He couldn't believe it, couldn't fathom that he was talking to Sam right now. Confused, he pulled the phone away from his ear and eyed the display. It clearly stated that he was talking to Sam's phone right now ... the phone he had burned together with the body.

"Sam?" he asked again, unsure of whether he was imagining things. "Sammy?"

"Yeah, Dean. I'm here," Sam replied. "Wherever here is," he added.

His mind reeled. He got that Sam could be brought back when his body was still intact, but ... dammit ... he had burned his body and still he had managed to come back from the dead. Or had he? Dean smirked nervously. Maybe he had just lost his mind somewhere along the way. It wasn't totally out of the question.

"Dean?"

"Yeah, Sam," he replied and grinned halfheartedly at how great it felt to say his brother's name and know he would receive an answer.

"Uh ... could you come get me? I'm freezing," Sam said.

"Uh ... yeah ... uh ... look around, Sammy. Do you recognize anything? Is there anything distinguishing in the area?" Dean countered, sat down on his bed and pulled his boots on, before getting up again to grab his jacket.

"Uh ... there seems to have been a fire of some kind ... looks a bit like a funeral pyre, actually," Sam said. "Someone torched a body here," he added.

Dean stopped moving and blinked rapidly. "Uh ... okay, I think I know where you are, Sammy. You just stay put. I'm about an hour away from you right now, so it'll take me a bit to get there, okay?"

"Okay. Not like I've got anywhere to go," Sam replied sarcastically. "Just hurry it up, okay? I don't know why the hell I'm wet, but I am, and it's not exactly warm out here, you know."

Dean grinned like an idiot. "I know, Sammy. I'm coming. I'll get there as fast as I can."

"Okay, see you in a bit then." With that, the connection broke.

Dean pulled the phone away from his ear and eyed it suspiciously. "I've lost my mind," he muttered. "This is completely totally nuts. This is ..." He shook his head. Whether it was nuts or not, he had to drive out there and make sure he wasn't imaging things.

He strode out the door and over to the Impala and got in before he remembered that the gas tank was almost empty. And he couldn't remember where he'd seen the last gas station. "Crap," he muttered. This place was more like a pit stop with a bar, a motel, a few houses and that was it. No gas station. "Shit," he added heatedly, then decided he'd just go as far as he could.

He slid the key into the ignition, turned it and revved the engine. The old familiar sound of the deep rumble sent a shiver through him and he glanced over at the passenger side seat, desperately wishing that it would not remain empty for much longer. "You better be there, Sammy, or I swear to god ..." he growled and left the rest of that threat hanging.

Then he eyed the gas gauge and froze. The needle had climbed out of the red zone and was steadily moving over to Full. He stared at it until the needle came to a stop on the far side of Full, telling him that the tank was topped off. "What the hell?" he muttered as a frown furrowed his brow. Then he glanced out the windshield and up at the sky. "Do you do repairs too?" he muttered and grinned vaguely, then pulled the car out of the parking lot and onto the road.

He floored the gas pedal and let the Impala give everything she had in her. And curiously he passed several cop cars on the way and none of them took up chase despite the fact that the classic Chevy was doing eighty-five, her speed mounting for every passing minute.

Dean had intended to reach the spot where he had burned his brother's corpse as fast as he could and he had counted on that he could make it within an hour. But it took him less than half an hour to get there.

The Impala tore down the gravel road toward the spot far into the forest and the closer Dean got to his destination, the more nervous he felt. Rationally he knew there was no way that Sam could be back among the living. But rationality had taken a leap out the window a long time ago and hadn't made an appearance ever since.

The second the Impala hit the clearing, fair sized as it was, Dean stomped on the break, bringing the car to a skittering stop, his breathing shallow, his heart racing in his chest while he stared over at the spot where he had set his brother's corpse on fire the night before. The spot was unmistakable and so was the lone figure standing next to it.

He cut the engine and pushed the door open, not daring to blink, not daring to take his eyes off the apparition even for a second as he climbed out of the car, the fingers of his right hand cramping around the upper rim of the door as he straightened up. And all he could do was stare, because there was Sam, alive, slowly walking toward him.

Dean stared at him, unable to release the relative steadiness the Impala's door offered him, and he could barely remember how to breathe. Sam looked tired and cold and wet, but he also looked very much alive, not like a ghost or a figment of his imagination. "Sam," he finally managed, trying somehow to respond to his brother's presence other than just staring at him like a damned idiot, but he couldn't move at first, could hardly force himself to speak.

"Hey, Dean," Sam said with a small smile on his lips.

The sound of his voice, that tentative lilt of insecurity Dean knew so well, sparked him into motion and he peeled his fingers off the car door and stepped around it, still scared to take his eyes off his little brother in case he should disappear. Sam had stopped right next to the front bumper and the closer he came, the more miserable he look, but it was a sight for sore eyes nonetheless because he was there, he was alive.

