world, seeing wasn't always believing and didn't always make something true.

"I'm real," Dean confirmed, returning his hand to the center of Sam's chest and remembering a similar conversation only a few months ago in an abandoned warehouse; him trying to convince his hallucinating little brother what was real.

But Sam wasn't hallucinating now; was just exhausted and disoriented.

Having your arm ripped open and almost bleeding to death would do that...along with being heavily medicated and unexpectedly confronted by your dead parents.

"Are y'sure you're real?" Sam asked quietly; his blinks becoming longer.

Dean smiled and patted Sam's chest. "Doesn't that feel real?"

Sam blearily glanced down at Dean's hand on his chest and then back at his brother's face. "Yeah," he agreed and then paused. "Stone number one..."

Dean arched an eyebrow, momentarily startled. "Yeah," he agreed; his voice hoarse with emotion as he smiled at his brother; touched that after everything that had happened, Sam would remember him saying that in that warehouse...and would say it back to him now.

Sam smiled as well – the expression sloppy and weak...but genuine – and then blinked, seeming to notice something for the first time.

Sam's smile lingered as he lifted his left hand from Dean's grasp; slowly bringing it to rest in the center of Dean's chest instead; covering the amulet. "You found it?"

Dean nodded; wondering how Sam could always do something so simple that made him want to cry like a girl. "Yeah, Sammy," he quietly replied. "I found it."

"Good," Sam praised; sounding breathless and tired as he swallowed. "S'yours."

Dean chuckled and adjusted the nasal cannula behind Sam's ear. "Damn right it's mine," he agreed heartily; determined to never take the damn thing off ever again; loving it as much as he loved the floppy-haired kid who had originally given it to him carefully wrapped in newspaper all those Christmases ago.

Sam smiled, though the expression looked more like a facial twitch this time. "M'glad you have it back," he told his brother; his left hand slowly falling from Dean's chest and resting on the mattress. "An' m'glad you're not dead."

"I'm glad you're not dead, either," Dean responded and then glared, though the expression had no real heat or anger. "Though I might kick your ass later for the stunt you pulled to bring me back..."

"Had to," Sam defended tiredly. "I needed you," he added, always extremely candid when medicated.

Dean swallowed against the fresh emotion that rose in his throat.

"I didn't wanna be alone," Sam continued; his eyes dipping closed before he blinked them open.

"You're not alone, Sammy," Dean assured; gently patting his brother's chest. "I'm right here."

Sam twitched another smile; holding Dean's gaze before glancing over at their parents; seeming to suddenly remember they were still in the room.

Mary smiled at her youngest but did not speak; her attention flickering to Dean.

Dean chuckled – recognizing his mother's nonverbal request to talk – and nodded his permission.

Mary's smile widened. "Hi, Sam..." she called quietly, hoping her youngest reacted better the second time around.

Sam blinked at her and then looked at John.

John smiled warmly. "Sam..."

Sam swallowed and then glanced back at Dean. "Are they real?" he whispered.

Dean nodded. "Yep," he assured his little brother; always amused when medicated Sam thought whispering meant no one could hear him but Dean. "They're real, Sammy," he further confirmed. "Seems like your little blood spell worked overtime..."

Sam frowned, glancing at his right arm and then back at Dean.

"They were in Purgatory, too," Dean explained, knowing his brother was not in any shape to draw conclusions.

Sam blinked; processing the information. "Ah..." he mused; his eyes closing. "First-line blood relative..."

"Exactly," Dean agreed; a wave of pride washing over him – because even injured, exhausted, and medicated...his little brother was still one smart kid.

Sam swallowed and opened his eyes, glancing back at his parents.

There was a beat of silence; Sam looking at them...John and Mary looking at him...and Dean holding his breath.

"Hey," Sam finally said and quirked a smile; one dimple making a brief appearance.

Mary laughed; her heart flooding with love and joy; touched by how incredibly sweet that one-word greeting was...and how incredibly excited and thankful she was to have a second chance to get to know her boys.

Mary grinned at Sam as he continued to stare at her. "Hey, yourself..."

Sam's smile lingered before turning back to Dean; seeming to realize someone was missing. "Cas?

Dean shook his head; not in the mood to discuss that now and knowing Sam was beyond understanding. "We'll talk about it later."

"'Kay," Sam easily agreed and closed his eyes before blinking them open. "Bobby?"

"Later, Sam," Dean answered, suddenly feeling like he was trying to put a toddler Sammy to bed. "Go to sleep."

"'Kay," Sam sighed, seeming to follow Dean's order; closing his eyes and remaining silent before looking at Dean again. "Who else?"

Dean frowned. "Who else was in Purgatory?"

Sam nodded sleepily.

"Later..." Dean replied; wanting his brother to rest.

Sam blinked and yawned. "Promise?"

Dean smiled. "You are such a girl," he affectionately told his brother even as he resumed rubbing the kid's chest; the gesture just as effective in lulling to sleep as it was in soothing panic. "But yes...I promise. We'll talk about everything later. Now go the fuck to sleep."

Sam smiled drowsily and nodded; because sleep did sound like a good idea. "D'n..."

