Going It Alone

Pre-series. Sam has announced his desire to leave the family business and go to college, with unexpected results. And a near tragedy makes them all consider what the future might hold.

Rated for some violence and language.

All characters and references to Supernatural are sadly not owned by me. I'm just playing with them for a time.


The occasional flash of yellow glare from the traffic behind them stroked across the small font of the heavy book. Blinking in the sudden brightness and his frown growing, Sam tightened his grip on his torch and turned the page. Taking a deep breath, he adjusted his curled position across the back seat and sighed wearily. His long legs were twisted along the soft leather, one knee raised to support the spine of the book, and his back was curved against the inside of the door.

Another bump in the rumbling journey along the freeway and Sam winced in annoyance and discomfort. Edging away from the door handle that jabbed into his side, Sam again let his head sink to the side and rested his temple against the folded jumper that was his makeshift pillow.

"You okay back there, sport?"

Flicking his gaze up towards the rear-view mirror, Sam met his father's concerned eyes and managed a small smile in reply.

"It's not far now, Sammy." John shrugged slightly, "Maybe an hour or so."

Nodding briefly, Sam was about to return to his reading when his brother turned in the front passenger seat, a mischievous grin forming on his thin lips. Sam groaned wearily and let the fist holding the torch flop down against the book noisily. "What?"

Dean's amusement fell from his face. "Nothing." He answered quietly and slowly moved back round to face the front. "Jeez!"

"Boys!"

Sam shifted his gaze and saw his father's frustration in the frown reflected in the mirror. Without another word, Sam looked back down at his book and lifted his torch back up to shine on the cream pages.

"I know it's tiring." John offered quietly, "And, believe me, if there was any other choice, I would - "

"It's fine, Dad." Dean offered quickly, "Just ignore him."

Sam heard the contempt in his brother's voice and - despite the instant rebuke as his father defended him - Sam felt a sudden tightness in his throat and lost his focus on the paragraph he had read over twice already. Keeping his head down, Sam closed his eyes and found himself wishing once more to be just about anywhere else.

ooooo

It was a little after eleven when they arrived at the motel nestled amid the forest at the edge of the highway. The parking lot was small and dimly lit, squeezed between an all-night diner, a brightly lit bar and the row of chalet-like rooms. Sam placed a torn paper marker between the current pages of his book and closed the thick volume. Sliding his feet down from the seat and nestling them amid the bags and clothes that filled the space behind the front bench seat, Sam gathered together his study papers.

Rolling the Impala into a narrow parking space opposite the reception, John switched off the engine and clambered from the car. Sam looked up and watched his father through the window, seeing him arch his aching back and stretch out cramped muscles. Shaking his head in dismay, Sam turned away and met his brother's annoyed glare.

"You're a real pain in the ass. You know that, right?" Dean began quietly, his anger contained beneath the surface for the moment. "I mean - shit, Sammy! You have to be such a grouch all the time?"

"No." Sam sighed, "But it gives my life meaning if it's the bane of yours."

"Oh, fuck off!" Dean spat suddenly, "Just step outside your own selfish little sulk for a moment, will you? Dad's trying so hard to accommodate your wants. And all you can do is whine and moan 24/7."

Sam held his brother's furious eyes in defiant calm and then gave a small shrug. "Well, come September, I'll be gone and you'll not have to put up with me." He looked away just long enough to grab his bag and his book and then opened the door. "Forgive me for actually wanting to make something of myself, Dean."

"And just what the fuck is that - "

Sam climbed from the car and slammed the door shut, drowning out his brother's shouting. Groaning softly, he headed towards the reception and met his returning father.

"Lucky seven." John smiled thinly, his eyes betraying his sorrow as he took in his youngest son's downcast face.

Sam managed a brief nod and took the key that was offered before stepping past his father and heading for the room. Aware of his father watching him and sure he heard a low, sad moan, Sam cleared his throat and quickened his pace.

Grateful for the time his father and brother would now spend in sorting their overnight gear and securing the car, Sam dumped his belongings on the foot of the single bed by the door and closed his eyes. His hands on his waist and his head hanging low, he took a few deep breaths and sniffed back tears.

The college question was one he had been dreading for years. Storing the need to ask his father about his plans for his future and the resultant fear growing with each missed opportunity, Sam had been surprised when his father had actually greeted the request with delight.

"What?" John had laughed slightly, sensing his son's relief. "You thought I'd say no?"

Sam had shrugged his shoulders and been lost for a response.

"Oh Sammy …" His father had reached out and taken hold of Sam's shoulders. "I would never have deliberately chosen this life for you … I've always wished I could have given you so much more … and if your mother - "

Sam had seen the utter sorrow in his father's dark eyes and had not needed any further explanation. Feeling more than a little guilty for assuming the worst - and more for letting his father see that he had - Sam had stepped into a rare embrace with his father.

"I've taught you everything I can, Sammy." John had whispered with a tremble and squeezed his son tighter against him. "I just …"

"I know," Sam had offered in a whisper and had buried his face into his father's neck. "I understand."

And in that moment he really had understood. For the first time, he had felt the love that for all these years he had interpreted as obsession, control and stubbornness. He saw that his father was simply terrified of losing him and the weight of Sam's remorse suddenly seemed unbearable.

But if his father's reaction had been unexpected, then his brother's was an absolute bombshell out of nowhere. Sam had been unprepared for the anger and disappointment that had been fired at him in continued volleys over the past two months.

Okay, so adolescence had shot Sam into a taller, stronger version of his former self and increased his stubborn streak ten-thousand fold, but his close relationship with his brother had remained constant. Right up until the moment their father had announced that his youngest was leaving the family trio.

Hearing the familiar squeak of the Chevy's front doors being closed and then the thump of the trunk lid, Sam tore himself from his musing and hurried into the bathroom. Locking the door behind him and quickly turning on the camouflaging noise of the shower, he could just hear the two of them enter the room and then leave again a few minutes later.

