For the next week, Bobby watched Sam slowly crumble under the pressure of Dean leaving him behind and in part it surprised him. Even though he had spent most of the time he had known the boys watching Sam look up to his brother, it was still a bit of a surprise to see him respond this way to Dean's absence. If either of these two were bound to make it alone, it had to be Sam. Yet he was proving everyone wrong just by responding the way he did.

Bobby had spent most of the two first days trying to reassure him. Dean would be back soon, he couldn't stay away, etcetera. But after day two had come to a close and Sam had refused to go to bed, Bobby started wondering just how far they had pushed Dean over that proverbial limit. He had to admit that he could understand Dean's wish to stay in that reality to a certain degree, but the fact that he responded this way to losing that opportunity ... well, it had hammered it home how much of that scared four-year-old there was still left in the boy that he would choose death over life like that. If it had been a matter of Sam staying behind, then the choice would have made more sense. But Bobby knew that Dean was smart and that he should be able to distinguish between what was real and what wasn't. And in Bobby's humble opinion, that other reality was as made up as any fairytale he had ever read.

At the break of dawn of day three, Bobby decided to talk this over with Sam. Maybe he had missed something that might better explain why Dean was reacting this way. He eyed Sam for a moment, observing quietly that the kid looked like a hanged cat right now. "Did you sleep at all?"

"A bit," Sam muttered and continued his bleary-eyed staring match with the mug of coffee Bobby could swear was stone-cold by now. He sat there at the kitchen table, his back hunched, his lower arms resting on the tabletop, his head bowed. Dammit but didn't these two boys just fall apart without each other. Bobby couldn't help wondering how Dean was doing. He was probably dead drunk in some peroxide-blonde woman's bed somewhere, trying to forget and deny what he was doing to himself and his brother.

"Yeah, right, and where I come from pigs can actually fly," Bobby countered and arched an eyebrow at Sam when he glanced up to meet his eyes.

It was bad news when Sam didn't even crack a smile at his caustic comments and Bobby settled down across from him and just watched him. "You do know that he's coming back, right?" he asked. The thing was, he wasn't too sure himself. Dean had been pretty pissed off when he had left, something Bobby knew because of the silence and the short sentences. But if Dean Winchester had left his little brother behind, then the world was off its axis and Judgement Day was upon them, because he would have sworn on anything that was holy to him that this day would never come.

"I don't think he will," Sam muttered and dropped his liquid gaze back to the mug. "And he's right, isn't he? I mean ... "

"Sam, don't you dare start questioning the reason behind your decision," Bobby warned sternly. "Our decision," he amended. "I was the one who brought him back here. And I really do think he needs to know what that reality was really like."

For a long moment Sam didn't move a muscle, just sat there and stared forlornly into his mug. Then he sighed deeply and briefly closed his eyes. "Yeah, well," he muttered without looking up. "He must have changed his number, because the one I got is disconnected."

The very thought that Dean had, for all intents and purposes, cut all ties made Bobby feel a little lightheaded. If the kid was really determined to stay gone and avoid them, then it would be damned difficult to find him again. And how would that affect Sam? He was already teetering on the brink. "Look, Sam, he's pissed. I grant you that. But you know Dean better than anyone and even I know that he can't stay mad for long. It'll pass. In a few days, he's gonna come waltzing back through that door with some dumb-assed wisecrack about how this didn't mean anything and things will be back to normal."

Sam snorted halfheartedly, then slumped back in the chair, finally releasing the mug. "I know Dean, Bobby, and he's never been this pissed before," he said and met Bobby's gaze. "He's not coming back. He changed his number. He doesn't ..." The sadness was suddenly overtaken by fear. "What if he finds a way to go back there? What if ..."

"He won't," Bobby cut him off. "I've got the book. And Jessica took the handwritten deal back with her. Unless he's suddenly developed a photographic memory for spells, there's no way he'll be able to get back to that reality again." He got up again to put on some coffee. "Besides, even though he's pissed and probably meant it that he wanted to stay there, he's not stupid enough to try it on his own."