Dean closed the distance between them hesitantly; not because he feared anything bad would happen any more, but because he couldn't believe. Once within reach, he grabbed the front of Sam's jacket and pulled him forward, feeling the fabric in his hands, the metallic coolness of the zipper, but it wasn't enough. He needed to make sure, needed to feel the life in Sam, so he placed both hands on his chest and felt the warmth of a living being, the slow thud of the heart beneath the ribs.

Sam's expression would have made him back off under normal circumstances, would have embarrassed him, but nothing could right now. "What are you doing?" he asked and glanced down at Dean's hands on his chest.

Dean slipped a hand around his neck, slid his thumb up under his chin until it connected with the slow thud of the pulse there. He followed the progress of his own hands with his eyes, then looked up to meet Sam's puzzled gaze and without a word he pulled Sam into a hug, locking his arms around him so hard Sam grunted.

"Ow, Dean, you're squashing me," Sam pressed out and Dean relented just enough to not hurt his brother. For a second or two, Sam just stood there, obviously confused about Dean's response to him, but then he returned the hug, locking his arms around his brother too.

By the time Dean pulled back again, he no longer could control the tears. Cupping a hand against Sam's cheek, he smiled shakily. "You're really here," he whispered.

Sam looked concerned now, a slight frown furrowing his brow while he eyed Dean closely. "Why are you reacting like this? Did I ... go somewhere?" he asked.

Dean snorted a borderline hysterical laugh, then hugged Sam again, albeit briefly this time. "Doesn't matter, dude. You're back. That's all I care about."

He knew that Sam would catch on at some point, that his brother's at times freakish deductive skills would catch up to what was going on here and Sam didn't let him down. "The deal," Sam muttered and pulled back to face Dean. "The demon didn't ..."

"No," Dean said. "Three days ago. Four today," he added and wiped a hand over his mouth. "She refused to see it through, said I'd broken the deal because you tried to find a way out of it. So she killed you. When I got back ... you were dead."

Sam stared at him, realization dawning in his eyes, then he glanced back at the spot where the funeral pyre had burnt so hot and so long last night. "Was that ..." he asked and jabbed a thumb over one shoulder.

Dean nodded. "Yeah," he said quietly and sent a pained look that way briefly. "Couldn't make another deal, could I? It wouldn't have worked and I don't think I can stand watching you die one more time, man."

Sam blinked rapidly, opened his mouth, then shut it again and glanced back over at the burned square. "But ..." he tried, but obviously couldn't find the words. Then he returned his gaze to Dean's. "But I'm here," he said and arched his brows. "How ...?"

"Don't know, Sammy. Right now, I don't care either. Hell, for all I know I've gone completely bonkers and am imagining this in a padded room somewhere, but it sure as hell beats being alone," Dean countered and grinned through the tears. "Man, you're a sight for sore eyes."

With a slight frown on his brow, Sam swallowed and leaned back a little. "You're not gonna kiss me, are you?" he asked, his tone unsure.

Dean barked out a laugh, unable to let go of Sam right now. He kept holding onto his arm with one hand and kept the other hand on his shoulder. "No, dude," he chuckled and finally managed to convince himself to let go. Practicality took over then and he eyed his brother's soaked appearance. "Let's get back to the motel so you can get into some dry clothes. Would be damned ironic if you end up dying from pneumonia or some crap like that."

Sam still looked a little concerned about the whole thing, but he managed a smile and nodded. "Sounds like a plan. I'm dying for a shower," he added, stepped around the car and opened the passenger side door. Then he stopped and looked down himself again. "You may wanna put something on the seat. I'm soaking wet," he said and glanced at Dean over the roof of the car.

"Screw that. The seat will dry. Let's just get going," Dean countered and slipped behind the wheel.

Sam stood there for a moment, then shrugged and slid onto the seat too, making a face. "So, you have no idea how this ... happened?" he asked and pulled the door shut.

"Nope, and I don't ..." Dean trailed off and frowned lightly. "Well, it might have something to do with the chick I talked to in the bar last night," he added and glanced at Sam with a cocked eyebrow. "Not the first one. She was creepy in a dead kind of way," he continued. "The second one."

Sam just sat there and stared at him for a moment, then he turned his attention toward the clearing and smiled a little helplessly. "Dude, you're freaking me out here," he confessed.

Dean chuckled and reached over to pat Sam's knee. "Just glad to have you back, little brother," he said, revved the engine, turned the Impala around and raced them out of there. "And if it means I'm crazy, fine with me. I'd rather be crazy then."

***

Later at the motel

After a long hot shower, Sam took a moment to inspect his reflection and tried to determine if something was different. Well, obviously something had to be since he'd now died and come back twice. "I wonder if there's a limit to how many times they can do that?" he muttered, wrapped a towel around his waist and picked up a second one to dry his hair. He felt way better now that he was warm again, but Dean's response to seeing him had really been freakish. He got that it had to have been tough for his big brother to say goodbye to him, but so far Dean had been totally over the top emotionally, something Sam would have considered an impossibility prior to now.

