Author's Note: Another shameless excuse to bash Sam. Don't worry, Dean gets his share too. Rated for language and violence.

Standard Disclaimer


"Face it, Dean. You got us lost- again."

"Shut up, I did not."

Sam rolled his eyes, glancing out at the darkened street as they drove. "So this is what… the scenic route?"

Night had long since fallen over the heart of Brooklyn. The streets were lined with tall black light posts, their halogen bulbs buzzing and flickering with wavering weak energy. The buildings were colored from the sidewalk to chest-height in flowing, symbolic graffiti. The alleyways were dark and littered with trash. The men were all scruffy and shaggy and the women were scantly dressed and bold. In the distance, the glow from the city shined a promise of sanctity.

They had been brought to New York on a job. Dean had gotten a phone call from a very distraught woman with a bad case of the poltergeists. Even as Dean was getting directions, glass was shattering in the background. They had drove fast and hard, and two days later, arrived in crowded New York state. Sara had lived in a nice enough neighborhood, and after the poltergeist was taken care of, her house was pretty nice too. She had paid them what she could afford, fed them dinner, and then Dean and Sam were on their way. At first, Sam had enjoyed the hustling city and all its bright lights. Dean drove with confidence and they had flirted with the idea of finding a hotel in the city.

Suddenly, Sam realized that Dean always drove with confidence.

It shouldn't be any surprise, then, that they were completely and utterly lost now. And, it seemed, in a not-so-good part of town.

Dean made a noise of frustration, shaking Sam from his thoughts. "Shit, we're almost out of gas. I hate this city! Gimme a long stretch of dirt road any day."

Sam raised an eyebrow. "What- now you're proud to be cornfed?"

"Hell ya. I mean, look at these people. They're all walking around with chips on their shoulders, like they're angry at the world. Everything is so tense here."

"Funny, I remember you being bored stiff in Kansas. So bored, in fact, that you got yourself- and me- into a lot of trouble."

Dean snorted. "You never needed me to get you into trouble."

A corner of Sam's mouth rose in a half-smile. The deep, testosterone-laden rumble of the Impala sounded grotesquely out of place amidst the siren-punctuated quietness of the outer city. Despite all the ghost hunting, the majority of the brother's lives had been spent in Kansas. John Winchester hadn't strayed far from Lawrence after his wife died. The art of demon-slaying wasn't mastered in one night, so it wasn't until Sam was walking and talking and capable of long-term memories that the family began to hunt further and longer away from home. But from those early years, back when he was happy and Dean still had baby fat, Sam could remember the wide-open farm lands and clear blue skies like he had been there yesterday. Strangers in Kansas were nice, and you could trust them to stay that way. The front door could stay unlocked over night. Dogs could run off leash. Kids could play in the roads.

It wasn't a bad way to start your life.

But it certainly hadn't hardened him for what lie ahead.

Sam's smile had grown cold so he let it fall. They came to a deserted intersection and stopped at the red light. On the sidewalk beside him, a group of dark-skinned men loitered around a bus stop shelter.

"Keep staring, Sam. I don't think we stand out enough yet."

Sam blinked, turning away from the small group. "I'm not staring, and we wouldn't be standing out if we weren't already lost."

The light turned and a green glow lit up the Impala's reflective hood. "Quit bitchin', I'm working on it, alright? What, are you scared or something?" Dean stomped on the gas and the heavy car lurched forward with a small squeal.

Sam clenched his jaw. It was an insult, to think he was scared of his fellow human race as if they were the demonic spirits he hunted. He had enough to be afraid of; he would not be scared of humans as well. "I'm not scared," he grumbled, his breath fogging the cool glass as he stared out the window. Then, belatedly, he turned to face Dean and shot back, "I'm not the one who keeps a knife on me at all times, Professor Paranoid."

Dean's knuckles turned white where they were folded over the steering wheel. "It's not just a knife, it's a blessed one and its saved your life once or twice. And, there is no such thing as paranoid in this business, Sam. You know that."

