"Hey, kid," Marty Collins greeted Sam as he entered Morgana High's front office. On the outside, the man appeared the exact opposite of John Winchester. He was gangly tall, and thin, and had an open and honest face that seemed to invite conversation.

His twenty years of service as a State Trooper also lent to the idea that the man appreciated the straight and narrow, and wouldn't take kindly to any duplicity or double talk. So, the fact that his father and the man had become fast friends in the short month that the Winchesters had lived in Morgana, still puzzled the teen. Perhaps it was their mutual love of cars, poker, and imported beer that had cemented the friendship. Never having many friends of his own, Sam wasn't sure.

"Marty." Sam pulled his backpack higher on his shoulder and smiled at the man. "Thanks for this."

"No problem." The tow truck driver nodded to Harriet, the school secretary, and then ushered Sam out the front doors. "When Frank McDermott called, I told him to ring the school, but I figured you might need a little support seeing as how your daddy is out of town."

Sam assumed John had made up some story for his employer to explain his absence, but he didn't have a clue as to what it might have been. So, he kept it simple. "Yeah, thanks."

"Looks like one of Frankie's boys dropped the Chevy off." Marty pointed to the Impala that was resting at the curb like a trusted steed. The sight of it, without Dean had Sam's gut twisting. "Are you sure you're up to driving? I can swing you by the hospital and wait on you boys if you like. I still have some time on my lunch shift."

"No, that's okay," Sam replied, opening the Impala's door and tossing his books in before climbing in himself. "I'm fine."

Marty looked doubtful, but didn't push the issue. "Keep it under the speed limit, son. Your brother's fine. It sounded like he just needed a ride."

Sam sighed. For some reason everyone seemed to think he was going to fly apart at any minute and do something completely stupid. He hoped it had more to do with him being a irresponsible, irrational teenager, than some personal neon sign hanging over his head that said Sam Winchester was a complete basket case without his big brother or daddy around to watch him. "I'll be careful," Sam told the man, who closed his door, and then patted the hood.

"Tell that brother of yours to try and stay out of the way of runaway boats next time. It's a little late in the year to be going for a swim."

Sam nodded and started the car, wondering just how tired Dean would have had to been not see a boat heading for him. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he eased the Impala out into the street. Probably as tired as anyone would be who'd driven twelve hours straight to get their little brother to school on time.

Dean Winchester was finding it hard to believe his immense luck.

Not only had he arrived home and just crawled into his nice warm bed after three days with hardly any sleep when his cell phone rang; but the person on the other end was Frankie- with a pleasant request that he get his sorry ass to work to cover for another employee. And now, a fucking runaway boat had nearly landed him in the morgue.

It would have been so shitty to be taken out by something as mundane as an accident at sea after all the bad things Dean Winchester had taken on and defeated.

Somehow, he found even less comfort in the idea that it would have in some sick way been ironic, considering how much he hated the fucking water.

He was also sure that his grandfather, the old, hateful codger that he was, would have taken great pleasure in sending his disowned son, John, a big fat condolence letter with the words I told you so, Johnny boy emblazoned on it.

In the last month that Dean had been working on the fishing docs of Smyrna, he'd found many things to dislike about the employment. The gawd-awful smell being his number one complaint. Even after a shower, the rotting fish aroma could still make him wince, and it was a turnoff with the ladies.

But nothing bothered him more than the thoughts of Harker's Island that seemed hell bent on resurfacing as he toiled away his days away in the hot sun and ocean breezes. His mind had drifted more and more to his dad's father, and the small island town off the coast of North Carolina that John had grown up in. Even though it had been better than three years since they had endured any contact with the place or the legend that was Jonah Mathew Winchester, Dean found himself wondering about the geezer.

Maybe it was because Jonah Winchester was insistent that saltwater was one of the main fluids running through any Winchester's veins. And he also believed that it was fate for he and his descendants to live by the sea, and to die by the sea. Hence the great joy he would have experienced, upon finding out that not only had one of his worthless grandsons perished, but that they had been smitten by the triton of the great god Neptune in the process.

Jonah might have even built a special sloop and named it after the occasion-The Demise of Dean-better known as the oldest one.

"Mr. Winchester, how are you feeling?"

Dean blinked, actually surprised that his eyes had drifted closed with his daydreaming , and tried to focus on the intern lurking near the bed he was resting on, instead of the annoying thoughts of his grandfather. He thought the physician had said his name was Dr. Landon, but wasn't quite sure due to the haze of pain medication. "Like my head might fall off my shoulders and roll right out into the hallway, Doc."

The dark-haired man smiled. "That would disappoint some of my nurses," he placed his fingers on the patient's wrist to check his pulse, "or send them into a crazed frenzy over who was going to get to place it on their bedpost. I'm not sure which."

