Never an Absolution

Chapter 3 and epilogue.

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Apologies for not replying to your reviews for this chapter. I was on call last night and it was rather busy. It came down to a choice of spending the morning before I got some sleep, replying to your reviews, or just proof reading the final chapter and posting. I figured you guys would rather have the final chapter, given how I left things with the last one. Hope you don't mind.

More Sammy hugs on the way when I reply to reviews for this one... hint, hint...

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"Wasn't your fault," Dean began, as soon as his Dad finished. "The demon..."

"The demon latched on to a conflict already in place," John ground out. "And that was my fault."

Damn shotgun!

The Impala swerved through the streets, tires squealing on the blacktop. They were two miles out by now, but it was taking too long.

Dean tried to process everything in his tired mind. His gut ached like a bitch but it was nothing compared to the pain in his heart.

Sammy, hold on, kiddo.

"You sure that's what it showed you? I mean, demons lie, right?" Dean shook his head. "I just don't see Sam doing something like that."

John cast a worried glance at his son. "Let's hope not. But sometimes they tell the truth. Just to screw with your head."

And John hadn't told Dean everything. He just couldn't bring himself to repeat what the demon had said to Sam.

There was time for that later, once they knew Sammy was safe, but John understood exactly why Sam would've gone that far.

Dean stared anxiously out the passenger window, watching for the house they'd been renting for the last few weeks, nerves on a knife edge.

As soon as the car pulled up, Dean opened his door and struggled out of the car, breathing laboured by pain, but mainly by fear for his brother. Ignoring his father's shouts to slow down before he hurt himself, he limped onwards, pushing his way into the house and heading for the bathroom, clinging to the walls, John right on his heels.

"Sam!" Dean called out, steps faltering as his body grew weaker. "Sammy, please answer me!"

The bathroom door was half open, and Dean could see a hand, limp and lifeless on the floor.

Nonononono....

As he pulled himself up closer to the door, the hand turned out to be connected to an arm, then a shoulder appeared, followed by a badly bruised up face.

Dean stumbled to his knees, eyes pinched with worry and, with a wince, pulled the kid into his arms. His fingers pressed to Sam's neck, desperately seeking a pulse. Their father stared in horror at the state of his baby boy, his gaze taking in the cuts and bruises, the blood... and finally falling to the empty pill container. He picked it up between finger and thumb, pocketing it, ready for the medics, who would no doubt have questions.

"Sammy?" Dean called softly; relieved the boy's heart was still beating, though his breathing was shallow. "Can ya hear me? C'mon, wake up. Quit messin' about!"

"Dean, he took an overdose of pain meds," John laid a hand on his shoulder. "We need to get 'im to the hospital, and quickly. Here," he held out his arms. "Give 'im to me. You're in no condition for heavy lifting."

Dean looked as though he was about to argue, but after a moments consideration he reluctantly handed the kid over to their Dad. Sam lay helpless in his father's arms, head lolling over the crook of John's elbow as they hurried to the car, Dean clutching a cold hand. He knew he was pushing himself too far and too hard, but he couldn't give up now, not on his little brother. The pain in his gut ate at him, until, with a vague sense of relief he sank into the rear seat of the Impala, and gratefully accepted his kid brother's lifeless form back into his charge. Tucking Sam's head under his chin, Dean cuddled him close and rubbed his arms to warm him. Poor kid felt so cold to the touch it was frightening.

"How's he doin'?" John risked an anxious peek in the rear view mirror as they wheel spun away from the curb.

"Not so good," the older brother responded, a little desperately. "He's having trouble breathing, but I think his ribs are broken so I can't tell if it's that, or down to the OD."

Probably both.

John nodded and stared at the road ahead, wondering how in God's name he was going to make it up to Sam. He'd said some unforgiveable things, thrown him across the room, damn near torn him apart...

God Sammy, I'm so sorry.

Swallowing a sob, John scrubbed a hand down his face and pressed harder on the throttle.

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To an outsider, the ER staff appeared to be panicking and working at crossed purposes, getting in each other's way and yelling way too much. But to someone familiar with the working environment of an emergency room, it was pretty normal behaviour.

