Title: Fear Itself

Author: BlackWingedbird

Standard Dis, No Warnings

Author's Note: I can't believe I wrote this. I love John, I really do. Lemme know what you think. Also, I'm flying solo on this one, so I'd love to hear if I still have 'it'. My Beta spoils me.

'Our most basic instinct is not for survival but for family. Most of us would give our own life for the survival of a family member, yet we lead our daily life too often as if we take our family for granted.'

Paul Pearshall

"Come on Sammy, quit being such a baby."

Sam stands at the edge of the concrete, his toes curling over the edge, holding his breath as he watches Dean bobbing steadily in the shimmering body of water. "I'm not a baby," he retorts, puffing his chest. "I'm six. I'm starting school this year."

Dean smirks. "Well come on then. Jump in."

Sam's confidence deflates like an untied balloon. His toes grip the sandy concrete and he studies the water, careful not to lose his balance. "It's too deep."

"It's not to deep- look, I'm doing it." Dean gestures with his arms, drops of water glistening as they roll off his skin. "You just gotta kick your legs. The rest is natural- everyone floats."

Sam's not so sure about that. Sure he's been in pools before, but he's always climbed in using the stairs. He's never actually jumped in, and he's certainly never been in the deep end. He panics when the water comes up to his chin- it gets in his mouth, in his nose, and the chlorine tastes bad and stings. He hates the feeling of water pressing on him. It feels like he can't breathe. It scares him more than anything.

"Sammy, you gotta learn to swim sometime," Dean says. "Come on, just hold your nose, close your eyes, and jump. I'm right here. I promise I'll catch you, okay?"

Sam watches the water lap against the side of the pool, the coolness licking at his toes. They are the only two at the pool right now, probably because all the other families are out exploring the city. It's not unusual for Sam and Dean to be the only occupants of a hotel pool.


Sam wants to please his brother. He wants to learn how to swim, but he remembers the sensation of drowning too clearly and already his heart is speeding up. Dean said it was an 'instinctual' fear, something that Sam's brain had when he was born, like being afraid of fire. He continues staring at the water, noticing how deep the bottom looks from his position next to the '9 foot' marker.

"What's going on out here?"

Sam squints up at his father as he appears next to him. His face is chiseled and firm- neither smiling nor frowning, and Sam is used to that.

"I'm trying to teach Sammy how to swim," Dean replies. "That is, if he ever quits being a baby."

"I'm not a baby!" Sam shouts back. His cheeks are hot from more than the bright sun.

"Sam, you have to learn how to swim," John says. He sounds mad, like when he finds the boys sleeping in the same bed.

Sam is scared, but he knows better than to admit it. "Why?"

"Because, you have to be able to save yourself. Or what if Dean had fallen in, and you weren't able to save him?"

Sam's eyes widen as he imagines his older brother drowning. The water scares him even more, and he takes a step back.

He feels Dad's large hands on his shoulders and stops.

Dean gets a funny look on his face and says, "It's okay Sammy, just do it like I told you. I promise you'll be okay."

Sam really wants to please his brother, but he's scared.

After a few seconds, Dad says, "Move over there, Dean," as he points to the 'five foot' marker.

"But Dad-"

"Now, Dean."

Sam watches as Dean pushes through the water. "Yes sir," Dean replies, and when he stops, he looks at Sam with sympathy. Something in Sam's bare chest twinges. Something's not right.

But before Sam can speak, Dad tightens his grip. "I'll teach you how to swim, Sammy- just like my father taught me."

Sam looks up, ready to ask 'how?', but suddenly Dad is picking him up and his arms and legs flail in the air. Up becomes down and Sam is disoriented, but he sees the water and Dean's shocked expression. "No, Daddy- don't!" He screams, his body taught and seizing with a fear more powerful than anything he's ever felt. He twists and thrashes against his father's grasp, feeling himself being raised higher in the humid summer air. He knows what's coming and fights it, raw panic dripping in hot tears down his face.

Then, suddenly, he is dropped. He breaks through the crystalline surface with a sharp crack and plummets down, down, into the cold depths of the encompassing water. Everything is silent. Silver, gelatinous bubbles rise and swirl all around him and for a moment, Sam can't find up. Water presses against him from all sides. His lungs and eyes burn and before he can stop himself, he breathes in. Sour water floods his mouth and throat and he still can't breathe and now his chest hurts even more. His toes scrape the rough concrete and immediately he pushes against it, surging upwards and towards the sunlight. His arms are heavy and his eyes feel like they're bulging out of his head, even as darkness blossoms over his vision. The only thing he can think about is air and how he doesn't want to die.

