"Sammy, Dean, load up boys, we've got a hunt to go on." Dean nodded and immediately shouldered his bag, holding Sam's out to him. Sam groaned and rolled his eyes.


"Listen Sammy, it's only going to be a day or two, should be a simple salt and burn. You'll only miss a day of school, max."

"But Dad, I have a test tomorrow, and we're going on a field trip-'

"End of discussion, Sam. I said load up." Sam groaned again, giving John his best death glare. Dean grinned at him.

"Buck up, Samantha," he muttered, slapping a hand on Sam's shoulder, but Sam shrugged him off and glared at him, too. Dean just laughed at him.

John hadn't really expected anything different from his sons, but he had been hoping that maybe Sam would actually have a good attitude for once…He knew that Sam didn't understand that he was trying to teach his boys, that he wanted Sam to be able to handle things like this on his own, that he wouldn't always be there, damn it, but Sam was just worried about school, worried about missing a stupid test…Sometimes he felt like he was in way over his head.

"Dad. I'm driving, right?" Dean asked, coming up behind his father and swinging his keys. John blinked, startled from his thoughts, and focused on his oldest son.

"Sure Dean," he answered, and Dean grinned, punching Sam in the arm as his younger brother walked past.

"Jerk," Sam muttered, and Dean laughed, loudly.

"Bitch," he called back, walking joyfully to the Impala that he cherished practically more than anything in the world. Climbing into the seat, he started the car up and revved the engine, closing his eyes and relishing the noise and the smell of his baby…His reverie was interrupted when John and Sam came out of the motel room, arguing loudly about the hunt. Dean sighed and turned up the radio, hoping to give his family a hint, hey, Dean here, kind of tired of hearing you guys argue all the freaking time, so if you want to stop now, I'd be okay with that. Of course, it didn't work.

"Sam, if I hear you sigh one more time, I swear that you are going to regret it, you get me?"

"Whatever," Sam muttered under his breath, and Dean could see John's temper flaring.


"Hey," Dean interrupted, turning the key in the ignition. "I'm feeling like some Metallica, how 'bout you guys?" Not very subtle, but effective. Sam groaned at the music choice and John fell silent. Dean knew that his dad would be pissed about his interruption and would probably give him a lecture later, but he was content enough with the lack of fighting to not care.

They drove in silence for a few hours, the light slowly beginning to turn to darkness.

"How much further, Dad?"

"We're just about there, Sam. Dean, take the next exit then I'll give you directions." Dean nodded and took the exit, hoping that they could settle this thing fast enough to get Sammy home in time to go to school the next morning, but he wasn't sure how likely that was. Probably not very. Still, he was willing to try.

"Next left, Dean, then go straight for a bit. We'll park over there," John said, indicating with his hand where Dean should go. Dean pulled into the parking lot, realizing as he did so that they appeared to be at a small butte, signs for hiking trails around and a small playground nearby.

"Hikers getting eaten, Dad?" He asked, eyebrows raised, and John shook his head.

"Nope. A woman disappeared here 'bout five years ago and hikers have been 'accidentally' falling to their deaths. Sounds like her ghost is doin' some damage so I figure we find her body and salt n' burn her then get outta here." Sam snorted.

"Yeah, 'cause it's gonna be that easy," he muttered, and John glared at him.

"I did do some research, Sam, I know about where to look."

"Oh, that's great, now we can look around for the remains of someone while their ghost tries to annihilate us. Awesome."

"Samuel! I don't need your freaking negative attitude. I suggest you change it or you'll be missing a lot more school than one day. You hear me?" Sam didn't reply, staring sullenly at the ground.

"I said, did you hear me?"

"I heard you. Sir," Sam said, and Dean could see how hard John was working not to smack his brother in the face. Couldn't they do anything without fighting?

"Come on Dad, let's go get this done so we can get back," Dean suggested hopefully, sighing in relief when his dad nodded and motioned for them to go. Dean tucked his favorite bowie into the sheath at his side, holstering a pistol before picking up a large sawed-off. John was similarly equipped, and Sam had a small caliber handgun.

"Okay, let's go," John said, and Sam and Dean followed behind as they headed up the trail.

"Sam," Dean said quietly. They were far enough behind their father that he couldn't hear their conversation, and Sam seemed to realize that he wanted to talk in private.

"Yeah?" He answered, slowing to match Dean's pace.