It was a familiar ritual that had grown over the past few months; Sam would shower and sink to sleep in front of late night documentaries while his father and brother did their own brand of fact-finding and cheated their way to more funds for the crazy road-trip that was the family business.

If he was honest with himself, Sam was sure Dean would admit to knowing that Sam had grown apart from them a long time ago. Whether his brother was choosing to ignore the obvious or simply hoping that things would change, Sam was uncertain. But tensions had developed and being in the company of his brother was becoming increasingly difficult.

Angry tears stinging his eyes, Sam switched off the shower and stood in the bathroom in silence. His jumbled thoughts loud in his head and his frustration making his growing claustrophobia seem suddenly so much worse, Sam groaned in annoyance and hurried from the bathroom.

He needed fresh air and somewhere to think. The need to be away from his family made his heart ache but he could no longer ignore it. Grabbing essentials from his bag, he slung his coat around his shoulders and left the motel room.

ooooo

The nice thing about small backwater towns in the middle of nowhere was that the cynicism and fear of the big cities had not filtered out to them. It was easy for Sam to hitch a couple of rides across country to the nearest one and had wandered through the centre to find the library he had hoped would be there.

Devoid of any decent security, the building was simple to break into and Sam slid his long lithe form through one of the narrow windows into the basement. Somewhat creepy and in need of a cleaner's attention, the basement was filled with dusty books and antiques. Sam would have happily scoured through the treasures for hours but knew he was on a time limit; he needed to get back before his father and brother decided that he had been out of their sight for too long.

Eager to complete this latest job and perhaps at least have a few days of nothing during which he could actually get some study done, Sam had suggested scoping the library earlier that day. His idea had been met with a "Let's scope the locals first." in stereo and Sam had let it drop, knowing that this response was a clear indicator that his father and brother were low on beer and money and past experience assuring him that their needs took priority.

Creeping cat-like up the stairs from the basement, Sam entered the main atrium of the historic building and took a moment to work out his location. He needed town records and newspaper archives and it took a moment in the torchlight to see where to head first.

It was a powerful haunting and an angry one. Not quite a poltergeist but certainly a spirit who was severely pissed and out for vengeance of some description. Thus far this had resulted in more than the usual signs, including the death of two prized parrots and the destruction of the odd collection of reptiles that the new owners of the house had brought with them.

Smiling merrily for a second, Sam recalled his brother's choice sarcasm on hearing of the pets' demise and Sam shook his head. His brother had a dry wit but sometimes had no clue as to when it was appropriate to bring into play. In front of said bereaved owners was indeed an unwise choice. Chuckling under his breath and determined never to encourage his brother by letting him know how amused he was by his humor, Sam snuck through to the back of the library.

At the rear of the library was a cordoned off section of older books and torn manuscripts. Finding the news records and delighted with how far back they went, Sam sat down at a large mahogany desk and scoured one of the leather-bound files eagerly.

ooooo

Delighted with his success and eager to head back to the motel and reveal as much, Sam headed in a run towards the front of the library and swung his torch beam amid the rows of books, trying to retrace his steps. He hurried back along the narrow aisle and shoved the photocopied evidence into his jacket pocket.

Slowing as he fumbled with the paper that had become caught at the folded corner of his pocket, he looked down for a second and the breath was then knocked from him as he collided with something.

Flung backwards and stumbling over his feet, the torch spinning from his grip, Sam cried out in shock and then thudded against the hardwood floor. Stunned and blinking away the stars dancing in his vision, Sam lay still and took a moment to recover.

"Holy shit! Are you okay?"

Finally taking a breath and daring to move his arms, Sam was pleased to find his body seemed unbroken. He lifted his head and frowned as he saw her emerge from behind one of the many shelves.

"You scared the shit out of me!" She laughed nervously, pressing her hand to her chest. "What the hell are you doing in here?"

Sam watched her wary approach and slowly sat upright, rolling out the bruising across his back from where he had body-slammed the floor.

"Are you hurt?" She urged, waving her torch-light up and down his sprawled form.

Shaking his head, Sam carefully got to his feet and brushed himself down. He lifted his head and saw her back away from his apparently unexpected height advantage. "I'm sorry." Sam smiled sheepishly, "But, if it's any help, I think I also need new underwear."

The girl gave a small laugh of delight and nodded in understanding. "I was sure I was alone in here."

"So was I." Sam smiled.

"Late-night cramming got the better of you, huh?" She offered, "I've done the same many times these past few weeks. One minute I'm deep into Marx and the next my dad is waking me up."

Sam frowned slightly.

"He's the curator."

"Ah." Sam smiled, watching her hold up a set of keys. "Handy."

"Yeah." She agreed, pocketing the keys. She then seemed to pause and tucked her hair back behind her ear. "I'm Abigail."

"Sam."

"Nice to meet you." Abigail nodded.

Sam laughed, "Nice to run smack into you." He could just make out her cheeks flushing in the torchlight and his smile faded a little. "I hope my quarter-back tackle didn't break anything?"

"Only a few ribs." Abigail shrugged and, seeing his horror, suddenly giggled merrily. "I'm kidding, I'm kidding. I think you took the full force of our collision."

"Good." Sam sighed in relief and licked his lips nervously, shoving his hands into his pockets as he looked away from her not so subtle scrutiny.

"Well." Abigail cleared her throat, "I was done here, so …"

"Sure." Sam agreed quickly, "You lead the way and I guess I'd better follow at a safe distance."

Abigail laughed in delight and slowly turned away from him.

Sam retrieved his torch from where it had tumbled a few feet from him and hurried after Abigail's silhouetted figure. He switched on his light and trailed the beam after her, more than a little intrigued by her. She was about his age, he guessed, around 5'8" and well-proportioned in an elegant old-Hollywood way. Her long blonde curls swayed across her back as she moved and he watched them dancing in front of him for a moment.

"You'd better not be checking out my ass, back there."

Sam gasped indignantly and was lost for words, suddenly able to clearly hear his brother's inevitable reproach towards his lack of clever comeback. He saw Abigail glance behind her and caught the small grin she flashed him, her green eyes sparkling in his torchlight. Somewhat out of his depth, he could feel his heart racing and groaned quietly, wishing he knew what to say.

