Title: Soldier's Eyes
Fandom: Supernatural
Author: gaelicspirit
Characters: Dean, Sam, Benny - GEN
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity. Title of the story comes from a song by Jack Savoretti by the same name. Also, Mumford, Iowa, is totally made up.

Summary: Post 8.07, A Little Slice of Kevin. There's only so long he can avoid the trap of memories, and he fears that when they catch him, they won't let him go.

Author's Note: This is total wish fulfillment.

It could be a tag, but it's not really a missing scene, and I have no fantasy that anything remotely close to this would ever happen in canon. But the idea hit me in the night and I literally could not write anything else until I got this out of my system. There's angst, some hurt, a little comfort, more angst…. So, improbable or not, I hope you enjoy.

Also, note – this is most definitely PG-13. Just…forewarned is all.


'Cause like the enemies that we are battling
I am nothing but a human alien
Left with nothing else but to keep wandering
Down this path whilst stopping my hands trembling

"Soldier's Eyes" by Jack Savoretti

50 miles outside Atlantic, Iowa

Dean was quiet.

Thinking back, Sam realized his brother had been quiet rather often since their reunion. The times he'd been the usual loquacious self had felt forced, almost manic. Quiet seemed to be the new norm for both of them.

But this…this was heavy.

He'd said he was fine. Sam figured he had reason to be – they'd found Kevin, had half the tablet, and Castiel was back. Sure, they didn't yet know how or why, but Cas wasn't in Purgatory any longer. A friend they'd lost was back, and Sam was relieved. But Dean was still guarded, his eyes wary.

Castiel had said they'd worked things out before he vanished with the soft sound of fluttering wings his only goodbye. But as the daylight thinned and the road to nowhere stretched on, Sam felt the weight of words unspoken between himself and Dean like an accusatory third person.

He knew Dean wasn't fine.

Sam had seen that hollow-eyed look before – Dean had carried it after Hell, Sam had carried it while Lucifer rode shotgun in his head, Dad had carried it…almost all Sam's life. Castiel's escape from Purgatory – coupled with whatever the angel had said to his brother – had taken Dean's feet out from under him and the gruff responses Sam attributed to the way their last hunt ended had melted into a silent plea for balance.

In the past, there were typically three things that could pull Dean from such a pensive quiet: getting drunk, getting laid, or getting to kill something.

Since they didn't have a hunt on the radar, Sam figured one of the other two would have to suffice. Because even though things between them had temporarily rattled back into place for a short while with Castiel's mysterious return, Sam wasn't really in the caring and sharing mood. Dean's specter-enhanced confession still burned hot and bright in Sam's heart; actually talking to his brother about the thoughts so obviously pin-balling around Dean's brain wasn't incredibly appealing.

"Hey."

Dean brought his chin up slightly at the sound of Sam's voice, his only indication that he'd tuned into something other than Styx.

"Feel like pulling over?"

"Now?"

"I'm hungry," Sam offered. It was true. He was hungry.

"We ate before we met with Soccer Mom."

"That was hours ago, Dean."

At this, Dean glanced at him. "You got a tapeworm or something?"

"No, just…." Sam sighed. Did everything with Dean have to take such an effort? "I'm tired. I don't want to be in the car. We don't even know where we're going. Can we just stop? Pick it back up tomorrow?"

Dean looked back out through the windshield and nodded slowly, his eyes scanning the side of the road. Sam watched, noticing not for the first time how Dean's face seemed thinner, the skin barely enough of a barrier to keep his whatever was churning below the surface in check.

Sam saw Dean's eyes catch on something and he glanced to the right, reading the sign as they passed.

"Mumford?"

"Sure, why not?" Sam replied. Population 320. Too small to get into much trouble.

Dean took the exit a little faster than he'd probably intended forcing Sam to splay his hand along the inside panel of the door to balance. It was clear his brother needed this break, and just as clear he wasn't going to admit it. Not after he'd rebuked Sam for taking a year off. Sam knew Dean would rather collapse from pure exhaustion than admit to needing a break when there was a hunt.

But there wasn't a hunt, not immediately. They were half-way to figuring out how to close the Hell Gates for good. They just needed to regroup and figure out next steps. And then….

"See a motel?" Dean asked.

Sam blinked, looking around and pulling himself out of thoughts of a future he wasn't supposed to want.

"How 'bout we stop there, first?" Sam pointed to a sprawling building with a neon sign fixed to the planks of the roof.

"Seriously? Joe's Bar?"

"Looks like a decent place."

"Looks like the only place."

"Sometimes we're beggars, man," Sam muttered.

Dean sighed. It sounded like it rolled up from his gut. "Fine."

The gravel covering the parking lot crunched under the Impala's tires as Dean pulled into a make-shift spot. They sat quietly for a few minutes, listening to the cooling engine and taking stock of the other cars in the parking lot. Sometimes knowing the cars outside helped them prepare for the people inside. Dean reached over Sam and opened the glove box.

"Really?" Sam asked as Dean pulled his Colt 1911 from the box and checked the clip.

Dean simply looked at him.

The fact that he didn't give Sam shit about calling him on weapons told Sam he'd been right. Dean was on the edge. He'd been there before, Sam remembered, though it felt like a lifetime ago. Memories of Hell had pushed him and gallons of alcohol had pulled him and he'd cried out in the night against torture Sam hadn't been able to imagine.

Until he'd lived it for himself.

Now, though, Sam couldn't just wake his brother from a troubled sleep, remind him that he was here. That it was okay.

He could barely bring himself to touch Dean outside of the occasional manly shoulder smack. He simply lay in the dark, listening to Dean struggle his way through a nightmare – when Dean actually slept, that is – and waited until his brother fought his way free.

He hated himself for it. But there was a wall between them – a wall built by time and war and separation and guilt and pain. And he didn't know how to climb it and he didn't know how to break it down. Truth be told, he just wanted to live on his side of the wall and not remember that there was any other reality.

They exited the car in unison and Sam drew in a breath. The crisp evening air buoyed his resolve and for a moment he felt good – better than he had since the moment Amelia had told him to leave. He'd been ready to go, but hearing it from her had cracked something inside of him that he still didn't know how to repair.

He glanced quickly at Dean; his brother, while never one to give in to the softness of life, had always listened to him. About Jess, about Dad, about the life he'd wanted after school, about his visions, about anything. He didn't always understand, Sam knew, but he'd always listened.

But the tense line of Dean's jaw seemed to unconsciously deflect even the thought of talking to him about Amelia. About anything that had happened to Sam in that scandalous year spent not hunting.

Without a word, Dean moved toward the entrance, his shoulders tight, his eyes sweeping the lot in that always-alert manner that made Sam crazy. He just wanted Dean to breathe. Relax for just a minute. And then maybe…maybe he might find it in his heart to understand anything Sam could tell him about his time in Texas.

Dean pulled the door wide and stepped back, letting Sam step in first, covering their back. In the entrance, Sam noticed the typical scents of cigarettes, beer, and fried foods mingled with the cool of the night air and the sweat of the people inside. He saw the seat yourself sign and nodded toward the bar, two seats on the far side. Dean tipped his chin in silent agreement then headed to the bathroom as Sam grabbed the stools.

A bald-headed man with the tattoo of an eagle across his throat asked Sam what he'd have. He ordered two pints and two shots of Jack, then asked for a menu. By the time Dean got back, his face slightly red from what Sam assumed was a vigorous towel drying, he'd ordered food for them, too. Dean wasn't a complicated guy when it came to a meal.

The complications came when Sam tried to justify a choice – any choice – Dean wouldn't have made himself.

"You all right?" Sam asked, noting his brother's blood-shot eyes.