Ironically, such people wouldn't include the orderly, who was mopping up the blood from a recent road traffic collision; he was fairly new to the job and unfortunately the sight of blood made him squeamish. His hair, damp with sweat, clung to his pale face, skin trembling, hands shaking. In spite of this, he was doing just fine keeping his lunch down, up until he slipped on a dark gloop of clotting blood. The result was instantaneous. The mop hit the floor with a loud clatter, and the orderly lumbered away at high speed to the nearest rest room. He was never seen again.

Two such people were, in fact, John and Dean Winchester. They'd experienced more emergencies over the years than was strictly healthy, and if it weren't for the seemingly endless supply of false identities, it was a given that CPS would have caught up with them years ago.

Another such person was Bobby Singer, who was sitting next to the senior Winchester, his arm in a sling, chest bandaged, and head feeling a little lighter due to the pain killers.

John remained silent, eyes dark, troubled, and fixed on the ER doors. Both his boys had been whisked away behind them several hours ago. Sam, unconscious, barely breathing, medics screaming for toxicology screens, stomach pumps, and someone mentioned paging the hospital Psyche team. John's ears had pricked up at that. No way was anyone putting Sam on a special ward.

Dean had burst his stitches, not surprisingly. He was in no real danger, but the doc's were readmitting the kid. In fact, several nurses had grumbled quite pointedly about Dean's great escape to go after his brother, and, in John's opinion, quite rightly so.

Guilt rolled through him, churning up everything in its path. He should've carried Dean back to his bed and forced him to stay. He should've had that damn shotgun replaced before the black dog hunt. He should never have blamed Sam for the damage ā€“ during his incarceration the demon had revealed that particular lost memory with undisguised glee - the gun was John's responsibility alone. He should've fought the demon harder, stopped it from hurting Sam, stopped it from...

"Leave it, John," Bobby's voice was a little slurred but that didn't disguise his concern. "What's done is done. The blame game will serve no good purpose here, ya idgit."

John managed a wry smile, which was quite the accomplishment under the circumstances. Leave it to Bobby to put things in perspective with a few short words. Out the corner of his eye, he could see the CPS guy hovering round reception, like a damn scavenger on the watch for any snippets of Winchester entrails. John wondered if Bobby's philosophy would carry any weight.

Not likely.

It was standard procedure to call in Child Protection with teenage suicide attempts, but especially when said teen looked like he'd gone ten rounds with a brick wall.

Thank God for Pastor Jim Murphy. The cleric was a fully qualified psychotherapist, with a genuine doctorate. And now, some not-so-genuine evaluation files on the youngest Winchester. Following John's panicked phone call, Jim Murphy had arrived in record time carrying around a ton of paperwork, including several legal documents that placed Sam and Dean directly, and solely, under his care. And boy! did that piss off CPS guy, who'd turned an interesting shade of angry purple before marching off and making some calls of his own. Clearly he was still suspicious of the small family. He'd reached a stumbling block and there was little more he could do than hang around and wait for someone to slip up.

But this was the Winchesters he was dealing with. There would be no slip ups. They were too practiced at lying their asses off.

Right now, Pastor Jim was discussing Sam's case with the Psychiatric consultant, explaining the kid's long history of self-harm and repeated suicide attempts. Dean was OCD with looking out for his little brother, completely over protective to the point of unstable. And that was laughably close to the truth.

Though it was all a fake, just another lie to add to a whole host of others, John still felt sick just thinking about it and sincerely hoped he could get through to Sam, to coax him back from the edge, as it were. He had no illusions that his youngest child would come out of this emotionally unscathed...

"John?" Pastor Jim was standing over him looking solemn and respectful. "You can go see them now."

John frowned. "Huh? Both?"

A gently amused smile lit up Jim's face. "Dean insisted on sharing a room with Sam. In fact, things got a little intense back there until I stepped in and approved it."

In other words, Dean had freaked the hell out until he was allowed to see his brother. That made John smile.

Bobby slowly sat up and grimaced in pain. He raised an eyebrow at the cleric.

"Any trouble?"

"No more than I'd expect," said Jim, quietly. "Doctors don't like outsiders coming in and taking over, anymore than county sheriffs enjoy handing over to the feds." He shrugged indifferently and grinned. "C'mon. Let's go see our boys."

