Title: Blood Ties

Summary: Sam finds a way to break Dean out of Purgatory, with unforeseen consequences.

A/N: This is for Gidgelgal9, (loosely) based on her prompt, which is at the end of the story. I hope it comes close to what you had in mind, since I've just re-read it and realised I skimmed over a huge chunk of it. Whoops. Thanks to Sendintheclowns for the beta, and to the both of you for dangling the idea of this fic exchange in front of me and motivating me into writing again.

Disclaimer: Still not mine.

-0-

It all came down to blood.

In the end, that's what it would always come down to; he almost couldn't believe it had taken him four months to figure it out.

In his defence, it was forty-two days before Crowley let slip that he thought Dean was in Purgatory to begin with. Having a focus for his efforts wasn't much of a comfort given that it meant Dean and Castiel were in Purgatory, along with every evil son of a bitch they'd killed in their lifetimes.

Unsurprisingly, it was Dr Visyak that gave him the answer. A throw-away comment she'd made in a thesis on demonology, planes and states of matter. That, combined with some blood magic, a basic summoning ritual, and a heavy dose of desperation, and Sam might just be able to cobble together a rusty key.

Dean, through a combination of his own stubbornness and Winchester luck, had existed on every plane they were currently aware of. He'd been to Heaven, he'd been to Hell, he should have been on Earth, and he was now in Purgatory. A living, breathing human, in Purgatory. The fact he had been sent in there whole, rather than leaving his body behind on earth, was the thing that could swing things in their favour. Because Dean's body was supposed to be on Earth. That was where it naturally wanted to be. So it shouldn't take too much convincing to get it to return there. They just needed a bridge.

And that was where the blood came in.

Sam's blood.

Winchester blood, technically. Winchester DNA on both shores. The fact that Sam had also spent time in Heaven and Hell would only strengthen the bond. It might even allow Castiel, hopefully the only other being down there who had also walked on all four planes, to follow the residues that clung to Sam and find his way back too.

There was only one way to know for sure.

He set up in an out of the way location. No immediate neighbours to either see or hear that anything out of the ordinary was going on, but only a short distance from an access road and, more importantly, a hospital. Dean had been gone for over four months. The last time he'd been gone that long the relative time had translated to forty years.

He waited until nightfall to begin, although in truth that was probably more out of habit than any real necessity. A candle lit altar, some summoning sigils and an offering bowl. The familiar tang of burning sage. The ceremonial dagger.

There were no hesitation lines, just a smooth, clean cut across his left wrist. The right was harder, shallower, the knife hard to hold with tingling fingers, but it was still deep enough for the blood to flow.

It was faster than he'd expected, even if it wasn't the first time. The bowl quickly overflowed. Blood was still dripping on the chalk symbols, the flames, the burning herbs. The smell was something he would never get used to, was making his stomach churn.

Spots were forming before his eyes and his tongue was heavy but he didn't trip over the words. He knew it was working before the last line made it from his lips. He could feel the power in the air, in his spine, the sharp smell of it. Could feel his brother, close after all this time.

It was fairly anticlimactic, truth be told. There was no blinding flash of light, fiery haze or wind-filled vortex. There was just a gentle breeze brushing his hair, then two people appeared within the circle he'd drawn ready to receive them, falling to the ground with a thump.

He wasted a couple of seconds, roughly binding his bleeding arms as best he could with strips of cloth he'd kept at the ready, but he was still kneeling down and assessing them before either had made it further upright than their knees.

"Sam?" Dean's voice was rough, as though it hadn't seen moisture in days. It probably hadn't.

"Yes! It's me, I'm here."

"How did we…? What did you..? What are you doing?"

Sam's hands were exploring his brother's form. It was hard to tell in the candlelight, and with the blood he was transferring from his own searching hands, but there didn't seem to be any obvious gaping wounds. Dean wasn't writhing in pain or a jabbering mess. He seemed confused, maybe a little worried, but largely in one piece.

"Cas?" He didn't want to relinquish his hold on his brother long enough to give the angel a similar once over. But if the way Castiel had carefully risen to his feet and was taking in the room meant anything, he also seemed to be unharmed.

"What did you do?" Dean was staring at the altar in front of him and he didn't look impressed at Sam's ingenuity. If anything he looked worried, and slightly pissed off.

"It doesn't matter, it worked and you're here. I got you out. I'm sorry it took as long as it did but I didn't know where you'd gone and there was no one to help, and there isn't really a how to manual on breaking you brother out of Purgatory, but you're here now, and…"

"Sam?" Dean's grip was firm on his biceps. His brother shook him slightly and Sam felt as though his head was floating.

There was a flutter of air and the angel's shadow disappeared from the floor.

"Hey!" Dean let out a disgruntled yell. "Will you stop doing that?"

Dean clambered to his feet with a sigh, hands still clutching onto Sam's arms. Sam tried to follow him up but couldn't seem to find his legs, didn't understand why the floor of the cabin, which had been stable minutes before, was suddenly pitching like the deck of a ship.

He blinked and found he was on the floor again.

"Sam?"

"I think I…" words were hard so Sam held up his bleeding arms instead, letting them finish the sentence he couldn't. Only he couldn't seem to raise them. He was probably supposed to. Raising them was good, but they were too heavy, and now the magic was draining out of the room the pain was flooding in.