"Fine," Dean replied with a quit asking me that tone.

"I got us some burgers and fries," Sam told him, watching as Dean drank his pint like water, then tossed back the Jack chaser, catching the bartender's eye and pointing at the empty glasses to order more.

"Thanks," Dean replied, giving him a small grin. It was something anyway, Sam knew.

They rotated as one, putting their backs to the counter and glancing around the bar. An unused pool table graced the far wall, a small dance floor spread out in front of an equally small stage. Instruments rested on stands indicating the band was on a break. Around the edge of the dance floor several small tables were clustered with a wide array of patrons.

Sam knew it would be easy to get Dean drunk if the way his brother had downed that beer was any indication. Getting him laid might be a little more of a challenge. Dean had always been good at getting women himself, but Sam hadn't seen him shown a flicker of interest since he got back.

If he wanted his brother to relax, he might have to get the ball rolling. Trouble was he had no idea where to start. He'd never been one to pick up a one-night-stand in a bar…at least not with his soul intact.

And the truth was he really wasn't over Amelia. She might've told him to go, he might've wanted to go, but she'd changed him. Changed what he looked for. Changed what he reacted to.

Sam turned back around when the plates of burgers were set in front of them, but as he started in on the fries, he realized that Dean hadn't moved. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw his brother watching a leggy brunette filling the triangle on the pool table with the balls from the return. Twisting a bit further he saw that she was flanked by two friends, but no men were around them.

She rolled the balls in the triangle against the felt of the table, then straightened up. Sam saw her pause a fraction of a second, her eyes finding Dean's, then she turned away to pull a cue from the wall, but the color in her cheeks told Sam she'd felt his brother's gaze.

Maybe he wouldn't have much work to do here after all.

Dean turned around and took his second shot before starting in on his hamburger. He ate carefully, but thoroughly. He breathed as he chewed, but didn't stop until the whole burger was gone. Even several weeks after his return, Sam still found himself blinking in astonishment watching his brother eat. He had to wonder what Dean had eaten in Purgatory…if he'd even needed to eat. All he could picture of the place was a large, blank, dark room filled with screams and fire.

Finishing his second beer, Dean didn't say a word when Sam slid the shot of Jack he'd ordered for himself toward his brother. He downed it and signaled for two more.

Sam shook his head at the bartender. "None for me, thanks."

Dean glanced at him.

"One of us has to be able to drive out of here."

"Civilian life make you soft, Sammy?"

Sam twisted his lips in a wry smile. "Just smart."

Dean dug the keys to the Impala from his pocket and dropped them on the bar next to Sam's plate. "You were always smart."

Sam pocketed the keys, lips flickering a smile at the compliment. "So, you gonna do something about that?"

Dean frowned. "'Bout what?"

"That." Sam tipped his head toward the pool table.

Dean's lascivious grin seemed to be almost a knee-jerk reaction. "We'll see."

The band took the stage behind them and started in on music just bluegrass enough Sam knew it would make Dean grimace. He finished his burger and drained his pint. "Maybe I should find us a motel room. Leave you to it."

"Not up for being my wingman?"

"When's the last time you needed a wingman?" Sam wrinkled his eyebrows, glancing at his brother. "Pretty sure you do just fine on your own."

Something dark and troubled crossed Dean's face so quickly that Sam knew had he not been staring right at his brother he wouldn't have seen it. It was almost a flinch of pain, of memory, and then it was gone.

"What?" Sam asked.

"Nothin'." Dean clapped Sam on the shoulder. "Go find a motel. I'll call you when I need to find you."

Sam watched him for a moment, suddenly uncertain. Since the moment he'd tackled Sam back at the cabin, Dean had been tense, focused. Having Cas suddenly back in their lives had rattled him, exposing a vulnerability Sam found wasn't accustomed to. He thought he knew his brother…but that was before. Lately, he wasn't sure if who he remembered and the person in front of him was the same guy.

Maybe leaving him right now wasn't such a great idea.

"Can I get a Newcastle?"

Sam shot his eyes over Dean's shoulder to the pretty brunette from the pool table now standing behind his brother, calling out an order to the bartender. She had an open smile and large, hazel eyes. Sam caught her eyes and smiled back, then nodded, tapping this fingers on the bar decisively before climbing from the stool.

"See ya," he said to his brother, heading to the door.

As he stepped out into the clean night air, he hoped he was doing the right thing.

www

"Looks like you just got ditched."

Dean arranged his expression in grin he knew would be both disarming and appealing before rotating around to face her. He remembered how to do this. It was like riding a bike.

"Looks like."

Her eyes swept his face, landing for a moment on his mouth before bouncing back up to meet his eyes.

"You any good at pool?"

Dean's grin shifted from show to genuine. "It's been a real long time," he replied honestly.

"Want to see how rusty you are?" She invited.

Dropping some cash on the bar, Dean downed his shot, then gathered his remaining pint and followed her to the pool table. She told him her name and introduced her two friends. Dean nodded to each, letting his eyes linger long enough to assess if they might be a danger, but letting their names slide off of him. He wouldn't need to remember them. He wouldn't be seeing them again.

The trio talked to each other in that laughing language women had when they're uninhibited, feeling risky. He always thought women sounded tribal, as if there was a test he'd never pass when tangling with a group of them – which was why he always singled one out, caught her and kept her until she was done with him or he with her. The only moments in his life where the gentle feelings of true emotion with a woman had ever lasted, one of them had walked away in pain.

And he'd had enough pain.

He listened to them talk about the band, the military base nearby, and the soldiers who occasionally frequented the bar. He listened to them laugh about their billiard skills, invite some patrons to play, and send others packing. He kept his eyes on the brunette, appreciating her curves, her half-smile, the way her lips closed around the mouth of her bottle of beer.

His body operated on muscle memory – face smiling, voice responding, arms moving as he knew they should when in this game. And he tried not to think. Not about Cas escaping from that place without him, not about Cas wanting to stay there for his penance, not about that place at all.

There was too much that lingered on him from Purgatory anyway. It left him feeling spent, wasted, used up. It clung to him like a tangible shadow and poisoned everything he tried to do, even reconnecting with Sam.

And from the moment Cas came back – from the moment he knew that he was truly seeing his friend and not a phantom, not a puzzle piece of memory – Dean had felt off-balanced. Loose. Everything was so…loud inside his head. It echoed around him, pulling him out of here and sending him back there. He'd tried so hard to get everyone out. But Cas…he hadn't wanted to.

Somehow Dean was supposed to accept that it wasn't his responsibility to save his friend…and at the same time just roll with the fact that Cas had been plucked from that war zone and planted right in his path once more. How did he trust that? How did he trust anything anymore?

His own brother hadn't even looked for him. Had just…run away. Why did he fight so hard to keep everyone with him when all they really wanted to do was leave?

Dean accepted another pint, letting the music from the band and the laughter of the women wash over him, finding it easy to hide inside the noise. All that really mattered to him was figuring out how to get back to where he belonged. Saving people, hunting things, Sam by his side.

But that only worked if Sam stayed. And Sam sure as hell didn't want to stay.

After two games and three more rounds, Dean was toast. Whatever alcohol tolerance he'd built up before Purgatory was lost in that year of war. His fingertips were numb as were his lips and he found himself saying short, staccato sentences to avoid slurring. The brunette had had enough that she felt comfortable leaning into him, resting a small hand on his shoulder, smiling up into his eyes.

His gut stirred as she slid a hand to his lower back. He forced himself not to tense up, not to pull away. She spread her fingers wide and he knew if she slid them lower she'd discover his gun, so he shifted to the side, wrapping his arm around her shoulder and pulling her backside close to his front.

