A/N: Thanks to all who read and commented on "When You Lose Touch", and as a slightly personal update, yes, I'm fine now. Your comments and feedback left me feeling very touched, and I wanted to let you guys know that it wasn't unappreciated. It meant a lot to me; thank you.

And what better way to say thank you than with fic?

Halfway through the school week, Dad came back. Grimy, covered in who knew what, but smiling for once. "Hunt went well?" Dean asked, but he already knew the answer.

"Yeah, it did," Dad said, and Dean felt some part of him relax at that. His dad sounded happy, sincerely happy, and Dean felt his own lips turn up at that. Nothing would ever equal that feeling of being able to save the lives of innocent people, of knowing you were a hero. Warmed you up inside, made you smile for days.

And hey, the ability to lay down Winchester law with a demon was a pretty damn good feeling, too.

Sam chose that moment to appear in the main room of the suite, eyes wide when he caught sight of him. "Dad? You're...are you okay?"

"Better than," Dad said, and the smile was contagious, because in seconds, Sam was smiling, too. A smile of relief and surprise, and Dean felt like they were coming straight out of some 50's family show. Someone had to roll their eyes or something.

"We'll pack up, head out tomorrow," Dad said, and Sam's smile fell a little bit. Dean inwardly winced, and the wince turned into a cringe when their dad caught sight of Sam's expression. "What's the matter?"

Sam tried to pull his smile back up. "It's just...I've got a project due Friday, and...I'm really into it. Could we...could we stay until Saturday?"

Dad regarded him for a moment, before he began to smile again. The hunt must've been awesome. "Yeah, Sammy," he said softly. "We can stay until Saturday."

Sam's eyes lit up and he smiled even wider. Dean gave a small smile too, because damn if his kid brother's smile wasn't infectious. For once, Sam liked this school, liked staying, had put down roots. A couple bullies first day, because Sam was too short for his own good, but after one short scuffle with Sam the triumphant winner and not a scratch on him, they'd left him alone. Sam was happy, and Dean? Dean was pretty happy about Sam being happy.

And then Dean realized there was way too much smiling going on and rolled his eyes. "If you girls are done having your sentimental moment, I have schoolwork to do," he said, heading for the bedroom.

"The way you've been these past two weeks, I didn't think you actually ever got homework," Sam shot back, and Dean could hear their dad chuckle. He tossed Sam a look, and Sam just shot Dean a smirk he'd undoubtedly learned from Dean.

Dean could survive until Saturday. That still got him out of there by Monday, because if Dean had to spend his birthday in the crappy little town, head were going to roll. Nineteen was a big deal age wise, and Dad had promised him anything he wanted since his eighteenth had been a bust. And that meant Dean had saved his money since Dad's promise, and he finally had enough for a pretty expensive front row ticket to the Metallica concert that summer. All he had to do was get to Florida, which wasn't going to be difficult. Summer was a supernatural festival time down near the Everglades.

Still, while it wasn't his favorite school (that'd been the one with the entire cheerleading squad following him around, literally, and god Dean could've stayed there forever), and was edging towards his least favorite school of the school year, if Sam was happy...

Dean could definitely survive Saturday for that. Maybe even Monday, if he had to.

Sam slung his bag over his shoulder on Friday afternoon, a smile on his face. The project had been awesome, the presentation perfect, and Sam knew that whether they left or not, he was going to have an A on the project. He'd already given his teacher one of the PO boxes around the country that they checked periodically; he'd get his grade.

He'd even had a girl say goodbye to him. Katie was pretty and funny and smart, and she'd been interested in Sam from day one.

Not that he was ever going to tell Dean about her, because at eighteen, Dean was a hound dog, and thought Sam should have girls hanging off his arm. One of these days, Dean was bound to grow out of it and not chase after everything in a skirt, but until then, Sam's love life? Totally not a topic Dean was ever going to hear about it.

He made his way down the front stairs of the school and hung a sharp left. Dean had opted to skip the last day of school, mentioning some sort of documentary for his class and if it was his last day, no way in hell was he going to sit and watch the reproductive cycle of fish. Sam grinned at the memory of Dean's face and his dad's laugh. The hunt must've gone really well for their dad to be so happy. And he'd let them stay.