They reached the back of the building and Abigail unlocked one of the heavy oak doors. Slipping outside into the welcome chill of the night air, Sam waited politely for her to follow and watched as she secured the library and tucked away the keys.

"So." Abigail smiled up at him.

"So." Sam echoed uncomfortably.

"What's your poison?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Beer, liquor, coffee, warm milk?" Abigail shrugged, her smile growing.

"I … um …" Sam frowned and gave a slight shrug, suddenly uncertain if she was mocking him or daring him or quite what was happening. He sighed and slid his torch into the inside pocket of his jeans. "I ought to be getting back."

"Back where?"

Sam flicked his head back up to meet her calm gaze and suddenly his throat was dry. "Erm …"

"Okay." Abigail nodded and gave a gentle sigh of dismay. "It's okay, I get it." She began to turn away from him. "I just thought you might want to compare notes. Never mind."

Sam watched her walk away and clenched his fists at his side, cursing under his breath. With a determined sigh, he started after her. "Wait!"

Abigail spun back as she reached the corner of the building and smiled happily as she watched him hurry towards her. In the dim lighting from the lamps across the street, she could see his uncertainty remained but the fact that he was heading her way was a good sign.

"I'm sorry." Sam offered breathlessly as he reached her side, "I'm just no good at this kind of thing."

"What?" Abigail smiled up at him, "Making a new study-buddy?"

"I guess."

Abigail laughed and shook her head slowly. "Despite the violent nature of our meeting, I'm not gonna bite." She saw him wince in embarrassment and her amusement grew in fondness. "You're cute."

"Ugh!" Sam groaned and rolled his eyes. He then held his breath as she slipped her arm around his and gave a gentle tug.

"Come on. Let's have a beer."

"But …" Sam began to protest and was silenced as she chuckled slightly and gave his arm a squeeze. "My dad owns the library and my uncle runs the bar." She grinned up at him. "Small-town-perks."

"Okay." Sam smiled and felt his shoulders relaxing a little as they ambled along the side of the library and towards the centre of town.

"So. You're not in any of my classes." Abigail began, the unspoken 'I'd have noticed' lingering in the air between them. "What's your major?"

Deciding not to tempt fate, Sam quickly thought of something other than law and smiled to himself. "American history."

Abigail nodded thoughtfully and then suddenly gave a small chuckle. "My Nana would say that must be a pretty short course. She was English and just loved to tease us about our culture's comparatively brief existence."

Sam smiled. "Brief and bloody."

"Yup. The American dream." Abigail laughed merrily. "Gotta love conquering nations."

"Like the British were any better?"

"I know! God, I loved to debate it all with Nana. She was just too feisty not to take the bait!" Abigail leaned into Sam's arm and moaned happily. "You local?"

Again thinking of an appropriate little white lie and again wishing he had his brother's quick-witted ease with this kind of stuff, Sam peered out across the small park they were approaching and took a deep breath.

"Hey, bitch! What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Sam gasped at the sudden shout and sensed Abigail tensing beside him. They paused at the edge of the thin line of chestnut trees and he was aware of her turning towards whoever was approaching.

"Shit!" Abigail hissed in fright and quickly pulled her arm free of Sam's as she stepped away from him. "What do you want, Kyle?"

Sam turned and saw the three figures emerging from the trees a short way along the edge of the park. The heavy-set guy in the centre of the trio quickened his pace and glowered angrily in their direction. Kyle, Sam guessed.

"Who's this?" Kyle demanded, stabbing a thick finger at Sam and glaring at Abigail.

"Just a study partner." Abigail sighed, "Not that it's any of your business anymore."

Sam saw Kyle's anger grow and could feel his heart thudding in his ears as the group walked up to them and paused at arm's length. The stared up at Sam with accusatory hatred and Kyle edged a little closer.

"So. Book-boy. What's the deal?" Kyle demanded menacingly, his red face seeming to get even redder.

Sam swallowed hard and took a small step backwards, smiling thinly. Kyle smelled of alcohol and his furious eyes were heavy. Sam had the advantage of height and apparent fitness level but what he did not have was two buddies standing at his back, eager for a fight.

"Kyle …" Abigail stepped in front of Sam and gently placed her hand on Kyle's leather-clad shoulder. "Just leave it. Okay? Go home."

"Stay out of this." Kyle spat and shoved Abigail hard.

Abigail staggered backwards a few steps and Sam's instincts got the better of him. He moved forward to defend her and instantly saw his mistake. It was all that was needed to ignite the volatile Kyle and he launched himself at Sam.

Lighter and leaner, Sam was easily able to evade and block Kyle's clumsy advances but that only angered the smaller boy more. With a cry of frustrated anger, the stocky boy lunged and Sam leapt aside to deftly trip Kyle and send him sprawling across the grass between the trees.

Seeing their leader down, the other two boys instantly ran at Sam and found it equally hard to lay a punch on his swiftly moving form. Deciding that defending and avoiding their fists would be enough to tire them out and hopefully make them give up, Sam stayed clear of their advances and danced between them. He even saw Kyle gather himself from the ground and head back towards him, ready for him to rejoin the fray but unprepared for a sudden new tactic.

Kyle dropped into a skid, swung his feet under Sam and quickly rolled clear. His legs swiped out from under him, Sam collapsed heavily to the dewy grass and dread flooded through him as he suddenly found himself in serious trouble.

On the ground and void of all advantage, Sam was an easy target and the three boys did not waste a second before laying into him. Sam cried out in pain as heavy boots slammed into his back and chest. The kicks were random and wild, some missing his body completely but others finding a solid target with agonizing effect.

Sam curled round on his side, knees up to protect his stomach and arms wrapped round his head. He was vaguely aware of Abigail screaming for help and thought he heard her attempting to pull the boys off but still the onslaught continued.

