Title: His Father's Son
Author: *bright
Rating: Gen. PG-13
Spoilers: None, pre-series.
Character: Sam, Dean, John
Category: Limp!Sam, angst, h/c. Teen!Sam gets hurt.
Summary: A road-trip, a hunt gone wrong and the Winchesters' exploration of their family's dynamic.
Author's note: I wrote this just because hurting Sam is fun! And then I wanted to explore the Sam and John dynamic that was never fully dealt with on the show. This one was intended to be a short one-shot; the bugger grew out of my hands. Not beta'd. The original character have nothing to do with accidental namesakes. Was unable to come up with a nifty title *sighs*
Words: around 34.000
Disclaimer: Me own zip and nada, ‘cept an over-active imagination. Everything belongs to Kripke & Co.

Sam tried to keep his eyes open while the old green van sped along the interstate. He wished they had taken Dean's car and not dad's. The Impala had better cabin-lights for reading and Dean would always keep the mood up with loud music. With dad, everything felt so different.

He tied to read to stay awake, but the text in the book he was holding open in his lap, got blurred. The pale light inside the car didn't help matters much. He hadn't had more than a couple of hours sleep between school and research the past few days. He felt the tiredness literally weigh him down and irritation simmered just under his skin. He shifted his eyes to look out the side window, the darkness just about to lift and the cool of the night was rapidly vanishing. The sun was finally rising over the horizon and he blinked against the light that burned his itching eyes.

Another state, another hunt with insecure outcome awaited them. He was so tired of this! Tired of having to wear Dean's old clothes, tired of being ready to bolt at any given instance. Tired of never being able to take anything for granted. He wasn't quite able to comprehend how Dean was so cheery about all this, how he was able to always keep his game-face on? Looking over at his brother, who was currently talking into his cell phone, excusing himself for not being able to make it tonight to some girl. Promising he'd make it up to her.

Sam wanted his own cell phone and not have to share one with Dean. A cell phone with giggling girls asking for his brother every time Sam answered a call. Dean teasing him for getting no action. Last time Sam had been on something resembling a date, Dean had asked, loud enough for the girl to hear, if he had scored? Leaving Sam to blush the hell out of himself and totally making a fool of himself.

Not that he would ever be able to get a real girlfriend. Who in their right mind would go out with him when Dean was around? Dean didn't stumble over his own feet, Dean didn't get afflicted by total loss of words when a girl spoke to him. Sam had never seen him blush either and he could feel his cheeks getting hot just thinking about how damned awkward he felt around girls.

God, he so hated this!

The book was yanked from his lap.

“You done reading the girly book?” Dean was leaning over the seat, grinning at him, reading the title and shaking his head at the picture on the cover. “Fugly dudes!”

Sam huffed.

“The Outsiders, huh? Very fitting for a freak.” With a grin he opened the book and his brow creased. “You got this for outstanding achievement in English Lit? Yeah, that'll help you when the going get though!” Dean tossed the book back at him, boxing his arm. Sam smiled, acknowledging Dean's way of showing appreciation with a fondly muttered 'jerk'.

“Geek-boy!” Dean turned back to watch the road, the smile still lingering on his lips.

“Dean, quit teasing him and check the map for a place to get some food.”

Sam diverted his eyes back to the fields switching by.

There was no way to hide from the badly masked glee in his father's voice.

Normal people would have at least had a decent dinner, not take out from a greasy hamburger joint, when their son finished his sophomore year with awesome grades. Grades that he had worked his butt off for. Normal people would notice he was good at something! Normal people would pat his back and say 'good job', not give him a freakin' lecture because he hadn't packed his stuff in under five minutes.

Sam felt his eyes slide closed when he leaned his brow up against the window. Shutting out the world was the only way he was able to escape. School had become a sad excuse of a safe haven; free from constant critique about how much less he was in comparison to Dean, from unspoken disapproval and the growing sensation of never being enough. He didn't quite fit in at school either, but at least he was able to soak in how life was supposed to be. And it sure as hell wasn't what he had.

And now school was out for the year, he'd lost that little sliver of normalcy to hang on to. Most kids would consider him a total freak for enjoying getting up every day and going to school. Maybe he was what all seemed to think - a freakish misfit?

He had no real place in this so called family or the world around him. Even Dean was slipping away from him, getting tired of him. And why wouldn't he be? After all, he'd never reach up to dad's and Dean's skills in hunting, he'd never be that good. Dean had had to put up with him since he was born, without having a say in it. Dean needed his freedom. Sam knew that one day, he'd simply have to leave, find his own way by leaving everything behind. Turn his back on it and work out his own path. The only thing he'd miss about his life was Dean, but his brother would be so much better off without him around.

Sam pressed his brow to the window, to the coolness of the glass that fogged up from his exhales. Waiting really was the hardest thing.

In the front seat dad and Dean were discussing the breakfast options at hand, like companions out on a routine job. Sam clammed his eyes tightly shut.

John watched his youngest son in the rear-view mirror. With his head leaned up against the glass, Sam's face was out of view and John flicked his eyes back to the road. That was very much what Sam was about lately. It felt like he was disappearing, floating away from them in silence. The shouting matches from last year had almost vanished and only popped up during practice or work. Sometimes John missed them because at least when Sam was shouting, all pissed off, he was still there with them. All John got now were searing glares and the, very Mary-like, killing silence. John had no idea how to handle his youngest son, Sam seemed like a mine field in a foreign country.

“There's that joint a mile ahead, dad,” Dean spoke from the passenger seat. “The one we stopped at a few years back. The pie was awesome!”

John chuckled; Dean's appetite for greasy food and pie was becoming a legend all of its own. “You've got it son!”

Dean had become his confidant, an easy relationship as long as Sam wasn't in the middle. It had taken a toll on his eldest to be the peacemaker and his brother's keeper from a very young age. But he had turned out right after all. A good head on his shoulders, a trimmed body and a will to kill; the perfect soldier in their private war. Dean liked the hunts, looked forward to them and gave his all. John recognized himself in his eldest son, and he was proud. Dean just seemed less complicated. Sure he had come home drunk on beer at fourteen, stayed out all night when he wasn't supposed to and failed an order every once in a while. But John knew he could always count on Dean to come through without endless debates. And Dean was the one John relied on when it came to Sam. Dean got though to Sam, read him much better than John supposed he ever would.

John looked back in the rear-view mirror; Sam hadn't moved and he shifted his eyes to Dean, quietly asking what was up with the youngest member of their family?

Dean immediately responded to the cue and turned over. “Hey Satschquatch? Do literal freaks like you eat in other than French restaurants? I can run inside and ask for red napkins to pave the way for your highness.”

“Shut up, Dean!”

John smiled at the harsh words; the tender inflection in the voice was still unmistakable.

Sam deliberately held back enough to drop behind Dean when they walked to the diner. He felt his father look at him from the side and it irritated him to no end. Why wouldn't his father just say what was bothering him? So he hadn't put his all in packing his duffel bag? It wasn't like anyone's life depended on his packing speed right at that precise moment. He'd done all the research he was able to do about their current case at the local library, he needed microfilms or copies of old newspapers to be able to do a more thorough search. Some things you just had to be on location to do. He glared under his bangs, a silent protest at the sideways glances he got. Those evaluating looks really got him pissed off. How was he supposed to right when he didn't know what, exactly, was wrong?

Sam kicked a stone out of his way, sending it flying onto the granite clinkers framing the paved pathway they were trudging in the bleak morning light.

“Woah, Sammy, what's up with you? Some nerdy chick stood you up or what?” Dean slowed his pace to flank Sam, elbowing him amicably.

Sam glared.

“Geez, ain't we all sparkling sunny today? Despite all the nerdy girls flailing over you and your over-sized brain when I picked you up yesterday. That short one was really hot! I was wondering why she was hitting on you.”

“Nobody was hitting on me!” Sam slanted another glance at his brother.

“The blond one so was! You're just too literally inclined to notice the important things in life, like a certain score for instance.” Dean grabbed Sam's sleeve and yanked him up the stairs.

“Can you be any more single-minded, Dean?”

“Boys!” Their father was impatiently holding up the door for them.

Sam didn't look his way, just filed himself in through the door. Dean grinned at the young waitress; a white-toothed, flirty grin that had the girl giggle and bow her head, smiling shyly back at Dean.

Sam groaned.

Dean watched his sulking little brother while scoping in the last slice of pie. Sam's hands lay loosely fisted at the sides of his plate, head ducked and eyes trained to the right. Dean followed his line of view and noted the family by a table besides the window. A young mother holding a baby with her arm curled around the child whose arms flailed happily in the air. Across the table sat a bouncing girl, maybe five years old, giggling when her father smiled and tickled her side. The sunshine fell across their table, perfecting the happy view.

Dean's heart surged and he dropped his gaze to his brother's hunched shoulders. Sam's head hanging tiredly, bangs shadowing his eyes.

Sam had refined escaping into his own little world close to perfection these past couple of months. Closing them off, moving away and retreating into silence that made Dean wonder where his real brother had gone and who this was that had taken his place? He'd never felt so estranged from his brother before and it seemed their worlds were drifting apart.

It became painfully clear in this roadside diner with table-cloths worn so thin that the plastic table peeked through the threads. The squalor did not take away from the calm joy at the table to their right and Dean knew it was what Sam wanted. A normal life.

“Sammy?” He reached out to touch his brother's arm.

Sam jerked, his hand moving into his coat-pocket and rummaged around. Dean squinted his eyes in surprise at the movement. Then Sam handed him a ten dollar bill, righted himself to sit straight and turned his gaze to the table-cloth.

It felt like a slap to Dean's face. Okay, so he had been on about them being virtually penniless until his next pay-check a couple of days ago. He'd been pissed at not being able to take Sharon out. Jesus, he had never implied it was Sam's fault, never even thought it! The jibes about Sam growing at a rate that was about to make the clothing industry very happy had been a fucking joke! Was that what this was all about?

He'd never expected to get the silent treatment from Sam, not the way Dad got it on a regular basis since the screaming matches ended. That night he'd expected Sam to bitch about it, or get on a sparring verbal match with him. But Sam had mumbled an 'am sorry' and closed himself in the bathroom. Dean had never thought he'd miss the verbal confrontations as much as he did. This silence was more painful than a bullet wound.

With a glance at their dad, sitting at the other end of the table with his eyes resting on the youngest Winchester, clearly questioning what was going on as much as Dean was. Dean shrugged his shoulders in reply and their father's eyes trained to the right and spotted the family. There was a brief look of pain and guilt before he let his gaze fall to the table-top. And Dean knew that they both shared the same sentiment. It was like Sam was fading away from them. Drowning in his self-imposed silence.

The Winchester men had never been much of talkers, except Sam when he was little. Man, the kid was able to fire off fifteen questions per second and drag confessions out of you with his frickin' puppy-eyes. Not to mention the bitchy faces he made when he thought his chains were being yanked. The looks he threw spoke loud and clear.

It had been easier back them. Now he was stuck between a brooding Satchquatch and a father that had no idea how to handle this new, very foreign person in the backseat. Because a wrong word could lead to days of determined silence and cold shoulders turned on you. A silence so loud it drove their father up the wall. And Sam knew this, he knew it so fucking well and he was using it to deliberately make his stand for who-the fuck- knew what reasons. And dad wasn't the one to budge, he'd answer with the same silence, expecting Sam to cave.

Thing was that they were both so stubborn that hell would freeze over twice before either of them gave in on any disagreement between them. It sometimes seemed the only way they were able to connect was through loud fights. Dean suspected both got freaking perverse kicks off the clashes. At least they did communicate with the shouting matches. Was that lost too now?

Dean cursed himself for not taking his baby on this hunt. It would be easier if they didn't have to cram up in dad's van. If he had his Impala, he'd be able to crank Metallica up so loud it would deafen the silence.

Because right now, the tension was choking him and if it stretched on for much longer, he was sure more than someone's fuses would blow and it was bound to become ugly.

“Sam? You done sulkin' yet?” Leaning over the table to catch the eyes hidden under the bangs, Dean nudged Sam's arm.

Sam looked up, briefly meeting with Dean's eyes before casting a furtive glance at their dad at the other end of the table. With reddening cheeks he nodded almost imperceptibly and rose to pull on his torn coat.

For a moment Dean was rattled by the look in his little brother's eyes. His brother's usually so expressive eyes were dulled with something akin to resignation. He wanted to speak out, ask what the hell was wrong but Sam turned and walked towards the exit before Dean got the words out.

It occurred to Dean that Sam seemed all alone in the world, even in a diner crammed with people.

Sam leaned onto the old van, waiting for Dean and dad. For a moment he had just wanted to keep walking, put one foot before the other and see where he'd end up. But dad was an excellent tracker and there was no way he'd be able to stay hidden for long. And running away wasn't the answer, it would be wrong to leave Dean like that, to handle dad's wrath because of something that he had no control over.

He slid in to sit behind Dean, felt safer that way. Dean flipped him a Mars-bar from the passenger seat and Sam just held onto it for a moment, looking at it like it was a treasure. He still had Dean, and that was what kept him together. “Thanks, Dean.”

There was another 170 miles to go, maybe he could get some sleep?

“Make yourself useful, Sam!” Dad handed him a stack of papers. “Go through these and make a neat list of what we actually know about this thing we're hunting.”

“I can do it, dad,” Dean offered. “Sam looks tired.”

“Son, you're never well-rested enough with this kind of life. Anything can pop up anywhere. Sam needs to learn always to be ready, tired or not. This will be good training. It's for his own good.”

The engine roared to life and Sam muted his protests.

They arrived at their destination in the afternoon, having stopped only once to fill the truck up and get some coffee. Driving through the town in search for a reasonably priced motel and a diner, John groaned inwardly. It had been a long a tedious drive, the sun beating down on the asphalt, clouds of dust seeping in through the open windows. Dean had fallen asleep but his youngest still sat with his head bent, scribbling away in the notebook he always carried in his duffel bag. John had glanced periodically in the rear-view mirror, waiting of an opportunity to ask how the research was coming along. Sam never looked up. But John noticed the tiredness oozing off his youngest; shoulders hunched, movements slower than usual and the hand grasping the pen lost the grip occasionally and he had to bend over and look on the floor for the fallen equipment.

Maybe he was driving his youngest too hard? After all he was still growing, an inch a day for what it seemed and he needed food and sleep. At times he wondered if Sam's height fooled him into thinking that the kid was older? Dean hadn't been allowed to come hunting actively before he turned sixteen, Sam had been with them since he was thirteen. John always tried to keep him in the background, but he was still right there at the hunt. John just didn't want to leave Sam behind, not alone. It just wasn't safe.

He spotted a sign for a motel with vacancies and a diner just when he turned left off the road running straight through the town.

“You hungry, son?”

Dean stirred, waking up and the moment he did, Sam didn't have to answer.

Because true to their family dynamic; Dean took over. He always did, to protect Sam.

John wondered where it had all gone so wrong? Was it when he started finding out things about his son? Was it back when he went to Missouri and she hinted that evil may want Sam for reasons unknown? Was that what had made him hide Sam? From his mind and from the world? Some thing's you just can't dwell on. Because he loved his son and the prospects of having to maybe kill him had built a wall between them ever since he started hearing the rumors. A wall John had clung to, in hopes of not loving his son if the worst came true. He knew better now; no wall stopped him from loving Sammy, it may be that it made him love him more. The fierce protectiveness he felt for both his boys clashed with the fact that one day, he might have to kill Sam. He simply wasn't able to handle that and the notion was a constant ache in his chest and an eerie sense of doom.

And pushing Sam away was the only way to prevent himself from going insane. Still, pushing his youngest away resulted in a guilt that sometimes threatened to choke him.

He loved both his boys; Dean was his pride and joy, Sam was his constant reminder of Mary, his greatest fear and deepest pain. And still he couldn't stop loving him, not even if he tried.

Parking the van, he remained staring blankly ahead, lost in thought. He should talk to Sam, explain things. But how could he, when he himself only had bits and pieces of the puzzle?

“Dad?” Dean's voice broke through his reverie.

“Let's check this place out and get some food,” he replied and got out of the car. The ache in his chest making his voice unintentionally gruff and impatient.

He caught Sam's fleeting glance over the car, a question in the hazel eyes searching his. A question never voiced, because before John was able to address his youngest son, Sam walked away.


Sam wanted to run; he felt his father's stare burn a hole in his back when he walked to the small diner behind the gas station. He wondered what he had done to change the mood in the car so drastically in the last five minutes? Had he been too late to answer the question? Should he have jumped and said 'yes sir, I am'? Should he have shown some sign that he was honored to finally be spoken to? What had he done wrong?

His eyes stung from fatigue, feeling gritty and achy. Rubbing his right eye with the heel of his hand, he opened the door and stepped into the small diner. He just needed some coffee, something to keep him awake. Sitting down at a table that he knew his dad would like, one with a view of the entire space and a wall behind it, he dug for small change in his pocket when the waitress arrived.

She was elderly, clad in a bright red uniform that had Sam blink.

“Hello sweetie, what'll it be?”

Sam felt himself blushing and cursed himself. “Just a coffee with sugar and milk, please!”

“You sure, hon? You look awfully hungry to me.” The woman's smile was concerned.
Sam's heart melted at the motherly display. “I'm waiting for my brother and father to join me. Just need some coffee first.”

“Comin' right up! If you promise to eat later.” She smiled at him and he nodded.

“Ma'am,” he started, hesitant to ask. “Is there a public library here?”

“Sure there is,” she beamed. “I'll get you a map of the town with the coffee and show you where to find it. Mind you, it's small and Mr. Jenkins, the librarian, is scary.” She backed away, rolling her index finger at her temple in the unmistakable sign and smiled heartily before she turned and made her way behind the counter.

Sam grinned happily. There was something tender in her voice when she spoke about Mr. Jenkins, like she was secretly very fond of his scariness. He was looking forward to meeting this Mr. Jenkins, he sounded like one of the eccentrics that stood out in every small town. The ones the regular town folks loved being afraid of or laugh at. The ones that would never entirely fit.

His smile faded.

When the waitress returned he looked at the name tag, that said 'Gladys', and nothing more. Maybe she too was considered an eccentric?

She put the cup down on the table and laid the small map at its side. Hands moving to straighten the folds out. “Now. sweetie, we're right here!” She rolled the pen between her fingers and marked the
street corner with a cross. A quickly dotted line along streets followed. “First you take a right and walk two blocks before you turn left. You'll see it once you get there. It's the town square and everything is around it.” She drew a circle around the large square, finishing off with a tidy 'L' inside the circle.

“Thank you, Ma'am!”

“You're welcome, sweetness.”

The door opened and a low appreciative whistle followed the soft tingle of the bell.

Sam looked up and spotted Dean's face splitting up in a knowing grin. “Whoa!”

He had to look down and wipe his nose to hide his blushing cheeks and guilty smile. He was so playing Dean's cards right now. And it really wasn't him, he wasn't good at this flirting for info stuff.

“This your brother?” Gladys asked.

“Yeah,” Sam smiled up at the waitress when Dean pulled out a chair and seated himself opposite Sam.

“Can I have a beer?” Dean beamed at her and Gladys let out a a pearly laugher, clearly charmed.

“'Course you can, be right back!”

Dean's eyes followed her while she walked to the counter and returned with the foaming glass. He sent her one of his more cheeky grins when she placed it in front of him before walking away with a bemused shake of her head.

“Dude! You giving the puppy-eyes a work-out here or what? Isn't she a tad old for you?”

