Author's Note: Ok, so from what I've heard, this is called an "alphabet game"-I'm going to be posting an individual one-shot for every letter of the alphabet. Quite the project! lol This is a work in progress, but I'll try and keep on top of posting. Hope everyone is doing well and hope that you like the first entry!

Warning: Here be language! I remember two specific f-bombs that I couldn't help but drop.

A/N for "A"- I came up with this one quite randomly. I've never experienced something like this, but I've heard that it's truly horrible.

A/N for "B"- This letter is dedicated to a dear friend of mine who gave me the idea. A tad angsty, but I hope that you enjoy it!

A is for Allergy

Allergy: a damaging immune response by the body to a substance (such as pollen, dust, or a particular food) to which is has become hypersensitive.

Sam was walking funny.

That was the first give away that there was a problem.

Dean couldn't help but frown as he watched his brother walk—well, waddle—away from him, across the parking lot towards the Impala.


The kid came to a slow stop and looked over his shoulder, meeting Dean's worried gaze. His voice was considerably strained when he replied. "Yeah?"

Dean's frown deepened at the pained response. "What's wrong with you?"


"You're walkin' funny."

"No I'm not."

"Yeah, dude, you totally are."

Sam cringed. The movement he made, as if trying to adjust his jeans into a more…comfortable position…was another give away.

Before Dean could open his mouth to ask, Sam raised a hand and beckoned his older brother closer. Dean didn't even hesitate—he crossed the asphalt in three quick strides, coming a stop at Sam's side.

After a moment and another strained facial expression, Sam leaned closer; Dean moved closer instinctively in response.

"Did you…put itching powder in my boxers again?"

Dean withdrew slightly in surprise. "Did I what?"

"Itching powder? In my boxers?"

"Yeah, no."

"You didn't?"

"No, I didn't."

"You promise?"

Dean frowned again, "Yeah, I promise."

"Dammit." Sam sighed, adjusting his jeans again. For a moment he looked like he was five years old again and in desperate need of a toilet.

"What's goin' on?"



"Yeah. You know." Sam raised his eyebrows pointedly. "Itchy."

"You're itch—" Realization dawned and Dean's mouth popped open. "Oh."

"Yeah. Oh."

He tried to hide his amusement. He really did. After all, Sammy looked like he was suffering. But the smart ass that lived in his mouth couldn't help it. "Dude, did you uh…hook up with any skeevy waitresses when I wasn't lookin'?"

Sam tried to scowl but only came across as looking ill. "Dean-"

"It's a reasonable question, Sammy."

"Dean, you hook up with skeevy waitresses—"

Dean feigned hurt. "Hey."

"I dunno what it is, man."

"Well, it ain't itching powder, I'll tell you that." After a moment, Dean spoke in a soft voice—still trying to hide his amusement in the face of his little brother's discomfort. "You try anythin' new…down there?"

"New? Like what?"

"Dammit, Sam, I don't know. A different kind of soap?"

"Same as I always use."

"Nothing kinky?"

"No." Sam deadpanned. "Nothing kinky."

The older man watched, his concern exploding, as Sam suddenly doubled over, his hands resting on his knees. The kid let out a loud breath and was obviously hurting.

Dean's concern had reached its limit.

"Ok, can you make it to the car?"

Sam nodded and slowly straightened up. "Yeah, I think so."

"We're findin' you a doctor."

"I'm not going to a doctor, Dean."

Placing a hand firmly on Sam's shoulder, Dean raised an eyebrow and asked quietly, "You really wanna be messin' with that particular…area…Sammy?"

The younger brother seemed to consider the question seriously before sighing and looking truly pitiful. "I don't wanna go to a doctor and ask about somethin' like this."

"Why not?"

"Would you?"

"Depends. Is this imaginary doctor hot?"

Sam's shoulders dropped slightly. "Can you be serious?"

"Thirty seconds is my record-"


"I'm sorry, dude, I can't take you seriously when you keep shiftin' around like that."

"I can't help it, Dean, it's not exactly comfortable."

As carefully as he could, Dean helped a weebly-wobbly Sammy move towards the car. He gave a small whimper as they worked together to lower him into the passenger seat.

Dean, all amusement gone, swallowed hard and leaned in. "You ok?"

"It friggin' hurts."

"We're findin' a doctor, stow your pride." Dean pushed the passenger door closed with a slam and quickly made his way around the Impala's front end, slipping in behind the wheel. "I think I saw a sign for a hospital a few miles back."

Sam nearly whimpered again as Dean started the car, the engine rumbling to life.

"Hang tight, Sammy."

He steered the car through the semi-crowded parking lot. Finally finding a break in traffic, Dean punched the accelerator.

"Allergic reaction?"

The doctor nodded knowingly and Dean couldn't help but stare at him. Subconsciously moving closer to Sam—who was sitting on the exam table after the humiliating physical assessment—he frowned. "An allergic reaction to what?"

"I could be any number of things." Leaning back in his chair, the doctor continued, "But in my opinion? I'd say it was a reaction to a certain type of cotton."


The doctor nodded again before turning his eyes towards Sam. "Have you switched the brand of your underwear lately, Sam?"

What the hell kinda question was that?

The skin of Sam's cheeks tinted with a gentle red and Dean reassuringly placed a hand on his shoulder. Sam looked up at him—as if asking for permission—and Dean sent him a small nod.

The kid took a deep breath, "Yeah. We travel a lot and we stopped a couple days ago. I grabbed the first kind I saw."

Dean squeezed Sam's shoulder soothingly and looked to the doctor. "An allergic reaction to underwear?"

"It's actually quite common. Some people have incredibly sensitive skin…that particular area of the body more so than anywhere else. Suddenly switching brands can sometimes trigger a reaction—the material; polyester, cotton, latex…sometimes the dye can have even an effect."

Sam looked utterly mortified.

"I can prescribe a topical cream for the inflammation and I'd suggest you either go back to your usual brand or find a new brand that's high quality, that's sensitive skin friendly and bacterial resistant." He stood from his chair and grabbed Sam's chart. "I'll go and order the prescription, you can get it filled in the pharmacy downstairs before you leave."

Dean nodded and muttered a quiet 'thank you' as the doctor left the room.

The older Winchester brother was torn.

On the one hand, he wanted to be sympathetic. After all, the cash'n'prizes was a scary place to have a problem like that and an allergic reaction to underwear couldn't have been comfortable. Actually, the look of pain on Sam's face was enough to get the enormous compassion lying dormant within Dean stirring.

But then, on the other hand? It was friggin' hilarious.

Seriously, an allergic reaction to boxer shorts? What the hell was the world comin' to?

In the end, little brother's need for sensitivity won out and Dean pushed down his amusement. Sammy was in pain…Sammy was embarrassed and humiliated.

Sammy always came before everything else.

"Hey, you ok?"

Sam sighed and ran a hand through his floppy hair. "Why is my luck so crappy?"

"It's not that bad, Sammy-"

"I'm allergic to my freakin' underwear, Dean. It can't get much worse than that."

Dean snorted against his will but immediately tried to sober up. "Well, you heard the doc. You can't wear those outta here. Time to go commando."

Sam groaned and Dean, again, tried desperately not to laugh.

The bathroom door had been closed for almost twenty minutes and Dean sighed somewhat anxiously as he glanced at his watch.

They'd left the hospital shortly after getting Sam's prescription filled, the pharmacist (an absolutely gorgeous brunette with curves to match) giving both brothers a small rundown on the medication and how it should be used. She'd flirted and sent a delicious stare at him from over the counter but Dean had absolutely no trouble keeping his usually traitorous attention solely on his brother.

Sammy came first—before unbridled amusement and mouth-watering brunettes…before Dean's own wants, urges and cravings.

