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Dean spent what felt like years screaming, his voice intermittently shredded as his throat gave out on one last desperate "Sam!"  He hoped to god it wasn't years, because that would mean Sam was...he tried not to think about it, because seriously, he had his own shit to focus on right now.  He couldn't think of Sam topside, under attack, alone.

 

Dean was alone enough for both of them.

 

He didn't kid himself that solitude was the worst of Hell, although it hurt worse than the hooks.  Even when Sam had been in school, he'd been there.  This Sam-less state was something Dean had only felt once before, and fixing it that time is what had brought him here.

 

But he knew it could get worse.  When the vibrations started over the chains, somewhere about a decade into his stay in the inferno, Dean closed his eyes and resolutely shut his lips over a frightened whimper.  They'd found him.  Hell was about to get worse.

 

* * *

 

John Winchester had tried to teach his sons all he knew — more or less — and with Dean it had pretty much worked.  And Dad had managed to claw his way out of Hell, which showed that it could be done.  But Dean couldn’t afford to wait until somebody opened a gateway so that he could get back to Sam — not when Sam was out there probably either doing something stupid or about to — so it was just as well that he’d learned a few things that his dad had never thought to teach him.  Dean had learned a lot real young, and most of them his dad and Sam never even guessed.  There were times when Dean’s self-education meant food for Sammy, meant them not getting kicked out of school, meant John spending only a few days in the local jail.  And now it was going to mean a lot more.

 

It took a while, because even though the demons were embodied — which made sense only in the way that it made sense that Dean’s soul was wearing his favorite jeans and t-shirt — they tended to change shape and form, the better to fuck with him.  When they figured out that it hurt him worse when Sam raped him or Dad gutted him or Mom popped his eyes out…well, there was a spate of them trying to look like Sam or Dad or Mom, so it was easier to differentiate them with his eyes closed.  It took what felt like decades — he screamed himself silent a few hundred times — before he found the right one. 

 

He could feel the difference with this one, the way the pain was personal, the way Dean’s agony was special somehow.  There was another one who almost made the grade, hesitating slightly over the torture, but in the end Dean had more faith in avarice than reluctance.  Even topside he would have made that call.

 

So he used what he’d learned in a hundred back alleys on the demon who hurt him like it meant something, the one who came back and invented new ways to make him howl.  Dean opened his eyes for that one, let the terror and the pain and the hopeless longing for Sammy show in his eyes and echo in his voiceless screams.  It only took a couple of years, and then one night-day-whatever the demon challenged the others, killed a few, drove the rest away, and celebrated by hurting Dean till he thought his soul would die.  
   

Then the demon pulled what was left of Dean off the hooks, cradling his mangled body possessively and crooning sick promises like a maddened mother with her murdered child.

 

Dean waited till they were away from the endless web of chains before snapping the demon’s neck — the greedy bastard's second mistake was letting him see that demons died so easy in Hell — and then he holed up in a dark and fetid corner for a while. 

 

Time was harder to track now that he wasn’t actively being hurt, and he worried that maybe he was just sitting there, shaking and mewling, while centuries went by.  He couldn’t afford that kind of weakness, not with Sam up there somewhere without Dean doing god knows what.  The last time Sam went away he tried to become a lawyer, for god’s sake.  Maybe Dean should have expected the whole prince of darkness possibility.

 

It was the first time he’d laughed in about a million years, and the noise scared him so badly he stopped crying. 

 

Okay, then. 

 

Progress. 

 

Dean had given it some thought — not much else to do when you’re strung up on meat hooks in Hell — and he’d come up with a plan.  A stupid, almost-certain-to-fail plan, but when had that stopped him?  He figured, well: what’s the road to Hell paved with?  In his case, a dead brother and mindless desperation, but he was thinking more in the general, clichéd sense.  A road to Hell was a road from Hell, he figured, and all his good intentions had always led to Sam. 

 

He had one tie left to the world of the living, and that would have to be his GPS, his homing signal.

