There'll be one more chapter after this one, an epilogue to tie up the loose ends.

Always With You

VI.

He knew he was dreaming; knew, too, that dream was memory. Green scales flashed bright as emeralds in the strong afternoon sun. A shriek like ripping metal filled the air. Yes, he knew this, knew what happened next. The man on the cliff—his brother—was in danger. He couldn't get to him in time, but he knew—just knew—that if he could only see his face, he'd remember everything; would wake up once and for all. Why couldn't he see his face?

Green scales flashed bright as emeralds in the strong afternoon sun. A shriek like ripping metal filled the air. Trees bent and snapped under the force of wing-compressed wind. Eyes, blood-red and ancient, glittered menace while a long tail sliced the sky. The enormous bird went into a dive, headed right for the hunter on the cliff. When he tried to focus on the hunter's face, the man shimmered, blurred, became a child—a boy, small and defenseless, looking to him with wide, trusting eyes. He had to protect the boy, had to save him. Nothing else mattered. No matter what it took, nothing else mattered. The child shimmered, turning back into a man. The brother he'd been seeing all along.

Green scales flashed bright as emeralds in the strong afternoon sun. A shriek like ripping metal filled the air. Trees bent and snapped under the force of wing-compressed wind. Eyes, blood-red and ancient, glittered menace while a long tail sliced the sky. The enormous bird went into a dive, headed right for the hunter on the cliff.

A warning exploded from his lips and he picked up speed, frantic to reach the hunter—his brother—before the creature did. He ran, legs burning, lungs bursting, another desperate cry tearing from his throat. The man on the cliff turned to face him at the shouted warning. His features blurred, shimmered…then clicked into place, surprise and fear mingling in his expression. And it all came rushing back, until he was drowning in memories.

A warm, heavy weight in his arms as he ran from his burning house…sleeping wrapped around a baby, using his own body as a shield against terror in the night…a gap-toothed toddler taking his first steps toward him…a little boy chewing his pencil as he gave his homework all the intense concentration he could muster, too-long hair flopping over one eye…a teenager grinning at him with dimpled pride after making a bullseye with the new weapon…a young adult boarding a bus, riding away from him…a grown man whose face echoed fierce determination when he said he wasn't going to let him die. And he knew. He knew who the man on the cliff was. He knew who he was. He knew everything now.

Green scales flashed bright as emeralds in the strong afternoon sun. A shriek like ripping metal filled the air. Trees bent and snapped under the force of wing-compressed wind. Eyes, blood red and ancient, glittered menace while a long tail sliced the sky. The enormous bird went into a dive, headed right for the hunter on the cliff. Headed right for Sam. "Sammy!"

Dean awoke with a hoarse shout, his brother's name on his lips. Sam was instantly at his side, calming him, coaxing him to lie back down, to take it easy. Dean resisted, though his head still swam with pain and memories and his breath came in harsh pants that made the claw marks on his torso burn like a brand. "S'mmy?"

"I'm here, Dean. I've gotcha."

"Y' 'kay?" Dean's eyes intently searched his little brother's face for signs of pain, but couldn't see much in the dimness of the room. "Where's th' light?"

"Dean, the light'll hurt your eyes," Sam protested softly. "You've got a pretty bad concussion, been out of it for days."

"Wan' th' light," Dean insisted, needing to see his brother's face. He felt a trickle of panic. How could he have forgotten Sammy? What if the next time he woke up, he'd forgotten everything again, was back in that darkness where he couldn't even remember his brother's face? "Light," he repeated, voice stronger now but with a frantic edge he couldn't quite suppress. He struggled again to sit up, to reach the switch on the bedside lamp himself.

Sam heaved a long-suffering sigh, but turned on the lamp—though not before pulling it as far from his brother's sensitive eyes as the cord would allow.

The light pierced Dean's eyes like fangs meant to draw blood and he had to shut them for a minute against the shards of pain driving deep into his skull. Eventually the shooting pain died down and he re-opened his eyes to slits, letting them adjust incrementally to the brightness. He felt them water and clumsily reached up to wipe the moisture away. It was disturbing how tired the simple gesture left him, arms heavy with exhaustion, shoulders aching from the exertion.

When he could focus his eyes again without too much discomfort, Dean looked at Sam and repeated his most pressing question. "Y' okay?" He drank in the familiar sight of his brother's face, eyes tracing lines and features he knew better than his own, feeling the last missing piece click back into place.

"I'm fine, man," Sam softly reassured. "You're the one who was almost takeout for Big Bird."

Dean huffed a mix between laugh and groan, but relaxed and allowed the younger man to gently push him back against the pillows and lift a glass of water to his lips, from which he drank thirstily. He grabbed onto Sam's shirtsleeve though, when his little brother went to leave his bedside, not willing to be separated again so soon after getting him back.

When Sam moved to grab the med kit he'd been re-stocking, intent on getting Dean more pain pills, he was surprised to feel Dean grab his sleeve. He looked down to see his brother's fingers twisted in the soft flannel of his shirt and slowly sank back into the chair he'd long since dragged over to Dean's bedside.

Sam's expression softened as he studied his big brother's face, which was still much too pale, making his freckles stand out in stark relief against his skin. The green eyes, still shadowed with fever and pain, hadn't left him for a second. They were more lucid than they'd been in days and Sam felt the panicky pressure in his chest, which had been building since Dean had first woken not knowing who he was, begin to bleed away…a nightmare at morning's light. He felt like he could breath again for the first time since he'd carried his brother's bloody body into the emergency clinic a couple of towns over. Dean was going to be okay. It was everything that mattered.

Dean was studying him, as if trying to memorize his face. Sam could sympathize—he couldn't imagine how disorienting the last few days had been for his brother. He looked like he wanted to say something, but didn't know quite how. Sam raised a brow in question.

When Dean spoke, he sounded pained, as if making a dreadful confession. "Lost ya for a while there, Sammy."

Sam knew he was talking about more than just what had happened out on that cliff. So he just smiled gently and patted his brother's chest, directly over his heart. "Naw, man. I was with you all the time."

And remembering the dream—memory—and the sense of connection he'd felt to his brother, even when he hadn't known he'd had a brother…the desperation he'd felt to save him…the instinctive willingness to lay down his life for him, Dean nodded. Sam was right.

He'd been with him all the time.