Long enough for Katie to kiss him. His cheeks flushed red as he cut through the football field to get to the street that would take him to the hotel. He didn't know when Dean had gotten his first kiss (probably when he was nine years old, knowing Dean) but he doubted it had been as awesome as his. It hadn't been a peck, either. A long press of lips, enough to make Sam breathless and gasping for air when they were done, and it was totally because the kiss had deprived him of oxygen for so long, not because he'd been kissed for the first time-

He was suddenly yanked to the side, causing him to gasp and lose his balance. He stumbled and fell onto the grass, and when he looked up, five angry faces glared down at him. The bullies from his first day. Plus two new friends. Sam glared back, trying to hide his fear. Each of them was at least twice as tall as he was, even though they were all freshmen.

"So...heard Sammy Winchester's leaving today," one of them sneered. "The midget got a ticket to join the circus."

"Shut up," Sam said, voice low and angry. He pushed himself up and onto his feet, and promptly got shoved back down again by all of them. Hard. He felt breathless for the second time that day, and this wasn't anywhere near as fun as Katie. "What's your problem?"

"You," the one in the middle said. He snorted and gave a smirk. "Thought we'd made that pretty obvious, shrimp."

Sam leaned up on his elbows, his hands curling into fists. God, he just wanted to be tall, taller than anyone, and then they'd leave him alone. If he was as tall as Dean, they wouldn't even think about messing with him. Well, a couple of kids still did try and mess with Dean, but they learned the hard way that it wasn't the smartest idea. Fine, taller than Dean. He wanted to be taller than Dean.

The first kick didn't surprise him, but it did cause him to gasp and curl in on himself. One of them laughed; Sam wasn't sure which one. He was a little too busy trying to wrap arms around his sore midsection. "Look, he even curls up like a shrimp!" the first one said, and they all burst into laughter.

All he had to do was get up. All he had to do was stand up, and then he could show off the new punch Dean had been teaching him. No matter that Sam had defended himself against Dirk last autumn, Dean was still adamant about Sam training to defend himself from bullies.

He took in a deep breath, and when he pushed it out, he used it to propel himself up and at the nearest bully, punching him hard in the gut. The bully went down, and Sam geared up for the second one.

Only to be blindsided by a hard crack to the back of his head. Sam went down, dizzy and desperately trying to stand back up. If he stayed down now, he was going to get the crap beaten out of him. He pushed himself up to his hands and knees, trying to get his focus solid and sure.

The next thing he knew, something hard hit him in the middle of the back. Sam yelled in pain and went down to the ground, hard. He was flipped over onto his screaming back, and he cringed at the pain.

Several wild grins met him. "Boys, I think we oughta break the shrimp's shell to fully enjoy this experience," one of them said. A punch came out of nowhere, followed by another on the other side, and this time, Sam couldn't even fight back. This time, he was happy to be a shrimp, and wished he was smaller.

It meant they'd have less to hit.

He curled himself up and shielded himself as much as he could from the blows.

3:50 pm. Dean glanced at the clock out of habit before settling back down in the chair. His eyes were glued to the TV in front of him, but his ears were tuned to the door and Sam's arrival, not the program he was watching.

4:06 pm. His eyes darted more towards the door instead of the program, and his leg began to bounce. Probably taking forever to say goodbyes. He was fine.

4:21 pm. Dean turned the TV off completely and stared hard at the door. Kid should've been home by now. It was still winter, still cold out, and the sun came down a lot earlier. Which meant it was going to get darker sooner, and already Dean could see the pink and orange hues through the window. The hell was he?

4:42 pm, and Dean was shrugging into his leather jacket just as the door opened. "You little punk, I swear to god," he started as he turned, only to come up short by his dad in the doorway.

His dad frowned. "'Little punk'?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.

Dean checked to see if his cell phone was still in his leather jacket before bending to tie on his boots. "I thought you were Sam," he said tersely.

