Disclaimer: Um, no I don't own Supernatural. That should be clear from the way I work off my creative frustration with fan fiction.

AN: Okay, this was a bit of an experiment that gained a life of its own. It's told in Dean's point of view, so be advised, there is an abundance of questionable language and some tasteless schoolgirl jokes. Be advised. PG 13, for that reason. Also, this is not wincest, though I make some self-aware jokes in that direction, in the tradition of the shows writing.

Many, many thanks to Kohadril, who selflessly slogged through the first draft of this, which shall hereafter be known as "The draft of many tenses: why can't she just pick one?" He deserves a medal, or a cookie, or just lost of thanks, because that's all I'm empowered to give him. I'm working on that cookie, though.


The first time it happened it was pain, and if that wasn't a metaphor for every fucking thing that had ever happened to them, then Dean didn't know what was. The surprising bit, when he got around to thinking about it, was that it was a total stranger and not him. It was hard to say he always expected it to be him when no one, least of all him, ever expected it to happen. But he kind of expected it to be him, after the fact. After all, they spent every waking minute of every damned day up in each other's space and business like they'd lose track of each other if they blinked.

So, you know, he was just surprised it hadn't been him. After he got over the shock of it happening, anyway.

With all the stuff they got into, all the time, Dean just never expected it would be some greasy fry cook in an equally greasy diner at eight-thirty on a Tuesday morning. For someone with a kind of annoying wish to be normal, Sam was all kinds of screwed up strange that Dean couldn't even begin to figure out.

And recently, he keeps getting caught trying.

In all honesty, if Dean hadn't been looking at Sam right then… well, less looking and more making his patented, 'Ew, grapefruit juice? What did they teach you at that ass clown college of yours?' face that was becoming his favorite way to start the day. After black coffee and a blond waitress, of course. But in any event, he had been looking in Sam's direction at precisely the right moment, and that's why he figured it out. College boy was facing the wrong way entirely, and anyway, Sam was completely dense when it came to measuring himself and his own capabilities. To Dean's mind, it was the only thing he was truly stupid about.

In that moment, though, Dean was looking the right way and knew Sam better than either of them would probably ever guess, and even though it was the most unlikely explanation imaginable, he figured it out.

Of course, Dean was also one of very few people in the world who could hear hoof beats and be genuinely surprised to find horses rather than zebras.

They had just received their beverages and placed their orders, (and the point of an egg white omelet is what, exactly?) when it happened. The cook, a greasy, stubble-chinned man just barely visible through the window behind the counter, dropped a pot with a resounding clang and cursed in a way that would make a low level demon blush like a choir nun. And choir nuns can blush, that much Dean knew from experience.

At the exact moment, Sam dropped his juice with a small, muffled yelp, wrenching his right hand back and staring at it in shock. A moment passed while Dean watched the pale white juice stream across the magenta Formica and Sam rubbed his hand. Dean didn't know what to think. Finally moving to sop up the spill with his napkin, Dean jerked an eyebrow at his kid brother.

"What the hell, Sam? Juice bite you, or something?" Sadly, that wouldn't be the most shocking thing that had ever happened to them. Probably not even in the top ten. Sam kept rubbing his hand, in clear pain, but his reply was cut off.

"Lord, Bruno, what the hell did you do?" snapped the entirely unsympathetic waitress. The cook came out from the kitchen grumbled something about burned it and fucking cheap griddle while applying ice from the soda dispenser to his right hand, which Dean knew was a total first aid mistake. Dean knew everything there was to know about treating burns since he was old enough to understand that fire could kill.

Sam was still sopping up juice with his other hand and ignoring the scene behind him. Dean glanced back and forth between the two not even remotely associated scenes for a moment, beginning to think that he didn't like what he was beginning to think. Sam's hand slowed in its motions, and he gradually glanced up to meet Dean's eyes, having felt the weight of his stare… among other things, apparently.

"What?" Dean knew Sam wasn't anywhere near thinking what he was thinking, just from the genuinely inquisitive and not at all defensive tone of his little brother's voice.

"What happened to your hand, Sam?" It was Dean's commanding, big brother tone. Not the go to sleep and touch the volume and die variation, but the get down and stay there and I know you're unconscious but you'd best not be dead tone. Sam gave his brother the arched eyebrow that Dean had taught him in fourth grade and regretted every day since.

