Title: Second Time Around
Author: Swanseajill
Characters: Dean, Sam, John, Pastor Jim
Pairing: None
Rating: PG-13 (genfic)
Disclaimer: Don't own them, making no money from them
Summary: Dean is seriously injured in a hunt, bringing back memories for Sam of a similar occasion that took place over two years ago. The boys are forced to deal with some long buried truths.

Author's Notes: This fic was completed for a challenge on LiveJournal, in response to the prompt, 'Dean gets critically injured during the Stanford years and someone (Pastor Jim or maybe even John) brings Sam to see him.' For the purpose of this story, I'm assuming that Sam was at Stanford for just over three years before the pilot.

Grateful thanks to stealthyone for the usual fantastic beta job and for taking so much time to help me iron out some inconsistencies. You rock.

Illinois, April 2006

The sky was a clear, cerulean blue, and the spring sun beat down valiantly, gently warming the bare skin of his forearms. The air hung heavy with a heady scent from a pair of lilac trees to one side. In the very center of the courtyard, enclosed by a flowerbed awash with spring flowers, a majestic maple tree stood proud, its new leaves shiny and bright.

It should have been a scene of peace and tranquility.

For Sam Winchester, it was a painful reminder of another time, another place.

The scene was not quite the same as the one in his memories. Then, it was October at a different hospital courtyard, and the maple tree's leaves were a vibrant, dazzling red. But the most important fact was the same. Now, as then, he sat on a wooden bench while his brother lay critically ill in a bed a scant hundred yards away.

Sam wearily ran a hand through already unruly hair. This shouldn't be happening. He shouldn't be sitting here again, wondering if Dean was going to make it through the night. It wasn't right. It wasn't fair.

Because this time, he'd done everything right.

He closed aching eyes, and the image of the maple tree morphed into another tree in the height of its autumn glory two and a half years ago…

- - - - -

Stanford, October 2003

Sam pushed his chair away from the desk and stretched his aching back until cartilage cracked. It was barely 11 a.m., but he'd already been hunched over his laptop, several hefty tomes beside him on the desk, for more than three hours. He needed a break.

He walked to the window. It was open a crack, and he pushed it open a little wider and stuck his head out. It was a perfect October day, the sky an uninterrupted canvass of blue, highlighting the valiant sun, shining brightly in a stubborn attempt to deny the approach of autumn. But the strength of its rays failed to block out the nip in the air and Sam, in his thin T-shirt, shivered at the sudden chill.

He looked down at the quadrangle two floors below. A group of female students sauntered by, clearly in high spirits, carefree laughter floating upwards. Two professors passed them, deep in conversation, and a group of sweatpants-clad seniors jogged off in the opposite direction.

Stanford, he told himself at frequent intervals, was everything he had hoped it would be. His studies were challenging but rewarding, he spent his days with other students who actually wanted to learn and he'd made a few very good friends. Most of the time, he felt like a normal person.

If his thoughts sometimes drifted to his former life, causing him to stop short and wonder if he was fooling himself, if he would always be an outsider pretending to fit in – well, that was only to be expected. And if he sometimes caught himself unconsciously scanning the local newspaper for any story that might be supernatural in origin – well, that was only natural, after so many years of conditioning. It would take time to throw off fifteen years of instilled habits and training.

One thing he was sure of. He was born for this life.

He didn't miss hunting, and he certainly didn't miss the arguments with his father that had become a daily occurrence in the weeks before his departure for college over a year ago.

His father. John Winchester: expert hunter and prize bastard. Sam's feelings towards his father were volatile at best, a mixture of resentment, love and frustration. Sometimes, just sometimes, those feelings flared into something akin to hatred. Hatred for the way Dad had forced an unnatural and bizarre lifestyle on his sons.