Dean laughed, regretting the motion as it sent a wave of nausea rolling over him. He took a deep breath and tried to think of anything but just how close he was to being sick. "So you think I can at least score some phone numbers out of this gig, huh?"

The doctor shook his head. "You better stick to the painkillers as your consolation prize. They're cheaper and they wear off after a while."

"Got ya," Dean winced slightly when the man, probed at the large white bandage around his head.

"You're going to have some pretty impressive bruising from the amount of sutures I used, but I don't think you should have any residual side effects. Still, if you have a problem staying awake, or remembering things, any blurred vision, and mood changes, please have someone bring you back in."

"I'm good. I've had a few concussions in my time."

"Well, you're just lucky this one wasn't worse. I'm surprised that dock wasn't harder than your head, and you were lucky you didn't ingest more water in your lungs than you did."

"Yeah-drowning is not the way I want to go."

Dr. Landon shined his penlight in both Dean's eyes once more and nodded. "You're telling me. You'd think it would be peaceful, but having your lungs fill with anything other than good old oxygen is not fun times."

A sudden image of his kid brother, Sam, wet, motionless, and not breathing, in his father's arms had Dean fighting the nausea thing again. "Yeah, I hate the water," he muttered, bringing a hand up to rub at his aching shoulder.

Landon raised a brow. "But you work at the boat docks?"

Dean shrugged. "It pays the bills."

"Ah, you kids these days." The doctor replaced Dean's hand with his own, and proceeded to lift the patient's arm at different angles, testing the joint's range of motion. "What kind of bills would you all really have if it weren't for cars, computers, and cell phones?"

Dean frowned at the man's glibness. After all, he might have looked younger than his twenty one years, but he'd be willing to bet hard earned poker money that he had a hell of a lot more responsibility than Dr. Landon. After all, Dean didn't work for luxury items, and he sure as hell wouldn't have spent his time marred in fish entrails for a stupid cell phone. He had his reasons-none of which the good doctor would probably understand. "Are we about done here?"

"Yes," the physician didn't seem to notice the slight drop in temperature as Dean maneuvered himself away from the man, and pushed himself up to a sitting position. "Your ride should be here anytime."

"My ride?" Dean frowned, carefully swinging his legs over the side of the bed. "I didn't call a ride."

"I know," the doctor explained. "One of the nurses called your boss and he said that he'd make sure someone was here to pick you up."

"Shit!" Dean swore, swaying slightly as he reached out to grab his jeans, that were only slightly damp now. "Tell me they didn't call my kid brother?"

The doctor didn't have to answer that question as quickly approaching footsteps could be heard and then a very concerned Sam Winchester practically tore around the curtain that had partitioned Dean from the rest of the ER setting. "Dean?" Sam asked breathlessly as he rushed to his brother's side. "Are you alright?"

"Sam-what the hell are you doing out of school?"

Sam frowned, looking from the doctor to his brother. "Frank called. He said you'd been hurt in an accident."

"How'd you get here? You didn't call Dad, did you?"

"I drove your car. And no, I didn't call Dad, but Dean…"

"You drove my car?" Dean threw his hands up in the air. "This day just keeps getting better."

"What happened?" Sam ignored the older boy's theatrics and made a move to reach up and touch the bandage on his brother's head, but Dean was quicker and brushed his hand aside with an exasperated rolling of his eyes.

"Nothing. It's just a bump on the head."

"A slight concussion, actually," Dr. Landon added, not endearing himself further to the older Winchester.

Dean glared at him, and then looked pointedly at his kid brother. "I'm fine, Sammy. Don't get your shorts in a wad."

"And he asphyxiated some nasty water from that bay, not to mention having a pretty bad shoulder strain."

Dean could have ripped the clueless physician's head off as he watched Sam's face drain of color. "Is he going to be okay?" Sam's gaze was completely focused on the doctor now, joining the physician in ignoring Dean completely, but his older brother didn't miss the way his eyes had glassed over.

"Barring any complications, I think he'll be fine in a few days. But I suggest someone stay with him and keep a close eye on him for at least the next twenty-four hours."

Dean rolled his eyes. Great. The die had been cast. He'd never shake Sammy now. "Thanks, Dr. Gloom, for that glowing report."

"Hey, don't kill the messenger." The doctor raised his hands in mock surrender. "I'm not the one who was driving the boat."

"Thanks for taking care of him," Sam said, sincerely, shooting his brother a reprimanding glance.

"No problem," he flashed Dean a knowing look. "It pays the bills."

Once the doctor had gone, pulling the curtain closed around the two brothers as he left, Sam turned those worried brown eyes on Dean. "What happened? Why were you even at work today? You were suppose to be off."

Dean sagged against the bed again, and struggled to get his uncooperative legs in his jeans. "Frankie called me in, and seeing as how Dad won't be getting paid this week, I figured we might need the extra cash to eat." He let his eyes roam over his brother. "And in case you've missed it, Out of Date, you could really use some new clothes."