"I don't know… it just felt…" Sam's voice drifted off and he got that processing, please hold look that Dean knew usually preceded him proving that he really did earn that spot at Stanford. It also usually preceded Sam disagreeing completely with whatever Dean had just said, or in this case implied.

"No way, Dean." Ah, there was that defensive tone… he'd missed it so. Sam even threw in a belligerent pout—he was always generous like that.

Dean poked at the soppy transparent pile of paper napkins in the middle of the table with a red plastic stirrer, watching the thin plastic bend rather than budge the heavy, ruined mess. He was torn between such timed honored mottos as knowledge is power and always be prepared and the consistently disproved but still long-practiced Winchester rule: let's not talk about it and maybe it might eventually go away. Dean liked to believe that the only way the rule could ever have a chance to work was with faithful practice… right?

Dean knew if he hesitated long enough Sam would take the issue right out of his hands, being the distressingly independent person he was. Sure enough, Sam gave his I'm about to end this conversation fidget-twitch, and sighed.

"Look, let's just file it under random psychic episode, and worry if it happens again. I'll search the 'net a bit if we get some downtime, though I doubt I'd even find anything," Sam exhaled with finality, flashing Dean his uninjured hand as if to say, ladies and gentlemen (overprotective older brother) of the jury, exhibit A, the completely undamaged hand of a Caucasian male.

"Look, no damage, see?" he continued, and Dean had to bite his lip because he knew Sam's lawyer-y thoughts that well and sometimes he just cracked himself up. "Look, I'm not really that hungry, are you? Let's just get on the road."

The laughter slipped away from Dean, suddenly elusive, and the wet napkins were on the receiving end of a particularly vicious poke. It was against his better judgment to allow something that had caused Sam physical pain to slip by the wayside, no matter how uncomfortable the conversation might be. They still hadn't revisited the Max incident (or the asylum incident, or the Meg incident, or the Lawrence incident, or the rawhead incident, and the name Jess had been uttered for the first time in months just days before, and yes, Dean, that's a fine job you're doing keeping your family together, there, and it's just that one broken kid to take care of, too) and Dean knew that neither of them had forgotten about any of it. It was so easy to not have time, though, when you filled your days with life or death situations that required all of your concentration, where seconds could mean lives. It was easy to think that those quiet moments in dark hotel rooms, when neither brother was asleep and both knew it, were desperately needed rest times, to recover from grueling dangerous days and to prepare for more of the same. Sam had left that door of escape wide open for him, and it was so tempting to take it, to brush it by the wayside, because, hey, maybe they were both wrong about it anyway and—

"Hungry? Not if Bruno's doing the cooking. C'mon I know I saw a Krispy Kreme by the interstate." Dean tossed some cash on the table for the juice and coffee, and the brothers left the greasy diner like something (other than their own issues) was chasing them.

The second time, it was panic, and it was not nearly as funny as Dean would later make it out to be. The second time, Dean was distracted (and rightfully so) by a slightly deranged ghost, and the entire herd of zebras had to stampede by before he got the hint. They were in a girls' boarding school in southern Quebec, and there were hot semi-unsupervised rich girls with accents running around in just, packs, like this was where God had hidden them all, and could he get a hallelujah? Dean hadn't stopped smirking since they'd arrived, and Sam had rolled his eyes so much he'd probably given himself eye-strain from the effort. Of course, there were also nuns, who had been desperate enough to hire them when their diocese declined their request for an exorcism, but that just meant the girls wore plaid skirts and knee socks, and yes, he was going to hell, as Sam had reminded him fifteen times that day. The nuns and students had all taken one look at the brothers and gotten their measures immediately, reinforcing Dean's belief that all women were a little bit psychic (and that Sam was also just proved him right about so many things). Both the nuns and girls took one look at Sam and saw celibacy by bereavement; appropriate response: trust, nurture, and feed baked goods. They looked at Dean and saw, well, the nuns saw some of the more people-friendly deadly sins incarnate. The students saw… the same, actually, only their response was, um, could they get a hallelujah, too?

The result was that Dean had spent most of the day eating Sam's cookies, forbidden to venture anywhere on the grounds without a proper chaperone, otherwise known as Sam. By the time evening came they were patrolling the corridors of Immaculata Hall, with a nun trailing disapprovingly ten feet behind. Even Sam's sweet face wasn't allowed in the dormitories alone at night.