"Got nothing to do with stupidity, Bobby," Sam said and raked his fingers through his hair. "What the hell am I gonna do now? Where do I go without him?"

For a moment Bobby felt like shaking him. "Nowhere, you idjit," he growled. "You'll stay right here until he comes back. And he will come back. If there's one thing I know for sure about that boy, then it's that he can't function without his family. And you're all he's got left."

Sam said nothing more after that and generally just stopped talking and sleeping altogether over the next few days. By day six, he was exhausted, and spent much of his time in the front room, sitting on the sill, watching the yard.

***

North Rim
Grand Canyon National Park
Arizona

The sun had skimmed the horizon ten minutes ago and at this point, there was nothing but a shimmering crescent left and a sky that bled from orange to dark red to midnight blue to black, and above, slowly but surely, the stars were beginning to gain ground, their weaker light breaching the rising darkness.

The sounds of the day had ceased along with the waning light of the sun and the majority of the tourists, both native and foreign, had withdrawn from the lip of the North Rim.

The silence was at once a solace and a deeply scary thing, but Dean refused to give in to the latter and just sat there and soaked up the former. With a bottle of beer in one hand, he sat on a steep slope toward the lip of the North Rim, well away from where normal people walked, while he stared out over the vastness of this gouge in the Earth's crust, and he found himself wondering if the planet felt this tear or if it was just another of thousands of gullies in its skin.

It was breathtaking in its size, but it had less of an impact on him than he had hoped for. It did, however, make him feel oddly connected to a mother he barely remembered, one he now had memories of that were even more sacred because they were so fresh and new. Mary had promised they would go here, together, as a family, and he hated that he was here alone now, without family, miles away from anyone who cared.

The line of his lips tightened while he continued his staring match with the canyon and tried so desperately to not think, to not feel, to not be. His gaze skimmed the edge and the thought of how easy it would be to just walk down there and take that extra step almost overwhelmed him. There would be a moment of free fall and he could almost imagine how liberating it had to be to feel the air rushing past him, but there was that little deal about the impact which stayed his hand and kept him firmly attached to the ground he was sitting on.

Whether he was too much of a coward to take that final step because of the pain this might involve or the uncertainty of what lay beyond such a decision, all he did was raise the bottle and sip the beer while his thoughts rolled like tumbleweed through his mind.

All he could think of was his mother. He'd had her back for far too short a time, and she had been everything he had imagined she would be. He could not recall a time where he had felt more at home than when he was with her and his heart was aching in his chest at the thought that he would never see her again, that she would never smile at him and tell him he'd done good again. The pain was so acute, so heavy, so devastating, that he could barely breathe around it. Whether here or there, he knew he would end up dead sooner rather than later, so why not give in to that demanding guy in the black cape while he was surrounded by people who actually gave a crap about what he wanted?

The pain blossomed and he closed his eyes against it, felt the light breeze and the rising chill from the ground around him and could not will the agony away. He had been deprived of the one thing he had dared ask for himself. A part of him knew that Sam had not been aware of how much he really wanted to stay, but he still could not find it in himself to forgive his brother for taking advantage of his inability to make decisions at the time. The last two people in this reality he had felt he could trust had shattered that trust like a delicate glass and there was just no picking up the shards any more. Too many people had let him down, too many of those had been people he should have been able to trust, and he had reached an impasse where he could no longer see which path he should take. The world around him no longer made sense now that he knew what he could have had, had experienced what life could have been like if that frigging demon hadn't come along and demolished everything. He felt he had made his position very clear to Sam, but his brother had overruled him the second he was unable to fend for himself and how could he forgive that?

The fact of the matter was that he'd had to leave, had to get away from Sam. He knew his brother well enough to realize that Sam would eventually have been able to convince him that he hadn't wanted that other reality or some crap like that, but for once he was not going to give up on that dream. For once, he was going to stand up for himself and not be the one who always gave in.

And even though he was dead serious about this, it still sounded like a cliche. "For once, you're just being an ass again," he muttered to himself and dropped his chin to his chest for a moment. Why was it so hard to let go? He raised his head again and eyed the darkening canyon. It was hard to let go because he didn't want to let go. For once in his life, he wanted something for himself, something that might offer a little peace, and he wasn't allowed to have that?