“Dean, shut up!” Sam emptied another sachet of sugar into his coffee. Tasting it precariously. “I just asked where the public library is!”

Dean leaned back in his chair, raising his eye-brows jauntily. “Is that geek-boy lingo?”

Sam cast a glance to the counter, from behind which Gladys was watching them. “Dean,” he pouted. “She can hear you!”

The door bell pinged anew and their father appeared in the doorway, making his way to their table.

“Did you order?” He asked while he seated himself on the far end stool. “Coffee, Sam? Shouldn't you be eating something instead?”

“Shh, dad! Sam's working up the waitress for a free meal.” Dean leaned over the table and whispered in an all too loud and conspiratory voice.

“Just for that, young man, I giving your brother pancakes on the house for desert.” Gladys chirped when she fetched the menus and walked over to their table.

Sam felt totally humiliated and wanted nothing more than to slide under the table. He caught his father's eyes and wished that the smile in his direction wasn't quite so pitying.

He didn't return the smile.

Dean stretched out on the bed, looking at Sam's tired face. At least he had gotten some sleep in the car, obviously Sam hadn't because he looked worse than ever while going through the research looking for something that probably only existed in Sam's won, over-tired, mind.. His hands were shaking slightly and he kept blinking his eyes. It was already late and Sam kept insisting that they needed to do more research, that there was something that bothered him about the case that was supposed to be a simple salt and burn. It didn't help matters with dad that Sam didn't exactly know what he thought was odd. John wasn't big on intuition, Sam would have to come up with something better than vague arguments about needing to dig deeper into the history of the place.

But his stubborn ass of a geeky little brother didn't relent. He'd trudged his way over to the library, asked the librarian to look at some microfilms of century-old newspapers. Dean had sat there while the librarian and Sam discussed the mansion's history. Turned out it had been the Confederate headquarters of the area and had been raided by the Yankees at the end of the war. There had been multiple gruesome deaths and Sam was adamant on pinpointing exactly what had happened. It was evident that his geekiness got the better of him at times. And damned if he hadn't convinced the librarian to printout a huge stack of documents for free. Sam really had all elderly people around his little finger. Dean had chuckled silently to himself at the sight of Sam, all wide-eyed and begging, drinking in every word and looking absolutely mesmerized by the story and the storyteller. The gruff librarian had looked ready to adopt him when the library closed.

Dean had tried to point out that it might take years but his mule-headed brother was still skimming though the print-outs. Like knowing exactly what happened would aid them in a simple salt and burn? It was simply a question of finding the grave, dig and torch the fucker.

Although, he had to admit that Sam had some valid points. What if there was more than one malicious spirit, ghost or what the fuck ever and the others did get pissed when they started digging? He didn't even want to think about that scenario. Dad said it was a ghost of sorts, one ghost, singular and he trusted him on that. Sam was just being a wuss. Dean pushed all other thoughts away.

“Sam, we're leaving in half an hour, you ready or not?”

“No!” Sam looked up with bleary eyes. “We should stay away tonight. I think I've spotted a pattern.”

“Me and dad only have three days off, Sam! It's not like this is a vacation, we need to get this done tonight or we'll lose our jobs! Crappy as they are, they still feed you!” He wasn't quite able to hide the irritation in his voice.

“But Dean, why does this spirit only surface when the place is renovated? If it's a cut and clear salt and burn, it wouldn't appear in cycles like this thing seems to do!” Sam looked pleadingly at him, perched forward on his bed.

“Sam, it may just be coincidental! Maybe the fugly wants the place like it was or it gets lost? The place has been empty for ten years before the Kulicks got their hands on it, maybe the spirit's been happy and content with the current wallpaper?”

“That makes no sense, Dean!” Sam threw his hands out in a dejected gesture. “Spirits want revenge, Dean! Not happily ever after.”

Dean rose from the bed, rolling his shoulder to get the tension out. “Dude, if you look for sense in the fugly sons o' bitches, you're worse off than I thought. And I happen to think you're pretty freaky as is!”


Dean smiled down at the broody, floppy-haired brother that occasionally drove him nuts. “C'mon, let's get some coffee into you before we leave. I don't want you to fall asleep while we're digging.” He bent down to grip Sam's shirtfront and pull him up to his feet. Sammy was all gangly and coltish, his tiredness making him uncoordinated.

“You stay close to me tonight, Sammy! Understand?”

The pout didn't escape him and he pulled Sam closer by the shirt, just to make him realize that this was serious.

Sam fixated him for a moment, seemingly weighing the pros and cons. Finally he nodded, albeit reluctantly. “Promise.”

Dean shook his head, grinning. “You're such a pain in the ass, Sammy!”

Darkness was falling fast when they finally arrived, after driving through a long alley of century old oaks leading up to the main house.

The area held a huge white mansion, its stone walls contrasting the dusk. There were lights only in a couple of windows in the left corner of the first floor and the trucks and wood piles around it told about the rebuilding in process. The Kulicks had bought it to turn it into a Spa, apparently it was a lifelong dream and it had come to an abrupt end with the unexplainable deaths of two construction workers.

Sam noted that dad was already on the phone, alerting the inhabitants of their arrival. Sam stepped out and was saluted with chirping of birds and crickets. It was a warm and humid night. Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary met them as they stood there, close to the van and waiting for the owners to show up and fill them in.

Sam let his flashlight roam the surroundings, stopping at the far end of the yard; a low building covered with Ivy, its stone walls peeking though the green. It looked like it was sucking up all the light.

“We stay close,” dad ordered them. “They've found three stones they believe are ancient headstones. One's tumbled over. We dig, find what's left, we salt and burn. Remember that two are already dead, in different ways so we don't wanna rile this thing up unnecessarily.”

“May be more than one,” Sam huffed. “And maybe salting and burning 200 year old bones isn't enough after all.”

Dad threw him an irritated glance when he shut the cell. “Sam, we salt what's left first, like we always have. That the course of action with most evil. We stick together and do what we've always done. Understood?”

It wasn't like dad wasn't right. It was just his tone of voice that grated Sam's nerves. And the fact that he'd never listened or taken notes when Sam had tried to explain that according to his research, this had to be bout an evil spirit from the Independence War acting up every time there was modifications made to what was mentioned as the 'the old barn'. Sam eyes remained on the sunken in building at the edge of the yard. He had a feeling in his gut that this hunt would be all but easy, but he had no proof to present in order to state his case. Not enough to impress Dad anyhow. Words never impressed dad, he wanted action. And Sam knew he'd never be good enough in that department.

He blinked when the harsh beam from Dean's flashlight blinded him temporarily and had him cringe. “Hey!”

“Quit daydreamin' Sammy!”

Sam watched the light move when Dean started walking toward him, ending up standing at his side, eyes suspicious slits. “What you thinking, Sammy?”

Sam shrugged and turned to the sound of a door opening to reveal Louise and Tom Kulick.

They were in their mid-forties or early fifties, sandy-haired and slightly apprehensive looking as they advanced on the three of them. And why shouldn't they be? Sam looked down on his torn jeans, the coat he was outgrowing fast, Dean's cocky grin and their father's shaggy appearance.

Not to mention the big-ass shotgun dad was carrying.

“John Winchester?” The man asked, his hand reaching out with trepidation and hesitance.

Dad smiled one of his more rare, hearty smiles. “Mr. Kulick? Please call me John,” he shook the offered hand and turned to the woman. “I'm sorry to have to meet you under these circumstances. Pastor Jim informed me that there had been more troubles last nigh?”

The woman took his hand and nodded. “Louise.” With a look at her husband, she lowered her voice and continued. “We found a patch of dried grass around those headstones behind the old barn. It makes no sense because we have been clearing that part up for days and all of a sudden the vegetation is looking like it suffered a thermonuclear war? And only on a particular spot?”

Sam looked at the woman, a hard knot in his guts forming. It didn't sound very ghost-like at all.

“It's not that odd actually, not in our line of work.” John spoke. His gaze drifting in the same direction that Sam's had been glued to for a long while now. “These are my sons, Dean and Sam.” Dad pointed briefly at them. “They are going to help me out with solving this problem.”

“Aren't they a little young for this?“ Tom Kulick peered at Sam through square, thick-rimmed glasses. “My youngest just finished his first year in college and I wouldn't let him anywhere near important things.”

Sam looked away self-consciously and shuffled his feet.

“Dean's been with me for a long time, he knows what he's doing and Sam's merely here to learn.” John's eyes skated over Sam to fall on Dean, a smile of pride emerging. “I want you to show me the patch you found and then you need to drive off. Things may become very ugly and the further away you are, the better we can do our job. Just show me the spot, my sons will wait here with your wife.”

Tom Kulick nodded and started walking, John towering at his side, flashlight illuminating their path.

“So you boys are following in your father's footsteps?” Louise asked. “Isn't this a dangerous career?”

“Not as long as you know what you're doing,” Dean grinned smugly. “It's the family business and I'm awesome at it.”

Sometimes Sam felt outright jealousy at Dean's easy acceptance of his fate. To Dean there were no what ifs, no shades of grays, no questions or second guessing. All those things that made Sam so helplessly bad at hunting. Because really, what was evil and what wasn't? More often than not he felt like walking a very thin line between madness and righteousness.

“How about you, Sam?” The woman asked him and he jumped. Not at all expecting to be addressed. His eyes were still glued to the stony walls of the old barn, something about the building calling out to him.

“Ma'am, has anybody checked out the old barn?” The words flew out of him, although he should be following dad's orders and not poke around unnecessarily.

The harsh inhale and the following silence had him turn to Louise Kulick, wondering. Her eyes were wide and fearful. “No, not since we found Bennett dead in the doorway. Everybody says he was probably trying to get inside, find shelter from the rain and slipped. But that doesn't make sense. That would he have slipped on? The roof covers the cobblestones at the door. They don't get slippery wet during rain. It doesn't make sense that a seasoned construction worker gets tangled up in electrical chords and manages to strangle himself. He had been working inside, setting up the tools, tidying the room up for storing but he was outside when it happened, cutting down some trees. I heard the chainsaw. After he died, the police shut it off as a crime-scene. But I peeked inside, we still have the fire-extinguisher and stuff we need on a daily basis, stored in there. And there's this ancient trunk I've never seen before, in there.”

Dean threw him a glance and Sam felt the hairs on his neck rise.

“Did you tell my dad about the trunk?” Dean inquired and Louise nodded.

“Your father is aware of the trunk but he assured me that the best way was to go to the root of the problem, and the root is probably buried six feet under.”

“Dad's probably right,” Sam admitted, trying to reassure the woman with a smile. He wasn't sure it didn't come off a complete mockery. He'd never admit to it, but he was damned scared and the cold chill he felt in his bones kept increasing.

“Sure dad's right,” Dean spoke with conviction. “The moment we get the fucker salted and burned, this will all be over. He turned to the re-appearing beams of flashlights. “Time to get the show on the road, Sammy! Get the gear out of the trunk!”

Sam looked at the men approaching, talking amongst themselves. And he wondered how come dad seemed to listen to a complete stranger but not to him?

“It's gonna be fine,” he told Louise, sending her another reassuring smile. Then he turned to the trunk and wondered if he had just added another deplorable trait to his long list of faults? Would he turn out to be a freaking liar and a lousy coward for not taking this up with dad and really make the man listen?

Dad and Tom were approaching, still discussing amongst each other and Louise joined in their discussion, vehemently refusing to leave the premises.

He leaned with his hands curled around the edge of the open trunk, the tiredness in his body making itself known all over. Legs feeling numb and uncooperative, head feeling heavy and clouded.

“Falling asleep on me, dude?” Dean's hand came to rest on his shoulder and Sam looked up and forced a smile to his lips.

“Bite me!”

“Without any ketchup? Dude, I do have some limits.” Dean elbowed him and pulled a shovel from the trunk.

Sam shoved him out of the way and gripped the bag of salt. This time the smile on his face was genuine.

The darkness was denser in the shadow of the old barn, the sounds seemed muffled and hollow as Dean shuffled the dirt. He and dad started on opposite sides of the fallen stone. Sam had made very clear that the stones looked like foundation stones, not headstones. Dad had looked pissed and sneered at Sam to keep quiet. Dean marveled that there hadn't been a shouting match, instead Sam had looked mortified but did as told. Still, if they didn't hit jackpot at the first stone, they had four more graves to dig. It would take them the entire night and there would be plenty of time for Sam to dig.

Dean felt his grip on the shovel slip, sweat running into his eyes despite the coolness of the night.

“Dean, it's my turn to dig, dammit!”

Dean grinned, his little brother was getting feisty, not liking having been ordered to watch the onlookers and hold the flashlight. Dad would not let Tom and Louise lend a hand, which was wise, neither of them looked like they'd ever done much digging in their lives and they'd probably just slow the process down by trying. He stretched his back, smirking at Sam before he went back to digging the shovel into the hard ground. Pushing it deeper with his foot and inkling it up to get as much dirt as possible onto it. Then he threw the dirt over his shoulder, nearly hitting Sam with it as it spread in the air.

Sam grunted irritably and the beam of his flashlight cut to the right. Dean signed a point to himself. Sam was talking to the Kulicks, mumbling low enough to make it difficult to decipher the words. Then the light vanished and he heard someone walk away. Footsteps crunching dry twigs.

He turned and watched Sam disappear behind the corner of the looming building. “Wher'ya going?”

John stopped digging and lifted his head to look over his shoulder. “What's he up to now?”

“He's just getting another shovel to help you out,” Tom explained. “We have a lot of equipment in the barn, I'm sure there's some shovels too.”

The flashlight blinded Dean momentarily when Tom angled it off the ground to illuminate the digging men's faces. “I'll help out too, Louise is quite capable in holding flashlights.”

“Bet you a fiver I'll dig a deeper hole than you, Tom!” The voice was a tad sardonic and Dean instantly liked the woman even more. She was a keeper.

“We need a look-out to check that nothing creeps up on us from behind. I told that boy to stay on watch and he up and leaves?“ John's voice was laden with irritation.

“Dad, there's three of them!” Dean protested, wiping the sweat off his brow, eyes sneaking to the direction in which Sam had disappeared. There was no sign of returning light.

“Son, it was a direct order. We don't leave each other, we stay close. Sam just broke that order and did what he wanted to do without any reflection on safety.“ John turned back to the work at hand, shoveling up the dirt with renewed vigor, thanks to the anger Dean was able to spot in the set of his shoulder.

“He just wanted to help out, dad,” Dean tried to mitigate. “I probably should have let him have a go at digging already. Sam can't stand being pushed back.”

Dean put his foot on the metal edge and pushed the metal deeper into the hard-packed ground.

“And he should have slept like I told him to do and not wandered off to the library to do research. No research will help you if you're too tired to see straight on a job. Kid needs to learn!”

“I'll go help him out looking for the shovels,” Tom suggested.

“No!” John shook his head. “Sam made a decision, now, he's gotta handle -.”

A bang was heard from behind the window casting a weak square of light on the ground behind them.

Dean did a full-body turn and held his breath, watching the dirty window intently. The light flickered behind it, sickly yellowish.

“What the hell is he doing now? Trying to demolish the barn single-handedly?”

Dean cast a quick glance over at their dad, standing tensely at his side. Voice gruff with masked fear. The same fear Dean felt like a hard knot in his guts.

Then the clatter from inside had him turn back and a flickering yellowish light flared behind the window pane, followed by loud sounds of wood splitting, metal colliding and fire thundering had him yell his brother's name and start running.


The moment the red fabric flashed before his eyes, Sam knew he had made a mistake. He managed to get a hand in between his skin and the electrical cord before it looped tightly around his neck and he was pulled forward, door slamming shut behind him. A dim figure, with the Confederate flag draped around it, hovered in his left visual field. The vision cleared to reveal a tattered uniform and rotting flesh, with multiple stab and gunshot wounds, still seeming to bleed and soil the shroud hung on a former soldier's bony shoulders.

Sam's blinding fear turned into steely, cold determination. If he was going to die, he'd take the evil son of a bitch with him.

From that moment, his instincts took over and his vision tunneled in on the blowtorch he'd spotted on the bench underneath the rack holding various equipment hung on thin steel pegs. The moment he started moving towards the bench, the cord tightened around his neck, a dull pop proceeding the pain that shot through his wrist and exploded in his spine, making his anger flare. He'd seen Dean use a blowtorch on old cars and he knew exactly what to do.

He lunged for the handle, fisting his free hand around it and yanked it off the bench when hammers and saws started flying his way. There was no pain anymore, just an anger so deep it guided him, without conscious thought. He pressed the button, freeing the scintilla and the kerosene.

The dusty air crackled with the fire, sending the shrouded figure glowing faintly yellow in a cloud of burning particles. Saw-blades ripped at Sam's clothes, cutting the fabric and digging into his skin. A hammer hit Sam's temple hard enough to have the world tilt on him and he found himself flat on his stomach on the unforgiving stony pavement. He inhaled through gritted teeth, never getting enough air. His focus faltered, blood ran down his temple, smelling sickly sweet and foreboding. His fingers twitched, latching back onto the lever.

The faded flag moved over the cobblestone and Sam's fingers trembled when he pressed the lever to send the flame flashing along the floor. A patch of spilled oil ignited and burned bluish and bright. Flames reared to life and licked up the red fabric. A sharp sound of screeching metal and breaking wood exploded in his skull and he was pressed down hard. Sharp nails dug into his back, his vision started to fade with the wave of pain that forced what little air he had left, out of his lungs in a garbled cry.

The room was suddenly lit up with flames that seemed to dance mid-air, embracing the flag, when Sam's eyes finally closed.

John didn't remember how he got to the now closed door, didn't realize it wouldn't open despite his frantic pulling. He fought for his son's life, straining every muscle in the futile effort of desperate tugging at the handle that squeaked in protest. Dean was a this side, his breath hitching while he repeatedly slammed the shovel at the window by the door. It wouldn't break and Dean was illuminated by the flickering light from inside, revealing the panic on his face. Nothing seemed to really register, until a hard crash was followed by a bright reddish light that wailed as it ripped through the room, colliding with the walls before it vanished out of sight.

The shovel went through the class, sending sharp splinters to John's skin as the door finally gave and he lunged himself into the room now alight with streaks of fire running over the stone floor and up the legs of the wooden bench.

Dean was already inside, tripping over debris, falling to his knees and pushing forward, panting his brother's name.

Sam was buried under a metal plate with holes, the kind John had used to hang tools on. Only one foot sticking out from under it. A broad cabinet had fallen across the metal and perched in an odd angle that indicated that his son was being squeezed to death by its weight.

“Sammy? Oh God!”

Dean voice carried over to him and pulled John out of his petrified state.

“He alive?” John scrambled for the fire-extinguisher on the wall, moving forward to reach the threatening flames.

“Jesus Sammy. Let me get this off you so you can breathe! Gonna get you out of here, promise. Just keep breathing for me. You can do this Sammy, I'll get you outta here! Sam, please!”

Dean's ramble was laden with panic, his fingers working frenetically at something around Sam's neck. He was clearly in a state of shock, fumbling and shivering where he sat hunched by Sam's left shoulder, the only part John was able to see.

“Dean! Take this and kill the fire! Now!”

“No dad! Sam can't breathe , I need to get this -.”

“Now Dean!” John ordered and Dean got to his feet, face streaked with blood from the glass shreds, eyes wide and black with fear. But he did as told, letting the foam cover the floor and suffocate the flames. John didn't have the heart to tell him that there was probably enough chemicals in the room to cause an explosion. He just needed help to get Sam from under the weight in order to carry him out.