"It's your shot," he said into her ear, his lips brushing the delicate skin there.

She reached up and nervously tucked her hair behind her ear. "What do you think? Seven in the middle?"

Dean shook his head, splaying his hand across her middle. "Three to the corner."

"I can't make that shot," she half-laughed.

"Sure you can," he encouraged, wrapping his arms around her and lining his hands up with hers. He pressed her forward into the edge of the table, and felt rather than heard her slight gasp as he guided the cue through her fingers, hitting the cue ball with just enough force to send it rolling into the three.

It took the corner and she started to straighten up, pressing back against him. He resisted just enough to feel her shiver before pulling her upright with him. She half turned, looking up at him, and he let his lips curl up into a smile, trying to consciously temper the heat in his eyes.

Man, it had been awhile since he'd played this game. It had been awhile since he'd felt this loose, this reckless, this unprotected. She turned from him and spoke to her friends and for a moment a spike of fear shot through Dean.

He had no one with him. No one to check his six. He didn't know where Sam was and Sam had no idea where he was going.

"Want to get out of here?" she asked him, voice low, eyes lidded with lashes brushing the pale crescent of her cheeks.

"Hell, yeah," he replied, surprised that he meant it.

He let her take his hand, leading him through the growing crowd and out into the night. She drove a small Ford – too small to do anything other than sit tight and breathe slowly as she headed a few miles down the road to a place called the Blue Moon Motel. It could be the same place where Sam was for all he knew.

She had a room there. She was a local and she had a room. That told him all he needed to know about the way his night had progressed.

It didn't really matter, though, if his being with her tonight was due to her plans or his prowess. It had been a fucking long time since he'd touched anything as soft as the back of her arm, smelled anything as sweetly perfumed as the top of her head.

He let her unlock the motel room door and followed her inside, not allowing more than a breath of space between them. She tossed the key on the table and kicked her heels to the corner of the room, losing a good two inches when she turned to face him. He pressed her long hair against her cheeks as he cupped her face and brought her lips close.

He still remembered how to do this. It was natural. Riding a bike.

The moment her lips touched his, though, he shuddered. His body noticeably shook, sending his hands from her face to her shoulders and causing him to draw back.

"How long's it been?" Her whisper was husky.

"What?" He opened his eyes wide, trying to see through the dark, needing to find the corners of the room. There was too much unknown, too much space.

"Since you've been back?"

He blinked at her, confused. Had Sam…?

"I've been with a few guys who were in Iraq, Afghanistan. They," she shrugged, moving backward and drawing him with her, "couldn't relax. Not all the way."

The military base, he remembered. This must be her regular gig. He tried to let that comfort him, but all he wanted to do now that he was here with her was leave, get back to his car, his brother, the familiar confines that had kept him from sinking too far into the memories of Purgatory.

"Been back…," he cleared his throat, thinking, "a few weeks."

He'd told Benny that this was real. That it was all real. And he'd said it with the conviction he knew his friend had needed. He'd recognized that lost look that was swamping Benny's eyes – he'd seen it in Sam's too many times when Lucifer held sway. He'd known exactly what they'd each needed to hear. But he couldn't seem to make himself believe the same.

"How long were you gone?"

A lifetime. Forever. "A year."

He heard the tremor in his voice and tried to pull away again, ashamed that he couldn't keep it together any more than he was.

"It's okay," she whispered, her breath on his neck, ghosting his face. "It's okay."

"How…what made you think…?" He wasn't wearing dog tags, no uniform. Nothing about him sitting at a bar screamed soldier.

"You got that look in your eyes," she said quietly, her voice losing the seductive timbre, for just a moment being completely real with him. "I've seen it too many times before not to recognize it. Someone who's home, but not back."

He dropped his eyes from his constant search for the corners of the room to her face, seeing a strange level of understanding there. She knew nothing about him, nothing about what he'd been through, and yet he instinctively felt that in this moment, none of that mattered. She just wanted to hold him. Wanted to feel him.

And he wanted so desperately to connect with someone….

"It don't…," he started to pull away from her one last time. He was on his own in uncharted territory. "I can't…."

"Yeah, you can," she crooned, letting go of him and crossing her arms over her chest, grabbing the ends of her shirt and pulling it over her head. He realized she wasn't wearing a bra. His belly went liquid. "Yeah. You can."

"Goddamn," Dean growled, resting the flat of his hands on her ribcage, just below her breasts.

"Welcome home, soldier." Her smile projected a sense of assurance that said she knew exactly the affect her body was having on his.

The conscious part of his brain registered that this was, for all intents and purposes, a trap. She might even ask for payment after all was said and done for all he knew. But his body was responding in ways it hadn't in a long, long time. He thought that part of him had died in Purgatory – the natural, instinctive reaction to flesh, to heat, to want.

She threw back the covers on the bed, exposing white sheets to the ambient light in the room, then slid her hands beneath his shirt. He shivered at her touch. No one had touched him in so long. Sam and Cas had hugged him in that rough good to see you, man way. Benny had hauled him out of the path of danger.

But he hadn't felt such gentle, human contact in so long he felt his throat close with emotion. His eyes burned as he looked at her.

"You can do this," she encouraged him, her pupils large, eyes wide as she climbed onto the bed. "Here."

She took his hand and placed it on her breast, his calloused, scarred palm covering the soft flesh entirely. He took a breath, appalled to hear it shake. She reached for his shirt and he stepped back.

"Wait."

Something in his tone warned her to not push and she held herself still, watching as he toed off his boots, pulled off his jacket and shirt, then shimmied from his pants, dropping the Colt onto the top of his jeans. The serrated demon-killing knife he was never without these days was tucked safely into the interior pocket of his jacket.

He watched her eyes skip across his scars – scars he'd not let anyone see since returning to the World. He met her eyes, asking silently if she still thought this was a good idea and felt his body relax when she smiled, then dropped back to the bed to slide out of her jeans.

"C'mere," she coaxed, holding out a hand to him.

On a breath, Dean fell into her, shoving any fear, any doubt or distrust to the other side of the protective wall he'd built around himself the moment he'd fallen through the portal, alone and in pain. He willed himself to simply feel. To remember how to feel something that wasn't pain. That wasn't sharp-edged and cutting. That wouldn't bruise and break and crush those around him with the weight of its truth.

"I, uh…I don't…," he couldn't figure out which word to use.

He'd lost the smoothness that usually served him so well in these meaningless moments of physical release. He couldn't remember how to touch, how to speed up, when to slow down. He felt awkward, uncertain, like a high school kid on prom night.

"It's okay," she whispered again, as if she'd said it before, a thousand different times in a thousand different ways.

She guided his hands and he closed his eyes, focusing on the sensation of softness and heat. He let her mouth show him what she wanted and when. He let her protect them and talk him through an act that had always been so natural to him – from the first time to the latest time. He felt her take him in, slowly, his body consumed by silk, and he shook, uncertain. He rocked on instinct – pulling shallow, diving deep. He listened to her breath mix with his and he followed the path she laid out for him.

He felt himself heat up, turning liquid and rushing over an edge he'd forgotten even existed until this moment. The emotion he'd boxed up inside of him pressed out as his blood surged; his eyes went blind and he cried out, arching up and into her, feeling her fingers tighten on his, feeling her legs grip his waist.

As the rush abated, he sagged, his only true conscious thought simply not to crush her with his weight as he fought to calm his racing heart, tried to quiet his breathing. She was shushing him, her hand on his face, thumb stroking his cheek. He didn't realize that he was still shaking, that the sounds of distress he'd felt inside of him were audible.