He could feel his little brother silently begging him for support and understanding—and when Sammy asked, he got. End of story.

That didn't stop him from casting one last longing glance at the pharmacist over his shoulder as they left, however.

They'd returned to their motel as quickly as possible, Sam nearly crying from the feeling of rough denim against his sensitive skin.

Dean no longer had it in him to be amused, it wasn't funny anymore; the moisture welling in Sam's eyes, the red flush of his face from the effort of stifling each whimper and gasp as they'd walked from the car to their room. None of it was funny.

Actually, if he could find the sorry bastard who was responsible for that friggin' brand of underwear, he'd crack-pound the guy senseless on behalf of big brothers everywhere who'd ever had to watch their younger siblings suffer because of something as ridiculous and unnecessary as skin irritation.

All the wounds they'd had over the years—all the bleeding, the stitches, the road burn, bruises, breaks, dislocations and scrapes—dealing with something so normal was making Dean feel sick.

Give him bruised ribs and a stitch-worthy gash any day, dammit.

He finally couldn't stand it anymore and stood up from his seat on the edge of his bed. The room they'd ended up in was small and he crossed to the bathroom quickly. Raising a hand he knocked gently with a single knuckle, listening hard for any kind of sound from the other side of the door.

"Sammy? You ok?"

There was a slight scuffling sound, then in a quiet voice, "Yeah. I'm ok."

"You sure? You've been in there a long time."

The knob suddenly turned and the door opened slowly, revealing a worse for the wear Sammy who was trying hard to appear normal. "Did you need in there?"

"No, no…I just, y'know. Wanted to make sure you were alright."

Dean's concern was rewarded with a small but genuine smile. "Yeah, Dean, I'm ok." The older brother watched as Sam gingerly moved passed him, making his way to his own bed and settling himself carefully onto the mattress. "Just a little sore."

"You try that medication stuff?"

Sam nodded. "Used it after I got outta the shower."

"Hopefully after a couple times usin' it you'll start feelin' better."

"Hope so. Really don't wanna go commando again."

A smile broke out on the older man's face as he walked around his brother's bed, lowering himself once again onto his own bed and sitting directly across from Sam. "Yeah, man, I hear ya."

A small silence followed, both brothers sitting quietly, lost in their own thoughts.

After the past few weeks, Dean was starting to think "stress" was his middle name and "disaster" was somehow tattooed on his forehead. They'd been plagued by small but absolutely insane problems, the loose ends tying up nicely with Sam's allergic reaction.

"Hey…Dean?" He shifted slightly and then let out a breath, timidly meeting his brother's familiar green eyes. "Thanks."

Dean frowned slightly. "For what?"

"For…not being a complete jerk about this."

Dean couldn't stop himself from pulling back slightly at the truly embarrassed sound of Sam's voice. The kid was actually thanking him for not making fun of him…was actually thanking him for keeping quiet and being supportive.

And if that didn't make Dean feel like the worlds biggest ass he didn't know what did.

He swallowed and then sent Sam a small smile. "Don't worry 'bout it, man. You know, I can be serious every once in a while."

"Thought that thirty seconds was your record?"

"Yeah, well—" Dean smiled somewhat shyly. "Records are meant to be broken, right?"

All Sam did was grin in return, leaning back against the headboard of his bed.

Yeah, records were meant to be broken.

Even one as sacred as Dean's sarcasm, the very core of his buoyant personality.

It was Sammy after all, right?

B is for Buried

Buried: to put or hide something underground; to place (eg. a dead body) in the earth, or in a tomb.

Cigarette smoke clouded the air in the small bar as Dean moved silently through the crowd. The music pounded in his ears but it was a good song so he wasn't complaining.

Ah hell, he was never going to complain again…as long as the gorgeous brunette by the door made good on half of the promises she'd seductively whispered in his ear only moments before. His body was tense and wound pretty tight; he needed the play, he was long overdue.

Despite how busy the place was it took no time at all to spot the clown-footed geek in one of the far booths. As was usual, he was hunkered over their dad's journal and several newspaper clippings. Dean was sure if the kid leaned any further forward his nose would make contact with the newsprint.

If Sammy got ink on his nose, Dean would make sure he never heard the end of it.

He approached in his usual swaggering manner, unable to keep the teasing grin from his face. He didn't bother sitting down. "What are you up to over here?"

"Just lookin' through a couple things," he sighed. "Trying to find us a job."

"Anything good?"

"Not really. There was a woman in Omaha? Jumped from a plane at ten thousand feet, shoot didn't open, she survived."

Dean quirked an eyebrow. "Anything about it sound supernatural?"

"I don't think so. More dumb luck than anything."

" I guess if you're gonna have dumb luck, that's the time to have it."

"Yeah, no kidding."

He cleared his throat quietly. "Hey, uh…Sam?"

After a second, Sam nodded absently. "Yeah."

"Look, I'm uh…takin' off." When Sam looked up and met his eyes, Dean tipped his head towards the waiting brunette by the door, "I'll catch you later."

Sam's eyes followed Dean's direction and then flickered up to his face. "Have fun."

Dean didn't miss the resigned sigh and he felt the flash of guilt in his own eyes. "Sammy, I—"

"No, it's ok." Sam interrupted him, shaking his head. "Sorry." He raised his beer bottle and took a long pull off it. "Go ahead and have fun."

He stayed for only a few seconds more before touching Sam's shoulder in a show of Winchester gratitude—'cause, you know, opening his mouth and saying the words, even to his brother, was still too hard.

As soon as he turned away from the booth and started towards the door, the brunette—Tara? Tamara?—smiled enticingly at him. He returned her smile and pushed his little brother from his mind.

When he was with a woman was the only time he allowed himself to do that.

It was something he would never do again.

The beer bottle shattered explosively against the cheaply papered wall in a shower of glass and foam. It hadn't even occurred to him to drink it. He'd had enough beer and booze over those three days.

That's how long it had been.

Three days since he'd walked out of that bar, never once looking back. Three days since he'd last seen his little brother's face. Three days of countless questions and not one answer.

They'd crossed into Milford, Pennsylvania earlier that week after following a paper trail of suspicious events—mauled bodies, blood pools, inhuman screams and noises coming from the local woods. It had taken Sam no time at all to determine that a berserker was on the loose, and after only a couple of hours traveling time with Dean behind the wheel, they'd made it to town.

The hunt had gone relatively smoothly, thank goodness; the only damage had been suffered by Dean who'd stubbed his toe on the way back to the car. But for an on the job injury, it was one both brothers could live with.

The small bar in town had been a pit stop the night before they were scheduled to hit the road again—Sam trying to find them a new job…Dean trying to find himself some much needed recreation.

Then Sam was gone, leaving Dean to work on a brand new job.

He was still hunting…only now, he was hunting a little brother.

He hadn't even known that his brother was missing.

He'd spent the night at the brunette's apartment across town and had returned to their motel bright and early the next morning, his body satisfied and his muscles loose. Sam's empty and untouched bed had raised more than one red flag and a quick phone call had uncovered the familiar blackberry sitting forgotten and completely useless on the nightstand.

An hour passed, then two…and then three.

Half-crazed with worry and rage, Dean had stomped out to the Impala and started searching.

There'd been no sign of Sam at the local pansy-ass coffee shop or in the library and no one around town even remembered seeing him. Their attempts to remain unnoticed and invisible had apparently been far more successful than either of them had ever thought.

The trail, or lack thereof, had quickly gone cold and Dean had reached the end of his rapidly fraying rope.

That's when he'd found the note slipped under their motel room door. One sentence…one question that had sent poisonous ice water coursing through Dean's veins.

How much do you love your brother?

There was malice in those written words, a promise of things to come, and it didn't take a hunter with near-perfect instincts to recognize that right away. All it took was a big brother who had a hell of a lot to lose.