Sam had never asked for that life and constantly railed against it, and he knew how much that pissed his father off. Oh, he'd got quite good at the job, the family business – it would have been difficult not to, with the amount of training he'd been forced to endure – but he'd never thrown himself into it or enjoyed it. Unlike his brother. Dean had embraced the life, following his father's orders like a good little soldier, never questioning, never complaining. The perfect son.


Deep in thought, a loud rap on the door startled him. He glanced at his watch. 11:10. Probably Jem or Roger, bored with study already and eager to lure him out for a late breakfast.

He strolled over to the door, steeling himself to be strong-willed because he really needed to finish that paper, but smiling nonetheless.

When he opened the door, he took a step back in shock, smile fading. The person standing there wasn't Jem or Roger, but one of the last people he would have expected to turn up at Stanford.

Pastor Jim Murphy had been a prominent figure in the Winchesters' lives while Sam had been growing up, and he was the closest to an uncle Sam had ever come. Jim was also the only pastor Sam had met who had a hidden arsenal of demon-hunting paraphernalia hidden in his church study. That made him a cool dude in the eyes of a young boy.

Sam would have been pleased to see him, but Stanford was almost 2,000 miles from Jim's home in Blue Earth, Minnesota, and there could only be one reason for his presence here.

A shiver of fear ran down Sam's spine as he studied the older man's serious expression.

"What is it? What's happened?" he demanded, the possibilities already whirling around in his mind.

Jim's worried features softened in what looked alarmingly like compassion. "Hello, Sam. It's good to see you, son. May I come in for a moment?"

"Sure." Sam stood aside, and Jim walked a few paces into the room before turning to face him.

"It's Dean," he said without preamble. "He got hurt in a hunt a few days ago. Chupacabra took a chunk out of his leg. The wound got infected and …" He paused, looked away for a moment and then back, steadily holding Sam's eyes. "Your brother's very sick, Sam. I think… you need to come and be with him."

Oh, God. His greatest fear had become reality – that Dean would get hurt because he wasn't there to watch Dean's back. He'd always managed to rationalize the fear away. Dean, of all people, was more than capable of looking after himself, and anyway, Dad was still there to look out for him. But now…

His mouth went dry, and he swallowed. "How sick is he?"

Jim hesitated, as if searching for the right words. Sam's fear grew.

"Please, just tell me the truth."

"The chupacabra took a chunk out of his calf. The wound isn't too bad, but it's badly infected, and the infection's spreading fast. They're pumping high-strength antibiotics into him, but so far nothing seems to be working. They said…"

Sam felt a chill go through his heart. "They said what?"

"They said that if they can't get the infection under control… they might…"

"They might what?"

"Sam, they might have to take his leg."

No. No. Not that. Anything but that. Sam shook his head in denial. "They can't. Dean would rather die than lose his leg, you knowthat!"

Jim looked at him, sympathy and compassion spreading across his features. "I'm sorry, Sam. But it's better than losing his life, right?"

"There has to be something they can do! Where? Where is he?"

"In a hospital in San Luis Obispo. I'll drive you down as soon as you're ready."

California. Dad and Dean were in California, and he hadn't even known. San Luis Obispo was less than a four-hour drive. Sam had questions, lots of them, but they could wait. His only thought was to get to his brother as quickly as possible. He nodded. "Let me get some things together."

Sam rifled frantically through drawers, picked out some random items of clothing and threw them into a bag. He snagged his shaving kit and toothbrush from the bathroom and tossed them in, as well. Then he scribbled a note for his roommate, saying that his brother had called unexpectedly and he'd gone to spend the weekend with him. It wasn't too far from the truth.

He powered down his laptop and, after a moment's hesitation, left it where it was. Then he nodded to Jim. "Let's go."

He was ready to hit the road, but he wasn't sure he was ready to face what he might find at the end of the journey.

- - - - -

Once on the road in Jim's battered old Ford, Sam turned to the older man.

"Do you know how it happened?"