"There's nothing wrong with what I'm wearing," Sam defended, glancing down at the faded, ripped jeans and Metallica shirt he had grabbed that morning.

"That's because everything minus the jeans is mine," Dean tossed back, wincing as his own loud voice caused the pain in his head to flare up again. "But some of us can't pull off the grunge, disheveled look like others can."

At the hurt look, Dean sighed. "Sammy, I don't care if you wear my stuff, but I just don't want you to have a harder time of things."

"What do you mean?"

"At that stupid school," Dean said, exasperated. "I've seen those kids coming out of there." I see how they look at us. How they treat you.

"I don't care what they think." And mostly that was true. "It's just a place to get the classes I need, Dean. I don't go there to socialize."

"But you should." Dean managed to relieve himself of the hospital gown and found his shirt with the pile of his other belongings. "You should make some friends, go hang out, join the drama club or try out for basketball. Do whatever high school kids do these days."

"Like I have so much time to do that kind of stuff."

Here it comes. "Sam-Dad's trying. He's notched hunting back to the weekends for this year. Give it a rest." It's more of a reprieve than I got.

"I know he's trying," And Sam appreciated it, "But look what happened because of this weekend…"

Dean frowned, and accepted his brother's help as he got stuck trying to slip his shirt on over his injured arm. "Dude, what are you talking about?"

"You-you idiot." Sam motioned to Dean's bandaged head and bruised face. "You scared the hell out of me."

"And you think that's Dad's fault?"

It wasn't as if Sam actually blamed their father for Dean being hurt-not this time-but he didn't need another reason to be angry at the man these days. "You haven't slept at all. You were suppose to be home, but instead you were at work" Where our father should have been. "And you must have been really wiped for a boat to get the drop on you."

Couldn't his brother see that in the grand scale of things, their father was responsible for it all.

"Hey-I was not wiped. I was…" Dean didn't really remember what he'd been doing at the exact moment he heard the shouts from some of the other doc workers. He'd been using the high-pressure hose one minute, and then floundering in the water the next. "It was just an accident, Sam."

The seventeen year old shook his head. "An accident that probably wouldn't have happened if you hadn't been dead on your feet." If Dad hadn't drug us across two states.

"I didn't hear you complaining when I got your ass back to town in time for school."

"So, it's my fault? I didn't want to go on the stupid hunt in the first place."

"Well, we all know how you feel about hunting, Sammy." Dean stood up from the bed, but swayed dangerously when the floor seemed to tilt.

His brother grabbed him with a steadying hand, all anger pushed aside. "Hey? You okay?"

Dean kept his eyes squeezed shut but nodded, not bothering to pull away from Sam's firm grip.

That was worrying enough in itself for the younger Winchester, not to mention the fact that Dean had a pale green sheen to his skin now, and sweat dotted his forehead like condensation on a soda can. "Should I get the doctor?"

"Hell no." Dean forced his eyes open and blinked rapidly to clear his vision. "I was just waiting for the room to stop moving."

"Has it?" Sam asked with a frown.

"Mostly," Dean smirked at him. "But your bitching isn't helping matters any. Why couldn't they have just sent me home in a damn Taxi?"

Sam had the decency to look abashed. "Sorry. I didn't mean to start in about Dad or the hunting." That was the last thing he'd wanted to talk with his brother about.

"Then don't." Dean sighed and sat back down on the bed to pull his boots on. "I get that you hate pretty much everything these days, but Dad has his reasons for what he does. He's always had his reasons, and someday you're going to come to terms with that."

"Well I have my reasons too." So many reasons why I hate the life we've been forced to lead. "You being hurt is one of the big ones why I don't agree with Dad. You ought to be in college, not working at some slimy dock. I don't understand why you even stick around. You're too good for this. You're wasting your life."

A cold fury crept up into the pit of Dean's stomach, it's dark tendrils reaching up and curling around his heart. "What you mean is that you're too good for this, Sammy. That you're the one wasting your life. Don't confuse us or try to make me the scapegoat here."

Sam paled. It was true. But he also felt all those things about his brother. "You're twenty-one, Dean! You could be doing anything you want right now." You could be free. Normal. "Dad couldn't tell you what to do. You wouldn't have to be his second in command."

"Dad's not the fucking reason I work that shitty job, Sam!Or the reason I stay."

Sam shook his head slowly, understanding instantly what his brother was not saying. "I'm not your responsibility, Dean." I won't always be here.

"When? When are you not my responsibility, little brother? Because the last memo I got from Winchester headquarters was pretty clear cut on the subject."

"Dad..."

"God!" If Dean had felt more steady, he would have grabbed his brother and shook him. Didn't he get it. Was he that blind. "Not just Dad, Sammy. You!" You expect it, too.