"Shit." Dean's eyes widened almost comically and he dropped to his knees again in front of Sam. Dean's hands were rough as they grabbed his wrists, the pressure anything but gentle. He couldn't help the cry that escaped him, tried to pull away, but even after four months in Purgatory Dean was still strong.

"It wasn't four months." Dean's voice was gentle even if his manhandling wasn't. Even if his eyes were more angry than Sam had ever seen them, and Sam had known that. Known that four months was the optimistic estimate, that he'd left his brother languishing for decades.

"Try about a day and a half."

But…

"It's really been four months for you?"

Sam nodded, swallowing down nausea.

"You're still an idiot," Dean told him, but his tone was remorseful. "And don't think that means I'm not going to kick your ass, just as soon as you're able to get up off of it. What the hell would you have done if it hadn't worked? Were you going to stitch yourself up?"

Sam shrugged. He hadn't really thought that far ahead. Hadn't considered that failure might be an option.

"Same old Sam." Dean shook his head.

Sam felt the same, but he couldn't tell whether Dean saw that as a good thing or not.

"Oh my god, just… shut up. For two seconds. Let me think."

Sam pressed his lips together to see if that would stop his thoughts from leaking out. He'd brought the med kit in with him, set it out ready, but it hadn't been himself he'd been preparing it for. Dean could probably guess as much, but it made his job easier, that their supplies were within easy reach and he had a needle already threaded and ready to go.

They weren't as bad as last time, when the ghouls had tried to bleed him dry. Sam thought that was probably why Dean was willing to do the stitching himself rather than ship him off to a hospital. That, and Dean didn't know where they were, and Sam didn't think he would be very good at giving directions at the moment. Especially not if he wasn't allowed to open his mouth.

Dean's hands were steadier than Sam's as he started stitching. His jaw was clenched, Sam could practically feel his anger, but his eyes were bright with moisture.

"You're hurt."

"No, I'm not."

"But you're…"

"Sam, I'm not."

The sniffle at the end of the sentence was hardly convincing.

"I promise."

Dean held his eye. Sam searched them but couldn't find a lie there, just a level of fury that brought a lump to his throat.

"Ok," Sam smiled, allowing himself to relax. He might have relaxed too much, because the next thing he knew the back of his head was connecting with the floor boards.

Dean was rambling as he worked, a sure sign that he was nervous. That should have worried Sam more than it did, but the pull of the needle on his arms and the smell of the blood was making his stomach roll. There was so much he needed to say, but instead he just closed his eyes and tried to regulate his breathing, tried to keep the nausea at bay, and allowed Dean's voice to follow him into the darkness.

-0-

Sam woke, hung-over from the spell work. The wounds on his wrists were prickling and there was a sharp throbbing behind his left eye.

The sun, just starting to appear in the window on this side of the cabin, and the guttering candles still laid out on the far side of the room, told him he'd been sleeping for a couple of hours.

He rolled onto his back, unable to stifle a groan, the thin bed roll he was lying on doing nothing to protect his aching muscles from the wooden floorboards beneath him.

He'd stopped moving but it took a couple of seconds for the world to still. He was about to close his eyes again, not quite ready to face the day, when there was movement to his right and Dean's face hovered in and out of focus above him.

"Dean!"

Sam sat up so quickly he head butted his brother's chin, tried to believe that was the reason why the world was spinning.

"Still here, dude," Dean agreed. The firm grip on his shoulder made Sam wonder if he was the one swaying rather than the room. "Take it easy."

"But…" Dean's hand lowered him back to the floor. He'd have protested, but his centre of gravity was much happier with the arrangement than it had been sitting up, and the words got lost as he tried to form them, his tongue suddenly feeling too heavy for his mouth.

Dean pulled his hand away, made a move as though to stand. Sam ached at the loss of contact, uncoordinated hands groping out blindly, trying to grab hold of him and make him stay. But lifting his arms hurt, and they fell back to the wooden floor with a thump.

Dean grimaced in sympathy and shook his head. "I was just trying to stop my leg from going numb, I wasn't going anywhere."

"Oh. Okay." Sam sank back into the floor, feeling silly. Dean had just been dragged out of Purgatory. Last night he'd looked as exhausted as Sam felt. Pretty much everything Dean owned and everyone he knew who was still alive was in this room, and he didn't even know what state they were in. Where did Sam think he was going to go?

"So, on a scale of one to ten, just how crappy are you feeling?" Dean's tone was light, but the look in his eyes was anything but, told Sam that last night's threat of a beat down had not been forgotten. He didn't answer, just stared at the frown on his brother's face and smiled.

Dean snorted in exasperation and shook his head, but he couldn't hide the upward twitch of his lips. Sam felt like shit, but Dean was no longer in Purgatory, looked a little dishevelled and a little tired, but whole, and managing the transition better than Sam had expected, so all in all he was feeling pretty awesome about his day so far.

"Yeah," Dean relented and offered him a smile, and it felt good to be so completely understood, even when he'd not uttered a word. "Get some more rest. But… this might not be the best time to mention it, but do we have any food?"

Dean flashed his teeth in an apologetic, yet hopeful, grimace.

