Sam looked intently at the lemon on the windowsill.
It had been a hot day and the sun was quickly setting, becoming another stifling night. The air conditioning unit in the room didn't seem to be working again and the lemon was as shrivelled and dry as Sam felt.
"Don't touch that lemon, Samantha. Whatever you do!" Dean had told him just before he went out hunting with their Dad, using Sam's least favourite nickname for added effect. "It's a mystical lemon. Bobby gave it to Dad. He put a spell on it, so now it's a protection lemon. If you touch it, the spell will be broken."
Sam had been doubtful, but Dean had looked so serious when he told him - all solemn eyes and grave face - that he had given his big brother the benefit of the doubt - up until now, that is.
Sam had finished his homework, watched some TV, cleaned up the dishes from dinner and now he had nothing to do, the lemon seemed to call to him. Maybe that was a part of its magic power?
Tell someone not to touch something, or to go near something, or look at something, and that is the first thing they do – maybe it was something to do with the self-destructive side of human nature? Sam would have pondered if he hadn't been only twelve years old. Instead, he sat on the chair next the window and stared at the lemon.
It didn't look mystical. Was just a regular un-waxed lemon that looked like every other lemon Sam had ever seen. What good was a lemon going to be for protection anyway? What the hell was it going to do? Squirt juice into the eye of any bad thing that came to get him? - he didn't think so, and because he was bored and fed-up with being left behind on hunts, because Dean had called him that name again, and because he was sure his big brother was just being a jerk as usual and yanking his chain, Sam reached over and poked at the lemon quickly with his index finger.
Nothing happened, and Sam smiled, letting go of the breath he hadn't even realised that he'd been holding. He didn't know what he'd been expecting. Some flash of light? A thunderbolt? A plague of locust? Even at twelve, he understood the importance and usefulness of things like salt and holy water, and consecrated iron, and silver, but there was no way a dried up old lemon was going to protect anything and he couldn't believe he had be so gullible and fallen for another of Dean's wind-ups. Now all he had to do was think of a way to get his brother back.
An hour later, Sam was sitting at the kitchen table, gleefully pouring lemon juice into their one and only carton of milk. Sam only ever had milk on cereal and their Dad never touched the stuff. John Winchester wasn't really a Fruit Loops for breakfast kind of guy and took his coffee without milk or cream – it was only really Dean that drank milk, and when he did, it was usually straight out the carton.
Sam chuckled to himself with delight at the thought of his brother's face as he swigged the curdled lumps from the carton when suddenly the door burst open and their Dad struggled through, grim-faced, half carrying Dean along with him. Both of them covered in blood and looking like they'd just that second crawled out of a car wreck.
Sam jumped to his feet, dropping the lemon on the floor, the smile slipping from his face. "Dad?"
"Get the first aid kit, Sam." John barked out, walking Dean to the sofa and sitting him down. Dean was panting heavily, eyes screwed tightly shut, one hand clutching his side, the other holding a blood soaked rag to the back of his head. Sam could see he was hurt bad, but trying hard not to show it. No matter how much he was hurting, Dean always tried to shrug it off, to be brave in front of their Dad. Sam sometimes thought that his brother would rather bite off his own tongue and swallow it than admit that he wasn't okay, and Sam half despaired, half admired Dean for it.
Sam ran to the bathroom, grabbed the huge bag that contained the medical supplies that had been begged, borrowed, and stolen from various hospital, clinics and pharmacies on their travels, and lugged it back to their Dad who was trying to strip the jacket off Dean's back.
"What happened? Is he ok?" Sam asked wincing in sympathy at Dean's broken little gasps of pain as their Dad manhandled him out of the blood soaked denim. John was kind of heavy handed when it came to this kind of thing and Dean's face had gone a horrible shade of grey.
"He fell." John muttered, finally getting the coat off his son's back and flinging it the floor.
"Fell? Fell from what?" Sam replied handing his Dad the first aid kit. "Dean?"
Dean looked up, hearing the rising panic in his little brother's voice, his red-rimmed eyes meeting Sam's. "I'm okay, Sammy - I'm good…" He gasped, and forced a tight-lipped little smile that was meant to reassure, but didn't. "You should see the other guy."
John took the big first aid kit from his youngest and began to sort through it, pulling out various dressings, a big bottle of peroxide and the horse strength painkillers that Sam was expressly forbidden to touch. He shook a couple out, placed them in Dean's shaking hand, and looked up at Sam for the first time – he seemed to be avoiding eye contact with both of his sons. "Go get your brother some water, Samuel."
And Sam did as he was told.
A few hours later Sam lay in bed, unable to sleep from the heat, listening to Dean sleeping restlessly beside him.
Their Dad had cleaned Dean up pretty good, putting a few stitches in the cut on the back of his head and dressing the injury on his side that looked suspiciously like a huge bite wound. Dean had some impressive bruises, had lost a little blood, but nothing seemed to be broken or permanently damaged. The pain pills John had given him had pretty much knocked him out, but even so, every time he moved in his sleep Dean let out a little whimper of pain and eventually Sam could take no more. The guilt was eating him alive, and wiping the tears from his eyes; Sam quietly untangled himself from his sheet and padding across the room, he sat on the edge of his brother's bed.
"What's up, Sammidge?" Dean whispered in the dark, his voice thick with sleep. Despite the drugs, Dean had woken as soon as he felt Sam's presence beside him. It was an old habit and he could see his little brother's pale, guilt-stricken face faintly illuminated by the moonlight coming in through the window.
"It's my fault you got hurt, Dean." Sam whimpered, sniffling and wiping his eyes with the back of his hand.
Dean frowned. "Oh, so you threw me down the fire escape stairs then? I could have sworn it was the poltergeist, but if that's the case..."
Sam shook his head. "No, Dean. I touched the lemon... The protection lemon on the windowsill – I know you told me not to but I didn't think you were serious, I thought you were playing a joke on me and I squeezed all the juice out of it, and then you got hurt and – and it's all my fault!"
Dean didn't reply and for a horrible moment; Sam thought he was crying, before realising that his brother was actually laughing instead.
"Protection lemon? Man, and Dad thinks you're the clever one? You're such a freakin' dork sometimes, Samantha. Go back to bed."
Sam frowned and rubbed his eyes. Dean had got him again, and he peered down at his brother, in half a mind whether to thump him or not and deciding against it – Dean really was hurt pretty bad. "You're an asshole." He said instead, flopping back down in his own bed, fuming. Retaliation for this was going to require some serious planning, but then he remembered the milk and a smile spread across his face in the darkness on their bedroom.
"Hey, Dean? You want me to get you a drink?"