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Dean waited until the pretty brunette nurse left the room before making his move. Gritting his teeth and clutching his stomach, he crept off the bed and took the two remaining steps to Sam's.

"Sammy..." he cast a worried eye over the kid, grimacing at the wrist restraints. Sam was on suicide watch for the next forty-eight hours, and with that came being tied to the bed like a wild animal. Brushing a hand gently through the boy's hair, Dean regarded the bruises on Sam's face and the thick gauze concealing a deep cut to the side of his head. "It's all gonna be ok, little brother. I promise," he whispered.

Not knowing what else to say, Dean sank down into a nearby chair and cupped the nearest hand in his. Sam's flesh was still a little cool, pulse still a little sluggish. His breathing was greatly improved and Dean was only thankful he'd managed to avoid intubation, though only by a narrow margin by all accounts. Nevertheless, the clear plastic mask strapped over Sam's mouth and nose failed to hide the deep sadness. That part was truly heart breaking. Even deeply unconscious, the kid appeared to be suffering. His lips were tilted slightly downwards, eyebrows drawn into an almost frown; everything about Sam screamed grief, despair, giving up...

"Don't you dare!" Dean hissed, suddenly. "Just don't you fucking dare leave me, Sammy, or I'll come after you." A small sob escaped before he could stop it. "I-I'll h-hunt you d-down and... and kick your ghostly ass..."

A strong hand gripped his shoulder, startling him. He hadn't heard anyone enter the room, but then, he'd been a little pre-occupied sniffing and snivelling over his sleeping brother.

Dean wiped away a few stray tears then glanced up at his father. "Dad? What they say 'bout Sammy?"

"Dean, son. Doc says he's gonna be ok."

But what he didn't hear wasn't all that comforting.

It was close. Too damned close.

Dean heard movement across the room; saw Pastor Jim and Bobby discreetly closing the door behind them, Jim's arm over Bobby's shoulder, supporting the poor guy. "Bobby all right?"

"He's ornery and grumpy, so it's business as usual. You should be in bed, Dean," said John, but knowing he was wasting his time. "Don't wanna burst those stitches again."

"I'm fine," replied Dean, voice a little hoarse. "How'd Bobby explain all this?"

By this he meant the state of his last hospital room, Bobby's injuries, the blood...

John snorted. "Mad dog got loose in the hospital."

Dean gaped... and gaped again. "And... they fell for that?"

"What can I say?" John grinned. "Bobby's a master conman. He could charm his way into Fort Knox in under a minute if he felt like it."

Dean's grin matched his father's. His response was interrupted by a soft moan.

Sam's head rolled slowly to the side and his breathing picked up.

"Sammy?" Dean's attention snapped back to his brother and he rose carefully to his feet. "You're ok, Sam. It's ok, now. You're safe. Just open your eyes."

Eyelids fluttered and Sam's mouth opened on a whimper, brows twitching as though in pain.

"Sam?" John whispered, staring intently down at his youngest son, which turned out to be a big mistake.

Sam's eyes pulled open and the panic was immediate.

"No... please.... don't..." he whimpered and tried struggling to the other side of the bed, tugging on the wrist restraints, his eyes now wide with fear.

"Sammy, calm down, son," John whispered, "C'mon, now. I'm not gonna hurt ya. It's over now..."

Sam wouldn't, or perhaps couldn't listen. He began shaking his head frantically, panting and shivering. Poor kid was terrified.

Dean gently pushed his father back a step, and rounded on his panicking brother.

"Sam, stop it," he commanded in a low voice. "You're safe. Calm down..." he continually stroked Sam's soft mop of hair and gradually the kid stopped struggling, though Dean could tell it wasn't acceptance. It was resignation. "...that's it. Easy now."

Sam sniffed, tears rolling down his face. "Nononono... why? Shoulda let me die... why couldn't you just l-let m-me g-go..." he dissolved into a fit of painful sobs and turned his face away.

"Sammy, no!" John's voice broke, and he reached out to palm Sam's jaw, but the kid flinched away from him.

"Dad," Dean waved a hand in front of John's distraught face. "Maybe you should leave. Just for a little while," he added quickly. "Sam's not himself, still out of it from the overdose. Let me talk to him, ok? I'll explain everything."

