A/N: DISCLAIMER: I do not own Supernatural or any of its characters. All credit goes to the amazing Eric Kripke. Big thanks to those who have read/favorited/commented on my work. You all know who you are, you're awesome! Hope you enjoy!

Nothing Else Matters

Dean watched Sam from the front seat of the Impala as the freakishly tall figure turned, gave him a faint smile, and made his way down the stairs to his apartment. God, the kid hadn't always been towering over him; hell, Dean remembered clearly the days when Sammy would look up to him, literally as well as figuratively. Now the kid was not only a giant, but an independent one at that: a practically guaranteed full ride to Stanford law, a beautiful (no, who was Dean kidding, smoking hot) girlfriend, a place of his own. It was everything Sam had ever wanted.

And it hurt like hell when he went back.

It took every fibre in Dean's body to let him go. He had wanted so badly to say something, anything, to somehow convince his little brother that he needed him. The thoughts of leaving alone tore at Dean like a rusty blade in the gut, had almost made their awesome (sure, there were a few snags along the way, but it had still been pretty cool) weekend together. It was kind of like a tease, or dangling an ice cold bottle of beer before an alcoholic. It made leaving Sam again almost unbearable.

But leave he must. Swallowing the lump in his throat, Dean shifted the Impala into drive and slowly pulled away from the dormitory. Away from Sam, the only family he had left. Sure, he still had Dad, but John Winchester was still MIA, and as much as he idolized, emulated his father, Dean didn't have that bond he shared with his brother. A bond that not even two years of barely speaking to each other and thousands of miles of countryside couldn't break.

He drove a few feet, and then suddenly shifted the massive car into park. Something just didn't feel right. What Sam would have playfully called his Spidey Senses. Trying to push back the sudden anxiety, Dean glanced into the rear view mirror, green eyes piercing the darkness for anything out of the ordinary. And then, he saw it; the faint flicker of the porch light.

It was probably nothing. A loose bulb, faulty wiring. As cute as Sam's place was, it seemed to be in not much better shape than some of the motels the brothers had frequented growing up. But something in Dean Winchester's gut was telling him that something was very wrong. A flickering light could mean all of those things. But it could also mean the presence of something else entirely, something not caused by anything natural.

Something evil.

It was November 2nd.

Dean burst into Sam's apartment in time to find him lying on his and Jess's bed, staring in horror at the ceiling, screaming his girlfriend's name over and over, like a record stuck on repeat. The tiny space was already engulfed in flames, and Dean didn't have to look up at the terrified body pinned above to figure out what had caused the inferno. It took a few tries for Dean to pry his horrified brother's body of the bed, his hazel eyes still focused on his dying girlfriend, but before long he was leading Sam out of the apartment, the latter still crying Jessica's name, reluctant to leave her. But as much as Dean had liked her, as much as it killed him to see the poor girl meet the same fate their mother had, he still practically forced Sam outside to safety. Because in Dean's eyes, it was his job to keep Sammy safe. Nothing else matters.

XXX

Dean could have easily broken records as he rushed up the steps of his childhood home, fear for his brother seeming to propel his body at breakneck speeds. In seconds flat he stormed into Jenny's bedroom, only to find Sam lying on the floor, the life slowly draining from him as the lethal lamp cord cut off precious oxygen. Without hesitation Dean was at his brother's side, pulling frantically at the cord, terrified at how his brother's movements were stilling. His face was ashen, eyes closed, a blue tint colouring once pink lips. And the goddamned cord around his throat was slowly taking away one of the only people Dean truly loved.

No. Not on Dean Winchester's watch.

Realizing that there was no way the poltergeist was about to release its death grip on his brother (hell, the damn thing had just chucked a whole drawer full of knives at him not five minutes ago), Dean quickly abandoned his brother and reached for the hex bag which lay at his side. It hurt him to leave him like that, to not be able to at least comfort Sam as he lay struggling to breathe, but this was the only option. Praying that he wouldn't be too late, Dean kicked at the wall and tossed the bag inside, waiting for the inevitable whoosh of the malevolent spirits' leaving the home. And, thank god, they did. In seconds flat, the atmosphere in the room changed. The poltergeist was, at least temporarily, gone.

