I have no good excuse for the wait, just an apology. Sorry. lol, for real though, I'm super sorry it took this long to get this out to you all, but I hope you enjoy!

Dean kept his promise and was laying next to Sam the next morning. Sam blearily gazed at the clock next to their bed, almost panicking when he realized the numbers read 5:30 AM. He quickly remembered that he was not at Mark's, and didn't have to be up at a certain time in the morning. If his dad had wanted him up, he would have said something the night before. Dean was still asleep, and snoring lightly, but their dad was sitting at the small table in the room, cleaning guns. Sam sat up to go over to him grimacing when the room spun a bit.

He stood next to the table, back straight, arms at his side.

"Good morning, sir," he greeted his father.

"Morning, Sam,' he replied without looking up from his work. "Why don't you have a seat. I've got some things I'd like to talk with you about."

"Yes sir," Sam sank heavily into the chair across from his father.

"In speaking with Mark yesterday, I learned that most young people benefit from solid structure in their life. Unfortunately, I can't give you the structure of a stable place of living, you understand why, of course. He did say that a strong daily routine is helpful, even if it's only the first three hours of your day. Therefore, from now on, your routine will consist of waking up at 6 AM, exercising for one hour, showering and eating, and then either studying, researching, or caring for equipment. Does that all make sense to you?"

"Yes, sir," Sam agreed readily. He had to admit, it did feel better, having the structure laid out so specifically. It seemed as though his father actually wanted to make things better for all of them.

"Go get your brother up, and then both of you get ready to go. I want us heading out of here in half an hour," Dad instructed.

"Yes, sir," Sam did as he was told, and in no time they were in the car headed for a case somewhere.

Dad talked on the way about what they were dealing with. Dean inserted questions and commentary throughout, while Sam stayed silent. What he gleaned from listening was that they were headed into the mountains of Oregon to a small hiking trail where hikers had reportedly gone missing with no trace. Police were saying that they could be dealing with one or more kidnappers until recently the bodies were discovered in a cave. All of them had been murdered very graphically, and now the police were searching for a serial killer. They would keep an open mind, of course, and wouldn't know for sure until they saw the bodies, but Dad was thinking either a werewolf or, Sam shuddered a little, a wendigo. Around noon, they stopped at a small roadside diner.

"Hey darlin', what can I get started for ya?" A waitress greeted them at their table. Her name tag read Margaret, and she looked to be in her mid-forties.

"Three of your classic burgers with fries, please," Dad smiled.

"Of course," she took note of their order and left to bring it to the kitchen. Sam sat with his chin resting on his hand, resisting the urge to lay his head down on the table and take a nap.

"Sam, why don't you tell Dean and I some of the things you did at Mark's," Dad looked over at Sam. "It looked like he had a pretty nice facility set up." Sam blinked his eyes slowly as his dad's words began to blur together and fade into the background. He was jolted back to reality with a sharp flick to his arm by Dean.

"Falling asleep on us Sammy?" Dean smirked playfully.

"Sorry," Sam sat up straighter. "Um, what was it you asked, sir?" He turned toward his dad.

"Just wanted to hear about some of the stuff you got to do at Mark's," he repeated. Luckily he didn't seem upset that Sam had ignored him.

"Oh. I did some target practice, and some, um, swimming exercises. I learned some hand to hand combat stuff. I practiced first aid a little bit," his voice trailed off, as he remembered how it had felt having to stitch his own chest closed.

"That's great!" Dean sounded excited. "Man, I wish I could have been there. Sounds like it was a lot of fun!"

"It wasn't," Sam spoke without really thinking. Dean acted as though he hadn't even heard him.

"Dad, we should do some hand to hand stuff! I bet I could beat Sammy hands down."

"Calm down, Dean," John gazed at his eldest son sternly. "Let Sam talk." Dean had the decency to look apologetic. Sam was saved from having to say more as Margaret walked up to the table with their burgers.

"All right, three classics and two chocolate shakes on the house because your boys are just so darn cute," she smiled. "Enjoy, and if there's anything you need, just give me a holler."

"Thanks," John nodded, then turned toward his sons. "Eat up both of you. I want to be back on the road in thirty."

"Yessir," they responded in tandem, then started eating. Dean fell to eating his burger as though he hadn't eaten in weeks, which was typical of him. Sam ate slower, starting with a couple of fries. As soon as the grease-laden potatoes were in his mouth, he felt his stomach twist in disgust. Diner food was the worst. This diner must have been worse than others because it wasn't long before his stomach was churning. He excused himself to the restroom, where he proceeded to lose his lunch and breakfast. He returned to the table, paler than usual, and shaking minutely. Wanting to keep up appearances, he continued to pick at his food, eating bits and pieces, and trying to ignore the unpleasant lingering discomfort. Dad hadn't seemed to notice, but Dean was giving him plenty of side glances. When their dad left to use the restroom, Dean confronted him.