"Uh…" Sam sat up on his elbows and looked around. His duffle was in the corner, spilling out cloths so worn they should probably come with their own toxic health warning. There was a bag of weapons within reach of his bedroll, and the altar against the far wall, still lined with candles and incense and covered in Sam's blood. Just looking at it took away any desire he might have felt for food.

He tried to think what was in the car other than warm water and a sole protein bar that he'd so far avoided eating because it was flat and had a boot print on the wrapper.

"Uh…" He looked back at his brother and cringed. He'd been so intent on getting Dean out of Purgatory; he hadn't really stopped to consider what his needs might be when he managed it. The first aid kit had been stocked and left within reach, along with blankets and fluids to fight off shock. He hadn't really considered that the worst of Dean's ailments might be hunger.

"It's okay, don't worry about it. I'm not that hungry anyway." Dean made a crappy attempt to hide his disappointment, his stomach choosing that moment to make a liar out of him, growling so loudly Sam could practically feel the vibration through the floorboards.

"We're only a couple of miles out of town," Sam offered, sitting up again and willing the room to stay still. "We could hit the store, grab some supplies." No way was Dean setting foot out of this room without him, but Sam was pretty sure he could slump in a pathetic heap in the car just as comfortably as he could on the floor here. It'd be a quick in and out, twenty minutes tops, and he'd be back here using Dean's filthy jacket as a pillow before his brain had even registered it was awake. Nothing too taxing or strenuous.

Dean had other ideas.

The diner was quiet by the time Sam had dragged on his cleanest clothes and wiped off the worst of the blood. Dean was hungry, yes, but he was also Sam's brother, and seemed to think food and fluids would be as beneficial to Sam as rest. He'd also spent an undetermined time in another dimension, populated by monsters and creatures from normal people's nightmares. He didn't say it, but he didn't have to. Holing up in a cabin in the middle of nowhere might have been appealing to Sam, but Dean needed to see that the world was still turning, and had other people in it. Needed some sense of normality to convince himself this was real.

Who was Sam to deny him that?

His headache spiked the moment he walked through the door and all he could see was white until his eyes adjusted to the too bright halogen lighting. He'd been dependent on candlelight and the veiled Michigan sun for too long.

Dean was already chatting contentedly with the blonde that was leading him to a booth and failed to notice Sam falter.

He took a seat opposite his brother. Dean had taken the seat facing the exit. The back of Sam's neck prickled and he had to fight the urge to turn around, to take in the almost empty room behind him. It had been over four months since he'd last had his back to his exit.

He took a breath and tried to ease some of the tension he could feel building in his shoulders. It had been four months since he'd last had someone to watch it for him, and he tried to focus on that instead. To focus on Dean, nodding and accepting a ridiculously large cardboard menu, smile on his face, one arm draped casually along the top of the seat at his side. His posture was relaxed and easy, but Sam could see the way his eyes catalogued every patron, the way he maintained his awareness so Sam didn't have to, and he tried to smile back. To push down his unease.

He accepted the menu that was offered him with a smile he didn't feel, looking up at the waitress for the first time. He almost recoiled when they made eye contact, sitting up bolt upright in his chair and drawing his arm back in shock. He had to force his trembling hand to rise again and take the laminated menu from her. He could practically feel the weight of Dean's frown but couldn't lift his eyes to meet it. Couldn't have given any reasonable explanation for his own reaction.

Her name tag said Mandy. She was a couple of years younger than him, would be pretty if she'd smiled. She was pale and he could see the dark circles under her eyes that make-up couldn't hide. Her haunted look was one he recognised. His stomach lurched with familiarity.

Like him, her smile didn't reach her eyes.

"Dude, what was that?" Dean demanded as soon as she'd returned behind the counter out of earshot.

Sam shook his head, partly in answer and partly just to clear it, eyes fixed on the overly shiny list of breakfast foods in his hands. Even the cheery cartoon pictures of pancakes, sausages and eggs made him nauseous, and he found himself contemplating the imminent arrival of actual food to their table with something approaching panic.

"Just, get some food in you. You'll feel better when you've eaten."

Dean's remedy for almost everything, but Sam could feel the concern behind it. It hadn't escaped Dean's notice – or his comment – that food hadn't been exactly high on Sam's list of priorities while Dean had been languishing in Purgatory, and he was still feeling shaky from blood loss after the ritual the evening before.

Dean couldn't change the past, give Sam the past four months back, but giving him breakfast was something he could do.

Sam wanted desperately to be able to eat it for him.

Mandy returned with a pot of coffee, appearing at Sam's side so suddenly that he started.

Dean breathed deeply in consternation from his seat opposite, something Sam had missed so much he almost laughed with relief, but then Mandy was speaking and her voice was like nails down a chalkboard in the back of his brain and it was all he could do to close his eyes and remain conscious, let alone make out any of her words.

"Yeah, two coffees, thanks."

Dean's voice snapped him back to awareness, cleared his head.

Mandy offered Dean her false smile and poured coffee into his mug, casting anxious glances in Sam's direction from the corner of her eye. Something she and Dean had in common.

As she raised the pot again her long sleeve fell back slightly and Sam could see the bandage on her wrist.

Absently, he played with the frayed end of his own while she poured the second cup, afraid to raise his gaze from the table.

