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This had been a long time coming, had even happened before, and every time it was another nail in Sam's coffin.

Something is blocking his view and he can’t make out what it is. Pushing his reluctant body forward he comes to a platform that oversees the bottom floor of the building. He makes eye contact with his brother. It’s too late. His eyes trace the line of a blade in his brother’s gut to a grinning, nameless creature. The assailant laughs as they vanish, presumably zapping themselves away and leaving Sam to put the pieces together. He runs across the platform and leaps over the last bit of stairs keeping him from his brother. But there is an obstacle, of course.

There’s always an obstacle. As soon as he gets close enough to hear Dean’s hampered breathing he sees that the obstacle is more like a giant hole in the ground. A hole so wide that even his tall legs can’t leap across. He can’t make it across. On the other side of the room lays Dean in a pool of blood, a hand to his chest and a broken sob attempting its way out his lungs.

"Hold on Dean!" Sam yells, hoping that he has enough time to find something to bridge the gap. "Hold on! I’m coming to get you. I’m coming."

______________________________________________________________________________

He wakes up shaking, coughing and throws up. This is fairly common, been happening on occasion for a couple of years now. Amelia never asked any questions about it, Dean always looked worried. Luckily he had fallen asleep in the library, where he keeps a basket next to him while he is researching. Sam blinks, looks at the books and laptop in front of him. The words merge together and nothing makes any sense. He decides he should get some coffee and pee.

Standing up and walking is easy. His body is weak from lack of eating properly, but it’s basic. He doesn't have to think about how to put one foot in front of the other and move forward. He can just do it. He can focus on the task - putting coffee grounds in a filter, filling up the pot with water, waiting for it to brew. He runs his fingers along the counter and looks around the vast, dark emptiness of the cold bunker.
He goes to the bathroom, pees and washes his hands. As he's about to leave he catches a glimpse of his face in the mirror, splashes some cold water on it. His face is pale and needs a good shave, his hair is a rat's nest, he's got dark circles under his eyes and his cheeks look sunken. He shakes his head and walks out. He'll take a shower later, maybe.

Back in the kitchen, the coffee hasn't finished brewing and he feels like he’s wasting his time. He leans against the counter and thrums his fingers on the countertop, humming a song to himself before he realizes it’s one of Dean’s road trip songs. He clears his throat and looks around the kitchen. Things are more or less the way Dean left them. They both cooked but Dean was better at it. At least that was Sam's opinion. A bottle of whiskey catches Sam’s eye. He grabs it and pours a double shot into his cup, topping it off with the freshly brewed coffee.
When Dean was killed, Sam's primary objective was to bring him home and find a way to fix this. Sam had carried Dean out, set him in the impala and driven back to the bunker. He'd cautiously cleaned Dean’s body, cared for his wounds and lain him down on his bed. After a short while Sam couldn't stand to be in Dean’s room any longer, couldn't tolerate not hearing Dean breathe. So he had gone and drunk himself into desperation. Sitting in the darkness with a bottle had brewed the most harrowing of plans.

As angry as he was, as wrong as everything Dean had put him through had been, he couldn't let this be the way it was, not with things between them as they were. There was no peace, no understanding; just aching and anger. He was angry with being angry and beyond pissed at Dean. This wasn't how this was supposed to play out.

He'd tried to summon Crowley but nobody came. After waiting some time, an unreasonably long while, Sam had become tired of waiting. He'd been drunk, angry, and desperate. It was then that he'd realized that he couldn't fix it, he would always be angry, and Dean was dead. He moved a little too quickly and watched the room tilt. Okay at first, just a little disorienting, but as he kept walking he found he was spinning with just the wrong tilt, his head throbbing. Sam grasped at the walls until he got to a door knob. Naturally, it was the door to Dean’s room.
He wanted to be next to Dean, he wanted to sit next to Dean and let himself cry. Clean these messes up tomorrow fix this tomorrow, let it go just for now. But Dean’s body was gone. Sam had thrown up.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

After a few weeks reports start coming in about a man that fits Dean’s description driving the impala. The guy is apparently reckless, likes porn, and kills other people. He's also apparently very intense. There's footage of a robbery turned murder, featuring a cold murderous Dean. Sam sees his eyes flash black, a chill spreads through his body. Dean is possessed.

Castiel tries to offer condolences. He is angry and grieving in his own way. It's difficult for him, his grace is failing and he's weak. That doesn't stop Cas from trying to help Sam. He's managed to lock up Metatron and is in contact with Heaven but for some reason has decided he doesn't want to be a leader. Sam knows that Castiel wants things to be simple like they had been before, before all of this, and that Cas has regrets. Sam has plenty. But it doesn't matter now. The facts are cold and harsh: Dean is gone, his body is being possessed by a demon somehow, Cas is dying in the way angels that occupy humans do, and Sam is alone.