 

He’d tried not to think too much about Sam when he was on the hooks, even when — especially when — the demons used Sam's face or his voice or his hands to tear Dean to shreds.  But now he opened up the vault, let everything surge inside him.  Even the parts of him that shouldn’t have anything to do with Sam always seemed Sammy-tinged, and he built it up like a ladder.  When he opened his eyes, he wasn’t surprised to see a thin, thorny trail leading up a steep hill where no hill had been before.  The trail was paved with glass and was more cliff-face than hill, but, well, what had he expected, really?  Sammy might be everything and certainly was worth crawling over broken glass to get back to, but the gigantic pain-in-the-ass had never been easy.

 

Dean had to credit demonic motivation: the shards of glass and barbed wire and razorblades were a walk in the park after his last few decades.  Once he got back up top, he’d maybe write a fucking book or something.  Motivational. "How to keep moving forward when your blood is slicking the trail and the pain has almost — almost — blocked your memories of why you’re moving in the first place." 

 

They could market it as metaphor, whatever.

 

* * *

 

It took only a couple of years to reach the end of the trail, way easier than he'd expected, really.  At the top, a familiar-looking door hung suspended in nothingness, and Dean laughed again, a slightly-crazed, panicked laugh, but a good gut-buster nonetheless. It was the door to the Impala, the inside, the window he’d slept against countless times, the handle that felt as much like home to him as anything ever had.  If they were trying to keep him down there with some cheap mind-trick, they could forget it.  Dean would be the first to admit he wasn’t the most intricate thinker ever, but he knew that whatever was on the other side of that door — even if the door did look like the Impala’s — had to be better than Hell.

 

“Not gonna work,” he scraped out past his still-swollen throat, and he felt something rise below him, within him, in response. 

 

Dean paused for a second, wary, with his fingers just brushing the door's handle. Hadn’t it all been too easy?  Not the lacerated hands and feet and knees, or the torture, or the rapes, or the killing, but…who the hell did he think he was, clawing his way out of Hell?  First of all, it couldn’t be done (Dad was special, Dad was the exception) and second of all…Dean certainly couldn’t do it.  He’d been stupid enough to sell his soul in the first place, right?  So if he was getting out, it was because the evil bastards were letting him out.  They wanted him out, which meant: Sammy.  Somehow Dean’s escape was going to make it worse for Sam, ruin everything. Shit. Shit. He should stay where he was…it wasn’t too bad at the top of the path, leaning against a door that was almost home.  He should stay where he belonged, he should stay—

 

“Nice try, fuckers,” Dean growled and shoved the door open, stumbling out of Hell into blinding sunlight. 

 

* * *

 

Millenia in Hell had confused a few issues, particularly the way Dean dealt with pain.  He’d forgotten that in the real world it meant something, a warning, and he passed out twice before figuring out that the burning agony in his throat and his gut and his head was something he should address.  It took him half a day and two other stretches of unconsciousness before he found water, dropping to his knees beside the muddy trickle in the arroyo and drinking till he almost passed out again.  He managed to fall to the side, because no way he was drowning in half an inch of muddy water after…after.

 

He lay there mindlessly in the sandy mud, looking up at endless blue sky punctuated by white wisps of cloud.

 

It was pretty.  And peaceful.  And if he gave in to pretty, peaceful things right now, he was a little afraid he'd lie there forever, gazing up at infinity while his brain slowly bubbled out of his ears.  No time for that, really.  He had a Sammy to save.

 

Everything still hurt, but he kept drinking as he stumbled down the riverbed, and eventually the dizziness mostly passed, and the unconscious stretches grew shorter.  When night fell, it was cold, but a gibbous moon provided enough light to keep staggering along the tiny, muddy strip of water.  When the sun rose it was warmer, and he didn't fall as often, so he made better time.  Cold and warm alternated a couple of times, and through it Dean kept dragging himself over rocks and fallen trees, stumbling thoughtlessly down the riverbed.