John blinked, and nodded slowly, shoulders slumped in defeat. "Uh... yeah. Yeah, you're right." He turned to go but added "Just be sure he knows I love him? Please?"

"You know I will, Dad."

With one last mournful glance at the sad figure on the bed, John Winchester quietly left the room.

Dean sighed heavily. He didn't know how to fix this. Even before the demon possession, Dad had been pretty hard on Sam, blaming him for the shotgun, bawling him out for not paying attention... the usual shit.

But he... they had to try. For Sam's sake.

The kid in question was still whimpering softly, lips moving soundlessly nonononono...

"Sam, hey! Look at me." Dean waited nervously until he had the boy's attention. Sam blinked up at him, biting his bottom lip. "I know you're scared, and I know you're hurt..."

Sam shook his head. "Y-you got h-hurt 'cos of me. Dad told me... h-he t-told me..." another shaky sniff "Dad s-said..." but he couldn't continue under the fresh flood of tears.

"Sam, listen, dude," Dean gave his hand a gentle shake. "That wasn't Dad, ok? He was possessed."

Sam quieted down. "Wh-what? How? When?"

Dean nodded. "Turns out some black dogs are shape shifting demons. Kinda like hell hounds, only more versatile. Bobby and I didn't figure that part out until we exorcised the bastard right out of Dad." He snorted without humour. "And that was the real kicker. 'Cos the damn thing flew right out of the Devil's Trap, then went after me and Bobby."

His little brother gasped and gripped Dean's hand so tightly it threatened to cut off his circulation. "You guys ok? You're not hurt or anything?"

Dean smiled. "Bobby got a little scratched up, but otherwise we're fine."

But Sam obviously didn't feel reassured because he tightened his grip further and stared up at Dean with wide, fearful eyes.

"Sam, it's ok..."

"No it's not!" Sam suddenly yelled out. "It's not ok! Stop saying that!"

"Sam..."

"It's not ok. If I'd known I coulda stopped him!" The kid gulped, shuddered and began yelling again, back arching off the bed, arms tugging on the restraints. "If I'd been a better hunter in the first place, none of this woulda happened!"

"Sammy, stop it!" Dean hissed, angrily, and gently pinned the boy down before he could hurt himself. The last thing he wanted to do was further aggravate Sam's damaged ribs. "You couldn't have known, and even if you had it wouldn't have made any difference!"

Loosening the restraints a little, he lifted his struggling brother, and carefully slid behind him on the bed.

Dean's newly stitched stomach complained bitterly at the harsh treatment, but at least some heavy duty pain killers taken an hour previously had taken the edge off. Without it, he'd have been a whimpering ball of agony on the floor.

"You don't get it!" Sam snarled and wriggled in his big brother's arms. "I know the Ritual Romanum verbatim! I could've exorcised it myself before it got to you... you were hurt... y-you couldn't defend yourself..."

"I had Bobby watching out for me, Sam," Dean finally managed to hold him still, arms round his waist and crossed over Sam's stomach. "If you'd tried anything..." he smothered a small gulp of fear "it woulda killed you, Sammy. You were damn lucky as it was..."

Sam slumped in defeat, sobbing quietly. "You call this lucky?" he whispered sadly.

"You're alive," Dean rested his chin on Sam's scalp. "I call that pretty damn lucky. You were unconscious and barely breathing when we found you... you tried to kill yourself! Have you any idea what that did to me? What it did to Dad and Bobby?"

Sam fell silent, and Dean hummed in frustration. He needed to see Sammy's face, but right now Sam needed the physical contact more.

"Just promise me somethin'," Dean whispered, and waited anxiously for a response.

"Wh-what?" Sam sounded more than a little ashamed, and that made Dean's heart sink. It wasn't his intention to make the kid feel even worse than he already did.

"Promise me you won't do that again?" said Dean, wary of the answer. "None of us coulda lived with ourselves if you'd succeeded."

"Dad could," Sam whispered back; Dean leaned over just enough to see the quivering bottom lip.

"Dad loves you, kiddo. I know he's not the easiest person to get along with, but he does love you," he replied. "Shoulda seen him when we found you on the bathroom floor. Last time I saw the guy that heartbroken... was the night Mom died."

A tiny pause followed.

"Really?" Sam asked in a small voice.