More stars had broken through the veil of blackness up above, their light shimmering lightly. Soon, it would be too dark to see anything and he would have to return to that cheap motel room he had rented and spend another night lying on his bed while staring up at the ceiling until he slipped off to sleep.

He missed the scent, the sense, the sound, the essence of Mary and that longing, so long buried so deep, would no longer be denied. He had let it out of its box because he had thought that it would be forever, that he was there to stay. Upon waking up back here, in this reality, and realizing that there was no peace for him, not now, not ever, his heart had felt heavy and weak in his chest again, but the thought of dying here, of letting go of life in this reality, scared him more than anything could. For the way he had lived his life, for all the lives he had failed to save and all the potentially innocent lives he had taken because he hadn't known better, he was sure he was destined for any other place than Heaven. In his experience, there was no such thing as Heaven. Hell, however, was very real to him, was a place he could imagine and almost feel, but Heaven sounded like a fairytale and nothing more.

With a heavy sigh, he decided to call it quits before the darkness became too compact. The danger of inadvertently fulfilling his previous thoughts was very real and he wasn't yet willing or able to take that step. Another night of self-loathing and painful longing lay ahead of him and he decided to swing by town to find a place to get some booze. He needed to dull his senses, needed to find solace in something that would still his mind and give him the illusion of peace for just a little while. And all the while the memory of that book of Bobby's kept circling around and around in his head. There was a way to go back, a way for him to find that peace he so desperately needed, but that in turn meant he had to return to South Dakota and face his brother again; unless of course Sam had taken off to pursue his own goals.

He grimaced when he stumbled, having stubbed his toe against an unseen rock sticking out of the ground, but his life-long training as a hunter of all things evil made him capable of catching himself quit easily. The answer to the devastation he felt inside had been staring him right in the face from the get-go. Bobby had that book, that book with spells which had brought them back here. If it could bring them back, then it could send him back to that reality, back to the waiting arms of a mother who would never condemn or shun him.

A halfhearted smirk slithered across his lips at that thought and he wondered if she would still feel the same if she knew what he did for a living. 'Hey, mom, I'm home. By the way, did you know that I kill monsters for a living? Yeah, it's true. Of course, a few innocent lives were lost along the way too, but that's how war is, you know? You win a few, you lose a few.' In a perfect world, she would understand. In that perfect world, she would forgive him. But here? Would she be proud of him or would she pity him? Or would she perhaps fear him? Had dad really been proud of him or had he just said that to keep him in the game, to keep him around so he could protect his brother? Well, Sam was a big boy now and he didn't need his brother any more. In all essence, Dean was convinced that Sam could and would fend for himself. It had, after all, been a lifelong dream of his to stand on his own two feet and be his own man.

For tonight, he needed booze and lots of it. If he found some willing participant, he would not spend the night alone. If not, he would drink himself into a stupor and forget the world around him for one more night. Tomorrow, he would drive back to South Dakota and get that book; one way or another.

***

Bobby's junkyard
Fort Pierre, SD

It wasn't so much the expectation of being right as it was a hunch that made Bobby look up from the book he was reading to pay attention to something that at first could have been nothing but his imagination. Heaven knew that he had one that could call up the weirdest things. But after a few moments he rose, abandoning his research because he'd recognize that engine sound anywhere, even as faint as it was.

Sam turned up in the doorway to the den when the Impala's growl became audible enough to rouse even his attention and he eyed Bobby wearily. Bobby arched an eyebrow. "Told you," he said and strode over to the door and yanked it open.

The black muscle car had come to a stop in the yard, dusty and dirty from the road, and now just sat there with its engine idling along, and for a long moment it didn't seem like its driver was bound to make an appearance. Then the characteristic creak of the door opening broke the sudden silence that followed in the wake of the engine being shut off.

Dean climbed out and sent a look around the junkyard, then settled his gaze on Bobby.

Bobby thought of a million things to say, a million things to do right then, but settled for just meeting Dean's stare and not even blinking for a moment. "About time," he finally said.