A hard boot caught his side and a sickening crack caused Sam to yelp in pain and he arched his head back, hands grabbing at the white-hot agony in his side. Seizing the opportunity, Kyle moved towards Sam's centre and slammed his kicks into the softness of his abdomen.

Air barked from Sam's lungs and he twisted around this new pain, struggling to draw breath. His ears were humming and his vision darkened as he lay still and tried to suck air into his lungs. As his flailing and protests suddenly stopped, so did the attack.

Apparently satisfied with their efforts, the three boys bolted into the darkness and Sam was suddenly alone with his gasping sobs. As minutes passed and he was able to take what he could from each hitched breath, Sam opened his eyes and met the muddy wetness of the grass. Rolling back a little and hissing with the pain in his side that the slightest movement seemed to worsen, Sam lay sprawled under the trees and looked up at the night sky through the leafy branches.

After a moment he realized that he really was alone; Abigail had also fled. He could not blame her for being so terrified but at the same time felt a pang of disappointment that she had not thought enough of him to at least check he was okay. And okay was something he most definitely was not.

Taking a deep breath was hindered by the pain in his side and Sam knew this was not a good sign. Shallow breathing was all he could manage and it seemed to do for now. Bruising was already pulling a tightness over the skin of his back and arms and he sensed the pounding in his head was a result of more than just lack of oxygen. He was in a mess. A big mess. And lying there at the edge of the park, he found himself wishing his brother was with him.

Dean would have ended the fight within seconds. Not through more experience but perhaps sheer enjoyment and resultant absorption of the training their father had instilled in them. Sam had always been sure that most disagreements could be solved by talking; now he was certain that Dean's punch first and shrug it off later was a much better approach.

His eyes stinging with the sudden gathering of tears, Sam could feel his jaw trembling and disappointment sighed through him. Battered and hurting, he let the sobs come and curled back round on himself, his tears dripping onto the grass. Suddenly he could see what it was that so scared his father and Dean; how the hell was he ever going to survive in the world without them? Self-pity at his own weakness made his cries louder and he gave in to the sorrow.

And then something reminded him of his need for freedom and his longing for independence. Somehow his stubborn streak found a way through and he began to calm. Clenching his jaw and pulling on the strength his bloody-minded determination gave him, he slowly pushed himself up from the ground.

Sam's head span dizzily as he sat up and he whimpered in pain as he edged backwards and met the base of the tree trunk behind him. Resting back and tensing against renewed pain, Sam took a moment to catch his breath and thought about trying to stand.

It was then that he heard the rumble of an engine approaching and he listened for a moment, disappointed at the lack of custom muffling that would have heralded the noisy arrival of the Impala. Opening his eyes and waiting for the world to stop its merry dance around him, Sam saw the twin headlights approaching and watched the car climb the sidewalk and roll towards him.

"Sam!" Abigail leapt from the passenger's side of the BMW and hurried over to him. Sinking to her knees beside him, she reached out her hands but backed off as he flinched away.

"Oh, good lord …"

Lifting his head, Sam saw an old man making his way over to him and he shied away in confusion and fear.

"It's okay, it's okay." Abigail soothed quickly, "This is my grandpa." She chanced placing a hand on Sam's shoulder and nodded in reassurance.

"Hey there, son." The elderly man edged closer and rested his hands on his knees to lean down over Sam. "We best get you to a hospital."

"No!" Sam protested quickly, regretting the action and curling around the pain in his side. "No." He repeated in a whisper, "No hospital. No doctors."

"But, Sam - " Abigail began to protest and was silenced by the urgent shaking of Sam's head and the threat of tears as his face tightened in pain.

"Well." Abigail's grandfather stepped a little closer. "Let's at least get you inside, huh?"

ooooo

"I've seen worse."

Abigail studied her grandfather's flushed face and then looked back down at the limp form stretched out along the sofa. Sam had spent most of the journey to the north of the town in a confused slumber, only moaning when he was moved or the car jostled his slumped form.

"I'll go get us some tea."

"Thanks, Grandpa." Abigail smiled thinly and watched him leave. She then moved closer to Sam and reached out to timidly touch his cheek. "Sam?" She called, clearing her throat and choking on a worried sob. "Sam? You okay?"

The pain in his side had worsened and the dizziness danced around his head in a constant nauseating buzz. Sam cracked an eye open and blinked in the sudden brightness. Wincing back from the pain of the light and hearing a slight gasp before the switch was flicked off, Sam tried to relax.

He was lying on something soft and warm, the pillows under his head smelled freshly cleaned and slightly floral. It was a welcome change from the usual non-descript aroma of whatever motel they were gracing and it calmed him a little.

"You back with us?"

Opening his eyes and grateful for the semi-darkness, Sam turned his head and saw Abigail sitting beside the sofa he was stretched out along.

Abigail's face was pale and sad, old tear tracks streaking her cheeks. "I'm so very sorry."

Sam shook his head slightly and managed a smile, feeling the pull and sting of a cracked lip. He saw she was not consoled and a frown settled over his eyes.

"Were you - ?" Abigail sniffed and looked down at her hands. "Were you stealing from the library?"

In a flash it dawned on him and Sam lifted his head to look down at his body and see his fears confirmed. The pain in his side and abdomen forced his head to fall back down with a sob and he then groaned in dismay. She had removed his jacket and must have found his supplies.

"What were you after?" Abigail continued sorrowfully, "I mean, there's nothing of value in there unless you really know what you're looking for …"

Sam's head was spinning and he swallowed back the bile in his throat.

"Sam?"

Despite knowing the futility of it, Sam looked up at her and managed a thin smile. "It's not - " He cleared his throat and shuddered at the pain in his side. "It's not what it looks like."

Abigail regarded him in calm indifference.

Sam sighed and closed his eyes. "I need to call my dad." Silence greeted him and he opened his eyes again. "Please. I need my phone."

Abigail nodded and stood slowly.

She crossed the large room and Sam's eyes followed her. He saw his jacket lying on an armchair opposite him and groaned inwardly as he saw his lock-pick, wallet, and notebook laying on the floral patterned chair. Sam watched her pick up his cellphone and she turned back to him.