"Why aren't you eating?" he wondered.

"I am," Sam lied.

"No, you're picking," Dean retorted. "And you only pick when you're sick or upset. So what's going on?"

"I hate greasy diner food," Sam frowned.

"You'll still eat it when you're hungry," Dean's tone spoke volumes of how little of Sam's crap he was willing to deal with.

"Well, I'm not very hungry, either," Sam grumbled.

"You're pale, too," Dean gazed at him in concern. "Are you sick or somethin'?" John walked back up to the table.

"All right boys," he announced. "Let's get going." If Sam had been worried about his dad noticing his lack of appetite, it seemed he had nothing to worry about. John's mind was too preoccupied with the upcoming hunt to notice whether or not his sons ate food.

"May I use the restroom before we leave, sir?" Sam asked.

"Make it quick, and meet us at the car," Dad nodded. When Sam came out of the restroom, Margaret was clearing their table. She saw Sam walking past and stopped him.

"Are you all right, honey?" She asked softly. "You barely ate, and you seem a little pale."

"I'm fine," came his reply.

"I've got some nice hot chicken noodle soup in the back," she gazed at him. "I can get you a bowl to go, no charge."

"No thank you," he ducked his head in embarrassment. "I'm okay. I have to get out to the car. My dad and Dean are waiting." She grabbed her order pad, wrote something on the front sheet, and tore it off, handing it to Sam.

"That's my number, hon," she smiled. "Call anytime."

"Um, thanks," he replied, awkwardly. "I, uh, I have to go now, so," without saying anything else, he left the restaurant, shoving the paper into his pant's pocket. Luckily nobody said anything about how long he was in the bathroom, and he silently buckled himself into the backseat. The motion of the car combined with the lull of deep voices coming from the front seat had Sam falling asleep almost instantly.


The stopping of the car jarred Sam to alertness. His mouth felt like it was full of cotton, and he was uncomfortably warm.

"What time 'sit?" Sam wondered hoarsely.

"Time to get up, Sammy," Dean snarked playfully.

At the same time, Dad said, "Six o'clock." They were stopped in a motel parking lot.

"I'll go get us a room," John said. "You both start unpacking the car." He got out, passing his keys to Dean who went around to the trunk. Sam slowly extracted himself from the back of the Impala, trying to ignore the dull throbbing of his back and head. Dean already had their bags out of the car and was double-checking the security of the false bottom by the time Sam made it over. He tossed a water bottle at Sam, who caught it, gazing in mild confusion.

"We stopped for gas about an hour back," Dean explained. "You barely stirred, but I figured you'd be thirsty once you actually woke up." Sam cracked open the bottle, and before long it was half empty.

"Thanks," Sam gasped, breathing heavily.

"Sure, now come on let's get this crap inside before Dad gets impatient."

"Yeah, okay." Sam agreed.

"Oh, and for the record, I still think you're sick," Dean raised his eyebrows as if challenging Sam to disagree.

"I'm just tired," Sam protested. He turned and started walking to the motel without waiting for a response. They met up with Dad by the front desk.

"Thanks for getting the bags, boys," he smiled. "Let's go get settled in so we can get an early start tomorrow." They were unlocking the door to their room when a door opened down the hallway and a man exited a room. He came walking towards them, stopping a few feet from their door.

"John Winchester?" he questioned gruffly.

"It's Bobby!" Dean grinned. Needless to say, Bobby followed them into their room to summarize what he had learned about the case so far.

"I'm gonna give you all a summary, and nobody's gonna say a word until I'm finished, got it?" Even John nodded silently. "We got four bodies, all found strung up in a cave, one was still alive, barely. I talked to him in the hospital, and he said he wasn't sure who, or what dragged him away, but that one of the guys was still alive when he woke up, and they said it looked like a monster. Naturally, he told me the other guy was probably delirious and imagining things. I left it at that, and went to the coroners to examine the other bodies. Hearts were intact, they basically died of hunger. Although they also had some unexplained lacerations. I did some checking of town history and found that this has been happening every few years. In summary, get your flame torches guys, we're dealing with a wendigo."

"That's about what we figured," John nodded. "If I'd have known you were gonna be here, I would have found a different hunt. Since we're here we might as well go in together."

"I suppose, as long as you don't mess it up," Bobby snarked. It may have been a joke, but there was enough truth behind it to shift the atmosphere in the room leaving a lingering discomfort.

"Well, I don't know about you guys," Dean inserted. "But I'm hungry."