"Really." Dean confirmed with a smile. "Guy blames himself for not being able to fight the demon; he had to watch it hurt you over and over... that's gonna take him a while to work through, Sammy. I think he's gonna need you to help him. You're gonna need to help each other. Would that be ok?"

A longer pause, during which Dean held his breath.

"Uh... yeah. That'd be ok, I guess."

The older brother felt the boy nod and quietly emptied his lungs. It was a cheap shot, asking Sam to help Dad, knowing the kid was too soft hearted to turn his back, but Dean was convinced it would work. Sam and Dad working together could only be a good thing, provided the two were honest with each other.

Dean hugged his little brother closer to his chest. "That's ma boy."

They talked for a while longer, Sam seeking reassurance, Dean providing comfort as best he could.

"I owe you an apology Sam."

"Wha-what for?" The kid sounded genuinely surprised.

"I shouldn't have taken off like that, after the black dog, I mean," said Dean, softly. "It was stupid, dangerous, and set a bad example. I deserved to get hurt, but I'm so sorry you got the blame for my ego trip. Wasn't your fault, ok? Never your fault."

Sam's nod wasn't convincing. "O-ok."

"Sam?" Dean's voice hardened a little.

Sam sighed. "Yeah, ok. Just hope Dad sees it that way."

"Speaking of which, you ready to see him now?" Dean asked, hopefully. "He's probably wearing a groove in the floor outside this room."

"S-sure... uh, I mean... yeah. I'll see 'im." Sam's wrists shifted nervously in their cuffs. "But... I'd like to talk to him alone."

Sam sounded a little scared but seemed determined to do it anyway. Kid sure was brave.

"Not a problem, little dude. I'll be right outside if you need me."

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John swung round when he heard the door to Sam's room creak open. He gazed hopefully at his oldest son, silently asking...

Dean nodded, his face giving nothing away. "Sam wants to see you."

John sighed in relief but Dean stopped him with a hand to his chest.

"Just go easy on 'im, huh? He blames himself for, well, pretty much everything."

His father looked terrible, like his world had nearly fallen apart. "I know. I remember what the demon said to him," he glanced at the doorway. "Dya think he'll ever be ok after this?"

Dean pursed his lips to cover a smile. "With your help? Eventually, yeah."

He watched as his very nervous Dad slowly trudged into Sam's room, the door closing quietly in his wake.

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Sam gazed at his father, nibbling on his bottom lip shyly when the Winchester patriarch sat down in the seat previously occupied by Dean.

Neither knew what to say and each was reluctant to begin the conversation. In the end, the responsibility fell to John. It was just too painful watching Sam beat himself over the head trying to find the words. And in any case, John felt he owed it to the poor kid.

"I was awake for some of it," he began, staring Sam straight in the eye. "S'how the demon got its' kicks, forcing me to watch."

Sam nodded encouragingly.

John smiled a little, a silent 'thank you for giving me this chance'.

"I was a spectator, watching you get hurt. I felt your bones snap, your blood warm on my hands, and I couldn't stop it," John's vision grew blurry until he blinked a few times. "God knows, I tried, Sammy. I promise you, I fought it but the bastard was locked down in me so tightly."

"S'ok, Dad," Sam whispered. "I understand. It wasn't your fault."

"No... it was," John insisted, frustrated with himself. "I'm so sorry I wasn't strong enough, that you got hurt and I couldn't stop it... you have to know, I would never harm you, Sammy. You're my son, my baby boy and I love you so damn much..."

Sam's eyes widened and filled with tears. It wasn't often ā€“ try hardly ever - that either brother heard their father say it out loud. "L-love you too, Dad."

He tried to wipe away a tear but his hands were still restrained. Sad eyes stared up at John, and he tugged on the cuffs. "Please?" Sam begged in a small voice. "I promise I won't do anything stupid." Then added, morosely "for once."

"Aw, Sammy..." John didn't hesitate, just unbuckled the restraints, tossed them aside and very carefully gathered the youngster into his arms. "You're not stupid. You're not worthless. You're a great kid with a big heart, and when we found you in the bathroom, and I realised the demon had shown me the truth, I wanted to die."

"What?" Sam leaned back a little to stare at his father. "What dya mean it showed you?"