"Well and truly on your own," the memory mocks him.

Again.

Of course, Sam blames himself. Somehow it's his fault that Dean’s body is missing; somehow he is the reason that Dean is possessed. Dean wouldn't be walking around possessed and Sam wouldn't be hunting him. Sam tried to summon demons, but none that came were Dean, and after a while none came at all. Life is cruel, he thinks as he drinks his whiskey laced coffee. Thoughts creep into his brain about the irony of it, a Winchester possessed. Born a hunter, died a hunter, and now a monster. He shakes his head and stands up. Rather not let the thought settle, rather not let the memories of being controlled by something else linger for too long.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

When he has no leads on Dean, Sam goes on hunts. Hunts help to order the chaos. Hunts get him away from the bunker which feels like a tomb these days. Hunts get his motor running, hunts fill the silence. They are familiar and being on the road is comfortable. Well, as comfortable as is possible these days. He doesn't have the impala - that is missing too, but he does have his unique set of skills, and acquiring wheels isn't too hard.

He is somewhere between Tennessee and Kentucky. It really doesn't matter where he is, what matters is the hunt. It is systematic, he is on automatic. There's little to worry over, he was born a pro and raised a hunter. He's good, this is natural. This particular hunt is a simple, easily solved salt-and-burn. He just has to figure out where the remains are buried. There's nothing challenging about it, simple and familiar.
Simple and familiar, like sitting in a motel room eating greasy food and listening to Dean’s lame jokes. Dean.

Sam has a lot of time to think. He thinks about everything between them and everything they've lost. He remembers all the familiar faces and places that he will never see again. He thinks of all the jokes and stories that were tucked away in Dean. The cheap jokes Dean made that always made him shake his head and smile, the lightly pushing and shoving and gross faces. The pranking and irritating things Dean would do, like that one time he put Nair in Sam's shampoo (luckily Sam noticed before things went too far). Or that time Sam had glued Dean's hand to a beer bottle. The memories that keep him going are Dean smiling at him, Dean being proud of him.

He has a routine. Do the hunt, check on leads for Dean’s body, do another hunt, check more leads. At night he sits against the headboard of whatever bed he has, with a bottle of whiskey or scotch and drinks absentmindedly as he scans his laptop. He isn't drinking all the time, nothing like Dean after Bobby died, but he is drinking more frequently. If he was just mourning Dean or trying to keep some semblance of familiar, Sam doesn't care.

When he has solved the case, finished the hunt, ganked the creature, he packs up and moves on.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Castiel calls Sam often. Usually just to check in, chat about the weather, conditions in Heaven, and how the search for Dean is going. Castiel wants desperately to help, Sam can tell. After all Dean and Cas were good friends. Sam understands, but he can also tell that Cas is in no condition to be helpful, and Sam doesn't want to be any more of a burden than he feels he is. He always tells Cas that it is going fine, he's on to something, to get rest and be careful, he'll call when he has something. They chat for a minute and say goodbye, go on about their ways. Sam always feels somewhat refreshed after talking to Cas, even if he doesn't say much, it's a welcome break in the silence he's been living in.

After one bizarre hunt, in Chicago, Sam is surprised to find Castiel waiting by his newest ill acquired ride.

"Heya Cas!"

"Sam," Castiel opens his arms and moves towards Sam, a gesture of embrace. Sam feels a dim spark of familiarity and warmth. Hugs are nice, hugs are warm.

"Hey Sam, have you eaten?" Castiel eyes the brown bag in Sam's hand.

"Uh, no. Not yet actually, gonna grab something on my way out," he lies, albeit convincingly.
Sam leans against the driver's side door, surveying Castiel. He seems a little unkempt, tired and has a cough that rattles as if he is healing from bronchitis.

"How are things upstairs?" he asks gently, with a smile.

"They're getting better, slowly.” Cas launches into an explanation about Hannah and the others attempting to rebuild. Sam listens, nods and catches a glimpse of himself in the side mirror, quickly turning back to pay attention to Cas.

"Metatron has been neutralized, he's a bit annoying. Talks too much," Cas looks to the sky. "Enough talk about Heaven. You need sustenance,” Cas points to the brown bag, “more than that.”

Seeing how Cas is sincerely concerned about Sam's diet, he reluctantly agrees. They head to the diner about a mile up the road from the motel Sam's been staying. The booth they are seated at is close to the entrance and up against a window. Sam orders a salad and water, light dressing and no croutons. Castiel slides into the booth across from Sam, and watches him eat.

"That's kind of creepy Cas," Sam laughs, stabbing a tomato with his fork.

"I'm not hungry." Cas looks around the mostly empty diner. "Sam, have you found any promising leads about Dean?"

"No," Sam sets his fork down, "I heard something that sounded like demons killing demons."