"I was headed to pick myself up some pizza before I ran into you yahoos," Bobby grumbled. John glanced around the room, his eyes hesitating on Sam for a moment.

"I'll go get the pizza," he volunteered, his eyes shifting to rest on Bobby. "That way Sam and Dean can get settled."

"What, you want me to babysit your boys while you go for a drive?" Bobby sounded grumpy, but anyone who knew him would be able to see through his act.

"I'll be back in a little while," John left the room, and a silence descended over it for a moment.

"What are you all sittin' around for?" Bobby questioned. "Get settled!" His command sparked the boys into action, and in a few minutes, they had organized the room. Sam sat on the edge of one of the beds gazing down at his hands as though they were the most interesting thing he'd seen all day. He felt warm and a bit nauseous as he had most of the day, and his chest felt irritated. Dean and Bobby were talking, Dean telling him all about some hunt that he'd had a big part in solving. Bobby looked proud as Dean reminisced the moment of adrenaline as he'd shot the monster moments before it would have clawed their dad. Sam found himself wondering how Dean could be so excited about killing something. Once Dean had finished his story, Bobby turned to Sam.

"Read any good books recently, Sam?" he asked.

"I started the Chronicles of Narnia series at Mark's," Sam responded after a hesitation, the question catching him off guard.

"Who's Mark?" Bobby lowered his eyebrows in confusion.

"Uh, Mark Reed," Sam rubbed the back of his neck. "He's a hunting trainer. An old Marine pal of my dad's. Dad sent me to his place for a week to get in some extra training." Bobby looked upset for some reason.

"Well did you learn anything good?" he wondered after a moment's pause.

"I guess," Sam shrugged. He flinched when the door opened, and although he wasn't sure, it almost looked like Bobby had noticed. Dad came in carrying three pizza boxes.

"Anybody order pizza?" he called with a rare, genuine smile on his face. "I've got a large meat-lovers, a large cowboy, and a small veggie something-or-other for Sam." It was rare for Dad to buy a special order that catered to Sam's appreciation of vegetables, and Sam wondered what prompted him to this time.

"Thank goodness you're back," Dean called. "I was withering away over here."

"I'm sure that's not the case, son," John shook his head fondly. He walked over and set the pizza boxes on the small table in the room. "Bobby, you can go ahead and get your pizza first."

"What, am I your guest or something?" Bobby rolled his eyes, but went to dish up his pizza anyway. Soon they all had pizza, and there was silence in the room. There's nothing quite like food to shut up a group of hunters. Sam ate slowly, still worried about his stomach. He was halfway through his second piece when he felt an unpleasant rumbling. At this point, it was almost normal.

"May I go to the bathroom, sir?" Sam asked his father.

"Why are you asking me?" John wondered. "It's not like we're having a formal dinner or something. Go if you need to, I don't care."

"Yes, sir," Sam entered the small bathroom, turning on the fan and locking the door. He leaned over the toilet, breathing thickly. Maybe, he thought, it was finally time to admit to Dean that he was sick. His stomach gave an awful lurch, and then his pizza finally made its reappearance. He stayed in the bathroom for probably fifteen minutes trembling with chills, waiting for his nausea to pass. Once they had, he stood up, flushed the toilet, and washed his hands. When he left the bathroom, Dean was glaring at him.

"I tried, Sammy," he called. "I really tried. I wanted to give you a chance to be independent or whatever, but you look like crap."

"Gee, thanks Dean," Sam pouted.

"You're sick," Dean deadpanned. "Go lay down."

"I'm not sick," Sam protested uselessly. "I'm just tired."

"Yeah, sure," Dean looked unamused. "You're tired even though you slept the whole ride here."

"Sam doesn't look that bad to me," John spoke up.

"Oh shut up John," Bobby entered the fray. "You wouldn't know what either of your kids looks like sick because you're never around them long enough to know!"

"I resent that," John stood up. "I'm with my kids as often as I can be! The only time I'm away from them is when I go on a solo hunt, which rarely happens now that Sam's old enough to hunt."

"Really? What about every time a hunt goes bad and you drown yourself in whiskey at the nearest dive bar? Or when you think you're close to finding the sonuvabitch that killed your wife and you dump your kids off at my place? Not that I mind having your boys, mind you. Your boys are wonderful, not that you would know that."

"That doesn't happen very often and you know it," John called out defensively.

"Yeah, well, even when you're with your kids you're never really with them," Bobby growled. "Beyond that, didn't you just ditch Sam at some old Marine buddy's house?"

"I took Sam to Mark Reed's for some extra training that I was unqualified to give," John explained.

