WHEN YOU'RE FOURTEEN

By: Karen B.

Summary: Season Five Spoiler Warning….Exploring the story behind Sam and his Golden Retriever, Bones. Sam - fourteen. Dean - eighteen.

Disclaimer: Not the owner.

Rated: Nothing to ghastly. Just what the muse dictated. Teenchester. Angst/ hurt Sam. Angry/ scared/ 'I thought you were dead', Dean. Featuring cute and fuzzy doggy, Bones. And a bit of hard-handed John. Slight tissue warning.

Author's note: We didn't get much info about Sam and Bones. The muse figured that declared the subject - open season. This is what she made me write. Story may not really fit into cannon. Shrugs. Hope you enjoy. I posted the entire story as my computer has a case of the Gremlins and I may not get back on anytime soon. Sorry.

/~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Blood. He hated Blood. The smell. The taste. The sight. The more he watched Dean and Dad wash blood from their hands, the more Sam rebelled. Blood was a part of the job, the part Sam hated most. Dean's blood. Dad's blood, the blood of bad things in the dark. What if one day there was too much of the red stuff? What if one day they couldn't wash their hands clean and they all drowned in a river of red?

Blood.

Blood.

Blood.

Everywhere. In his wakefulness. In his nightmares. Melting and dripping like hot, red wax invading every aspect of his life. What Sam hated most was the fact he'd come so accustom to the stuff - immune almost. He didn't even flinch or feel sick to his stomach whenever he washed bloodstains from their laundry. That's when Sam decided he had to run.

He was fourteen and being fourteen, he didn't think about things like consequences or where his next meal would come from, where he'd live, how he'd find a job. Sam didn't plan in advance for those sorts of things, he just planned. Two months in advance to be exact. He'd pocketed money, stolen a stolen credit card from Dean's wallet. He'd packed a duffel bag full of clothes, water, flashlight, first aid kit and two boxes of banana flavored Moon Pies. He hid the bag in the cobwebbed rafters of the rundown house they were renting - knowing exactly where he was fleeing to. When the time was right, he'd grab his gear and bolt, runaway - far, far away. Away from his 'ever angry, always disappointed in him,' father. Away from his overly bossy, and total know it all brother. But mostly, Sam would run away from the things that caused him nightmares, made him miserable, made him feel like a freak and scared the living hell out of him - ghosts, and creatures that were not supposed to exist. The supernatural world was a bloody one, a world Sam wanted no training for, no part of. Putting a Glock and a beer in your fourteen-year-old's hands - was just wrong.

/~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dean and Dad had gone into town to check out a haunted cemetery. They wouldn't be back for a couple of days. In his rush and excitement, Sam didn't even bother to leave a note, that'd just make things worse. Besides, what could he say that he hadn't already said. No one cared. No one was listening.

'Just do your job, Sam' was his dad's answer to everything.

'He does the best he can' Deans'.

Sam didn't want the job, didn't want to train to be a hunter of evil. Didn't want to become part of the very world that had killed his mother and countless others. To become someone he was certain he was not, would kill him. How could his family ask him to do that? Go against all he believed in. It was a dark place he was afraid he would become trapped in if he took one single step into the shadows.

Sam just wanted to be Sam, and he spent a lot of his time bucking the dirty, gun-oiled rag his father kept jamming down his throat. He had plans - big plans - even at fourteen. He wanted a future. He wanted normal. Eating dinner around the dinning room table every night, nine-to-five, I don't believe in ghosts, normal. But his father wouldn't hear of that.

Sam and his father were forever at odds. Their toe-to-toe screaming matches had become a daily routine, and yet - though Sam was just a kid - he matched his father shout-for shout. And poor Dean, pinned in the middle, desperate to keep the peace. Beating his head against a wall, bloody and losing.

Sam figured running away was his only option. Dean wouldn't have to play referee anymore, taking hits for Sam, hits he never should have to take. Dad could continue his parental roll as boot camp drill sergeant without Sam around.

Sam would just be gone, disappear - just like the ghosts he hated so much.