She was standing so close to him that he could smell her; the sweat on her skin, the grease coating her apron, and beneath that, something more. Something beating the same rhythm as his own.

He closed his eyes but could still see her blonde hair streaked with red, the stains on her hands, the bodies at her feet. Could hear her laughter and her heartbeat.

He'd been clean for nearly two hundred years but had never craved anything more, and he knew it would be the only thing he could keep down.

Something brushed against his leg and he was jolted back to the diner. Mandy's hair and hands were clean and all he could smell was the coffee she'd just poured him. Dean's leg was resting against his own, a steady pressure. Comforting. Grounding.

He unglued his tongue from the roof of his mouth.

"Thanks."

She could probably barely hear the word, but seemed happy to have received it none the less. The smile she gave him before she turned and walked away was tentative, but genuine.

Dean didn't need words to communicate his feelings, which was a good thing because it seemed he was equally incapable of finding any. But his eyes were hard and purposeful, his jaw set, even if he opened and closed his mouth a couple of times before settling on silent glaring to get his point across.

Sam took a sip of his coffee, buying Dean an extra few second's grace, and tried to pretend that he didn't wish it was something else coating his tongue, soothing his dry throat.

Dean's boot ground painfully down on his sneakered toe, forcing Sam to confront the reality of his thoughts. The memory of the fear and shame, the gut wrenching terror of that last time made him gag. He swallowed down his coffee with a grimace and it was just coffee, and he'd never been more grateful for that fact.

"I don't know," he sighed, but he lowered his drink and gave Dean eye contact, hoping he would see the honesty and frustration in those few simple words. "I just feel… off. Since…"

"The ritual." He'd trailed off, but Dean finished the thought for him. Still in tune, even after four months and Purgatory. Maybe if the distance had already been there he'd have let it fester and widen, but Dean could still finish his sentences for him, which made Sam vow that this wouldn't be like last time. Maybe this time he could open up without the risk of being pushed away.

Maybe this time he would trust Dean enough to try.

"Yeah."

"And the waitress? How does she..?"

"I don't know." He was tired and he knew his answers were frustrating; he didn't need the look on Dean's face to tell him, he could feel it for himself. But he couldn't explain it, because he didn't understand himself what he was feeling. Or seeing.

"You saw her wrists, right?" Dean was leaning in, conspiratorial. On the job. "How you two have matching… accessories," he nodded to Sam's bandages, eyes flashing with that same anger they'd held as he'd helped to wrap them, and Sam moved his arms, which had been resting casually on the table top back onto his knees out of sight.

Dean sighed at the motion and looked guilty for bringing them up, even if his jaw did tighten. Sam lent forward to show that the action hadn't been meant as a dismissal. He was falling into familiar patterns despite himself, trying to believe that if Dean couldn't see it, maybe it would no longer hurt him.

"Maybe, yeah. I think so. But it's something more too. Something…" he looked around, searching for the words, for something that would make his thoughts and feelings make sense. "We'd know if she was a demon, right?" It came out a little bit too close to begging than he'd have liked, too close to the little kid looking to his big brother for validation.

"You think she'd possessed?" Dean raised his eyebrows in surprise; that obviously hadn't been a blip on his radar.

"No." He answered decisively, surprising even himself. But it was true; he really didn't, even if it would explain some things.

Except for how it really wouldn't.

He lent back and closed his eyes, wearied beyond belief. "This time yesterday you were still in Purgatory." He opened his eyes just in time to see the guilt flicker across Dean's face, which caused him to roll them and smile, despite himself. "I'm just saying… with the magic and the worry and the blood loss… this doesn't have to be something. Maybe I'm just a little off."

"You're always a little off."

"Exactly. So maybe this will just blow over. Maybe I'll stop acting weird when I stop feeling weird."

"Maybe." But he could tell Dean believed that about as much as he did.

They sunk into silence, which was eventually broken by Mandy returning to deliver food Sam couldn't even remember ordering. Either she or Dean had known to cater for his delicate stomach however, if the oatmeal and toast she laid out in front of him were anything to go by. Unfortunately, just because he wasn't going to be asked to eat Dean's fried eggs and hash browns didn't mean he couldn't smell them. Dead did have the good grace to look apologetic as he squirted a large dollop of tomato ketchup onto the side of his plate. He also managed to spray their waitress with salt as he gave the shaker an enthusiastic shake, more of it landing on her than on his food.

Given that she merely brushed the grains off with a slightly irritated look, Sam assumed it was safe to say she wasn't a demon.

"Can I get you guys anything else?"

Either it was her voice, or the accompanying hand on his shoulder, but Sam suddenly found he was incapable of thinking about anything at all.

The headache that had been dancing behind his left eye all morning spiked with intensity, as though someone was digging an ice-pick into his brain. His hand jerked on its way to his head. He heard the clatter of porcelain on Formica and his brother's curse; smelt the bitter tang of coffee before the white space of his vision gave way to red, the coffee smell to copper and sulphur. The lingering feelings of affection and nausea were drowned out by a crippling fear and a white hot rage. They had trusted her, they had begged her, and she had smiled as she'd killed them, smiled even as she was screaming on the inside. Then there were men, and more pain, not all of it her own. Night gave way to day and she was alone in her own mind but the knife was still in her hand and she still knew how to use it, still knew how to make the blood pour and flow, still…

"'am. Hey, you with me? Sam!"