"Grandpa wants to call the police." Abigail began quietly. "I said I knew you wouldn't want us to. That you wouldn't want to press charges against Kyle." She sniffed back tears. "And I kinda figured you wouldn't want to have to explain this."

Sam looked down to where she reached inside the folds of his jacket and with trembling fingers she pulled out the small .45.

"Who are you?"

Sam licked his dry lips and tried to find an appropriate response. "I'm not going to hurt you."

Abigail suddenly gave a short laugh and shook her head in disbelief. "Shit, dude! I know that!" Her amusement faded and she combed her hair back from her face. "That's not what I asked, though."

"Please." Sam tried to sit up and grunted in pain, flopping back onto the sofa. One hand pressed against his side and the other covering his abdomen protectively, he looked back over at her. "Please! I need to call my dad."

Abigail stepped closer to him and held out his cellphone, backing off quickly as he grabbed it from her.

Sam flipped open the phone and flicked through to his father's number. Hitting dial and placing the phone to his ear, he groaned in dismay as he listened to the start of the familiar voicemail message. "Shit!" Closing his eyes and squeezing his fist around the phone, Sam shook his head and took a deep breath. Holding the phone back up to look through the list of numbers, he tried another option.

"Yup?"

"Dean, it's me."

"Saw that on the caller ID, genius. What is it?"

Sam could feel tears brimming and swallowed back the lump in his throat. "Where's Dad?"

"Why? Is it past our curfew?"

"No, I just - "

"What do you want, Sam?"

"I need to speak to Dad." Sam asked quietly, trying to ignore the impatience in his brother's voice.

"Why not call him then?"

"I did! His phone's off or out of signal or - "

"God, Sam! Is this really important right now? I mean, what's up with you man? You're driving me crazy! Dad's at the bar and I'm … well … y'know. You're timing totally sucks, Sammy. As usual."

Sam bit back on a sob and clutched at his side.

"Sammy?"

"Dean. I …"

"What's wrong?"

And suddenly all of his brother's former annoyance was swept aside. Sam could hear Dean's concern in his quieter, calmer voice and it only made him feel worse. Desperately wishing that his brother was there with him, Sam closed his eyes and tried to somehow send by telepathy the message that he was in trouble.

"Sam? Where are you?"

His pain and weariness suddenly too overwhelming, Sam let the phone drop from his grip and covered his face with his hands.

Abigail hurried forward and grabbed the phone. "Hello?"

"Who the hell is this? Where's Sam? What's happ - "

"Sam's hurt."

"What …?"

"Look, there's no time to explain, Sam's hurt and he won't go to the hospital. You need to get here, okay?"

Sam rested back against the sofa and listened as Abigail gave directions to the house. He could hear his brother's panicked voice from across the room and it made his heart sink. He had been desperate to solve the case in order to get some space from the job but - if he was honest - he had also been trying to prove some kind of point.Great job, so far he chided himself.

"He said they're on their way."

Keeping his eyes closed and his face covered, Sam nodded in response and was aware of Abigail sitting down beside him once more.

"I don't understand."

Sam managed a small smile. "Neither do I."

"I mean … if all that time you had a gun … then … why …?"

Sliding his hands down his face and frowning as he felt them wet with sweat, Sam opened his eyes and looked up at Abigail. "I don't know …" He sighed. "Seemed right at the time, I guess."

Abigail watched him for a moment, her frown deepening as she suddenly noticed the shadows under his eyes and the damp skin of his face. "You don't look so good."

"You think?" Sam smiled bravely, his hands resting over his abdomen and his eyes heavy. He watched her quickly stand and she hurried to the door, calling out to her grandfather.

Sam watched Abigail's grandfather quickly enter the room and the shock on the greying man's face was of little reassurance. He held his breath as the old guy knelt awkwardly beside the sofa and reached out to place his hand on Sam's forehead.

"Abigail, honey. Go get the phone."

Sam heard the panic in the old man's voice and was aware of Abigail fleeing from the room. He looked up into the wrinkled face that was regarding him in concern and Sam sighed heavily. "I think my rib's broken."

"Maybe more than just that." The old guy offered in sympathy.

Sam closed his eyes and tried to calm his breathing.

"George?"

Sam looked across at the door and saw Abigail returning, her white-haired grandmother following her quickly into the room. The old lady was still pulling on her dressing gown and Sam groaned an apology.

"He's cold." Abigail's grandfather - George - murmured.

"That's not the best of signs." Her grandmother offered quietly.

Sam smiled in recognition up at the small woman and glanced at Abigail.

"I'm Amelia." The woman offered softly, "Let's see what's up, eh?" Amelia groaned wearily as she perched her thin frame on the chair beside the sofa and shook her head in dismay. "Oh, look at the state of you. You ought to be in a hospital, Sam."

Sam heard the lady's British accent and his smile grew. "Absolutely, old chum." He offered, in his best attempt at mimicking her that he could manage under the circumstances.

"Sam?" Abigail frowned.

"Indeed. Less of that cheek." Amelia grinned briefly and then leaned closer to him, expert fingers feeling for the pulse in his wrist. She then eased herself slowly down to the floor and knelt beside the sofa. "Let me see?"

Sam lifted his shirt and heard Amelia cluck in dismay as she saw the deepening bruising that painted a pattern over one side of his chest. Carefully running her hand over Sam's clammy skin, she frowned and caught sight if him flinching in pain.

"Shit!" Abigail covered her mouth in revulsion and turned away.

"Abigail, call 911." George ordered softly.

"No, wait!" Sam protested, tensing against the agony in his side.

"Alright, my boy. Easy …" George soothed. "Don't be afraid."

Amelia placed her free hand on Sam's shoulder and smiled warmly as he began to calm. "I was a nurse for over 50 years, Sam. I know you're scared but you'll be alright."

"It's not that. It's just - "

"I think you're bleeding internally."

Sam froze and stared up at her in horror.