Someone had taken Sam, the note proved it.

No ghost or supernatural baddie would take the time to mind fuck.

Running both hands through his hair in a fit of complete and total misery, Dean sat down heavily onto the edge of Sam's bed. The kid's duffle bag was sitting at the foot, neat and untouched…his shaving kit was sitting beside the sink in the bathroom…their countless research texts were piled on the surface of the dining table, handwritten notes scattered all over the place.

Sammy was all over the room and it was driving him insane.

How much do you love your brother?

He was running out of options and leads were practically non-existent. He'd last seen Sam alive in the back booth of the town's only bar, and that was it. That was all he had.

There was a reason that the younger Winchester brother did all the research; he was good at it, he loved it…the kid was like a damn bloodhound when it came to sniffing out all the facts. If Dean ever went missing, he'd want Sammy investigating it.

He couldn't help but feel incredibly useless knowing that his baby brother was missing and having absolutely no idea where to look next.

The ringing of his cell phone hardly even registered at first. Rubbing his tired and burning eyes, he leaned down from his perch on the bed and rummaged through an ever-growing pile of dirty clothes. He found his cell phone in the pocket of a pair of jeans and didn't even both checking the ID before flipping it open.



Dean let out a breath, his eyes slipping closed. "Bobby."

"How're you doin'?"


He was barely surviving, but he would never say it out loud—he didn't have to. Bobby didn't know him a quarter as well as Sam did, but it didn't take a genius to see that Dean was suffering. As much as he wanted to appear together he knew that he wasn't. It was a sort of pain that he couldn't hide. He didn't know how.

There was a small pause on the phone, as if Bobby had been thinking along the same lines. "Look, uh…I wanted to let you know that I'm headin' out to meet you. I reckon you need all the help you can get findin' Sam."

Dean sighed. "I appreciate the thought, Bobby, but I don't want you gettin' involved."

"What the hell are you talkin' about?"

"Whoever took Sam? It's not supernatural."

"I know, you told me 'bout the note you got."

"I don't want to drag you into something that might get crazy—"

"I'm gonna pretend you didn't say that, boy."

There was a fierce determination in the old man's voice and Dean recognized it right away. Bobby'd told them both a thousand times that they were practically family—"family don't end with blood"—and that had always been something that both brothers were resoundingly grateful for.

There were two people in the world that Dean went to when he needed help; the first was his little brother…the only person that knew him better than he knew himself, the only person who accepted and understood the finer points of everything Dean Winchester…the second, was the old and stubborn hunter on the other end of the phone.

But if someone was pissed off and deranged enough to take Sam away from him, did he want to bring the only remaining family member he had into it?

Did he want Bobby to be there when he finally tracked the sorry bastard down and put a bullet in his head?

"I gotta do this alone."


"I'm gonna find him, Bobby."

Bobby couldn't miss the near snarl in those words.

"I know you are, never doubted it. But let me come out there and help—two heads is better than one."

Dean had had his fill.

"I'll call you later."

He snapped his phone closed without a second thought, cutting off Bobby's furious protests, and tossed it down next to him on the mattress.

It had struck him the night before just how much he could be like his dad. Dean had never been obsessive when it came to hunting; sure it was what he did, he got a kick out of it and he was good at it, but for him it had never had that do-or-die feel to it like it had with his father.

His father locked himself in his motel room.

His father pinned photos, newspaper clippings, scribbled notes and research on the walls.

His father often didn't eat until the hunt was over and done with.

Dean never did those things…but with Sam missing he seemed to revert back to the way he'd been taught to be, as opposed to the way he usually was.

It was what he'd missed; it was what he needed, Sam slowing him down. It was one of the main reasons he'd made the trip to Palo Alto in the first place, effectively dragging the kid back into the hunt kicking and screaming.

Sam kept Dean in line…Dean kept Sam on his toes.

Not for the first time in the short time since Sam had gone missing, Dean wished miserably that he didn't need his little brother as much as he knew he did.

It was the worst kind of blasphemy—wishing he hadn't gone to Stanford, wishing he hadn't talked Sam into hitting the road again.

It had never crossed his mind until that very moment.

The darkened room seemed to almost constrict around him and Dean quickly shot to his feet, grabbing his jacket and car keys before practically tearing through the door.

It hadn't taken him long to run out of places to check, places to search. His normal routine had been to spend the night out in the woods, checking every single thicket, every single cave, and every single hole for signs of Sam.

And Sheila knew it.

He pushed his way into the small and homely diner that was only a few minutes walk from the motel parking lot and immediately made his way up to the counter.

"You look terrible, honey."

Dean lowered himself onto one of the stools and rubbed his eyes again. "Can't sleep."

Sheila made her way over, a mug in one hand and a coffee pot in the other. There was a flash of concern in her wise brown eyes. "How does a fresh roast beef sandwich sound?"

Over those three days Dean had quickly become convinced of one thing—that diner waitress, a tubby middle-aged mother with grey hairs and hard-earned calluses on her fingers, was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen.

She offered him empathy instead of sympathy…her coffee was some of the best he'd ever had, rivaled only by Sam's…and her sandwiches were thick and made with unmistakable warmth.

Sheila was absolutely gorgeous.

A quick glance at his watch—6:34pm—and Dean found himself swallowing hard.

Day three was coming to a painfully quick end.

"Uh…can I just have some of your world famous chicken noodle?"

She quirked an eyebrow. "You need more to eat than just soup, Dean."

He still wasn't used to hearing his real name spoken so fondly by a near stranger, but he'd worn himself out trying to lie. His last name, however, was still a closely guarded secret. To the people of Milford, he was Dean Vester; big brother on a mission.

He tried to smile. "I think soup is all I'm up for tonight."

"You're going to make yourself sick."

Dean didn't say anything and after a few seconds Sheila moved away from him, heading towards the kitchen's window to place his order.

Truth was he already was sick.

The last two nights had brought a whole new meaning to the term dry heaves.

From his subtle surveillance when he'd first walked through the door, he saw that the diner was full of familiar faces. The older couple in the far booth came in every evening for pumpkin pie and coffee…the guy in the booth next to theirs was around Dean's age and was quite obviously a mechanic from the local body shop—if the grease smears on his over-alls were any indication…the two little boys that had made their way inside just ahead him were there for the enormous ice cream cones that Sheila gave them for free.

There was one face in the diner that he didn't recognize—a hard looking guy at the very back. He was nursing what looked like a cup coffee, an empty plate beside him with the remnants of steak and mashed potatoes. He'd served time somewhere rough; Dean could tell, he knew the type.

He barely noticed when a mammoth bowl of steaming chicken noodle soup was placed in front of him, complete with spoon and crackers. The smell eventually stirred something in his senses because he turned his head, locking eyes with Sheila.

Her eyes were pinched and full of worry.

Dean once again tried to smile. "Thanks, sweetheart."

As she always did when he bestowed the endearment on her, a light pink tint spread into her cheeks. "You're sure you're alright?"

"I'm ok."

"Just make sure you eat it all, you hear me?"

There was a definite stern warning to her voice and he simply stirred the soup lightly, causing more steam to rise. "With you soundin' like that, I'd be stupid not to."

"Please be serious."

"I am bein' serious."

Sheila eyed him strictly for a moment and then reached over and patted his hand in reassurance.

He tried like hell to keep from pulling his hand away and he was almost happy when she left him alone.

Eating the soup was incredibly slow going—every spoonful made him feel ill. In those three days, he still hadn't managed to keep a decent meal down. He remembered Sam sticking to soda crackers the last time he'd had the flu, saying over and over again that they were the only things that didn't upset his stomach. And so in a truly un-Dean move, he went to the nearest store and bought a box.

And dammit, he couldn't keep those down either.