Cas raises an eyebrow, funny how easily he has picked up on facial expressions. "Demons killing demons? Why?"

"Maybe some are still upset about Abaddon," Sam sips his water. "Or it's nothing. It's probably nothing, just a trail of bodies."

Castiel looks out the window and thinks how strange it is to eat in front of windows, how strange the mother scorning her daughter in the parking lot seems, how very weird this world will always be to him.

"I am an angel Sam. I can help find him. We can bring the body home." Sam cringes at that but his friend continues, "Let me help."

Sam nods. “Okay Cas,” Sam offers a lighthearted smile. He doesn't want to burden Cas, but Castiel clearly wants to help. Besides, Sam isn’t doing very well by himself, more resources are always helpful, and Castiel has angel radio to his advantage.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Sam wakes up in a dark motel room, stale cigarette smoke from the room next door wafting through the vents. He rolls over and looks at the empty bed next to him. It’s no real surprise, but it still takes him a second to adjust every time. While Sam doesn’t mind being on his own, he does miss Dean. It stings like rubbing alcohol in a paper cut, it burns like the harsh warmth of whiskey sliding down his throat and settling in the pit of his stomach, gluing him to his guilt and his resolve.

He could have asked for a room with one bed.

There's a buzz and the hum of a song he faintly remembers. Takes him a few seconds to recognize the sound is his phone ringing. Dean’s ringtone.

Sam sits up, feet on the floor and knees bent over the edge of the bed. He studies the pattern in the carpet and the way the light lines certain curves and shadows, an attempt at desensitizing himself, preparing for disappointment.

“Dean?”

“Moose! How good it is to hear your voice again!”

Sam grips his phone tighter and clenches his jaw. “Don’t call me that. Don’t fucking call me anything. What do you want, you useless fuck?”

“Harsh words Samantha, harsh. Don’t you want to know where to find your brother?”

“My brother is dead. You have some mook parading around in his body and I am going to kill you both. I’m going to kill all of you.”

“Is that a promise, love?” Crowley coos into the phone. “You should be careful what you promise.”
Crowley takes a moment before continuing. “I have a little secret to tell you: the demon in Dean is Dean, he’s all alone in there. Just like how you’re all alone out there.”

Sam hates this, hates talking to Crowley, hates hearing these words. “I don’t believe you.”

“Well, demons do lie. But what have I to gain from that? Dean and I are buddies. We are together, working together, having fun together. What have you got? No brother, no hunting buddies, not even any leads! Sam Winchester, the hunter extraordinaire, can’t even find his own brother,” Crowley laughs. “So go ahead moose, go on your little vendetta, soul quest. Avenge Dean. Dean’s not dead, he’s a demon.”
Crowley hangs up. Sam reaches for the whiskey on the bedside table.

At first he just can't believe it: his own brother, a demon. All their lives have been about fighting against the bad things like demons. There’s no way that Dean could be happy that he's a demon. How does that work? Is Dean gone completely? The question brings up complicated feelings, memories of Meg and his time with demon blood. Twisted up, shadowy dark memories of Ruby and red, demon smoke and hiding all of it from Dean. All of which come back to remind Sam of the day Dean died – at the hands of a demon, because of a deal made to bring Sam back to life. Sam drinks some more whiskey.

There is no way Dean’s happy or wants to be left alone. He never wanted to go to hell and he hates demons. One of the last things he said to Sam was that the mark was turning him to something he didn’t want to be, and that it was better this way- that Dean would die and it would be better.

Then Sam remembers he knows how to cure demonism.

Sam can do this. Sam can save Dean.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

He calls Castiel after he's hung up with Crowley, tells him what Crowley had said: the demon in Dean is Dean's. Cas feels that it only makes sense - Dean died with the mark and the blade, as Cain had; Cain was a demon. Castiel can only assume this to be a logical progression of events.

"I can cure him of demonism."

"We don't know that, we don't know what the mark will do." Castiel urges Sam to consider the alternative - kill Dean, let someone else deal with Dean.

"I can't do that, he's my brother. I have to try. I have to try anything."

"Winchesters!" Castiel spits into the phone, clearly annoyed. Sam ignores it. "Alright Sam - I'll be there in 12 hours. You're about that far south of me."

Sam looks at his watch. That would be at 4am. "Uh, that's a while from now, Cas. Can't zap? Still no wings?"

"No wings," Cas replies, a dark edge to his tone.

"I traced Crowley's call and he is about 10 hours north of me, let's meet there?"

"Sam I'd rather meet you at -"

Sam hangs up. He doesn't have time for this. He checks out of the motel and drives down to a parking lot to ditch his car and pick up a new one. He sends Cas the coordinates of a motel near where Crowley and Dean are. It's not that Sam doesn't appreciate Castiel or his desires. He just doesn't have any time to waste when he has a solid lead on where Dean is.