John nodded and cupped the back of Sam's neck, stroking his soft curls. He spoke quietly, not wanting to scare the kid, or upset him any more than he clearly already was. "On the way back to the hospital, somehow it showed me what you were doing to yourself in the bathroom. I hoped like hell it was lying, but when we found you..." John broke off, only partially successful in stifling a sob. Taking a deep breath and fortifying his resolve, he struggled onwards. "It told me something else, Sam. The shotgun? I know it was me; I damaged it. But somehow I forgot and blamed you instead. I'm so sorry, kiddo."

"S'ok, Dad," Sam snuffled a little and pressed his face into John's shirt. "You were concussed, even I could see that."

"Well, Pastor Jim's got a new one on order," John smiled and brushed a small featherlike kiss over Sammy's hair. "I may have to order a new ear, too, 'cos he just about chewed it off when he found out."

"Why?" Sam wondered aloud, and secretly wished he could've seen that. It wasn't every day Sam got to watch his Dad getting bawled out.

John chuckled, as though he'd read Sam's mind. "Told me I shoulda contacted him about it as soon as it got damaged, said it was my damn pride and selfishness stood in the way as usual." He sighed. "And he's right. As always."

They fell silent for a few minutes, just enjoying the rare moment of closeness. John resisted the urge to rock his son, unsure Sam ribs would hold up; it was enough just to have the boy there with him. Alive and healing.

"I'm sorry, Dad."

"What the hell for? You didn't do anything wrong."

"For t-takin' those p-pills. It was stupid, pathetic..." Sam shuddered. "M'such a coward. You must be pretty disappointed..."

"What?!" John froze. Pulling back again, he stared at the youngster in disbelief. "Disappointed? Sam, I was many things: scared, angry, heartbroken... but never disappointed." John tenderly smoothed Sam's hair down behind his ears. "You'd just been thrown across the room and emotionally ripped to pieces by someone you trusted to never hurt you. Sam... I told you to just die!" He shook his head, eyes welling up again. "I hate that you tried to take your own life, but you didn't know I was possessed, you were carrying way too much guilt over Dean's injuries, had no idea if he was going to live, I'd kept you from seeing him... Sammy, just promise me that if you ever feel that way again, you'll talk to Uncle Bobby, or Pastor Jim, or, when he's not laid up in hospital, your brother."

Sam nodded, slowly. "He was pretty scared, huh? Dean, I mean."

John smiled. "Scared don't even come close. He loves you so much, kiddo, I don't think he'd have lived much longer if we hadn't got to you in time."

Sam gulped when that sank in. "You mean..."

"Yep," his father nodded sadly. "You're the reason he keeps on going, why he never gives up."

"Oh God!" Sam cried out in despair, realising what he'd almost done. "He never said... I didn't... what... no... he..."

The child broke down and sobbed loudly in his father's arms.

"Shhh Sammy. S'not your fault," John rubbed his back in gentle circles. "Just let it out, kid. Let it out..."

A few minutes later, Sam was wiping his face on a Kleenex, his Dad watching him fondly. The boy looked all of five years old, sniffing, blowing his nose loudly, and scrubbing at his eyes.

"Dad?"

"Hmm?"

"I haven't told Dean what the demon said to me. Not sure I'm going to."

John considered that for a moment. "It's up to you Sammy. Whatever you feel comfortable with, so long as you ain't holding back just to protect me from your brother," and though he grinned at that, John meant every word. Didn't matter it was the demon's words; it was John's voice that delivered them.

Sam shook his head slightly. "Nah. For Dean's sake. I think it would hurt him just as much as it hurt me at the time."

Dean, in spite of his reluctance for chick-flick moments, was particularly empathic when it came to his little brother. Hearing what the demon had thrown at Sam would cause more harm than good; Dean would fume, pace, and basically guilt himself to death over it. The last thing he needed right now, given his injuries.

John silently congratulated the youngster's wisdom. "True enough. Maybe when he's feeling better."

A knock at the door caught their attention.

"Come in!" Sam called out and glanced at his Dad.