The EMF went off at the same second the lights went out, causing twenty-two simultaneous female shrieks and every door to fling open spilling gibbering teenage girls into the hall, and Christ on a god damned stick, those were not Church sanctioned pajamas. The meter was still beeping shrilly in his hand though, and he knew he had to get the girls out of the hall before their fear and panic attracted something bigger and nastier than the ghost they were already dealing with.

"It's alright, ladies, we have everything under control, just return to your rooms," he projected his best calming, hero, big brother tone, but although most of the girls spoke passable English, they were far too panicked to listen carefully, or at all. The frightened French chatter only continued to escalate as the temperature in the room dropped, signaling the impending arrival of something unpleasant. Turning to Sam, who had taken French in addition to Latin in high school, to balance Dean's knowledge of Spanish, their father said, he gestured to the shrieking crowd.

"Sam, man, tell them to go back in their rooms and lock their doors, 'cause—Sam?"

Sam was bent over, one hand braced against the wall, breathing in a pattern that was not immediately evident to Dean, because he never imagined that Sam would—was he freaking hyperventilating? Sam was having a mother-fucking panic attack right there in front of him, on a ghost hunt, and it wasn't even a particularly aggressive ghost, when compared to… well, every other thing they'd faced, you know, ever.

"Sam c'mon, man, what the hell? You're acting like a fucking chick, here—"

Hang on, did anyone else see that zebra?

Sam was acting like a fucking chick… like he was picking up the same station that the twenty-two hyperventilating chicks behind him were on. "Damn it, Sam, could your freaking shining be any less convenient? Snap out of it, now!"

Dean didn't really know what to do. Sam had never, to his knowledge, panicked on a hunt. Not like this. They'd been at this so long, and when he was little he'd just watch Dean. If Dean was calm, Sam was calm. It was an established pattern of cause and effect that their father had exploited for years, to the point where even Dean had recognized the manipulation, however well-meaning. The temperature was still dropping, and he certainly didn't have the time (or the inclination) to coddle Sam through this.

Just as he thought that he was definitely, absolutely not coddling Sam and holding his hand through this, the tiniest whimper escaped from his brother, a sound Dean hadn't heard in the better part of twenty-one years. When Sam was just a baby, he used to press his face against the bars of his crib and make the smallest sobs you'd ever heard, just enough to wake Dean and not their generally hung over father. When Dean used to climb up into the crib with him Sam would burrow into his side like he was trying to climb inside of him and never come out, and make content little baby sounds that made no sense at all except to Dean. When they were both small enough to shelter together beneath a Winnie the Pooh blanket and hide from the world.

That sound.

So, new plan. Help Sammy through this… which of course had been the plan all along. Dean tuned out the hallway of scantily clad French-Canadian girls shrieking and gasping—wow, he just took that to a very bad place—to focus on his apparently empathic younger brother, because of course the cool powers like telekinesis don't come back. Oh no, Sam just wasn't quite touchy-feely enough, he had to go for empathy. That was Sam for ya. Always went that extra mile.

Not quite sure how to approach the problem, Dean maneuvered himself so that he was between Sam and the crowd. "Okay, Sam, focus for me, 'kay? Pretend it's just us here—well, you know, us and the ghost that's breathing down our necks. So, you know, no pressure, right, but if you could pull yourself together, here, Counselor Troi, I'd appreciate it."

For a minute, nothing seemed to happen, and Sam continued to breathe in an unhealthy, shallow rhythm. Then, it stopped. Sam just seemed to shift without moving, and the panic fell away like a joint popping back into place. There was a quick moment of absolutely no eye contact, and then Sam's low voice broke the tableau.

"Was that a Star Trek reference? Because, seriously, if you tell me you spent—all those times you said you were going on solo hunts at—at sci-fi conventions—oh, my god, I just pictured you in one of those unitards! Please, please tell me you dressed up. Lie to me if you have to—"

"Aw, Christ, Samantha, you're so freaking annoying it's unbelievable. Can we just take care of this damned ghost so I can get around to killing you while I still have the cover of night to dispose of the body?" Dean shifted out of Sam's space irritably, idly trying to figure out where he could rent a wood chipper at this hour of the night.

Oh, Samantha, tres belle nom! Bonjour !

Dead silence fell over the hall as the two brothers turned to regard the semi-transparent apparition of a pre-teen girl. A semi-transparent apparition that apparently found their banter very amusing, and was now giggling silently into her barely visible hand. Dean had his hand on his shot gun, but it almost seemed like overkill under the circumstances, even to him.