He knew that he had to find a way to get some nutrition. He'd start losing vital muscle mass if he didn't…

The stool beside him suddenly squeaked and there was the tell-tale sound of someone settling themselves into a new seat. Dean looked over out of the corner of his eye, his gaze falling on the face of the man he'd looked at earlier—the ex-con.

Who was also a hunter, if the complicated anti-possession symbol tattooed on his bicep was anything to go by.

Dean instantly felt himself stiffen.

"You John Winchester's boy?"

The man's voice was as rough as the rest of him and Dean narrowed his eyes. "Well that depends on who's askin'."

"You know that's as good as a yes, right?"

"You know you're interrupting my dinner, right?"

The man seemed to find the smart-ass that lived in Dean's mouth amusing because he snorted, shaking his head. "Wiseass. Just like your old man."

"What the hell do you want?"

He tilted his head to the side, leaning a fraction closure and speaking low enough so only Dean could hear. "I was wonderin'…how that brother of yours is doing."

And just like that, all depression and hopelessness disappeared.

It was replaced immediately with a burning fury.

He knew without a single doubt that he was facing the man who'd written that note—that one sentence that had haunted and plagued him since it was slid under their motel room door.

How much do you love your brother?

He mirrored the man's movement and leaned slightly closer, his voice coming out in a growl. "Where is my brother."

It wasn't a question. It was a demand.

And it was completely disregarded.

"You've been lookin' for him now for, what…three days? You startin' to wonder if he's dead yet?"

"I'm gonna kill you myself, you know that, right?"

The man smirked. "You kill me, how are you gonna find Sammy?"

"I'll find him."

"Right, 'cause you always do?" He pulled back only slightly and raised a hand, motioning to Sheila. "Can I get a cup of coffee, Sheila?"

She nodded, smiling warmly. "Sure thing, Jake."

Jake leaned closer to Dean again, speaking in such a matter-of-fact voice that the Winchester was barely seeing straight. "This is how it is. You want your brother back, you gotta tell me what I wanna know—"

"Yeah? And what's that?"

"I wanna know about Sam's visions."

The words were like a shot to the solar plexus and, for a moment, Dean had to fight to draw breath.

It was one of his worst fears realized; backlash for Sam because of his visions. They'd spent weeks trying to figure them out and get used to them and in their own way they'd been making progress. It was just another facet of who they were…another secret to guard and keep.

Along with the other ten thousand the Winchester family had as a whole.

Dean nearly snarled again. "I don't know what you're talkin' about—"

"The more you lie, the less time Sam's got."

Those words had the desired effect—Dean fell silent.

A small piece of paper was slid across the counter. Jake pointed to it. "Be at that address tonight. Ten o'clock."

"Or what?"

"Sam dies."

Dean swallowed hard, his eyes flickering down to the scribbled address—225 W High Street. His gaze flashed upwards again, locking with Jake's.

"Be there tonight, answer a couple questions and then…maybe…we'll tell you where your brother is."


The bastard simply smiled.

The past three days suddenly sped through Dean's mind—the worry, the panic, the intense guilt he felt at leaving his little brother alone in the first place. He could count on one hand the number of times he'd dropped the big brother ball over the years and the fact that he'd done it so spectacularly that time didn't exactly help his temper.

It pleased Dean that the asshole never saw it coming.

He was off his stool and on his feet in a near split second; grabbing the back of Jake's muscular neck, he slammed him face-first into the counter top. He savored the sound of the man's nose breaking.

After days of utter helplessness, it was invigorating.

He ignored the shocked murmuring of the diner's other patrons and leaned in close to whisper venomously in Jake's ear through gritted teeth. "You better hope that my brother is ok. 'Cause if he's not, you'll be beggin' for a bullet by the time I get through with you."

Jake very slowly raised his head and there was another surge of pleasure as Dean took in the relentless flow of blood streaming from the man's crushed nose.

Sheila, who'd screamed at the sudden explosion, was staring at the two of them with wide and terrified eyes. Dean in his fury couldn't care less about the expression on the woman's face, but he reached into a pocket anyway and set a hundred dollar bill down next to his nearly untouched soup.

"Sorry 'bout the mess, Sheila."

He swiped up the address and left the diner, feeling a dozen or so pairs of eyes practically boring a hole into his back.

"Y'know, I could just kill you, boy—hangin' up on me like that. I've been tryin' to call you all friggin' night."

"Yeah, well, I've been busy."

"I don't care how busy you are. With what's goin' on over there, you keep in touch with me!"

The cell phone was tucked snugly in the crook of Dean's neck, his hands busy as he methodically cleaned the silver Ruger.

The alarm clock on the bedside table announced in glowing red digits that it was nearly 9:15pm.

Only forty-five minutes.

"So tell me again what this son of a bitch said?"

He loaded the full clip back into the gun with a gratifying click, releasing the slide and loading a round into the chamber. "Name's Jake, didn't get a last name but he's a hunter."

"Another hunter took your brother?"

"Looks that way. Bastard was sayin' he has some questions for me—I tell him what he wants to know and they'll give me Sam."


"Tonight. Ten o'clock."

"Dammit, Dean." There was a loud and dejected sigh. "You wanna explain to me how one hunter managed to get the drop on the kid?"

Dean felt rage bloom in his chest and had to take a deep breath. Fact was? One hunter on his own was no match for his brother—not by a long shot. He'd taught Sam well. "He's not workin' alone, Bobby."

"How do you know?"

"I just know."

A pause. "What does he wanna know?"

"About Sam's visions."

The loud and resounding dead air coming through the phone was proof enough that Bobby knew how serious the situation was—seasoned hunters, who obviously had no problem acting wickedly, were using Sam as a lure and demanding an explanation of something that Dean himself still wasn't even close to understanding.

Since the first time he'd witnessed one of the visions with his own eyes, he'd been looking into it—books on telekinesis and movement, paranormal psychology and extra sensory perception. He'd even gone as far as to grab a book on fortune telling and psychic intuition. He'd read practically all of those books from cover to cover, whenever he could find free time away from Sam's curious gaze.

Dean's philosophy was simple—if he couldn't protect Sam with his strength, he was going to protect him with his knowledge instead.

Sometimes, big brothers needed to adjust their strategy and he'd never had any trouble doing that.

But right then? Defending Sam was going to have absolutely nothing to do with knowledge and very little to do with strength.

Right then, defending Sam rested solely on how far Dean was willing to go. Was he willing to plug another hunter if it meant keeping his little brother safe? He knew without a doubt that he was more than willing. After all, he'd killed for Sam before…the kid just didn't know it.

Yeah, definitely time for a little brutal violence to make himself feel better.

"What're you gonna tell 'em?"

"Nothin', if I can help it." Dean stood from the edge of his bed and reached back, stowing the gun in the waistband of his jeans.

"You think Sam's ok? Wherever he is?"

"I'd feel it if somethin' had happened, Bobby. Besides—" He grabbed a lethal looking silver knife from the table and examined the sharpness of the blade. "—wherever he is, he knows I'm comin' for him."

Bobby must've recognized the dangerous hint in the words. "Dean, you be careful, y'hear me?" He cautioned. "You don't know what you're walkin' into…what these guys are capable of—"

"Trust me, whatever they're capable of? I can do better. I'll call you later." And in one swift movement he snapped his phone closed and grabbed his jacket, not even bothering to switch off the overhead light as he headed out to the car.

The Impala rumbled to a determined curb side stop, the driver cutting the engine and turning to glance out his window.

225 W High Street.

The old and decrepit looking building was located quite a ways down the main street of town, well away from the prying eyes of local residents. It was the type of place that kids would automatically assume was haunted and dare friends to go and investigate. It was the type of place that Dean knew well.

