AN - Thanks to my amazing beta, Leigh, who makes my work so much better, and for the quick beta on this one.

This was written for the October prompt on TWG. Dean is 18, Sam is 14. Hopefully, you guys enjoy it.


Halloween, 1997

"Dean, maybe we should just go back to the motel."

The older Winchester sibling glanced over his shoulder and schooled his features, attempting to hide the grin that was in serious danger of materialising.

"It'll be fine, Sammy. Stop whining like a baby."

"I'm not whining, jerk face," Sam snapped, but Dean heard the fear in his brother's voice. Not that he blamed him for being scared considering where he had brought the fourteen year old.

John had gone on a hunt a couple of towns over and had left Dean and Sam in a two-bit backwater town about three hours outside of Odessa, Texas. Dean had, naturally, wanted to go along, but John was hunting a revenant and claimed it was too dangerous. Forget the fact he was eighteen and more than capable of taking care of himself, no amount of pushing, prodding or wheedling had made John give in on this one.

He'd been gone just three days when Dean started to get bored, and a bored Dean was never a good thing.

He'd heard about an abandoned house from some kids at school and it could have come straight out of the Addams Family. Most of the windows were boarded up, the wooden siding rotted through in places. The front porch featured three steps up to the main door and the thick wooden posts that held up a flat roof were decorated with swirling carvings. There was a large swing seat pushed against the far railings, the broken chain on the left side leaving it hanging drunkenly and whining as the wind pushed it back and forth on its rusted joints. The house itself climbed three storeys high, the third floor probably a large attic.

"Dean-"

"If you say we should go back once more, Sam, I'm gonna kick your ass," Dean sniped but without any real bite.

Being on the road so much they never really had time to do what Sam called 'normal' stuff. Birthdays, Christmas, Halloween usually passed unmarked. But, this year, Dean was determined to not only celebrate Halloween, but also scare the living hell out of his brother. When you knew monsters existed, there really was little point in doing the costume and trick or treating thing, but Sam had been so down lately about their lifestyle, constantly harping about being normal and doing normal shit. Dean figured Halloween constituted as normal – well, as normal as things could get for a Winchester anyway.

"I just don't think breaking into the set of the Amityville Horror is a good idea," Sam muttered, folding his arms over his chest in an attempt to get warm. His breath steamed in front of his face as he took a shaky breath.

It was pretty cold. Even wrapped up in his leather jacket Dean could feel the air biting through his clothes. The sun had disappeared completely and the sky was a murky wash of dark colours. Dean shivered in spite of himself as he moved towards the house.

"What are you talking about? It's a great idea." He lightly punched his brother on the arm and smirked. "C'mon Sammy, what could be more fitting than sneaking around a haunted house on Halloween?"

Sam raised an incredulous brow, "Dude, you been watching Tales from the Crypt again?"

Dean rolled his eyes and then scowled. "Killjoy." He grabbed his brother's bicep and steered him towards the steps. "Look, it'll be fine. We'll go in, have a snoop and then split – nothin' to worry about."

Sam glanced at the house, his brow furrowed. "Dean, we could get into trouble, and Dad will tear us a new one if we get caught doing something illegal."

His brother was right about the latter, but Dean was determined that John would never find out about their Halloween shenanigans.

"Would you rather go back and sit in the motel, watch some crappy movie on TV and then have an early night? Dude, it's Halloween. It only happens once a freaking year – please, humour me." He grinned suddenly. "Besides what are you afraid of? It's only a house."

"Dude, I'm not scared of the house," Sam said, rolling his eyes, "I mean, it's probably not even haunted anyway. I just don't want us to get into trouble."

"We won't get into trouble."

Sam glanced up at the house and sighed deeply. "What are we even doing here, Dean?"

"It's called having fun - a concept you might wanna look into." Dean rolled his eyes when Sam continued to glare at him. "Man, you have so gotta lighten up."

Sam threw his hands into the air. "Fine. We'll go in, look around and then leave."

Grinning, Dean clapped his brother on the back. "Knew you'd see it my way."

Sam huffed a long-suffering breath and moved towards the house. Dean followed him, smirking still as he climbed the few steps up to the porch behind his brother. The rotted boards creaked beneath their feet, echoing into the silent night air like a bullet leaving a gun. Sam glanced around, studying the boarded-up frames and gestured towards the front door.

"After you."

Dean's smile widened, "Ladies first."

Sam scowled but didn't pass comment as he reached out to grab the handle. Dean watched him carefully and as his brother touched it, he grabbed Sam's shoulders. "Boo!"