He watched his dad's good humor immediately disappear. "He's not home yet?"

"No," Dean said, and his boots were tied with a harsh tug. "If that kid's all right, and he's making me worry for no good reason, I swear I'm gonna smack him into the next century."

"We'll take the car," Dad said, and Dean followed him out. Out in the distance, the sun was almost near the horizon, and it didn't hurt to look at. Dean could feel the temperature dropping, and his gut dropped with it. The kid should've contacted them, should've let them know what was going on.

Of course, Sam didn't have a cell phone. They were big and bulky and expensive, and the newer, sleeker, tinier models cost even more. Besides, Dean had one to contact their dad with. And Dean was usually with Sam.

In five minutes they were at the school. No cars remained in the parking lot, no buses ramping up to take kids home. Dean pursed his lips and scanned the area, much as he knew his dad was doing. The car slowed to a crawl on the empty street, watching for any movement. Nothing.

His dad turned the corner, and the side of the school came into view. Dean leaned as far over as he could to peer into windows, to see if anyone was still there. No one peered back out at the rumble of the car, no blinds fluttered, nothing.

"Dammit," Dean muttered under his breath. The hell had Sammy gotten into now?

Dad turned the next corner, looking more grim by the moment. The football field and adjoining track were long and expansive, taking up a good two or three blocks. The sunlight was fading even further, making it harder to see.

Dean's eye still had no trouble locating the brown bag his brother always carried with him. It was laying near the center of the field, obvious against the green. "Dad," he said sharply.

The car slid to a halt, and Dean wasted no time in hurrying out, hitting the pavement and running hard for the field. The bag didn't look ripped or torn, didn't look thrown or tossed, just looked abandoned, and Dean's face twisted. He slid to a stop in front of it, then bent down and checked the handle, just to make sure. Sammy W. was written in black marker, worn and faded from use.

"Sammy!" he shouted, his voice echoing in the silent evening. There was no answer, and Dean could feel his heart hammering hard in his chest. Where the hell was he? "Sammy!"

If his shout held a tinge of panic and edged towards a scream, he didn't care. Not if Sam answered.

A gentle but firm hand caught his shoulder. "Here," his dad said, and Dean turned to see a flashlight being offered. "We'll search the grounds. Is there a pool on the premises?"

Images of Sam choking on water made Dean shut his eyes tight for a minute. "No," he managed. "Not even inside. Out here, it's just the track, the football field, four sets of bleachers on the east side, six on the west, and a small shed towards the school that holds everything." Memorized, cataloged, just in case of a possible emergency at the school.

Like his little brother going missing. That was an emergency.

The hand squeezed hard, before his dad turned and strode away towards the school. The shed would be his first stop. Dean swallowed hard and rose to standing, the bag tossed over his shoulder. Sam had to be fine. He'd be fine, and Dean would chew his ass out for making them all worry, but he'd be fine.

He flicked on the flashlight and began searching the field, watching the ground for tracks. There were dozens of footprints in the patches of dirt between the grass, and all of them turned towards the field. A few turned towards the bleachers, but Dean couldn't honestly tell if any of them were his kid brother's tiny shoe size.

Nothing was out on the field, so Dean turned towards the bleachers instead. It was out of season, and the grass was allowed to grow taller around them. A few more weeks from then, and they'd be mowed, but for the time being, it was tall and itchy, almost reaching up to the top of the first step of the bleachers.

And almost enough to hide a dark covered mop of hair lying in the grass.

"Sammy!" he yelled, darting forward. All he could see was the back of his brother's head the unmistakable hair, too long for its own good, but still so tiny, too tiny, and why did the kid have to be so small? It made him easier to hide in grass-

Made him easier to bully.

Dean stopped short once he came around to the other side of Sam. Sam's face was a mess of bruises and blood, his body limp like a rag doll. His right arm was trapped underneath his head, stretched out like he was reaching for help. His legs were laid out, short but straight, as if he'd been dragged. Dragged away from the field where they'd beaten him up.