From where he'd parked the car he could easily make out the back end of a pick up truck sticking out from around the side of the building, as well as a few smaller vehicles, but it was far too dark to see the plates.

He pulled the key from the ignition and pushed his door open, stepping out into the cold night air. The weight of the Ruger was comforting against the small of his back and he took a deep breath.

He knew right away that Sam wasn't there.

Call it big brother intuition and he'd had it since the day his brother was born. Even at the age of four, Dean had always been the one who'd known Sammy the best—he'd always been the first one to hear a baby crying in the middle of the night…he'd always been the one to know when he was hungry or in need of a fresh diaper…he always knew exactly where Sam's stuffed bear, Bunkie, was…and most importantly, he always knew where Sammy was.

He'd always found his brother by feeling him, as opposed to seeing him or hearing him.

And that intuition was telling him that the kid wasn't there.

He was somewhere else.

"Sam." Dean said the name as though it was a silent prayer and he sighed, his breath clouding in front of his face.

He had absolutely no idea what time it was as he started towards the building, but he didn't care. Three days without Sam was long enough.

He'd had enough of waiting.

The door was unlocked, which wasn't surprising, and he pushed it open, taking a quick look around. The first thing he noticed was the flicking of apparent candlelight coming from an open archway just to his right.

A long dark shadow suddenly appeared on the worn wooden flooring and then Jake was there in the doorway, his arms folded smugly across his chest. "You're right on time."

Dean felt his rage bubbling just below the surface and forced himself to take a deep breath. He made no reply as he crossed the floor, stepping through the archway and into the dim light.

He felt another bolt of pleasure at the truly horrendous state of Jake's face—two black eyes and a ridiculous splint across the bridge of his nose that was without a doubt homemade.

They were injuries he'd caused for his brother, and he was damn proud of them.

There were two other men in the room and there was no doubt whatsoever that they too were hunters. One of them—a fifty-something son of a bitch with black hair and a Chargers baseball cap—spoke suddenly. "That him?"

"Johnny's oldest—" Jake passed by and patted Dean's shoulder in what would've normally been thought of as a gesture of affection. All it did was make the red clouding Dean's vision more and more vivid.

He could feel the skin where Jake had touched him burn under his jacket.

"Doesn't look a thing like him."

"He's John's. Knew him when he was a kid."


"Sam, too."

"Y'know, as much as I love this memory lane crap," Dean spat sardonically, "I really don't."

The three soon-to-be-dead hunters stared at him with incredulous expressions on their faces, as if they were both expecting his impatience but also surprised by it.

It was the guy in the Chargers hat that got his wits back first. "Your dad know what a smartass you are?"

Dean nearly snarled, "Where do you think I get it from?"

There was a loud and boisterous laugh and the sound of clapping hands. Jake shook his head. "That attitude you got goin' isn't gonna do Sammy any good."

"You keep dangling that in front of me. How 'bout we just get this over with, 'cause I gotta be honest…I've had enough."

One of the other hunters—this guy was younger, around Sam's age, and wearing the rattiest pair of jeans Dean had ever seen—joined the conversation. "You got no right makin' demands."

Jake raised a placating hand. "Take it easy, Dwayne. Boy's just riled up is all." Motioning to a wooden chair sitting in the middle of the room, he said, "Sit yourself down, Dean."

"I'll stand."

"We're gonna be here a while. Get comfortable—"

Dean lost it right then and there.

"You son of a bitch, where the hell is my brother?"

"Buried alive."

It was incredible what just a few words, a few confidently spoken syllables could do. They could steal your breath as if it never even belonged to you. They could leave you standing numb and blind.

How much do you love your brother?


Jake sighed, leaning back casually against the far wall. "I said...buried alive. Pine box, the whole nine yards. Dug the hole myself this morning."

The numbness that filled Dean's chest was starting to be shoved aside and replaced with a blinding fury; he clenched his hands into tight fists to keep them from shaking. He could hear the rapid rush of blood in his ears as he intentionally gathered all of his strength in his right arm, just waiting for the right moment.

He knew he had a gun but a bullet would be too quick. Too fast. He wanted to feel his fists connect with their flesh…he wanted to feel their bones break.

Jake's voice broke through like a sledgehammer.

"We wanna know about your brother's visions."

Then Dwayne's.

"We're guessin' he was born normal. So tell us what happened."

"Why should I tell you bastards a damn thing?" He looked from face to face. "What the hell gives you the right to take my brother? Who the hell do you think you are?"

"We're the only ones who know where your brother is buried, so watch your mouth."

"Dwayne—" Jake murmured in warning, sliding his gaze over to Dean. "Sam was a good hunter—like your daddy…like you—now he is the supernatural. He's no better than what you hunt." He pushed himself from the wall and started circling Dean where he stood. "A demon, yellow eyes, killed your mom…in your brother's nursery. He was there for a reason, and now, the kid has visions?"

"You seem to know a lot about my family."

"Your family? Practically a legend in the hunting world."

"A legend?"

"Mary Elizabeth Winchester. Born, January 29th, 1954…died, November, 2nd, 1983. Sam's six month birthday. After she died John fell off the map, leaving Lawrence and raisin' you boys on the road—"

The third guy, with the baseball cap, interjected. "Seedy motels, cheap diners. The usual story for a newbie hunter raisin' kids on his own."

"Your daddy met Bobby Singer 'bout a year after that, picked up on things real quick. Started huntin' that demon first chance he got. You boys grew up fast—especially you. Started hunting when you were eleven, made your first kill at thirteen."

Baseball cap guy again. "You tried to keep Sam away from it as much as you could; lied to him about where you and your dad were spendin' your nights, even left him with Jim Murphy a couple times."

"You want us to keep goin' on from there or should we start on Stanford?"

"Just—" Dean raised a hand, his eyes slipping closed for the shortest second as if trying his damndest to process it all. He opened them again slowly, focusing on Jake. "What the hell are you tryin' to do here, huh? Rattle my cage? You think I'll just tell you everything you wanna know?"

"I think Sam's enough motivation for you to do that. He's been in that hole since just before noon today, if I were you I wouldn't waste any time."

Dean's mouth quirked dangerously. "I'm not tellin' you a damn thing, bumpkin."

Dwayne laughed as well, standing from his chair and striding threateningly across the floor. "You Winchesters are funny as hell—"

Once he was within two feet, Dean made his move.

The strength that had been building in his right arm was finally released as he pulled his hand back and threw a punch. Bones cracked and gave way under his fingers and the howl of pain that Dwayne gave was damn near euphoric.

When he hit the floor, the two other hunters also started forward.

Dean pulled his gun from the waistband of his jeans and his silver blade from inside his jacket in one flawless move—the knife was pressed against the skin of Jake's neck while the gun was aimed at the asshat with the ball cap.

Breathing heavily from fury, Dean tiled his head. "Am I still funny?"

Jake swallowed hard, eyes focused on the blade.

Dean noticed the hidden fear in the man's eyes when he realized that the hand holding the weapon was as solid as a rock…no tremors meant there would be no hesitation.

"You think this is gonna help you find Sam?"

"I know it will."

"How's that?"

"Because as self-righteous as you assholes are, you don't wanna die." Dean pointedly pressed the blade into Jake's skin; a little droplet of blood appeared and he hissed, "You're not ready to die."

Jake's eyes immediately darkened. "I don't think you got the balls."

Without any pause or without taking his eyes away from Jake's, Dean swung the gun down and pulled the trigger, firing a shot into the third hunter's thigh.

He let out a completely inhuman scream; whether in surprise or pain, Dean didn't know or care. He fell to the floor, blood quickly soaking through the denim of his jeans.

The gun was immediately moved into Jake's line of sight, the smell of gunpowder overpowering.

Both men totally ignored the two other hunters writhing pathetically on the floor.