He was moving, shaking. There was a tight grip on his shoulders where moments before there had been cold unease. Blinking brought his brother into focus.

"You with me?" Dean repeated. It came out harsh, more of a demand than a question, but even as his head pounded and his stomach rolled he understood that the emotion hardening Dean's features wasn't anger.

Anger directed at him, at least.

He blinked, didn't want to attempt nodding, but Dean must have seen his eyes were able to focus, were tracking the real world again, because he sat back with a massive exhale of relief.

He didn't relinquish his grip on Sam's shoulder though, for which Sam was grateful. He felt as though his brother's hand was the only thing tethering him to reality, much like Mandy's had pushed him from it what he hoped was only moments before.

He looked at Mandy and didn't recoil from her face, because he understood now. She clearly didn't, if the frightened look on her face was anything to go by, but she seemed to buy whatever Dean was telling her – Sam tuned out the words to focus on the sound of his voice. He didn't need to hear the words, they'd been familiar once to him as well as Dean, they'd just both believed they wouldn't be needed again.

She scurried off only to return a few seconds later with a glass of water before disappearing behind the counter again, seemingly chased off by the look on Dean's face.

There was a scratching sound and he looked down to see Dean sliding two pills across the table towards him, leaving them to rest next to the glass of water.

Sam wasn't convinced more pain pills on a still empty stomach were the answer, but he didn't have a better one so he took them anyway.

"Tell me you didn't just have a vision."

"Okay," Sam agreed.

"Sam." Dean's voice was still firm, and Sam envied that he could keep it steady.

"You told me to…"

A head tilt and an eyebrow raise were all it took for Sam to fall silent, leaning back into his chair with what he guessed must have been a petulant frown on his face.

"You going to tell me what you saw?"

Sam looked across the table, his eyes drawn to the splash of red across the edge of Dean's plate, coating his discarded knife.

"I don't think you wanna know. Not while you're eating," he clarified.

"That bad?"

"There weren't exactly any rainbows or kittens."

"Demon?"

"Yeah, but… I don't think it was a vision. I know what you meant when you said…" he trailed off after overriding Dean's protest. "But I think this was something that's already happened."

"Huh." Not the most eloquent of reactions, but what more could Dean say? That one syllable and his confused expression seemed to sum the situation up nicely.

"Okay," Dean seemed to pull himself together with immense effort. "But why would you…"

"Can we not do this now?" Sam asked, fairly sure he knew what the answer was going to be. "I'm not saying never. Just not while I'm trying too hard not to hurl on the table to be able to think about anything else. Please?" He took a deep breath and swallowed, and could see the contrition in Dean's eyes.

"I guess if it's already happened we don't have to rush out of here and stop anything," Dean relented. "You want some air?"

"Would that involve moving?" Sam asked with a smile he didn't feel.

"Probably, yeah."

"Then no."

Sam stared at the plate in front of him in silence. Food had never been high up on the list of things he'd wanted to do today – truth be told, he hadn't even considered getting out of bed or doing anything other than contemplating the fact Dean was here and alive. He'd been feeling steadily worse with every second he'd been awake. Even Dean looked to have lost his appetite. But his head was pounding in time with his heartbeat, his wrists were burning and his fingers felt clumsy and numb. His stomach might have other ideas, but Dean hadn't been lying when he'd said food and fluids would be the fastest cure.

He took a few more sips of his water, willing his stomach to settle, then set about tearing a slice of toast to pieces, as though hoping he could somehow absorb the nutrients he needed through osmosis.

He put the smallest piece he could find into his mouth and chewed, trying to find enough saliva to swallow.

He fumbled picking up the second piece as the table swam in and out of focus. He wanted to leave, to be back at the cabin or checked into a motel, but he had no idea how he was going to get out of this seat, find the strength in his legs to take him the few steps back to the car.

He closed his eyes and willed himself not to panic, to force toast past the lump in his throat.

Dean's fingers were on his wrist and something cold was pressed into his palm. He opened his eyes to find a glass of orange juice on the table in front of him, his fingers being curled around the cool glass. He sighed in relief, given a sensation to focus on other than his panic and nausea, something to class as breakfast that he could actually swallow.

Dean's hand remained on his, palm warm against the back of his hand. Dean's fingers were pressing gently against the inside of his wrist, just below where the bandage ended, a frown marring his features. Sam didn't need the examination; he could hear his own pulse still, knew it was slowing under his brother's touch, but made no effort to move his hand away.

"'m 'k," he offered. He hadn't tried for so long to bring Dean back from Purgatory only to freak him out when he got here. "Or, I will be, anyway."

"Sure you will," Dean agreed. "Now, drink your juice." Dean turned the straw around so it was pointing in Sam's direction. He smiled and bent forward to take a sip, not even having to lift the glass. It was such a small gesture, but the fact that Dean had thought about it made him want to cry for a completely different reason. He'd been alone while Dean was in Purgatory, truly alone for the first time, with no one to care if the streetlights hurt his eyes or to make sure he survived on more than caffeine. Someone that knew physically lifting a coffee cup to his lips had made the wounds and his whole arms ache.