Pastor Jim appeared with someone bundled up in a blanket and snoring in his arms. "Sorry to interrupt, but I think this one needs his bed." Crossing the room, he carefully laid his burden down on other bed, and shifted the blanket to reveal Dean, fast asleep and drooling obscenely. The Pastor covered him over and adjusted the pillow under his head. "He's due some more pain killers in a couple hours."

Sam blushed guiltily. No way should his brother've even been out of bed, let alone out of the room. "Shit! What was I thinking?"

The Pastor grinned. "Don't you worry, young Sam. There was nothing you could have done to keep him in bed, short of drugs or" he indicated Sam's discarded restraints "and I'm not entirely sure they would've worked anyhow. Probably bust right out of 'em."

"More than likely! The damned idgit" Bobby announced from the doorway, voice rough and hoarse with weariness.

Sam forced a grin of his own, but swallowed hard when he saw the blood stained bandages criss-crossing Bobby's chest. It didn't go unnoticed either, because Bobby fixed Sam with a glare.

"Don't you do that to yaself, kid," the older hunter warned. "Don't you go blamin' yaself for me. I'm big enough and ugly enough," he ignored John's muttered got that damn straight and Sam's smothered snigger "to watch out for my own skin. If'n I get hurt then that's down to me alone. No sense in borrowin' trouble."

"Guy's gotta point there Sammy." John cleared his throat and grasped Sam's blanket, pulling it up to his chin. "And now, seeing as Dean's out for the count, I think we've kept you up long enough."

"But Dad..."

"Forget it, kid. Get some sleep. We're heading out to Pastor Jim's in the morning."

"Really? Cool!"

It was a decision kind of forced on them. The CPS guy was continually sniffing round, bugging Pastor Jim and generally being a pain in the ass. In any case, Blue Earth was only around three hours away, and the boys would certainly be more comfortable there than in hospital. John also didn't think it would hurt Sam and Dean to spend some time with the Pastor. The quietly spoken cleric was easy to talk to, with a great sense of humour and a peaceful countenance. He'd need it in order to deal with his parish, the hunt, and two teenage boys with more energy than a case of Red Bull.

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Dean stared out the lounge window across the graveyard, drinking in the peace and tranquillity. It wasn't rare to find an untroubled graveyard but it wasn't exactly common either. But this graveyard was tended to by a hunter. No way was Casper coming back from the dead here.

Pastor Jim was busy in the chapel, Dad was at the library, and Bobby was resting in one of the many guest rooms of Blue Earth Rectory.

Sam, however... Dean smiled and tenderly brushed some hair out of the kid's eyes. His little brother made a cute wffl noise, and snuggled down further in his blanket. The boys were both on compulsory long term bed rest, especially Dean, but their father had consented to them watching TV provided they kept warm and stayed off their feet. And so Sam was screwed up in a loose ball of long limbs and floppy hair, head resting on Dean's lap. The slow sweep of Dean's fingers through his hair had sent him off to sleep twenty minutes ago.

Dean hadn't slept much since coming here. After three weeks, his gut was still stiff and sore but the pain killers were keeping the worst at bay. It went far deeper than that. Every time he closed his eyes, Dean saw his little brother on that bathroom floor, barely alive, the empty pill container nearby. It never failed to send him straight back into the land of the living gasping for breath, sweat soaking the sheets and heart pounding like a runaway horse.

The only time Dean ever left Sam's side was to use the bathroom, but he still didn't get sick of the sight of him...

"D'n?" a sleep laden voice broke through his thoughts. Sam rolled over a little and rubbed his eyes. "You ok?"

Dean stared at him for a long while. Why Sam? Why dya do it?

He already had a fair idea, but couldn't bring himself to ask. Sam would talk when he was ready.

"I'm fine, runt. Just a little restless," Dean rolled his eyes. "Can't stand all this damn resting. Not my style, dude," he flexed his biceps meaningfully.

Sam let out a soft laugh. "Yeah. 'Cause you're in any condition to be running the four minute mile or whuppin' some poltergeist ass."

"Hey!" his brother protested. "I can soon whup your ass, bitch!"

"Yeah right," Sam shrugged off the blanket and rolled off the sofa. "Like ta see ya try it, jerk!"

A half hearted swipe at Sam's head was all it took to deflate the older brother. Dean groaned loudly and slumped back in the cushions. "God! Kill me now!"