He tried to quiet them, tried to silence them, wanting simply to ride out the wave of pleasure and sleep – maybe, finally sleep. But there was so much darkness on the other side of that wall, so much that threatened to rush in and swamp him. He could only swallow, eyes pressed closed, the tears on his face a shameful burn.

"It's okay," she whispered, over and over. "You're home. You're back."

He knew there was no way she'd understand, no way for her to realize she wasn't speaking to a soldier, but to a shell. Still, he clung to her words like a lifeline, just for the moment allowing himself a weakness he couldn't afford to show anyone he cared about. He rolled toward her and exhaled, his body relaxing into the bed, his mind ricocheting through memories seeking one – just one – that might offer him solace.

"Just sleep," she crooned. "It'll all be better after some sleep."

He was so tired, so empty. He let himself believe her. Even though he should have known better.

www

When his phone rang, Sam glanced from the TV to the clock. It wasn't quite midnight, but still late enough he figured Dean had closed the deal. It was about time, too. He was getting tired of waiting.

"So, where are you?" he said by way of greeting when he opened his phone.

"H-hello?"

The voice was female, and scared. Sam looked once more at the number on his digital display, then barked into the phone, a frown digging furrows into his brow, "Who is this?"

"Is…is this, uh…Sam?"

"Yeah, why are you calling me on my brother's phone?"

He heard her sob and his heart stopped, then jumped started at a dizzying rate. He was on his feet without remembering standing.

"Listen, he's in trouble."

"Where are you?" Sam demanded, grabbing his duffel, boots, jacket, and keys and heading for the door without even turning off the TV.

"We're at the Blue Moon. Off of Route 7."

"Dammit," Sam muttered. He'd almost stopped there, but they'd been full-up. He ended up about 30 miles away. "What room?"

"127."

"What's the matter with him?"

He heard her tears as her voice shook. "I don't…don't know. We had a good time and fell asleep and then he…I think it was a nightmare, but when I tried to wake him up he…."

"Is he hurt?"

"Yeah."

"How bad?"

"I don't know."

Sam tried to calm his voice; he could tell she was terrified. But his own fear was getting the better of him. He'd known Dean wasn't ready for this. He'd left him anyway.

"Can you help him?"

"No!" She practically shrieked. "I'm not going back in there. It's too much…I've dealt with messed up guys before but…this is too much."

"Can you at least tell me what's wrong?"

"I don't know what the fuck is wrong, okay?" she yelled. "He woke up and freaked the hell out and I grabbed my clothes and got out of there."

Sam was in the car, boots on, not tied, and was heading out of the parking lot. He could hear her opening a car door.

"I grabbed his phone on my way out. There were two numbers in his call list. I left a message at the first one, and then found you. If he's your brother, you can get the fuck over here yourself and help him. I'm gone."

"Hey, wait—"

The line went dead. Sam closed his phone, pressing his lips flat as he tried to focus his thoughts on what could have happened that scared the girl so bad. He pounded the flat of his hand on the steering wheel, cursing himself, Dean, this damn life that never gave them a chance.

He'd been out. He'd been free of it. He'd been lonely – even with Amelia, he'd felt the loss of Dean's understanding and companionship – but he'd been out. It had been so easy then, even with the thought of Dean being dead. Even with that. It had been so much easier than living this life of constant fear and pain and battling the ever-present unknown.

The Impala ate up the road as he pressed the accelerator to the floor. In roughly twenty minutes he saw the lights from the small town and scanned the road for the Blue Moon. Ten minutes later, he found it, pulling into the lot and shutting off the engine. He hurried to the trunk, grabbed the first aid kit, then ran down the cement sidewalk until he saw room 127. Dean's cell phone lay discarded on the path outside the door.

He pounded on the door. "Dean!"

The silence on the other side had his heart speeding up all over again. He rattled the handle, uselessly.

"Coulda left a key," he growled, thinking about the frightened girl.

He tried to peek into the window, but the curtains were pulled closed. Taking a breath he called his brother's name again. This time a crash from the interior had him breaking into a sweat. He fumbled with the pockets of his jacket, searching for the lock pick kit. He swore at himself when he realized it was back in the Impala. He hurried back to the trunk to retrieve it.

Sam had always been helplessly analytical, forever compelled to find the logic, the reason within each situation they faced – despite existing inside an illogical world. He knew the amount of fear he was feeling was disproportionate to the facts that had been presented to him, but he couldn't seem to rationalize any other reaction.

He'd lost Dean so many damn times – and even though each time he'd gotten him back, somehow, beyond all probability, he felt each loss like someone cut into his chest and yanked out his heart.

This last time…standing alone in that lab, his world spinning on the downside of an adrenaline rush, he'd felt it all over again. He'd been sure Dean had been killed. Ripped from him like every other time before. Only this time he'd known no deal would get him back. And the angels had turned their backs. He was left with nothing.

He'd not even been able to cry for him. He'd tried. He'd wanted to. But it was as if he'd been scooped out, empty, hollow. Amelia had replaced some of those emotions. She'd reminded him what it felt like to relate to someone. To connect with them. To simply get used to having someone else around. She'd reminded him what desire felt like. How the word comfort came into being.

Then Dean was there. He was just…there. Alive. Breathing. Real. Human.

And asking Sam if he'd looked for him.

The guilt dug into Sam so deep he didn't have a chance to feel the elation at seeing his brother alive that had edged onto his perception. The resentment for being made to feel guilty turned any apology sour in his mouth. From that moment he'd been unable to decide which he wanted more: to leave forever and never look back, or to never again let Dean out of his sight.

Crouching by the lock, a small flashlight gripped in his teeth, Sam worked on the lock, listening for more crashes on the inside. Sweat ran into the corners of his eyes, despite the chill of the night. Dean was always so…in control. Tense, coiled, on guard, yes – but in control. Even when he struggled through his nightmares he seemed to know exactly what he needed to do the moment he woke up.

But Dean slept so rarely Sam should have realized it would catch up with him. No one can be in control all the time. Sam knew that better than anyone. But it had just been so nice…so nice to have that year where he was not on the run, always afraid. To not have someone else in his head, to not feel himself coming apart just beneath the surface of his skin, to not be waiting for the next demon to pounce.

So he'd simply let his memories of Amelia – or, more accurately, his life without hunting and the appeal that peace still had for him – placate him into a sense of acceptance where Dean's tension, and his way of every so often staring into space, were concerned. He'd let himself believe that behavior was simply Dean's way of coping; there wasn't really anything wrong with his brother. Nothing time, some rock music, and some black coffee wouldn't fix.

The lock popped and Sam spit out the flashlight, pushing to his feet. He took a breath, turned the handle, and shoved the door – only to meet a fairly substantial resistance .The door opened a fraction of an inch and connected with something solid. If Sam had to guess, he'd say it was the dresser.

"Dean!" He pressed his face to the opening. "Dean, man, open up. It's me! It's Sam!"

Nothing. No sound. Not even a breath.

"Dean!"

Real fear was starting to shake through Sam. He ran the girl's words over in his head. They'd had a good time…they'd fallen asleep…she thought it was a nightmare….

"Dean, wake up, man! Hey! It's okay, you're back, okay?"

The low growl that rolled out through the parted door had Sam drawing back in shock. It sounded inhuman…like a wolf, maybe. Not his brother.

"Dean?"

He shoved on the door again. His shoulder twinged. Glancing up and down the row, making sure no one was peeking out of their room curiously, he slammed his shoulder against the door. Again. Another time. It barely budged.

"Dean, c'mon, man!"

He was sweating, his T-shirt and flannel shirt both clinging to the valley of his spine. He mentally cataloged the contents of the Impala's trunk, trying to figure out what he might have in there that could help him push the door open wide enough for him to get inside. When the gray pick up with a topper on the bed pulled up, he didn't really pay attention.