Maybe it was the juice, or maybe it was his brother's presence, the warm knee against his own, the concerned glances and steady babble of distracting chatter, but by the time the glass and Dean's plate were empty the idea of standing didn't seem like such a challenge. He'd even been able to finish his mutilated toast, but the thought of swallowing oatmeal had made him gag so he decided not to attempt the real thing.

"I'm gonna head to the bathroom, then we can get out of here," Dean told him. "You going to be okay while I'm gone?"

"I don't need to come with you." Sam raised his eyebrows in surprise.

"Well that's a relief." Dean smiled, patting him absently on the shoulder as he slid out of the booth. It wasn't until Dean had disappeared through the door to the men's room that Sam understood the meaning behind the question; they'd both been clingier than usual when faced with the other's return from Hell, and for the first time since Dean had returned and he'd been awake, his brother was no-longer within grabbing distance.

Sam mentally shook himself. Unless there was a portal to another dimension hidden in the rest room, his brother was going to be fine. That didn't mean he wouldn't find something to occupy himself while Dean was gone.

He wiped his fingers on his napkin, closed his eyes and took a breath, mentally preparing himself, then slid from the booth. He used his palm on the surface of the table to push himself to his feet, hissing at the pull against his stitches. The first few steps away from his seat felt like a leap of faith, but by the time he'd crossed the diner and made it to the till on the counter he was confident that, as shaky as he might feel, he wasn't going to actually fall over.

It was Mandy that came over to settle up their bill, looking shy and slightly wary, as though unsure of being around him while they no longer had Dean to act as a buffer between their raw edges. Their fingers touched as he handed over the money and there was no horror this time, only a fear and a longing. Almost overwhelming sadness and the hint of something Sam knew all too well.

"It's not coming back."

She flinched at his voice, took a step back but didn't run. Didn't feel the need to ask him what he was talking about.

"What those men did to it, to you… They sent it away, and it's not coming back."

Behind him he could hear the bathroom door close, could feel his brother's presence in the room and moving towards them, but there was too much hope on her face to leave it at that and walk away.

"I know why you did it. I know what it's like… the need to feel that you're in control of your own life, your own body, mind. But you are now." She glanced at her bandaged wrists reflexively. "It caused enough destruction, don't let it cause any more."

He didn't know if he'd gotten through to her, but he had no more insights to offer. Her pain was still so raw; Sam could still feel his mutilated soul vibrating with the strength of it, felt its ripples in the air.

With one last sad smile he turned away, his brother falling into step beside him. He knew that Dean probably had a million questions, shouldn't have been surprised at the first one he asked yet found he was.

"She gonna be alright?"

Sam shrugged. It had taken everything from her. There had been so much blood. But she was still here; she still got out of bed and went to work. Sometimes that was enough.

Until it wasn't.

The sun was glinting off the cars in the parking lot, shining in his eyes and reminding him that his headache had never really gone away. He was grateful that he at least made it to the nearest trashcan before her grief overwhelmed him, and he lost what little breakfast he'd been able to swallow.

-0-

They travelled back to the cabin in silence. Dean didn't have to use words, his expression alone was enough to tell Sam to stay in the car, that collapsing onto his bedroll like he'd been fantasising about since leaving it was not going to happen. He was too tired to argue though. Too tired to move. So he stayed in the car and watched Dean's silhouette through the windows as he moved around the cabin, exiting a couple of minutes later with two bags that he threw in the trunk before climbing back into the car.

They drove in silence until he could no longer feel her, the dull ache in the back of his brain. Dean must have sensed the change in him, even if he didn't know its cause. But Sam could feel his muscles relaxing and his breathing even out, could look out onto the sunlit afternoon without squinting, and Dean had been watching him too closely not to feel it too.

"She was possessed?" Dean broke the silence. "That was what you saw?"

Sam nodded and didn't feel as though his head was going to shatter.

"Why now?" Dean pressed finally, and Sam guessed that this was 'later'. He'd thought they'd at least have made it to a motel, stopped for the night before the conversation came, but he shouldn't have been surprised. Dean felt at his safest in the car, used its comfort for most of the conversations he'd rather not have.

And as long as they were driving, Sam literally couldn't run. Not that he even wanted to this time.

"I mean, all your other visions were linked to Azazel's special project. Yellow eyes is long passed dead."

Dead, dead; not in Hell, dead. Which for a demon probably meant Purgatory.

Which meant Dean wasn't the only thing in Purgatory with which he shared blood.

He could see the moment Dean's train of thought caught up with his own, could see the cold glint in his eye, the way he lowered the water bottle he was holding before taking a sip, as though having to swallow would choke him.

Sam didn't need water for that, the very oxygen in the car seemed suddenly suffocating.

They'd been here once already. Sam had meddled with things too big for him to understand and he had let Lucifer walk free into the world. They were still paying the price for that mistake, whether it had been intentional or not. He'd thought he was doing the right thing, but the world had still burned. Sam was sometimes still taken by surprise that Dean could look him in the eye, even now. The idea that he might have accidently unleashed Azazel was too horrifying to contemplate.

But then, so were most of the things they spent their lives dwelling on.

"Did he… did I bring him back with me?"

Sam started, momentarily confused. He'd obviously misunderstood the expression on his brother's face. Dean wasn't sickened by what Sam might have done – Dean was blaming Dean.