Sam hugged himself tighter. He did know that. But it was approaching midnight and the day had been long and exhausting. His patience was wearing thinner with every wrong turn. The city's smog was blowing in through the air vents and the locals were looking less and less friendly. Quiet guitar riffs prolonged song number ten on whichever Metallica tape this was, and Sam wanted nothing more than to lie down and sleep for twelve hours.

He sighed, fighting to prevent a yawn. "Why don't we just find a gas station and ask for directions? It'd be better than driving aimlessly all night."

Dean pointed a finger. "I have never asked for directions before, and I'm not about to now, hear me? And besides, I think we're on the right track. This is starting to look familiar."

"Probably because we've circled this block before!" Sam exclaimed, readjusting himself in the seat. "At least change the tape if we're gonna drive around all night. We've been listening to this-"

They passed an alley and movement in the shadows caught his attention, scattering his train of thought like dandelion fluff in the wind. His mouth hung open as an image burned in his mind- at least three men, advancing on a shorter, petite woman who was backed against the brick wall of an abandoned warehouse.

Instantly, Sam's hand shot out, hitting his brother in the elbow. "Hey- Dean, stop! Go back!"

The Impala's nose dove towards the pavement as Dean stomped on the brakes. "What?"

Sam's hand was on the door handle. "There's a girl back there- I think she was being attacked!"

Dean snagged Sam's elbow in a painful grip. "Wait, stop. Hold on Sam, we don't-"

But Sam jerked his arm free and pushed open the door. Immediately, the terrified screams of a woman-in-trouble met his ears.

His heart quickened as he stepped out onto the sidewalk. Why couldn't Dean see the gravity of the situation? Someone was in trouble- isn't protecting people what they did for a living?

Sam had only taken one step when the Impala's engine idled as it was shifted into 'park'. He heard a creak, then the sound of Dean jogging around the car to follow.

"Sam, wait-"

The woman in the alley screamed sharply, and Sam headed towards the commotion in a run. He rounded the corner, just barley scraping the sleeve of his jacket on the gritty brick wall, and continued towards the sounds of a woman begging for her life. "Hey!" he shouted, and all four shadows froze in the darkness.

"Let her go!" Sam ordered, slowing down as he was able to make out the figures now that he was in the shadows too. One of the men kept the weeping girl- not more than 25- pinned to the wall, the glint of a knife reflecting in the dim streetlight. The other two turned and faced Sam. The men were young as well but years of violence had hardened their features. Dark, loose clothing disguised their true builds- but they were empty handed.

Coming to a stop a safe distance away, Sam quickly weighed his options and ignored the fact that it was too late to back out now.

"Who the Hell are you?" one of the men shouted back.

Sam noticed their stiff shoulders and confident movements. There was no sign of a gun, but that realization didn't brighten his outlook very much.

Dean brushed past him, making Sam jump. "Why don't you let her go and we'll talk," he said, and suddenly Sam was looking at the back of Dean's head.

"We'll let her go when we're done with her," the man on the left replied coldly.

Sam sidestepped his brother's rigid form, catching the scent of leather and testosterone. "You'll let her go now," he pushed, taking a step so that he was beside Dean. His foot sank into a pile of trash but he didn't look away from the danger ahead.

The three men looked to each other and laughed. The girl continued to cry and the knife was dangerously close to her throat. "You must be lost," the man on the left replied, taking a couple steps towards the brothers. The red bandana around his head separated him from his companions. "You boys better leave now, while you can still walk outta here."

Dean inched forward, once again putting his back to Sam. "I said," he stated lowly, "Let her go."

Red continued moving forwards, stopping just inches from Dean. His shorter companion was flanking him as the third remained with the girl. Dean remained where he was, his body stiff with tension.

The stranger leaned in and growled, "You gonna make me, stranger?"

The challenge was simple but the tone of Red's voice sent ice down Sam's spine. Then, before he knew what was happening, all Hell was breaking loose.

Red didn't even get to close his mouth before Dean exploded into action, lowering his shoulder and ramming into Red with enough force to send them both against the brick wall.