/~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Not wanting to draw attention by taking the main road, Sam trekked the back way up into the park-lands. It had been a long hike on foot through the tall grass and wild vegetation, over the small fast moving brook, past skittering bees, croaking frogs, and screeching hawks. Sam was proud of himself, making good time without a hitch. He chose his first home away from hunting carefully. A wayward cabin, deep in the woods. There were hundreds of rentals in Flagstaff. He knew the area well, he and his family had stayed here once before. The cabin was up in high country, a place of beauty and more importantly a place where nothing supernatural had ever occurred. It was the one place Sam could think of that Dad nor Dean's blood had dripped to the tiled bathroom floor or washed down the kitchen drain. Besides that, the cabin was off the beaten path. Far enough from the city and free of nosey neighbors - the two legged kind anyway. There were plenty of deer, raccoon, rabbit, mice, and the occasional black bear.

The cabin's timbers were structurally sound to ward off the weather. There was a large stone fireplace for cooking, the décor simple. A bed, table chairs, outhouse, a small black and white television. It was the perfect place. Of course, the electric was turned off as it was off-season, but Sam knew how to rough it. Survival skills were one thing Sam didn't mind learning from his father. Being a Boy Scout was fun and a far cry from being a solider of war.

It hadn't taken Sam long to pick the lock and set up housekeeping. He'd been here five days already. Five days of just being Sam. Five days of being normal - well - as normal as he was ever going to get. Five whole days of eating pizza, peanut butter sandwiches, and Funyons - his favorite. Five whole days and he hadn't even salted a window or door. Maybe it was stupid, but it felt good to leave the world of chaos and anarchy to his overly obsessed brother and father. He'd only packed a small hunting knife, a slingshot, clothing, and his own know how. Hell, Sam hadn't even brought a gun, something his father would never leave home without. For some odd reason, Sam felt safe here in the small cabin nestled amongst the big evergreens and surrounded by the sound of singing birds, slow babbling brooks, and the wind through the trees. He felt secure living among the voices of nature, at peace from the rising to the setting of the sun. He'd stay here a few more weeks then move on.

_/~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On day six, too much of a good thing got old. As mouthwatering as Funyons and sandwiches were he couldn't live off that forever. Several nights, Sam had made his way back into town to score some pizza, but couldn't risk ordering take-out every night. Not to mention he had to watch his cash flow as Sam had ditched Dean's credit card, deciding that had been a bad idea. Dean and dad surely would track him if he used the card even once. No, it was time to do some hunting of a different sort. The kind of hunting normal people did. Rabbit, squirrel….fish.

Summer insects buzzed in his ear, flitting about his eyes and nose, some helping themselves to his blood. Sam stayed light on his feet, resisting the urge to slap the annoying bugs away.

Birds sang softly, and the rush of the nearby bubbling brook filled the brisk morning air. Sam shrugged his backpack up higher on his shoulders. Slingshot in hand, he stalked quietly down a leafy, tree rooted dirt path.

Evil things that went bump in the night weren't the only family hunting trips they'd gone on together. His father had taught Dean and him how to hunt for food in the wilderness. Sam didn't enjoy hunting of any kind, but survival was survival. One couldn't always count on bags of processed food, or a plate of pancakes, bacon and eggs slid in front of you by a grandmotherly-looking waitress with a pleasant smile.

Dad and Dean preferred bigger game, deer mostly. But Sam, he could never bring himself to shoot the shy, doe-eyed creatures. He preferred to scout out smaller game, using rocks and the slingshot he'd made, instead of the gun his father was always forcing on him. The effect wasn't as bloody as a speeding bullet, but adequate enough.

Sam turned statue-like, spying his specialty - cottontail rabbit - lurking in the nearby blackberry bush. He loaded his slingshot with a large rock, extended the weapon at arms length and stretched the rubber band far back. Sam steadied his aim. Just as he was about to release, a strange howling sound distracted him and he flinched - alerting his prey.

"Crap." He watched in disappointment as the cottontail darted off, vanishing into the woods.

The distant howling turned to whimpered yelps. The animal, or whatever it was, sounded desperate, scared and in pain. Sam followed the sound. Clearing the woods he came to the brook. The howling had stopped, replaced by wispy wafts of air blowing through the trees, casting shadows upon the ground. Glancing up and down all Sam saw was a pair of blue and green winged ducks lazily drifting among the rocks and tree branches.