 

He hadn't seen any signs of humanity — hadn't thought much about it really — till he followed a sharp curve in the river and almost tripped over the body that was lying in his path.  It was lying face down, and Dean knew what it meant to see that tiny, almost insignificant hole in the back of a skull, but he was kind of in denial as he leaned down, shook the guy's shoulder, said "hey, hey there" in a cracked, used-up voice.  When he turned the body over, the bloody, bone-sharded mess where the face used to be forced him a step back.  Things had looked like that in Hell and still ripped their way into Dean's stomach to play with his guts.  But topside...

 

Shit.

 


Shit .

 

The guy was dead.  Obviously.  "Obviously, idiot," Dean muttered to himself, then shut his lips tight, looking around.  Nobody near.  Nobody alive.  Except Dean.

 

"Oh shit, no," Dean moaned, almost silent this time.  Falling to his knees beside the tiny rivulet of water, he tried to check but he couldn't see his reflection, had no idea what his eyes looked like. 

 

Dean tried to stem the cold tide of panic rising in his gut. He didn't have a gun, couldn't have done this.  Right?

 

"Jesus."  Putting his head in his hands for a long moment, Dean tried to think.  The blood was dry.  The guy was dead, but the blood was dry and black, so it happened a while ago.  Not when Dean was there.  Not...not because of Dean. 

 

He couldn't have done it. He would have remembered. God dammit, he couldn't have done this. He was almost completely sure. 

 

Which was almost completely worthless.

 

* * *

 

Dean sat through the night, just out of reach of the dead guy, staring at the corpse and trying to think.  The bruises and scratches he'd accumulated since arriving topside were pretty good proof he could be hurt, but he didn't know if he could be killed.  Or, more accurately, if he could kill himself. 

 

"Could test a theory," he muttered to himself, a few hours after sunset once his shivers had settled into a solid, body-juddering vibration.  "Find a cliff and jump.  Like the old witch trials.  If I live, I'm...damn."  Not all that helpful, really, since if he was human and died he couldn't help Sammy, and if he was demon and lived, he--

 

Dean moaned, wrapping trembling arms around himself. Jesus, he couldn't risk it, could he?  He couldn't risk finding Sammy, couldn't risk finding anyone, because what if he snapped?  What if the sight of humans sent him into some sort of blind demonic rage thing?  He couldn't...he couldn't.

 

When the sun came up, he stopped rocking because the movement of his shadow was throwing him off.  But his hands still shook from more than cold, and he wondered how long it would take him to starve, whether that would be the test.  "If I'm still alive a month from now, I'm screwed," Dean muttered, and laughed to himself in a way that even sounded crazy to him.

 

A quiet, mechanical chirping interrupted the crazy laugh — no great loss — and Dean lifted his head, looking around until the noise came again.  It sounded like it came from the corpse, which didn't make a lot of sense, but then, who was Dean to criticize right then?  He blinked at the body in confusion until the chirping stopped, and then stared some more, thinking about Sammy and Hell and being a demon and suicide and how bodies didn't chirp.

 

At least, he was pretty sure they didn't.  Which meant...

 

He scrambled over to the corpse, scraping his arm painfully against a rock in a way that brought blood and absolutely no proof-of-humanity comfort.  But this...

 

It took him a few minutes and a bunch of pockets — one of which yielded a nasty-looking switchblade that might come in useful if starving and cliffdiving didn't work out — but he finally found a small, black device that he recognized.  A weird model (Jesus, how long had he been under?) but recognizably a phone.

 

There were only a few numbers Dean had ever memorized, but they'd stuck.  Even through his eternity in Hell, he could remember Pastor Jim's number (which would presumably ring in Heaven) and Dad's number (not to be bitter, but he'd never been that good at answering even when he was alive) and Sam's number (which Dean would cut off his fingers with the switchblade before dialing) and...

 

"Hello?"

 

Bobby's voice was gruff and low, like he hadn't been sleeping well, and Dean felt a jolt of guilt at the fact that he'd left the old hunter to handle the fate of the world — and more importantly Sam — for however long Dean had been out of commission.  And now he was asking for help again...but there was no one else.

 

"Bobby, don't tell Sam, okay?  You gotta--I'm sorry to ask, but you're the only one, and Sam can't know till we're sure."