Red's buddy, however, had the same idea and Sam suddenly found himself the victim of his brother's offensive move. His ilium hit first, followed closely by this back and shoulder blades, then his head as he was slammed against the opposite wall as his brother. Ringing filled his ears and his eyes filled with pressure, then an iron fist to his gut ensured that all the air was driven from his lungs. He double over, gasping for air and fighting nausea, and tried to ignore the sinking feeling of impending doom.

Sam tensed, his elbows still on his knees as his lungs slowly re-inflated, and prepared push off the wall and knock his attacker off-balance and backwards.

But before he could lunge forward, a bony knee caught him in the chin and Sam's jaw exploded in pain. His teeth clacked together before his tongue could dodge them, and hot blood instantly filled Sam's mouth.

"Stupid inbred country hick!" the voice above him snarled, and Sam barely had time to wince as a fist collided with his cheekbone.

He spit the blood to the pavement and hoped it missed his shoe.

Swallow the pain, Sam, His father's stern voice echoed from his memories, and Sam held his breath, bracing himself for his next move. You can't cry and fight at the same time. Suck it up and fight back!

Sam dug in his heels and pushed off the wall, stepping into an impressive uppercut. His attacker went stumbling backwards, giving Sam room to collect himself at last. He found his balance and planted his feet, and at last managed to suck in enough air to ease his vertigo. In the background, he could see Dean, wielding that blessed knife he always carried and trying to fend off Red. The in shadows, the third man- although clearly nervous- was still holding the girl at knifepoint.

His ribs ached as he panted, holding the stranger's dark gaze. "Call him off," Sam ordered, his words slurring ineffectively and embarrassingly as his numb jaw refused to cooperate.

His attacker faltered, glancing at his friend in the shadows, and Sam dared to let his hope rise. After all, he and Dean defeated ostensible beings on a semi-regular basis. Surely they could handle a couple thugs.

Dad would be very disappointed in the optimistic he'd become.

In the next instant, Red grabbed Dean's outstretched wrist and pulled, yanking Dean off balance and right into the brick wall, head first. A sickening thud seemed to echo in the alley and Dean slumped lifelessly to the ground, the knife clattering to the pavement as well.

Red bent and retrieved Dean's knife, then all eyes were on Sam.

His blood ran cold.

Sam huffed, forcing a sick, weak smile over his face. His hands were in front of him in a gesture of submission that always halted Dean in his tracks.

These guys, however, were not Dean.

His eyes flickered back to Dean, who lay in a motionless, crumpled heap atop a small pile of garbage.

Fuck.

Red joined his partner, panting hard and grinning sadistically. Dean's knife, clean of blood and glinting in the dim light, was clutched tightly in Red's right hand.

"You're friend thought he was tough shit," Red gloated, bringing the knife up and running his fingers over its sharp blade. "I'm afraid he was mistaken."

Sam didn't even know he was retreating until his back collided with the cold and unforgiving bricks. He didn't know what to do- he wanted to run to Dean, make sure he was okay… but the girl was still sobbing at the end of the alley. And now he was outnumbered and out-armed… how could he come out of this on top?

Red moved closer, still playing with the knife as if he knew how special it really were. Sam's attacker backed away like a jackal giving up its share of the kill to the lions. Red lifted his gaze, pining Sam with a deadly glare. "I hate to do this to such a pretty knife," he said calmly, his rancid breath hot on Sam's face, "but you gotta learn to keep you nose in your own damn business."

The knife flashed just before a white-hot pain seared through his shoulder, through the soft spot just under his collar bone. Sam's vocal chords scraped together as he fought against a whimper and lost.

"I better never see you or your friend around here again or I swear to God, I'll kill you both."

Sam coughed, his paralyzed lungs fighting to regain function. His strength was leaving as fast as the warmth running down his side and Sam hardly realized he was sliding down the wall.

"You hear me?"

A hand grabbed his hair and slammed his skull back against the bricks. Sam blinked, looking up, trying to bring everything back into focus, and realized that Red wanted an answer.

He swallowed, his mouth dry and sticky, and attempted to nod despite the other man's painful grip. He couldn't breath…

"Good." The hand released him and Sam dropped to the ground, his hands finding the hilt of the knife protruding from his warm, wet clothing. "Hey Vago, let's go!"