"I'm gonna count to five and you better've put those weapons down—"

"No, I'm gonna count to three." Dean leaned closer, his face inches away from Jake's. "I wanna know where Sam is."

"And if I don't tell you?"

"Your friends are gonna be scooping up what's left of you with a shovel."

For a few moments, there were only moans of pain…limbs smacking against the old hardwood as the two injured men rolled around. Dean and Jake simply stared at each other.

Eventually, the Winchester had had enough of the heavy silence. "Hey Dwayne—" He glanced over at the fallen hunter. "You want a hole in your leg to match Jake's other bitch?"

Whatever color that had been left in the kid's face drained away and he shook his head, while at the same time trying to staunch the flow of blood coming from his brutally broken nose.

"You wanna tell me where Sam is?"

When Dwayne shook his head again, Dean swung the gun around and re-aimed it right at the kid's face. "Tell me where he is, Dwayne."

Jake audibly swallowed hard. "That kid won't tell you a damn thing."

Maybe it was the fact that his face was broken.

Or maybe it was the fact that one of his friends was lying there with an angry hole in his body made by one of Dean's bullets.

Or maybe it was the fact that Dean now had that gun aimed right between his eyes.

Whatever it was, Dwayne squeezed his eyes shut and spoke around the blood. "26 Chestnut Road, there's an empty house—" He swallowed thickly. "Go 'round back. He's buried in the yard."

Dean, not missing a beat, moved his gaze back to Jake. "He tellin' the truth?" The older man stayed completely stoic so Dean pressed the knife even further into the skin of his neck; he groaned and immediately started to tremble. "Is he tellin' the truth?"

He swallowed hard again. "I'm gonna kill you."


The smirk that came to Dean's face was anything but humorous. "You ever come after me or my brother again…I'll make you wish to God your mother had swallowed, you understand?"

Pulling the knife away, Dean gave Jake a quick and hard shove to the shoulder.

The somewhat stunned hunter fell ass-backwards to the hardwood and by the time he started cursing and yelling, Dean was already starting his car.

The Impala roared around the corner and onto Chestnut Road, tires squealing as she righted herself on the slippery asphalt.

It had rained a little bit earlier that afternoon and the slight drizzle that was hitting the windshield sent worry up and down Dean's spine.

Sam was buried.

As soil absorbs water, it gets heavier.

Pine is a weak wood.

The image of the box collapsing in on itself with Sam still inside…

Dean hit the gas.

He couldn't see the house numbers in the darkness so he counted instead, eventually slamming both boots down on the brake when he reached number twenty-six.

He didn't spare a second thought, didn't look around or take in his surroundings. He simply threw open the drivers door and stumbled out, grabbing the shovel, duffel bag and blanket he'd stashed in the passenger seat.

And before he even knew it he was running.

Over the sidewalk, up onto the grass, and around the side of the house. There was an old chain link fence and Dean threw the shovel and bag over before effortlessly vaulting over himself, landing with lethal grace as his boots practically sank into the sodden grass.

He'd only taken a few quick steps when he laid eyes on it.

Two wooden planks nailed together in the form of a cross, pushed down into the dirt at the head of a patch of land recently churned and slightly raised.

It was a grave.

Bile and unstoppable panic rose up in Dean's throat and he took off across the yard, dropping the blanket and duffel bag to the ground.

The shovel cut into the wet ground easily and it only took a few minutes for his muscles to start quivering and burning from the effort of moving mud.

He's been in that hole since just before noon today…

I wouldn't waste any time.

How much do you love your brother?

Dean increased his pace, grunting with the weight and nearly crying with anticipation.

A thousand and one thoughts sped through his mind; what if he opened the box and Sam wasn't breathing?...what if he opened the box and Sam was already dead?

What if he dug and found nothing, learning once it was too late that Dwayne and Jake had lied to him?

Either scenario would end the same way—three hunters, lying dead and bleeding…their last thoughts having been how they wished they'd never set eyes on the Winchesters.


His boots slipped and slid in the muck and he fought to keep himself upright. Every second seemed like an hour…every breath was pain…every scoop of mud brought him closer and closer to his purpose.

The blade of the shovel hit something solid and Dean nearly cried out, tossing the shovel up onto the grass and dropping to his knees. The mud was cold as he swept it aside with his bare hands, ignoring the numbness and the small jagged rocks that cut at the skin of his fingers.

He had one thought in his mind.


The worn surface of the box was soon visible and Dean swallowed hard, pushing himself up to the head of the makeshift coffin. "Sam!" His voice was rough and hoarse from the cold but he wasn't even close to caring. "Sammy!"

Fury nearly took him over again when he couldn't get his fingers under the lid of the box—it'd been nailed shut and no matter what strength he had, it wasn't nearly enough.

For a moment, he started to panic.

He couldn't get the box open. Sam was right there, and Dean couldn't get to him.

Without even forming a coherent thought he reached forward and hurriedly grabbed the shovel, thrusting the blade underneath the lid of the box and straining as he tried to pry it open.

He could hear the nails groaning under the pressure and, slowly, the lid wooden plank started to rise.


The silence was the loudest silence he'd ever heard and all it did was spur him on. With one enormous burst of strength, he fully pried it open, tossing the shovel aside and pushing it further with his hands.

And there, lying completely still and as pale as death, was Sam.

Dean's tongue stalled out of pure upset but he decided to let his hands do the talking for him. He reached down, one hand sweeping aside Sam's drenched bangs while the other immediately went to his neck to find a pulse.

There were a few painful moments where he felt nothing, but then it was there—a weak and thready heartbeat underneath his fingertips.

Relief washed over him when he finally heard a gasp and saw Sam's chest rise. A round of coughs followed. Dean began breathing deliberately, slowly in and out as if willing his brother to do the same. Sam's coughing eventually slowed and assumed the smooth rhythmic breathing of his older brother's. Through it all, Sam's eyes remained closed, his body unconscious.

"Good boy."

The drive was a blur, fast and rough—one hand on the wheel, the other reaching over the seat to Sam lying in the back and holding his hand—neither willing to relinquish its important duty. The flashing lights of an ambulance signaled the hospital's emergency entrance, and Dean screeched to a halt just behind it.

It took less than sixty seconds for the two paramedics milling about outside the ER doors to help get Sam out of the car and onto a stretcher. Once inside the hospital, it took less than ten seconds to get a doctor's attention…and then less than twenty seconds for them to wheel Sam away, leaving Dean horrified and alone in the busy waiting room.

Faces stared at him in curiosity and shock as he stood there, watching his brother disappear behind a trauma room door.

He knew that he must've been a complete sight; almost entirely covered in mud and muck, face pale and hazels that were brimming with unshed tears.

They were tears bred completely from anger and heart-stopping panic.

Dean had learned the hard way back when they were kids that there was no waiting room in existence that was large enough for him to effectively pace in. They were all too full, too small, to lonely without Sam.

He eventually sat himself down in one of the countless uncomfortable plastic chairs and hung his head in his hands.

He'd also learned that waiting didn't get any easier with age.

"You boys are ok?"

"The doctors are in with Sam now—got all the paperwork done, haven't heard anything yet."

"What 'bout you?"

Dean leaned heavily against the side of the payphone, letting out a weary breath. "What about me?"

"What the hell d'you mean, what about you? Are you ok?"

"Yeah, I'm fine—" Tired hazel eyes traveled distractedly to the door leading to the exam rooms. "Christ, what the hell's takin' 'em so long?"

"No news is good news."

"Yeah, screw that."

"Let the doctors do what they gotta do, Dean, don't go harassin' anyone." He let out another breath, listening to the forced calm and rationale in Bobby's voice. "What ended up happening tonight?"

"One got his jaw and nose broken, one got a bullet, and the other learned a lesson."