 

There was a short, fraught moment of silence, and then Bobby shouted, "Dean?" 

 

"Yeah, Bobby--" A loud noise over the line interrupted him, and Dean pulled the phone away for a second to check the connection as a crash and a yelp (one of the dogs?) and a thud signaled the end of the conversation.

 

"Bobby?" he asked, actually kind of glad when there was no answer because he hadn't meant to sound quite that pathetic.  But then, he hadn't expected Bobby to hang up on him, either.

 

Dean sat for a moment in silence, trying to figure out if he should call again or...hell, there was no "or", it wasn't like he had any options here.  And if Bobby wasn't an option...

 

He was just flipping over the switchblade, not really planning anything but kind of using the handle as a distraction, when the phone in his other hand chirped.  The display said it was Bobby calling back, and Dean managed to turn his wussy little sob into a laugh because - damn - he really had no options, but thank god for Bobby.

 

"Yeah?"

 

"Dean, you there, son?"  The question sounded all-too-normal for the situation they were in, even though the stress was obvious in Bobby's voice, and Dean had to cough over the dry laugh it provoked.

 

"Yeah.  At least, I think so.  I hope so."  The knife had an eagle on the handle, hand-carved by the look of it.  "I hope it's me."

 

"Dean," Bobby's voice sounded real calm now, like he was talking to a crazed dog...which, by the way, seemed to be in the background since Bobby pulled the phone away for a second and said, "Will you shut up?" in a harsh, strained voice.  "Dean, son, where the hell are you?  How'd you get out?  Why don't you want Sam to know?  Where can I come get you?"

 

He'd never heard Bobby so disjointed, and it made Dean's eyes water, thinking about the kind of situation that could make the sanest man he knew sound crazy.  But first things first.

 

"Sam can't know, Bobby, until we...until I'm sure.  Sure that I came back human.  I don't know, Bobby," Dean's voice broke, and he scrubbed his arm across his eyes. "Found this phone on a dead guy, just out here in the middle of nowhere.  What're the odds of that?  And I don't know how I could have blown his brains out without a gun, but I can't see my eyes, and...hell, I don't even know if it's my body I came back in, maybe I've hijacked some poor bastard—"

 

He looked down at his hands and arms...they looked like his hands, same scar on his forearm from where he fell through the floor that time with a poltergeist in Jersey, same indentation where he used to wear his ring..."How can I be sure, Bobby, without someone to test me?  And Bobby," his voice broke again, and he spit out a curse, hitting himself in the forehead with the knife handle, trying to use the pain as a distraction.  "Bobby, I'm so sorry, man.  But if I'm not me, if I came back wrong...you gotta take care of it.  You gotta take me out and never tell Sammy, okay?  I can't...he...please Bobby.  I've got no right to ask.  But..."

 

For a second the phone weirded out, and Dean could hear the echo of Bobby's breathing over the line, two sets of offset gasps that Dean couldn't let distract him.  "Bobby, Sammy can't know, and there's nobody else I trust.  If you don't want to - well, I can try to take care of it myself.  Found a knife with the phone.  But if I'm a demon, it won't kill me."

 

Bobby's dog made a low, whining noise in the background, and Dean heard the old man hushing it sharply.  "Boy, you put that knife away and don't even think of it, okay?  I'm gonna come and fix everything.  Where are you?"

 

Something inside Dean released like a dam, like a loosened tourniquet.  Dean didn't know if he was going to burst into tears or bleed out, but he just wanted to hand everything over to Bobby, just for a while.  Just until he could be cleared to start looking for Sammy or till Bobby could send him back to Hell. 

 

Was that so much to ask?

 

"Dean--" Bobby sounded kind of breathless, and Dean could hear the dog scrabbling in the background again, but thinking about the unbearable relief of handing this nightmare over to Bobby reminded Dean of what he had to do. 