Shadows passed in front of him as Sam struggled to breathe through the pain enveloping him. His arm might as well have been cut off for all the pain it was causing. His torn muscles were throbbing in time with his pounding heart and the muted lub-dub echoed in his ears. He felt bile rising in his throat as the coldness of the sidewalk seeped through his jeans, contrasting with the growing puddle of warmth he was sitting in.

Sam's eyelids grew heavy and he looked to Dean, who was still laying motionless fifteen feet away.

His hand fell heavily into his lap, leaving the knife in place.

Sam had forgotten how much being stabbed could hurt. He stretched his jaw in an attempt to suck in more oxygen and let his head fall back against the bricks. The agony was overwhelming, inhibiting the rest of his body from moving at all. It pulsed and throbbed, weeping red blood steadily. Sam felt himself going cross-eyed as consciousness slipped away.

The last thing he heard was the roar of the Impala's engine, then Sam slipped into oblivion.

o0O0o

"…shit, come on Sammy, wake up. This is all your fault anyway… stupid fucking heart of gold will kill you one day…"

Sam furrowed his brow at his brother's incessant ramblings. Couldn't he ever shut up? If he was lucky, Dean would go away and he could get five more minutes of sleep. But something was off this time… something in Dean's voice sounded… desperate. Scared.

He cracked open one eye and suddenly everything came back.

His shoulder ached. The pain thrummed through him, intensifying every time his arm moved mid-breath. His clothes were damp and stuck to his injured side, and the bitter smell and taste of coppery blood overwhelmed his senses. Crustiness at the outside corners of his eyes told him he had been crying, though he couldn't remember it. His jaw throbbed with a different pain, one that was undoubtedly caused by a massive bruise and ultimately- a well-placed fist.

"Sammy? You awake?"

Sam winced as he tried to straighten from his awkward and painful slouch. "Name is… Sam."

"Your name is 'idiot', that's for sure," Dean snapped, and then helped Sam alleviate the pressure on his lungs.

Now that Sam could breathe better, the pain in his shoulder seemed to lessen. He looked down and noticed that the knife was gone, and in its place was Dean's hand, pressing a balled-up t-shirt against the wound. He furrowed his brow in confusion and looked to Dean.

"You're one lucky son of a bitch," Dean said. "I think I can stitch it up."

Sam recognized his brother's foul temper as the aftermath of panic and grief, and perhaps embarrassment. Sam studied the bleeding cut and darkening bruise on his older brother's face and suddenly realized that he was not the only one in pain. "You okay?"

"I'm fine. I just need to lie down with an ice pack. They took my wallet though."

Sam huffed, closing his eyes. "That's not all they took." Off Dean's quizzical look, he said, "They took your car, too."

"What- no! God- Sonnofa-"

Dean's strangled curses washed over Sam in a familiar litany. It was comforting, in a way. If Dean had time to sit here and rant, then neither of them could be in any life-threatening danger. Growing braver, Sam tentatively raised his left arm. He winced at the searing pain as his muscles pulled, but the fact that his arm responded at all was encouraging. It meant he hadn't injured any important ligaments or tendons.

…You gotta learn to keep you nose in your own damn business…

Red's words came back to him and Sam suddenly remembered the reason they had entered this God-forsaken alley in the first place. "The girl…" he rasped, swallowing past his swollen tongue, "Where is she?"

Dean raised his head, looking around in the darkness. "I don't know. She was gone when I came to."

Sam couldn't help but feel disappointed at that. They had risked their lives for the poor girl, and she left them behind?

He refused to believe that the city could turn one's heart so cold.

Dean pulled the bloody shirt away and leaned closer, inspecting Sam's shoulder. "The bleeding's stopped now. Think you can walk?"

Sam nodded. He planted his hands on either side of himself, ignoring the paper and debris underneath him as he struggled to his feet. Dean's hands were on his chest, keeping him steady as he rose as slowly as a newborn colt. The altitude change left his head spinning, and Sam braced himself on Dean's arm as he waited for the dizzy spell to pass.