His view being freed, he noted the electrical cord twined around Sam's neck. The wrist Sam had managed to stick between the cord and his skin hung in an odd angle, bone penetrating the skin and the slack hand hiding most o his face. John didn't even know if Sammy was breathing or not, he only knew that the cord had to come off, now! The knife he always carried cut through the cord immediately, freeing Sam's hand that slid down to the floor. Sam was on his stomach, face turned to the left and he looked dead, except for the blood running from his nose to pool under the ashen chin. John's fingers searched for a pulse and found it, weak and fast, but still there.

Outside the woman was half-sobbing into her cell, alerting 911 about an accident, stumbling over the words in a high-pithed voice.

The flames were only glimmering at the far end of the room now, not close enough to take his son.

“Dean! I want you to sit with Sam while I get this weight off him.” He hadn't quite finished the sentence before fore Dean was on his knees at Sam's side, fingers threading in the sandy hair, now matted with blood.

The smoke smarted John's eye when he rose to get to the cupboard and lift it off his youngest. He knew he needed to get them all out before they'd succumb to smoke-inhalation.

He leaned over the cabinet, trying to lift it but it was too heavy. “Get over here and help!” he hollered at the man standing in the doorway, the flashlight shivering in his hand.

“Take the metal too, we need to get him out now!” John hoped that the shiver in his voice didn't alert Dean to how terrified he really was. Dean needed someone to lean on right now. When Tom was in place, his hands under the metal plate and the cabinet, John looked over at him. “This is heavy, you need to push with all you've got. If you let it fall back on Sam, you'll kill him!”

Tom nodded.

“Now! John barked and took leverage with his feet planted on the floor. The cabinet rose slowly, and Sam's body arched off the floor. Dean's whimpered: 'Dad, no no no', but there was no time for John to ask why, he had to get this off Sam, or his son would die. And then Sam fell back to the floor and the weight in their hands lessened drastically. With one last heave, John got the cabinet and metal rack to fall against the opposite wall.

When John turned to his sons, Dean's voice was garbled and he leaned in over Sam, with wordless coughing sounds, like from a wounded animal, escaping him.

Dean's hands were on Sam's coat, blood seeping through fingers that pressed down over the hole in the fabric. John turned to watch the metal and saw two long metal pegs sticking out, dripping with his son's blood.

The world dimmed around him, making him sway on his feet before resolve kicked in like an electrical shock to his system.

He leaned over Dean gripping his coat by the shoulders and pulling him up to his feet. “Tom, take him out of here!”

“No!” Dean coughed, struggling to get back to his place by Sam.

“Now Tom!” John pushed Dean towards the door and Tom, watching how the man snaked an arm around his son's middle and dragged him outside.

John was already on his knees beside Sam. Lifting and turning him into his lap. Sam was like dead weight, boneless in his hold with blood streamed over his face from a wound on his temple. The fire had taken new hold on the particle boards on the walls, flames roaring back to life and sending heat scorching John's skin and smoke smarting his eyes.

Sirens wailed in the distance and John draped his arms around Sam in an embrace.

“It's okay, Sammy. You're not gonna die in here, son, I promise. You just hang on a couple of seconds and we'll be out.” Draping Sam's arms around his neck and hooking his arm under the long, coltish legs, he lifted Sam off the floor.

“I'm sorry, Sammy, I know it's hurting you but you gotta trust me with this. It's all I can do for you right now, kiddo. Should have done so much more, I know that, Sammy. You just hang on so I can try and make it up to you, okay Sam?. ”

The thickness of the air had him fight to breathe and he didn't even dare to think about how Sam was handling the smoke. He wasn't even sure his son was breathing any longer, he was so still. Sam was heavy, even if he looked like nothing but skin and bones. The smell of smoke and blood mingled with the distinct scent of gun oil from his old military coat, the one Sam had been wearing despite it being too wide for him. He started walking out, only aware of his son's stillness in his arms.

“The fire's not gonna have you, Sammy. If you have to let go, you'll do it in my arms, son. I love you, Sammy. Please make it through this so we can patch things up. I need you to pull through this, son.“ He kissed his son's cheek, like he hadn't done since Sammy was a toddler. Sam's cheek was slick with blood and tear drops. Then he reached fresher air; blue lights flashed and sirens stopped wailing as green clad figures rushed toward him. His son was taken from his arms when he fell to his knees, coughing.

Dean's chest was aching, rips of pain seared through him with every breath, like a wild cat was trying to rip out his lungs. Tom was still holding on to him, while he coughed till his eyes teared and he was unable to see the doorway with the billowing smoke. The night was no longer still; sirens cut trough it, getting closer by the second and Dean had never been more grateful for the wails of emergency vehicles speeding through the night.

When the squad car and the first ambulance pulled into the yard, his breaths were already running more freely and he fought to get away from the man holding him. When his eyes finally cleared, he saw dad, fighting to get through the smoke-filled doorway, with Sam in his hold. There was no time to lose, he needed to help dad and Sammy.

An officer appeared before him and Dean coughed and tried to shove him off his path. Strong arms clinched him to his place while the uniformed man fired a battery of questions to Tom. Dean tried desperately to see what was happening by the barn door.

Tom started talking breathlessly. Dean only got snippets of what he was saying: 'hired them to help out, the young kid was getting a shovel and all hell broke loose, never seen anything like it, he was all torn up, lying under a cabinet, crushed'. Dean's eyes were trained on the EMTs taking Sam from dad's arms, laying him on a gurney. One cutting off his clothes while another was sticking a tube into his brother's throat. Dean's fingers dug into the arms of the man blocking him, trying again to shove him out of the way.

“Dean was in there too, you gotta get him some oxygen! There are chemicals in there! I thought the whole place was gonna blow up before John got the kid out of there.” Tom's voice droned on while a paramedic appeared at Dean's side and pushed an oxygen mask over his face. Dean grabbed the paramedic, shoving him to the side and craned his head to see Sam and dad. Dad was being helped away from the door, a mask was placed on his face and a third EMT carried the oxygen tank and dragged dad away from Sam. Dad's hand reached out for Sam but he was brusquely pushed back when yet another figure appeared at Sam's gurney.

Dean was not about to leave Sam all alone. He pulled the mask off his face and turned to the paramedic. “I need to get to Sammy!”

“Not now son,” the elderly man replied. “I'm going to take you to the rig and have you sit down. You need to clear the smoke from your lungs before you keel over. Tom, you better tag along too, not looking too good yourself! Nate, I need some help here!”

Sam was being turned to his side, strapped in place while air was pumped into his lungs and IV-tubes were inserted in his arms and neck. Dean could hear the loud voices calling for blood because the kid was bleeding out and he was in respiratory distress and throwing PVC's. Dean had no idea what half of it meant but the rushed moves of the personnel and their strained faces were indicative enough for Dean to understand that Sam was just as badly off as he had feared. Everything was so muddled up in Dean's brain that he didn't understand half of what was happening. Orders flew in the air, mixed with the sounds of the running engines and the roar of the fire now being tamed by firemen. He wasn't able to divert his eyes from Sam on the gurney; what was visible of his face was smeared with blood and his skin was so ghastly white. Almost bluish. His chest was now exposed to the chill and it looked so frail, and only one side was moving slightly. The paramedics that were handling his brother all had gloves smeared with the blood pulsing out of his little brother. Too much blood. How could anybody survive that kind of blood-loss? The metal pegs had penetrated his little brother, been driven right into him with force.

The world started whirling slowly before Dean's eyes. He sucked in air, needing to stay clear headed and understand what was happening, just in case Sam needed his help. Dean wanted Sam to open his eyes and call out for him. Call him a jerk. Laugh at him for nearly fainting, like a fucking chick. Make an accusatory bitch-face at him, anything!

When Sam's head was tilted back and a neck-brace put on him, it reminded Dean of the cord around Sammy's neck. He threw the oxygen mask to the ground and started pushing toward the gurney, wanting to just see Sammy up close. Convince himself that Sam was alive, that there was hope still. His heart was pounding in his throat, his legs felt shaky and useless when he arrived close enough to see that Sam's eyelids were closed with cotton tape.

Bile rose and burned in his throat, his heart threatening to explode inside his chest and he fell to his knees, swallowing convulsively.

Somebody lifted him up and dragged him to the side, forcing him down to sit on the metal stairs of the second rig.

“Dean? I'm Nate, we're going to transport your brother now You and your father will take be taken to the hospital with this ambulance as soon as we get your brother on the road. You need to be checked out in the ER. We'll let you know how your brother is faring when we get him evaluated. It may take hours because he needs exploratory surgery. Wait here until we get your brother out of here
and then someone will help you get settled for transport. Your father is talking to the Doc, he'll join you in a while.

“It's Sam,” Dean croaked.

“Excuse me?” The medic sounded confused.

“His name is Sam and he doesn't like to be called Sammy. Just Sam.”

“I'll remember that,” the man said in a soft voice. “You should rest now and we'll take you in asap. Want to lie down?”

Dean shook his head and watched Sammy, covered in an orange quilt, being lifted into the other ambulance. The EMTs following the gurney inside were carrying multiple bags of fluids and blood. The doors closed on Sam and the sirens cut through every fibers in Dean's body when his eyes followed the rig's speedy launch off the yard.

“Sammy!” He exhaled, the memory of the pale face haunting him. He looked down on his hands, still soiled with his brother's blood. The image of Sam on the floor, an electric cord pulled tight around his neck, the wrist broken and nestled in an odd angle against his face, was like etched to his retinas. He'd give anything to have Sam live; his own life was nothing in comparison and if he could trade places with Sam right now, he'd do it in a blink of an eye. He'd willingly join a monastery if that meant Sam would live. He'd give away the Impala, sell his soul, anything. “God, please!” he mumbled, desperate for a higher power to see his brother through this. He didn't believe there was a god, didn't think he ever had. But he prayed all the same, just in case somebody was listening.

“Son, time to go! We have to get to Sam.”

His father's voice was hoarse and raw, naked pain lingering between the words and Dean rose as on cue when dad's hand curled around his shoulder.


John had become a master at keeping his emotions in check, pushing them to the back and focusing on what needed to be done. Sam was one of the few that had an uncanny ability to creep under his skin and have him lose that precious control. Ever since he was a little, Sammy seemed to look right through him and find his weakest spots. John was absolutely certain that his son knew all about him while he felt he knew next to nothing about Sam. The kid hid in plain view; the openness he exhibited at times was only an illusion. John knew that Sam was something of a mystery, always had been. And the things he was learning were scaring him. Not of Sam, but for him. His son seemed a very gentle soul and that contrasted so darkly with what John was discovering that he sometimes felt like going insane. He wouldn't believe any of it, if it weren't for what happened to Mary.

Now, he just didn't know any longer.

And not knowing was the hardest thing.

Like now, sitting by Dean's side in the ambulance, watching his eldest slumped forward, eyes trained on his own hands, soiled with his brother's blood. He had no idea how to console Dean now, no idea what to do to make this better. John was one that fixed things, set them straight. But what was happening now was beyond his powers. It felt just like the night Mary had -.

“As soon as they check you out at the ER, I'm getting us some food, Dean. You must be starving.” John spoke, soberly tuning in on what was fixable.

Dean's head jerked up and looked at him with stunned surprise. His mouth opened, eyes wide with disbelief and anger. John noticed that Dean's hands fisted, hard. Bit then the ambulance swerved into the ambulance bay, siren shutting down and Dean stood up, took three long but wobbly strides to the lateral door and jerked at the door-handle.

John sat there. Petrified of what he was going to meet inside. A stern doctor that announced that Sammy had died en route? A secretary that had found out that the Kulicks insurance didn't cover Sam like Louise had told the EMTs and that they needed to find another hospital for his son? That his son was brain-dead, on life-support and he needed to let them pull the plug?

When the driver finally opened the door from the outside and reached in to steady Dean, John rose to his feet to follow his son inside and get him the help he needed. Dean was all scratched up from the glass-splinters. Dean's face was fixable. That was what he had to concentrate on now.

He walked up to flank Dean, gripping his upper arm, helping the paramedic to make him slow down.

“Son, somebody's gonna look at your cuts. Just slow down. Will you?”

Dean stopped in his tracks, slowly turning around with eyes blazing with anger. His jaw muscles working and his hands fisting when he searched for words.

“Dad! Sam's not going to be alone with this! I'll be with him every step of the way.”

John was taken back with the resentment and ire that Dean directed at him. He let go of his hold, took a step back and told the paramedic to take them to Sam Winchester.

When the two men started walking, John fell back and cold sweat ran down his back.

He couldn't put this on Dean's shoulders, not this time. But he was not sure be would be able to hold it together and Dean would see what a man John Winchester really was; a coward.


Dean was taken to the ER waiting room and told to wait. That's when the panic took over. The moment the paramedic left, Dean was walking the long and dwindling corridors of the ER, looking into every examination room. Staring at every face he met to see if there was anyone he recognized from before. Bumping into nurses that tried to stop him.

He had to draw deep breaths; it seemed that the air didn't reach his lungs anymore. When he turned a corner, he spotted a door flung wide open and people hurriedly filing in and out. Machinery was pulled in and voices ordered tests in continuation.

Heavy steps closed in on him and he felt a hand on his elbow. His father gruffed something about quitting to run off.

“Sammy's in there,” Dean said, absolutely certain. Dad still kept his hand curled around his elbow when they made their way to the door. He sensed dad's hand shivering when they stopped and took in the sight through the window.

Sam was still on his side, face covered with the mask. A woman holding one hand on his brow, the other on his shoulder. Dean only registered snippets of what was happening; images slammed in to his brain one by one. The next that registered was Sam's chest, covered with what looked like angry red welts. Sam being moved over to another gurney, propped up to lie slumped over, bent forward and a gloved hand pressing on his back.

Dean closed his eyes and swayed on his feet. The sounds of Sam's heart beat were too fast and too irregular and all numbers on the screen were blinking in orange and red. He wasn't able to comprehend the words spoken inside the room, the scream inside his head was too loud.

“Step back!” John ordered and pulled Dean flush against the wall.

When Dean opened his eyes, he saw Sam being wheeled out of the room towards the open elevator straight across the isle. Metal slammed against the walls, the heavy sighs of the vent felt like punches and the fast orders between the white and green clad figures bounced off the walls and echoed in Dean's head. Like bells of doom.

“Sam!” He finally got the word out when the elevator door closed and left them behind.

“You Sam Winchester's family?” Someone asked at his side but Dean was unable to stop staring at the closed door.

“I'm his father, and Dean's his brother.”

Dad's voice sounded shell-shocked and when Dean looked at him, he was rattled to his core.
Dad's face was nearly as white as Sam's. Lips pressed into a thin bloodless line and his brow was wrinkled, turning the usually stoic features into a grimace of absolute horror and pain over what he just had witnessed.

Neither of them seemed capable of speech. Dean had long since lost the ability of rational thought; everywhere he looked, Sam's prone figure flashed before his eyes. The blood and the cord strapped around his neck, Sam with a tube down his throat and Sam being dragged over to the gurney, offering no resistance, no signs of life. He rubbed his eyes in a desperate trial to rid himself of the images.

“Let's find somewhere to talk, would you follow me, please? We need to assess you too, run some tests to ensure that you're not going to suffer long-term consequences by the smoke-inhalation.” The voice continued and Dean finally steeled himself enough to turn and watch the face of the speaker, expecting to see hopelessness and defeat.

The woman's face was absolutely blank, revealing nothing. And somehow Dean found that worse than an actual show of emotion, any emotion. He looked at the woman; graying hair and reading glasses, sharp eyes watching him intently before she moved her gaze to John, standing still behind him.

“This way,” she said and Dean followed without question.

She stopped three doors down and beaconed them inside an examination room with two simple stretchers aside each other. The light was sharp and white and Dean felt the room starting to suck the air out of his lungs.

“Sit down, Dean. Head between your knees! You too Mr. Winchester.” Hands on his shoulders pushed him backwards until the back of his legs felt the bed's metal frame and he clumsily hoisted himself up to sit. Then his head was forced down and held there. And that's when he realized he must really have been out of it because he didn't even find it in himself to protest. Slowly his head cleared and he actually made sense of his surroundings. The doc, whose name he hadn't even noticed was telling somebody what tests she wanted and to start with John Winchester because she really didn't like the sound of his breathing.

Dean pulled his head up and looked over at his father. Lying on the stretcher with an oxygen cannula under his nose. “Dad?”

“I'm fine, Dean. Nothing wrong with my breathing. You just keep that head down because you look about ready to faint.” Dad was looking at him, eyes narrow, investigating slits.

“We'll see who faints first when they pull out the big ass needles to draw blood!”

The the sadist female doc pushed him down to lie on the white paper sheet and hooked him up too.

“It's always the toughest that fall the hardest,” she stated with a totally non-committal voice as she pulled a chair from the wall and seated herself between the gurneys while a nurse stepped in and filled a couple of test tubes with their blood. It fucking hurt and Dean wondered how many times Sam would be prodded before all this was over?

“You want us lying down before you tell us about Sam? That it?” He just had to ask.

”I want you lying down because I'm going to get the glass splinters off your face and check your breathing. I can't tell you anything about Sam right now, except that he was still alive when he was taken to the OR. We will get word if something drastic happens, until then, I intend on taking care of you and your father.”

A syringe appeared in her hand and Dean scowled: “What the hell is that?”

“A mild sedative, I've seen bigger boys than you crash.”

Dean got the feeling that you didn't play with this dame or she'd have you on psych eval and committed for bad-assery in no time.

“Sam's the girl of the family, he mopes right up there with the best of them.” Dean started but the usually handy quips failed him. What the fuck was he jabbering about? Sam had taken steel pegs and a fucking cabinet after being half choked to death and was still fighting! Sam had gone after whatever hell was in that ancient barn turned to storage-slash-carpentry-slash-ghoul nest and fought with whatever he could find in there. He'd lain under all that weight, and still refused to quit before the fucking thing was dead and gone!

He must have made a sound because the small tweezers made a stop in the air and the doc looked at him. “Only two left, then you'll be as good as new.”

He closed his eyes under the harsh light; he's rather have his face and ass full of splinters as long as Sam made it. At least that pain would be more durable than the fucking fear that made him want to scream and kick. He couldn't help Sammy now, wasn't able to do anything but wait and see and trust Sam to pull through this. It was not that he didn't trust his little brother, he did. Sam was the most stubborn son of a bitch he knew, even worse than dad at times. But it wasn't all up to Sammy now, and that drove Dean crazy. No evil had ever scared him like the thought of losing Sammy did.

There were steps approaching and Dean opened his eyes and held his breath. A nurse was handing the doc a small stack of papers and Dean felt the panic flare through him. Sammy?

His fingers gripped the edge of the bed, his heart pounded and he had to actively suffocate the will to scream.

“Good news,” the doctor nodded content. “Your lab results are fine and your 0-stats are holding. There's no residual effect of the smoke inhalation.“

Dean stared. Did the woman think he cared about any of that? He'd been promised news about Sam! The more the bitch dragged out on telling them, the crazier he got. If she didn't spill soon, he'd be taking the stairs and finding Sam by himself. Banging down every door, to find out what was going on.

“And Sam? Why is there no word?” Dad's voice was irritated enough to send the nurse swabbing his face with sterilizing liquid to take a hurried step back. When she wanted to continue the task, dad gave her one of his patented stares of death and she turned on her heels and walked out.