"Sammy, you've gotta stop arguing so much," Dean said, and Sam glared at him.

"What the hell are you talking about?" He demanded angrily. "Just because I actually have the balls to question some of his decisions doesn't mean-"

"Sam, can't you just listen to what he says for once? He knows what he's doing!"

"Dean, he's been dragging us around on hunts since you were ten years old. Is that a good father? We should be in bed right now, resting up for tests! You should be in college, thinking about marriage, not on some stupid vendetta against some demon! Don't you ever want to be normal?" Sam was yelling now, and Dean's temper seemed to rise with it. He had to restrain himself from hitting his brother.

"Sam! He's your dad, damn it! Can't you act like part of this friggin' family for once in your damn life? Come on!" Dean ranted, and Sam lost it completely.

"No! I hate this family, Dean! I hate being here, I hate Dad, and I can't wait to leave! You hear me? I am getting out of here first chance I get, Dean. Now get off my freaking back and leave me the hell alone," he yelled, and Dean watched as Sam stomped away. He knew that John had probably heard a good majority of the last bit as both he and Sam had been shouting by the end, knew that tonight would be just another in a string of tense, awkward hunts, knew that Sam was telling the truth when he said he was leaving. Why the hell couldn't things be easy? Why couldn't their family just function like a family? Why-

Dean's thoughts were interrupted by the sudden appearance of a ghost, clearly the one they were looking for, a woman who looked at him angrily. Startled, Dean raised the shotgun, but was tossed aside like nothing. He couldn't help but scream as his back connected painfully with the rocks jutting out of the ground.

"Dean! Dean!" It was John, and Sam's voice could be heard repeating his name frantically. It took a second for Dean to regain enough oxygen to shout back, and by that point his dad was nearly on top of him.

"Dean, are you okay?" John shouted, approaching him quickly.

"Yeah, Dad, I'm fine," Dean murmured, but he was clearly dazed and had had the wind knocked out of him.

"Dad, I told you this was a bad idea! Now Dean's hurt and it's your fault!" Sam was shouting, and Dean could hear the fear that was tinting his words.

"No, Sam, I'm okay," Dean tried to assure, but Sam wasn't hearing him, and now John and Sam were arguing again, apparently forgetting that Dean was down and that it had been the fault of a ghost.

"Hey!" Dean shouted, trying to get their attention, but neither of them looked at him. "Hey!" He repeated, getting frustrated. He struggled to get to his feet, wincing at the shooting pain that erupted in his back and fell back to his knees before he could get his balance. It took him another effort to gain his footing, going completely unnoticed by both his father and Sam. Finally, he'd had enough.

"Look, let's just go find those bones, okay? Just shut the hell up and quit arguing!" Both Sam and John looked at him with open mouths, clearly stunned by his outburst, but he ignored them, stubbornly shoving past them though his back was aching fiercely and he knew that he should probably tell them. Not that he would; they didn't need something else to argue about, who was responsible, whether they should leave now or later…endless possibilities. Yeah, didn't want to go down that road.

It didn't actually take as long as he'd anticipated to find the bones, for which Dean was grateful as he was beginning to feel lethargic now as well as achy. He watched as his dad uncovered the bones, then looked towards Sam.

"Look out!" He yelled as the ghost suddenly appeared again behind his little brother. "Sammy!" Dean cried, as Sam was thrown into a tree, head connecting with a sickening thud.

"Sam!" John yelled, barreling towards his younger son, yelping as rocks and branches started flying at him. Damn, this was one pissed off ghost. Dean finally collected himself enough to pick up the salt, scrambling for the shotgun as his Dad's flew out of his hands. When the hell had this gone so downhill? Just a salt and burn, and now Sammy was unconscious and John was in a tight spot. A sudden yell from his dad and Dean saw that a branch had impaled his leg, sprouting out of his thigh.

"Dad! No!" Dean yelled, finally grasping the shotgun and mercilessly firing a round off into the ghost. She screamed and disappeared, and Dean scrambled to his father's side.

"Dad, you okay?" John nodded, setting his jaw as Dean wrapped his own flannel jacket around the branch in an attempt to staunch the blood flow.

"Hang on, I'm gonna check on Sammy," Dean said, running to his brother's side. Sam had yet to come around, a trickle of blood flowing down his face.