But when the tall, solidly-built man in a Navy pea coat stepped from the cab, Sam felt his body go cold, his fingers instinctively curling against his palm in a tightly clenched fist. He quickly calculated the distance between the motel room and his machete in the trunk of the Impala.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Sam demanded.

Benny pulled off his hat and tossed it into the cab of his truck before closing the door. Sam watched his eyes flick from Sam, to the Impala and back, then he dragged a hand down his face, scratching at his beard.

"I got a call. Said Dean was in trouble."

Sam narrowed his eyes, tilting his head in disbelief. "Dean called you?"

Benny shook his head, moving forward slowly. Sam was lucid enough to recognize the caution in the vampire's approach. His hands were out at his sides, palm up, in a universal sign of I come in peace.

"Naw, not from Dean. Some girl left a message for me. Called me from Dean's phone. Said he was in trouble and left an address."

Sam had to force himself to take a breath, remembering that the girl said Dean had two numbers and she'd called both.

"Well, I got this. You can go." Sam snarled at the vampire through clenched teeth.

Benny stopped moving and Sam felt the weight of his eyes. "Dean in there?"

"Yes," Sam growled, ramming his shoulder against the door.

"He not letting you in?"

"Sure he is." Sam paused and narrowed his eyes at Benny. "That's why I'm out here breaking my shoulder."

Benny nodded slowly, his blue eyes sweeping the door. "What happened?"

"Why do you care? You're a friggin' vampire." Sam felt his lips peel back in a snarl. "I could kill you right now, y'know. Right where you stand."

"You could try," Benny lifted a shoulder, no malice in his tone. "But that wouldn't get you any closer to gettin' into that room."

Sam mentally groaned, pressing his forehead against the door, flattening his sweaty palms on the frame. "I don't understand why he trusts you."

"Don't suppose you could," Benny offered. "That's something you two gotta work out. Once we figure out what the hell's wrong with your brother."

Sam swallowed. Logic was a bastard when it was presented to him wrapped in the package of a creature he hated on principle alone.

He glanced at the vampire. His brother's friend. Someone Dean trusted. Sam wanted the creature dead. It was a monster. What Dean claimed they hunted. And here it stood.

Benny was more of a brother to me in this last year than you ever were.

Dean's angry, pain-filled words echoed in Sam's head as he looked at Benny. No one had ever been more important to Dean than Sam. No one. Not Dad. Not Lisa. Not Bobby. And Sam counted on that. He depended on it. He needed to know that no matter what he did, no matter how many times he walked away, no matter how and where he searched for himself, he could always come back to Dean. His brother would always be there.

But not if there was a friend who somehow meant more to Dean than his own brother. Sam wanted Benny dead for that alone. Reason be damned.

"Hey, listen," Benny tried, apparently seeing that Sam was working up the head of steam necessary to take him out regardless of how he could help with Dean. "I ain't here to get in the middle of anything. Dean and me agreed to go our separate ways once we got free of that place."

"Is that right?" Sam snapped, his eyes narrowed in disbelief. "Then how come he stopped everything when you called him?"

Benny dropped his chin, his blue eyes taking Sam in with a calm that reminded Sam of Bobby. It set him off balance. "Because, man. Your brother, he," Benny lifted a shoulder, the side of his mouth pulling up in a rueful smile, "he don't know how not to take care of a friend. I needed help. That's all he needed to hear."

"So, that's why you're here?" The bitterness in his tone made Sam's words brittle. "'Cause Dean needs help?"

"Kinda, yeah," Benny nodded, his expression settling into something almost serious. Sam found it hard to read him. "That and curiosity. Had to know why some chick was calling me on his phone. He never talked about no woman. Just you and Cas."

Sam drew his head back. "He talked about me?"

Benny's eyebrows went up. "Hell yeah, he talked about you. Couldn't shut the guy up."

Sam looked back at the door, letting Benny's honey and whiskey accent seep into him, thinking. "She called me, too," he finally said. "Told me they'd had a good time."

"I'll just bet they did," Benny drawled, a grin apparent in his voice. Sam ignored him.

"Then said they went to sleep and she thought he was having a nightmare, but whatever it was scared her enough to get her out of there. Said he was hurt."

Benny was quiet a moment. "He have nightmares a lot since he's been back?"

Sam shrugged a shoulder. "No more than he had before." He pressed his ear to the door, but he couldn't hear anything from inside the room.

"Here's how it is," Benny said finally. "I'll get you inside, we figure out what's going on with him, and then I'm gone. I got no need to tangle up in your family business."

"You want me to say I won't kill you," Sam realized.

"That'd be advantageous, I'll admit."

Sam stepped away from the door, sweeping Benny's muscular build with his gaze. "How'd you get here so fast?"

"I was in the neighborhood."

Sam raised an eyebrow. "You following us?"

Benny scoffed. "Hell no, I ain't following you." He glanced toward the road, then looked back, meeting Sam's eyes. "I was meeting…an old friend here in Mumford."

Sam glanced down.

"Took care of business, and was restocking on…uh…supplies over at the medical wing of the military base."

Sam looked back at Benny. "Supplies."

"Want me to spell it out for you?"

"So you were just…here."

"Like I said." Benny lifted his chin. "You following me? You're the one all hot and heavy to fill my heart with splinters."

Sam looked back at the door, not interested in answering Benny's challenge. "Fine. We get Dean, you get the hell out." He looked back at Benny, his eyes hot. "But I can't make any promises after that."

Benny pressed his lips flat. "Fair enough."

Sam took a breath and rammed his shoulder against the door.

"Wait, there, hold up." Benny stepped up behind him.

Sam stiffened and turned. Benny held up a hand.

"Hang on, son, I ain't gonna shiv ya right after callin' truce. Lemme just lay into this here thing. Got me some extra strength ooomph, ya know what I mean?"

Sam frowned, but put his sore shoulder back against the door.

"One, two, three." Benny counted down and they rammed the door together, shoving the barricade aside and opening the door wide enough both could slip through.

The moment he stepped into the dark, cloistered room, the coppery smell of blood hit Sam with force. He instinctively looked over at Benny, sweat beading on his upper lip. Aside from his blue eyes glowing a bit in the dark, the blood didn't seem to be sending the vampire into a frenzy of lust, so Sam scanned the room, trying to catch his breath.

Benny reached behind Sam and hit a light switch. The lamp from what had been the bedside table was on its side, the shade gone. The bare bulb illuminated the carpet and cast disconcerting shadows around the room.

"Holy Christ," Benny breathed.

"Jesus," Sam muttered at the same time.

It struck him as telling that they both called out to a Heavenly entity as they took in the disarray of the room. The dresser had been shoved against the door, the night stand shattered into strips of false wood. The mattress was pulled from the bed, jimmied in front of the bathroom door and the sheets were missing.

The walls were covered with sigils – some to ward off demons, some angels, some Sam didn't even recognize – all created with blood.

Dean's blood.

Sam's heart dropped. His body went cold. He was scared – really, truly scared – for the first time since he'd been left standing alone in the Leviathan lab.

"Dean?" Sam called softly. He scanned the room, the disjointed light playing with his eyes. "Hey, it's…it's Sam."

Benny leaned over and picked up the lamp, setting it on the dresser, and pushing the door shut behind them. Sam flinched at the sound, but was grateful for the added illumination. He was starting to think Dean had ducked out through the bathroom window, leaving this destruction behind him when Benny tapped his arm. Sam glanced over at the vampire, then followed Benny's worried gaze to the far corner of the room, next to the pile of sheets.