Amelia nodded slowly, her thin fingers gripping his shoulder firmly. "It's alright. You'll be alright. But you need to go to the hospital."

"I think you need to go to hospital." George echoed.

Sam shook his head urgently.

"Look, love." Amelia sighed and rested back on her heels. She took hold of his hand and pressed it into his abdomen. "Your tummy is filling with blood."

Sam looked down and frowned in interest as he traced his hand over the smooth skin above his navel. His usually board-flat belly was indeed slightly swollen and he pressed his fingers into the icy flesh to feel how tense it was, hissing at the pain that caused. His eyes bright with tears, he let his head sink back and the movement jarred his side once again.

"It's alright, Sam." Amelia soothed gently. "It's alright."

"Shit!" Sam gasped, his hand hovering over his tense abdomen and his mind racing.

"It's okay." George urged softly.

"I'm here." Amelia agreed. "I'll look after you until help arrives."

ooooo

The first thing that he began to be aware of was the strong smell of cleaning fluid. It was familiar somehow; not the usual aroma of household detergent but something less sweet, more pure. The scent clung to the back of his throat and he swallowed it back, grimacing as he felt the soreness of his dry mouth.

As his other senses then began to emerge from the thick fog in his mind, he added the clues together and tried to work out why he was so bone-tired and why he felt so strangely empty. There was a soft chirping somewhere in the distance and he moved his head and fingers, feeling the soft sheets and the gentle breeze that washed over him.

He was laying on his left side and he was very comfortable, of that much he was sure. And for a moment he was content to simply drift back into the slumber that he had been enjoying. But then he remembered that something had woken him and he was suddenly too intrigued to find out what, his eyes lifting heavily open.

His left hand rested on the pillow in front of his face and he tried to focus on his fingers, frowning as he saw the plastic tubing that snaked around his wrist and was secured to the back of his hand with tape. Slowly, as if swimming in honey, his thoughts began to make sense and he realized where he was. With a gasp, he lifted his head and pushed up from the bed. Pain shot through his side and Sam froze, unable to breathe as the agony grew.

"Hey! Easy, Sammy. Lie down."

Feeling the gentle pressure of a hand on his shoulder, Sam relaxed his arms and let his body flop back down onto the bed. "Ouch …" He husked into the pillow.

"I know."

Sam turned his head and looked up to see his brother's smiling face leaning over him.

"Welcome back, shit-head." Dean offered lightly.

"Dean?"

"Yup. Well remembered, genius."

"Fuck you …" Sam groaned, smiling wearily. He took a moment to catch his breath and then rolled gently back to face his brother. "Jeez … what the hell have they done to me?"

Dean laughed gently and patted his brother's arm. "Well, someone had to patch together the mess you made of yourself, you idiot!"

Sam chanced lifting the sheet that covered his bare torso and frowned as he saw the dressings that covered evidence of surgery that he had no memory of. "Great …" He let the sheet drop and closed his eyes wearily. "But did they have to turn me inside out to do it?"

"I think you have only yourself to blame, little brother." Dean responded merrily, "What did you do, man? Dress up as a donkey and tell everyone you were full of candy?"

Sam gave a small laugh and then instantly hissed, burying his face into the pillow to groan out the wave of pain.

"Easy …" Dean's hand was again resting on Sam's arm, the fingers gently stroking the warm skin. "Seems your little tussle broke three of your ribs and tore open a kidney. Apparently, you're lucky to still be here."

"It doesn't feel very lucky." Sam groaned, "Hey. Where's Dad?" He asked suddenly, lifting his head from the pillow and a sob of pain catching in his throat.

"Hey! Will you just lie still, you fool?" Dean's hand moved to Sam's shoulder and gentle pressure again urged his brother to relax against the bed. "Dad's out in the ornamental garden, cooling his heels."

Sam frowned in concern. "What?"

"I tell you, Sammy. The old man's out for blood." Dean's smile suddenly grew and then faded equally fast. "He was spitting bullets, dude."

Sam groaned and closed his eyes.

"Why'd you shoot off like that, man?" Dean sighed, "Not that I blame you … I mean … I have been something of a jerk lately …"

Looking back up at his brother, Sam smiled cheekily. "Only lately?"

"Oh, shove it, smart-ass."

Sam's smile grew and he then took a deep breath, hitching slightly at the top and sighing wearily. "I'm sorry, too."

Dean was quiet for a moment, his hand still resting on his brother's shoulder. "So … apparently you were defending a lady's honor?"

Sam nodded quietly.

"You dog, you."

"What?" Sam demanded weakly, "You think you own the rights to sneaking out for some fun?"

"Ha!" Dean laughed in delight, "Oh, I'd love to believe you, Sammy. But I've already spoken to Abby. And I've read the research you were doing."

Sam groaned.

"She's quite a catch, dude." Dean continued animatedly, "And she said you were the perfect gentleman. Even when she put it out there, you were too polite to have a taste."

"Oh, go away."

Dean laughed again and stepped back from the bed. He then gasped as Sam grabbed his hand and held on tight. Looking down, he saw his brother's eyes close and Sam's face was tight with tears. Unsure what to do or say, Dean moved back to the side of the bed and perched carefully on the edge of the mattress.

A few minutes passed and neither of them had the inclination to break the contact. Sam then relaxed and sighed out a heavy breath as he released his hold on his brother's hand.

Dean stayed seated on the side of the bed and watched his brother resting. Years of experience told him Sam was not sleeping and he smiled thinly. "So what's with not using the .45, dude?"

Sam gave a careful shrug of his uppermost shoulder and shook his head, keeping his eyes closed. "I guess … I didn't want an already shitty situation to escalate."

"Ah." Dean nodded slowly, "Which is why you're the better man."

At this, Sam blinked his eyes open and regarded his brother in quiet surprise.

Dean smiled, "Me. I'd have shot the three thugs, the girl, any bystanders and be on America's Most Wanted."

"Oh, you're not that bad."

Dean's smile grew.

"Okay, so you do tend to shoot and run but … these were people, Dean. It's different."