Sam jumped a mile, rounding on Dean as he fell into hysterics.

"You're such a dick." Sam smacked his brother across the arm hard enough to sting.

"I thought you weren't scared Sammy."

"It's Sam, jerk – and I'm not."

"Yeah well, with a scream like that you could have given any B-movie bimbo a run for the money."

Sam's resigned sigh refuelled Dean's grin. He brushed past his younger sibling and pushed open the front door. The wood in the bottom was split, and the glass in the top was cracked and broken, the screen that covered it caked in dust and dirt and thick with cobwebs. The door swung open with a creak that could have woken the dead.

Flicking his gaze towards his brother, Dean stepped into the house. Sam followed closely behind him, practically at his elbow.

The house was dark inside. Pulling out a flashlight, Dean twisted it on and flicked the beam around the large hallway. Thick dust coated the floor, kicking up in small, sparkling plumes around the white beam.

Directly ahead was a set of stairs that led to the first floor. The hallway ran past the staircase and to a closed door. There were also two doors on either side of the hallway. Dean picked the right hand side and stepped into the room.

It appeared to be some kind of living area. Surprisingly, there were still a few pieces of furniture in the room, despite the unlived feel to the house. A low-backed, spoon-shaped couch was pushed near to the hearth, covered in a plastic dust sheet. There was a large portrait hanging over the fireplace of a creepy looking old lady dressed in Victorian-style clothing. Dean pulled a face at it and continued to take in the rest of the room.

There was an old bronze stand on the grate filled with shovels, tongs and stokers for the fire. Against the opposite wall was a large dresser, the glass doors so thick with dust that it was impossible to tell what, if anything, lay inside the cabinet.

"Well this place is a domestic nightmare," Dean muttered.

"What would you know about cleaning, Dean?" Sam scoffed, pulling his own flashlight out of his pocket and twisting it on. Dean almost rolled his eyes.

"Hey, I clean," he protested.

"Picking your clothes off the floor once a week doesn't count as cleaning," Sam countered, moving over to a dusty bookcase near to the door.

There were still a few books strewn haphazardly on the shelves. Dean almost rolled his eyes at his brother's geek-dar. Trust Sam to hone right in on the frigging library – what was left of it anyway.

Dean shifted his shoulders nonchalantly. He couldn't argue with that. "Hey Sam, maybe this place is haunted by Oscar the Grouch's ghost."

His brother laughed under his breath. "You watch Sesame Street?"

Dean shrugged again and watched as his brother continued to examine the room, his back to him. Grinning wickedly, Dean dug into his pocket and pulled the mask out, slipping it onto his face. He'd bought it earlier in the week from the store down the street from the motel and kept it hidden in the bottom of his bag. Even though Dean wasn't scared of clowns, he had to admit the mask was creepy as hell. He'd chosen it for that reason. He knew it would freak out his brother and couldn't help but smirk further as he stepped closer to him.

"Hey, Sam?"

As soon as his brother turned around Dean hissed at him, his hands coming up in a classic monster pose. Sam, as Dean had guessed he would, took one look at the mask and blanched. Dean suspected it was only sheer force of will that stopped him from screaming.

"Nice, Dean," Sam said in a level voice, his jaw clenching tightly together as if he was still trying to keep that shriek at bay. "You brought me here just to come at me with a clown mask?"

Dean pulled it up over his face, leaving it balanced on top of his head and gave his brother a not-so-innocent grin. "You were totally scared shitless."

"Was not," Sam snapped, crossing his arms over his chest. "Dude, you so need to grow up."

Dean feigned horror. "What the hell for?"

Sam was already moving back over to the hearth. He paused to stare up at the painting over the fireplace and wrinkled his nose. "That's creepy as hell."

Dean shuddered and then nodded. The woman was freaky. Her eyes were bright blue and seemed to follow him around the room wherever he moved. "Yeah, isn't it?" Dean turned around to glance at his brother but stopped dead. The room was completely empty, his brother gone. Flicking the flashlight around, Dean's heart skipped a beat.

"Sam?"

He waited a brief second for a reply but didn't get one. His fear ratcheted up another notch and his head spun. Where the hell had the kid gone? He'd turned his back for less than a second and his brother had pulled a Houdini.

"Sammy?" He called out, moving through the room hurriedly. Coming back into the hallway, he snapped his gaze from front door back to the door at the other end. There was no sign of his brother anywhere. His mouth went suddenly dry, his palms slick with sweat. "Sam!"