Dean sat with his knees up, his demon-killing knife out and ready, the hilt turned in his grip so that the blade ran parallel to his arm. He was naked save his boxers and his arms and legs were wet with blood. His eyes were on them, but it was clear he wasn't seeing them. Sam had seen that thousand-yard stare before. Dean wasn't seeing anything here.

"Hey," Sam said quietly, crouching low, moving slowly. "Hey, Dean."

Sam started forward, one hand out, his heart pounding. He'd never seen his brother this wrecked before. He felt totally out of his element. Drawing close to Dean, Sam swallowed, keeping his voice even, soothing.

"How about you put the knife down, man?"

Sam reached out to touch his brother's leg and Dean moved like lightning. Sam knew Dean was good, but he had never seen him move this fast. Dean had Sam on his back, pinned down by his weight, the knife at his throat before Sam blinked.

"Where are they?" Dean growled.

"Wh-who?" Sam gasped, trying to breathe and not move at the same time. He could feel the bite of the blade against the soft underside of his jaw.

"You know who, you bastard. Tell me where they are!"

"Oh, my God," Benny suddenly breathed. "I know this."

"Little help?" Sam gasped.

"Tell him they're at the river," Benny ordered.

"Wh-what?!" He felt the blade dig a little deeper.

"Just fucking tell him."

Sam looked at Dean, met his brother's wild green eyes, pupils blown so wide he wasn't sure Dean could focus on anything.

"Th-they're at the river," he rasped.

Dean pushed away from him and stood, pressing back against the wall, smearing the anti-angel sigil as he moved. Sam scrambled backwards and let Benny help him to his feet. He touched his throat, feeling the slim line of blood seeping from the knife cut. He didn't take his eyes from Dean, unable to assimilate this wild-man stance with his typically in control brother.

Dean was shaking from head to foot as he pressed back against the wall. The only thing steady was the knife. Sam gaped, taking in the slices on his brother's arms and legs, some deeper than others, blood coating his skin in a slick sheen. What shocked him more, though, were the scars across Dean's chest and belly from wounds that had simply had to heal as Dean survived Purgatory.

"Oh, Jesus, Dean," Sam choked out, emotion wrapping tight fingers around his hammering heart. It beat a choked, helpless confession of I'm sorry…I'm so sorry.

"Sam," Benny said quietly, easing Sam back with two fingers on his arm. Sam gave way to the vampire, completely unsure how to help his brother snap out of this break with reality. "I got this."

Sam watched as Benny moved cautiously forward. He held his breath when the vampire lifted a hand, but it was only in greeting, not to touch Dean.

"Hey, there, brother," Benny greeted.

Sam winced at the endearment, but watched as Dean's eyes tracked to the sound of Benny's sultry voice, finally seeming to focus on something.

"We're okay, Cas and me. We're alive."

Dean blinked, his gaze pulling in closer, finding Benny's face.

"We found you," Benny continued. "You remember?"

"You…found me?" Dean repeated, frowning.

"You were a goddamn warrior," Benny continued. "You stayed alive, brother. You made it out."

Dean swallowed and Sam watched him look around the room, slowly, as if taking in his surroundings for the first time that night.

"You fought off every one of those bastards," Benny reminded him. "And Cas and me…we found you."

Nodding, Dean met Benny's eyes. "This…this is real." He looked down at the knife in his grip, his hand starting to shake along with the rest of his body.

"It's all real," Benny said, holding out a hand toward the knife. "We got out. You're not there, you're here. You found your brother. It's all real."

Sam watched as Dean raised the knife, the blood on the blade reflecting in the bare light of the lamp. He looked up, around, finding Sam with destroyed eyes.

"Sammy?"

Sam stumbled forward, relief at seeing Dean look at him – really look – making him dizzy.

"Hey," Sam choked out. They both seemed to try so hard to convince each other that there was no problem, that they were fine, when in actuality, Sam realized, they were both falling apart inside.

We're such fakers, man.

Dean swallowed hard, repeatedly, as if he were trying not to get sick. He looked at the bloody sigils adorning the walls, then glanced down at his bloody arms, his shaking fingers stiffly uncurling from the hilt of the knife, the weapon clattering to the floor.

Sam heard Dean take a shuddering breath and moved on instinct, stepping past Benny to stand in front of Dean a heartbeat before his brother's eyes fluttered closed.

Dean's legs gave way and he seemed to sink, gravity pulling on him with greedy fingers. Sam caught Dean against him, the blood on his arms making him hard to grip. Slowly going to his knees, Sam took his brother with him and held him close, feeling the tremors slip from Dean's body into his and sending his head spinning slightly.

"Dean?" Sam patted his cheek, taking his chin in his hand and turning his face up. "Hey, Dean, c'mon, man."

But Dean stayed pliant, unresponsive, his body trembling. Sam cradled his brother's head against his shoulder, looking around at the destruction, the blood on the walls, then back at the bare, bloody, scarred body in his arms.

"Damn," Benny breathed from behind him.

"I need…," Sam choked on the request, wanting nothing more than for the vampire to leave.

But he needed help. Dean needed help. And as he'd just witnessed, there were some things that Benny knew about Dean that Sam would never know. It chewed through him, this understanding. It ate at his heart like acid.

"I'll get the mattress back on the frame," Benny offered.

"There's a bag," Sam said, not lifting his head, not looking at Dean, just holding him close, feeling the steady rise and fall of his brother's chest. "Right outside the door. First aid."

"Got it," Benny replied.

Sam didn't move. He felt his legs start to go to sleep as he rested on them, the added weight of Dean against him. But he wanted that weight. He wanted the solid reminder that what Benny had said was true: this was all real. All of it.

It wouldn't be enough, he knew, leaving hunting. It wouldn't be enough to settle down and leave Dean slashing and burning through the bad guys. He would never be free of it.

This life owned him, no matter what he wanted. No matter what either of them wanted. There was no escaping it.

Sam bowed his neck, pressing his forehead to Dean's, and felt tears, hot and mean, build behind his eyes. The noise of Benny returning the room to some sort of order so that they could treat Dean's wounds seemed to fade into the background and all that mattered in the moment was that in the center of that spinning room, Sam sat with his brother alive in his arms, grounded by the knowledge that they may be lost to this world that tried so hard to bleed Dean out, but they weren't yet defeated by it.

They weren't defeated by a long shot.

"Sam?"

Benny was standing over him.

"I got him," Sam said.

His felt blood rush to his lower legs as he pushed upright, pins and needles dancing painfully in his feet. He held Dean against his chest, pressing a hand against the wall to gain his balance, then dragged Dean's limp form the few feet to the bare mattress. He turned and grabbed a sheet from the pile on the floor, rolling Dean first one way, then the other as he spread the white cloth beneath him.

"Here," Benny said, handing him a towel, heavy with hot water.

Sam started cleaning the blood from Dean's arms, watching his brother frown, his limbs twitching involuntarily as Sam hit one of the cuts with the rough material.

"How are you not…," Sam glanced up at Benny, surprised to find the vampire's worried blue eyes pinned to Dean's face. "Y'know, vamping out?"

"What?" Benny asked, confused, pulling his gaze over to Sam. "What are you talkin' about?"

"All this blood," Sam pressed. "Gotta be like…an open bottle of Scotch to an alcoholic."

Benny frowned. "I drink blood," he said. "I don't drink people."

To Sam, it sounded rote, as if he were weary of having to prove himself. But Sam didn't care. If this guy was to get one iota of trust, he was going to have to prove himself.

"And I sure as hell don't drink my friends," Benny said quietly, his expression inscrutable as he watched Dean's face for signs of awareness.