"No," Sam told him, more firmly than he believed, as though his false conviction could somehow make it true. "No. Why would you?" Except for the small part where Azazel's blood also ran through Sam's veins, was spilt on that altar. "Besides… the things I saw... They didn't have anything to do with that. And if yellow eyes did somehow make it back, it would have been at the same time as you. It would have been last night, right?"

Dean nodded, trying to look convinced.

"Whatever happened to Mandy happened long before that, which means Azazel can't be involved."

"But if you're seeing it…"

"The visions were linked to Azazel, but my powers weren't. Not really. I didn't start using them until after he'd gone. And this wasn't a vision. This was something new."

He'd had enough of new. New problems seemed to sprout up wherever he went, and he was getting tired of it.

They fell into silence again. Dean seemed content just to drive; maybe he'd missed being able to while in Purgatory, missed the feel of the leather and comforting rumble of home. Or maybe he'd just missed the Impala. Sam had taken it back after Dick, after Crowley and Kevin had disappeared, but for Dean, it had been almost a year since he'd last been behind her wheel.

He might have been aching, and he'd thought all he'd needed was a bed, but Dean was right. The two of them in the car, together, was more healing than sleep.

They were an hour away from Kalamazoo when his headache returned, the same familiar building throb, but the footsteps along his spine felt different. There was less sorrow and more malice. More of a gut churning wrong.

By the time they pulled up the main strip he was literally shaking, kept turning in his seat to look for the source of the eyes he could feel on the back of his neck. If Lucifer had been lounging on the back seat with an easy smile and a 'long time no see' it would almost have been a relief, to give his crazy a name and a face rather than feeling as though he was being wrapped up in a blanketing evil.

"Want me stop?" Dean was eyeing the sign for a hotel up ahead. "It's been a weird day. We could both do with the rest."

"No, keep driving. Please."

If Dean was going to protest, Sam's begging killed it before the words could be formed. He waited for another twenty minutes, until he still had a pounding headache but no longer felt like he wanted to itch off his own skin to rid himself of the contamination within. Until he could think through the fog of evil.

"Ok, we can stop now. Pull into the next place you see."

"We're almost Portage; we might as well keep going."

"No. We don't want to get too far away."

"Too far away from what?"

Five deaths in three days. All Sam had needed was a wifi connection and the name of the town to tell him that. He didn't need the usual witness interviews or sulphur residue to tell them what they were dealing with.

"Demon."

He turned the laptop screen to face his brother, massaging the bridge of his nose in an effort to force his eyes to focus.

"How do you..?"

"I know."

"My guess would be the mail-guy. He's a link between all five vics and he'd have the access. My only question: if you could possess anyone in the world, any time, why would you go for a guy wearing those shorts?"

Sam snorted.

"Should be easy enough to know for sure. We've got his address. A little graffiti at his home'll ensure he's not going anywhere. When he's trapped he's just an exorcism away from a one way trip to the pit."

"We need to get this done tonight," Sam agreed, standing and making his way over to the bag of supplies that had made it into the room with them. "Before anyone else gets killed."

"Agreed, but I got this one. Hey," Dean over-rode his protest before he could form it. "If you think you're going to be able to do something other than pass out or vomit on the guy, then I'm all on board with you coming. But unless you can guarantee me that you're not going to wig out, the safest place for you to be is right here. The safest for both of us."

He wanted to protest, but he couldn't argue with that logic. It stung, but he knew it was true. Driving through town had been torture. Put him in a room with the thing and he had no idea how he was going to react. But he doubted it would be a pleasant experience.

Dean was right to go alone, but that didn't mean he had to like it. The guy hadn't even been out of Purgatory twenty-four hours and already he was preparing to take on a demon solo.

"Hey, 's not like it's anything I haven't done before."

He'd obviously been doing a poor job of keeping the reluctance off his face.

"And I'm fine. It was only, like, a day and a half for me, remember? And I got enough rest while you were doing your comatose act at the cabin." He gave the cocky grin that Sam remembered. "Easiest job we've had in years, dude. I'll be fine."

He wanted to believe that, but experience, and the years he'd spent hunting alone, were enough for him to know that no job was ever easy when there was no-one to watch your back.

Dean left at nightfall. Sam was too twitchy to eat, too wired to sleep, too exhausted with pain to even pace. He didn't know how long it would take for Dean to get back into town, set the traps in place, and do what needed to be done. He didn't even know what time the demon mail man would make it home. But it felt like too long.

He could feel it the moment the demon was expelled, feel the band being removed from around his chest allowing him to breathe deeply for the first time in seven hours, but it wasn't until his phone rang and he could hear Dean's voice over the line that he allowed himself to relax. The last time Dean had been out of his sight vanquishing the bad guy it had taken over four months to get him back again. The fact he sounded nothing but tired and cranky, and promised to bring pizza back with him, made it the best phone call he'd received in months.

He sat down heavily on the end of his bed, suddenly too exhausted to stand. With a groan he flopped back until he was lying flat, feet still on the floor and phone in his hand. It would be twenty minutes before Dean arrived with food. He'd just rest here for a minute then get moving, maybe even, finally, have that shower.

He shifted slightly when he heard the door open, what felt like seconds later, but couldn't find it in him to give more than a grunt in greeting. He almost opened his eyes when hands gripped him by his armpits and dragged him up the bed, but he was suddenly so much more comfortable with his legs on the bed that he didn't bother.