Dean just stared at him. He looked tired, drawn, pale, even a little sick. "I need that book," he countered, his voice a little hoarse, his tone clipped.

Essentially, that one should not have come as a surprise, but it still did. "What book?" Bobby asked, feigning innocense.

"The one that brought us back here, Bobby. That book," Dean said. He sounded angry, but there was something else underneath that too.

"Yeah, well, you can't have it. You didn't really think I'd give you a book that'll send you to your death did you?" Bobby eyed him darkly.

"What does it matter where I die? Why do you care?"

Over the years Bobby had known him, Dean had said a lot of weird things. Most of them had been based on his insecurities and self-doubt, but this really took the cake and it hit Bobby where he lived that Dean would even think of asking that question. "What the hell do you mean, why do I care?" he blurted out, suddenly angry himself. "Get your butt in here. Right now!" he added and waved at the open door.

For a moment Dean remained where he was, tense as a bow, a cornered animal, then he grimaced and broke away from the car and slowly made his way up the stairs.

"Get in there. You're not getting anything or going anywhere until we talk this through," Bobby growled. Dean opened his mouth to object, but Bobby pointed at the door opening. "NOW!" he snapped.

Fortunately, he still had enough of an impact to get through to the kid and Dean stepped into the house.

Despite the anger currently rippling through him, Bobby did notice that Sam was nowhere in sight and that made him wonder briefly. But he had to focus on getting through to Dean right now and he couldn't worry about Sam's reaction too.

"Sit down," he ordered and Dean complied without a word. He reminded Bobby a bit of an angry dog right now, all stiff movements and raised hackles. He was well aware that if he handled this wrong, Dean might leave and they would probably never see him again. But Bobby aimed at preventing that, even if he had to shatter the kid's dreams to do so. It was time for a reality-check.

"Now, I get that you're pissed off about us dragging you back here and all, but I think it's time you get your head out of the clouds and see what's really going on here," Bobby began.

"I don't have my head in the clouds, Bobby," Dean cut him off, his tone tight and angry. "No matter what reality I'm in, I'm gonna die. Whether I do it here or there shouldn't really matter."

"That's bull and you know that, Dean," Bobby said sternly. "In that other reality, yes, you would have died. You were about five minutes away from that when I hauled your ass back here." Dean looked up at him, a slight frown furrowing his brow, but Bobby plowed on before he could say anything to that. "But there's no reason to think that you won't grow old in this reality, so cut the crap."

For a long moment, Dean just sat there and stared at him, then he dropped his gaze to the floor and folded his hands while resting his elbows on his thighs. "Maybe I don't wanna grow old," he finally muttered.

"Are you telling me that you're comfortable leaving Sam to his fate because you can't cut it any more?" Bobby asked, lending his voice a much more biting tone than was strictly necessary. "What'd they do to you in that other reality? Brainwash you?"

Apparently, that was the wrong thing to say, because Dean looked up and the anger sparked in his eyes. "For once in my life, I get what I've always wanted. And I have to give it up?"

"What you really wanted?" Bobby asked, not about to give in so easily. "You want a fantasy world that's got nothing to do with your reality? You want parents that aren't yours? Because those people ... they weren't your parents. They had a son called Dean and he died when he was six months old of some obscure disease. And they had a son called Sam, but he killed himself in a car crash, drunk as frigging skunk. These people were not your parents. That man you called dad was not your father. He wasn't the John Winchester who raised you and taught you everything he knew."

Dean just stared at him, the anger previously so evident in his eyes fading away.

"I find it deeply disrespectful to your dad, who gave everything to protect you boys, that you choose a cheap carbon-copy over him," Bobby continued. "And furthermore, do you have any frigging idea what this crap is doing to your brother? You're suicidal and Sam has to stand back and watch that? What the hell is wrong with you?"

Obviously, Dean had no immediate response to that. He just sat there and stared.

Bobby considered his next words carefully, gave Dean the opportunity to jump in and add his two cents, but when the kid remained mum, Bobby decided to let the sand castle crumble. He took a deep breath, calming himself down, settling his voice to a more soothing level, before he started talking again. "That reality, kid, that was nothing worth having. In a world where faith is forbidden and makes families turn on each other because they're afraid of punishment if they stick by their children ... that ain't a reality I wanna live in."