"Damn straight."

Sam leaned back carefully and frowned up at Dean. "Is this your way of saying you're proud of me?"

"Pah!" Den scoffed and stood from the bed. "Guess who's on a morphine trip!" His smile faded and he cleared his suddenly tight throat, nodding towards the door. "I'm … erm … I'm just gonna go make sure Dad's not using the staff as a punch bag."

ooooo

Sleep was impossible to resist. He guessed it was a combination of the painkillers and the lingering effects of the anesthetic. When he next woke, it was darker in the room and the light from a small lamp on his bedside locker glowed on the face of the nurse who was carefully checking on him.

"How you feeling?"

Sam groaned a reply and his eyes fell closed once more.

"That good, huh?" The nurse offered lightly. "Okay. But we need you to turn over now."

Opening his eyes, Sam frowned slightly.

"It's not good to lay in one position for so long."

"How long?" Sam husked.

"Long enough."

Sam lifted his head slightly, the movement stirring up fresh pain. "Where's my family?" He saw the brief flash of an awkward smile pass over her young face and Sam groaned loudly. "Oh god … I'm sorry … have they been unbearable?"

"I wouldn't say that." She laughed gently. "Now. Come on. Slowly."

Sam watched her lift the sheets clear of his body and took a deep breath before then slowly sliding across the bed towards her. Biting his lip and grunting with the effort, he then began to roll back and suddenly froze. His back arched and his body caught between lying part on his side and part on his back, Sam couldn't breathe.

"Wo! Easy there, son."

Sam swung out his free right arm and sobbed in fright. "Dad?"

"I'm here!" John grabbed Sam's hand and pressed the back of his fingers against his cheek. "Easy, Sammy. Come on. Breathe. Relax."

"Hurts!" Sam protested through clenched teeth.

"I know. I know." John leaned down over the bed, pressing his forehead against his son's and placing his free hand on Sam's chest. "Just sink back. Relax. I've got you."

Sam groaned and pushed back with his legs, easing his body the rest of the way down. Flopping against the mattress, he choked on a sob and turned his face into his father's neck. Letting the tears come, he wrapped his free arm around John's shoulders and clung tightly to him.

John glanced up at the nurse and smiled warmly. She finished straightening the top sheet and nodded in understanding before leaving the room.

"Dad, I'm sorry." Sam managed weakly, his breathing calming and his cries fading into the occasional soft hiccup.

"It's okay, Sammy." John moved back slightly and felt his son releasing his grip on him. He stood back up straight and looked down at Sam with a sad smile. "I've known for some time that this life just doesn't fit you."

Sam could not mistake the disappointment in his father's voice and he closed his eyes.

"But … I think I have an answer."

Aware of his father moving away from the bed, Sam looked back up and followed him across the room. He saw the thin canvas case his father collected from beside the door and frowned in intrigue.

"Here." John balanced the case on the side of the bed and unzipped the centre compartment. Reaching inside, he smiled merrily and pulled out a compact silver laptop.

Sam was lost for words and stared at the computer for a moment.

"Cool, huh?" John enthused, "You have access to just about everything with this. I mean, at least 99 percent of the research we need will be on the internet and you can e-mail your coursework to the university." John opened the laptop to show Sam the shiny keyboard and plasma screen, his delight obvious and so very unlike him. "I checked it all out. Lots of students enroll online and study from a distance and it's wireless so you can use it anywhere and still log in."

Sam stared at his father in wonder and could not help but smile. Despite obviously having indeed spoken to people about the technology, it sounded like his father was talking in a foreign language. And then there was the bright sparkle in John's eyes that Sam had not seen for years.

"Well?" John urged excitedly.

"I …" Sam laughed nervously, "It's … yeah … it's awesome, Dad." He nodded wearily, "And it'll be great help. It's cool. Thanks."

John grinned happily and slid the laptop carefully back into it's case. He set the case down beside the bed and gave a satisfied sigh. Seeing Sam's eyes growing heavy, he then sobered and reached out to place his hand on Sam's shoulder. "I'm right here, Sammy. You get some sleep."

ooooo

Lying was something that came second nature to the elder Winchesters and the nurses had thought nothing of the young sister that arrived and asked to visit Sam. They greeted her warmly and pointed out the room part-way down the corridor.

Abigail paused at the door and held her breath for a moment. The room was dark and she could hear Sam's gentle snoring drifting out into the hallway. Movement then caught her eye and she spun towards the shadowy figure slumped in an armchair just inside the room. Recognizing Sam's father and now realizing that it was his snoring she could hear, she smiled and took a timid step into the room.

The figure in the bed was still and Abigail tiptoed forward, not wanting to disturb the quiet. Sam stirred and she paused immediately, unsure as to how she would be received. Deciding to leave his card on the table and leave him to rest, she made her way across the room.

"Hey."

Abigail jumped slightly and spun round, just able to see Sam smiling at her in greeting. "Hi." She echoed quietly, changing direction to head towards the bed.

"How are you?" Sam asked quickly.

Abigail laughed softly. "That's supposed to be my question."

"Oh, I'll live." Sam offered, sitting up carefully.

"So. I met your brother."

Sam groaned, "I'm sorry. I'd have warned you if I'd known you'd cross paths."

"Oh, he's harmless." Abigail shrugged, edging closer. "He's very fond of you." She watched Sam's smile grow and returned one of her own. Abigail then took a deep breath and moved to stand against the side of the bed. "Sam … you saw her … didn't you."

"Who?"

"My Nana."

"Well, yeah, she was - " Sam stopped suddenly. Even in the darkness, he could see a familiar sorrow mixed with hope on her face and he groaned in dismay. "Oh shit … I'm sorry …"

"No, it's okay." Abigail reached out and placed her hand on his arm. "I'm so glad that you did. I mean, it shows I'm not crazy and I'm so pleased she helped you. She did, right? She helped you?"

Sam could recall the warmth of Amelia's touch and the calming nature of her words. "Yeah. A whole lot." He confirmed, a strange disappointment edging in and chiding at him that there really was no escape from the life he so wanted to get away from.