Immediately Dean was at Sam's side, fumbling to remove the cord from his brother's neck. He held Sam as he sat up weakly, hacking precious air into aching lungs. Sam was ok, he was safe, he was alive. Thank God, Dean breathed silently as he gently helped his brother to his feet. Maybe the house was clean, Jenny and her kids safe. That was their job, right? Saving people. Hunting things. But Sammy was safe. And to Dean, that was everything. Nothing else matters.

XXX

It had killed him when his father had done it.

A life for a life. From the days of Robbie Johnson, and centuries before, crossroads demons had played their games, trading fame, fortune, success, for ten years. A decade of the good life before the hellhounds came knocking. He knew the game, all too well. His father had done the very same a year earlier, bringing him back from the edge of his grave for an eternity of torment and suffering. And John had not even gotten the bonus ten years.

And yet there was Dean Winchester, standing in the center of a lonely crossroads, face to face with the beautiful brunette vessel. Normally his type: voluptuous curves, full and pouty mouth, chestnut waves cascading along her shoulders. Even the little black dress she wore, complete with plunging neckline, was something that a Dean Winchester of the past, hell, of only a few weeks ago, would have admired with one of his trademark cocky grins, compete with arched eyebrow. But when Dean kissed her, sealing his fate, it took everything in his power to keep from vomiting what little acidic contents remained in his stomach. The demon, on the other hand, was clearly enjoying the moment, taking pleasure in the softness of his lips, even gently brushing soft fingers against his five o'clock shadow. Savoring the moment, as if she were not only selling Dean Winchester's soul, but enjoying an intimate moment between lovers. You know, a bonus.

As Dean kissed her, eyes squeezed shut so that he would not have to look her – it- in the eye (god, he could even smell a whiff of floral, the demon bitch was wearing perfume for fuck's sake), images flooded his brain, overwhelming him.

"Look out for Sammy," John murmurs through his tears, and leans in to tell Dean the news that will haunt him for the rest of his life.

Watching in horror, Sam by his side, as they watch while doctors attempt to bring their father back. Fright turns to disbelief as the doctor calls it. Machines are unplugged. John Winchester is gone.

Holding Sam's body, limp as a rag doll, cradling him in his arms. Never wanting to let him go. He sits there for hours, as darkness fades and dawn breaks, sobbing as he's never cried before.

He had to do this. God knows it will tear Sam apart should he find out, but at least he will be alive. Alive and by his side, at least for one year. Because as terrifying as the prospect of Hell was for Dean, at least he would have kept Sam safe, at least for a while longer.

And nothing else matters.

XXX

Dean had never been a crier. He could count on one hand the times he had let his guard down and broke down: the night Sam had left for Stanford, Dean had sat in the Impala, indulging in tears in the safety of the four doors, leather, and chrome; the time he had finally confessed to Sam about how broken he was after their dad's deal; and that horrible night in Cold Oak, as he first held his brother's body in his arms, his Sammy, the one he had promised to protect and had ultimately let down. That bedside vigil, the one in which he had poured his heart and soul to his dead brother, had left him broken, empty, a shell of his former vivacious self. The old Dean Winchester, the one ready with a sly grin and a good natured wisecrack, had been gone, as cold and lifeless as Sam.

And now, standing in the dining room of the Fremont's suburban home, listening as the grandfather clock announced the hour and the faint growl of hellhounds echoed in the distance, Dean Winchester cried. The mask was gone, the bravado swept away. Before him, Sam was breaking, no longer struggling to keep composure, simply nodding at Dean's final words of comfort. Remember what Dad taught you, Sam. And remember what I taught you. To see him like this, nearly shaking in grief as he waited for the inevitable, was almost too much, and for a moment, Dean almost regretted his deal. To save Sammy only to put him through this torture? To inflict the same pain to him as Dean had felt a year earlier? It was killing Dean inside, the pain in his chest as lethal as the creatures set out to claim his damned soul. Perhaps Sam was living and breathing, but the man was dead inside, just as lifeless as he had been in Cold Oak. All Dean had wanted was to protect Sammy, to keep him safe, happy, comfortable. To let him know how much he loved the kid, so much that it physically hurt.

Dean smiled at his brother through his tears, trying to control his terror as the final chime echoed through the stillness. He had to be brave for Sam's sake. To leave the world hopefully letting his little brother, his Sammy, know that everything would be all right.

Because so long as Sam was all right, nothing else mattered.