Dean jammed the flashlight between his teeth and then pulled his gun from the waistband of his jeans. He'd wanted Sam to have a good, fun Halloween, but he wasn't stupid. He knew what lived in the darkness, and Dean never travelled anywhere unarmed. Gun in his hand, Dean reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his EMF meter. He'd scanned the house before he'd brought Sam here as a precaution, but was now wondering if he'd overlooked something.

Flipping the EMF on, he waited for a response from the device. Nothing happened. No spirit activity. At least that much hadn't changed.

"Sam?" Come on…

What the hell was going on? Where the hell was his brother? His blood felt as if it had stopped pumping to his head and everything wavered and swam. If something had happened to his brother-

A dark figure suddenly launched out of the cupboard under the stairs. Dean whirled on his heel, his gun raised. He shot, subconsciously reacting to the threat before he recognised the shadow, before he heard the familiar voice shouting, "Boo." It was only well-honed reflexes that made him pull the gun wide at the last second.

Sam recoiled as the shot resounded around the hallway. Time seemed to slow and crawl to a stop. Dean knew he'd hit him. He was too good to miss at this range. The only consolation was that he'd managed to pull back and probably avoided a fatal shot by doing so.

Sam raised wide eyes from the blossoming crimson stain on his shoulder, his face filled with confusion, "Dean…" he mumbled and then he was falling.

Dean's stomach clenched, knots of ice settling in cold chunks in his belly even as he darted towards his brother, fisting his hands into his jacket. Sam's weight pulled them both onto their knees. Hands still encircled in his brother's coat, Dean tried to stop him listing backwards. In fact, he was pretty sure his grip on Sam was the only thing keeping him on his knees at all. Carefully, he moved behind his brother, linking his arms under Sam's armpits. He pulled him backwards across the floor, leaning him against the side of the staircase.

Sam's eyes were squeezed shut, one hand was pressed into the dusty floor, the other clamped onto his shoulder, a trail of black winding through his fingers. Even without the fragmented light from his dropped flashlight, Dean knew it was blood. The coppery-iron stench of it mixed with burnt flesh had his stomach twisting inside out.

Dean released Sam, planning to shrug his brother out of his jacket but as soon as he let go, he slid to one side, despite the hard wood behind him. Dean made a frantic grab for him, straightening him.

"Shit, Sam," Dean murmured, twisting his fingers further around the collar of his brother's coat, attempting to keep him upright.

Sam closed his eyes, his brow lined with pain, "Sorry… got dizzy…"

Keeping a grip on him, Dean used his free hand to slide Sam's arm out of his navy windbreaker. Sam's other hand was clamped to his shoulder, stopping Dean from seeing the damage the bullet had caused. Dean reached for his brother's hand and attempted to pry his grip off the wound. When Sam didn't comply, increasing his iron-clad grip on the injury, Dean tried a gentler approach.

"Sammy, lemme see." Dean sighed with relief when his brother dropped his blood-stained hand onto his lap, finally granting Dean access to the wound. Retrieving his flashlight from the floor behind him, and stashing his gun back in his waistband, Dean tried to control his jack-hammering heart with no avail.

Casting an anxious glance at his brother's pallid face, Dean carefully pulled the hem of Sam's powder blue t-shirt up and focused the light on the entry site. It was bubbling blood fiercely, running in rivulets down Sam's bare chest, the top of his jeans soaking it up like a sponge. Dean's mouth was dry as he snapped his gaze from his brother's torso to his face. Sam was pale, his expression confused and the way he was struggling to draw air in terrified Dean.

"It's bad?" Sam asked slowly, slurring the words a little.

Dean ignored him, the flashlight disappearing into his pocket, and concentrated on freeing Sam's other arm from his jacket. He balled the windbreaker up and pushed it against the wound. It wasn't the best material to soak up blood, but for now it would suffice. Clamping Sam's hand over it, Dean pulled him forward, his brother's head rolling into the crook between his shoulder and neck, to look at his back. He reached under Sam's t-shirt and skimmed his hands over his bare skin, ignoring the fact he was clammy. Instead he focused on the fact there didn't seem to be any blood… which meant the bullet was still in his brother. Dean wasn't entirely sure if that was a good or bad thing.

"What the hell were you doing, Sammy?" Dean cursed worriedly.