“I won't lie to you, it doesn't look good. I m in fact amazed he made it to the hospital with the blood loss he'd suffered. He was in hypovolemic shock and his heart was suffering from the strain. We had a pretty good idea that one vein was nicked by the steel peg and we were right, luckily it seems the metal served as a tamponad, otherwise he would have died right away. This way the injury had time to start the coagulating process and slowed the bleeding enough for us to counter with transfusions.”

She looked up from the last document.

Dad pulled himself up to a sitting position, hands rubbing his face. “I nearly killed him by pulling that junk off him?”

“I don't think you had any alternative. From what I hear it was either that or your son would have died in the fire.”

The images of Sam whirled before Dean's eyes and he sank back. Staring up into the light nearly blinding him.

“There's still some internal bleeding. And that is the major problem in the OR right now. We have two teams working on him to prevent keeping him under for too long in his weakened state.”

She paused, turning the page.

“One of his lung was pierced and collapsed. There's bound to be more internal injuries but that's what they've found so far. His shoulder is dislocated and his left collar bone is broken, as are several of his ribs and his wrist. Babinski was negative so there should not be any major neurological damage. His reflexes were weak but still present so we don't expect any spinal cord injuries. It is touch and go, will probably remain so for a couple of days if he survives the surgery. The good thing is that he is young, in very good shape and his coagulation is excellent. Sam may come out of this with flying colors, it's only a question of how strong he is. The main concern will be infections and averse effects of the transfusions if he survives the surgery. The rest can be fixed.”

Dean had to swallow and close his eyes. Silence settled in the room, a screaming silence, filled with questions he wasn't able to articulate. The rustle of paper had him turn his head and watch his father. Without a word John rose and walked out of the room, never looking back.

“Dad?” Dean crawled up into a sitting position.

“Sir?” The doctor inquired.

Dean's eyes followed his stride until John turned the corner and was out of sight. Then Dean rid himself of the nasal cannula and stood up, facing the doctor.

“I need to get to Sam,” he declared. “I need to be close in case something happens.”

“Your brother will be in the OR for hours, you should get some rest.” She tilted her head to the side, watching him with the intent grayish eyes, like he were a guinea pig in a maze, stamina and resilience tested. When she opened her mouth to continue, Dean cut her off with words spoken in a tone that tolerated no discussion.

“Where's Sammy?”

John didn't stop until he was out of the ER, away from the stench of sterilizing liquids, freed from the harsh light baring his fears for everyone to see, naked and revealed. There was nothing but an anger so fierce it almost choked him. That thing, had almost taken his son and made him, the father, the supposed protector to take actions that nearly ended his son's life. If Sam did die, he'd have his son's blood on his hands in more ways than one. Maybe he should have listened to Sam, done more research? He definitely shouldn't have let Sam wander off all on his own. Sam wasn't Dean; Sam didn't take well to orders. Sam questioned, Sam needed to understand the whys. John had never had the patience for that, you never asked why when lives where at stake. He'd been to late to save Mary, he had stood there, wondering why blood dripped off the ceiling and onto his son? Those precious seconds of pondering had sealed Mary's fate.

He hadn't hesitated to act since. Reflection was a waste of time when in danger. But this time, maybe he should have stopped and figured things out? Maybe they should have concentrated on killing the fire? At least until help arrived?

If they lost Sammy, those questions would be haunting him for the rest of his life, just like the guilt of Mary's death was his daily companion.

He didn't stop until he reached the parking lot, suddenly remembering that he had no car, had no means of transportation at all. What he wanted right now was to get back to the house and make sure the bastard of a spirit that was responsible for Sam's desperate clinging to life, was gone, destroyed. The need to do something, something that actually made a difference was making him fist his hands, much like Dean had before, over and over. His entire body was screaming for revenge, the anger was more pure now than after Mary had died, because this time he knew. Those things were out there, hiding in the darkness, lingering in the shadows, to come out to take lives and destroy families. He wanted them all eradicated. Once and for all.

And here he was, stranded, the sun rising at the horizon and his son fighting for his life inside, while he was helpless to do anything that mattered. He'd lost track of time, didn't remember how he actually got here, only that he had pushed through herds of people to get out and away. Faces had seemed mere blotches, raised voices had only registered as white noise between his own heavy and rushed heartbeats.

And Dean was left inside. Dean whose face was ashen and drawn with worry for the little brother he had practically raised. The only person in his life that was always there, brooding and sullen at times, but always present. John knew painfully well that he wasn't, and hadn't ever been, the model parent.

At least that was something he could fix, this time he'd be there for Dean. He scanned the surroundings in search of a diner, a hamburger joint or anything that would provide him with an alibi. That would be his little white lie; he hadn't made a run for it, he'd gone to get food.

Dean would probably not believe him, but he'd never say so. Sam would.

It took John Winchester four hours to find a decent hamburger with bacon and cheese, with onions on the side for his son. He even remembered to get some pie.

Dean woke with a start when a hand landed on his shoulder. He'd fallen asleep on the couch in the OR waiting room, the last reserve of his energy finally depleted. The cops arriving to ask him questions had jarred him, not that he didn't expect there to be an inquest but their interest in Sam was unnerving. The repeated questioning on why a sixteen year old was working at night, if it happened often and what kind of work they really did and how they got along with their father was not the line of questions Dean was expecting. Neither was the older female officer's faked sympathy. To Dean it seemed she was fishing for intel, wanting to nail them for just about anything. The fact that he couldn't tell them where dad was had made the officer scribble furiously in a notebook. The entire thing felt fishy. Sure, if they started looking at Sam's multiple moves to different locations, dug into his school's health-care, they wouldn't be too happy. Dean still remembered the time they got the call from the couch, wondering where Sam had got all his bruises from at the age of twelve. They had moved out of town that same night. Sam had had one of his growing spurts and he kept falling over his own feet during training. And then there had been the occasional encounter with some evil son of a bitch that they hadn't been able to keep Sam safe from. Their records didn't look good, he knew that. And Sam was still a minor.

There had been no news in hours about Sam and while he sat there, waiting, nauseated and oddly numb thanks to the medication, he'd finally had to cave, unable fight the exhaustion.

He blinked up at John, standing there with a take-out bag in his hand, like it was an ordinary day.

“Where were you?” His voice was gravelly and full of accusation while he glanced at the clock on the wall.

“Went to get some food.” His father's voice was non-committal and Dean snorted in disbelief.

“Sam's still alive by the way, ” he spoke, unable to hide the bitter anger in his voice. “Not much more than barely, last I heard.”

“I know, talked to a nurse.” John sat down heavily, placing the bag on the table. “Might be hours still. Depending on if there's more bleeding. Can't keep him under much longer, he's too weak for that. Told me to pray.”

That's when Dean noticed that his father smelled of cheap whiskey. He groaned inwardly. “Eat something, dad. You're gonna need it.”

He couldn't stand it any longer and stood up, walking the vending machine, digging for cash in his pocket. This was the sure sign that dad was falling apart and he needed to stop the downward spiral fast. Last time he remembered dad resorting to drinking was when he got home from a hunt, all banged up and tight-lipped with a sense of doom hanging over him for weeks. Dean never got to know what had happened.

He pushed the button for a double espresso, tapping his fingers impatiently against the fancy colored front of the vending machine. When he tasted the concoction, it was just as bad as he thought, but strong. He sipped on his own while he waited for the second dose of caffeinated venom, glancing over at the couch and dad. Watching dad sit slumped over, desolated, had the images of Sam, those he'd been actively suppressing, wash over him, ruthlessly. Like a punch to his guts.

His hand trembled, making the coffee splash over his fingers. Gritting his teeth, he walked over and extended the Styrofoam cup to his father. “Drink up! We gotta stay sharp, for Sam, remember? The cops questioned me, they're looking for you.”

“I figured as much, you know what that means, don't you?” His father looked pointedly at him.

“That child-services are sharpening their pencils and we need to get Sam out of here.”

John nodded and opened the paper bag. “Eat!”

And Dean did. He chewed on the burger, tasteless like cardboard, growing in his mouth until he had to force himself to swallow. Was this what it was going to be like without Sam? Would the two of them grow to hate each other, blaming one another for what happened? Would they end up talking with monosyllabic words thrown in each others faces? Would he ever be able to look at dad and not remember Sam? Would he only remember Sam all beaten up and dying? How would they be able to move Sam without risking his life if he made it through surgery? This was hell, nothing else than pure hell. They risked losing Sam either way. To death or to the system.

He dropped the half-eaten burger back into the bag, suppressing the gagging reflex.


“Not hungry, dad. What are you going to tell the cops? How do we keep them from digging in to our history when they get wind of Sam's earlier injuries? He's a minor dad, they will have a field day with this.” He rested his face in his palms, trying to quell the nausea, shaking his head. “I just keep seeing Sam under all that stuff in there. Why did I let him take off all alone? Why didn't I give him the fucking shovel when he asked for it? If I'd done that, none of this would have happened! Dad, we made him feel useless, having him stand there doing nothing but holding that fucking flashlight. I was just jerkin' him around!”

“He was given an order, Dean, and he disobeyed.” John's eyes were blank and directed at the Styrofoam cup.

Something exploded inside Dean, an anger so searing that he had to gasp for air. Right in that instance he wanted to lash out, scream at their father, remind him of the gravity of the situation. What the fuck was wrong with the man? This was no the time to give him lectures, drilling the importance of disciplined warfare into him. “Sam's no Marine, dad, he's my little brother and your son!”

“Dean, I love Sammy, you know that. But this wasn't your fault. He did disobey an order, that's the fact. I'm not saying this is all his fault, but it is a consequence of disobeying a direct order.”

Dean turned to look at his father, the anger bristling inside of him, threatening to consume him. “Or maybe we should have listened to him when he tried to tell us our plan may be wrong, that we needed to do more research?”

“No Dean, you're wrong. I should have listened to him, I should have helped him do the research. I didn't and now Sam's fighting for his life. Don't you think I know that? Don't you know I'll be carrying this with me for the rest of my life? I failed him, Dean, not you. And if we lose him,” he paused, diverting his eyes to the floor. “Losing Sam's not an option Dean, we have to do anything it takes to keep him with us. Anything!”

The silence that followed was stifling and Dean's anger abated in the face of their father's remorse.

“I'll take care of this son. I'll fix this.”

Dean nodded, wanting to believe dad so desperately. But whichever way he looked, chances were that this time, they were in over their heads. Watching dad's slumped figure, eyes now focused on the pattern of the linoleum, face creased with concern, Dean leaned his head against the wall and closed his eyes.

They didn't speak for hours, they just sat there, captured in their own personal limbo.

When steps finally came their way, Dean nervously shifted his eyes to the right. The surgeon approaching had missed a spot of what was undeniably Sam's blood on her green pants. The top seemed new and pristine and Dean wondered what the scrubs she'd changed out of had looked like?

“Winchester?” The woman stopped a few feet away, looking at them with tired eyes.

Dean merely nodded, his mouth going so dry that his tongue seemed glued to his palate. In the corner of his eyes, he watched his father rise to his feet. Jaw clenched tight.

“I'm Claudine Nessler, the surgeon in charge of Sam Winchester.” She paused and studied them both, as if estimating how much they could handle. “Sam is now in post-op and will shortly be moved to the ICU. He's going to be closely monitored for some days due to his internal injuries. If he makes it through the first twenty-four hours, chances are that he will survive. He will obviously be heavily medicated and sedated, so do not expect him to be coherent or even awake. I don't want you to be scared when you see him; he's not a pretty sight right now. Our main concern is to keep his organs from collapsing, and that is what we will be concentrating on. He has minor traumas to his liver and one kidney, but they will, with proper medication, heal with time. He's proved to be strong so I hold more hopes now than I initially did. Now it's just a question of time and getting him through the first days. We won't be able to check his neurological status before he's completely coherent, but it looks promising. Doesn't seem like his brain was starved for oxygen for too long.”

“Can we see him?” Dad's voice was low and gravelly. Dean didn't find his own.

Doctor Nessler nodded. “Only briefly. I'll have nurse Logan take you to him when he's settled. Then I'd suggest you go home to rest, someone will phone you if there's a change in Sam's condition.”

“Thank you,” John croaked and Dean's leg gave in and he sank back onto he coach, trying to steel himself for what he was going to see. He was torn, he wanted to see that Sam was alive and breathing, just to get those images of him lying in the dirt, half choked to death, out of his mind. But if he was going to get a new set of Sam beaten into a bloody pulp and hooked up to machines, only to have Sammy die on him in the end, he wasn't sure he'd cope. He just wasn't sure he'd cope, period. He wanted this to be a fucking nightmare and Sam to wake him up and tell him to get a fucking grip already.

When the nurse arrived to escort them, Dean had to fight himself to follow instead of running to plant a fist through the wall or throw a chair through the window. Maybe kick the TV, with the crappy talk shows running on endlessly, into oblivion. Like this fucking reality he was currently stuck in and couldn't turn off.

But he bit down, focused on the back of the nurse's head and followed.

Then he stood there, at the side of Sam's bed and his breath hitched painfully. Sam was covered in bandages, and the parts that were not, were covered in multi-colored bruises. Dean noted with relief that Sam's eyes were no longer taped shut, that the blood had been washed off the pale face and even his hair had been rinsed and combed. And that was what had tears prick behind his eyelids; Sam's bangs falling all wrong over his forehead.

His fingers strayed there by themselves, shifting a strand to the left, the way it fell by itself when Sam was all right. The bruised skin was warm against his fingertips, but Sam didn't wake up and throw him a glare for being a fucking sentimental whack-job. Dean shifted slightly, letting his eyes run down the too still form under the cover. The only part that didn't have any tubes or lines were his fingers, sticking out from the cast. Sam's knuckles were scraped and Dean ran the pad of his thumb over the raw skin. The fingers were cool to his touch and Dean's voice broke when he finally spoke: “Jesus, Sammy!”

He lifted his eyes at the sudden, brusque movement of his father, standing at the opposite side of the bed and watched John pivot and walk out.

John stalked out, for the second time in just one day. But this time he had an actual goal; the nearest restroom. The sign at the end of the corridor felt like a blessing as he repeatedly swallowed down the sour taste of already ingested coffee and booze rising in his throat. Cold sweat was dripping off his forehead, burning in his eyes when he stumbled inside the booth.

John Winchester threw up, emptied his stomach thoroughly, sinking to his knees by the stool, heaving until there was nothing left. What had rippled through his brain back in that room had made what he so actively was trying to suppress, surface like a vengeance. For just a second, when he watched his youngest, beaten and broken, he had thought that maybe it had been better if Sam had been allowed to die. That it would have been better if he'd held him close and let him go gently, without pain. Maybe, just maybe, there was a heaven? Maybe Mary would have been there to take Sammy into her arms and heal him? He wanted to believe . But after having hunted as long as he had, he'd lost all hope of any goodness, any exit from all the evil. And seeing Sammy like that, knowing the kind of pain he'd have to sustain before he was well again, that was if he actually did pull through, was too much to bear. The kid didn't have one patch of skin that wasn't bruised! And the internal injuries? Breathing alone was going to cause him pain. And the way they currently lived? Fourth floor without an elevator? Crammed up in a two room apartment with a tiny kitchenette? With the water brownish and smelly? Most of the windows that wouldn't even open? He'd have to find somewhere decent to live, he just couldn't take Sammy back to that place. He'd have to settle until Sam was back on his feet, find a job to get Sam the medical care he needed, just plain stick around. And that would mean that they'd grate each other's nerves constantly. They always did.

And for that he had wished his son to die? He'd turned into one of the monsters he hunted, he'd become less than human. Sam was his son and he loved him despite all and that thought, that Sam would have been better off dead had actually crossed his mind? Who was he to wonder if the snippets of intel about Sam being different, Sam maybe turning into something evil, were true? He himself had crossed that line inside that hospital room, crossed the line into the dark side without any possible destiny aiding him in the crossing.

He'd wished his son would die, how would he ever be able to face Sam again?

Dean looked at his brother through the window. All they had given him were five minutes, five! Rules and regulation they'd said, and that he'd be welcome back tomorrow, during visiting hours. They kept telling him Sammy might die and then they give him five fucking minutes? He had a lot to say to Sammy, loads of things he'd never said before. The words just wouldn't come out in freakin' five minutes. The words still alluded him, but the desperate need to keep Sam with them was constantly present. The more hope he got, the more crazy he felt at the thought of Sammy disappearing on him. Little brothers don't die, they hang around long enough to mock you in your old age. Little brothers are there to be instructed by awesome, older brothers. They're there to be impressed and in awe. Not that Sam was ever too impressed, but he was fucking there. He was the one constant in Dean's life. Wordlessly rolling his eyes at him, dramatically sighing and casting weird glances when he thought Dean was being a pain in the ass. He was there to discuss different chicks' degree of hotness, even if they totally disagreed on what was hot. Sam was such a nerd that he went for geek-girls, the brainy things that half bored Dean to death. Sam was always there, going all twitchy when nervous, all suspiciously vigilant after a prank or hilariously bitchy, brooding and incredibly sharp in his observations. That was all his Sammy, and so much more Dean hadn't yet fully discovered about him. Because Sam really was capable of hiding in plain sight.

Dean jumped when a hand nudged his elbow.


A nurse he'd never seen before as standing at his side, looking at him. He nodded, still not finding words.

“There's a phone call waiting for you at the nurses' desk. Louise Kulick. She says she has been trying to call but gets no answer. Will you take the call?”

With a look to Sam, he nodded and followed.

Louise Kulick sounded weird on the phone. Like she regretted disturbing them. Her voice shook when she asked how Sam was doing. Dean only gruffed 'fine' into the phone and didn't elaborate. Louise took the hint.

“I have your car here, I figured, I mean if you need it I can leave the key at the ER or something.”

Dean finally managed to formulate a 'thank you', which came out more scratchy and gravelly than he had expected.

Louise was silent for a moment, clearly wondering how to continue without putting her foot in her mouth. “I was thinking, that maybe, while you wait for Sam to get better you'd like a room or something? Our doors are always open but I,” she swallowed. “I guess you're not so interested in seeing the place again so I thought I'd get you a room here in town, closer to the hospital?”

“We already have a room,” Dean cracked.

“Oh, well then -. “ There was another long pause before she continued, sounding guilty, words rushing out of her in penance. “Look, me and Tom are so sorry for what happened, and anything you need, you just call us. Anything. We want to pay for that room, as long as you need to stay for Sam to get better. I mean. I can't begin to tell you how sad I am about all this. We never wanted anyone to get hurt! If you need some rest, I'll sit with Sam, I know it's not the same but -.”

“We're fine,” Dean replied curtly.

“You don't understand! I need to help. I keep seeing Sam on that gurney, all – . I was talking to him before, he was so polite, you know. I have sons, and just thinking if it were -. I need to help out! Anything, please!”

She sounded like she was close to tears and Dean realized that Sam had gotten to them. He'd made an impression, he'd do that sometimes. Swipe people off their feet without ever knowing he did it. Probably gave her the puppy eyes of doom. That did it every time.

“'Kay,” he said. “I'll be at the Er's information desk in a minute. Just stay put, I'll find you.”

He hung up before she could answer, her pleas were tugging at his very soul. He should go look for John but instead he walked back to Sam's room and pressed his fingers to the window pane.

“Don't you dare go anywhere while I'm gone, Sammy! You hearing that? You stay right here or I'll smack you!”