He pushed the door open and stepped back into the room to grab some dry clothes and stopped short when he noticed the way Dean was staring at him. He eyed his brother back for a moment. "Dude, if you don't stop staring at me like that, we're getting separate rooms from now on," he said, unable to hide the slight discomfort it was to be ogled like that by his own brother.

Dean laughed, shook his head and returned to doing nothing. "Sorry, man. I just can't believe you're back, you know? It's like ..." He shook his head, a silly smile on his lips.

"You're manic, Dean. That's not normal," Sam countered, grabbed a t-shirt and pulled it over his head. Then he grabbed his shorts, socks and a pair of jeans and withdrew to the bathroom to get dressed in peace.

Getting dressed made little difference in how Dean kept staring at him and Sam had to officially admit that he felt uncomfortable about it. He dropped down on the chair across from Dean and brushed his still moist bangs away from his forehead. "We've been through this before. What makes it so different this time?" he asked.

Dean shook his head lightly. "I don't know, man. It's just ... I didn't make any deals. I thought ..." He drew in a deep breath and sighed heavily, then slumped back in the chair, the look in his eyes suddenly distant. "I was trying so hard to get drunk enough to eat a bullet last night," he finally said and glanced at Sam, guilt in his eyes. "I just couldn't face ..." He pressed his lips together into a thin line for a moment, then leaned forward again and propped his elbows on his thighs.

Sam felt the sting of fear ripple through him at the thought of how close Dean had come to killing himself. "What changed it? That ... girl?" he asked, not really sure he wanted to know.

"Kinda. The first one just knocked back my drunkenness. I think she was pure evil. A demon or something. She offered me a deal. Said I could have you back if I killed three men for her. She wouldn't tell me why, just wanted me to do it," Dean said and cupped both hands over his mouth and nose while he stared into space.

"So, you took the deal?" Sam asked cautiously.

"No," Dean said and let his hands drop away. "That's the thing. I've done that once and it didn't work very well, did it? So I figured, nah, I'm not gonna fall for that bait again. I'm not gonna make a damned deal with another damned demon. So I told her to get lost. She eventually did. And then this second chick turns up. And she was hot. Real pretty, you know?" Once again he leaned back and ruffled his hair with both hands. "She said she was from the opposition, whatever the hell that means. Said I needed to save some more people."

Sam frowned lightly. "Was she ..."

"An angel?" Dean finished for him and grinned sheepishly. "No, man. I asked her and she said no. She told me to go sleep it off even after I told her to get lost. She said there was a motel room in my name across the road. And she was right." He shrugged lightly. "I passed out, I guess, woke up this morning feeling fine. No hangovers or anything. And then ... you called." Dean focused on him, his expression more serious and less manic at this point. "So, what about you? How'd you end up out there?"

Sam shrugged. "I have no clue. I woke up in the grass next to the pyre," he said, "soaking wet and with no memory of how I'd gotten there. The first thing I thought was ... the demon, that he wasn't gone or something. And it scared the hell out of me. So I called you and the rest you know."

Dean frowned lightly. "You have no memories of what happened after I left to meet that damned bitch?"

Sam made a face. "Well, I was pretty upset, to be honest. And ... it was tearing me apart that I didn't know what to do," he admitted, then glanced over at Dean and met his eyes. "So I prayed," he said and smirked halfheartedly.

Dean just stared at him for a long moment, then the right corner of his mouth jerked upward in a lopsided little grin. "Guess there's a higher power out there after all, huh?" he asked. "They're just a little slow on the uptake, it would seem."

To hear Dean say something like this made Sam wonder if he'd been sucked into a different reality, because that sure didn't sound like his brother. "So ... you believe in God now?" he asked, a little perplexed.

Dean chuckled. "Nah, that's stretching it, dude," he said, putting Sam's worries to rest again. "But there seems to be something more out there than just evil."

What got to Sam the most was the look in Dean's eyes whenever he focused on him. It seemed to be a mixture of hope and disbelief and pure joy and it was so unlike his brother that it was a little creepy. Dean didn't display his emotions that clearly and to see them this strongly displayed rattled him. A part of him hoped that Dean would settled back into his old ways, but another part of him figured it might be nice if Dean could actually express what he felt for a change. Of course, Sam also knew that this increase in sensibility would make his own life a hell of a lot harder because Dean would probably worry about him ten times more than he had before.

"We're even, you know," he suddenly said and smirked.

"Even?" Dean asked, slightly confused. "What do you mean?"

"Well, we've both died twice now," Sam countered. "So we're even."

Dean eyed him for a moment, then he shook his head with a smile. "This isn't a competition, dude," he said. "And you'd better not turn it into one."

"I don't intend to," Sam admitted, then made a face. "And stop staring at me, man. It's freaking me out."

The End