He could feel Sam's warm breath against his neck and was almost reluctant to pull back from the embraced position they were in, but forced himself to do so. He didn't want to deal with this, and seeing Sam's face would only make it real. Dean wanted to wake up from this nightmare. He'd shot Sam… God… he'd shot his brother…

Sam rolled pain-filled eyes towards Dean. "Wanted to scare you… f'Halloween," he mumbled thickly, his head rolling towards his blood-soaked shoulder. "Didn't think you'd… shoot me…jerk…" Sam gave his brother a watery smile.

Dean didn't answer. He hadn't meant for this to happen. God, he'd just wanted to give the kid a Halloween to remember.

Yeah, Sam would remember this all right.

He hadn't expected his brother to be hiding. He had just assumed the worst, assumed that Sam had been taken, and he had gone into hunting mode. He'd forgotten his training – or perhaps remembered the sentiment of 'shoot first, ask questions later' a little too well.

"Wanted to get you back for scarin' me on the porch… an' then with the clown…mask," Sam explained as if it was suddenly important, his brow furrowing deeply.

Reluctantly, Dean gently disentangled himself from his brother, carefully leaning him back against the wall. He knew he had to do something to treat the wound, but his brain wouldn't make the next step, wouldn't even connect what that next step was. Every coherent thought process seemed to have dribbled out of his head.

"Yeah, well, good job, Sammy." Fantastic job in fact. Dean's heart hadn't stopped dancing inside his chest since the bullet left the gun.

Sam hissed as Dean pressed harder on the wound. "Shit, Dean…"

"Sorry," Dean mumbled. "Gotta keep pressure on it."

It was a shoulder hit. Nothing vital had been hit but Dean was worried by the amount of blood Sam had lost and the washed out look of his face. Sam was going into shock. Desperately, Dean tried to recall all of his father's training, tried to remember every piece of first aid John had shoved at him over the years, but his mind was oddly blank.

"You think you can stand?"

Sam nodded slowly, and Dean moved to hook a hand under his armpit, pulling him onto his feet. Sam's legs buckled, his knees nearly grazing the floor as he sagged. Dean barely managed to keep him upright as all five foot six of his brother listed to one side. Readjusting his grip, Dean drew Sam into his side and again pulled him onto his feet. Somehow he managed to keep his brother's hand locked onto the jacket pushed against the bullet wound.

Heart thrumming, Dean half-carried his brother towards the front door. This was bad. Really bad.

Sam made about a dozen steps and then stopped moving, his head sagging onto his chest.

Dean readjusted his grip on his brother's arm, pulling it further around his neck, half expecting Sam to crumble. "Sammy, you need to stop?"

Sam blinked sluggishly and slid his half mast gaze towards him. "No…" He licked his lips and took an unsteady step forward.

Dean tightened his arm around his brother's waist and moved with him towards the door. It felt like it took an age to get out of the house. Dean was grateful when the cold night air hit him, briefly clearing his head.

The stairs down from the porch to the driveway might as well have been Everest. Sam's legs folded as soon as his feet touched the first step. More than once, he nearly toppled them both but Dean somehow managed to keep them upright.

"Whoa, easy." Dean shifted to get a firmer grip, carefully avoiding Sam's side. His brother's rib cage was heaving in and out as he took laboured breaths that seemed to start from his shoulders. "You need a sec?"

Sam shook his head slowly. "Dean. No hospital… promise?"

Blinking incredulously, Dean's brow then furrowed deeply. "Are you crazy? You have a bullet in your damn shoulder, Sam. The hospital isn't negotiable – you're going."

Dean shifted his grip again and slowly started to manoeuvre the two of them down the steps. Sam used the heel of his palm to steady himself against the stair railing. Dean could feel his brother's body thrumming in pain with each footfall. His guilt ratcheted up another notch. God, what the hell had he done?

"No…hospital" Sam murmured, pushing the word through numb lips. "Too…many questions."

Dean winced at the hiss of air that Sam sucked through his teeth as they navigated the last step. "You could get infected. It could have hit an artery. Sam, No. It's too risky."

And it was a risk Dean wasn't prepared to take.

"So's dealin' with CPS…"

Dean's heart literally stopped in his chest. Child Protection Services was a big problem. The thought of the state splitting up their family was more than Dean could bear. He didn't even want to think about it. Hell, he would never let it come to that. Not ever. Dean wasn't sure what lengths he would go to in order to prevent that eventuality, but he hoped to God he was never put in a position to test it. But Sam was hurt, and hurt badly.

"I can't fix this, Sammy." It killed Dean to admit it, but he was out of his depth.

"You've patched up… Dad before."

Dean twisted his neck to glance at his brother. Sam was glancing at him through sweaty bangs, hazel eyes wide and pleading.