When he turned to walk away, he wondered if he was going to regret leaving for the rest of his life? Maybe he should have asked Louise to bring the key to him instead? He just didn't want anyone to see Sam this vulnerable. Sammy would hate it, he wasn't a control freak for nothing. Dean stuck his hands in his coat pockets, just like Sam always did when he stalked off. And Dean wanted all that back, all the stupid things his brother did!


John groaned when he rinsed his face with cold water, he was long overdo for a change of clothes and a shower or he'd be considered a biological hazard. Dean needed it too, and some food. He'd barely eaten anything of the burgers John had gotten. He needed to take care of Dean right now, before he crashed. Looking at himself in the mirror, John shook his head at the reflexion. The blood-shot eyes and the haggard, pale look on his face made him think of vampires.

Walking out to the restroom, he held his head down, staying close to the wall. The need to stay under the radar was so imprinted in him that it took over with automation every time he was inside any public building. But his eyes scanned every angle and corner. Stopping at the door to Sam's room, he knitted his brow. Dean was nowhere to be seen and that was one ting he hadn't expected.

It wasn't any easier looking at Sam now. It was worse. Sam seemed to be in distress; John picked up on the minute movements of the fingers on his right hand. The tubes almost covered them but it was there, not more than a quiver. Sam seemed tense and in pain and John jerked the door open.

Laying a hand on his son's brow, feeling for a fever, he jumped at Sam's eyes suddenly opening to a small crack. A spasm ran through Sam's body and tears welled from under the dark lashes. John looked to the door, expecting someone to have noticed the changes and come charging in. It sounded like Sam was fighting the vent, not quite awake but clearly very distressed.

“I need help in here!” He bellowed, scrambling for the call-button. When he looked back to Sam, he was met with confused and panicked eyes, pupils blown and his son's hand was twitching repeatedly. Then Sam blinked and his eyes hazed over with pain and one of the machines his son was connected to started beeping with alarm.

It was the stabbing pain that finally brought him through the darkness that wouldn't let go. The pressure on his chest had him fight it and try to move away from the harsh wind filling his lungs. It was abrasively torrid and damned uncomfortable. He tried to turn his head away but was unable to do so. That was just so wrong that he reflexively worked to get away from whatever was holding him down and clawing at his chest. That was when pain exploded in every fiber of his body. From having been just a dull, throbbing ache it spread like burning fire. His eyes shot open to meet a fuzzy gray. It slowly started to clear at the edges, rendering distorted lines and swimming black dots. He blinked, trying to clear his vision. Every time the wind blew, someone stabbed him. He fought against it with all he had, trying to get away from whatever thing was having a go at him.

Then someone hollered angrily for help and his eyes searched the figure out. It sounded like dad and he was pissed. Where was Dean? His dad was never there, Dean was. And if Dean wasn't -. Panic surged through him. Had something happened to Dean? Was he the cause and that was why dad sounded so pissed at him? What had he done? Dean? He coughed, vision was blacking out while something kept trying to push him down. There was a wail in the room, thickening the fog in his head. Voices washed over him, calm and soothing. He was too tired to try and understand, all he wanted to know was where Dean was. Was he all right? He could take anything as long as Dean was all right.

He tensed in pain when something was pulled out of his throat, leaving it burning before the softer air suddenly streamed into his lungs. He gasped for more, trying to clear his head. Dean. Ask for Dean! The pain started to fade, along with his capacity to think. He just needed to tell dad he was sorry. About the mess, about Dean, about everything. Nobody seemed to be paying attention, the voices sailed around him, soft and elusive. One last time he tried to formulate the one word most important to him right now: Dean. The unknown voice sent him back to the darkness.

John was pushed out of the way, to the far wall when the room filled with white and blue-clad personnel.

His eyes were on Sam, fighting the vent and the snippets of rushed words '0 sat sinking, cramps, need to de-tube him, push some muscle relaxant, temp rising, get the tube out now!' mingled with one of the physicians' calling out his son's name to get his attention. Sam's pulse rose and John heart beat with it. The numbers on the monitor turned from orange to red and another alarm went off.

Then the vent was out and Sam gasped for air with a low raspy whimper.

The physician dispatched orders without taking her eyes off Sam. “Give him humidified oxygen at 80 percent, let's see if he stabilizes with a mask. And push some atropine and pain meds! It's all right Sam, you had a tube in your throat to help you breathe. It's all right, just concentrate on breathing in and out slowly now. I've given you something to ease the pain. Try to relax, we're here to help you. No, don't try to talk, it'll only hurt you right now. Add 2 of Droperidol to the IV!”

John's eyes were fixed at the monitor, heart beating in his throat. Slowly the numbers changed and finally they returned to orange and the alarms ceased.

“That's it Sam, the meds are starting to work and you won't feel pain now. A nurse will stay right here with you. It's all right, Sam. Just go to sleep and we'll take care of you.”

She stepped back and turned to the nurse at her side. “Stay with him, re-run the post-op tests and check his fever every five minutes. Call me if it shows tendencies to rise. We can't risk that to happen.”

“What was he trying to say?” The nurse asked, her fingers checking that the oxygen mask was in place.

“I don't know, he's still half-delirious. Sounded like 'Dee' something.” The doctor looked back at her patient.

The nurse glanced down at the chart in her hand. “His brother's name is Dean. Cute kid, I talked to him before. A woman called him on the phone and I think he left.”

“At least we know that his neurological status isn't too impaired if he remembers his brother.” The doctor smiled weakly at the nurse before walking out.

John felt like Sam had slapped him.

When his eyes followed the doctor out of the room, he saw Dean and the Kulick woman behind the window. Dean's face was white, his eyes on Sam, lips pressed to a thin line.

John was finally able to move and he took a step forward, trying to get Dean's attention. The nurse by Sam's bed whipped around, startled. “What are you doing here?”

“I'm his father, and if I hadn't been here, nobody would have noticed what was going on with Sam! He was hurting a long time before the equipment notified you. And nobody was here to see it!” He growled, vexed, and took another step towards the nurse. “After what I saw, I'm not leaving Sam alone here.”

“Sir, you shouldn't be in here, visiting hours are over.” She placed herself like a shield between him and the bed.

“I'm staying with my son, I'm staying right here beside him until he's well enough to tell me not to.”

The nurse looked out the window to the corridor, searching for back up. John's followed her desperate gaze and spotted Dean's questioning, doubtful and haunted stare.

John wondered if everybody saw the remnants of the horrid thought that had assaulted him? Was it visible on his face? Was he already marked?

His first instinct was to run, just leave, but instead he steeled himself and walked out of the room to talk to the son that was staring at him with fearful eyes. And Dean didn't scare easily.

“Tell the doctor, or whomever you need to alert, that I'm staying with my son tonight,” he ordered curtly over his shoulder.

Dean had started running the moment he saw the red lamp above Sam's door; white-clad figures filing in hurriedly, slamming the door shut on him. Pressing the palm of his hand to the window, he tried to see what was going on. Sam was spasming, neck tensed back, swallowing around the tube in his throat. He caught the panicked expression, the hand twisting and the crease of pain on Sam's brow. Then a nurse blocked his view and he felt Louise's hands trying to hold him back. His fingers clawed at the glass, his breath faltering until the nurse stepped back and Sam's face was covered with an oxygen mask, the pained expression slowly fading as his body relaxed.

A female doctor was talking to Sam, whose head lolled to the right. The movement caused Dean's heart to jump a beat until he lifted his eyes off Sam and realized that the physician's face showed no alarm and she kept talking to his brother. Not until then did Dean's breathing start to level out.

When the commotion inside the room ebbed out, he noticed his father by the wall; eyes blood-shot and stance close to catatonic. John looked devastated by guilt. Dean felt another wave of fear run through him. What had happened? What had put stoic John in that frame of mind? The moment the nurse turned to him and spoke, John's features changed to one of a deadly hunter's. He bared his teeth, stepping forward like he was ready to attack and Dean instinctively moved backwards, unable to take his eyes off the feral grimness on John's face. There was very little humanity in John's eyes, only barely controlled anger.

Dean wondered if that was what he would look like after a life of hunting? Marginalized from society, appearing downright dangerous? His eyes followed John when he walked out of the room. Suddenly it seemed like the weight of the world was on dad's shoulders, and it struck him how much of dad there was in Sam. A slight obsession of sorts; only that John's was directed at fighting the evil with all means possible, while Sam wanted to understand and conquer without too much blood loss.

“What happened, dad?” He asked when John shut the door behind him.

John shook his head in resign. “I don't know. He just looked so panicked and then he started fighting the vent and his pulse went through the roof. I'm not even sure he was really awake.”

“Just like that?”

“I don't know, when I got here he was twitching and in pain. He looked at me but I don't think he actually saw me. They think he asked for you, but they couldn't make out exactly what he was trying to say.”

Dean felt the room sway before his eyes. Sam had asked for him and he wasn't there! What was Sam remembering, what was he thinking? That they had left him? Was he thinking he'd have to sort all this out on his own?

“I just left for a moment,” Dean mumbled to himself. “I was just getting the key to the car!”

John looked up, surprised , before letting his eyes drift over Dean's shoulders to land on Louise. “Oh.”

“She found Sam's book on the backseat. Geek's so clumsy at times.” Dean had forgotten all about the book Louise had given him the moment she spotted him. The gesture so earnest it had stood out as so mundane in the midst of all the messed up shit Dean was dealing with.

“Dean, take the car, get to the motel and get some rest. I'll stay with Sammy.” John spoke softly.

“No, dad!” Dean shook his head. “ You go, he asked for me. I wanna stay.”

“It's an order. You look like hell, Dean. If Sam sees you like this, you'll scare him.”

Dad was trying to sweet talk him into leaving but his faltering smile was failing him. If anybody would scare the crap out of Sam right now, it was dad. Dean opened his mouth to renew his protest but this time John turned the military stare on him.

Dean sighed, looking at the floor, debating with himself if it was wise to have a round with dad in a hospital corridor? He was sure security would take one look at their gritty appearances and toss them out. “'Kay,” he finally relented, the tiredness aiding him in making the decision not to revolt. “I'll be back first thing in the morning. Keep him safe, will you? Don't let him go anywhere while I'm away, please!”

“I will.”

Dean extended his father the book he had been clutching since Louise gave it to him. “If he gets antsy, read to him, that always works. Just don't start discussing the book, that'll get you in deep.”

“Get some sleep, son” John smiled, sadly amused.

Dean took a last look at his little pain the ass brother through the window and tapped the glass in a salute. Louise walked up to his side, silent as a mouse and Dean raised his eyebrows. He'd almost forgotten she was there.

The woman smiled apologetically. “I'll drive you to the motel and phone for Tom to pick me up. My cell died on me.”

Dean smiled, the woman was a con-artist all right. Of course she'd check that he got to the motel in one piece. She had all the characteristics of a mother hen, he should know, he had them too.

“Thank you,” he smiled his faked, flirty smile at her and she snorted, bemused.

John dragged the plastic chair closer to Sam's bed. The nurse that stepped in to check on Sam turned her head to watch him with guarded eyes. He tried to smile reassuringly at her but it didn't seem to convince her. She checked the device in her hand twice, worrying at her bottom lip.

“Is he developing a fever?” He kept his voice low, watching Sam's face, but it was still relaxed. No signs of discomfort.

“It's slightly raised, but after a surgery like his, it may be his body reacting to the stress. I'll have to check with the doctor.”

John nodded and kept his eyes on Sam until the door slid shut behind the nurse. He then reached out, placing his palm on his son's forehead and yes, he seemed hot. “Oh, Sammy. You need to fight this son, with all you've got. I wish I could take this fight for you, Sammy, but I can't. I'm sorry, Sam.”

When the door creaked and the female doctor strode in, a concerned wrinkle on her brow, he removed his hand to give her room.

She listened to Sam's heart and lungs, frown deepening. John's palms felt sticky of sweat and he just didn't dare ask for a prognosis, even as the doc's face spoke volumes.

She sighed and turned to him, adjusting the stethoscope hanging around her neck. “Sam may be developing pneumonia. The problem is that we already have him on a broad spectrum antibiotic that really should take care of business. I'll give it another couple of hours to kick in, if it doesn't, we'll do a culture to establish what type of infection we are dealing with. I don't want to medicate him too much since his liver and renal functions are already compromised. We really have to tread carefully here, I'm sorry.” It was her turn to try an assuring smile, but she failed just as badly as he had earlier.

John scooted the chair closer to the bed, laying his fingertips gently on Sam's arm, avoiding the bruises and the tubes. Then he looked at the book in his hand, noticing the paper tucked in between the pages.

He opened it at the mark and started reading, voice low and raw. It wasn't for Sam, not really, it was to not go completely stir raving insane. To fill the void with words; Sam had always loved words.

It was two pages into the third chapter, after numerous visits from the nurse and Sam's breathing getting more and more labored that he heard the gasp for air and lifted his eyes. Sam's eyes were wide open, staring into nothing, his breath faltering. John rose from the stool, dropping the book and holding his breath when he heard running in the corridor. Sam's eyes were rolling back just as a crash cart was rolled into the room. He staggered backwards. Hitting the wall hard and the images before his eyes had the bile rise in his throat. Was it time to call Dean now? Was this it? His brain blanked out and all he saw was Sam, struggling for breath and murky liquid running out of his nose.

A long thick needle was being inserted in his son's side, gleaming in the blue light from the device held to his son's bruised skin. The head end was raised and Sam blinked, face strained, when a cough rattled his body.

“It's okay Sam,” the physician consoled. “You've been gathering liquid in your left lung, it was pressing on your right one too, so I'm draining it right now. You'll feel much better as soon as we get it all out. I'm putting you on another antibiotic as soon as the culture is back. You'll breathe easier with your head elevated like this, don't worry. It'll just be for a while, as soon as I get the results back, it'll fix things. Just hang in there.“

Sam's eyes were sliding shut, but he fought to keep them open. John was literally able to see the effort Sam made to adhere to the order of hanging in there. His eyes were unfocused, dark against the pale skin, but fighting to stay open. Tears formed in the corners of his eyes and John couldn't help the sound that escaped him. It was a primal, pained groan of fear.

“Push epi and atropine,” the doc ordered without taking her eyes off Sam's face.

The breaths slowly begun to run easier and Sam's eyes cleared and tried to focus, first on the doctor then they slid away, searching the room.

“You're a trooper, Sam!” The words were sincere and heart-felt and John's eyes darted to the physician's face. The alarm was gone, replaced with awe. “Your lungs are clear now, I got it all out. Just try and rest now, I'll stay here with you for a while.”

Sam seemed to respond, making a small nod just as a lab-tech rushed in with a document in her hand. “Gram-negative!”

“Call Neffer, stat!”

John noticed the smile on the woman's face faltering and her voice lowered an octave. “The nurse who's been taking care of you tonight, her name is Pat, is going to make you more comfortable. Your dad is right here, he'll stay with you and I'll be back shortly.” She motioned for John to step up closer when she turned and made her way out of the room.

He walked up to stand by the bed, hesitant of what to say to Sam. How much did he understand about what was happening? Did he realize how bad things were? He forced a smile. “Hey, Sammy!”

Sam's eyelids opened partly and he moved and swallowed as if to find the strength to talk.

“It's all right, son. No need to talk right now. There'll be time later.”

Frustration flickered over the pale face. Sam swallowed painfully again, lifting his eyes to John's, battling to find his voice. The nurse reached over and lifted the oxygen mask partially off Sam's face.

“You in pain sweetie?”

Sam's frustration grew and he opened his lips and breathed out something that sounded like 'Dnnn'.

“Dean? He's not here right now, Sammy.” John tried.

Sam swallowed again, blinking rapidly while tears formed and wet the lashes. Not until then did John understand Sam. “He's fine, Sammy, I set him to the motel to get a shower and rest up. He'll be back first thing in the morning.”

It was like someone lifted a burden off Sam; he relaxed and let out a hitching exhale. Tears continued to stream down his cheeks and he continued to fight them. He tried to turn his head away, to hide the tears, John suspected, but he was simply too weak to do it.

“Sam, it's okay to cry,” He reached out to to wipe the tears off his son's face, fighting his own tears. Sam made an other effort to speak and John lifted he mask to hear him.


It was not just a slap this time, it was like a punch that rattled him throughout. It took his breath away, shattered his resolve and made the walls crumble. He had no words left, and he was afraid to touch his son in case he would cause more pain. Sam's eyes were closed now and he was hot to the touch while shivering slightly from the cold of rising fever. And John did not know what to do. Had no idea how to console or make the pain lesser. He found no reassuring or encouraging words, he just kept his hand on the wet cheek, letting it rest in his palm and gave in to the tears.

Sam didn't move any longer, didn't fight and didn't cry, he just lay there, broken, while his body occasionally was wracked with shivers. John's tears dripped down on the hospital gown he held in a tight-fisted grip above Sam's rapidly beating heart.

Dean slept maybe two hours, he wasn't sure. Kept waking up and checking his cell, just in case he'd missed a new call. There had been plenty of them when he switched his cell back on. None that interested him, except the ones from Pastor Jim. He'd called back when he's swallowed down the burger without even tasking it, just to still the hunger pains in his stomach. Pastor Jim had picked up on the first signal.

Louise had spilled the beans about the incident.

The man had already arranged for them to rest up at his place as long as needed. His house needed a total paint-job anyhow and he'd pay Dean to do it. John was welcome to pitch in at his cousin's shop, lots of cars needing tune-ups these day. Dean loved Pastor Jim more than ever, he never said 'if' Sam makes it', to him it was clear that he would. Dean promised to have his father call him and arrange things.

He's showered quickly and pulled on fresh clothes. With his shoes on, he lay down to rest but the room was too empty. The empty bed that was supposed to be Sam's screamed at him. It didn't help switching beds either. He dozed off to the drone of a Hallmark movie. Sam would have laughed his ass off if he knew. The talk-show reruns that followed reminded him of the hospital, the news of the misery in the world.

At the crack of dawn he couldn't take it anymore. He phoned the hospital and heard the news about Sam's condition, that the new antibiotic was finally kicking in and his fever was breaking. Dean felt cold shivers run down his spine. Dad hadn't called, he'd promise to call! Not being able to breathe was a change in condition for fuck's sake! He scrambled for the keys, his fingers uncooperative and his heart in his throat. Why wouldn't Dad have called? Was he thinking he'd spare Dean? Didn't he understand that if he wasn't there, he'd be haunted with the images from the fucking tool shed, or whatever, for the rest of his life?

He ran two lights, got several angry honks and almost nicked a car on the way to an empty lot. When he finally got to the ICU, he was short of breath and sweaty.

He burst through the door, all attention directed at his brother, catching his father's surprise in the corner of his eyes. With three strides he was at Sam's bedside, laying his hand on the sweaty brow. “Sammy?”

A screeching sound of a chair moving over linoleum had him look back just as dad's hand landed on his shoulder. “Dean?”

“Why didn't you call me, dad, you promised!” He tried to keep his voice low and even, not to rattle Sam, but the anger seeped through.

“You needed the rest.”

“I needed to be with Sam, dad! He was bad, I called the nurses' desk, they told me. You should have called, I asked you to!” His voice rose and Sam flinched and Dean turned back to his brother.

“Hey, hey, Sammy. It's just me, no baddies here gonna get ya!” He watched Sam fight to open his eyes. “You just rest, you lazy bum. I'm right here. Get some sleep, you look like hell.”

Bleary eyes opened to a slit, slowly focusing on him. Sam's left hand struggled to move.