There was a slight pause, and then, "There a body to take care of?"

The gratitude that Dean felt at those words was overwhelming; Bobby was actually offering to help him…offering to help him take care whatever was left over from his rage.

He'd wanted to kill those men, all three of them, for what they'd done to his brother. Punishments when it came to Sam were swift and violent. It had been that way for as long as he could remember.

Watching out for Sam was his job and he'd always been good at his job.

He'd always known how to protect Sam. Always. Since the moment he was born, Dean had always known what he needed…known what needed to be done.

It honestly was a big brother intuition, and just like Dean himself, it'd gotten more and more unforgiving as the years had passed.

He swallowed hard and shook his head. "No, nothing."

"You sure?"

"Yeah, I'm sure."

There was a heavy sigh of relief.

"Just look after your brother, now. He's gonna need you playin' at a hundred when the time comes." Then tentatively, "You sure you don't want me to come out there?"

"Family for Sam Vester?"

The voice rang out in the busy waiting room.

The tall and lanky doctor that had taken Sam when they'd first entered the hospital was standing there with a chart in his hands and Dean nearly threw up at the very sight of him.

He muttered a quick and rushed goodbye to Bobby and slammed the phone down, waving a hand at the doctor as he quickly rounded the group of chairs.

"Dean? I'm Dustin Cook, your brother's physician."

He nodded, swallowing hard. "How's Sam?"

Cook sent him a small reassuring smile. "He's doing fine."

Dean, for just a second, felt his vision blur.

He's doing fine.

Sammy was ok.

The doctor seemed to understand the expression on the Winchester's face because he smiled again, patting Dean's shoulder gently. After a moment, he motioned for Dean to follow him and the two quickly walked through the large door separating the ER from the waiting area.

"You mentioned before that he'd been buried?"

"In a pine box, yeah."

The doctor shook his head. "And you said he'd been gone almost three days?"

"Just over three days."

They walked quickly past a bustling nurses' station; ringing phones, squeaky shoes, the beeping of heart monitors…Dean's own heartbeat was loud in his ears, drowning out everything but the doctor's voice.

"Hypothermia is a problem, so is malnutrition. We've got him hooked up to a few different IVs, just to make sure that he gets all the nutrients he needs—"

"He had some rigid bruising on his right side?"

Cook looked impressed. "You sound like you've been through this before."

Dean didn't even comment, and after a moment of silence Cook continued. "It looks like he took a few kicks to the stomach. I've ordered an ultra-sound and once we get those results back, we'll talk about where to go next."

Three freakin' days.

How much do you love your brother?

"But…I mean, he's gonna be ok, right?"

Cook finally came to a slow stop beside a closed exam room door. He released a breath and folded his arms loosely across his chest. "Physically, he's going to be fine. Nothing a few good meals and some rest won't cure. Mentally?" His shoulders dropped slightly. "Your brother was buried alive. You said he was missing for three days; as far as we can tell, he was not buried for that amount of time."

Dean knew that already. Jake had told him as much.

He's been in that hole since just before noon today…

"He doesn't have any soars that would indicate lying on a hard surface in the same position for thirty-six hours. We did find several slivers in his fingers, presumably from—"

"Trying to claw his way out."

Dean's voice broke slightly and Cook's face softened in reaction. "We have to watch those wounds carefully for infection. I've already gotten him started on antibiotics. He was definitely hit in the end, he has a concussion."

He couldn't stand it anymore.

"Can I see him?"

Cook nodded and motioned towards the closed door. "I'll check in with you a little later after I get the ultra-sound scheduled."

The two men shared a quick glance and as soon as the doctor turned his back, Dean quietly and carefully let himself into Sam's room.

The first thing he was aware of was the light beeping of a heart monitor.

The second thing was the silhouette of his little brother cast against the light blue privacy curtain.

He swallowed hard and made his way around the curtain, his tired eyes falling on Sam immediately. The kid was covered in blankets and surrounded by pillows, two IV needles in each arm; he could give a geriatric a run for his money with the amount of IV poles he had surrounding his bed. Both his hands were wrapped tightly in white bandages and his face was pale.

Dean ran a hand down his face and forced a breath through his fingers.

How in the hell could one person screw up so badly?

Sure, he'd fucked up in some spectacularly horrible ways over his twenty-six years, but never, never, as bad as he had when he'd left Sam alone in that bar.

Sam didn't move an inch as he approached, finally coming to a slow stop right next to the bed. The fingers of his left hand curled almost convulsively around the cold metal sidebar.

"The crap we get ourselves into, huh?" He found himself brushing Sam's overly long bangs away from his eyes, something he'd rarely done, not since the kid was little.

It was painful to pull his hand away from his brother; unbearable to severe contact that couldn't believe he'd been without since they were teenagers.

Feeling exhausted, completely deflated, Dean slowly set himself down into the chair beside the bed with a quiet whimper.

How much do you love your brother?

"So…what d'you remember?"

Sam coarsely cleared his throat. "Not too much." He very slowly shuffled himself across the mattress, bringing himself closer to Dean, who was sitting loyally and protectively at his bedside.

It was sometimes astonishing how childlike Sam could be when sick or sore. It brought out the true little brother still inside the man.

"Left the bar a few minutes after you did."

"You didn't see 'em coming?"

Sam slowly shook his head. "Made it all the way back to the hotel before they moved in on me."

"Who moved first?"

"Jake. Hit me with the butt of a rifle—"

Dean was already furious as he sat there in his chair, clenching his fists to keep his hands from shaking.

That explains the concussion.

"I hit the asphalt. Managed to get a leg up and kick one of them, but I couldn't get off the ground. They were on me so damn fast."

"The three of them?"

"There were more than three, Dean. There had to be."

"Dwayne, Jake and the jag-off in the Chargers hat." Dean ran a hand down his face. "I only met three."

The expression that crossed Sam's face at that moment, at that realization, was as clear as day to his older brother.

Hell, he'd said the words to Bobby himself—there weren't many people that could take on a Winchester and come out of it the victor. They'd both seen their fair share of bar fights. Dean had been thrown through countless windows, hit with pool cues and hit by jealous boyfriends. Sammy got into fights only because Dean did.

Six-foot-four and the damn kid still followed his big brother blindly.

Three days before Sam had been taken down by three hunters and the butt end of a rifle.

And he was embarrassed.

"Sammy—" Dean sighed and sat up, dropping his boots from the end table they'd been propped on. "Jesus, man, it was three other hunters—"

"Could they've taken you down?"

"After hittin' me with the butt of a rifle, you bet your ass they could've."

Sam's eyes slipped closed for just a second. "Dean, I've seen you take worse hits than that—"

"You wanna know the difference?" In complete seriousness, he said, "All the times I took those hits? I had you there backin' me up. You were on your own, Sam. You did good."

He snorted quietly. "Yeah. I did real good. Got myself locked in a basement cellar for two days then thrown in a pine box."


"Dad would be proud, huh?"

The breath froze in Dean's chest and his eyes widened in both anger and disbelief; anger that the kid thought so low of himself…and disbelief that he'd actually brought up their father in the middle of an already crappy situation.

Sam locked gazes with him with eyes that were impossibly sad and whatever anger that was stowed away completely disappeared.

"I don't want you thinkin' crap like that…you hear me?"

Sam merely shook his head and turned away, half-burying his face into his pillow.

"Sam. Hey." He reached over and tapped his brother's arm. "Look at me."

When Sam was hurting physically, or even emotionally, Dean knew he needed a firm voice to gain his attention, but tender words to push away the pain…and depending on the severity, maybe a few wiseass remarks to distract him from everything else.

Sam had disobeyed their father's orders all the time…he never once disobeyed Dean's.

Not when it mattered most.