Dean grabbed his chin and forced Sam to look up at the black sky. "How's the face? You got a nice shiner there."

Pain lanced through his jaw and Sam slapped Dean's hand away. "It hurts, for your information. You don't look so hot yourself."

"Anything else hurt?" Dean eyes were narrowed, calculating.

"My pride."

Dean laughed. "You and me both, little brother. You and me both."

Sam shivered as the cool night air cut through his damp clothes. The blood had soaked the armpits of his layered shirts and had even bled down over the waistband of his jeans. His ass was wet from where he'd passed out sitting in the puddle. His clothes clung to him, pulling fine body hairs where the blood had already dried against his skin. He needed a bath.

They started walking towards the street. Although the pain in his arm and shoulder was very real, the damage he had imagined was not. Dean was right, he had been lucky. The wound was in a position where simple immobilization would be the best cure. Sam had grown to trust Dean's suturing abilities, and once they were checked into a motel, he'd let his brother sew him back up like the chick on 'The Nightmare Before Christmas'.

It took a moment for Sam to realize that Dean was shoving something into the waistband of his jeans. He swallowed what little saliva he had managed to produce and mumbled, "At least they didn't steal your knife." He grimaced at the taste of stale blood in his mouth.

Dean looked at him, his gaze even and calculating. They had made it to the alley's opening before he replied. "I won't carry it any more, okay? Maybe you were right, I don't need it. A lot of good it did me tonight…"

Sam shook his head sharply, then caught himself as he listed forward. "No, I was wrong. If I hadn't walked into that situation blindly, things would have been different. We wouldn't be limping home with our tails between our legs." What had he been thinking? Strategy and tactics had been drilled into his head for as long as he could remember. Then after spending four years in the safety of Stanford, it all flies out the window? He had been stupid tonight, he'd rushed in blind, he could have gotten himself killed- could have gotten Dean killed… Sam was only glad Dad hadn't been here to witness his failure.

"You're wearing that look you get when you're making a big deal out of nothing," Dean noted as they continued down the sidewalk. Nothing remained of the Impala except for twin tire tracks on the street.

Sam sighed, and his breath fogged in the air. The hum of cars in the near distance promised of a safer, more populated part of the city. They headed in that direction. "It is a big deal, Dean. What would Dad say if he were here? I mean look at us… we look pathetic. I've been stabbed and you have a goose egg on your forehead. He'd probably try to teach us a lesson and make us spar until we passed out."

Dean smiled that cocky smile of his. "You saying you wanna fight me?"

A thousand angry words rushed up inside him and Sam clenched his jaw, and his fists. The shadows grew darker and longer as they moved out from under the streetlight's glow.

Dean sighed loudly. "Come on Sam, lighten up. You did what any normal person would do- you heard a girl in trouble and tried to save her."

Sam rolled his eyes, but warmth swelled inside him. Dean probably hadn't meant it that way, but Sam saw the statement as a compliment. Had four years away from his family changed him, made him 'normal'? He didn't feel normal- he felt caught between two worlds. Not strong enough or bold enough to fit in as a demon-hunter, but not innocent or careless enough to be a regular twenty-two year old. It was frustrating, and lonely.

They walked across the street, unhurried and unmindful of the glowing red 'Do Not Walk' sign, and stepped back onto the sidewalk at the other side. The dreariness of the slums fit perfectly with Sam's current mood. "If we don't have any money," he started, desperate to squelch his melancholy inner voice, "then how are we going to get a hotel?" His shoulder ached and he wanted to massage the pain away, but he couldn't risk opening the wound again.

Dean was quiet for several footsteps, and Sam wondered if the problem hadn't even crossed his brother's mind. "I guess my good looks aren't going to earn us any free handouts this time, huh."

"I think they may call security on us."

"At least we could have a nice warm jail cell for the night."

Sam stared at Dean.

"So we do what he always do," Dean shrugged, smirking. "We lie."

"You don't have your fake ID's to back you up."

"You know, you can really be a downer sometimes," Dean grumbled, kicking a dented hubcap into the street.