He races through the streets, speeds on the highway, slowing down when he spots a state trooper. He's determined, he is ready. Sam gets to the motel a few hours before Cas and feels restless. He isn't hungry and he isn't sure he could keep anything down anyway. He could go now, get Dean on his own, he is sure he's taken down bigger demons. Almost does leave but logic kicks in. It would be better to wait for Cas before going after Dean.

There is a knock on the door while Sam is peeing. He zips up, flushes and washes his hands, calling out, "Come in!"

Castiel is sitting on one of the beds and another angel is with him. She smiles gently at Sam. He recognizes her as one of the angels that had been part of Castiel's Army before Dean had been murdered. Cas introduces her as Hannah.

"Hey, uh, they're about two blocks away, at a bar." Sam quickly tells Cas.

"Sam," Castiel pats the bed next to him. "We need to talk about what we're doing when we go in there. We can't go in all reckless and charge him. Especially since Crowley's there, there have to be more demons than just them."

"Huh, I didn't think about that. I don't care." Sam remains standing.

"What is your goal? How will you contain him?" Castiel is asking questions Sam doesn't have time for.

"I have handcuffs with markings on them that prevent smoking out, and I have you and," he gestures toward the other angel, "her to help deal with the other demons. I'll focus on getting Dean. You focus on everyone else."

Cas looks to his travel companion. She nods. He sighs, stands up and starts to walk out the door. Before getting into his car Sam tells them to follow him, "And no smiting my brother."

_____________________________________________________________________________________

The bar is just Dean's type, a shabby dive bar. The kind of seedy place they used to hustle pool at. Sam drives around back of the bar, signaling for Cas to stay out front. The angels get out of their car, immediately sensing three stunt demons coming at them. Castiel tries to smite one but can’t garner enough energy; Hannah is quick and smites two before rescuing Castiel from certain execution.

Meanwhile, Sam goes in through the back door, noting a dead girl laying on the floor and the absolute emptiness of the bar. Crowley is nowhere to be seen. Sam shakes his head, realizing that Crowley isn't stupid, probably figured out the trace.

The bar is dark, smoky and it takes a moment before he sees Dean. The sight of his brother leaning against the bar, chugging straight from the bottle and smacking his lips makes Sam’s stomach flip. Dean acts like he doesn't notice Sam at first. He walks over to a jukebox and puts on a song. When the words start and Dean sings along, he looks up and blinks black eyes at Sam. Sam’s surprised he doesn't throw up.

"Sammy,” Dean pulls the name slowly through his voice like honey dripping from a spoon, “you found me," his eyes turn back to the green that makes Sam's heart beat faster. Dean laughs as he slowly makes his way towards Sam, a sick self-satisfied smile growing on his face. He is aware of the slow torture he is putting his brother through.

Sam nods, "where's your pal?"

"Hell."

Sam nods, wishing the answer had been 'dead.’

"I'm here to take you home." The words stumble from his lips, full of wish and prayer and promise.

Dean laughs at him, "Oh isn't that precious, 'I'm here to take you home,' my knight, my prince." Dean stops inches in front of Sam's face. "Take me," he flashes his black eyes and grins at Sam, breathing heavily on his neck.

Sam smiles back at Dean, "do you think that demon in you is going to intimidate me? I killed Lilith. I killed Alastair. I can take you; Human or demon."

"Take me Sammy," Dean whispers, pushing low breathy warm air on Sam's neck. Dean has his hands on Sam, slipping his fingers under his belt, pulling him closer. "Take me home."

Sam reacts fast, shoving Dean away and knocking him down, slapping the demon cuffs on him.

"I'm gonna fix this."

Dean looks up at Sam and snarls. "You can't fix anything."

Sam bends down, grips Dean's arm and pulls him to his feet. He ignores the stinging remark; Castiel and Hannah walk into the bar. Hannah grimaces when she sees Dean, no doubt a knee jerk angel reaction. However, Sam remembers that she might be thinking of when Castiel was asked to kill him, after Metatron planted doubts in the angels’ heads. Sam positions himself between Hannah and Dean, smiling at her. Cas grabs Dean's other arm, to which Dean responds by yowling and thrashing his body against Sam's back. They feel as if he's throwing punches to Sam's spine.

The three shuffle outside and Hannah opens the door to the impala. The entire scene is ridiculous, two grown men and a woman stuffing an adult man into the backseat of a broken down looking car. Eventually Dean is contained and Hannah has marks on her arm, bites from Dean. She looks angry but she doesn't say anything. Sam is thankful that she understands how important this is to him, to Cas, and to Dean, even if he doesn't care right now.

He takes the time to thank her for helping.

She smiles at Sam, warmth radiating from her grace. She needn't say anything. Sam knows she doesn't want to be here, but he appreciates it.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Sam drives the impala, with prisoner, to the bunker. Castiel and Hannah follow behind.