“Would you lie still already? You're gonna scare the crap outta someone if you don't stop twitching like that.” The relief of seeing Sam nearly coherent had a jolt of relief run through him and he smiled down at his dazed, pain in the ass, little brother. And he read the question loud and clear.

“I'm awesome, not a scratch. More than I can say about you, you're lookin' like a Frankenstein fuck-up.”

Sam blinked, struggling to keep his eyes open.

“And you're so not quitting on me, bro. Told you not to pull anything while I was away! Yeah, I did, did you miss that?”

Sam tried to open his eyes again, pupils fluttering underneath the lids.

“Now close the eyes and get some sleep. You know puppy eying me won't get you outta nothing, dude. Go to sleep, I'll be right here. Watching over your ugly butt.”

Sam actually made half a snorting sound and Dean's face split up in a full-fledged smile. He stood there, hand on Sam's hot brow, until the breathing became more regular. Then he looked up at the monitors and found a new addition; the fever curve. The curve peaked at 107, from 2. A.M to 2. 15. It was now holding steady at 103.

“He'll have more antibiotics at seven,” his father informed him. “It should go down after that. They cool him down with a thermo-blanket.”

“Why did it take them so long to find the right antibiotics?” Dean asked tersely.

“Gram-negative infections are hard to battle and Sam's still weak. They didn't want to over medicate him with another broad-spectrum med, they needed the results from the culture.”

“You should have called me!” Dean remained leaned in over Sam, he didn't want to face John right now, he was still too pissed at having been left out. “Go get some rest, dad. I'll take care of business.” He tossed the key and the parking lot sticker to his father.

“I'll get you some coffee and breakfast from the canteen before I leave. I'm guessing you haven't eaten yet?”

“There's a vending machine right down the hall, by the lounge, got everything I need.” He wasn't used to talking to his dad like this, so dismissively. But the fact that John didn't care enough to even call him had shook his very foundations. He should be able to trust dad completely.

“All right, you'll call me if something changes, right? I'm gonna – just stay with him.”

Dean merely nodded, still unsure if he'd be able to keep the anger from his voice. His eyes narrowed when they followed John's route out of the room. Dad hadn't touched Sam once, hadn't talked to him, barely even looked at him when he walked out, nothing. He'd just been there, like a calm observer, no emotions involved.

And Dean felt angry and betrayed on Sam's behalf. Sammy could be a major pain in the ass at times, but he didn't deserve this! He was hurt, badly, and dad acted like a damned general, watching over an easily exchangeable private simply because no one else was there to do the job. This was not the time to pull the power card and show who was the boss. So Sammy had disobeyed an order, Dean was sure that Sam was going to hear about it, but now? Sam wasn't even really there, all zoned out and sliding in and out of consciousness. Was it really necessary to take the stoic stand right now? And dad had been wrong too, so had he; they should have listened to Sam. Why was it so hard for dad to reach out to Sam?

He turned to pull the chair closer with his foot. Sinking down to sit, he folded his hand around Sam's forearm and sighed. “What am I gonna do with the two of you?”


John had to sit in the car for a while, resting his brow on the steering wheel. The moment he turned his cell on, he noticed the call from the unknown number with the local prefix. He knew at once it was the cops looking for him. He just couldn't deal with that right now, if ever.

It had been literal hell for most of the night. And Dean wondered why he hadn't called? Would he have liked to see his brother shaking from fever, convulsing when it got too high and his heartbeat skyrocketed? John wished he hadn't, because it had ripped his heart out, shredded it to a bloody pulp. They had pumped his son full of meds, pushed another needle in to get more liquid out and tried to ice him down. John could tell that their hope was fading fast, just as fast as Sam seemed to slip away from him. Watching your son fight for his life like that, just hanging on barely before another complication set in and nulled the small victories, was devastating.

At the end, just before the antibiotics kicked in and Sam was shivering from cold and painful barely audible whimpers escaped him while his eyes flickered under the closed lids, he'd just thrown his arms around him and held him. He'd prayed, for the first time in more than a decade. Begged for Sam to be relieved from the pain. If it was hard for him to watch, he couldn't fathom what it was like for Sam to live through it. He'd had no tears left, no rational thought, only a fear so strong it almost suffocated him. Then Sam's fever started to drop, slowly climbing down from the lethal numbers on the screen. He was soaked in minutes, sweat running down his temples, wetting the hospital gown and the doctor had been worried he'd go into shock from dehydration. John hadn't let go of Sammy while another IV-port was inserted in the vein of his ankle, filling him with the fluids he was rapidly losing. He'd sat there, holding him until Sam had finally started to relax, breath running easier and his body slackened from pure exhaustion.

He'd still held Sam's hand when the nurse washed him up and changed his gown and the soaked sheets.

He hadn't let go until the doc assured him that Sam was finally asleep, not unconscious, just in a deep, much needed, sleep.

That's when he had finally stood up and stretched his aching body. Tremors took over and he had to sit down and concentrate on breathing and finding some semblance of sanity.

That's when Dean had showed up.

John knew he should have called, he had promised. But having Dean witness what he had witnessed would have been cruel. Dean had been through enough in his life without having to see his little brother fight for his life like that. The doc had said Sam was finally over the worst now and John prayed that it was really the case. Sam wouldn't survive another crisis, of that he was sure. Leaving Dean alone with Sam didn't scare him for any other reason than having Dean go through what he went through while watching over Sam.

And he had known, clear as a day, while he was holding his trembling son, that even it the rumors and innuendos about Sam and the other kids somehow being tied to the devil, panned out, he'd never be able to kill him. Whatever Sam may turn into, the memory of holding him while he fought for every breath, was enough for John to know that taking his son's life, for any reason, would never happen.

He looked up at the clear morning light and turned the key to start the engine. It was hard to tweak the hand off the steering wheel to put the car into drive. It was even harder to drive off the lot.

Leaving his sons behind, at times like these, was the measure of a man. Dean needed time with his brother now, when Sam was as close to stable as possible. He'd just shower and take a nap and then he'd drive back and wait in the lounge. Just to be there in case things got worse.

He flicked the turn signal to the left and floored the pedal.

Sam's fever did lower when the got the meds, at least some. Two long days of vigil and it was still high enough Dean to worry. How long would he sustain a fever before his insides were fried? He was already messed up enough. The physician said Sam needed some proteins to keep his strength up but he
was never awake enough to swallow. Two days of waiting for a miracle, two days of less than restful sleep when dad came to sit with Sam. Time had ceased to make sense to Dean.

When orderlies strolled into the room and the doc informed him that Sam would undergo a double dialysis to help his kidneys and liver with the metabolites of the meds, he broke out in cold sweat. The doc on duty looked at him and ordered him to go eat something, this would take hours and then Sam would be moved to a regular ward. He tried to protest but the doc was adamant; the room needed to be as sterile as possible and having Dean tag along was out of the question. At Dean's continued protests, the physician had pulled the guilt card and asked if Dean really wanted his brother's best? It pissed Dean off to no end but he relented.

Dean was left behind, staring at the empty spot where Sam's bed had been, while he debated with himself if he should call dad? He was all jittery and decided not to, he'd probably make dad nervous with his babbling anyhow. He'd been constantly keeping up imaginary discussions with Sam in his head, just to not go stir crazy. However much he tried to deny it, he knew he was already halfway there. When the cleaning crew arrived, he went to the canteen for a fatty burger and to read a newspaper, Sam would do that. He remembered next to nothing when he turned the pages. The burger and fries were gone, and he couldn't even recall eating them. Because really, all he did was watch the clock on the wall, every second minute.

Until the female cop appeared again, dragging out the chair opposite him and sitting down. She wasn't as pleasant this time, when asking him where John was. When Dean didn't tell, she opened a dossier and started quoting from Sam's school history, pointing out the pattern of two months here and four there. Visits to the school-nurse, cuts and bruises. Absences, sudden relocations, everything. Dean knew it didn't look good, not from an outsider's point of view. He wondered who had reported them? The doc after seeing Sam's x-rays? The nurse watching John flip out in Sam's room? By the look on the woman's face, they were in deep shit and she had taken a personal interest in the case. A cop with a calling was always the worst.

Dean realized that dad was right; they needed to get Sam out. Dad was always right.

Sounds were the first thing Sam became aware of. He was still in some kind of nowhere land, with darkness and heavy limbs refusing to obey him. He'd been there since forever. But the sounds trickled in and soft voices became painfully clear:

“I hear social services are investigating him and they are not finding a whole lot on this family.”

“Yeah, I've heard. Mom apparently died when this kid was just a baby. Guess dad took his anger out on his sons or something. I know they are trying to backtrack the history and see if there's something they can indict the father for. Abandonment or something. They can't do anything for the oldest, but maybe this one can be saved?”

It took a while before the implications sunk in. When they did, Sam's body went rigid.

The moment a hand landed on his chest, his eyes opened in fear. There was a blurry ghostlike face hovering over him and he tried desperately to crawl away.

“Hey? I'm nurse Simone, you're in hospital. We're just finishing up your dialysis and we'll take you to your room shortly. Just try to relax. You're feeling better? Right? We got all those metabolites out of your system and your fever is coming down nicely.”

Sam stared dumbfounded at the whiteness before his eyes, blinking to try and focus on what seemed like a floating entity. Speaking was out of the question since his tongue was glued to his palate. Had he seen Dean before in another place? Why was he floating? Psych-ward? Had he gone mental? Was he imagining things? Those words he'd head, were they a figment on his imagination?

“Don't worry Sam Winchester,” the eyes over the mask smiled at him. ”You're safe here.”

The panic rushed through him. Someone was digging around because he had ended up here with his real name? The one thing that was never supposed to happen. They needed to keep a low profile, never stand out and draw attention from the authorities. That was the golden rule of the Winchesters. And he was breaking it!

“You're all done now, Sam, I'll just wipe you off and put a new gown on you and we'll take you to your room.“

There was something heavenly cool wiping his chest and neck before the nurse lifted him up and put the gown on him. A glimpse told him that he was completely naked, except for the bandages. He was sure he went all red. A naked helpless heap of frickin' bad luck? Just perfect. Dad had all the rights in the world to consider him a failure. He needed to fix this, he needed to get lost and make them forget he was ever here.

His hand was freed and he moved it up to pull up the blanket to shield himself. The stab at his ribs had him moan.

“Cold?” The eyes over the white mask smiled at him.

“No,” he croaked, sounding like he'd swallowed gravel. Sam put another cross on the mental list of stupid things he'd done in public. The list was impressive by now.

“The orderlies will take you to your room and get you some crushed ice. I hope I won't see you here again, Sam. Take care!” .

Sam managed a weak smile of gratitude. The nurse was damned right, he shouldn't have been here in the first place.

The short distance he traveled, flat on his back, while trying to look for an escape route almost had him puke. It wasn't until then he realized that the odd white thing to his right was his own plastered arm in some contraction. It occurred to him that it might be too early for him to make a run for it. His brain was obviously totally fried.

Another nurse leaned over him, rising the head end of the bed when the orderlies had parked his bed. There had been so many white clad persons hovering over him lately that they all swan together into a symbol that signaled nothing but pain. Dad always told them to breath through pain, and he did, while scanning the room for a way out of this mess. The window? Would he be able to climb out?

He was startled when another voice addressed him.

“Hi I'm nurse Emily. Doing better?”

Sam nodded, tentatively. Better than what exactly?

“Ready for some chipped ice?”

Sam nodded again. He'd like to take a bath in it, to be truthful. If only he had his trunks.

“I'm going to take the oxygen mask off and put you on a nasal cannula.”

“Thanks!” He tried a smile, embarrassed by his squeaky, voice.


That was definitely Dean, rattling off a thunder of questions. “He awake? How long? Fever down? Did that thing you did to him work? Can he talk?”

He should be offended by questions like 'can he talk' but instead he reached out and grabbed Dean's leathery coat. “Jerk.” he coughed and the nurse fed him a spoonful of ice.

“Bitch!” Dean's face split up in a silly grin like he'd just won the lottery. The nurse looked at them like they both needed to be in the Psych ward. Sam suspected she was right regarding him.

“Jesus Sammy,” Dean exhaled. “You scared the crap outta me!”

Sam narrowed his eyes. His memory was a bit foggy at the moment. What exactly had he done? He wanted to ask but the nurse was waving the spoon at him. This time he didn't quite succeed to open his mouth enough and cold water dribbled down his neck. He looked down with embarrassment and his fingers around Dean's coat trembled with strain. He let go, he didn't want to but he had to. The dull ache in his body had kicked up a notch. Trying to shift position and push it away, he bit back a moan. How the hell was he going to get out of here if he wasn't even able to suck ice off a spoon without drooling all over himself?

“I think you need some rest, Sam. You're doing incredibly well, considering. I'll be right outside, want me to lower your head?

“M'fine,” he mumbled, suddenly feeling exhausted.

Dean sprinted for the chair, dragging it over the floor. “I'll sit with him. I've spoon fed this freak enough to do it in my sleep.”

Sam tried his best glare but his eyes were closing. He didn't want to fall sleep on Dean. There was so much he wanted to know. Weird memories he couldn't explain lurked in the back of his mind, accompanied by flashes of images that he couldn't quite catch and decipher. He needed to understand what he had done wrong.

“Wha' happ'nd?”

“You kicked the crap outta that thing, Sammy. I'll tell you all about it when you can actually hold your eyes open. Gonna lower the bed now, I'm not falling for the stubborn 'fine and dandy' shit you're trying to pull.”

Sam smiled. Dean was here, everything was all right. He didn't care about anything else, as long as Dean was all right, he too was just fine. Even if he's slowly going freakishly crazy, he was all right.

John walked in on a picture of perfect peace after having got the phone call that his son had been moved. Sam was sleeping restfully, Dean munching on fries, looking like he was in heaven. He had to swallow the mouthful before he grinned. “Hey, dad!”

The day must have been good. He looked at the monitor and noted the fever had sunken to a manageable 100 and Sam's breathing ran even. His color was not much better, but at least he seemed relatively pain free. John walked over to rest his hand on the bed's railing. “How's he been?”

“After they did that, dialysis mojo, he actually talked. Doesn't seem to remember much, though. But it was all Sam, for about five minutes. Then he went out like a light, totally wiped. Been sleeping for hours now.”

Sam stirred and Dean leaned in closer. “Talkin' 'bout the devil,” he grinned. “Want my fries, Sammy? Sorry dude, I think you're on jello for now.” He stretched his arm to press the call button.

Sam's eyes opened fully, focusing on John's shirt briefly before they traveled up to his face. “Dad?”

“Yeah, Sammy. Feeling better now? At least you're out of the ICU. Good work, son. ”

Sam lifted his hand slowly, dragging it up toward his face. He didn't quite make it and the arm settled on his chest. “M'nose is itchin',” he pouted.

John leaned over and rubbed his thumb on either side of his son's nose. Sam mumbled a 'thanks', clearly confused and embarrassed. The damned wall was still there, risen by Sam this time. John sighed. The memory of Sam trembling in his hold, so heartbreakingly defenseless and helpless, was still haunting him. Between haunted dreams and half-wake; Sam had never left his mind. Not for a second. But maybe the reality was that Sam himself had left him a long time ago. The one Sam was reaching out to now was Dean. The one he was asking for was his brother. John may have, at some point, tried to keep his distance, act with unemotional distance just to keep his sons safe and done such a good job that he'd become just that, not a father, but a drill-sergeant. He had succeeded in alienating one of his sons. He should be content, mission accomplished. Instead it felt like Sam stuck a knife in his heart, twisting it every time he refused to meet with his eyes.

A nurse came in, carrying a glass with a straw, smiling at Dean and nodding at John. Obviously his eldest had worked his magic and had already dazzled the young lady.

“Hey, Sam Winchester! We haven't met yet. I'm Amanda Lear and I'm here to look after you this evening.” She elevated the bed enough for Sam to half sit and looked, head tilted for better inspection range, at Sam. “Brought you some water, you have to be thirsty.”

John noted the change in Sam, the immediate tension in him. He looked over to Dean, trying to understand. But Dean didn't look at him, all his attention was directed at his brother, .

“Dude! You've graduated from spoon feedin' to straw sucking! Not bad for a geek.” Dean popped a couple of fries into his mouth.

Amanda held the glass for Sam, the straw in perfect angle for him to reach. “Geeks rule, right Sam?”

John watched, amazed at how easily the young nurse seemed to connect with Sam. It seemed like the two effortlessly reached a common ground. That seemed close to impossible for the two of them to accomplish. It had been easier when Sam was little, Sam had been happy every time he got home, to wherever home had been at the time. Sam hadn't questioned things back then, not like now when he questioned everything.

Sam lifted his hand and tried to grip the glass. The nurse pulled it away. “Not too much Sam, don't want to spoil your appetite!”

Sam's eyes widened.

The nurse smiled. “Doc wants you to try a protein shake. Think you can manage that? You need to start eating something. There's banana, vanilla or chocolate, your pick!”

Sam looked at Dean, clearly dubious at the though of drinking something with substance. Then he turned back to Amanda, looking at her from under the long bangs. “Uh, vanilla sounds fine.”

“Be right back!” The nurse twittered and walked away.

John would never have guessed that vanilla was Sam's choice. He'd guessed banana, because that had been Sam's favorite when he was five.

“Vanilla? Sam! What a wuss!” Dean shook his head. “You've learned nothing from your awesome big brother.”

John watched Sam make a frown. “I remember beer and Rocky Road. Didn't end so good, did it?” He struggled to move to the side of the bed. Casting a glance at John as a sign for him to sit down on the freed spot.

Dean laughed with his mouth full of fries. John felt a sense of sorrow descend on him. He had missed so much of his boys' growing up. For a moment he was back, wondering how their lives would have looked like if nothing that happened that dreadful November? It pained him to think about it, and still, every now and then he'd remember their lives when Dean was just a toddler. There had been hardships, yes. But the laughter and the good times were what he remembered. That and the hopefulness about a long, happy life together. And most of all; the lack of evil.

“When?” Sam asked out of the blue.

“When what?” Dean asked, reaching for the coffee on the nightstand.

“Do we sneak outta here?”

“Huh?” John was ripped out of his reminiscing to stare, flabbergasted, at his youngest. Dean looked equally stunned.

“What the hell, Sammy?”

“Real name, can't stay here,” Sam looked down on the blanket covering him. “When?”

John threw a glance at Dean just as the door opened and Amanda, the nurse, returned with the protein shake.

“Here you go, Sam, try some. You need your strength back.” She extended the Styrofoam container, equipped with the drinking straw, to Sam. “Think you can hold it?”

Sam's hand shook when he took it.

“Need me to help you out?” She looked a little concerned at the tremor in Sam's hand.

“No thanks,” Sam replied and lifted the mug, taking a long swig before leaning back and letting his hand sink. “M'fine,” he promised, disgust momentarily playing over his face. John recognized the look.

“Take it easy, son,” he warned.

“M'fine,” Sam repeated stubbornly after the third taste. He even managed a small smile at the nurse but he didn't fool John.

A 'Code Blue' alarm went off and Amanda looked perturbed “I have to take this,” she said, backing hurriedly, eyes still on Sam.

“We've got him,” Dean reassured, his brow in a deep crease while he watched Sam with preoccupation.
“Sammy, you 'kay?”

Sam nodded and his hand gripped the Styrofoam hard enough to make the top come off with the pressure his grip caused. Then he tensed, his face dropped and he gagged. Dean had the kidney-shaped basin in his hand just as John reached out to put his hand on the nape of his son's neck. Sam pulled in air, gagged, swallowed reflexively and started coughing violently. The mug fell out of his hand when he tried to jack-knife in on himself.