 

"Hold on, Bobby," he said, pulling the phone away and looking at it hard.  Something this new-fangled and fancy had to have GPS, he figured.  Pushing a few keys experimentally, he finally got to a screen that seemed roughly in the right ballpark...at least, it was trying to tell him what ballpark he was in.  Well, actually it was trying to tell him that the nearest damn coffee shop was about a thousand miles away, and then it tried to show him a big circle in the middle of nothingness that supposedly "pinpointed' his location.  But Dean finally got it to cough up some numbers, which he scratched into the dirt with the blade of the knife. 

 

Giving up on trying to figure out how to re-dial, he punched in Bobby's number again.  Bobby answered before it could even ring.  "Dean?"

 

"Yeah, Bobby, I got some—"

 

"Christ almighty, boy!  Don't you hang up on me!  I'll tan your hide, you drop me like that again."

 

Oh.  Yeah.  Probably a bad call.  No pun intended.  "Sorry, Bobby.  Sorry."  When Bobby responded his voice was gruff with frustrated forgiveness.  Dean let him curse a few times--they'd both earned it--before interjecting, "But hey, I got my coordinates."

 

A long silence, and something was wrong with his reception out in deserted buttfuck nowhere, because he was hearing Bobby's breathing echoed again.  "You've got..."

 

"Coordinates.  Fancy-ass phone the corpse was carrying."  Dean couldn't help but grin at the thought of Bobby's expression, and he didn't even mind when the unaccustomed expression cracked his lips till they bled.  "You want them, or would you rather dowse for me?"

 

"Dammit, boy, I'll still tan your hide," Bobby muttered over the sound of paper and scrambling for a pen, and Dean smiled again, licking blood off his lips.  One way or another, this was going to end soon. Thank god for Bobby.

 

* * *

 

Bobby called Dean from the road the next time, and since he'd given Dean the new cell number, Dean answered when the phone chirped him awake and he saw the number on the screen.  However-many-days without food were starting to make him sluggish, but he perked right up when he heard Bobby's voice and, even better, the background noise over the phone. 

 

"Bobby, is that my girl?  You driving my car?" He couldn't keep the excitement out of his voice, and Bobby's laugh was weirdly echoed through whatever speaker-system he had set up so he could call and keep driving. 

 

"Knew you'd recognize her purr.  Thought you might like to see something prettier than my homely mug when I got there."

 

"Damn, Bobby," Dean shook his head, wishing he could shake the thick gravel from his throat.  "That's...damn.  Thanks."  Things were a little clearer with the sound of his baby in his ears, and Dean remembered that he should probably drink something again.  Pressing the back of his hand flat into the trickle of water that ran by his feet, he waited as his palm filled up with muddy liquid while his head filled up with the sound of finely-tuned engine.  "Best lullaby I ever heard."

 

Bobby sounded a little ragged himself when he answered.  "Just wanted you to know we're on the roa—that is, I’m on my way, boy, so you just sit tight."

 

"Got nowhere to go."  Leaning back against the night-cooled stone behind him, Dean closed his eyes.  "Could sleep forever..."

 

He hadn't meant to say that, and his eyes snapped open pretty quick at Bobby's sharp, "Dean?  You with me, son?"

 

"Yeah, sorry."  Damn, he needed to think before he spoke.  "Just tired, don't mind me.  Won't even need the lullaby."

 

"Yeah, well," Bobby sounded barely mollified, "should probably save your batteries anyway.  I'll let you get some sleep—"

 

"Wait."  The thought of Bobby hanging up on him made everything seem colder, somehow.  Dean knew he'd have to grow a pair and let Bobby drive, but there was still one thing they hadn't really covered in the flurry of instructions and threats before Bobby hit the road.  "You can...you didn't tell Sammy, right?"

 

"Didn't tell him a damn thing."  Dean could hear the gruff honesty in the rumbling tones.

 

"But...you know where he is, right?  He's...he's calling in or whatever, keeping in touch.  He's okay?"

 

The long silence didn't scare him this time, because he could still hear the sound of the Impala.  Made him sick with worry, though.

 

Finally, Bobby answered, "Not sure about 'okay', Dean...but Sam's safe.  And he's healthy.  He's missing you something hellish."