Grinning from ear to ear, Sam reached out and ruffled Dean's hair, earning a deep growl of disapproval.

"Sam! Do that again, and I swear I'll..."

"What?" taunted Sam, moving just out of reach when a booted foot swung a little too close. "What'll you do, Dean?"

Dean scowled. "I'll... I'll..." a slow grin worked its way onto his face. "Sit here, and complain. Yeah, I'll whine about the food, bitch about the game on TV..."

"What game?" Sam's brow furrowed in confusion.

Dean held up the remote. "Baseball. They're showing all the highlights from the last twenty years." Eyebrows wiggled up and down. "Should be fun, huh Sammy?"

"You wouldn't!" Sam preferred soccer any day of the week. As far as he was concerned, a night of watching baseball was equivalent to an eternity in hell.

"Oh wouldn't I?" Dean's grin widened when he took in the troubled expression on Sam's face. His little brother was dying to tackle Dean for the TV remote but didn't want to hurt him. This could be profitable.

Coughing lightly and clutching at his stomach, Dean's grin suddenly faded. "Ow!"

It worked like a charm.

"Dean?" Sam stepped closer and brought out the puppy dog eyes. "Do you need your meds? I can get them for you."

"N-no, it's ok," Dean rolled his head to the side, a perfect fake grimace on his face that almost threatened to crumble when Sam stepped closer yet again. He waited for just the right moment... Just a little bit closer...

Ah. Perfect...

Sam crouched down beside Dean, a hand on his shoulder, and the next moment he was on his back, pinned to the couch and blinking up at his big brother. Dean offered him a bright smile, and promptly began tickling the kid's feet. Sam giggled until he gasped for breath, his injured ribs complaining loudly.

"D-Dean... ow...OW, please st-top."

Dean stopped immediately.

"Truce?"

"Truce."

Sam sat up and stared down at his feet. When Dean leaned in he spotted the lone tear on his brother's face, and felt mortified.

"Aw, shit, Sammy, I didn't mean to..."

"No, it's not that," Sam sniffed angrily.

"Then what?" asked Dean, anxiously.

"Uh... that demon?" Sam looked up at him. "It... uh... said some things..."

"Ok," Dean took a breath and curled an arm round the kid's shoulders. Here we go... finally!

"S-said I'm worthless... that it... that Dad shoulda left me to burn along with Mom," Sam shivered harshly. "It said that you were Dad's only true son." His eyes filled with fresh tears that spilled down his face. "What dya think he meant by that? I mean... I'm your brother, right? Son of John and Mary Winchester?"

Dean stared at him, utterly perplexed. "Of course you are! Sammy, you know that wasn't Dad, right? Demons lie...

"To mess with your head, yeah I know that part," Sam began gnawing on his lip and Dean could sense his fear and frustration levels rising. "But... what if it was just taking what it knew from Dad's thoughts and memories? Maybe Dad really thinks that way about me!"

"No fucking way, Sam!" Dean insisted. "He loves you..."

"Yeah, I believe that. I do." Sam wouldn't let it go. "But..."

"No buts, Sam," his brother cut him off. "He... we love you. You're not worthless, not to us." Dean sighed and rubbed Sam's shoulder. "Kid, the minute you start listening to demons, and I mean really listening, that's when you've lost the battle. But when you start believing their bullshit? That's when you've lost the war."

Sam appeared to think about that. "Yeah, ok." He nodded slowly. "I get it." I think.

But Dean wasn't stupid. His brother's confidence had been shaken, very possibly broken, and only with time and patience would it heal. And the fact he'd finally admitted his fears was a step in the right direction.

"It'll be ok, Sammy," Dean whispered and squeezed Sam's shoulder. "I'm right here with you, and so's Dad. You took a hit but you got right back up. You're my brother all right. John and Mary Winchester's youngest son."

Sam nodded again, and rested his head on Dean's shoulder. "Thanks Dean."

"Nothin' to thank me for, Kiddo. I'm just glad you're still here." With me.

The End.

SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

Author's notes:

Our poor, sweet Sam's got a way to go before his broken heart is fully recovered, but his wonderful big brother is there every step of the way to reassure him, and it looks like John will be too.

Cheers for all your reviews, my darlings. Much appreciated.

Kind regards,

ST xxx