"Yeah, cuts and bruises, Sam. I've never dug a bullet out of him or played field surgeon." Injuries were a given on hunts, but John was pretty careful. They went in prepared or they didn't go in at all. They never took unnecessary risks.

"You gotta do it, Dean. It's only a shoulder hit… you can do it." Sam pulled his lip between his teeth. "Dad'll hit the roof…"

And that was the other problem. John was going to throw a shit fit. Not that Dean cared at the moment. His only thoughts were of his brother.

"Let me deal with Dad, Sammy."

The walk back to the car was excruciating and slow. By the time they reached the Impala, Sam's skin was covered in a sheen of perspiration, his limbs barely functioning. Dean helped Sam into the passenger seat, gently lifting his brother's feet into the foot well before prising his hand off Sam's balled up windbreaker to examine the wound site once more. His brother's shirt was a bloodied mess still. Dean had almost held onto the childish notion that if he closed his eyes to it, it would disappear. But the blood was still there, just as thick, and Sam's expression was still pained, his breathing laboured.

Dean reached over into the back seat and dragged a threadbare blanket off the bench. Quickly, and gently, he covered Sam with it, tucking the edges around his lanky frame. He then shut the passenger door and sprinted around the front of the car, climbing into the driver's side. He gave his brother the briefest of glances before slamming the car into drive and with a squeal of rubber, the Impala flew out of the driveway of the house and onto the main road.

Dodging traffic like a bullet train, Dean made it across town in record time. He kept sliding his gaze between the road and his brother, fearful that something would happen to Sam if he wasn't watching him. But his brother didn't say a word. Slouched against the side door, his good hand pushed against the blood soaked garment pressed against the wound, Sam seemed to be concentrating simply on breathing through the pain.

Dean didn't remember the rest of the drive, nor did he remember dragging his brother out of the car and across the ambulance bay into the ER. Memories of doctors and nurses wheeling his brother away from him vied in his brain for space amongst the images of Sam's face when the bullet hit him. He was pushed into a low-backed hard plastic chair in a bustling waiting room and told to sit on his heels until someone came to talk to him.

Dean ignored the request. Time lost all meaning. People came and spoke to him, but Dean had no idea what they asked him or what he said. All he could think about was his brother and if he was ok, whilst cursing his own stupidity. What the hell had possessed him to take Sammy there? God, this shit was a mess.

***

Bobby Singer was used to getting unusual phone calls. In his line of work they were pretty much a given. However, it was a mundane call that raised his blood pressure through the damn roof.

He'd gotten straight into his pick up and headed down the interstate as fast as his battered truck could haul ass. His only thought had been reaching the address he had scribbled hastily on the scrap of paper shoved in the breast pocket of his shirt. He didn't like hospitals on principle, but this was a call he couldn't ignore. Not when John's boys were in trouble.

He barely remembered what the hell the nurse had said to him on the phone, only that his "nephew" had been injured. He hadn't even thought about asking which one of John's sons it was. Panic was racing through his mind. Had something supernatural gotten to them? A number of scenarios raced through his head, and none of them were good.

He'd tried to call John during the four-hour car journey to the hospital with no luck. His cell kept going through to voicemail. Bobby had left him a handful of messages, hoping the hunter would pick them up sooner rather than later, but knowing John he wouldn't even glance his cell until the job was done. It was only dumb luck that Bobby had even been in the area on his own hunt.

Parking the truck haphazardly, Bobby all but ran across the ER parking lot and through the glass double doors. It was a typical hospital Emergency Room. White-washed sterile walls, the stench of antiseptics mixed with something almost stale in the air, and a dozen or so white coats rushing around purposefully. Bobby started for the desk, but changed his mind at the last moment when he spotted a familiar figure hunched over in a plastic chair in the waiting area.

"Dean?" Seemingly surprised at the sound of his name, Dean snapped his head up to look at the figure looming over him. Bobby felt a stab of fear slide into his heart. He'd expected it to be Dean in the hospital, not Sam. Sam was too young, too vulnerable…too protected by his big brother. It only heightened the mechanic's anxiety further.

"Bobby…?" Dean studied their honorary uncle with confusion. "What are you…? How did you…?"

Bobby pulled his baseball cap off and scrubbed a hand through his hair before replacing it and taking a seat next to Dean. The kid looked like hell; he was tired, and his clothes were covered in blood. Leaning forward, his hands clasped in front of him, Bobby roved a quick glance around the waiting area. Bobby couldn't help but think that Dean looked lost without his little brother trailing behind him.