 

Dean chuckled.  "No pun intended."

 

"Yeah.  He's...Dean, he's..." the connection cut out for a few seconds, then Bobby's voice came back.  "Sam's gonna be fine, Dean.  Just like you are.  We're gonna fix this, and you're both gonna be okay."

 


'We're gonna fix this' Bobby said, like Dean could actually help.  It seemed like wishful thinking, including Dean, but he was grateful for Bobby's pretense.  God, he was grateful for Bobby.  "Yeah.  It's gonna be okay.  And if I'm...if you have to—"

 

"Shut up, boy."

 

"No, but Bobby, if you have to...if you do...you'll take care of Sam, right?"  Dean realized — about a second too late — that talking about 'taking care' of Sam in the same breath with taking care of Dean was a mistake...totally different kinds of care-taking needed there, and Bobby better know it. 

 

But before he could say anything, Bobby said gruffly, "You and Sam are gonna be fine, you hear me?  Now get some sleep and let me drive."

 

Dean had always been pretty good with orders.  "Yes sir."

 

He closed his eyes, holding the phone up to his ear to get the last few seconds of lullaby from his baby.  Bobby must have known, because the connection stayed open for almost a minute, soothing him with the sound of his girl coming to get him. 

 

***

 

It was hard to keep track of the days, alone in the middle-of-nowhere, although Bobby seemed to be calling him about twice a day.  Dean didn't dare move far from the muddy stream, terrified of coming across other people. During the daytime calls, Bobby would bitch at him to get into the shade, and in the evening Bobby let him listen to the engine a while.  But with the exhaustion and constant hunger, it was getting pretty hard to think, and Bobby sounded more and more stressed every time he called. 

 

Dean couldn't really blame him — not the best deal on earth having to chat with a semi-catatonic possible-demon that you might just have to kill soon — but it made him feel sick and guilty.  Well, the sick part might be attributable to other causes, but the guilt...

 

Man, the guilt was from everything.  From failing Dad and Sammy, from asking this of Bobby, from maybe coming back as what he'd always hunted.  Take your pick, there was a lot of guilt to choose from.

 

Forcing himself to drink a little more of the brackish water, Dean closed his eyes and tried not to think of where he'd been and might be going back to.  He tried not to think about his failure or his future.  Smiling a little to himself, he wandered through memories of good times, times with Sam mostly.  He was back in one golden summer with Sammy, playing catch in the park near the place they were renting.  Sammy was laughing, proud as he caught the ball, and Dean was as close to perfectly happy as he'd been since he was four and as he'd ever be again.

 

When the phone rang again, he kept his eyes shut, clinging to the dream.  Bobby was coming, and they'd figure things out when he got there.  It was too much effort to pick the phone up, accepting the blame implicit in Bobby's worried questions.  Bobby would get there.  Till then, Dean wanted to stay with Sam. 

 

He was so tired.  And Sammy was calling him to come play.

 

***

 

They were chasing crickets, Dean and Sam and summertime all around them.  Sammy giggled as he missed a wily one, and the chirping started up again, close to Dean, so close he should be able to catch it and show Sammy, make him laugh again.  Dean heard a voice, "—around here somewhere, I can hear it—“ and then a shout of "DEAN!"

 

It sounded like Sam, like grownup Sam.  Maybe Sam was coming to play with Sammy and Dean.  He smiled as hands, rough and gentle at the same time, grabbed him, long fingers cupping his face, threading softly through his hair.


"Dean?" the voice was quieter this time, and Dean forced his eyes open, looking blearily up into dreamSam's face. His brother looked exalted and terrified, and it shook Dean, made him try to reach out with shaking, unaccustomed hands.  "S—“ he coughed and choked, throat dry from all the running around after crickets and fireflies.

 

"Hey, hey, it's okay," Sam sounded absolutely panicked now, helping Dean to sit up a little as he reached behind himself for a water bottle.  "Dean—oh my God, Dean—" the water sloshed on Dean's shirt as Sam suddenly pulled him close, holding so tight that Dean could feel his ribs creak. 