Jim glanced across at him. "I don't know the details, Sam, I wasn't there. Your dad called around five days ago. An old friend of ours, an ex-Marine buddy, has a farm near San Luis. He'd been having trouble – livestock dying, drained of blood. John suspected a chupacabra. I told your dad to wait for me, that I'd fly out as soon as I could, but one of Chuck's neighbors had been killed – literally torn apart – and John decided there wasn't time to wait. He was afraid someone else would get hurt. So he and Dean went to check it out.

"I got a flight three days later, and it had just landed when I got the call from John that Dean was in the hospital. I went down there and… well, John was with him, and I thought the best way I could help was to come and fetch you."

"But… what actually happened?"

"I don't know. There wasn't time for much conversation. You'll have to ask your dad for the details, Sam."


Jim must have sensed his unease. "Things still bad between you and your dad?"

Sam shrugged. "We haven't spoken for over a year, so I guess you could say things are bad, yeah."

"He still mad at you for leaving?"

"I guess," Sam replied shortly. He didn't want to talk about it. Anyway, it wasn't important now. Dean was all that mattered. He turned his head to look out of the window, swallowing against a sudden lump in his throat.

After a moment, Jim said quietly, "Dean's strong, Sam, and he's a fighter. We mustn't give up hope. I'm praying for a miracle, and you should, too."

Sam wasn't sure he believed in miracles, but as conversation waned, he found himself praying anyway. If the doctors couldn't help Dean, God was his only hope.

- - - - -

Sam hated hospitals. He hated everything about them, from the all-pervading and pungent smell of antiseptic to the supposedly soothing but boringly uniform magnolia on the walls and the soulless waiting rooms with the torture devices they called chairs.

St. Mary and St. George was no different than any of the other hospitals he'd spent time in, sometimes as a patient, but more often as a helpless observer on the countless occasions his dad or brother had been hurt.

As soon as the elevator doors opened on the eighth floor, he marched down the corridor towards the waiting room and immediately spotted his father. Dad was sitting in a red plastic chair, arms folded and legs stretched out before him, staring into the distance.

He hadn't changed. Hair slightly longer, beard a little less well kempt, perhaps, but his features were arranged in the frown Sam knew so well.

Sam hesitated for a moment, mentally preparing himself for his first meeting with his father in over a year, then set his jaw and strode forward. Hearing someone approach, Dad looked up, and Sam was confused to see his features transform into wary surprise as he sprang to his feet.

"Sam! What the hell are you doing here?"

It was Sam's turn to be caught off guard. Why should Dad be surprised to see him? He'd sent for him, hadn't he?

The awful truth dawned. Dad hadn't sent for him. His brother was sick, maybe about to lose his leg, and Dad hadn't sent for him. He hadn't even bothered to pick up the phone to let him know what had happened.

"John," Pastor Jim said softly.

Sam hadn't noticed Pastor Jim come up behind him.

"What the hell, Jim?" Dad growled.

"He had to be told, John. Dean's his brother."

John glowered. "This wasn't your business, Jim. You had no right, and there was no need. Dean's gonna be just fine."


"Why didn't you tell me?" Sam demanded, cutting harshly across Jim's conciliatory voice.

John turned his attention to his youngest. "Don't take that tone with me, son," he said sharply.

Sam shook his head. "You're unbelievable. Dean's dying, and you don't even bother to call?"

"Your brother's not dying." Dad glanced at his friend. "Jim, what have you been telling him?"

"The truth, John," Jim said, calm in the face of the famous Winchester temper. "Dean's not dying, but his condition is serious. You have to face that."

"He's right, Dad," Sam said tightly. "You should have told me."

Father and son faced each other. Sam felt the familiar tightening in his stomach as he confronted his father's anger. It had been over a year, but he remembered the day he'd walked out of the house for the last time, and it had felt just like this.

"John, how's Dean doing?" Jim asked, quiet enquiry breaking through the tension that filled the air.

Sam felt ashamed. He'd allowed anger with his father to so cloud his mind that he hadn't even thought to ask about Dean, the whole reason he was here.