For Sam, the 12 hour ride back is agonizing. Dean on the other hand, is getting such a kick out of it. They should have put a muzzle on Dean, but nobody had thought that part out. He knows all of Sam's buttons, and easily pushes all of them.

He starts by detailing things about their childhood that Sam had been too young to understand.

"That time when we were little and you saw me naked in the bathroom, covered in blood? That wasn't normal, Sammy." Sam knows now that, Dean had helped Dad clean up after a hunt. He doesn't remember what he thought at the time, he only remembers dismissing it.

He talks about mom.

"My mom made the best apple pie. I remember the smells in the kitchen. I remember her singing. She would hug me and tell me everything was going to be alright. But worst of all, Sammy, I remember her burning."

He talks about when Sam left for Stanford, the times Sam ran away; he talks about all of Sam's transgressions. None of that is as bad as when he talked about how attractive Sam is and what he wants to do to him.

"The way your hair curls around your ears, the way you smell after you kill something, the way your heart beats fast next to mine in the car at night, it makes me want to reach over and grab your throat and lick you with kisses till you cry."

He talks about a need to tear into Sam, to taste his flesh with his tongue. A need to be in him, a need to feel his skin, a thirst to see Sam's face covered in his come, a desire to have Sam look up to him, begging for it.

"My little brother is so hot. Mmm."

In the rear view mirror, Sam sees Dean’s eyes close and a shiny flick of his tongue lick his lips.

He clears his throat, trying to ignore the part of him that's turned on by his brother's dark voice and words. Trying to focus on the road and how completely wrong it is for those words to have such an impact. He zeroes in on the worst part of it: Dean would never voice these sexual things to him, that it is the demon taunting him.

It is the wrongness in Sam, Sam's greatest sin, to want Dean in those ways.

When they finally get back to the bunker, Sam is relieved for a break from Dean and those thoughts. Hannah and Cas help carry the snarling Dean into the dungeon. They stay long enough to help secure Dean, but Hannah and Cas do have higher priorities.

Sam thanks them again, promises Cas he'll call if things worked.

Castiel urges Sam to consider the alternative, to consider leaving Dean in the dungeon until they find a way to deal with the mark.

"I'd rather have him with the mark then let him sit here, stewing as a demon. That's not Dean. I can't let him stay like that. "

Castiel lowers his head, whispers something to Hannah. She steps forward and takes Sam's hands in hers.

Hannah smiles at him, "Call for us when you need help."

Then the angels leave.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

With Dean secured in the dungeon, Sam prepares for the ritual. The first step is to gather the necessary equipment, including a syringe, water, and towels. The next step is to purify his blood, confessing his sins and resentments. Lastly, he has to brace himself for whatever Dean has to say.

He carries his tools into the dungeon, setting everything up on a small table. He draws blood from his veins and stands in front of Dean. Hannah had helped Sam tie a bandanna across his mouth, gagging him to prevent him from talking. Sam starts talking quickly, trying to make eye contact with Dean to get through to the human in him.

“I’m going to start the procedure to cure you now.” He rolls up the sleeve on Dean’s left arm and finds a vein, kneeling to Dean’s level. “It might hurt,” he bites his lip as he slides the point of the needle into Dean’s arm, thumb on the plunger, slowly pushing into the barrel. He stands up and removes the needle, smiling down at his brother.

He decides he's not going to sit with Dean between injections, it's far too draining. He leaves the room, scuffing the floor with his boot on the way out.

When he comes back, Dean has worked the gag off his mouth. The bandanna now wrapped around his neck, like a cowboy in a western movie. Sam remembers how enthusiastic Dean had been about cowboys and that one time they dressed up to fit in to the old west. The memory is vibrant in his mind; he’s practically reliving it as he carries on with the dull task of injecting his brother with his purified blood. That is, until he’s snapped out of his reverie.

"I never really cared about you Sam, you were a job." Dean’s eyes flash black, "Watching out for you was all part of my own personal hell. I carried you away from those flames and I've carried you ever since, wishing I had just left you to burn. You mean nothing to me," he pauses, turning his head slightly, grinning up at Sam, "Nothing."

"You don’t mean that," Sam says determined with the task at hand.

"Oh yes, I do." Dean mocks him, snarling “every word.”

"No you don’t. This isn't you, Dean, just some mangled, twisted up version of you," Sam sticks the needle into Dean’s forearm, pushes the plunger in.

He feels a jolt of electricity connect with his spine, his vision blurring as he falls.

He wakes several hours later in the dungeon. He is aware enough to know that Dean has escaped. Of course he had, he's a hunter and not only that, he taught Sam how to tie those knots. The devil’s trap had been fool proof, if it wasn't for the big black scuff marks. Sam quickly stands up, realizing he shouldn't have attempted this on his own, and calls out for Dean. His heart is pounding in his ears, his pulse is quickening as he imagines the undoing he is in for.