 

It felt like heaven.

 

"Sam—" he managed to croak, and Sam pulled back slightly, just far enough to press their foreheads together for a long moment.  Sam was gasping like he'd run a marathon, and Dean figured he should make sure that Sam got some of the water, too, because cricket-chasing was thirsty work.  Although...that said, the crickets had stopped chirping. 

 

Sam was trying to hold a bottle of water up to his mouth now — getting it all over Dean's shirt because his hands were shaking, Sam didn't have the experience feeding babySammy that Dean had — when a movement caught Dean's attention.  Bobby was standing about twenty feet away, with a look in his eyes that Dean couldn't interpret.  Were they late for dinner?  Had Dad sent Bobby to...

 

Shit.

 

"Shit!" Dean tried say, choking again, pulling away and trying futilely to scramble backwards out of Sam's grasp.  Sam.  Who was here.  With Bobby.  Who was supposed to keep Sam safe and away from Dean.

 

"God dammit, Bobby--" he wanted to say, but it got caught in his throat, and he coughed till spots danced in the blackness that descended over his eyes.  Sam was trying to grab on to him, and he should pull out the knife, kill himself right now, but what if he used it on Sam?  What if that's what the demon was waiting for? What if he couldn't even save Sam from himself?

 

Holding up his hands, he tried to fend them both off, shaking his head and gasping desperately for air to clear away the black spangled curtain.  "Bobby," he managed, and it sounded like an accusation and a plea to his own ears, although he was pretty sure all Bobby heard was another strangled cough. 

 

"Dean, please,"  Sam begged, his voice raw with anguish, and this was just what Bobby was supposed to avoid, dammit.  Sam's hands were on him again, Sam's body insinuating itself into his space, Dean's back suddenly propped against Sam's broad chest.  Trembling like he was the crazy one, Sam tangled Dean up in his long arms and legs and just clung, trapping Dean in a hold he didn't want to break but probably should. 

 

For one treacherous second, Dean let himself relax into Sam's octopus embrace, dropping his head back onto his brother's shoulder and letting someone else hold him together for a while, just a second, just a heartbeat.  He felt lips on his temple and the breath of a sob in his hair. 

 

Bobby was kneeling beside them now, and Dean grabbed at him, desperate for holy water or a crucifix or something.  "Christo," Dean said himself since Bobby was falling down on the job, but if his eyes turned black Bobby didn't give any sign, just scrubbed his hand across his face and resettled his cap.

 

"Dean, son, you're okay," he started, voice thick and low, but Dean didn't let him finish.

 

"You—" when he coughed again Bobby offered his silver flask, and Dean drank eagerly, hoping like hell Bobby was still smart enough to cut his liquor with holy water.  When he'd coughed through the burn of watered whiskey, he tried again.  "Dammit, you weren't supposed to tell him."

 

Bobby let loose something that sounded like a sob, although he was probably going for a wry chuckle.  "Hell, Dean...didn't have to tell him a thing.  He was there when you called.  You really think we weren't searching for you together the whole time you were gone?" 

 

The whole time.  Sam's arms around him tightened to the point of pain, and Dean welcomed it, but it did limit his ability to ask the burning question.  Bobby must have read it in his eyes.  "Three months."

 

"Forever.  Dean." Sam groaned, trembling as he buried his face in Dean's shoulder.  Sam's fingers were digging into Dean till he could feel the bruises forming.  Hell, he swore he could feel Sam's teeth in the tendons of his neck, like Sam was holding Dean with everything that could latch on to skin and bone and soul. 

 

Suddenly, Dean knew: It didn't matter if Dean was a demon or not — Sam was never letting him go.

 

With the rush of joyful agony that realization brought, Dean knew something else.  He wasn't a demon.  Nothing evil could feel this purely blessed.

 

Bobby grinned at him, a cracked, broken smile but a valiant attempt.  "You're okay, Dean."

 

Dean nodded shakily, turning his head to rest against Sam, feeling his own piece of heaven slip in under the wire.

 

"'S'okay, Sammy.  We're okay."