"What?" Quite obviously, Dean had not seen that one coming. Bobby had thought as much too. "What are you talking about? That place was damned near perfect."

"Was it?" Bobby asked, shook his head and settled down on a chair across from Dean. "A reality where your so-called father was ready to let the doctors drug your brother into oblivion and throw him in a padded cell for the rest of his natural life or until he crumbled and admitted defeat? You think that's perfect?" The obvious confusion Dean displayed would have been funny under other circumstances, but it was anything but right now. "Neither of those people you thought of as your parents were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Jessica had to break him out of there and bring him back here, drugged up to his eyeballs, because John didn't want him talking nonsense. You see ... Sam told them everything. About the both of you. He told them the truth and the only solution for that was to lock him up and dope him out of his mind, because that kind of crazy talk ... it's not allowed there. Religion of any kind is considered insane. Any kind of faith is dangerous. People in that reality, they're afraid of their own shadows when you start talking about anything that's got nothing to do with science, Dean. Sam tried to level with them. He tried for your sake, for his sake, but it didn't work. They didn't want to listen and they were not going to give him a break."

For a long quiet moment all Dean did was just sit there, then his gaze started skipping over the interior of the room. "No way," he muttered.

"We were never meant to end up there, Dean. Fate has a way of restoring the balance and for us, that meant death. Even if they had found a cure for you, the first frigging moment you'd mentioned anything out of the ordinary, they'd have locked you up so fast, you wouldn't know what hit you," Bobby continued. "The decision Sam made to get you both back here ... it was the only viable decision he could have made at the time. And Sam had a better chance than either of us to survive there. If he hadn't said anything to them. But he did and they were going to have him committed for that."

A frown slipped over Dean's brow. "You said Jessica brought Sam back here?" he asked and met Bobby's eyes. "Where is she?"

"He sent her back. She doesn't stand any more chance of surviving here than he did there," Bobby said and sighed. "It was the only way. All we can hope for is that she doesn't mention anything about this to anyone back there. If she does ... well, it's not going to go down well. People are being monitored in their homes, Dean. It's a weird, twisted world and I for one did not want to stay there."

"But ... you had your wife back," Dean tried in a now somewhat feeble attempt to defend what he had clung to in that reality. It had to be painful to find out that it was a lie, but Bobby saw no other option than to let him know the truth.

"She wasn't my wife. She looked like her and sounded like her, yeah, but everything that made her my wife ... it wasn't there. She wasn't the same woman I married," Bobby said. "Do you get what I'm trying to tell you here?"

Dean took a moment to think it through, then he finally nodded. "Yeah," he whispered. "It was all a lie."

"Yup, that it was," Bobby agreed. "To us. To them, it was their way of life. And sooner or later, either or both of you would have slipped up even if you hadn't gotten sick." He paused and briefly wondered again where Sam had disappeared to. "Sam hasn't touched a drop of alcohol since we got back. Me, I'm fit as a fiddle. Ain't nothing wrong with me any more. And you ... well, apart from looking like a hanged cat, I don't really think you're sick any more either. At least here, we have a chance, Dean. Back there ... we would all have died. And I for one ... I still wanna get a bit out of life before I kick the bucket." He eyed Dean closely for a moment, then nodded to himself, content that he'd had his say and that Dean had heard him. What he chose to do with it was a different matter. "It bites. I know," he added quietly, then rose and withdrew to give Dean some time to think about his words.

***

A part of him had known it from the start. Now that it had been said out loud, now that it was out in the open, he could no more deny it than he could deny kinship with his brother. But it still hurt like hell. His resolve to get that book, to find a way back to that reality, had crumbled and turned to dust. The dream of the perfect home, the perfect life, was dying. And it made him wonder if there was such a thing as a happy ending for someone like him.