"Dean?" He calls out, responded to by a faint laugh, a crashing sound and then ringing. The lights have gone out in the bunker, the alarm sounds.

"I’m here, Sammy," Dean sings out, "I’m coming for you; I’m coming to get you!"

Sam slowly moves out of the dungeon, taking corners low and slow, like he was trained to do when he was hunting. After all, he is hunting, he is trained for this, hunting demons. Who knew it would be Dean someday? He had always thought it would be him. He has a knife in one hand and is bracing his weight against the wall, trying to get his bearings hoping to find some way out of the dark tunnel of a hallway he is in.
Dean comes out from in front of him, like a cat in the dark pouncing on prey. Dean swings an axe up to Sam, slicing a thin cut under Sam’s eye. Sam swings back, pressing his blade against Dean’s throat.

Dean smirks, “do it, hero.”

"No," Sam says, looking away and bringing his arm down. "I can’t."

"Come on Sammy! You’re the big hero, save the day! Can’t you kill a little demon?" Dean teases, "Or would you rather we did something else, something with a little more skin and sin and less blood, or more blood if you like? I know you've done it with demons before." Dean licks his lips, slowly, watching Sam watch him, and he grins when he has made his point.

Sam is smart and he knows better than to fall for such cheap tricks, such low blows. Keenly aware after what just happened in the car, he feels his resolve harden.

"I don't know what you're talking about Dean, and I don't care," his voice cracks, his throat dry. "You're my brother and I need you to -"
Dean rolls his eyes and flicks his wrist, sending Sam tumbling backwards, pinned up against the wall.

That’s the moment Sam gives up.

That’s the moment Sam knows he is done, Dean is gone and Sam can’t bring him back. Sam is as good as dead too. “Just do it Dean, just kill me.”

Dean slithers closer to Sam, pushing against him. “Do it, kill you?” Dean breathes against Sam’s throat. “I could rip your head off and eat the flesh off your bones and,” Dean licks his lips, “I wouldn't care.” He stumbles through that last bit, something familiar in his tone.

"Sam, Sammy…"

Sam closes his eyes, willing himself away from this moment. “Please Dean just do it!” Sam feels the knife he has hidden under his sleeve against his forearm, preparing himself to stab Dean as soon as he is close enough.

"Oh God, Sammy," Dean cries out.

Sam opens his eyes, confused by the desperate tone in Dean’s voice. He watches as Dean’s eyes transition from black to green, watches as Dean falls to the floor, withering in agony.

"Oh God Sammy, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”

_____________________________________________________________________________________

After Sam cured Dean of demonism, things are rough. Dean doesn't want to say much, doesn't want to leave his room, and he has trouble making eye contact with Sam. Sam tries to give Dean his space and avoid the conflicting anger and joy in his gut. Happy that Dean's back, angry that Dean's being a dick.

Putting into words how he feels is hard for Dean. He doesn't like it, it makes him uncomfortable. He doesn't want anything to be so rigid; he doesn't want things to get misconstrued. It's not that he doesn't love; it's not that he doesn't want to say how he feels; it's that it's difficult. He has the words, but stringing them together to make apologies makes him feel weak.

He likes to come across strong, stuck in his resolve. Words have double meanings sometimes, and if you say the wrong thing you're stuck with it. It's easier to slash and burn, slice and dice. Stinging with words is easier than stitching people back together.

He doesn't know how to apologize properly. He doesn't know how to put the words in the right order for it to sound sincere.
But he can't let this slide, not this time. He's fucked up, he said some fucked up shit, done some fucked up shit. He knows.

"It wasn't me." He knows a part of Sam doesn't believe him.

"I didn't mean it." He knows a part of Sam finds truth in the ugly words.

"I'm sorry." He knows Sam wants to forgive him, but is having a hard time justifying it in his brain.

This is going to take some time; a band aid won't fix it this time. Dean's going to have to show Sam he still loves him, in all his fucked up glory. One thing Dean can't say, because it's wrong, is that there is one thing he said as a demon that was true.

His little brother is hot.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Castiel comes to visit with Sam and check in on Dean. He’s concerned about the mark of Cain, but celebrates this small victory with Sam. They don’t know what stopped Dean from killing Sam. Castiel assumes it has to do with their blood ties, but he has no experience with that. There are “no known records” of anything quite like the “stubbornness of a Winchester” or Sam and Dean’s unique relationship, he jokes. Noting the tension, Castiel suggests they "leave saving the world to someone else for a little while" and "get back to who they are." Sam doesn't know who they are.

Castiel tells Dean to "stop being so pigheaded."

