I absolutely have to chuckle. I can honestly say that I have never played a game of pool, nor been in a bar fight in my life. Thanks for the wonderful compliments. :D

I hope this doesn't disappoint. Thanks again to Faye and Gem for all their assistance.



P.S. Make sure you get your taxes done if you haven't already!


The woman at the motel eyed Sam, looking at all the swelling and bruises on the attractive young face. He was certainly not the first person who ever darkened her doorstep with bruises like his, but there was something different about this kid.

"Are you sure you don't need a doctor? I can call an ambulance," she began, feeling overwhelming sympathy for Sam and wanting to help in whatever way she could.

He had fed her a line about getting jumped by a pile of guys who beat the crap out of him and grabbed his wallet with his identification. They missed his 'secret pocket' where he had stored enough money in case of emergencies. Sam smiled sheepishly and handed her three $20 bills and reached for the key to the room. Reluctantly, she gave them to him.

"Shouldn't you call the police and report it? I mean, they'll want to send out a cruiser to see if they can find them."

"Already did that. I gave them the descriptions and everything about an hour ago," Sam answered, sighing quietly and adding a slight sway to his stance to sell his point. "Said they wanted to see me in the morning since I refused medical treatment. All I really want is to clean up and get some rest. Both of us do." Sam indicated back to the car where Dean was starting to move around a bit more.

She smiled, feeling comfortable enough to let him go, turning back to her living quarters. "If you change your mind, or need anything else, just let me know." With that, she locked the door behind her.

Sam made his way back to the Impala quickly to usher Dean into the hotel and start his ministrations. He yanked the passenger side open, wondering what he would see inside.

Dean was definitely coming around and much more alert than he had been in the cemetery. He could feel the throbbing in his head, and his vision was still doubled. This, however, did not stop the scrutiny of his younger sibling who was standing over him.

And Sam looked worse for the wear. Much worse.

"Dude, what happened to your face? Did that son of a bitch get you?" Dean cried, really trying to focus and examine Sam, clearly not remembering the conversation in the parking lot of Hunter's Pub. His eyes bugged as he realized his brother looked a healthy shade of death.

Sam snorted and smirked at the comment. "Yeah, Dean. The son of a bitch got me." He sighed and placed his arm behind Dean and helped him get up from the car.

Bending forward was not the best thing for Sam, as his world tilted suddenly and he slammed into the Impala, re-igniting the pain from one of the many kicks to the side of his torso. He winced slightly, but tried to recover gracefully.

"Dude, what the fuck?" Dean said, knowing that noise better than the back of his hand. He got a really good look at Sam as the light from the motel shone directly above them. "What the hell happened after Casper strangled me?"

Sam smiled, regaining his balance and getting Dean out of the car. Both men were unsteady on their feet, but Sam took charge. He tried his best to conceal his aches and pains, but he knew that look from his brother.

And he knew he'd been busted.

Dean could see his sibling was in pain, a lot of pain, but did not push further. At least not out in the open like this. There would be plenty of time for the Q&A later.

The brothers counterbalanced their weight and made their way to the room. Two peas in a damaged, ripped-to-shreds pod.

They spilled inside and Sam dropped Dean to the first bed, as was his preference, turning back to the car to get the bags and the med kit.


He looked back at his brother, happy to see him more alert and with some color that had been lacking earlier in the evening. "Yeah, Dean?"

And Dean looked at him, really looked at him. Big Brother mode was in full swing. He noted the tears in the clothing, the blood stains and the ungodly look of Sam's face. At least he thought it was Sam's face. He couldn't quite tell with all the swelling and bruises. Not to mention the stench. And it wasn't graveyard he smelled.

"Want help?"

Grateful for the offer, Sam smiled as best he could with his swollen jaw. "Nah, I'm good."


Sam reentered the room with the two duffles, a bucket of ice and their fully-stocked first aid kit in tow. He spotted Dean in the bathroom pulling the towels from the racks ready for their makeshift triage. Sam caught a glance of the bruises around Dean's neck and the pit of his stomach hit the floor. The guilt roiled around internally as he dumped the bags and headed for the bright light, hoping that his brother's injuries - his failures - were not as bad as he thought.

While Dean was certainly more coherent than earlier, a head wound was never something to laugh at. Dean had been tossed into enough walls that too many concussions could do real damage. If Sam really had his way, his brother's ass would have been at the hospital, getting scoped out by a CT scan, but when the means to do that are pulled out from under you; you make due with what you've got.

Thankfully, both boys were skilled in the 'art' of medicine. Even if it was Winchester medicine.

"Sit. Let me take a look at the back of your head," demanded Sam without giving Dean a minute to argue. He was resigned that if the injuries were bad, he'd haul Dean back into the Impala and find a way to get him seen. Sam held a breath as he pulled the alcohol and thread from the first aid kit, leaning in to take a better look at the crusted blood formed on the back of Dean's head.

Dean knew that tone, felt it in his core, and it didn't come often from Sam. His younger brother was worried… and nervous. He was also in charge, and Dean wasn't quiet sure how that had happened.