The idea drew a cynical little smile from him and for a moment he regretted that he hadn't taken that step over the edge. Peace in any form seemed only possible at the end of his life and if Bobby was right, if he really could grow old here, how damned long was he going to have to wait for that? And when he finally did let go of life, was he destined for Hell? The not knowing was what got to him and that other reality had made him believe that there was a chance for peace, even if it did mean he had to die.

He closed his eyes and let his head drop and just sat there and thought it over. Wanting that world, that family, was selfish. For a time there he had figured he had earned the right to be selfish. All his life he had set everything aside for his father, for Sam, for the hunt, for this life, and he had dared to dream for a bit there, dared to hope that this was where he belonged, where he fit in. And he had felt at home there, had felt wanted, even needed, but under the surface it had all been a damned lie, a castle of sand waiting to crumble under the onslaught of the incoming tide.

And caught in that dream, in that fantasy, he had hurt the only person he had left to claim as family. "Shit," he muttered and raised his head again. He had blamed Sam for the fall of that sand castle when he should have been damned well thanking him for saving his life.

He had no real concept of how long it took him to get his act together and, true to form, Bobby was back to doing research and not paying him any attention until he turned up in the doorway to the kitchen, feeling awkwardly embarrassed. "Where's Sam?" he asked.

"Don't know. Upstairs, probably," Bobby replied, his tone a bit clipped. "Guess he wasn't too keen on being treated like he doesn't matter to you," he added.

It was the fact that Bobby could actually slap someone without touching them that made him duck his head and flinch. "He matters," he tried.

"Yeah, and you've made that abundantly clear by ignoring the hell out of him and then leaving without telling him. And what the hell was up with the your phone being shut off?" Bobby countered, his tone laced with righteous anger.

"My ..." Dean stopped short. "I lost my phone in that cave-in, Bobby. They must have canceled the number or something."

Bobby eyed him for a moment, then arched an eyebrow. "You'd better hope he's in a forgiving mood right now. The kid's been teetering on the brink ever since you left, blaming himself for this crap."

Dean nodded and cleared his throat. "I guess I'd better ... find him."

He didn't wait for a reply, but turned and headed upstairs, not sure of what to say when he did find Sam. The opening up and sharing bit was Sam's deal, not his. He wasn't good at it, was more than likely to put his foot in his mouth, but he knew that he was going to have to run some damage control on this one. He'd blamed Sam for things Sam wasn't responsible for, even though he hadn't actively said anything.

Somewhat apprehensive – what could he expect from his brother right now? – he stopped at the closed door to the room they always shared when staying with Bobby and stared at it for a long moment. Then he grabbed the doorknob and pushed the door open. At times, it was scary how predictable Sam was to him, but he still felt a bit awed by the fact that Sam was actually there. Some part of him had thought his brother might have taken off to teach him a lesson or some such crap.

Dean stepped into the room, his gaze roaming over what others might call an aster look, then settled his gaze on his brother, who was sitting on his bed, elbows on knees, hands folded in front of him, his head down.

"Hey Sam." Stupid way to start, but how else was he gonna get going?

Sam didn't look up, just sat there and stared at the floor between his feet.

Dean trailed into the room, unsure of what to say at first, unsure of how to handle this. 'I'm sorry' and 'forgive me' weren't really part of his repertoire and he knew that whenever he got even close to saying stuff like that, it sounded contrived. With a light sigh, he eased down on the edge of the other bed and took up much the same stance Sam had right now. Only difference was that he was watching Sam and Sam was watching the floor. "Look ..." he tried and grimaced. "Uhm ... you know I suck at apologies, Sam. So what do you say we just skip it and get back to business, huh?"

For a long moment it seemed like Sam hadn't even heard him. Then he finally raised his head and met Dean's eyes dead on. "Skip it?" he asked. "You wanna just ... forget this happened?"

Something in Sam's tone made him cautious. "Well ... yeah. It didn't really ... you know ..." He sighed, grimaced again and dropped his gaze to the worn floor. "I didn't mean it, okay? I didn't ... I wasn't thinking straight. And ... I didn't know ... about Jess and ... what dad did and ..."