He swallowed past the anger and rose up to call out. "Dad! I've got him!" Then he was kneeling, his fingers reaching for a pulse. Sam's skin was cold to the touch, but even as Dean's heart stopped, the steady pulse beat beneath his fingertips. "I've got you," he repeated, softer now and only for Sam to hear. "C'mon Sammy, wake up. Big brother's right here, okay? You're safe, I gotcha, you're gonna be okay."

Not an answer from him, and Dean hoped like hell that he was telling the truth, and that Sam would be okay. He had to be fine.

"Let me see him, Dean," his dad said, breathing harshly as he knelt beside him. A dark cloud of fury passed over his dad's face as he took Sam in, but his hands were tender as they took Sam's left arm, hanging awkwardly behind him, and brought it forward. A soft moan came from Sam at the movement, and Dean's head whipped towards his brother.

Slowly Sam's eyes began to open. "Hey kiddo," Dean said, crouching down even further to look his brother in the eye. Sam slowly caught his gaze, and Dean tried to smile. "You're gonna be okay, all right? We're right here, Sammy."

"Just stay still, Sam," Dad said softly, He seemed apparently satisfied with Sam's arm, and had done a precursory check over his legs. He leaned across Dean to gently take Sam's shoulder and turn him on his back. Sam hissed suddenly, arching up as soon as he settled on the ground.

"Where?" his dad asked.

"Back. L-Low...low back." Sam's words were slurred, and his eyes began to close again.

"Hey!" Dean said, his voice loud. Sam blinked and opened his eyes, and Dean caught his gaze again in the remaining sunlight. "Stay with me, Sammy. C'mon, stay with me."

Sam nodded slowly, his eyes at half mast. Dean pursed his lips and sat forward a little on his knees. "Did you leave on time? Leave school on time, Sam?"

Sam was still blinking slowly, too slowly, and he was shaking from the cold. Dean instantly slid his jacket off, and the hard cell phone in his pocket knocked against his thigh. He paused, his mind going off in a million different directions.

If Sam had had the cell phone on him, maybe Dean could've gotten there in time to stop this. If Sam had had the cell phone, maybe he could've called Dean to pick him up. If Sam had had the cell phone-

He jerked back to the present and laid the jacket across Sam. "You're gonna be fine," Dean assured, trying to give his brother a sure smile. "Big brother promise."

"I-I did."

Dean frowned, confused at first at the reply, before he realized Sam was just now answering his question from before. He'd left school on time.

Which meant the bullies had been waiting for him on the field. Which meant Sam had possibly been unconscious for over an hour. "Dad," Dean began.

Dad was already gathering Sam into his arms, and Dean immediately slid to cradle Sam's head in his hands. Guess his dad had put two and two together, too. "Hospital?" Dean asked softly. Head trauma wasn't anything to screw around with, and Dean was betting that his little brother had a damn good concussion going. And possibly hypothermia, and if he ground his teeth any harder against each other, they were going to break.

"No," Sam whispered, trying to fight against Dad and Dean. "N-No hos...no, no..."

"If he gets worse, we'll take him," Dad said, shifting to make sure Sam didn't tumble out of his grasp. Sam looked tinier still in his dad's arms, and Dean wished like hell his little brother wasn't so damn little, that he was tall and big and not so short and small and vulnerable and breakable. Too skinny, too tiny, and dammit, he was eighteen and Sam was going to be fine, he was not going to cry.

"Let's get him home," Dad said, and Dean bent down once to retrieve the bag that had slipped from his shoulder. Then he was running to catch up, one hand reaching out to rest on Sam's head as Sam leaned into their dad's shoulder.

The ride home was filled with soft reassurances, a burning fury for those responsible, and a firm realization.

"Hey Dad?"

John glanced over at his youngest, smiling at him over his book. "Hey dude," he said, and Sam gave a crooked grin. There was still a bright yellow and purple bruise on his cheek, but two days after the attack, and he could open both eyes, talk without sounding like he had cotton balls in his mouth, and could stand on his own.

Well, for a few minutes, anyways. He still got dizzy too fast, but he never fell. Dean was always right there and made sure Sam didn't fall, no matter the direction.