Something had gone down, after Dean had gone down, and Sam was feeling guilty. He could sense the waves of grief coming from him; drowning him. Sam always took things so personally and the world's problems were his own. His little brother was always one to wear his emotions on his sleeve, and the colors were definitely radiating blue.

For some reason, Sam blamed himself for letting Dean get hurt – that much was clear to him – but he didn't understand why.

The other part of the equation that eluded him was Sam's injuries. And his odor. There was no way the ghost did all that damage to his little brother. And Dean was pretty sure that drinking and smoking were not on its 'things to do' list as it traipsed around the cemetery.

There was a story here and Dean wanted to know what went down. But obviously, Sam needed a little more time.

So he waited and let the ministrations occur.

Sam took longer than intended to set up the supplies. The truth was, his vision was still a tad blurry from his own injuries, and he didn't want to do even more damage to his brother. Sam figured if he waited a few more minutes, the nausea and dizziness would pass. He'd be alright; right now the only thing that mattered was Dean. He was going to take care of him and see this through.

Finding his balance once again, Sam grabbed the warm, moist towel that was perched on the edge of the sink, cleaning the back of Dean's head. There was a sizable lump and Sam could hear Dean squint his eyes at the pain. He watched as his brother's arm propped against the wall to still himself.

"Sorry. I need to put a couple of stitches in here, Dean. Give me a sec." Sam pulled the needle, quickly sterilizing it with the lighter and rinsing it with alcohol.

Sam was able to patch Dean with seven quick stitches in record time, mostly because he wasn't sure how much longer he could keep up the 'tough guy' façade in the face of his brother.

"Thanks, dude," Dean said, swinging his body back and around and rising to meet his brother's gaze. So many emotions passed over Sam's face; Dean wasn't sure which one he should address first.

In the strong light of the bathroom, he could see the hell that Sam had been through – scratches and bruises littered his face. Bumps on top of bumps. He studied each with a curiosity and concern, managing to assess quickly that several needed attention. Dean grabbed a fresh towel and started towards Sam. "Your turn. Sit down."

"Dean, I'm fine. I just need to splash some water…"

"That's it. Enough. Sit your ass down on that toilet and let me look at you," Dean said firmly, pushing Sam to the seat. "You can barely keep it together and I don't want you bleeding all over the Impala," he added, not meaning to sound quite as harsh as he had.

"Too late there. You did a bang up job of that yourself," Sam added with a smirk, wincing as Dean pushed a little too hard into one of the cuts on his face.

Dean started with the gash above Sam's eyebrow, seeing it wasn't as bad as he originally thought and decided that stitches were not necessary. He then made his way to the side of his swollen face and along Sam's jaw, noting the various colors of the rainbow that had sprouted up. "So. You gonna tell me what happened?"

Sam sighed, fully feeling cheated. All he wanted to do was take care of Dean - to prove that he could hold his own - and here he was, back in the same boat. His brother was caring for him, again. He couldn't even hustle a simple game of pool for some cash without screwing up.

"We needed money, so… I went to hustle pool."

"You did what? Are you crazy? Going into a bar by yourself, without backup? What were you thinking?" Dean grabbed the alcohol and again dabbed a little harder than he had intended on his brother's open wounds.

Sam flinched at the sting, both of the alcohol and the words, and continued to keep his gaze downward. "I was worried," he began, justifying his actions. "You needed a bed, and I needed to look after you. You're always taking care of me. For once, I…" but Sam's voice trailed off.

Dean suddenly realized how important it was for Sam to feel he could contribute in ways that didn't include research. Sam could hold his own in a fight - he'd trust him with his life - but Dean always went out of his way to keep his brother out of the crossfire. Dean was always the one to shoot first and ask questions later; especially when it came to Sammy.

Had his overprotection really driven Sam to feel guilty?

Dean was always the breadwinner, whether it was pool, darts or credit cards, while Sam found the information. Got them prepared for their next hunt. It never occurred to him that Sam had wanted more. Needed more.

"So, you went off, by yourself, to try and hustle pool and got the shit kicked out of you?" His tone held both concern and a touch of mockery; a skill Dean was well versed in. He had to give the kid credit for having the stones to give it a try.

Dean thought back to the cemetery when the ghost came at them, more importantly him. He'd tried everything he could to keep it away from Sam; their ingrained instinct of protection of one another. Dean thought he'd had control of it, but he was mistaken. He was afraid after he saw it toss Sam into the tree that he was too late.

And he would die trying to save his brother.

Was it to wrong for Sam to feel the same of him?

Sam had been desperate; desperate to help Dean. He knew they didn't have any money or credit cards, and panic must have flared in his belly at the prospect of having nothing.

So Sam had done what he thought was best.

Dean sighed and continued his prognosis, finding a lump at the back of Sam's head he hadn't noticed before. Sam jumped suddenly at the pressure and cried out. Dean looked closer at the wound and found a small piece of glass at the base of his skull.

"Jesus, Sammy, you get hit by a bottle too?" Dean reached over and grabbed the tweezers from the kit, skillfully removing the shard of glass and causing the blood to freely flow from the sore again, flushing it out.