"You asked the nurse to call me," Bobby said quietly. Dean frowned deeply. Clearly he didn't remember asking for Bobby. "How's Sam? Damn nurse wouldn't tell me a friggin' thing over the phone."

Dean pushed the heel of his left hand into his eye socket, rubbing so hard that Bobby almost reached out to stop the kid before he rubbed it right out of his head.

"They had to put him under to pull the slug out." Dean sank back into the chair and stared unseeing at the ceiling. "He's been in surgery for hours and no one'll tell me a goddamn thing."

Shot… how in the hell had the kid got shot? Bobby's mind was doing a full 360 as he tried to recall what kind of monsters would use a gun.

"Was it a shifter?" Bobby asked after a moment. Dean flinched a little but didn't reply, his head hanging lower. "A run-of-the-mill whack job then?" Bobby pressed, unsettled by Dean's silence. "What in the hell happened, Dean?"

Furrowing his brow, Dean glanced down at his hands. Slowly he recounted everything that had happened that evening, faltering over the part where he'd shot Sam, rushing over the details of how he'd tried to stem the blood rushing from his brother's shoulder. Bobby listened in silence, his mind struggling to comprehend what the eighteen year old was telling him. The guilt seared into every line in his face just about broke Bobby's heart.

Once he had finished, Dean leaned forward in his chair and exhaled a shaky breath. "It was an accident. I just wanted to celebrate Halloween…Didn't mean to… I didn't know it was him." Dean scrubbed a hand down his face. "I could have killed him, Bobby."

Bobby sighed deeply, wondering how best to handle this, how best to salvage something from it. Only these boys could make such a mess of something as simple as celebrating Halloween. Most kids got sick on candy; Winchester's boys ended up in the ER.

"Sam's gonna be fine," he said with quiet certainty, hoping it would reassure Dean. It didn't.

Dean snapped his gaze to him, anger lighting behind his eyes. "You don't know that."

"No, I don't, kid, but I know a thing about guns and I know a thing or two about gunshot wounds, too." Bobby gave him a small smile. "They'll patch him up good as new, you'll see."

"I'm supposed to protect him – supposed to look out for him." Dean lowered his voice. "Not shoot him."

"These things are called accidents for a reason, son. Nobody means for them to happen." Bobby scowled as Dean's expression wilted further. Bobby didn't approve of the amount of pressure John dumped on his eldest's shoulders. It wasn't fair to expect a kid to do what John wasn't willing to himself. Dean wasn't Sam's parent.

The fact that he didn't seem to mind taking care of his brother was irrelevant. He shouldn't have to. Then again, Bobby had never seen a relationship like these boys had, and he doubted he ever would. "Besides it ain't your damn job to care of that boy. It's John's."

At the mention of his father, Dean paled. Bobby saw self-recrimination work its way into every line on the eighteen year old's face, making him look older somehow. Dean pinched the bridge of his nose, seemingly trying to stop the meltdown that seemed in danger of surfacing.

"Dad…shit. I need to call Dad, tell him what the hell's going on."

Judging from Dean's expression that was a conversation he was looking forward to like a hole in the head – not that Bobby blamed the kid. He knew John well enough to know the grizzly bastard would scream first and ask questions later.

"I left him a voice mail."

Dean nodded and then let out a long breath. "He's gonna be pissed."

"He's gonna be worried," Bobby countered and then admitted, "Pissed'll come later no doubt."

"Great." Dean closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the wall behind his chair. "I shouldn't have brought Sam to the hospital…I could have fixed him up at the motel…too many questions here."

Bobby glanced at him and sighed. "Look, kid, your Dad's gonna be mad – that's a given – but you did the right thing bringin' Sam here. You couldn't have patched him up in whatever crap motel you're bunkin' in this week."

Dean gave him a grateful smile but the words didn't seem to fully register.

Rubbing at his neck, Bobby frowned. It wasn't a conversation he wanted to have, but it was necessary. He had to know he much damage control needed to be done. "The boys in blue talked to you yet?"

Dean paused and Bobby prayed to God that the boy hadn't looked that guilty when he'd spoken with the police. "Yeah, they came by."

"What did you tell 'em?"

"Me and Sam went up to the house to poke around, some guy was bunking down there. Didn't like us invading his space."

It wasn't a bad cover. It wasn't great, and no doubt with some poking around the cops would figure out there were more holes in Dean's story than a lump of Swiss cheese, but it didn't matter. They'd be gone before it got that far.

"Excuse me? You're Sam's brother, right?" The unfamiliar voice had both Bobby's and Dean's heads raising.