“Jesus Sam! No!” Dean threw his arm around Sam's shoulders and pushed the basin in under his face.

“The call button, Dean!” John's hold on Sam's neck tightened, he tried to lift his son's head to give him freer airways. “Sam! Get it all out.“ The coughs sounded powerless now, but Sam's body was hard as steel as it tried to free itself from the intrusion in the windpipes. Only Sam had no strength to fight it. Every time he took a breath, he coughed, his body twitching from the force. But it was evident that no air reached his lungs.

John was watching the door, waiting for someone to run in and help them. When Sam started going limp under his hand, he finally reached the point where he functioned on pure instinct. He snapped Sam's broken arm free from the metal rig holding it elevated, pulled Sam into his hold and tilted his son's head down and to the side. Sam's back was pressed to John's middle and he jerked when he coughed up the thick liquid and finally inhaled with a gargling, whimpering sound.

“Get it all out son, I've got you. I'm taking you away from here, Sam. They're not gonna hurt you and prod you anymore, son. I've got you. Dean, grab the car keys in my pocket and get the car. Park at the ambulance bay and bring Sam some clothes and the blanket.”

When there wasn't the immediate movement he'd expected, he looked up and found Dean staring at him. He pulled Sam closer, holding him with one arm while digging in his pocket for the key. Tossing it to his eldest, he narrowed his eyes and ordered: “Now, Dean!”

“Dad, no! Look at him, dad. Sam needs to stay!” For the first time Dean looked like he was going to disobey a direct order. His eyes were on Sam, watching his little brother limp in his father's arms, occasional coughs and pained inhales rattling the exhausted body.

“Son, Pastor Jim is five hours away. We'll get a doc to meet us there. If we wouldn't have been here, Sam would have choked to death, Dean! See any nurses around here? How long have you been calling for help? Still trust them? Now go!”

John read distrust and fear when Dean finally looked up and met with his eyes. “I've got him, Dean,” John promised and Dean finally turned and ran out, almost knocking over the help finally arriving.

There was an instant buzzing around Sam, question about what happened asked, somebody trying to pry his son out of his hold. John didn't let go; Sam felt so weak, so fragile in his hold that he was afraid that laying him back down in the bed would break him. Holding Sam like this made John feel very heartbeat, every breath and shiver and he wished he could carry the pain just like he was carrying the weight of his son's body.

“Sir,” the physician spoke, eyes investigating John while she reached for the suctioning tubes. “I need for you to let go so I can listen to his heart and suction his airways. Please!”

Sam was breathing much easier now, the gargling sound were almost gone and the coughs were far less frequent. But he was covered in a thin sheen of sweat, just like that first night when John was sure that he'd lose Sammy forever. John looked down at his son's face, framed with the too long, sweaty hair. His eyes were closed, clammed shut with pain. John had his left arm circled around Sam's good shoulder, his right draped around Sam's middle, hand supporting the injured ribcage that fluttered against the palm of his hand. Even if only part of his son's weight rested against his own torso, his son felt too light, like a fragile bird. John wondered how much weight Sam had lost during these five days alone? If this continued, there would be nothing left of his son. Sam's good hand was trapped between John's arm and his own abdomen, the tubes from the IV-port in disarray. Sam wasn't small any more, he'd grown up but John wasn't able to get rid of the feeling that he was still holding the child he'd just ripped out of the crib and carried to the safety of his big brother's arms. This was how it was supposed to be; Sam belonged to them. They were the ones to help Sam through this.

He nodded at the doc, moving to lay Sam back to bed, just until Dean returned and they'd take him home.

“I'm taking Sam away from here,” he stated, positioning Sam on the bed, careful not to hurt him. “Get the discharge paper ready, or you'll get summoned for leaving my son alone to die.” He didn't look at anyone, just kept his voice low and his eyes on Sam. Hand resting on Sam's good shoulder, keeping him from falling over. The small breathless whimper that Sam let out when the doctor slid the suctioning tube into his throat had his heart clenching. When Sam gagged with a full-body jolt, he couldn't take any more.


“Sir, he may have aspirated and -.”

“And you're trying to suck up his lungs? Sam's breathing, he got it all up and no thanks to you! You could have killed him!” He didn't even try to mask the anger in his voice. There was no margins for error, not in his line of work and certainly not here.

“Sir, we had a Code -.”

“This is my son, I don't really care about anyone else and I want him prepped for transport. Am I making myself clear? I want his wounds checked before I take him out of here, I want the medication controlled and packed for seven hour ahead, just in case. I want you to make him as comfortable as possible for the trip.” He moved away enough for the doc to listen to Sam's lungs and heart.

She threw a glance at John over her shoulder. “Sir, with all due respect, he's too -.”

John met her eye calmly. “Too weak to be left alone? I know, still you did just that. Now prep him for transport and I'll take full responsibility for my son.”

“He needs his meds in the IV, and the oxygen. He's just not in any kind of shape to be -.”

“I'm sure the hospital will bill the insurance company for the equipment Sam needs to be moved. Portable oxygen tanks have been invented and whatever he needs can be fixed for a price, am I right?”

The physician straightened her back to face John. “You understand that our responsibility ends when he's signed out, right? You do realize that your son is badly hurt? That he needs to be admitted to another hospital for care? If not, you're risking his life.”

“I understand,” John nodded. “Now get on with the paper-work and get my son ready.”

The doctor shook her head in disbelief. There was a brief staring contest before she dejectedly lowered her eyes to look at Sam.

“Take a last batch of tests for the chart and prep him,” she ordered the nurse. “Give his father what he needs to keep Sam comfortable. And may God be with you on this trip, John Winchester.”

She walked out, and never looked back.

John brushed Sam's bangs off the sweaty forehead. “It's gonna be all right, Sammy,” he promised but his son seemed too wiped out to even register the words. John let his hand rest on the top of Sam's head. Just like he had when Sam was a baby, resting in his arms and watching him with curiously sage and bright eyes.

Dean flat out ran to the car, he needed to get back to Sam as soon as possible. This was all so fucked up! Sam needed to stay put, not get tucked in a car and shaken and stirred for five hours. His fingers shook when he opened the door and climbed into the backseat to look for Sam's bag. Rummaging through it, he pulled up the hoodie and the sweatpants, looked at them and noticed how worn they were. He didn't want his brother to have to wear these, not if -. He shook his head and stuffed the clothes back in the duffel. He wasn't going to think like that, not now. Instead he should try to make the backseat as comfortable as possible. Sam was so fucking tall already that fitting him in here was close to impossible. He pushed the back support down, took one of the blankets and stuffed it in the chink, evening the surface out. His eyes fell on his own packed bag, that was supposed to still be in the motel room. And in that moment he realized that dad had been ready all the time, ready for the escape. His foundations took another hit. Dad's reactions hadn't been earnest, maybe not even in Sam's best interest. Dean stilled, staring at the bag, trying to understand how John was able to put everything aside to ensure the well-being of the family unit, even at the expense of Sam's health. To Dean, Sam had always come first, to dad it seemed he was only a peg to be moved according to necessities. And for the first time, Dean felt bitter resentment against John Winchester. Only now was not the time to stop and smell the crap, it was time to get the truck ready for Sam.

Going for his own bag, he baled his t-shirts up to a pillow, arranged his coat up against the door so Sam wouldn't hit his head. They needed more blankets, they needed a fricken mattress!

He stopped, looked at the impromptu bedding and rested his face in his hands. This was insane, Sam was too hurt to have to go through this. Just getting him inside would hurt like a bitch! What if something went wrong? What if he started bleeding from all the tossing around? If the ribs got jarred and broke all over? Had dad even thought about that? Had Sam? They were both stubborn sons of bitches, stubborn and proud. It would probably be the death of them both. He should stop this, but how could he when they both had gone mental at the same time? Damage control was all he could manage right now, but would that be enough?

With a last look at the space he'd arranged, he shook his head and crawled over to the driver's seat. Cruising out of the parking lot, he truly considered flooring it and leaving the stubborn asses without a car. That would at least temporarily stop the whacked up plan. But he didn't put it past dad to steal a car to get Sam away. Dean didn't see the reason for the escape, but he remembered the haunted eyes of his father that one morning. It was one of the few times Dean had seen naked emotions on his father's face; sorrow, fear and dejection. It was the look of a man that was one step away from losing everything, a man barely hanging on.

Dean wished he'd never find himself in that situation.

He had to wait for close to forty-five minutes to find a free slot by the ambulance bay. Which just reminded him how ridiculous this plan was. Sam would have put up a fight if it were him in there, laid up and defenseless. Sam wouldn't let dad spring him, not like this. The one time they'd come home from a hunt and he'd had the mother of all headaches, blurred vision and dizziness, Sam had taken one look at him and bitched all the way until dad had stopped at a free clinic to get him checked out. That time he'd ended up in hospital for three days and he'd been royally pissed at his bro. And here he was, helping dad? He should look out for Sam, fight for him to be left where he was at. Even if Sam was too fucked up to realize it right now, he needed to stay where he was at and Dean should be the one thinking straight. But he wasn't Sam, the truth was that Sam was stronger than him in many ways. And this time he wished he had Sam's strength to stand up to dad.

He locked the doors and stepped away from the car, wishing they had the Impala instead of this piece of crap. At least he trusted his baby to take Sam to Pastor Jim's. This thing he was watching? He had no confidence at all it wouldn't break down halfway there.

Gripping Sam's duffel bag tighter, he turned and walked to the ward, wishing dad would change his mind. It was just that hell would have to freeze over before that happened. And right now he wouldn't trust that to have happened, the grapevine should have been sizzling if it had.

He took the stairs, three at the time, hoping for a miracle. What he found instead was a very annoyed father, ripping the bag out of his hand and pulling the hoodie out of it.

Sam was on his side, all patched up with shiny new gauze, matching the pallor of his face.


Sam was so tired he felt he could sleep for weeks. But Dean was there, leaning in over him, talking to him about something Sam was just too tired to listen to. He let the words wash over him and when Dean's lips stopped moving he just asked if he'd brought him some clothes like he'd promised? Dean's face darkened, jaw clinched in that pissed off look. Sam closed his eyes, he didn't want to see the anger in Dean's eyes, not now, he'd seen enough of it in dad's. Dad was mad that he didn't move fast enough, Dean because he moved at all. There was no way to make them both happy.

He made another attempt to get the hoodie over the cast, pulling at the sleeve to get it over the thickest part; the edge close to his elbow. Sweat dripped into his eyes, burning when he finally tweaked the fabric over the cast. Dean cursed and took over; easing the hoodie over his head, gripping the IV-bag to slide it through the other sleeve.

“You fucking smart-ass! You heard the nurse; no one that can't get out of bed by themselves are being discharged from this hospital without a court-order. Just lay back and wait, another day at least? If you ever needed to fight dad on anything, this would be it! But no, now you go along with him? What the fuck's wrong with you? I tried Sammy, I tried talking some sense into him, but I need your help and you're not collaborating!”

“M'sorry,” he mumbled, hating how needy he was right now and how much that pissed Dean off.

Dean stared at him. Long and hard. “You don't get it, do you? Sammy, this is dangerous, for you! You're not thinking straight, you're high on pain-killers and god knows what. You need to tell dad you can't do this. He'll listen, I promise he will. This time I'll fucking make him listen!”

Sam worked himself up to a sitting position, slowly pulling his legs to hang over the edge of the bed, fingers grasping at the bed frame for leverage. “Pants?” He was already out of breath, and that pissed him off. He was going to do this, he was getting out of this joint tonight.

Dean helpless look over to the nurse by the end of the bed, didn't escape him. The hospital had pulled out the heavy artillery to stop him from leaving. This nurse was in her fifties, impressively tall and with eyes like a hawk. She'd already had a round with dad about the perils. Now she was the warden, just waiting for him to fail.

“I cant watch this anymore,” Dean spoke. “Either you let me help him or you get the court-order to keep him here. I just can't watch this!”

The woman walked over to him, leaned in, hands on either side of his legs, eye level with his. “Sam, do you understand that you don't have to listen to your dad? You can stay here, we'll protect you.”

Sam wanted to roll his eyes dramatically, but he lacked the energy. How many times did he have to tell them he wanted to leave, as soon as possible. It was getting tiresome repeating the same words over and over again. “I wanna leave.”

The nurse locked eyes with him and he fought to keep his open without blinking. At last she relented and rose to face Dean. “We can't keep him here, not against his will. If it was only your father, things may have been fixed but as long as Sam wants to go, there's nothing anybody can do about it. No judge will issue a court-order to stop a sixteen year old and his father.”

“He's a stubborn son of a -,” Dean bit down, sinking to sit by Sam's side, arm sneaking around his shoulders. Sam leaned in on him, signaling gratitude.

“Can we go now, Dean, please.”

“I'll help you get him dressed,” the nurse said, voice softer now.

He was beyond embarrassment when they pulled up the sweatpants and put socks on his feet. He hung on to Dean's shirt when they helped him over to the wheel-chair, the strain enough for his legs to shake and threaten to give in.

“I'll go get your dad,” the nurse informed and opened the door.

Dean remained by his side, arm back around his shoulders. “Jesus, Sammy! You're just skin and bones.” Dean spoke quietly. Sam's head lolled to the side to rest on his brother's arm.


“And such a fucking liar, Sammy!” Dean spoke in a low, sad voice. “When you get back on your feet, I'm gonna kick your ass for this. You hear that, Sammy?”

Sam smiled into the bulked up fabric of his brother's shirt.

John took one look at his sons, one leaning on the other and the eldest giving him a look that said it all. Dean was not pleased with this, not by a long shot. Maybe the trust he'd always shown was suffering a little at the moment. But then, Dean didn't know everything, did he? He knew nothing about the rumors of the special kids, the innuendo of something dark, deeply hidden within them as of yet. What would happen if someone found something that didn't pan out in Sam? They may just go X-Files all of a sudden. There were aliens among them, just not from outer space. Even his sons would sit glued to the TV every week if possible, soaking in the mystery. It always hit a nerve with John, it was simply too close to home.

“You, ready, Sammy?” He asked, extending the binder with Sam's discharge papers and a copy of the chart to Dean.

Sam straightened up and nodded, his finger grasping at the armrests of the wheelchair.

The corridors were long and flooded with light, the elevator sank soundlessly to the first floor, opening up to the ER and John gritted his teeth at the sight of nurse Amanda waiting by the door to the ambulance bay. She was holding rolled up blankets under her arm and a plastic bag in her hand. She looked devastated and John wondered if she had been made the scapegoat? Another victim for events beyond her control?

When they got closer, she lifted a hand in a cautious salute.

Dean was the first one to crack a smile. “I knew you wouldn't be able to stay away from me,” he greeted her.

Amanda didn't seem to notice, instead she looked at Sam, bowing to lay a hand on his knee. “I brought you some blankets, Sam. Promise to try and stay warm. I packed a bag with some things you may need, just in case. And I'm sorry for letting you down earlier.”

Sam looked perplexed, letting his gaze wander from Amanda to Dean and then back again. “M'fine.”

“Right,” Amanda said and turned to Dean, extending him the blankets and the bag. “Where's your car?”

“I'll get it,” Dean said, accepting the offered items and walking out into the cooler air of the ambulance bay. With a glance at Sam, he grinned and gave him the thumb up. “Don't elope while I'm gone!”

John noticed that Sam actually blushed. Sometimes he forgot how vulnerable a sixteen year old was and Sam had never been prone to form casual relationships. John suspected he wasn't the type that flirted without really caring. That was all Dean.

“Sir? I hope I am not too forward, but I really wish you'd reconsider this decision. Sam needs -.”

“I know what my son needs,” John interrupted with a harsh glance at the woman. “We can take it from here, thank you.”

The young woman flinched and took a step back. For a moment she just stood there, watching John incredulously. When Dean honked the horn and drove up to where they were waiting, she went for a paper in her pocket and walked up to press it into Sam's good hand.

“Call me. I just wanna know you're all right!”

Sam nodded shyly and clutched the piece of paper hard in his fist. With a last smile Amanda turned on her heels and walked away.

Dean jumped out of the car and let out a low whistle. “You got her number? You dog!”

Sam didn't look up.

Sam woke up again from the streetlights that flashed by, glare harsh enough to penetrate his closed eyelids. The constant movement of the car was making it hard to breathe and his shoulder ached whichever way he tried to turn. He wished they'd go a little slower, just a little, so he'd have time to take a deep breath. If Dean asked once more how he was doing, he wouldn't have the strength to tell him 'fine' or even give him the thumb up-sign. It felt like they had been driving for weeks, but he had really lost all count of time. Lost between half-sleep and a strange haze that occasionally numbed him, only to reappear with a sharp pain at any jolt or turn. Breathing through the pain was getting harder and he wished Dean would crank up the stereo to drown any possible sound he might make. He was not going to complain, not now, he'd caused enough trouble to last him a lifetime.


Despite sitting awkwardly scooped up right by his side, Dean had to check on him verbally. Dean was probably able to tell that he wasn't sleeping by the way he was breathing. He'd tried to keep the sounds even to fool Dean. A complete failure on his part, just as expected.

“Sammy?” Dean's voice had taken on a deeper, more concerned tone as time rolled by.

He managed to nudge Dean's leg with his good hand as a sign that he was all right.

“Dad, slow down! I have to change the IV-bag and push more pain-killers and the antibiotics. He isn't looking too good. “

Sam held his breath when Dean moved around, wary about the car's movements and the risk that Dean might inadvertently touch any of his sore parts. When the car finally slowed down, he took a deep breath, feeling his face crunch up from the pain it caused. At least the rattling was slower, giving him time to suck the air deeper into his lungs.

“Dad, we need to go slower, I don't think Sammy's feeling too good.”

There were sounds of Dean digging in the plastic bag, cursing when he didn't find what he was looking for. Then he tensed and reached over Sam to change the IV-bag hung on the hanger above the door.

“Thirty minutes, Sammy and we'll be at Pastor Jim's. Just hang in there. I added a little of that anti-nausea thing in your drip, you're looking kinda green, Satchquatch.”

Sam managed a smile and Dean reached out with a wet towel to wipe his brow. “Not gonna puke on me, are you?”

The fear in Dean's voice kicked him right in his gut. He didn't want to put his brother through this, he didn't want to be this weak in front of him. Dean had been forced to look out for him as long as Sam could remember, it wasn't fair on him. Dean shouldn't have to pay for his fuck-ups. God, he really didn't fit in any world, did he? He hated the hunting life, moving around and looking for the next son of a bitch to kill. Hated having to check the salt line before going to bed, waking up at the smallest of sounds, wondering if this was it? Hated seeing Dean place himself in front of danger. Dad dragging them up in the middle of the night to train, just to keep them on their toes. Sam just wanted to be able to relax, sit down on the couch and watch TV, read a book, take a walk; all those normal things people did and found boring.

He didn't fit in the normal world either. Listening to the discussions of his classmates wanting adventures, hating the calm predictable life of the quintessential small town, he just didn't understand them. What was wrong with being safe? Knowing what there would be for dinner? They could have his life if they wanted, he'd relinquish the fricken adventures any day for a week of knowing that absolutely nothing unexpected was going to happen. Nothing would happen to Dean or dad, ever. He needed to get out of their lives and stop messing it up, he wasn't good enough for the kind of life they led, never would be.

“Sam? You zoning out on me?”