"You don't seem to mind when I'm chauffeuring you to school or taking up your slack on a hunt so you can do homework or read a fucking book, or when I'm taking Dad's crap so that he won't dish it out on you."

Dean winced and lifted his hand to his bandaged head where a new percussionist had just started warming up. He lowered his voice more out of self preservation than empathy for his kid brother, who was looking a whole lot like a scolded five year old that could burst into tears any moment. "Sammy, you can't have it both ways, man. Because I just can't turn it off and on like that. I'm not built that way." Hell, I couldn't turn it off now if I wanted to.

Sam looked at the floor, feeling the weight of his brother's words. It was all true. Dean had always been there, and even a year ago the thought of him leaving would have sent a wave of terror through Sam. But now, with his plans so close, almost in reach-Dean's steady protection and support had become like an anchor-mooring Sam in the one berth that he was determined to slip away from. His brother's dedication was the only reason that Sam felt even one ounce of guilt for wanting out.

The younger Winchester lifted his gaze to his brother. "I'm going to have to be on my own sooner or later." I am going to leave.

Dean laughed. And then what the hell am I going to do? "I'm not going to beg you to stay, little brother."

"Maybe we can go together?" Sam shrugged. "To college-you know. We could be roommates or something?"

The innocence in the suggestion and the hopeful look in his baby brother's eyes had the nausea threat rising again, and Dean swallowed hard. The truth was that Dean would never escape their father's crusade. His was a life sentence with no parole. Dean was a dead man walking, but Sam didn't need something as trivial as the cold, hard truth worrying him. "Maybe," he sighed, shooting his brother a crooked grin. "Somebody's got to be there to actually show you how to have a good time."

Sam returned the smile, the dark stormy waters in his eyes receding. "There would have to be rules on parties and girls and all that other college stuff."

Dean laughed. "Seeing as how you're afraid of girls, I think that I'll be able to handle the flow of lovely co-eds all on my own."

"I'm not afraid of girls."

"Just the barracudas at that fancy prep school."

Sam sighed. "Can we talk about something else besides Morgana High?"

Dean nodded, and began the daunting task of trying to put his shoes on again. He glanced up as his brother. "Look, Sammy-I know things aren't the way you'd like them to be right now, but at least we're all together. It could be worse. And Dad is trying. Really."

"Yeah," Sam swallowed hard, and smiled again. The words he'd practiced on the drive over now seemed so hollow and cheap. "Thanks for picking up the slack, Dean. For working and all the other stuff you do. You know- with school and the house. And well…everything." How the hell did you thank a person for your life?

Dean shrugged, brushing off the magnitude of the words. "I don't mind working at the docks." I don't mind any of it, Sam.

The teen grinned. "But it's not as fun as hustling?"

"That's for damn sure. Frankie frowns on drinking during working hours." He waved at his bandaged head. "And cue sticks are a lot smaller than powerboats."

Sam raised a brow, and motioned to his brother's bandaged head. "You sure you didn't try to cheat a swarthy Captain out of his bounty or something?"

"Funny," Dean stood, having finally managed his soggy boots. "You're just lucky I have the reflexes of a cat and that I'm a damn good swimmer, or you'd be stuck doing Dad's laundry forever."

"I'm just glad you're okay."

Sam was looking all sad and shit again and Dean sighed. "You're not going to cry or anything, are you?"

"No." Sam blinked, making sure he wasn't lying.

"Good, because I've had just about enough of saltwater for a while."

"Grandpa Jonah would probably belt you a good one for saying that."

Dean raised a brow at his brother. "Funny you should mention him. I've been thinking about the old sea urchin since we got here."

Sam rolled his eyes. "Jonah's not that bad, Dean."

"Easy for you to say. He actually tolerated your existence."

"Yeah, well, that's because I didn't find every opportunity to point out how much I hated everything he stood for."

"I had my reasons," Dean pulled his jacket on.

Sam glanced at him. "So did Jonah. For everything he did."

"There's no reason good enough to kick your own son out of the house and never talk to him again, Sam."

"Maybe there's no reason good enough to put your sons in danger on a daily basis either."

Sam and Dean stared at one another, neither willing to give. "You really are a brat, you know that?" Dean finally caved.

Sam grinned. "Yeah, well- you really stink." The younger boy shook his head. "Like rotting fish."

"Man," Dean moaned, catching a whiff of himself. "And I have to get in my baby."

"Don't worry, the guys who drove it over to the school from the docks didn't seem to mind that they smelled like a three day old seafood buffet." At the mortified look, Sam patted his brother on his uninjured shoulder. "I'm sure it will air out in a week or two."

The older Winchester let out another pained growl as he followed his brother out of the ER examination room. "Winchester or not, I really hate freakin' fish, Sam."

march 2006