A woman in her later thirties, dressed in hospital scrubs was standing over them, a clipboard clutched in her hands. Her long brown hair was pulled under a blue surgical cap, but loose strands had escaped and trailed her face. She gave them both a warm smile.

"Yeah, I'm Dean." The younger man answered, his voice suddenly hoarse as he got to his feet to greet her. Bobby followed suit, his own mouth dry as hell. He prayed to anyone who would listen that that boy was ok. He didn't even want to think about what it would do to John and Dean if he wasn't.

"My name is Doctor Williams, I'm Doctor Madox's resident. I helped with your brother's surgery," she added when Dean gave her a blank look.

"Sam ok?" Dean pressed, pushing for answers.

Doctor Williams nodded, pulling the clipboard up to refer to the notes. "Your brother is fine," she said even as she flicked through the paperwork. "We pulled the bullet out, and repaired the entry site. There was some muscle damage but nothing that some physical therapy won't fix. He was lucky you were with him."

Bobby let out a breath he hadn't even realised he'd been holding in and glanced at Dean. The kid looked just as relieved. "Can I see him?"

"Sure, just as soon as you've talked to the police." She glanced over her shoulder towards the reception desk. There were two uniformed officers leaning against the counter, gazing in Dean's direction. Bobby sized them up, wondering what Dean had said first time round to warrant a second visit. He had to give the kid credit, though, Dean didn't let a single emotion register on his face as he flicked his gaze from the doctor to the police.

"I already talked to them."

"They just want to ask you some more questions, Dean." She placed a hand on his shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze. "Nothing too painful."

"Is he in trouble with the law?" Bobby asked sharply. He didn't need to try and sound like the concerned 'uncle'; he was worried as hell that Dean had said too much already.

"They just want to make sure they've got all the facts so they can catch the guy who hurt Sam."

Bobby wasn't reassured by the strength of her statement, but his attention was locked on Dean. He blanched a little, his expression guilt-ridden but it passed quickly, the mask back in place in the blink of an eye.

"I want to see my brother first," Dean said resolutely. "I need to make sure he's ok."

She gave him an empathetic look. "I'll have a word with the officers. I'm sure, under the circumstances, they will hold off questioning until you've seen Sam."

"Thanks," Bobby said, and waited for her to move over to the officers before he turned to Dean. "What d'ya do with the gun?"

"It's in the trunk," Dean replied, guilt washing over him once more.

"Ok," Bobby said quietly. "Starsky and Hutch over there are gonna want to see the car. I'll empty the trunk into my truck for now and then we'll see where the hell to go from there. Soon as Sam's stable enough we'll get out of Dodge."

***

Sam knew somewhere in the back of his mind that he was on drugs. His mind was blissfully empty and he felt like he was sailing on an updraft, flying high above the world. Still, he could feel a niggling ache down his left side that seemed to ebb and flare in severity but never moved passed manageable. He was reluctant to open his eyes at all, but his body had ideas of its own. Prising sticky lids apart appeared to be one of them.

The room came into focus slowly. White walls and ceilings glared back at him underneath the low wattage lighting and the smell of antiseptics hung heavily in the air. Rolling his head across the pillow, Sam let his eyes wander around the room, frowning as realisation set in. Hospital. He was in the hospital. Where the hell was Dean?

Struggling to put his muddled thoughts into any semblance of order, Sam felt his heartbeat increasing. Where was his brother? If Sam was in the hospital, Dean would have been here, at his side… unless… unless Dean couldn't be here… Sam's vision blurred and his chest felt tight as that thought continued to roll around his murky mind.

"Sam…" a voice that was not his brother's spoke from the right side of the bed. Sam twisted his head towards it and blinked frantically, trying to clear the fog from his vision. "You have to calm down, sweetheart," the voice coerced. "Can you do that for me? Just take a few deep breaths."

A mask was placed in front of him, blasts of dry air spitting into his face. Sam clawed at it, feeling claustrophobic. He wanted Dean.

"D-Dean…" A second voice croaked. It surprised Sam to realise that it was his own. It sounded raw, like old wood over sandpaper and not at all like him. He shuttered his lids again, trying to clear the haze, while still trying to push away the mask from his face.

"Your brother is outside, Sam. But I need you to keep this on and just take some deep breaths. You lost a lot of blood and getting worked up like this will make your blood pressure go through the roof." It was a female voice. Sam still couldn't see who it belonged to, but she had mentioned Dean… and that Dean was outside. Sam wasn't sure he believed her.