John ran a hand through his hair, and for the first time Sam saw the strain and worry in his face. "There's no change. They're still monitoring him every hour."

A door opened across the corridor, and a nurse in pale green scrubs came out. She glanced around the waiting area, then walked over, smiling at Dad. "You can go back in now, Mr. Waterman."

"Thank you. Is he… is there any improvement?"

After a slight hesitation, she said, "The infection's showing no sign of abating, but it's too soon to lose hope. There's still time for the antibiotics to kick in."

Dad nodded and gestured to Sam. "This is Dean's brother. Is it okay if he comes in with me?"

She smiled at Sam. "Yes, of course. I'm sure it will help Dean to have his family around him."

She walked away, and Dad turned to Sam. "Sam," he said awkwardly, clearing his throat. "When you see your brother, he's… pretty out of it. He probably won't even recognize you. The fever and the drugs they have him on are making him pretty groggy. Just…."

He didn't finish. Sam swallowed and nodded, the previous argument forgotten.

Jim turned to Dad. "John, why don't you and I go and get a coffee? Let Sam spend some time alone with Dean."

John hesitated, his expression unreadable, and then said, "Yeah, okay. We'll be back in a while. You come get me if there's any change, okay, Sam?"

Sam nodded absently, his thoughts already with his brother.

- - - - -

Sam opened the door and slipped inside, closing it quietly behind himself.

The room was small, with space for little more than the one bed with a chair placed on either side. He approached it cautiously, swallowing against his fear.

When he looked at the figure lying there, an IV protruding from each arm, eyes closed, face flushed, for a wild moment he thought there'd been some mistake.

There was nothing insignificant about Dean Winchester. At 6'1" he was over average height, and what he lacked in bulk, he made up for in strength and agility. True, Sam topped him by several inches, but he had never grown out of thinking of Dean as the bigger of the two of them. It wasn't just that Dean was older. It was the fact that he had presence. When he entered a room, people took notice.

But the still form in the bed looked small, frail, and so very ill.

"Oh, God, Dean. What's happened to you?" Sam said softly as he pulled a chair close to the bed and sank down into it.

There was no response. Dean seemed to be asleep, but he was restless, tossing and turning. Sam reached out and closed a hand around Dean's wrist, wincing at the heat radiating from his skin but grateful for the contact.

Going to college and leaving Dean behind had been the hardest thing Sam had ever done.

When he'd dropped his bombshell, he'd expected Dean to try to talk him out of it, but Dean had remained silent throughout Sam's subsequent arguments and heated shouting matches with Dad. In fact, Sam had been a little hurt that Dean seemed so indifferent, wondering if maybe his brother was looking forward to hunting with Dad, just the two of them. Then, on the final day when he'd walked out of the house, Dad's shout of If you leave, don't bother to come back ringing in his ears, he'd looked back. Dean was standing there, silent, face blank except for the look of total desolation in his eyes. And Sam had wondered if he'd got it totally wrong, if he was somehow betraying his brother by leaving.

By then it had been too late.

If his leaving had hurt Dean, Dean gave no indication of it over the next year. They kept in touch intermittently. Sam texted Dean once a week, and the reply always came in a voicemail message at some unearthly time of night. Sometimes, Sam got postcards from outlandish places, with ridiculous and often rude pictures on the front and a crude and uninformative message like, Hunting giant rabbits in Shitholesville Arizona. The rabbits are tough but the girls are easy.

Over the past few months, the contact between them had become sporadic. A summer job had kept Sam busy, and the last time they'd spoken, the conversation had been awkward and stilted. For Sam, the more he immersed himself in college life, the more distant the hunting life began to feel, and the brothers had less and less to say to each other. He hated the gulf that was growing between them, but he couldn't think of a way to fix it.

Dean shifted position, tossing his head to one side and muttering something incoherent.