Sam looked away, not wanting to recognize the fact that Benny clearly cared about his brother. He didn't want to remember that the vampire had once been human, that he had emotions, that he could feel attachment to Dean.

He didn't want to have to admit that Dean's trust might have been earned.

He focused on cleaning the blood from the cuts on Dean's legs. The slices there were deeper, crooked as if he'd not been able to hold the knife steady. Dean muttered, a low curse that made no sense except for the tone, and shifted restlessly on the bed.

"I can't believe he's not waking up for this," Sam confessed quietly.

Benny moved away from the bed, boosting himself up on the displaced dresser and pushing the heavy curtains apart with one finger, peering out at the night.

"He sleep much since he got back?"

Sam shrugged, not really caring if the vampire saw him or not. He began to wrap the shallow cuts with gauze, tearing the medical tape with his teeth and securing it in place. One cut on Dean's left arm and a cut across his right thigh were deep enough Sam knew stitches were going to be necessary.

"I ask because he didn't sleep much while we were there," Benny continued. "I didn't either, but then," his voice shrugged, "I don't really need it as much. Cas…I don't think he ever slept. He had Leviathan radar going twenty-four-seven."

"No," Sam muttered. "I don't think he's slept much."

"He forgets he's human," Benny commented dryly.

Sam could tell Benny was looking back at them, but he didn't reply. He cleaned the deeper cut on Dean's leg with antiseptic, the shock of it bring Dean around with a gasp. He stared at Sam blindly, blinking rapidly as he tried to figure out what had hurt so badly.

"Hey, it's me," Sam reassured him.

"The hell?" Dean rasped. "Wha' happened?"

"You kinda…messed yourself up," Sam said, stumbling over his words. He glanced at the wall next to them and Dean followed his look.

"I did that?" He sounded spacey, not quite awake.

Sam nodded, frowning, his hand on Dean's bandaged arm. "I'm gonna put in some stitches, okay?"

Dean frowned, his eyes slipping closed. Sam sat for a moment, waiting to see if he would open his eyes once more, but when he lay still, Sam threaded the needle and started to sew the cut across his brother's thigh.

"What happened at the river?" Sam asked Benny, just to have something to say, distracting him from the task at hand.

"Nothin'. Just knew he'd remember it as a real place," Benny said, his voice muffled. Sam glanced over and saw the vampire was looking at the ground with that same thousand-yard stare Sam had seen on Dean's face too many times. "It's where we found Cas."

Sam wrapped the wound on Dean's thigh and moved to his forearm. "What happened to you guys there?" Sam asked.

Benny took a long, slow breath. "Too much."

Sam rubbed his nose with the back of his hand, thinking how to rephrase the question. He wanted to know so much more. He wanted to picture it. The fact that there was a river there had him re-thinking everything he'd been imagining Dean had been through. No longer could he picture a torture rack, or scrambling around in a cage. There'd been a river. Combined with Dean's comment about 360-degree combat, Sam's mind was spinning.

He set the needle to Dean's arm and Dean jerked.

"Son of a bitch." It came out as a gasp, a plea to stop. He flailed out a hand and grabbed Sam's wrist.

"Easy," Sam said, carefully twisting his hand away from Dean's weak grip. "Almost done, man."

"Sammy?"

"Yeah, it's me." Sam used his fingers to press the cut closed, frowning at the blood seeping through and making his job more difficult.

"You okay?"

Sam looked up at his brother and saw Dean's eyes were on his throat.

"I did that, didn't I?"

"It's okay, Dean," Sam reassured him. "It doesn't hurt."

"I'm sorry." Dean licked his lips, looking off to the side, not quite out, but not really present, either.

Sam carefully sewed up the cut on his arm; they'd each been the givers and receivers of stitches more time than he cared to remember. Being awake for them was nothing new. He wrapped Dean's arm and reached into the first aid kit for two bottles. He tapped out antibiotics and pain meds.

"Think you can take these?"

Dean blinked, looking at Sam, leveling his eyes. "I'm sorry, Sam."

"I know you are," Sam replied quickly, not wanting to think too much about the layers inside that apology, knowing it wrapped more than just the cut into it.

If he accepted Dean's apology, he would feel the need to make one of his own and he just wasn't ready. He wasn't ready to not be mad, to not be hurt. He started to get up to get a glass of water from the bathroom.

Dean grabbed his arm, stopping him. He shook his head once, then blinked his eyes as if keeping them open was taking a monumental effort.

"I shoulda…I need t'tell you," Dean tried. "There's stuff you don't know. You'd understand…I think you'd understand if…."

Sam closed his fingers around Dean's hand, quieting him. "We can talk about it later, okay? Take these. Get some sleep."

Dean swallowed the pills without water and with a sigh let his eyes fall shut once more. Sam sat looking at him for another moment. Blood was smeared on the sheet beneath him and Sam hadn't been able to really get all of it off of his arms and legs.

"Eight. He cut himself eight times," Sam said, his tone dull with disbelief. "Protecting himself from his own head."

He reached down for the blanket bunched in a pile on the ground, spreading it over Dean's still form.

"I know you've seen a lot of shit, Sam," Benny said quietly. He drew out the words like taffy, seeming to try to strike a balance between confession and protection.

Sam looked over his shoulder at the vampire, waiting.

"You know those dreams where you're…you're just there." Benny was staring at Dean, blue eyes bright in the unshaded lamplight, a sort of haggard sorrow ghosting his expression. "And nothing could convince you otherwise."

Sam nodded, slipping off the side of the bed and sitting on the floor next to the shattered nightstand, his back against the wall. From this position, he could see Dean on the bed and above him, sitting like a protective gargoyle, Benny's profile was silhouetted against the harsh light of the bare lamp bulb.

"We took shifts, watching. Even if we didn't need sleep, Cas and me, Dean made us rest." Dean took a breath, shifting on the bed at the sound of his name, but he didn't wake. "Said we were a unit – like some kind of soldier-boy. Said we had to watch out for each other if we were gonna make it outta there."

Sam nodded. That sounded exactly like Dean – mostly because it also sounded exactly like Dad.

"This one time, we got separated. Leviathan." Benny spat the word. "Dropped down right between us and it was…chaos." He looked down and Sam saw him rubbing at his palm. "By the time we'd cleared 'em out, we realized Dean wasn't nowhere. Cas vanished and I thought I was as good as dead, but then he came back."

"He was looking for Dean," Sam guessed.

Benny nodded. "He stuck with me after that. Not really sure why. But we looked together, Cas and me. Took us three days to find him."

Sam looked at Dean as his brother twisted again in the sheets.

"He'd built himself a…kind of a shelter. There were bodies…hell, everywhere. Vampires, werewolves, Leviathan, rugaru, revenant…. He'd taken 'em all out. And he'd painted these," Benny gestured to the walls around him, "on all the trees surrounding him."

"With his blood?" Sam asked, his throat tightening.

"Some. Think others might've been bad guy blood." Benny glanced over his shoulder at Sam, then let his eyes rest on Dean. "Sigils made it so Cas couldn't come close – anti-angel sigils got mixed up with the anti-demon ones in his head, I guess. I waded in there and found him. He was…," Benny glanced down. "He was kind of a mess. Hadn't slept, was covered in blood. Took me a bit to convince him I was really there. Then he…he just looked at me. Know what he said?"

"What took you so long?" Sam guessed.

Benny chuckled, the sound a low, pleasant roll against the air around them. "You got it. I hauled his ass out of there and we…patched him up. Didn't let him take a watch for awhile."

Sam looked at Dean, feeling inexplicably exhausted. "You just told me more about his time there than he has since he got back."

Benny frowned for a moment, then looked down, nodding. "Yeah, well. He don't want you to know what it was like, man."