"That wasn't dad," Sam said and rose. For a moment Dean had the distinct impression that he was gonna end up with shiner for that one, but then Sam turned his back on him and stepped up to the window. "They weren't our parents. Neither of them. That was ..." He trailed off, kept his back turned.

"Yeah, I know," Dean agreed. "Alternate reality and all that jazz. But ..."

Sam turned back to face him. "But nothing," he said. "You took off, left without even telling me why. And now you think we should just ... forget it?"

"Well ... you could have told me ..." he tried, but Sam cut him off.

"Told you?" he snapped. "Told you what? You don't listen to me. You wouldn't even talk to me. What exactly is it that you think I should have told you? That that wasn't our reality? That those weren't our parents? That you were dying right in front of me for no apparent reason and you wanted it?"

The angry retort left its mark, but Dean fought the need to let it show right now. He rose too, not entirely sure where exactly this conversation had gone off the rails. "Calm down, Sam, okay? What do you want from me? An apology?" he asked. "If that's what it takes, fine. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have taken it out on you. But ... I told you I wanted to stay, I think I made it pretty damned clear, and you overruled me the second I was out of commission. And now you're getting pissed off?"

Sam just stared at him for a moment, then shook his head and left the room, slamming the door hard enough to rattle it in its frame.

For a moment he just stood there, then he followed Sam downstairs. Bobby was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, a rag in one hand, a part of a gun in the other, and eyed him. When Dean met his eyes, he nodded toward the front door and Dean stormed out of the house to catch up with his currently pissed-off brother. Not that he really could blame him, of course. He just didn't really understand Sam's anger right now.

"Sam, stop," he demanded when he caught sight of his brother, only to realize that Sam wasn't walking, he was standing still. "Dammit, don't walk out on me when I wanna talk."

"Bite me," Sam shot back, but his voice sounded pretty clogged up right now.

The big-brother-approach wasn't going to work on this one. That much he knew. But that left him on shaky ground. He had no idea how to get through to Sam right now. "You're the one always whining about how it's important to talk. Well, now I wanna talk. So don't walk out on me," he tried, not able to lend his voice enough zest for it to make an impact. Truth be told, he was no more angry with Sam than he was with himself for this whole pile of stinking crap. Truth be told, he was torn between what he had wanted for the past half year and what he knew he wanted now that he knew the truth. The dream wouldn't just go away, but it most certainly had lost spark and luster and had now receded back to being what it had always been – a dream.

For a long moment Sam did nothing but stand there with his back to him. Then he suddenly turned around and despite the anger in his eyes, Dean had the feeling that anger wasn't what was at the foundation of this. "Do you even care?" he asked, his voice a bit hoarse.

"Care? What the hell do you mean by that?" Dean shot back, unsure of how to interpret his brother's words.

"Have you ever cared? Or am I just a job that dad gave you? Another mission you had to master to not let him down?" The identity of that something-else became abundantly clear right there and then and the mere idea that Sam might think this rendered him speechless. "Have I ever been more than a job to you?"

In part he felt like slugging Sam for saying that, for even thinking that, but there was that part of him that became painfully aware of that his recent behavior may have very well led Sam to believe that he – being tired of this life and fed up with the whole hunter-gig – could so easily leave his brother behind. He considered all the stupid, asinine comments he would normally have come up with for something like this – ranging right from poking fun at Sam's insecurity to slugging him in the face for even daring to think that – and decided on none of them. This was one of those moments he hated like the plague, because it forced him into a position where he had to lower the protection he was so adamant about keeping in place at all times. It rendered him vulnerable and he disliked that more than anything. "You've never been a job to me, Sam," he said quietly.

"Really?" Sam spread out his arms, his gaze almost liquid. "Because it sure as hell feels that way to me. How else could you just decide to ..." He stopped while his features tightened. Then he turned his back again, obviously struggling to hide the tears rising in his eyes.

Selfish. That was the only word that came to mind when he considered his own actions over the past half year. How often had he actually thought about Sam while he had been stuck in that dreamworld? The experience with the djinn should have taught him a lesson, but obviously he hadn't learned squat from that little experience other than that given the chance, he was obviously willing to die for a lie. That didn't exactly reflect well on his sense of reality.