Sam tightened his grip on Dean's wrist and fought back the panic threatening to overwhelm him. It wasn't that Dean hadn't been hurt before. Dean had been hurt plenty of times – too many times. But this – he couldn't think of a time when he'd seen his brother so weak, so vulnerable. It rocked his view of the world.

As he sat there helplessly watching his brother locked in a fevered dream, he finally acknowledged, after a year of denial, how desperately he missed Dean. Despite their differences, despite the bickering, Dean was the only person who knew him through and through and with whom he could be himself. Usually, he could push it to one side, but from time to time something – usually the most bizarre thing – would remind him of Dean. A mega-sized burger, or the deep roar of a car engine. Strong black coffee and the sports page of the newspaper. An attractive girl or the sound of a pool cue hitting the ball. And then his heart would ache for the bond between them that was breaking, slowly but surely.

Dean was getting more and more agitated, his incoherent muttering coalescing into words and broken sentences. "No… Dad! Dad, it's… oh, God, it's… Sammy! Sammy, run!"

Sam leaned forward. "Dean! Dean, it's okay. It's okay, man." Dean's right hand fisted tightly around the bed sheet, and Sam shifted his own hand from Dean's wrist, closing it around the tensely curled fist. "It's okay."

"No… Sammy! Look out!"

Sam stroked a thumb across Dean's fingers, hoping the contact would soothe him. "Dean, I'm right here, and I'm safe. You saved me, okay. You saved me. Everything's all right."

Dean continued to toss and turn, but his grip on the sheet weakened, and the note of panic in his voice subsided.

Sam blew out a deep breath. By all rights, Dean should be having nightmares about the chupacabra that had attacked him. But no, even subconsciously he was worrying about Sam, as he'd always done, all his life.

Sam sat there holding his brother's hand, thinking of Dean's reaction if he woke up and saw it. He'd call Sam an emo-chick and snatch his hand away. But Sam didn't care. He needed the connection right now, and he sensed that Dean did, too.

He sat like that for over an hour until a nurse arrived and suggested that he take a break while she did her routine checks.

Reluctantly, he agreed.

- - - - -

Sam glanced at his watch as he walked out of Dean's room into the corridor, stretching muscles stiff with sitting for so long in that small, cramped chair. 5:30 p.m. He walked across to the waiting room, wondering where Jim and his dad had got to. He spied a coffee machine in one corner and fished out the required quarter, then pushed the button for coffee, black. It would probably taste terrible, but he needed a caffeine fix right now.


The gruff voice startled him, and he jumped, black liquid slopping out of the plastic cup and narrowly missing him as it landed with a plop on the floor. He hadn't heard Dad come up behind him.

He turned around. "Hey."

"How is he?" Dad asked gruffly, the lines on his face deepening in a worried frown.

Sam chewed on his lower lip. "He's really out of it, like you said. He just… he looks so sick, Dad."

"He'll be fine, son. Your brother's been through worse and he's tough, right?"

"Yeah, I guess," Sam agreed, although he didn't feel too confident that being tough would be enough this time.

Dad held out a quarter. "Want to get me one of those?"

Silently Sam took the quarter, filled aniother cup and handed it to his father.

"Thanks. Mind if I sit a while?"

Sam's stomach clenched. He didn't want to deal with Dad right now, but he also didn't have the energy to argue. He shrugged. "It's a free country."

Dad frowned, went to say something, and then seemed to think better of it and sat down.

Sam sat, too, leaving a chair's space between them. He knew his words had sounded cold. He was still angry that Dad hadn't called to tell him about Dean. Still, picking a fight with Dad was a bad idea. This wasn't about him and Dad. It was about Dean.

Dad was silent and Sam glanced across at him, noting the red-rimmed eyes and gaunt lines that criss-crossed his face. He looked exhausted, and for the first time Sam stopped to think what this was doing to him. He loved Dean, Sam knew that. He loved him and he was proud of him, and seeing him so sick must be killing him.

"How did it happen?" he asked, his tone warmer this time. "Pastor Jim told me it was on a hunt, but he didn't tell me how Dean got hurt."