Sam felt his jaw tighten. "Why not? Maybe if I knew more of what he'd been through, I'd understand why he—" He pulled up short, darting his eyes away from Benny.

"Why he's friends with a goddamn vampire?" Benny finished for him.

Sam looked at the ground.

"You're gonna have to talk to him about that," Benny informed him. "I will tell you, I've never met a better man." He looked out through the window again. "And I've lived a damn long time."

They sat quietly for a bit, then Sam heard Benny slide from the top of the dresser, moving to the side of the bed. He watched as the vampire looked down at his sleeping brother. Something seemed to cross his face, a curious sort of sadness that Sam didn't know where to place. Benny's eyes shifted to him and Sam forced himself to meet his gaze.

"Gonna be sunrise, soon," Benny informed him. "I'll be going."

Sam nodded, remembering his promise.

"You tell this idiot to sleep, ya hear?" Benny looked back at Dean. "And talk to him." He slid his eyes to Sam in a challenging glance. "He ain't broken, Sam. He's just…trying to find his way." Benny glanced around the ruined room. "Like we all are."

Sam didn't say a word, simply watched as Benny shoved the dresser further aside and slipped through the door. He sighed, then leaned his head against the mattress, finally admitting he was completely exhausted.

Talk to him….

How could such a simple statement hold such weight? Before this past year, Sam barely had a memory that didn't involve Dean and now…guilt, resentment, jealousy were all getting in the way of something that could solve so many things. The chasm between here and there just felt so wide.

He closed his eyes, head bouncing slightly against the mattress as Dean moved restlessly on the bed. Just before he fell asleep, Sam felt a hand on his head, comfortable and familiar.

www

Dean opened his eyes, stifling a groan. He hurt. A lot.

Blinking the sleep from his eyes, he let his eyes roam the unfamiliar room, memories of the night before filtering through the dissipating fog. Bar, girl, sex…and then nothing but chaos and pain.

He swallowed roughly, trying to remember if he'd hurt anyone besides himself. He had a vague memory of shoving someone and cutting someone else. Reaching up, he dragged a hand down his face, rolling slowly to his side and sitting up on the edge of the bed, planting his feet and waiting for the world to stop its impression of a top.

"It's alive."

Dean blinked blearily, looking around to find the source of the voice. Sam. Sounding…happy.

"Hey," he croaked.

"How are you feeling?"

"Like ass," Dean replied honestly. He narrowed his eyes at his brother. "What are you…are you washing the walls?"

"Dude, it looked like a crime scene in here," Sam informed him. "With your DNA everywhere."

"I'm a dead man, Sammy." Dean rubbed the back of his head.

"The dead have risen before," Sam muttered, going back to cleaning the walls. "Got your clothes and some coffee."

Dean felt his mouth water in reaction to the word coffee.

"You look like shit, but I'd avoid a shower for a little while," Sam continued. "Pretty sure that'd hurt like hell."

Dean looked down at the bandages arms and the two on his legs. Spots of red seeped through some of the white, while others were clean. Smears of red spread over the none-bandaged parts of his skin. He looked like he'd fought a paper shredder and lost.

"Damn," he muttered. "Jesus, man, did I…?"

"You didn't hurt anyone," Sam reassured him. "Gave me a little bit of a close shave, but I'll live."

Dean put his face in his hands and rested his elbows on his knees. He ached, from the inside out. He felt sick and scared and angry and strangely like he wanted to cry. He felt Sam move past him and he looked up. Clothes dropped beside him.

"Get dressed," Sam ordered. "Let's get the hell out of here. You can eat on the road."

Dean's stomach churned at the thought of food. "Not really hungry."

Sam planted his feet, standing in front of him and forcing him to blink bleary eyes up at his brother.

"Based on what I just washed off the walls of some back-woods motel room, you're about a pint low. You need to eat. End of discussion."

Dean nodded, slowly pulling on his jeans and shirts, bending stiffly to lace his boots. His clothes felt gritty and tight against his abused, filthy skin, but Sam was right – a shower would hurt like hell right now. He stood for a moment, waiting for the world to balance once more, before grabbing his jacket and turning toward the door where Sam waited. He glanced at the dresser sitting cock-eyed in front of the door.

A memory shot through him. A memory of a voice…a voice he knew quite well.

"Sam," he said suddenly, a sick, cold feeling in his stomach. "Was…was Benny here?"

Sam didn't reply right away and Dean looked over at his brother quickly, worry spiking his heart rate.

"Yeah," Sam replied quietly. He grabbed the handles of their first aid kit and handed Dean the knife, sliding his Colt into the bag. "He was here."

Dean slid the knife into the interior pocket of his jacket, feeling his mouth go dry. "And…then he left?"

"He left." Sam nodded. "Head intact and all."

Dean felt the room shift and tried to mask it by grabbing the bag of food and coffee from the dresser. He didn't want Sam to see how the idea of his brother encountering his friend frightened him. He would prefer to avoid that situation forever if he could.

"How'd he know?" Dean asked, following Sam out into the cold daylight.

"You had two numbers on your phone," Sam informed him. "The girl called both when you…freaked out."

"Holy shit," Dean muttered, climbing into the passenger side of the Impala without having to be told. He was too wrecked to drive, that was for sure. "Think I've sworn off one-night-stands for a while, man."

Sam chuckled, sliding behind the wheel. "That's what you said after the Amazons."

"Consider it re-said," Dean grumbled, sipping his lukewarm coffee. It had felt good, though. He remembered that much. It had felt good to just feel. If nothing else, he could hold on to that.

As they pulled out of the lot, Dean glanced over at Sam. "So. You let Benny leave?"

Sam nodded. "You were…," he looked back at Dean, then returned his eyes to the road. "You were pretty messed up, man. I needed help. And he'd…well, he'd been there with you."

Dean looked out through the side window, sweat gathering on his lip, the back of his neck. "Freakin' Purgatory."

Sam was quiet a moment. "You can talk about it, y'know."

"Not exactly something I'm excited to recap, Sam."

Dean watched the world slip by as Sam drove, thinking about what his brother had learned of his missing year in the last few days alone. His stomach churned at the thought of how it could push Sam further into the I'm done with hunting camp.

It made him cold, knowing how close to a real possibility that was. Hunting was what he did, it was all he knew. But doing it without Sam…doing it alone…Dean wasn't sure he could picture any reality for him where that wasn't a bleak future.

Last thing he wanted to do was give Sam more reasons than he already had to leave his ass in the dust.

"You okay?" Sam asked.

"Yes," Dean sighed. He was tired, sore, angry with himself, and his head was spinning, but he was more or less okay.

The quiet in the car was weighted.

Sam was often quiet, but this was…this was heavy. Awkward heavy. The frequent, worried glances Sam shot his way, the restless shifting behind the wheel made Dean uncomfortable. Anxious. Like Sam expected something he knew he wasn't going to get.

Reaching down for the box of cassettes at his feet, Dean thumbed through the familiar selection, hoping to find something that would distract them both, something to fill the screaming silence.

"So…I hit this dog," Sam said suddenly.

Dean stared at him, nonplussed. "What?"

Sam glanced at him again, took a deep breath and settled back against the driver's seat, his hand dropping to the bottom of the steering wheel. He looked out through the windshield once more.

"I hit this dog," Sam repeated. "Scared the crap outta me. I didn't see him until it was too late…."

After a moment, still watching Sam, Dean put the battered cassette box back on the floor.


a/n: Now you see the wish fulfillment aspect, yeah?

Those of you who know I'm NaNoWriMo-ing this month, I haven't given up. I'm still doing that, I just had to get this out of my system. *smiles*

Okay. Carry on.