"You've never been just a job to me, Sam," he repeated. "You're my brother. I ..."

"Yeah, right," Sam muttered and folded his arms over his chest. "Why'd you come back, huh? You sure as hell didn't come back because of me."

Stumped, Dean hesitated. He couldn't honestly say that he had come back because of Sam, because that was a lie and Sam knew it. So what other path could he take but the truth? "No, you're right about that," he admitted reluctantly. "But ... I didn't know about ..." He sighed, shook his head sadly and tried his damndest to think of something that would turn this thing around. "I thought that reality was ... perfect. I thought it was ... what I wanted. But it wasn't and ... I didn't want to see that. I wanted it to be perfect. For once in my miserable life I just wanted to fit in somewhere. It was ..." He snorted, smirked joylessly and let his attention drift off to the right. Truth was, he couldn't really face Sam right now. "A bit like that fantasy that djinn showed me, you know? I should have known it wasn't real, but I wanted it to be real. I wanted to stay there because ... hell, Sam, I want normal. I know we can't have that. I know. But I still want it and ... I think I get what you were going for when you left for Stanford now. You know?"

Sam just stared at him and made no move to reply and Dean had no idea if he was getting through to him or not. Yeah, he knew Sam like the back of his hand, but he was also beginning to realize that there were other, hidden depths to his brother that he couldn't understand or know about.

"I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry I screwed it up. I ... I spent a year searching for you after you disappeared. Nothing else mattered. I didn't give a crap about myself. All I wanted was to find you again. And then I end up there, and you're there and mom and dad and ... it felt right, you know? It felt like this was what we've been fighting for all along. And I never ... it never crossed my mind that it wasn't ... for us. I didn't want to believe it, didn't want to ..." He stopped, uncomfortable to the extreme with the baring of his feelings, but he still felt he needed to say it, needed to make Sam understand why he had responded the way he had. "I never meant to take it out on you, Sam. But ... I just ..." It was spent, over. He couldn't voice what was going through his mind right now, couldn't explain why he had responded the way he had. It would have to bend or break now and it would have to be up to Sam what the outcome would be.

"Just tell me one thing, Dean," Sam said quietly, his eyes still brimming with tears. "If Bobby had given you that book ... would you have gone back there to die?"

For a moment, all he could think was yes, he would have. But then he sighed and shrugged lightly. "Knowing what I know now ... no. But if Bobby hadn't filled me in ... then probably yeah," he said. Honesty was his only weapon right now. As long as he didn't try to tell Sam what he wanted to hear, but instead kept it honest and to the point, he hoped that Sam was gonna give him a break and let it slide.

His answer did not have the desired effect. Somehow, he had hoped that Sam would shrug it off, would let it go and forgive him, but the look in his brother's eyes told a different story. "Just like that, huh?" Sam muttered and wiped angrily at one eye, then turned halfway away from him, stopping when he caught sight of the house. "If everything had been perfect there ... you would have gone back and left me here?"

"What do you want me to say, Sam? You want me to lie to you? I'm not going back there because it's not perfect. I'm ... glad we're out of there, that you're both alive, you and Bobby. But you're gonna have to give me a little time here, Sammy. I need to adjust to this. I'm ..." He felt weak, feeble, and he hated that feeling more than words could express. All his life, he had been forced to be strong to protect his brother. The few times he'd dropped the ball had been nearly fatal, and no, he hadn't considered how this would influence Sam.

"Yeah, okay," Sam suddenly said and glanced back at him. "Take all the time you need." With that, he turned back toward the house and went back inside without looking back.

Dean just stood there for a moment, not sure what the outcome really was. Was he forgiven or was this going to hang between them like a damned wall from now on? He realized that he was gonna have to prove to Sam that he saw him as more than a damned job and that it might take time before Sam finally forgave him for this one. The thought of the distance this had put between them made him weary like hell, but he would just have to bear it until Sam came around. Well, at least he had been granted the chance to prove himself. That was a hell of a lot more than he'd given Sam, after all. Now all he could do was stick to it and bury this as best he could. The rest be damned.

The End