"Sam?" He asked quietly, shaking his brother's shoulder. Sam didn't respond, and Dean started checking for other wounds. Satisfied that there were none, he gently picked him up and carried him over to John's side. He couldn't help the grimace at the pain that spread through his back as he set Sammy down, and John's scrutinizing face let him know that John hadn't missed it either.

"You need to get checked out, Dean," John murmured, motioning his oldest to him. Dean shook his head, and John frowned. "Now, Dean." But it came out as a breathy whisper and Dean had no problem ignoring him as he tried to tend to his brother's wounds.

Sam was still unconscious, and Dean could see now that John was out as well. Sighing, Dean pulled out his cell phone, knew that there was no way in hell he could get both Sam and John out of there in time to do either of them any good.

The medics arrived in good time, for which Dean was thankful. Sam had finally started to move, but he was clearly in pain, whimpering and weakly covering his eyes with one hand. Dean had rubbed his forehead with his thumb as Mary had always done for him, keeping his other hand clamped firmly on John's leg. The pain in his own back had dulled to a steady throb, and by the time the med team got there, he was feeling much better than he had before.

He answered their questions with the usual stories, though it was a bit tricky convincing them that it was perfectly normal to be hiking around at midnight on a school night when they were working on an astrology project and had wanted to see the stars. They had shrugged and accepted it, loaded Sam carefully into the back of one ambulance, John into another, allowing Dean to ride with Sam.

"You okay, kid?" A paramedic asked, glancing at Dean over Sam's still body.

"Yeah, I'm good," Dean answered, and he'd had enough practice covering things up to make it believable.

"You sure?"

"I said I'm good, okay? Just take care of my brother." The medic shrugged and turned his attention back to Sam. Dean sighed, wondering how bad it would be, but knowing without any doubt that both Sammy and his dad would be okay, because they were always okay. That didn't stop the guilt at his failure in protecting his little brother from growing in the back of his mind until he almost couldn't handle it. Then they were pulling into the hospital and John was already in the ER and Sam was being unloaded and Dean followed behind because that was all he could do.


John woke groggily, lifting a hand and realizing that it was full of IVs and tubes, and he was in a hospital. Dean must have taken care of things, then. Speaking of Dean…where the hell were his sons? He peered into the vague darkness of his room and reached for the call button, worry over Sam, blood-covered and still and lying on the ground dominating his thoughts.

"Oh, Mr. Winchester, you're awake earlier than we thought," a nurse said, bustling happily into the room. John looked at her groggily. Why the hell was she using his real name? "You just got out of surgery an hour ago. You'll be fine, but we're gonna need to keep you for a bit to let you regain your strength and watch for infection. You had some blood loss, you know."

"Where are my boys?" John asked, voice raspy, and there was the pain that he realized had been dulled by drugs, his thigh starting to pulse.

"They're fine," the nurse said, smiling again. "Sam had a pretty bad concussion, we're keeping him overnight for observation, and Dean hasn't left his side all night. He's sleeping in Sam's room." Something about that seemed very wrong to John and it took him a moment to think through the haze enough to realize that his oldest son had been thrown onto rocks by a pissed off ghost and that he hadn't been looked at, and the nurse was calling them all by their real names. Dean knew better than that, he knew better. And then panic set in.

"Have you looked at Dean?" He demanded, and the nurse seemed startled.

"He assured us he was fine-"

"You need to look at him,' John persisted, voice insistent. "You need to look at my son, you understand me?" The nurse nodded, flipping out a phone.

"Umm, yeah, Tammy? Can you do me a favor? Yeah. Yeah, I need you to look in on Sam Winchester's brother. He's sleeping in the same room as Sam. Yeah. Give me a call, okay? His dad's insisting we check him out. Okay." She hung up and gave John a look.

"Happy , Mr. Winchester? Maybe you'll get some rest now." John didn't reply, waiting for the phone call that would make his worries pointless. He didn't even care that the nurse thought he was an overbearing father, he would be fine with them making fun of him for being overprotective-as soon as he knew for sure. The ringing of the phone startled both of them and the nurse picked up quickly. John watched impatiently, dread settling around his heart as her face drained of all color.

"What? What is it? What the hell is going on?" He demanded. The nurse ignored him, nodding then hanging up.

"You're going to need to stay here," she said, and then John heard the trauma alert over the intercom, heard the announcement to get to room 450, and he knew the fourth floor was the pediatrics floor, and panic overwhelmed him now. Holy crap…what the hell had he done?