"Did Dean tell you his idea yet?"

"The cell phone one?"


John nodded. Yesterday, after Sam had fallen asleep for a second nap, Dean had come to him with an envelope full of cash. "Sammy needs a cell phone," he'd said firmly. "A good one. One of the newer ones. So this doesn't happen again."

He'd been adamant about the cash, and John had finally accepted. Dean had headed back into the bedroom to watch Sam, and John had turned the envelope over to see what Dean had written on it. Metallica ticket had been written cleanly and concisely on it, but John had already figured as much.

Sam bit his lip, then winced when his teeth encountered a healing cut. "It's a good idea, Sam," John said. "Dean's right."

"Yeah, but..." Sam sighed, but kept his eyes on John. "That's his Metallica money, and I know it. I know he gave you his savings for that. I heard him rustling around before I fell asleep yesterday."

"Cell phones are still expensive, Sam," John said, and wasn't at all surprised when his youngest didn't hesitate.

"I've got some money saved away. Besides, it's gonna be my cell phone, isn't it? Dean shouldn't have to pay for it," he reasoned. "I'm fourteen, almost fifteen. He can't do everything for me, and he can't fight all my battles for me, Dad."

John snorted. "Trust me, your brother'll damn well try." Dean would always try and protect Sam. It was just as natural as breathing.

And Sam would always be willing to do anything for his big brother who gave his all for Sam. His boys worked best together; John had known that for years.

"And don't worry about the money," John said softly. Dean had finally fallen asleep out on the sofa, conked out after so many hours awake to watch Sam essentially sleep. Still, his oldest had a knack for hearing everything he wasn't supposed to. "I'll keep it tucked away, but Dean's money'll go to his ticket, so long as nothing seriously dire comes up in the next few months."

Considering that this past hunt had actually paid him in more than just a good feeling, seven lives spared, and a creature dead, John was fairly certain they'd do okay.

"Besides, you needed a cell phone anyways. That's not a frivolity; that's a necessity, Sam," John continued when Sam's face didn't lift. "Which means I'll be covering it. We'll go out when you're feeling better and find a sturdy cell phone."

Sam nodded, but still didn't look as happy as John thought he would be. "What's the matter, Sam?"

Sam made a face. "Dean...Dean doesn't like it here. And now he's stuck here, for his birthday, because of what happened to me. I'd be fine to drive somewhere-"

"Out of the question," John said immediately. Sam had suffered a fairly decent concussion Friday evening, and even on Sunday, he was still weaving, stumbling, and barely leaving his bed unless he had to. They'd stay for a few more days until Sam was back on his feet without anyone having to support him.

Sam looked down at his hands, resting on top of his blankets. His knuckles were red, and John knew his son had tried to fight back. From what little Sam could remember, there'd been more than three, and they'd overpowered him. Sam wasn't a weakling despite his size, but he was still small.

And three against one weren't odds John would've messed with, and he was full grown. More than three against one...

After Sam had been taken care of Friday night and put to bed, Dean and John had stayed up to watch. There'd been a few bouts of sickness, as John had expected, and Dean had been quiet and calm. When Sam had finally drifted off, Dean had stepped out into the living room and lost it. Several things had been thrown, chairs and table had been violently shoved, and the end result had been Dean standing in the middle of the messy room, panting hard with his fists clenched.

John had watched from the doorway, waiting until Dean had calmed down enough to speak. "Do you know who they are?" he'd asked.

"Not personally," Dean had answered, voice rough despite the fact that he hadn't shouted or yelled once. "But there were three bullies Sam had to put down his first day. I'll start there."

John shifted back to the present and focused on Sam. Contrary to what Sam knew, his brother was actually looking forward to staying that Monday, and however other many days it took to track down who'd beaten Sam up.

He sighed and slid his chair closer to the bed. "Your brother's worried about you," John said quietly. "And so am I, Sam. We'll stay until you feel better, and believe me, Dean's okay with that."

Sam nodded, his eyes not tearing away from the blankets.