"I'm not being pessimistic, I'm thinking one step ahead. Isn't that what we were taught?" Sam's own bitterness surprised him. Maybe it was the relentless pain in his shoulder, or the throbbing in his jaw, but tonight, the memories of John Winchester were really rubbing him the wrong way.

"You know, you'd better make up your mind," Dean snapped, his voice surprisingly loud in the deserted streets. "Either you're the good little soldier Dad trained you to be, or you're not. Which is it Sam? Because if you want to stay, and do what you were born to do, then you have to be in it one hundred percent. But when you try to be both, shit like this happens." Dean gestured between them, emphasizing their injuries.

"What the hell does that mean, do what I was born to do?" Ghost-hunting was his father's obsession, it was a life-style that was chosen for him after his mother had died in the flames.

"Face it Sam, it takes a special talent to do what we do. And now that you've got 'The Shining', I don't see how you can deny it."

Sam watched as a large black rat dragged a paper bag into the sewer. He still wasn't comfortable with his 'abilities', and Dean knew that. "So maybe I can't deny it. But I just can't bring myself to be thrilled about it, either."

"Hey," Dean said quietly, his mood suddenly morose. "You know I'm here for ya, right? I mean, I'm your big brother, it's my job to watch out for you."

Dysphoria was not an emotion Dean did well, so Sam tried to play it off with humor. "You mean like you did tonight?"

The reaction he got was not what he'd hoped for. They passed under a streetlight and Dean's temper flared.

"I know I screwed up, Sam! It makes me sick to know that those bastards used my knife against you. I'll never forgive myself, but I swear, I'd die to protect you. I kinda like having you around, too. Truth is, I'm glad there's something here to fight for. Mom's just a memory and Dad's starting to become one too, but you… you're here, and you're real. I'm glad you're so stubborn and naïve." They pressed onwards through another red light and Dean snorted, "God, listen to me. I sound like I'm gonna break out in song."

Sam took a few steps, the immensity of Dean's confession weighing heavily upon him. He didn't want to let the feelings go- it was healthy for Dean to be talking about them at last… but Sam knew Dean had already reached his short limit of openness. He sighed softly and played along. "Yeah, you must've hit your head pretty hard."

"Yeah," Dean breathed, a small smile on his face as they reached the sidewalk. "How's your arm?"

"It hurts."

"You were stabbed."

"I know."

Dean nudged him lightly with his elbow. "You'll probably have a cool scar to impress the chicks."

Sam remained silent. Even after all this time, he still wasn't ready to love another girl. Jess had been his first true love and she'd been taken from him too soon, severing his bond with her so that he'd always yearn for it, like an addict in withdrawal.

He rolled his shoulder before he could stop himself, wincing as the muscles pulled and screamed in protest. The movement had been small, and luckily, the wound hadn't opened up again. What he wouldn't give for a bottle of Ibuprofen right now.

Up ahead, lights flashed over the pavement as cars made their way through a busy, populated intersection. Only a few more blocks to go. He could do this. Swallow the pain, one foot in front of the other. Breathe in, breathe out. Ignore the fatigue that was quickly overcoming him.

Suddenly Dean interrupted his mantra. A hand landed on his chest, effectively stopping him. "Well Holy shit. Would you look at that! We're saved!"

There, sitting in silence and darkness down the side street, sat the Impala. Dean charged ahead with a new spring in his step. "It's a miracle! I can't believe this, I wonder why they would just- Oh."

Sam walked slower, approaching Dean as he peered in through the driver's window. "What?"

Dean reached down and yanked open the door, stumbling a little as if he weren't expecting it to open. The hinges creaked distinctively, and Dean ducked inside.

Sam came to a stop on the other side of the open door. "Are the keys there?"

With a jingle, Dean held them up. "Keys are here."

Hope flared within Sam. "Well let's go then!"

"Little problem with that," Dean said, dropping his hand into his lap. The keys clinked against each other. "We're outta gas."

"Oh." So they had more to walk, after all.