Sam thinks Dean deserves the harsh tone and the dismissal.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Getting back to who they are, as Winchesters, means doing hunts, and that comes easy. Hunting as a pastime always puts a bounce in Dean's step, and it is easy for Sam to fall into the rhythm of it, the car and fresh air and open road once again.

They were going to check out a rumored haunting in an abandoned shoe factory in Oregon. This had been something that came through a couple years ago, some sightings and a story nobody had gone in to investigate. With nothing to do but "get back to who they are," it is the perfect distraction.

"This place was pretty successful until it burned down," Sam laughs as he looks over his notes and explains the case to Dean. "Legend goes that the factory was burned down in 1909."

"Huh, that's fucked up," Dean says, concentrating on the road. "So what's going on now, that's over a hundred years ago?"

"Well that's the interesting part," Sam pauses, "The factory was rebuilt immediately and resumed business. There was another fire in the ‘80s; a bunch of people died inside, including some of the workers kids. They never rebuilt after that."

"Okay. Still doesn't answer what's going on now?" Dean flashes a smile at Sam, for the first time in months.

Sam can't help but smile back, the little brother in him begging to burst forward.

"Heh, okay, well now there's a bar in the basement and the owner of the bar says that every time he goes in to the factory shit's been rearranged and it's freezing."

"Someone's haunting the factory."

"Yeah, I think it might be some of the workers kids because get this," Sam turns toward Dean and notices how the passing street lamps frame the window, making it glow behind him, "uh, the bar owner says that he'll find toys in the middle of rooms, on tables and stuff. Shit he didn't know was in there. Old wooden trains, hand carved, dolls with buttons for eyes, coloring books and crayons."

Dean looks at Sam, "Are you fucking kidding me? Ghosts that are kids, that shit's creepy. Fuck."

"Yeah," Sam looks down at his notes and smiles. It feels like old times, almost.

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Inside the factory are few clues, but they come to the realization quickly: there are two spirits and they are sisters.

Sam and Dean see it almost immediately. Sam puts it into words.

"They were playing a game, probably one like 'hide and seek,' when the fire started. They couldn't find each other. They were frantic, the smoke was filling the factory and the doors must've been locked shut."

"Ah, so they died panicked and now they just play with trains?" Dean references the toys the owner had mentioned.

Sam shakes his head, "No, I don't know? But they're never in the same room. They don't realize they're dead."

"Huh, so they're dead and don't know they're dead, and they're not together." Dean's flashlight sweeps across a hallway. "Okay wait. So what's happening is they're haunting this place, but they don't know they're both here? Were there any remains?"

"Not enough of anything to hold anybody here." Sam clears his throat, "I think they're holding each other here."

Dean shines his flashlight in Sam's face. "Like, unfinished business?"

Sam nods.

"They can't move on until they find each other." Dean thinks out loud.

They walk into a big room, the size of a cafeteria. Sam feels the sides of the wall for a light switch. "Yeah, that's exactly it."

"How do we get them to realize they're both here?" Dean asks, suddenly feeling something tugging on his jacket. He turns around and sees a girl in a blue dress, about eight years old. She opens her mouth, moving close to Dean's face, trying to speak but not saying anything.

"Hey sweetheart," Dean soothes, "Hey," he notices tears on her face. "Hey, you’re okay. We’re here to help, just calm down."

Sam finds the light switch and flips it on.

The girl turns towards Sam, "I need to find my sister. We're not supposed to be separated."

Sam steps toward her, "Yeah, yeah we'll find your sister. What's your sister's name? What's your name?"

"She's Elizabeth, I'm Ashley."

"Okay Ashley, okay. I'm Sam and that's Dean. We're going to find Elizabeth, but we need you to just stay calm and stay here. Don't go anywhere. Dean will stay with you."

"Sam, I don’t-" Dean glares at Sam in a way that Sam can't put his finger on why it makes him smile, when it used to piss him off.

"I'm just going down the hall." Sam says, turning and racing out the door.

Dean, resigned to babysitting the ghost girl, sits down at a table.

"Hey, you play any card games?" he asks, pulling a stack of cards from his pocket.

Ashley gives him a puzzled expression, "I can play go fish."

Dean laughs, "Let's play while we wait for that brother of mine."

"That's your brother?" Ashley asks with wide eyes.

"Yeah, he's a dork, isn't he?"

"He's kind of cute," the little girl's face turns a bright red, "for a boy, I mean."

Dean has to stifle a laugh, even though he agrees.

They're about halfway into the third round of go fish when the lights start to flicker.

Ashley stands up, dusts herself and looks around nervously. "I don't know what's happening and I'm scared."

"Get behind me," Dean orders. "Don't run towards anything and don't panic."

"Ashley," a voice drifts through the vents.

"THAT'S ELIZABETH!" the girl excitedly pulls on Dean's arm.