The apparition cocked her head at the brothers quizzically, as though she didn't quite know who they were, or how they came to be stalking the halls of her school with guns. A ripple that might have been a shrug passed through her form, and she vanished with a cheery bonne nuit! The lights flickered back on behind her, and the temperature rose dramatically. Silence remained in the hall, and the brothers blinked at each other for a moment before Dean smirked and slung his shot gun over his shoulder.

"My French isn't that good, Sammy, but I think Casper called you pretty, right there." A chorus of feminine giggles followed his comment, causing Sam to roll his eyes for the five hundred and seventy sixth time since they'd arrived.

"She thought the name Samantha was pretty, and I know your French is better than that, Dean." Sam leaned against the wall tiredly, watching the nun herd the girls back into their rooms. Dean leaned beside him, smirk firmly in place.

"There are lots of things you don't know about me, little brother."

Sam laughed, finally. "Well, I have to admit finding out you were a Trekkie came as a bit of a shock."

Dean slammed a half-hearted punch into his brother's shoulder. "Please, how many times did you read the Lord of the Rings in high school? I thought that book was permanently attached to your hand. For the record, though, I am not a Trekkie." The hallway was finally clear, and the pair followed the nun out of the dormitory. "So… this was like that time in the diner, right?"

"Dean—just, later, okay? What are going to do about this ghost?"

Dean eyed his brother warily, observing Sam's pale face and still slightly trembling hands, before allowing himself to be pulled into the conversation about the apparently not at all deranged ghost. Later, and Dean wasn't about to let this go, he called Missouri while his brother showered. She very helpfully recommended a paper bag if the hyperventilating occurred again, and muttered something about she and Sam being very different cases when he mentally accused her of being an utter hack.

Dean never mentioned his call to Missouri, and Sam searched online for answers as he'd promised, but there was nothing of use that he could find. Sam rather conspicuously never suggested calling Missouri, leaving Dean to suspect he had on his own, probably as soon as he'd had a private moment. The nuns finally had more than enough witnesses to justify an exorcism, not that their friendly ghost particularly needed one, and the brothers were paid and sent on their way. A few weeks passed quietly, and the brothers again allowed the incident to slip unnoted into memory.

The third time it happened, it was finally Dean's turn.

They were fighting a poltergeist in an abandoned nursing home, which apparently once held the world's most hostile knitting circle. At least, that was what Dean figured after the poltergeist attempted to strangle Sam with yards and yards of fuzzy pink yarn. Dean hadn't panicked, after all, he knew from experience that Sam could hold his breath for a pretty long time. But after he'd shot the place full of rock salt, and scattered those little bags of Missouri's around, he'd turned his worried eyes to his no longer strangling brother.

Sam was attempting to untangle himself from his fuzzy constraints, looking a lot less like the formidable warrior Dean knew he was and a lot more like a kitten having a really bad day. Rummaging through his pockets, Dean looked for his phone, thinking that this would crack Dad up, or at least make a great Christmas card for Pastor Jim to send out. He hadn't quite found it when Sam hissed in pain, dragging Dean's attention to him like a compass needle towards North. The yarn around Sam's neck and fingers, and actually everywhere it met skin, was not so much pink anymore as it was reddish, and growing darker as he watched.

"Fuck, Sam!" Dean bit out, snapping open a utility knife as he reached his brother's side. The yarn had pulled so tight it had cut into Sam's skin in places, and wherever it hadn't cut him there were ugly rope burns. The knife, kept razor sharp, cut swiftly through the ties, and soon Dean was pressing his hand urgently into some seriously bleeding cuts on Sam's neck. Sam's wrists were also bleeding pretty badly, and Dean was beyond pissed at himself for making light of what was turning out to be a bad situation. Damn poltergeist, and fuck, he hadn't even known it was possible to pull yarn tight enough to break skin. And what the hell kind of powers did Sam have if they didn't save him from decapitation by craft supplies? Why the hell couldn't this shit leave Sam alone? He tried to channel his rage that the universe seemed to have it out for his little brother, but then, Dean had never been one for anger management, especially where Sammy was concerned.

Damn crappy ghost shit fuck—

Sam flinched violently under his hands, the last remnants of color in his face draining away, gaping up at his brother in guilty horror. "God, Dean, I—sorry, I didn't see it coming, I tried, I just… sorry!"