"I knew it!" Abigail sighed in relief and smiled happily. Brushing away tears, she gave a small laugh and shrugged off her emotion. "I've sensed her so many times and I just - " She shook her head slowly. "I'm so pleased she's still here."

Seeing an opportunity, Sam licked his lips and took a deep breath. "It's also why we're here."

"Hey?"

"We … I mean, my dad … he hunts things like spirits and stuff." He saw her confusion and quickly smiled. "Not your Nana, of course. Just the nasty ones."

"Really?" Abigail enthused in a whisper. She perched on the edge of his bed and leaned closer. "You're serious?"

"Yeah." Sam confirmed, delighted with her calm intrigue and so pleased she had not accused him of being insane and run off screaming. Not that, in his experience, anyone ever had, but Dean was adamant that it happened.

He told her all about the haunting and saw her face light up in delight as she stated that she knew the very family he spoke of. Eager to tell him the juicy gossip and well-versed in all the recent events in the small town, she acknowledged that it was past time that she should be leaving the place.

"I guess there are some things you just can't let go of." Sam agreed, glancing at the sleeping from of his father and feeling his chest tighten.

ooooo

He seemed to be trying as hard as he could to be quiet but sometimes with Dean it was difficult to know if he was actually intending to wake you up or was simply deaf. Sam opened his eyes and smiled as he caught his brother sneaking a look at the new toy their father had bought.

"Mine."

"Jeez!" Dean was obviously startled and spun at Sam in shock. "Don't do that!" He protested, laying his hand on his chest dramatically.

"Don't mess with my stuff." Sam countered.

"I believe Dad bought it for all of us." Dean argued pointedly.

"For research and coursework." Sam nodded, "Not for surfing porn."

Dean gasped in mock horror and staggered a few theatrical steps backwards.

"Oh, give it up." Sam smiled, "You're so busted."

His cheeks flushing slightly and a quick grin betraying the truth, Dean shrugged and wandered back towards the bed. "So. How are you?"

"Shit."

"Huh."

Sam sighed and regarded his brother's concerned face for a moment. "He's never gonna let me go now. Is he."

Dean opened his mouth to protest and then suddenly groaned, his shoulders sinking. "Dude, I'm surprised you're not tagged and micro-chipped."

"Fuck …"

Nervously edging even closer, Dean shoved his hands into his jeans pockets and licked his lips. "You want to leave that bad?"

Sam held Dean's gaze and nodded quietly.

"Oh."

"Dude, it's not like that." Sam sighed, "I mean … god, look at me! And this was just people, Dean … I'm not cut out for this …"

"I've got your back."

"I know." Sam managed a brief smile of thanks and took a deep breath, wincing and adjusting his position slightly. "It's just … I don't want this life, Dean …"

Dean considered this for a moment and nodded slowly. With a small smile, he gave a shrug and looked down at his feet. "Okay." Clearing his throat, he raised his head and a more determined smile pulled at his lips. "Sammy … if it's important to you, then ..." He sighed loudly.

Sam watched in intrigue as his brother struggled to find the right words.

"Shit, man. I've got your back." Dean gave a small uncertain laugh. "Always have had and always will. And if it's what you want then … I guess I'll back you up and work on the old man, huh?"

Sam smiled and blinked away sudden tears. "Thanks."

"Yeah." Dean looked away and scanned the room slowly, as if looking for something to change the subject. "So. I met your hot new chick this evening."

Sam frowned.

"Abby." Dean shrugged.

"Oh, hell, Dean! She's not my - "

"Whatever." Dean shook his head dismissively. "Any-who. You were deep in cute-baby-Sammy slumber and she didn't want to wake you." He paused, amused by the irritation on his brother's face. "She gave me some useful info on the haunting. Dad and I are gonna finish the job later."

"Oh?"

"Yeah." Dean confirmed, "So. You gonna lose your cherry with this Abby chick or - "

"Dude!"

Dean laughed merrily and waved off Sam's warning with a happy smile. "Oh, don't get your curls in a twist, Francis."

Sam opened his mouth to protest and then suddenly relaxed, giving a small chuckle and holding his abdomen protectively. "You're such an asshole."

"I know."

"I still love you, though." Sam smiled.

"Huh." Dean frowned, a grin dancing on his mouth. "Guess I'd better work on my game-plan a little more."

"You have a plan?" Sam echoed in amusement, "Did it come in a box with ACME written on it?"

"Good one, bitch." Dean sniggered, flipping his brother the middle finger of one hand. "No, this is my future investment. Piss off little brother so he wants nothing to do with me or the inheritance."

"In - " Sam gasped in amused shock, "You mean the car?"

"Don't speak of her like that!" Dean gasped in horror, "And - yes - the car. The arsenal. The knowledge. The legacy. The fame."

Sam clutched his chest and laughed loudly.

"Yup." Dean sighed confidently, "Laugh it up, long-legs. You'll see."

"Oh, I can't wait." Sam wheezed, still giggling.

"Neither can I." Dean agreed, his amusement fading and his face suddenly tight with tears. "I'll be rich and famous with girls hanging off my arms and you'll be some hot-shot successful lawyer."

Sam moaned in happy agreement. "With a big happy home full of laughter. Six kids at least."

"Six?" Dean whistled in awe and then smiled, swallowing back the lump in his throat. "I guess we oughta take care of ourselves if we're to have any chance of making it happen."

"Yeah …" Sam rested back against the pillows and gave a small sigh. "I hear you, man."

Dean nodded quietly and glanced at the door behind him. "I think I hear the sound of fresh nurses arriving on shift." He grinned and flexed his hands suggestively.

"Better get back out there before Dad bags them all." Sam agreed and watched in amusement a his brother fled the room.

Sam closed his eyes and let his body sink into the soft bed with a contented sigh. He was soon drifting back to sleep and his mind began to wonder with possibilities. Possibilities for the future and all that life had in store. It was still some way away but at least it was there.

FIN