Dean resisted the urge to sigh loudly. "Yeah, Sammy..."

There was a beat of silence.

"M'glad you're back," Sam finally whispered; his eyes dipping closed. "Was worth it..."

Dean clenched his jaw and nodded – wondering if Sam was actively trying to make him cry – and felt his brother's breaths deepen as the kid drifted back to sleep.

There was another beat of silence as Dean visually checked the IV lines along with the tubes, electrodes, and leads while scanning the monitor screens for baseline readings; resuming his watch over a sleeping – healing – Sam.

"Well, that went well..." John commented dryly, patting his wife on her back.

Mary scowled at her husband's sarcasm as Dean snorted.

"It'll go better the next time he's awake," Dean told his parents quietly. "He's still half out of it right now." He paused. "But Sam's happy you're back."

"I know," Mary agreed and nodded; because she could tell in just that one word and glance they had received from Sam; her youngest just as sweet and expressive as he had always been. "I'm just glad he seems okay overall. When I first saw him in that chair at the Alpha's house..."

Her voice faded, knowing she didn't have to elaborate about her fears; knowing Dean and John had feared the same – that Sam was dead.

"He's fine," Dean assured, keeping his hand on Sam's chest; needing the contact with his brother and always feeling better when he monitored the kid's vitals himself; feeling Sam's heartbeat along with the rise and fall of Sam's chest with each breath the kid took.

There was more silence; Dean continuing to keep vigil while Mary leaned back in her chair; settling in beside John as they watched their sons.

Several minutes passed before John spoke. "You know..." he began thoughtfully, his arm once again around his wife. "We should get the others out."

Dean glanced over his shoulder and nodded. "I was thinking the same."

Mary frowned. "You mean pull them from Purgatory?"

John nodded. "Why not? We know how. We know it works."

"Well, yeah..." Mary agreed hesitantly. "But we would need more Alpha blood."

John quirked a smile. "Weren't you planning to track him down anyway?"

Mary nodded; freshly pissed at what the Alpha Vamp had done to her youngest child...and freshly energized by the prospect of killing him for it. "Hell yes. I want him dead."

"So we heard..." John teased and lightly kissed his wife's forehead as she continued to lean against him; loving this feisty, ass-kicking woman named Mary Winchester.

"So, fine..." Mary allowed. "When we kill the Alpha Vamp, we'll have as much of his blood as we'll need. But what about the other parts of the spell? We would need the blood of each person's first-line blood relative."

John shrugged as if the detail was minor. "So we'll find 'em," he replied simply.

Mary arched an eyebrow. "Just like that, huh?"

"Shouldn't be that hard," Dean told his mom from where he continued to perch on the side of Sam's bed. "Sam kicks ass at research," he boasted, glancing at his little brother sleeping beside him on the mattress. "Once he's feeling better, I know he can hunt down the right information along with whatever words activate the spell."

"And then we can hunt down the right people..." John continued.

"And then we can pull the others from Purgatory," Mary finished and nodded, liking the idea more and more. "But what about the object that ties the blood relative to the person in Purgatory? I mean..." She nodded at the amulet resting in the center of Dean's chest. "Sam had that – whatever that is – but..."

"It's an amulet," Dean responded, smiling proudly. "And it's freakin' awesome."

Mary hummed her agreement and returned her son's smile. "I'm assuming there's a story there..."

Dean nodded and glanced again at Sam. "I'll let him tell it."

Mary continued to smile. "I'd like that."

John smiled as well; remembering the Christmas he had returned late from a hunt and had found Dean wearing the ugly gold charm around its black cord; his boys having seemed impossibly closer since that night; something inarguably special and symbolic having happened in John's absence.

John sighed; silently vowing to redeem himself; to be a better father this second time around.


John blinked at the sound of Mary's voice.

"Did you hear me?" Mary asked, staring at her husband.

John shook his head. "What?"

Mary sighed. "I said...what are we going to do about finding those objects?"

John shrugged. "I don't know. We'll just find them." He paused, winking at his wife. "Finding a needle in a haystack is what we do, right?"

"Right," Dean agreed before his mother could respond. "Besides, they're our friends," he reminded. "They deserve to be rescued from Purgatory if we know how to free them."

"Exactly," John replied and nodded his approval of this developing plan.

"And there's still plenty of evil shit to take care of here on earth, too," Dean added.

John continued to nod. "Sounds like the family business is alive and kickin'..." he drawled, smiling at his son and winking again at his wife.

Mary rolled her eyes even as she smiled knowingly at her husband; a mechanic from a family of a hunter leading a family of hunters – the family business indeed.

"Saving people..." Mary began, still smiling at John; knowing he would say the other part.

"Hunting things..." John added and glanced at his oldest.

"Sounds like we got work to do," Dean finished and smiled at his parents.

"Damn straight," John agreed; returning Dean's smile and hugging Mary as his wife continued to lean against him from where they both sat beside Sam's bed.

Dean nodded; holding his parents' gaze before glancing again at his sleeping brother; his hand still protectively resting on Sam's chest; feeling incredibly thankful that Sam would recover...that John and Mary were back topside...and that they finally had a chance to carry out the family business together – as a family.