Dad took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "How much did Jim tell you?"

"He told me you and Dean were hunting a chupacabra for an old friend of yours, that you went in without waiting for him because you thought you were running out of time."

Dad nodded. "I was afraid to leave it another night. The chupacabra was getting bolder, hunting at dusk, not just in total darkness, and it had already killed one man. Chuck thought he'd spotted it in some woodland bordering his farm, so me and Dean headed out there. We had a lot of lot of ground to cover, and it was getting late, so we split up."

What? "You split up? What happened to your golden rule about Dean -- and me -- never hunting alone?"

"Rule didn't apply," Dad retorted sharply. "Anyway, we had no choice. I headed east, Dean west. After about half an hour, I spotted it. I called Dean, told him to head my way. I was tracking it when I heard him yell. Turned out there were three of them. The one I was tracking, and two others that were tracking Dean."

Sam bit his lip. "He faced down two of them? On his own?"

Dad nodded. "He got one of them with his first shot, but the second took a bite out of his leg before he took it down. He finished the job, though; they were dead meat by the time I got there."

Sam noted the pride in Dad's voice, but he didn't care that Dean's hunting skills had kept him alive – he'd still come out of the attack badly hurt, and that was all that mattered to Sam.

"I don't believe you," he said heatedly. "You're telling me Dean got hurt because you weren't there to watch his back?"

Dad held his eyes and Sam read both guilt and defiance in his gaze. "If that's the way you want to look at it."

Sam sprang to his feet. "Damn right that's the way I want to look at it!"

"We had reliable intel that it was just one beast." Dad spoke through gritted teeth, clearly trying to hold on to his temper in the face of his son's hostility. "There was no way of knowing there were three of them – they usually hunt solo. I made a judgment call."

"You made a mistake!" Sam spat out. "This is your fault, Dad!"

His father jumped up then, anger darkening his features, and stepped forward until he was nose to nose with his son. "Just where do you get off telling me what's my fault? You're the one who cleared off to college, left Dean and I a man short."

Sam felt the accusation like a blow to the stomach. However much he went off on his father, however much Dad might have screwed up, the accusation rang true. If he'd been there, Dean would have had someone watching his back.

Father and son glared at each other in the awkward silence that followed. After a moment, Dad's features softened a little. "Sam…"

Sam couldn't take any more. "Just go to hell!" he snapped, blinking back traitorous moisture from his eyes.

He turned and stormed off, bowled into an orderly coming in the other direction, muttered an apology at the man's angry cry, and slammed open the door to the stairwell. He didn't know nor care where he was going. He just wanted to get as far away from his father as possible.

He ran down flight after flight of stairs, emerged on the first floor, then walked randomly down corridors until he came to a set of double doors leading out into a courtyard at the heart of the hospital.

He stepped out into a tiny piece of paradise. The quadrangle was large, with sturdy wooden benches around the sides overlooking landscaped flowerbeds, awash with autumn color. In the center stood a majestic maple tree, its leaves flaming crimson. Quiet and calm, deliberately so, probably. A hospital-designed safe haven.

Sam flopped down on a bench, breathing heavily. He sat back, shut his eyes, and tried to close his mind to the confusion and pain.

After a while, he heard soft footsteps, and someone sat down beside him. He was almost afraid to open his eyes in case it was his father. He couldn't face that right now.


Not his father. Pastor Jim. Sam opened his eyes, alarm shooting through him. "Is something wrong? Is Dean…?"

Jim shook his head. "No, Sam," he said quickly. "Dean's holding his own. At the moment, it's you I'm worried about."

Sam inhaled deeply, then blew out a long breath. His nerves were in shreds, and his gut twisted in a constant knot of tension. He mustered a small smile for Pastor Jim's benefit. "No need. I'm fine."

"I know what went down between you and your father," Jim went on quietly.