Dean narrows his eyes, trying to focus on everything around him and discern where the voice is coming from.

That's when Sam comes back into the room, sprinting towards Dean. He grabs Dean’s arm, pulls him off to the side of the room. When the boys turn back towards the center, they see two girls. The girl in a blue dress is standing next to a taller girl in a white shirt and blue jeans. The taller girl reaches down to hold Ashley’s hand as they disappear in a burst of bright white light.

"I guess all they needed was a little assistance. How'd you do it Sam?"

Sam looks at Dean, laughing, "I just told her I knew where her sister was and to follow me."

“Huh! Never thought it would be that simple." Dean beams at Sam, "Good job, Sammy! Let’s celebrate.” Dean slapped Sam on the back as they walked out of the factory.

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The bar they stop at is a hole in the dirt place that doesn't see many drifters. It doesn't bother them; they’re used to be looked at and sized up.

Sam heads toward the back to secure a table while Dean orders the drinks.

Dean sits down at the bench with a pitcher of beer, "I'm okay, you okay? We okay?" He pours out two pints and looks at Sam, asking the question, handing him a beer. The Dean Winchester patented way of brushing everything under the rug.
Sam accepts the pint and nods. "I'm glad you're okay," Sam says, "well, you're back to you at least, almost, there's still the mark, but we're not okay."

"What are you saying?" Dean takes a sip of his drink, "Are you saying we aren't brothers again because man, I don't know if you've noticed but we have the same parents."

Sam shakes his head. "It's not about that Dean. This is about respect and I can't trust -" Sam looks away for a second, "I can't trust you will respect me, as my own person. I thought we were over that, years ago, but we're not, and I need to know that you will believe in me. Trust in me to be my own person and not make the wrong decision."

"You were going to die Sam." Dean's tone darkens and his eyes narrow. "You were going to die and I couldn't let you die."

"I know." Sam sighs. "Okay, look Dean it's like this, okay?"

Sam sits down on the other side of the bench.

"I got this brother. He's always trying to protect me, looking out for me. And he always has, he's always right there next to me, selling his soul, pulling me out of the fire, trying to save my hide. But he can't always, and sometimes it's too much for him. Sometimes it's like it doesn't matter what I do or say, I'm always wrong. I can't be left alone because I might do the wrong thing," Sam pauses to look at Dean. He looks like his head is about to explode. Sam continues, "Yeah, I've made mistakes, some really big mistakes. I've done bad things, I know I have and I've tried to right some of those wrongs. I've paid my dues and I'm still paying them." Sam gets up and walks around the table to sit next to Dean. "I love him, he's my brother and I'd be lost without him, but I want to be free to be me. I want my own voice, I want to be heard, I want to be respected for the person I am, for the choices I make. And I don't want anyone else to die because of me. I don't want anyone else hurt, because of me, and that includes my brother. I don't want my brother to feel alone in all this, what we do. I want to be family; I want to be a team. We used to be a team, Dean. But now you call all the shots."

"Sam." Dean scoffs. "I don't call all the shots." He pours out two more pints.

Sam smiles, "C'mon Dean."

Dean rolls his eyes and chugs some beer. "Okay, Sam, so maybe I do, sometimes. Maybe I decide what music we listen to or what car we drive or where we go, what hunts we take and what hunts we don't take. I've always protected you." His voice trails off and he looks down at his napkin. This is unbearable for him.

"Yeah, you have. I don't want this to be an argument Dean. I just need you to see me for my own person."

Dean looks up at Sam, "I don't know what it is, I don't know why it is, but I do it and I'm sorry, I'm sorry." Dean's voice cracks and he closes his eyes. "I don't know why I do this and it's no excuse, but I can't let you die...I can't do all this without you. I just can't."

Sam looks around the bar, noticing it's getting emptier and getting very late. He pats Dean on the back, stands up and opens his arms.
Dean gets up from the bench, walks over to Sam and hugs his brother tightly.

"I can't do it without you either," Sam says when he lets go of the hug. "I need us to be a team, Dean, remember what you said the night Jess died?"

Dean smiles, "Yeah, we made a hell of a team back there.”

The brothers walk out to the impala, Sam takes the passenger seat and Dean takes the driver’s side.

They’ll never say I love you in the three simple words. They’ll say it in how they mirror each other’s movements; how they'll look at each other and wordlessly communicate. Entire universes described from their eyes to their lips, plans hatched and carried out seamlessly.

Dean looks at Sam and feels his heart flood with adoration and respect. Sam looks back, stomach full of warmth and butterflies, smiles at Dean and pushes hair out of his face. A familiar sense of what was and what’s to come fills the car. The open road in front of them, a box of tapes, the cloak of darkness surrounding them; all pieces to a puzzle long lost.

“Where are we off to next, copilot?” Dean asks as he turns on the engine.

It’s a start.