Scrambling out from beneath his brother's grip, Sam bolted from the abandoned building, leaving a stunned and confused Dean in his wake. The remains of his fury drained away as he stared after Sam, still kneeling in a pile of blood soaked pink yarn. It was the sight of the bloody yarn that propelled him to his feet, to gather his weapons and head after his younger brother, who while apparently crazy, still needed first aid.

He found Sam perched on the passenger seat of the Impala, fumbling slightly with the first aid kit, which was now smeared with blood from his cut, trembling hands. In point of fact, Sam's whole body was trembling like he'd fly apart at the slightest provocation. His face was set, and he was breathing slowly, like if he didn't he'd start crying and never stop.

Dean closed his eyes in dread. He didn't know what had happened, but clearing it all up was going to suck, just, so very, very hard.

With gentle hands, Dean plucked the white kit from his brother's shaky grip. Sam tensed, his eyes locked firmly on his bleeding fingers. Both brothers let the silence stand while Dean carefully bandaged the still slowly bleeding cuts. He opted to skip washing the wounds with holy water and move straight to the antiseptic, because contagiously evil yarn was a stretch too far, even for his imagination.

"So, Sam. You want to tell me what happened back there?" Dean focused on replacing supplies into the kit, hoping a lack of eye contact would make this easier. Sam seemed to agree, keeping his gaze trained on the bandages he kept adjusting on his wrists.

"Look, man, I'm sorry. I know—that I get caught kind of a lot, and that I totally slow you guys down. I know I was trained better than that, but—I don't know why this shit keeps coming after me. Honestly, I just… I didn't see it coming, tonight. I'll do better next time, I swear, and—" Sam's tone was surprisingly level as he quietly freaked out right before Dean's eyes.

Dean finally cut Sam's quiet voice off, holding his hands up as if to stop the torrent of words. Sam now had his complete, full on worried stare, attention.

"Whoa, slow down, Stanford. What the hell are you talking about? Yeah, you got nailed. It happens. I mean, the yarn was a bit of a new low, but it happens." Dean stared up at his younger brother, who now looked as confused as he did. "And what do you mean, slowing you guys down? What—wait, do you mean me and Dad? Slowing me and Dad down? Sammy, I—what the hell is going on with you?"

Sam fussed with the already ragged edges of his bandages, head hanging. "I'm sorry, okay? I know I didn't have your back tonight. You shouldn't have to worry about me and yourself, I'm not a kid anymore. I know you were pissed at me."

Once upon a time, Dean had prided himself on being fluent in SamSpeak, and he'd been picking the language back up pretty quickly since they'd reunited. Or at least, he thought he had. "When did I say I was pissed at you?"

Sam drew even further into himself. "You didn't say it. You didn't have to."

Dean pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to control himself, because actually getting pissed at Sam was probably not the answer here. God knows if Sam's freaking shining chose this moment to rear its ugly head, he'd never get to the bottom of this—shit. The shining. Wow, this sucked so much harder than he thought it would… and his expectations had been pretty god damned low to begin with.

"Sam," he started, speaking slowly. "You wouldn't happen to have, um, felt me back there, would you?"

That sounded wrong on so many levels.

Dean eventually took Sam's silence as an affirmative. "Well, I guess we should be glad you didn't get pissed off yourself, like with the panicking last time. Maybe you're getting better at this." No response, except more bandage abuse. "Look—I, well, shit, this sucks. Look, it wasn't you I was pissed at, okay? I was just pissed that you got hurt… you know. On my watch."

Dean looked up from his feet to see Sam staring at him like he didn't quite know what to make of him. "Dean… you got that pissed at yourself just because I got caught by a poltergeist with a craft fetish? I'm not on your watch. Not anymore, Dean. My mistakes are my own."

"It wasn't your mistake, Sam."

Sam snorted. "I got strangled by yarn, Dean. I hope you don't think I planned that maneuver." He paused for a moment, looking at Dean critically. "You know it wasn't your mistake either, right?"

Dean almost didn't answer, almost replied with, you realize you'll always be on my watch, right, but then decided to let the conversation go. Instead, he smirked. "I think we can agree that no one saw the killer yarn coming. I must say, though, the color was mighty becoming on you, Sammy."