He never wanted to hear that kind of concern in Dean's voice again. Dean needed to be out there, chasing chicks and scoring when he wasn't risking his life, saving people. Not looking after his freak of a brother. “Dean, m'sorry.”

There was dampness on his cheeks, and he didn't know if it was tears or sweat, maybe both? Dean's leather jacket was warm under his cheek and he pressed his face into the softness, hiding inside the familiarity.

“Uh? What? Why?”

“Fo' ev'rythin'.” His voice was thick and snotty, barely audible.

“For fuck's – Sammy?” Dean's hands were on the nape of his neck, fingertips shivering slightly against his skin. “You peed yourself? What the fuck, Sammy, what's wrong?”

“M'fine, Dean, m'fine.”

Dean scooted closer, steadying him against the rolling motion of the car. Forearm resting along his spine, cradling him into safety.

“Such a fuckin' liar, Sammy.”

The last fifteen minutes were the longest. At the outskirts of town, Dean started counting the seconds. Dad spoke on the phone, voice low and urgent. Sam's body had relaxed a little after he'd received the pain-killer in his IV. But he was soaked; the hoodie clinging to his skin, his face strained and bloodless. Dean tried to keep him still, prevent the car's movement from causing more damage. Sam had slept some, during the ride on the freeway, but now, with the criss-crossing on small streets, stops for traffic lights and constantly altering speed, Sam was clearly barely hanging on.

The last piece of dirt road up to Pastor Jim's house had Dean hold his breath as the tires hit pot hole after pot hole. Sam whimpered, brow creased and eyes clammed shut while Dean tried to stabilize him and dad's eyes were dark in the rear-view mirror when they locked with his.

“S'okay, Sammy, we're here.” The moment they stopped, Pastor Jim's face appeared in the side window, questioning eyes trained on Dean. He tried a smile, but he didn't think the fooled anyone. The morning air was fresh and chilly when Pastor Jim opened the door. It filled the car with crispness in no time and Sam shivered.

“Oh Lord! Sam?” Their long time friend's face fell when he took a look at the bundle on the backseat. And Dean knew exactly how he felt; incredulous, chocked and disgusted at them for having put Sam through this.

Sam moved his good fingers in a meek salute and Pastor Jim stared. Dean wasn't able to meet with his eyes and turned back to Sam, covering him with the blankets. Sam's labored breath cut through the silence like dull knives.

“John?” Pastor Jim's voice was a much sharper knife.

“Jim, we need to get Sam inside.”

Dean marveled at the sober resolution in their dad's voice. There was no emotion, only a stoic declaration of priorities

“Sammy?” Dean leaned in closer. “We need to move you, not gonna wimp out on me now, are you?”

Sam swallowed.

“Use the blankets, Dean. We'll carry him with the thermo-blanket. It'll hold him, I checked it. You two take the head, I'll take the feet. You Dean, keep an eye on the IV.”

“Yessir!” The fact that dad had a plan calmed Dean immediately. There would be no tugging and dragging. Dad had thought about it, he knew how to get Sam inside with as little pain as possible.

“No!” Sam grasped for leverage on the seat. Pulling himself up. “I can do this.”

“Sam, no! Stay still, I have it covered.” Dad's voice was stern, a clear order, at the worst of times.

Dean knew it instinctively. He moved away and helped Sam sit up. Looking at John to get the message through: don't piss him off, please. Now was not the time. You just didn't mess with Sam when he was at his stubborn-ass worst. It didn't matter if he was half-dead at the time, he wouldn't quit. Dad should know, he was exactly the same.

Dad moved out of the way, watching Sam grit his teeth and pull his blanket covered legs down off the backseat. Socked feet planted on the dirty car floor. Without a word Dean unwrapped the tangled quilts from around the trembling legs. He was just about to protest when Sam ripped the tube out of the IV-bag and rolled it up, gripping it hard with sweaty fingers.

“Easy, Sam,” Pastor Jim spoke, breaking the silence. He stepped to the side and reached out for Sam's good arm. “I know you can do it, just let me help you out a little.”

The defiant look on Sam's face softened, his bottom lip quivering into what seemed like a small decisive pout. Pastor Jim reached inside the car and twined his arm around Sam's middle. “How long has it been, Sam? Three years? You're about as tall as your brother now, right?”

Sweat was running down Sam's temples, every muscle in his body taut when he moved to the edge of the seat and swung his feet outside the car. Dean stayed right behind, ready to catch his dumb-ass brother when he finally collapsed. Dad held his eyes on Sam, worry and pride battling on his face. Yes, he had trained a brave soldier, no doubt about it. The fucking dude was brave enough to get himself killed with pride alone. Dean cursed under his breath when Sam dragged himself into a standing position, leaning heavily on Pastor Jim. When he visibly swayed, Dean stepped out, lining himself up at Sam's left side, wrapping his arms right below Pastor Jim's.

Sam threw him a saggy lidded glance and huffed.

Dean was acutely aware that Sam's legs weren't carrying him anymore and with a look over Sam's shoulder, he caught Pastor's Jim's eyes. The older man slid to stand behind Sam, pulling him back to rest up against his broad chest. Dean let go and bent to hook his arms under Sam's knees.

Pastor Jim kept up his mundane talk when they carried the stubborn-ass up the stairs, over the patio, in through the main door and straight to the room Pastor Jim had prepared. Luckily Sam didn't say anything, if he had, Dean would have to kill him twice.

Sam just fell into bed, eyes closed and the silly long bangs glued to his face.

Pastor Jim tugged the soaked hoodie off and Sam just mumbled. Dean proceeded with the sweatpants, letting them fall into a heap on the floor, while Jim wiped Sam clean with a wet towel. Sam seemed asleep when they got one of Pastor Jim's over-sized t-shirts and flannel pajama bottoms on him. Dean would tease him later on, when Sam was coherent enough to suffer.

Dad had been standing in the doorway, holding the IV-bag and Sam's duffel bag. Jim walked over and shot dad a murdering glance before he took the IV-bag and returned to hook Sam up. Dean tucked him in and sat on the edge of the bed, resting his face in his palms.

Dean felt a hand come to rest on his shoulder. “I'll get you something to eat, Dean. I just have to call the doc and tell him we need a portable oxygen tank, I don't like Sam's breathing. Doc will be here when he's finished the rounds at the clinic. You all right, Dean? Anything you need?”

“Except a miracle?“ He lifted his face to smile at the man, the relief making him feel weak and shivery. “Thanks Jim. I'm fine. I'll just sit with him till the doc comes.”

Jim ruffled his hair like he were five. “Best brother in the world, huh?”

“I'm awesome,” Dean replied, his voice cracking up.

“I know,” Jim nodded and turned to the man standing by the door. “John, kitchen, now!”

Dean watched the two men leave. Despite Pastor Jim's shorter stature, his stance told Dean that dad was in for the sermon of his lifetime. It wouldn't be the first, and probably not the last, but maybe the worst. He scooted further up on the bed, leaning up against the old, flowery wallpaper. It was the same room they'd shared since he could remember. Same ratty bed, only Sam filled his entirely now. Another year and he wouldn't fit. Dean closed his eyes and let his arm rest on Sam's bony legs, still keeping vigil over his pain in the ass little brother.

It was dark when Sam woke up. His last clear memories were of the morning sun outside, the chill and Pastor Jim's droning that he tried to follow but failed in separating one word from the other. Then there were snippets of someone poking him, asking him his name, Dean telling him to eat something for fuck's sake, talking over his head with someone, voice strained and forced to sound calm. He remembered swallowing some salty liquid, forcing it down to make Dean happy. Dean laughing at him when he tried to hold the spoon, calling him a dopey klutz. But it seemed he hadn't managed to wake up totally, it was all a blurry succession of edgeless moments, jumbled up in his mind.

He looked up at the ceiling, the moon light bouncing off a silvery spiderwebs in the corner above his head. Craning his head, he saw Dean sleeping in the bed on the other side of the room. The house was silent; Dean's breaths and the faint wind rustling the leaves outside were the only signs of life. He hated to break the calm but he needed to go and the prospect of dragging himself to the bathroom was daunting. The bathroom was approximately twenty-four steps away. Maybe less now that he'd grown. All familiar territory, safe like the backseat of the Impala.

His eyes followed the line up to the IV-bag hanging from a make-do support system on the lamp on the wall. An old metal hanger hooked to it, real high tech. He smiled; it had to be Dean's work. Dean was able to fix a car with a piece of gum and a paper-clip if he needed to.

Rolling over to his side, he gritted his teeth at the pain in the ribs when he slowly pulled himself up to sit. The motion made him lower his head, the room was doing some weird flip-flopping that had his head aching. The tube snaked around his arm and he was so tired of it, tired of being this needy, damned wreck, without any kind of control. How was he supposed to move around with this damned thing attached to him? How was he supposed to get it out with a damned cast that only left his fingers free? The new bruise, visible even in the semi-darkness, like a splotch of ink on his hand, told him that the old IV port had been exchanged. He'd probably messed something up when he pulled the tube earlier. He'd do a better job this time; it wasn't the first time he was hooked up, he had the basic knowledge how it worked, it wasn't rocket-science after all. Easiest way would have been to pull the port out altogether, on swift rip and it would be done, but he didn't want to soil Pastor Jim's sheets. Blood on sheets was a bitch, he knew, he'd washed a few, never getting them quite clean.

Following the catheter with his fingers, up to the plastic square close to the bag, he felt something that seemed like a movable lever. He pushed it up, hopefully stopping the drip. Then he fumbled around with the plastic hub that was taped to his skin. He tweaked and pulled until it came loose and then closed the valve with the plug.

He was ridiculously happy about the accomplishment.

It lasted until he dragged himself out of the bed and almost toppled over. He would have, if he hadn't hit the wall and managed to hold onto the door frame. Steadying his breath, he listened for sounds of Dean waking up until the room stopped swinging. When there was no signs that his stumbling had perturbed his brother's sleep, he opened the door carefully and slid out. The one widow at the end of the hall cast a bleak, square pattern of silvery light on the floor. It made him nauseous and he closed his eyes, continuing forward sideways, with his back pressed to the wall. One step after another, he counted them and after fifteen, he was soaked with sweat and his legs were shaking. Holding his breath he took aim at the bathroom door and stepped across the hall to hang onto the handle. He hadn't calculated with the door not being properly closed and he was propelled inside, hand flailing for something to grab. It happened to be the sink and by then he was out of breath and just sank onto the toilet-seat. His mouth was dry, everything ached and all he wanted to do was lie down on the cool, tiled floor. If he did, he doubted he'd get back up by himself. He bit down and reached over to flick on the light by the mirror. The bathroom was exactly as he remembered it.

Gripping the sink, he pulled himself up, breathing through the pain and rose to get the ridiculously large pajama bottom down his thighs. Yes, he had to pee sitting. And that was the silly thing that had tears burn in his eyes. He turned the faucet on, letting the water run to hide any sound that might escape him when he finally gathered enough strength to rise and pull up the pajama bottom. That was when he spotted a ludicrous reflection in the mirror. It took a while before he realized he was staring at himself; a mangled, multicolored wreck that was in desperate need of a shower. The notion was enough for him to sink back to sit on the toilet seat and lean his brow on the cool porcelain. What had he been thinking? He friggen needed help with everything! Everything hurt and he even had to hold on to the sink not to fall down. Dean hated having to look out for him, Sam just knew that. He'd been doing it since he was a damned kid himself. And now this? At sixteen he felt like he was reduced back to a toddler-like state, not even capable of a damn trip to the bathroom without falling apart. He shouldn't have come here, he should have done anything else but force others to look out for him. Anything! The earlier sense of victory was brutally crushed and the bitterness at the revelation of his own weakness manifested in a sob he was unable to suppress.

“Sam?” The ceiling lamp was flicked on, Dean's rapid steps in his direction and the hand on his shoulder had him capitulate. He was able to suffocate the sobs, but he couldn't hide the trembles. The embarrassment was total.

Dean crouched by his side, hand sliding down to lie lightly on his back, easing the tremors. Sam wanted to crack a joke but the sobs still ripped through his body, tears running hot over his cheeks.

“Hey, hey, hey! What's wrong?” Dean crooned and rubbed Sam's good shoulder. The silence that followed was full of questions. Dean's breath telling Sam that his brother was stressed and Sam knew he was causing it.

“Just tired, Dean,” he got out in a snotty, not very convincing voice.

Dean's silence told him that his brother didn't believe one word he was saying. He strained to straighten himself up, stiffening at the jolt of pain in his ribs. Clamming his eyes shut, he rode through the wave of fire that flashed inside his chest. At this point he didn't even bother to hide his tear streaked face.

“M'sorry, I'll get outta your way.”

“Sammy! If you apologize one fucking more time, I'm gonna whack you over the head, I swear!” Dean cupped his hands around Sam's face, pulling gently to lock eyes with him. “Where's your IV? You need that, understand? You need the antibiotics and the pain-killers, Sam, you copy that?”

“Don't want it,” he mumbled sullenly, trying to turn his face away from Dean's inquiring eyes. .

“Look Sam, the doc warned us about this. She said that you'd probably be messed up for a while, that an accident like yours screws with your head. You gotta give yourself time to heal, man. You should have called on me, I was right there. How about a 'hey, awesome big brother', that'll be enough. I don't wanna come in here and find you having taken a swan dive into the porcelain throne. Got that?”

“Yeah,” he nodded and closed his eyes since more stupid tears flowed.

“Jesus, Sammy, “ Dean wiped the tears with his thumbs. “Think you can manage to sit here alone for two more minutes without crashing? I gotta get dad and help you back to bed.”

“No, please, Dean, not dad. Please not dad! I'll get out, promise!” All he needed now was dad's scowl at the fact that he had failed again. Dad's silent ardent stare of disapproval. He just couldn't take that, not now. Grabbing the rim of the sink, he dragged himself to his feet, Dean's arm sneaked around his waist, aiding him. Out of breath, he leaned heavily on his brother, cursing himself all over. “M'so -.”

“Shut up Sam, just shut the fuck up, man, please!”

Dean sounded close to tears when he pulled him into a gentle hug, hand cupped over the nape of Sam's neck while standing steady as a rock. Sam rested his forehead on Dean's shoulder, grateful and ashamed, pulling strength from Dean. He didn't look up when the door opened and sounds spilled in from the hall, instead he balled the fabric of Dean's t-shirt in his good hand, knowing exactly who was on the other side of the door. Who was watching his defeat and weakness. Watching the son he found to be such a lost cause, proving to be one.

“He's okay dad, go back to bed.”

“What's he doing up, Dean? What did he -.”

“Dad, I've got him,” Dean interrupted, keeping his voice calm and even.

Sam had never loved Dean as much as he did right there and then. He was being a damned pain in the ass and Dean just stood there with him and didn't complain about being woken up by a sobbing brother in the middle of the night. And all this when he could be some place else, chatting up chicks and getting laid.

Dad's footsteps disappeared in the direction they had come from and Sam lifted his head from the comforting shoulder and pushed himself to stand straight. “Thanks, Dean.”

“Yeah, yeah, no chick-flick moments thank you very much. Let's just get your sorry ass to bed and hook you back up. Because damned, if you let all the good stuff leak out, you're so sleeping in it, you freak.“ Dean didn't let go of the grip around Sam's middle, just waited for Sam to take the first step and then followed in his pace

“I did close it off, I'm not an idiot!” Sam gruffed, pausing to lean up against the wall.

“You so are, Sammy,” Dean chuckled horsely, casting a glance at him. “And a whiny, pouty OCD- bitch to boot. And you're getting the oxygen taped back under that big nose o'yours. You fricken sound like your exhaust pipe's clogged.”

Sam tried his best glare when he put more weight on his feet and started walking. Without a word Dean tightened his grip, lessening the strain.

“Very allegoric,” Sam mumbled breathlessly when Dean flicked on the light and eased them in through the bedroom door.

“I know! I'm awesome, you're just a geek.” Dean huffed when he helped Sam lie down and pulled the blankets up over him. “I mean, hell, who uses words like allegoric anyway? That won't help you pick up chicks.” He rummaged around for the end of the IV-tube, took one look at the hub and clipped it on.

“Now, that's what gets you chicks. Technical skills.”

“Not if you forget to open the drip, jerk.” Sam replied, smiling into the pillow.

“Smart-ass! I was just getting to that!” Dean made a face at him and Sam coughed on a laugh and Dean retaliated with the nasal cannula and a tighter tuck in.

“Get some sleep, geek-boy!”

The room grew dark and Sam felt the bed dip when Dean sat down at the foot end. He wanted to tell him to crawl over to his own bed and take his own advice but he was too tired. And tears were rolling down his cheeks again. This time he cried because he was lucky enough to have a brother like Dean. One who'd probably whack him over the head for being a girly, doped up dork if he knew there was crying into the pillow. But that didn't matter. Dean was his home. And that was really all he needed.

John remained in the shadows of the corner, watching his sons. One with so many issues stemming from loss and grief never quite worked through and too much laid on his shoulders at an early age. The other, barely walking, with no memories of a normal family-life, rebellious and seeking what he never had. Sam had never been allowed to feel safe and secure and chances were that he never would. He wanted to give his sons what they wanted, it was easier to accomplish regarding Dean. After all, he understood and embraced the life they led. He'd never be able to give Sam what he wanted and the cruelty of it was that what Sam wanted was what most already had. But Sam would probably forever be deprived the simple things in life; family, friends and stability.

John watched them advance slowly. Sam leaning heavily on his brother, trying to keep up the banter, even through the hardest of times. Watched their grip on each other, two lost souls clinging to what was the only certainty in their lives; each other.

He had done more wrongs than rights with the boys, but the brotherhood he was watching was what would see them through in the end. That bond was the one thing that should never be broken and he hoped it would last even after he was gone.

When the light in the room went out, he turned and walked into the kitchen and poured himself a glass of Jim's lousy Bourbon. Pastor Jim was right, he was a lousy father most of the times. He was absent and not very reliable, controlling and demanding. He'd turned out to be like his own father, the one that he had turned his back on at a very early age and who had left an aching hole in his heart. His model for fatherhood wasn't exactly great, but that didn't excuse anything. Sam had already turned his back on him and he knew it would leave the same aching hole in Sam as it had in him. He hoped he'd fare better with Dean. Tomorrow he'd take a Greyhound and get the car for his son. That was all he could do at this point. It was a meek repayment for Dean's loyalty, but he had nothing more to give.

He didn't know how to repay Sam, didn't even know if it was possible. Sam was his lost son, his sorrow and he wondered if his father had looked at him and thought the same? It had been too late when he realized how much he loved his father, too late to express it in either words or actions. The ache lessened but it never went away. It came back with a vengeance when he looked at Sam and wondered if Sam would end up just like him? There was still time to remedy Sam's distrust, but he lacked the knowledge on how to reach out to his son and make him understand. Right now he needed to stay away, give Sam space to heal. He'd go back and get the needed document from Sam's school, try and find a job somewhere and send them the money for Sam's medical bills. Dean would look out for him and he'd call and check up on them until Sam was well enough to leave Pastor Jim's. Staying away was the best thing he could do for his sons right now, let them lead a normal life for one summer.

He looked out the window, watching the age old trees moving in the wind, imagining the creak of the branches. There was so much he wanted to tell Sam, emotions he couldn't put into words, fears he hesitated to verbalize and the pride he felt, watching his youngest become a man of his own. John was aware that his communication skills had never been good and the only words he could express right now were hoarsely whispered into the stillness of the night.