After a brief thought, John leaned in closer, as if conspiring with his son. "Do you have a gift for him?"

Sam shook his head. "I was gonna go get one, with the money I was saving," he whispered. "I thought I'd be able to over the weekend, but..."

"Then I've got one for you to give him," John said, and Sam finally turned to look at him. John gave a broad smile, making Sam frown. "But I'd appreciate it if you could share it with your old man."

A few minutes later, Sam was grinning from ear to ear.

Dean found himself smiling, much as his dad had smiled a few days ago, when he came back into their motel room. He thumbed the blood at his lip with a slight grimace, but he was still smiling.

Five guys from the high school had suddenly wound up tied to the base of the flag pole, bruised, bloody, and missing certain key clothes. And all ready to confess to extreme bullying, for some odd reason.

Dean liked being an odd reason when it came to protecting Sam.

He'd barely shut the door before he realized that there were people waiting for him. His dad was leaning against the small kitchenette counter, and Sam was seated at the table. There was a small packet of cupcakes arranged on a paper plate, with a candle stuck in the center cupcake, and a wrapped box next to it.

It was their grins, though, that caught Dean's attention. "Hi," he said, still smiling despite his confusion. "Happy birthday, me?"

Sam's grin broadened. "Something like that."

"Well, I already got the happy part," Dean said cheerfully. He could feel a small bruise on the side of his face where one of the little bastards had gotten a hit, and then there was his lip. It was fairly obvious what had made his day 'happy'.

The slide from the grin to soft, relieved smile was obvious on Sam's face a moment later. Dean gave him a wink, and Sam's grin returned at full force. He had a big brother behind him and knew it, and damn if Dean was going to let anyone hurt Sam without repercussions.

He was a hero, no matter what anyone at any school said. At least, a hero to one someone, who was looking up at him through too-long bangs with a bright smile despite the lingering bruises on his cheeks.

"I doubt you got all of the happy from 'happy birthday'," Sam said, and Dean glanced over at Dad. Dad, who was crossing his arms and looking just as pleased as Sam was.

"Well aren't you two the Cheery McCheeritons," Dean said, raising his eyebrow. "You guys sniff paint or something while I was gone?"

Sam rolled his eyes: a return to normality. "Are you gonna open your present or not, jerk?"

"Bitch," Dean answered, but reached down for the package. Sam leaned forward to shove it Dean's way, and the lack of any wincing only added to Dean's smile. The kid would be up and moving at full steam in a few days.

Then they'd head out and get a cell phone for Sam, and it'd be the best spent money Dean had ever saved up. Way better than any Metallica concert.

"It was all Sam's idea," Dad said as he began to open the package, and Sam chuckled and shook his head with a grin.

Dean eyed them both, then continued opening until he reached a small box. The lid was pulled off, and three keys on a key ring were revealed, nestled in amongst cotton balls. Dean frowned and examined them closer. Two were identical, and one was slightly smaller, just as he'd guessed. "Uh, guys?" he said, moving his gaze up to his family. "These are the keys to the Imp-"

Their knowing grins stopped him in his tracks. His jaw fell open, and his eyes flew to his dad. "Are you serious?" he managed.

His dad nodded. "I'm still looking for another vehicle, so we'll share for a bit, but...yeah, Dean. It's yours."

Dean swiveled his gaze down to the keys, his smile spreading to epic proportions. "Holy crap," he breathed. "I..."

"Rendered him speechless," Sam said, still grinning. "I didn't think it was possible."

Dean flipped him off, earning an outright giggle from his brother. He raised his eyes from the keys at last, smiling at his dad, his cheeks starting to hurt from the strain. "Thank you," he breathed, and got a nod in return.

"Best birthday ever?" Sam asked. Dean turned to his little brother, who now had his chin propped up by his hands. He was smiling, bruises bright on his cheeks, his bottom lip a dark red from dried blood.

But he was alive, and he was smiling, and he was safe, and screw the high from a hunt gone right. This was the best feeling ever.

"Yeah," Dean said softly. "Best day ever, Sammy."