His body is going numb and his chest feels like it's collapsing as he breaks the surface of the water, sucking in air with long, ragged breaths. His lungs still burn and he coughs, choking still, even though he has made it to the top. Sam thrashes with his arms and legs, feeling the pull of the water as it splashes around his mouth and ears, threatening to drop him back down to the bottom once more. It is like quicksand, and Sam can't find the leverage he needs. He can't catch his breath and he can't keep his head above water and the panic flares within his chest once more.

"No- Dean, stay there!"

"But Dad, he's-"

"Just wait. Let him calm down. He'll be okay- just give him a minute."

Sam's vision is too obscured by the splashing water, but he hears the voices. "Dean!" he screams, coughing and pinching his eyes shut against the bite of chlorine. "Daddy!" He hears their voices and knows they are close, but he can't get his body to cooperate. He dips once more, this time the water covering his nose, and he kicks for all he's worth. His legs already burn and feels his muscles threatening to give out. Nothing has ever terrified him more. He doesn't want to die, please don't let him die.

Then, strong arms wrap around him and he's being pulled to the side of the pool. "I got you," Dean says in his ear, and Sam swings out a hand, clutching tightly to his brother.

They bump into the wall of concrete and Sam is lifted out of the water's grasp, his swimming trunks hanging low off his hips as the water slides down his body. His father's hands are in his armpits and his shoulders protest with a sharp pain, but then Sam is dropped upon the hot concrete and he reaches out to catch himself. He's coughing up hot pool water now, and his chest and stomach ache.

"Calm down, Sam," his father orders. The calloused hand stings when it slaps his wet skin and Sam struggles to keep upright as his father pounds on his back. "Just take a deep breath."

Sam tries, his eyes still screwed shut against the too-bright sunlight, but his throat tickles and more warm water bubbles up his throat. His hands are balled into tight fists and he wishes he could catch his breath long enough to cry.

"Sammy." Dean's voice is back, close to his face. "You're gonna be okay, you just gotta relax, okay? Just take one breath, that's it. Just one breath, then hold it. Can you do that?"

Sam obeys, preferring to act instead of think about what just happened. He sucks air down his raw throat, shivering before his chest spasms. He bites down hard and manages to fight the cough. Dean's hand is in his fist now, and Sam feels a little stronger.

"Good boy, just like that. Now slowly, breathe out. Slow."

He does it, fighting his body's impulses. Slowly, his brain begins to calm and his body begins to still. He breathes in again, slowly, hand still clenched onto Dean's, and feels his father's hand rubbing circles on his back. Dean and Daddy are here- he is safe now. Within minutes, the tickle in his throat fades and the feeling returns to his arms and legs. There's slime on his chest and his hair is in his eyes. His head hurts now, and his chest still aches, but now he can finally breathe.

Sam blinks open his eyes.

"Hey, dork," Dean says, smiling brightly.

Sam smiles weakly. He doesn't think he can talk just yet.

"Sam, are you okay?" His father stops the rubbing and looks at him intently.

Sam nods and manages to squeak, "Yes." His throat hurts.

Satisfied, John rocks back, sitting on the concrete. "Dean," he says lowly, "You disobeyed me. I told you to wait."

Sam glances at Dean. His big brother never disobeys, ever.

"I'm sorry," Dean says. "But he was scared. He wasn't going to learn that way."

"Everyone floats, Dean, I told you that," John replies. "The air in our lungs keeps us up. He would have been fine if he just calmed down."

Sam looks at his chest, seeing the drying phlegm turning to white crust on his skin.

Dean sees it too, but keeps silent.

"You still have to learn how to swim," his father says, looking at Sam. "It's important that you know how. Dean can swim, don't you want to be like your big brother?"

Sam doesn't care- right now, he never wants to go near water again. He certainly doesn't want to learn like this again. The thought Daddy throwing him into the pool again scares him and he wants to cry.

"I'll teach him," says Dean. "I can do it."

Sam looks pleadingly at his father. "Please, Daddy. I'll let Dean teach me. I'll be really good, I promise."

John studies each boy while Sam holds his breath. "Okay," he says at last. "But you better learn by the end of the week, understand?"

The boys nod. "Yes sir."

"All right then." He pushes to his feet and reaches down for Sam. "Let's get you inside and showered off. We need to go to the library."

Sam accepts his fathers help and grabs his swimming trunks before they slide off. His breath still catches and he feels exhausted, but Dean is beside him and Sam feels safe. They start towards the gate and Sam makes it a point not to look back at the water.

Their father leads the way and Dean drapes an arm over Sam's shoulders, pulling him close. "Don't worry, squirt," he mumbles, "We'll have you swimming like a fish before you know it."

Sam nods, believing it. He doesn't know how it will happen, but he trusts Dean. Dean has never scared him like Daddy scared him. Dean is slower, nicer, and he talks in a way that Sam can understand.

Sam decides that from now on, he will learn everything Dean has to teach him.

As Daddy said, he can't afford not to.