A disturbing thought struck them both at the same time, and Dean jerked the lever to open the trunk. Both men rounded the car at the same time, and as Dean pushed up the trunk lid, Sam's heart was in his chest.

"Thank God," Dean breathed as the familiar arsenal appeared present and accounted for. They had been very, very lucky tonight.

Sam tried to slow his breathing as Dean let out a long breath. "You know, those guys weren't too bright. I mean, they were attacking that girl with one knife between them, then they abandon a stolen car without stripping it?" Dean pulled the knife from the waistband of his jeans and tossed it in the trunk.

"Amateurs?" Sam guessed with a shrug. He winced, and Dean frowned.

"Take your shirt off, lemme look at you."

Sam blinked, leaving his eyes closed a little longer than necessary. He was so tired. "Is that how you talk to all your dates?"

Dean moved back to the front seat, cuffing Sam on the back of the head as he went. "Ass. Get over here. If they didn't take the guns, they didn't take the first aid kit."

Sam turned and followed obediently. Dean pulled out the familiar, trusty, red plastic Superman lunchbox Dad had given him years ago. When Dean had outgrown it, Sam had carried it, then not long after that, it was converted into an emergency-room sampler, neatly holding all the essentials and then some. The sticker on the front was wrinkled and worn, the corners having been peeled back and torn off from years of hard use. It depicted a well-muscled, confident Superman flying in his signature pose above a city in peril. Part of his fist was missing, as well as the tail end of his flowing red cape. But nonetheless, Superman hung in the air, protecting his people. Sam had idolized the Superman in the picture, and even today the picture stirred strong emotions within him.

Dean backed away and all but shoved Sam into the driver's seat so that he was facing the closest streetlight. The plastic scraped over the sidewalk as Dean set the lunchbox on the ground, kneeling in front of Sam as he flipped up the flimsy plastic latch. This was no ordinary first aid kit- no, this was first aid Winchester-style. Inside, an array of gauze rolls, ace bandages, hydrogen peroxide, triple antibiotic cream, bandages, scissors, tweezers, and packets of sterile suture had been neatly arranged by someone who'd hoped to never have to use any of it. There were supplies for pulling open skin as well as putting it back together again. And there, in the center of it all, was a small vial of Codeine, which was always kept mysteriously full.

Dean plucked the bottle from the lunchbox and tossed it to Sam. "You better take one of those now. This is gonna hurt."

As Dean gathered the supplies he needed, Sam shook a pill from the bottle and set it aside with a rattle. He knew there was a bottle of water in the car somewhere, but he really wanted this to be over as soon as possible. Sam tossed the pill to the back of his throat and winced as it slid slowly down his dry esophagus. Next, he started wriggling out of his light jacket, trying to keep his left arm as still as possible.

"Here," Dean grunted, standing up and helping peel the blood-soaked fabric down Sam's arm. The jacket was tossed aside wordlessly. The intimate act was awkward and humiliating, and both brothers avoided eye contact as Sam pulled his right arm backwards through the sleeve of his t-shirt, allowing Dean to pull the fabric over his head and gently down his bloodied left arm.

He shivered when they were done, sitting bare-chested and exposed on the Impala's black leather seat. Sam hoped he wasn't getting blood on the polished material.

Dean held up a wet stack of gauze pads, announcing wordlessly that he was going to begin. Sam clenched his jaw and stared over Dean's shoulder at the round speaker-covering in the tan door panel. This is the part where Dean always started to ramble- right before the pain started. Neither Sam nor John ever really listened to the nervous chatter, they just continued working on tending to whatever injury Dean had acquired.

But Sam, he preferred to endure his pain in silence. Suck it up, keep a stiff upper lip, never let your pain show. Even now, as he studied the circular pattern of the tiny holes in the door, Sam found himself barely breathing as cold peroxide bubbled upon his skin. The excess ran down his side and chest, fizzing as it mixed with dried blood and soaked into the waistband of his underwear.

He flinched, pursing his lips together as the peroxide went deeper, tingling and stinging its way into his wound. "Sorry," Dean murmured, and somehow managed to clean the area gentler.