"My brother…"

She held the mask more tightly over his face, encouraging him to take deep breaths, but Sam didn't want to comply. He was dizzy, confused and scared to hell. He didn't remember what the hell had happened to put him in the hospital, but his brain refused to believe Dean was outside. If Dean was in the hospital he would have been at his bedside. The fact he wasn't…

Sam tried feebly to push her hands away, struggling to sit up, struggling to make anything work so he could find his brother. He had to know, had to see him with his own eyes.

"Sam! Sammy, hey, hey, c'mon." Sam wasn't sure where he had come from, but suddenly Dean was there. He recognised his brother's voice over all other sounds in the room. Blindly, he reached out. Dean was by his side in less than a second. His hand slipped into Sam's, his other coming to rest on his forehead. "Calm down, Sammy."

The mask went back over his face and Sam reached instantly to pull it off. "Keep it on, Sam," Dean's voice commanded. Sam complied, relaxing back into the pillows, taking shaky breaths as the blurred room started to come back into focus. "That's it, just take nice steady breaths."

Dean and the rest of the room cleared and sharpened. Sam blinked and locked his gaze onto his brother.

"Hey, short fry," Dean smiled down at him. He kept one hand locked on the mask, but the other released his hand and moved to brush his bangs out of his eyes. "You causing trouble?"

Sam let out a relieved breath, steaming the oxygen mask up. "You…ok?"

Dean laughed under his breath. "Dude, you're the one with enough metal in him to rattle like a change jar."

"I'll give you both a moment alone." The female voice belonged to a petite blond nurse. She smiled at them before heading out of the door.

Dean waited till she had gone before turning back to his brother. "I'm… sorry, Sam."

Sam frowned, his voice sounding oddly distorted underneath the mask. "For what?"

Dean gave him an incredulous look. "I shot you."

Sam's frown deepened as he dug through his befuddled brain to remember what had happened. He remembered the house, and Dean's insistence that they go inside… the clown mask and then he recalled going into the cupboard under the stairs and…

Oh…

Sam glanced up at his brother, his eyes wide. "Dean, it wasn't your fault."

His brother averted his gaze, his expression haunted. "Don't Sammy."

Sam made a clumsy grab for his wrist, barely managing to latch onto him. "It wasn't your fault."

Dean didn't look convinced as he sighed. "How's your shoulder?"

"Ok," Sam said. He was still floating on a pain-free cloud thanks to whatever painkillers they were pumping him full of. He recognised his brother's avoidance of the conversation but didn't have a chance to push it.

The door opened and to Sam's surprise Bobby appeared in the entrance. He gave Sam a scrutinizing glance, then moved closer to the bed.

"How you feelin', kiddo?"

"I'm fine," Sam said, still not entirely sure what the hell the mechanic was doing here.

"Well, I got hold of your Daddy," Bobby said to Dean, his hands clamping around the railings of the bed.

"He pissed?" Dean asked. Sam heard barely veiled anxiety in his brother's tone. Not that he blamed his brother; their father had a mean tongue.

"You know John; he's like a bear with a sore head 99.9% of the damn time."

Dean gave a knowing grimace. "He's pissed."

"It was my fault," Sam blurted, taking both himself, his brother and Bobby by surprise.

"Sam, that's shit, and you know it," Dean snapped with more bite than was necessary. Bobby glanced at him, his brow cocked, but his expression was full of quiet scepticism.

"I jumped out at you, Dean." Sam countered, shifting in the bed, trying to get comfortable. Fighting exhaustion, Sam gave up after a few moments and sank back wearily into the pillows. "I was the one who scared you," he muttered, his eyes locked onto the ceiling.

Dean raised a brow, moving forward to fix Sam's pillows and said flatly, "You didn't scare me."

Sam rolled his eyes slowly, still a little hazy, but needing to bring his brother out of blaming himself for this. "I think it's pretty safe to say I won this round, Dean."

"Dude, you got shot. It doesn't count." Dean skimmed a hand over Sam's hair before leaning back on the bedrails.

"It does too," Sam replied, testing his newly arranged pillows.

"You know, I can always whack a little more Nair in your shampoo, Sammy."

The Nair prank was probably the worst of all Dean's pranks. Sam's hair was still a little thin on one side of his head. He was just lucky he had so much hair of it. Sam opened his mouth to reply but Bobby beat him to it.

"You got shot over a prank war?!" Bobby shook his head.

Sam closed his eyes, settling comfortably into the pillows and smiled. "I still won."

Finis