"Oh, here we go," Sam groaned, sliding fully into the seat and slamming the door shut. Dean slapped the window playfully, before going to toss the first aid kit back in the trunk. Once back there, he leaned down for a long moment and breathed. He wasn't freaked out by this. He couldn't be freaked out by this, not anymore. Sam would know. Sam obviously had no way of putting what he sensed into any kind of context. If there was a way to fix this, a way out, Dean couldn't see it.

And he couldn't afford to let Sam sense his doubt, either.

Fixing the image of Sam tangled in yarn firmly in his mind (because up 'till the horrific bloody wounds it had been pretty damn funny) he slammed the trunk shut and went to face his brother. His brother, who was counting on him to be his shelter through this. He'd think about the crumbling walls of his last private place later… when Sam was really, really fast asleep.

The problem, Dean decided, was Sam can't control it. Missouri, apparently, was more attuned to thoughts than emotions, and so could simply not listen to voices not her own. Emotions don't come labeled as to ownership, so sometimes Sam doesn't even realize what he's feeling isn't what he's feeling. Six days a week none of this mattered anyway, because Sam wasn't reading anything and you'd hardly know something had changed. On the odd day, though, Sam'd be picking up every frequency from here to Fresno. All illusions would be stripped away because as far as Sam was concerned, everyone in the world was shouting their business in his ear. Not hearing was impossible.

Dean learned to recognize the signs. On 'open' days, Sam would withdraw, wouldn't tolerate being touched, wouldn't eat or sleep but usually showered several times if he could. Dean tried not to dwell on what aspect of this shit fest made Sam feel so unclean. He suspected Sam felt like a voyeur, and was picking up things, good and bad, that people just shouldn't know about each other.

The upside, if you could even call it that, was that on those days, Sam could track whatever they were hunting like a bloodhound. Apparently evil was just so foreign that it stood out like that red dress lady in 'The Matrix.' According to Sam, demons were capable of hate on a whole different level from humans. Their hatred was chaotic and undirected, more powerful than any single person could be capable of. Sam described it as being dissonant, like an out of tune instrument in an orchestra.

Dean replied that he'd never heard demon radar described in quite such a geeky way.

All in all, Dean thought he was dealing with it extremely well, considering. He thought he was keeping the teasing down to a generous minimum, and it wasn't like this whole thing wasn't giving him a lot to work with. He was carefully not asking what, if anything, Sam was getting from him, and his brother was obligingly not bringing it up. Dean could tell, though, that there were times Sam desperately wanted to say something to him. Those times, Dean would focus his mind on something funny or porn-y (serves Sam right) and the look on Sam's face, the oh-my-holy-god is that how you really feel face, would fade away for awhile.

Dean honestly didn't expect this to knock him on his ass, again. But then, he of all people should have known never to underestimate Sam.

They were tracking a violent ghost that was cheerfully creating havoc in a meat-packing plant, which of course meant that there were all kinds of fun, sharp things to get thrown at them. They couldn't burn the bones, because apparently the ghost had been the victim of an accident with one of the meat grinders, and there hadn't been much left to bury, after. Sam was having a 'closed' day, which meant Dean could use his trusty EMF… and that fact only made him slightly more cheerful that it probably should have. It was just, some days he missed his gadgets.

He and Sam were carefully disguising the herb bags they were distributing around the plant, because little sachets of sage and rosemary would be a pretty hard sell to the meatpackers, when it happened. A large, straight blade wrenched itself off a machine and flew, predictably, straight at Sam's chest. Sam didn't look up or notice his impending death, and later they were going to have to talk about paying extra attention with his normal senses, because Jesus, the thing was the size of a sword and hadn't been quietly ripped from its steel bindings, either.

So Dean had done what he always did, pushed Sam down out of the way. This time he got thirty-six inches of steel through his shoulder for his trouble. It was Sam's cry of horrified pain that came as a shock to him, rather than the rather blinding pain of his own injury. Turning his head painfully, he saw Sam picking himself up from where Dean had shoved him, pale as milk and clutching his unwounded left shoulder. He immediately shook it off and turned to Dean, concern overwriting the pain in his eyes. He didn't disguise his expression quite fast enough, though.

"Oh, for fuck's sake, Sam, you have got to be kidding me with this shit!" Dean ground out, not even remotely in the mood for that.

Sam hauled him to his feet, solicitous of his brother's pain, "Come, on, man, you need a hospital. That collar bone is broken."