At last Dean was done and Sam braved a look. Blood was slowly trickling from the cut, staining his side in crimson once more. The cut itself was clean enough, and the edges were a normal red color for the trauma his skin had endured. Sam suspected the fact that Dean kept his weapons meticulously clean had something to do with how good the wound actually looked now. He took a deep breath, knowing the worst was yet to come, and the trail of blood shimmered on his ribs in the dim light.

Dean doused his own hands in peroxide to sterilize them. Then opened the packet and lifted his right hand in the air, pulling the coiled suture from the package. Sam gulped as the curved needle glinted in the light.

Dean tossed the wrapper back in the box and rose to his knees, moving to Sam's left side. "Don't. Move."

Sam nodded and turned away, this time staring at the VIN number stuck to the Impala's door frame. The Codeine must have taken effect, because Sam didn't even realize Dean had started until he felt the tug of suture sliding through skin. Dean's other hand was resting on the center of Sam's chest, keeping each of them steady.

"Dean?"

So maybe rambling wasn't such a bad idea.

"Sam."

"You think Dad's okay?"

Dean sighed and his breath elicited goose bumps on Sam's skin. "I hope so, buddy."

Sam ignored the burning sensation from Dean's ministrations. As angry as he may be at John Winchester, the man was still his father. Sam would never stop seeking approval. It was a strong, sometimes cruel hope that Sam carried deep within him.

His eyes burned and he blinked, clearing the fogginess from his vision. Dean was nearly done, his fingers and knuckles bloody but steady. The sutures formed a neat row in Sam's skin. He carefully kept his mind clear until at last, Dean sat back.

"Done," Dean announced, using the scissors and then tossing the needle and excess string onto the discarded wrapper. He picked up a stack of gauze and threw it into Sam's lap. "It's good enough for now. Clean yourself up and get a clean shirt. I'm feeling lucky."

"I don't think luck has anything to do with you bluffing your way into a hotel room." Sam stood up, his bare skin suddenly cold where he had been leaning against the seat. He shivered as he moved around the Impala's nose and pulled up his sagging jeans with one hand.

"You know," Dean thought out loud as he cleaned the blood off his own face, "I think you're right. It's all about finesse."

Sam pulled open the rear passenger door and unzipped his duffle bag. He found a loose, button-down shirt and yanked it free, briefly wondering if he'd be able to dress himself. "Is that what you call it?" he taunted, pushing the heavy door shut. "And here I've always called it bullshit."

"Funny man," Dean replied as he packed up the kit. "Let's see how funny you are sleeping at the homeless shelter tonight."

Sam held the fabric in his teeth as he slipped his right arm into the long sleeve. He spit it out and attempted to pull the shirt over his shoulders with his injured arm.

"Hey!" Dean scolded, jogging around the front of the Impala. "Don't ruin my masterpiece!"

Sam held still as Dean helped him finish getting dressed. "We still have to get gas," he remembered. "You gonna 'finesse' the 7-11 attendant too?"

"I'll think of something," Dean replied with a grin. He went back to the driver's side and closed the door, locking it first, and pulled the red gas tank from the trunk. "Maybe someone will take pity on two lost, hungry brothers."

The trunk clanged shut and they started down the sidewalk, walking side by side, the empty gas tank between them. It was dangerous to drive with it full. Whenever they needed gas for burning bones, they'd flip a coin to determine who got to siphon it from the Impala.

Dean's words finally boomeranged back to Sam. "Wait a minute- did you just admit that we are lost?"

"No."

Sam smiled. "Yes you did!"

"Shut up, freak. I did not."

"I can't believe that Dean Winchester finally admitted to being lost." When he found a chink in his brother's armor, Sam couldn't help but pick at it.

"I said shut up!"

"Make me."

"Bitch."

"Asshole."

The brothers fell into a comfortable bicker as they continued down the dark streets of New York. So they'd gotten their asses kicked by the locals, failed to tend to the distraught girl, and both lost and recovered the Impala all in one night. But they were together, alive and in once piece, and Sam felt a sense of relief, like all was right with the world again.

Or maybe that was just the Codeine talking.

END