The smell of pepperoni greeted him and he was tempted to rise, but then a blanket was being draped over him and that seemed to make the decision for him. Dean's palm rested for a moment on his forehead, but if the chuckle he gave was anything to go by he wasn't concerned, or injured, or pissed off, or any of the other things he'd mostly been before Dick had bit the dust. He was just there. Eating pizza. Flicking through the TV.

Sam drifted off into the best sleep he'd had in four months.

-0-

Sam rose surprisingly early. By the time the dawn light was winking in through their window he was eating cold pizza and watching his brother sleep, trying to convince himself there was nothing creepy about the act. Dr Visyak's papers were open in front of him, his own notes and ideas scattered among them, the genesis of the idea that had pulled his brother from Purgatory.

For the first time since completing the ritual, Sam felt as though he was able to think. His limbs still felt unnaturally heavy and his wrists held a throbbing sting, but since he'd slit them only thirty-six hours earlier it was only to be expected. The other side effects, the pallor of doom under which he'd been living, seemed to have lifted with last night's exorcism.

"Find anything useful?"

Dean sat up in bed. His face was neutral but Sam could feel the scrutiny from across the room.

"Nothing definitive," Sam shrugged. "But then, no one's really done what I did before. Or at least, there aren't any records of it."

"You have a theory though."

It wasn't a question. Dean lent back against the headboard and beckoned to Sam with one hand in a 'give it to me' gesture.

"I use my blood." Sam said simply.

"I noticed that, thanks. And..?"

"My blood's like yours. It's been to Heaven, and to Hell. And we're genetically linked. It was a strong enough bridge to pull you out. Same with Cas. He's taken Jimmy's body to all three planes, and he was close enough to you physically at the time to get yanked out with you. But because of Azazel… then Ruby, and Lucifer… I could fight off the Croatoan virus; we always knew there was something funky about my blood. And I've been possessed, by Meg and Lucifer. It wasn't a strong enough link, not like the one with you. Not enough to pull them out too. They'd have been drawn right to me, the cabin would have been crawling with demons if it had done and that didn't happen. But I do have a connection to them. And I think… maybe… whatever I did, it woke that up.

"With Mandy, I could feel the residue of that thing in her. Just being around her. And her voice and her touch, they just kicked it up a notch."

"It was stronger last night, wasn't it?" Dean probed. "Because the demon was still here."

Sam nodded. "What happened?"

"Things went according to plan, for once. The demon was in the mailman. It was trapped as soon as it got in the front door. Cursed me out a little bit, tried to brain me with a flying lamp but its powers were pretty muted. Didn't take long to send it back to Hell.

"So, is this going to happen every time you get near a demon now? Because I have to say, close proximity to demons is something of an occupational hazard."

"I don't know. I don't know if it will fade in time, or get stronger."

"This doesn't have to be a bad thing."

Sam threw him an incredulous look.

"Last night's hunt was the easiest we've ever had. Seven hours from start to finish, including driving time. If you hadn't known it was there, that demon would still be killing people now. It might have been days, weeks before it showed up on a hunter's radar. If it showed up. I'm not saying you're not a freak," Dean grinned. "But you have your uses."

"Staying in the room trying not to hurl didn't exactly feel useful."

"I guess not."

Dean fell silent, but Sam could tell from the look on his face he was struggling with something. Trying to work something out. Something Sam didn't think he was going to like.

"What?" he asked, hesitantly.

"Maybe you just need to find your on/off switch." He looked apologetic, which stopped Sam from throwing a heavy book at his head. "A little experimentation could help you figure it out. We hold up somewhere out of the way, summon a demon, keep it in a trap, and let you see if you can find a way to deal with being in the same room as it. It's not going to be fun, I agree," Sam snorted at the understatement. "But… the alternative is you pass out every time you get too close to a demon."

"I didn't pass out…" Sam trailed off mulishly because Dean was right, he might as well have done. And they had no hope of going after Kevin and Crowley until Sam go a handle on what was going on.

"We'll figure something out," Dean promised. "And if we don't… we'll deal. Together."

Sam nodded. Together. It had only been a couple of days ago that Sam had been willing to give up anything to have that.

He'd do what his brother asked. He'd train. He'd try to get a handle on the new corners and switches in his brain. It might suck, but if this was the price of having Dean with him and out of Purgatory, then he was more than willing to pay it. Because it all came down to blood. In the end, that's what it would always come down to. Dean was his brother, he was alive and they were together. Everything else was secondary to that.

THE END

Prompt: Sam is able to pull Dean and Castiel from purgatory after a long search through Bobby's ancient texts. More of a summoning ritual than anything but it takes the blood of someone who has been to Heaven and Hell. Sam's. The summoning ritual does something to Sam- ie maybe it reawakens his powers or gives him the power to see all creatures in their true form (and human auras - ie the dark souls vs. innocent souls) or he can hear thoughts/feel peoples feelings. Something that is so overwhelming they have to keep him in a remote location until he learns to deal with them. But in the end, being a freak only helps their and again, if purgatory time could be the opposite of hell time where Dean and Castiel are stuck for an hour when it was a month Sam's time? That would be great. :)