Dean made a half-hearted protest, already slightly nauseous from impending shock. "We've got to finish here."

"God, you're always like this. The ghost will keep for one more day. We got most of the purification herbs spread around, anyway. Why do you think it was so pissed off?" Sam's annoyed voice belied the care he used settling Dean into the passenger seat of the car. He couldn't hide his wince, though, so Dean knew he was still reading him loud and clear. Frustration rolled over him sharply. What the hell was the point of protecting Sam if he still got hurt, anyway?

"Would you calm down over there? Christ, it's just pain, Dean. I'm not the one bleeding out, here. And keep holding the towel on! You're damn lucky that thing went straight through you. It could have gotten your shoulder blade, too." Sam sounded aggravated.

Dean sullenly adjusted his grip on the makeshift bandage, frowning at Sam. "There's no need to sound so pissed off, Sam. I just saved your ass back there, you know."

Sam's knuckles tightened on the steering wheel, his face set. "I'm not pissed off, Dean. You are. I'm just pissed by proxy, I swear," he sighed, making an attempt at a smile for his brother. "And I know you saved my life back there. It happens kind of a lot. I'd show my gratitude more but I know how that freaks you out."

He pulled into the hospital parking lot, ignoring Dean's grumbled protests. "Dude, neither of us could set a collar bone, and you need a blood transfusion, I think. So suck it up, we're already here."

Dean slung himself out of the car. "Have I ever told you how charming your bedside manner is?"

Sam snorted while sorting through their ID's for one with good insurance. "I learned from the best. Come on, let's get you put back together again."

They had just reached the double doors of the ER when Dean pulled them to a halt. "Hang on a second, you can't go in there."

"Umm, yeah, I can." Sam's voice held just the right amount of what the fuck?

Dean held firm. "No, Sam, you can't. You're all, you know," Dean made a waving motion with his hand, "right now… what if there's someone dying in there? It's a building full of suffering people, for god's sake, now wait in the car!"

"Oh, for crying out loud—you can't go in alone, idiot. What if something happens to you? What if the ID doesn't work? What if you need surgery? You're bleeding all over the place and who knows what was on that freaking blade, which, by the way, is used to cut up cows all day. But no, why don't you just waltz right in there on your own. God forbid I should get a headache!"

The brothers faced off in the blinking red light of the emergency doors, until Dean finally cracked a small smile, "I hope you're not going to try to blame this hissy fit on me, too."

Sam, who was really very good at compromise, as long as their father wasn't involved, smiled back. "I promise I'll leave if it gets bad. Besides, I read you better than anyone else, anyway, so how about we get some painkillers in you?"

Dean reluctantly allowed himself to be pulled into the ER. "Aw, jeez, Sam, what have I told you about telling me that stuff?"

"Not to." Sam was equal parts unrepentant and irrepressible, as usual leaving Dean torn between killing him and hugging him.

Two hours later, Dean walked out into the waiting room, with his arm in a sling and a prescription for some really quality painkillers. Hospitals had that much going for them… they always gave out the good stuff. He looked around for his little brother, and restrained a bit of panic when he didn't find him. Perfect! Sam had freaked out or something and why couldn't he figure out that Dean was always right about this stuff and—

Oh. Duh.

Dean approached the tall figure standing not five feet away from him at the edge of a curtained enclosure. As he drew up behind he could see what Sam was looking at. Inside, a young brunette was whispering to a tiny newborn while nurses looked on with smiles. The woman was glowing with sweat and rapture, laughing and crying as she gazed down on her baby.

He couldn't see Sam's face, but he smiled softly, himself. He didn't have to be empathic to know what Sam was thinking about, but the words, 'yeah, mom loved you just like that, just like you're feeling now' would never, ever pass his lips. Even for Sam, that was just too much. Luckily, he didn't need to say it. Not anymore.

Dean took a deep breath, cleared his mind, and thought about Mom, and how it felt when she gathered him in her lap and held him, totally safe and secure. Thought about how she looked at baby Sam, remembered her kissing tiny fingers and toes. Thought about the funny voices she made when reading stories to them, how the world faded around them until the three of them existed in a tiny universe of warmth.

He wasn't sure if anything was getting through, until Sam spoke, his voice pitched low, with a slight, sad hitch to it. "There's something evil in the morgue, you know."

"Evil dead? Awesome!"

Because, you know, they didn't need to talk about it.