"Yeah?" Sam said, unable to hide the bitterness in his voice. "You know what? That was nothing. You should have been a fly on the wall for some of our fights before I went to Stanford."

"I know you two don't always see eye to eye--"

"He thinks I betrayed him by leaving." e thinks

Jim frowned. "He say that?"

Sam shrugged and crossed his arms over his chest. "Not in so many words, but I know it's what he thinks. I let him down by wanting my own life." The words sounded bitter even to his own ears.

"Is that what you believe?"

Sam looked down, absently picking at a loose thread in his jeans. "I didn't, but now… I should have been there. If I'd been there, I'd have had Dean's back. He wouldn't have got hurt."

"You can't know that," Jim said. "It wasn't your fault, Sam."

"But if I'd been there…"

"Dean might still have been hurt," Jim said firmly. "Or it might have been you. Look at me, Sam."

Reluctantly, Sam looked up into Pastor Jim's sincere eyes.

"There's no point in second-guessing, Sam. It was no one's fault. It's a dangerous job, you know that."

"I know, but…" He hesitated, reluctant to voice the thoughts that had been running through his head. "I've been thinking that maybe… maybe I should come back home."

Pastor Jim raised an eyebrow. "To hunt? Is that what you want?"

"No. But I don't want to lose my brother, either. Maybe I don't have a choice."

Jim shook his head. "There's always a choice, Sam. There's nothing wrong with wanting to live your own life, your own way. Your dad and Dean have made their choices. But if hunting isn't for you, then you should follow your instincts."

"Yeah?" Sam laughed. "Tell that to my dad."

Jim sighed. "Sam, your dad – he has a bit of a one-track mind sometimes. Gets set on one way of thinking, and there's no shifting him. Been lots of times in the past when I wanted to shake some sense into him."

Sam snorted. He knew the feeling. He also knew that Jim and his dad went back a long, long way. He'd heard some pretty wild stories when he was a kid.

"But he always comes around in the end," Jim went on. "Give him time, Sam. Try to see it from his point of view."

Sam snorted again. "His point of view? He's obsessed. He's wasted his life on this ridiculous quest to find the demon. He's wasting Dean's life, and he wants to ruin mine, too. He doesn't care what I want or what I need."

"He cares. He just finds it hard to express it." Jim was silent for a moment. "Look, Sam, your father loves you, even if he's not very good at showing it. He loves both of you boys. I've known him a long time – I've known you since you were a year old – and I can promise you that's the truth."

Sam sighed. "I guess he does love me in his own way, but that doesn't mean he knows what's best for me."

"You're right. Going to Stanford – that was your decision as an adult, and it was your decision to make. But you can't blame him for worrying about letting you go."

Sam was startled. "Worrying? Why would he worry about it?"

Jim raised an eyebrow. "Why do you think?"

"I think he didn't want me to go because he thinks college is a waste of time. He thinks I'm letting him down by choosing it, when I should be showing some family loyalty and continuing this stupid hunt for the demon."

"I'm sure that's part of it," Jim admitted. "I told you your father can sometimes have a one-track mind. But think about it. Hasn't it occurred to you that one of the reasons he wants to keep you boys close is because he's afraid something might happen to you?"

Sam frowned. He'd never thought about it like that. He'd been so sure he knew his dad's mind that it had never occurred to him there might have been some other reason.

He was still pondering this new idea when Jim stood up, patting him on the shoulder. "You'll work it out. But for now, you two need to get along, for Dean's sake. How's he going to feel when he wakes up and finds you guys bickering at his bedside?"

Sam scrubbed a hand over his face. "Dean hates it when we fight," he admitted.

Jim smiled. "Then don't fight. Now, why don't you go on back? John spoke to the nurse, and she said you and John could stay with Dean tonight." He waved a hand vaguely at the far side of the courtyard. "I'm going to the chapel. Best way I can help Dean now is to pray for him."

- - - - -

A/N: I'll be posting the second and final chapter tomorrow.