"I've heard stories about Mark Reed," Bobby's tone carried a warning "I've heard he's crazy."

"He fought alongside me in 'Nam," John scowled. "He's not crazy. He was the best damn soldier in our platoon."

"Was," Bobby emphasized. "He was a great soldier until he lost his wife to a werewolf. Then he became a great hunter. Now, I've only heard stories from other hunters, but from what I know, he lost his son about three years ago and hasn't been the same since. He's obsessed with training other hunters' kids to avoid them falling victim like his own son did. Which would be great, but from what I hear, he believes the reason his son died is because he was too soft on him. All the stories I hear paint him to be aggressive, harsh, and unforgiving. Some of them even imply abuse, though no one's said anything of the sort plainly."

"Sam's said nothing about-"

"Oh, like he would tell you," Bobby growled. "He probably feels like if he tells you he was being abused that somehow you'll turn it around and make it his fault! You'll say something like 'you should have fought back'. 'Oh, Bobby, why do you think I would say that?' You ask. It's because you're an idiot, John. You're an idiot, and a fool, and a shit father," Bobby finalized, breathing heavily. John looked livid. He turned and stalked out of the room, slamming the door shut behind him.

Bobby turned to Sam and Dean. Apparently, during their argument, both men had failed to notice Sam having a panic attack. Dean was on his knees in front of his brother, holding Sam's hands to his chest and instructing him to breathe slowly. After about thirty seconds, Sam let go of Dean's hands and collapsed back onto the bed in exhaustion. His face was streaked with tears, and his forehead shimmered with sweat. Bobby would have checked for a fever if it weren't for the fact that Dean already was.

"Okay, bud," Dean spoke softly. "Let's get you out of this wet shirt and into a dry one." He started to remove his brother's shirt, but Sam fought him.

"No, Dean," Sam protested. "You can't take it off. Please."

"I have to," Dean would plead if he had to, Bobby knew. "Come on. It's not like Bobby hasn't seen you without a shirt on dude."

"But if you take it off, then you'll see," Sam sniffed.

"See what?" Dean looked concerned now. "What am I going to see, Sam?"

"How bad I was."

"Nothing you show me is going to make me love you any less," Dean promised. Had his brother been hurting himself?

"O-okay," Sam relented. "But you have to promise you won't tell Dad."

Dean promised readily, partly because it would allow him to get his brother's shirt off, but mostly because he wasn't going to tell their dad anyway. He wasn't expecting the horrors beneath the shirt. His back was an array of bruises and stripes, and his chest was covered in a large white bandage. Dean moved to take the bandage off and was surprised to encounter no reaction from Sam. His brother looked as though he'd given up fighting, and was laid back with his eyes closed, tears leaking down his cheeks from beneath his eyelids. Underneath the bandage, Sam's chest was stitched together crudely, and Dean found himself wondering who the amateur was that had done it.

"What happened?" Dean tried to ignore the crack of his voice.

"Which part?" Sam might have been joking if it weren't for the gravity of the situation. As it was, he just sounded resigned.

"Uh, let's start with your chest," Dean glanced over to Bobby as if looking for guidance. Bobby's shrug was less than comforting.

"Wendigo." Sam's answer was so calm the meaning took a second to register.

"You fought a Wendigo?"

"It was a training exercise. It got the drop on me though, so I had to escape out of its cave. It wasn't too hard to find the house again, and there was a first aid kit waiting there for me, so I was able to stitch myself up."

"I'm sorry, you stitched yourself up?!" Sam didn't reply, and his face was twisted into a grimace.

"Ask these questions later," Bobby suggested. "I think right now, we've got other, more pressing issues." Dean chose not to respond verbally and turned to walk into the bathroom to retrieve a cool, damp washcloth. His jaw was wound tight, but he was very gentle as he wiped down his brother's forehead and chest. Under his ministrations, Sam fell asleep almost instantly.

"I'm gonna kill that piece of shit," Dean growled lowly.

"Not without me," Bobby added. "Move aside for a minute so I can look at your brother's chest." There was a flicker of protective hesitation on Dean's part before he reluctantly moved aside and allowed the older man to move in closer.

"Idjit," Bobby muttered, shaking his head in exasperation. "He hasn't been taking care of it, so now it's starting to get infected," Bobby complained to Dean. "Gimme a minute to get my first aid kit. I swear you damn idjits will be the death of me one day. Thoght I raised you both better than to not take care of an injury." When he returned, he pulled out a large bottle of rubbing alcohol. His face was grim as he unscrewed the cap.

"Dean, you're gonna have to be ready to hold him down," Bobby instructed. "This is gonna hurt like one son of a bitch."

Neither of them could have prepared for the reaction that came when they started to clean his chest.