Sam nodded slightly, feeling woozy at the comfort of his brother ministrations. "I was almost free and clear when someone hit me at the door," he supplied, reaching a hand to his face. "Everything was going well with the game, and then some woman came onto me and made me miss the last shot. Well, sort of…"

That was further than he had intended to go with that conversation. The telekinesis freaked Dean out and Sam had not planned on telling him about it. Sam prayed that the comment would just slip by…

"What do you mean you missed the shot? Did you win or not?" Dean perched in front of Sam to see his eyes as he told this story. He knew Sam was hiding something. Well, he was hiding a lot. His hazel orbs burrowing into Sam, determined not to relinquish until he had an answer.

Sam found the toilet paper roll fascinating as he tore his eyes away from his brother, noticing the lovely pattern of nothing on the sheets.


"I missed the shot and got mad, so I….told the ball to get into the pocket. And it did."

Well that wasn't what Dean was expecting to hear.

Fucking shining. I thought we were done with that. Shit…

The Demon seemed to plague their every waking moment.

Dean leaned against the wall and looked to the ceiling, suddenly finding it as fascinating as his brother found the toilet paper. He took a deep breath, feeling the color coming back to his face.

"And they thought you cheated," Dean began, finally finding his voice and strength, "because the ball moved on its own…"

"It wasn't my fault. She bumped me…and I didn't have time to play another game. I had to get back to you," Sam spewed like stool pigeon, words dripping uncontrollably from his mouth. "I needed to get back to you, make sure you were alright. Let you rest in a bed. You needed to get looked at, and we didn't have any money. Hell, we don't even have fake insurance. I didn't know what to do, and I was scared I…"

Sam stopped for a quick breath and Dean didn't want to stop the roll his brother was on, now that he was finally talking.

"They started coming at me. First the guy I played, then his buddy, well, not really, he was mad because he beat him, so he was rooting for me until he thought I had cheated. Then he and his two friends were there," Sam continued as the stream of information flowed freely until he had recounted his whole adventure to Dean.

Dean knitted his brow at the tale. Sammy had done all the right things in the game… lost the first game, won the next, missed the right shots. Just like a true hustler. Dean's chest had a swell to it as he listened to the intricate details of the skillful match. He then did a mental tally of all the guys that Sam took out while trying to get out of the bar, nodding his head as he did the grand total.

"Sammy, you're telling me that you took out twelve guys and got slapped by a girl – who hit on you first," Dean paused, finding his brother's brown orbs, to confirm what he was hearing, "by yourself?"

Sam sheepishly nodded, expecting Queen Bitch of Piss Island to come raining down on him for going it on his own.

"That's freaking awesome!" Dean slapped Sam on the shoulder, beaming with pride, but immediately regretted it as he uncovered yet another battle scar from the Hunter's Pub.

Sam winced at the sudden, unintended assault on his tender injuries, trying to suck it up, but knowing he'd been caught. Dean quickly pulled the shirt sleeve up to see what he had unwittingly uncovered; a large bump that looked suspiciously like the end of a cue stick. The hunter grabbed some ice and applied it to the latest wound.

"The only crap thing is you didn't get the money. Oh, and you got the shit beat out of you," Dean paused and shoved his brother – gently this time – from his new hovering position. This was slowly heading towards 'touchy-feeling' and Dean was grateful to be at his brother's back. "But you did good, Sammy. Real good."

Sam smiled at the praise from his brother. He had a sudden warmth flow throughout his body. He knew that Dean meant the words; that he really was proud of him. That he understood how important this was for Sam to do, and that he could prove himself. Sam moved around on the toilet and pitched slightly to the side as Dean rushed to stop him.

"Woah there, Sammy. Whatcha doing?"

But Sam pushed him away, digging into his pocket and finally pulling the wad of cash out, handing it to Dean.

"Holy shit! How much is here?"

"Around $250. I paid $60 for the room for two nights. She gave me a discount because she felt bad that I got beat up," Sam scoffed slightly at his luck. "Sucker."

Dean looked at the money and then to his little brother. He knew that he would always protect Sam, or at least he'd try. It was part of his genetic make up and there was nothing he could do to stop 'loving' Sam on that level.

But today, he felt something new. He had unlocked a little piece of his brother and learned more about him. What Sam needed and what else he could bring to the table.

They were equals in this battle. Not that Dean really ever doubted that.

This life that had chosen them was not a happy life. But they were together, and that's what mattered most. To both of them.

"Sammy, this is…. it's fantastic. I'm so proud of you. I'm sorry I doubted your wicked ways."

And Sam raised his eyes to his big brother filled with so much happiness, he felt it consume him. Sam let out a slight chuckle that hurt everywhere, but he didn't let it show.

"You're such an ass, you know that?"

"But I'm your ass…oh wait, that sounds a little kinky. Which would be alright if you weren't my brother. And if I were gay," Dean tried and stumbled over the words which made Sam laugh even harder.

"I think you slammed your head a little too hard there, Grace. Maybe knocked a few more of those screws loose?" Sam taunted as he got himself up, slowly, from the toilet seat. Every instinct told Dean to race to his side to help, but this time, he wanted to give Sam the satisfaction of doing it on his own.

Like he'd done the whole night long.