Once their eyes locked again, Dean continued, "You remember…you'd just turned fifteen? We were out in those crazy woods outside Burnsville? Me and Dad were huntin' a banshee?"

Sam nodded slowly. "Yeah, that was the time I fell outta the tree."

"You remember why you fell?"

"'Cause dad told me he needed a distraction—"

Dean smiled fondly. "Yeah, that's right—"

"—and him tellin' me that made me so nervous, I lost my footing on the branch." Sam deadpanned. "I didn't do it on purpose, Dean."

The smile very slowly melted away from the older brother's face. "You told me it was on purpose."

"I lied."

Dean blinked stupidly. "But…I was mad at you."

"For jumping out of a tree on purpose, yeah."

"But it was an accident." Realization slowly dawned and Dean frowned in complete and utter annoyance. "So I should've been mad at you for being clumsy instead of suicidal?"

Sam made a truly pitiful 'oh, come on' face.

"You just stomped on my whole point there, Sam, thanks a lot."

"What point?"

He sighed dramatically. "Well there's no point in talkin' about it now. I mean, I thought you did it on purpose, dude—"


After a second, he somehow managed to organize his face back into seriousness.

"Do you have any idea how proud he was of you after that? He thought you were a friggin' idiot…but he was proud." He paused, looking slightly embarrassed. "I was proud."

"You yelled at me for an hour, man."

"Yeah, because you scared the shit outta me. Seein' my kid brother go sailing out of a twenty foot maple threw me the hell off—"

Dean's voice was obnoxiously matter-of-fact in an effort to make the kid smile.

And he was rewarded with a display of heart-breakingly familiar dimples.

"Sammy, I don't want you thinkin' about dad…or about what I could've done. You think about what you did."

The two locked eyes and Dean was sure that if Sam's gaze got any softer, he'd change spontaneously into a marshmallow.

He knew that he had to bring it up. He knew that the doctor was right and that Sam would need someone to be there, someone to talk to. Dean knew that if he traveled back to 26 Chestnut Road, he'd find bloody fingernail marks in the lid of the pine box.

Just at the thought of it he could feel adrenalin course through his veins, every single cell in his body buzzing with a furious energy.

In his head, he could hear Sam's hysterical screams.

He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, willing the sounds to go away. He couldn't stand them. "How're your hands feelin'?"

"Can't feel 'em. Guess the meds are working."

He cleared his throat. "Look, uh…if you need to talk about anything—" Sam slowly turned his head, his enormous eyes focused on the older man's face. Dean, in response, nervously cleared his throat again. "You know that I'll listen."

There were those dimples again. "Thanks, Dean."

He couldn't help but send an answering smile. "Welcome."

If he said that walking into the room to find Sam sitting on the edge of his bed, fully dressed and awake, wasn't the greatest freakin' thing he'd ever seen? Well, it would be the world's biggest understatement.

The kid sat there like a blown up version of his five-year-old self, swinging his legs back and forth as he looked around the room with mild interest.

Dean knocked a knuckle against the door frame. As soon as Sam looked up, he said, "You almost ready to hit the road?"

"Guess so."

"You guess so?"

Sam ran a hand through his too-long hair, looking, surprisingly enough, completely miserable.

Dean was instantly concerned, a frown settling in on his tired features. "Sammy?" He approached the bed, swatting his brother's knee affectionately as soon as he was close enough. "What's up?"

"Where are we gonna go?"

"I dunno. Figured we could head to Bobby's, spend a couple days there. He's about ready to kill me, seein' as how I've practically ignored him for four days."

Judging from the look that crossed the kid's face, that wasn't the answer he'd been looking for.

Concern now. "Sam, what's goin' on with you?"

He let out a small and embarrassed laugh, un-shed tears filling his eyes. "It's uh…it's safe here." Sam said finally, his voice quiet and sad. "I'm safe here."

"You're safe with me." Dean said firmly.

Truer words had never been spoken…

At least not before Dean had left Sam alone in that bar.

He swallowed hard, ducking his head to see into Sam's heavy-lidded eyes. "Sam? You know that, right?"

"Yeah Dean, I know that." Sam smiled a very, very small smile. "Never doubted it."

"Then what's the problem? We'll get back in the car, hit the road. Bags are already packed—"

"Is it stupid that I'm scared to leave the room?"

Dean felt himself nearly deflate at the small voice coming from the man sitting in front of him.

In his experience, he'd never known Sam to be afraid of anything. The kid faced spirits, demons and monsters that only existed in nightmares, and he faced those things head on, not even understanding what the phrase half-assed meant.

To hear him say he was afraid right then was like a shot to the stomach.

Dean looked down to the floor, feeling a shame the likes of which he'd never felt before.

"No Sammy…it's not stupid." He raised a calloused but warm hand, curling it tenderly around the back of Sam's neck. "But you can't sit in here forever."

"No, I know that." Sam blinked, and then, "Hey…what happened to those guys?"

"The three asshats?"

The kid nodded, stupid hair flopping.

Dean sighed. "One can't walk…one can't chew…and the last one, I may or may not have insulted his mother."

A burst of laughter had both men smiling and Sam shook his head. "His mother, huh?"

"Yeah—somethin' about swallowing."

"Dean, that's kinda gross, man."

"Yeah, well, the bastard deserved a lot more than that."

And there was that damn 'soft as a marshmallow' look again. "Thanks."

"For what?"

"For comin' to get me." Sam's shoulder made gentle contact with Dean's—an invitation. "And for not getting yourself into trouble."

Dean returned the contact—invitation accepted.

"Me? Gettin' into trouble?"

Sam obviously found the humor in the smirk that was on Dean's face because he chuckled again. "Trying to look innocent isn't you, Dean."

"No, that's right, that's all you…right, Sammy?"

For some reason, a strong desire came over him at that moment; a desire to be honest…a desire to tell the whole truth.

Dean knew that he was a man with a murderous rage buried deep down under his skin. It had burst his barriers only a few times in his life, and those times always had something to do with Sam—whether it be fighting off bullies, fighting off monsters or hunting down the unlucky bastards that stupidly decided to mess with him.

With Jake, that rage had been right in the forefront.

He'd felt it in his own eyes.

"I could've killed them, y'know."

Sam snapped his head up, eyes widening slightly at the sudden confession. The kid didn't say a word though—he knew Dean well enough to know that once Dean started confessing, he just needed to sit still and quiet. Offering silent support.

Dean silently appreciated it.

"I had my gun, I had my knife—" He breathed a bitter laugh, shaking his head. "I shot one, it would've taken me less than a second to turn on the others."

Sam interjected quietly. "But you didn't."

"I wanted to."

"But you didn't."

God, Dean loved that kid so much.

But he knew everything he needed to know…

Jake Milligan—Denton, Texas.

Dwayne Lee—Beaufort, South Carolina.

Max Grant—San Diego, California.

He knew their addresses, the cars they drove, and the bars they went to.

He knew their closest relatives, their meeting places, and how often they met.

The murderous rage that had nearly exploded from him in that room with those three men? They hadn't even scratched the surface. Dean had killed for his brother before and there would be no hesitation if he had to do it again. The only question was whether or not Jake and his buddies would be stupid enough to test him.

In the meantime, they would heal. They'd go through the motions and try like hell to get the cosmic 'kidnap me' sign off of Sam's back.

But they would always be ready—Dean and his rage would always be ready.

How much do you love your brother?

They were words that would haunt him the rest of his life; curvy handwriting on a stark white piece of paper. Those words had been sinister and disturbing, but all they'd done was remind Dean Winchester that he was an older brother with a definite purpose.

God help the next bastard that spotted that 'kidnap me' sign…

Dean had held back once.

The next time someone threatened his Sammy?

The clip would be empty and the knife would be bloody.