It took Sam all of two seconds to realize, someone, or, more likely - as Winchester good fortune would have it - something was behind him. He could feel a set of skull-burning eyes, boring into the back of his head, could hear breathing, the licking of chops. What nightmarish thing, this time, awaited to tear him apart? Sam steadied his nerve and sucked in a deep breath, preparing to defend himself. His fists clenched around his slingshot, loaded and ready to catapult a rock at the head of whatever evil thing was lurking behind him. He let out a breath and whirled to face…

"Oh, geeze." Sam quickly relaxed, lowering the weapon. "Hey there, you." He let out a breath, staring into a pair of large, dark brown eyes. "What's a dog doing way out here all alone?" Sam asked.

The dog shivered, but didn't make a move. Through the mud-splattered coat, Sam could see a tight corded rope around the animal's neck. "You lost?" Sam frowned. Judging by the animals height the dog should have easily weighted 60-80 pounds. Poor thing probably weighted almost half that as every one of the dog's ribs protruded out like sticks and his cheek bones were sunken in. "Ouch." Sam cringed staring at the armor of sharp three-inch long quills embedded deeply into the dog's muzzle. "You look a mess." He took a step forward. The dog cowered, backing away a little. "It's okay." Sam changed tactics. Keeping his movements very slow, he crouched down sideways to the dog. "I'm Sam," he said in a quiet and gentle tone, being sure not to make direct eye contact with the frightened animal.

The dog pawed more furiously at the quills, letting out a startled yelp.

Sam winced. "That has to hurt. You shouldn't touch those." Sam wanted to reach out to the dog, but he forced his hands to stay down at his sides - none threatening. "You got whacked good."

The dog kept licking and pawing at the sharp quills, keeping a suspicious eye locked onto Sam.

Sam slowly reached into his jacket pocket, and pulled a package of crackers he'd remembered stuffing in there from the last diner he and his family had stopped at.

"You hungry?" he asked, slowly unwrapping the plastic.

Was the dog lost? Abandoned. Abused. How could anyone mistreat such a beautiful animal.

"Had a run-in with a porcupine, huh, fella." Sam recalled his father's warnings about the twenty-plus pound rodent with a tail armed full of sharp, silvery quills. Even though porcupines were round, large and very slow, they rarely hunted them. Thier meat was gamy and tough. Besides, if you got too close, one swat of the swishing, rattling tail would send sharp, three-inch barbed quills painfully deep into your flesh.

The dog scratched harder at the needles, the area red, swollen and oozing blood "Hey, hey, easy there, girl, don't…" Sam shook his head, and shuffled a little closer, taking a quick peek at the dog's underbelly. "'Eh, I mean…boy. Don't keep scratching at those." Sam held out a flattened palm full of crumbled crackers. "Come here," he cooed, hoping to not only distract the dog from making his injuries worse, but also gain his trust. "Come on," Sam whistled softly between his teeth.

The dog stopped scratching, sniffing the air and eyeballing the crumbled crackers in Sam's hand. Sam didn't move, waiting patiently for the dog to approach him on his own terms. Sure he could lunge for the rope around the poor dog's neck, but that would just scare the dog. He wanted the dog to realize he could be trusted and wouldn't hurt him.

The dog, the dog, the dog. Damn he needed a name for the dog. "Take your time, uh," Sam paused to think, "Bones, I'll wait for you."

A long twenty minutes passed before Bones finally succumb to his hunger. He limped on his right, front leg over to Sam and started lapping up the crackers.

"That a boy." Sam reached a hand and pet the top of the dog's head as he continued to lick his palm with his pink tongue, even after all the crackers had been devoured. "I always wanted a dog, but dad would never hear of that," Sam said quietly.

Bones stopped licking and sat down in front of Sam, staring, mud-caked tail thumping against the ground. Sam winced at the quills sticking out of his nose. They looked deep and painful, on their way to becoming infected. "Have to get those out before an infection sets in. I have a first aid kit back at the cabin." Sam ran his hand down the dog's neck. "So," he reached for the frayed end of the rope. "Want to go for a walk with me?"

Bones seemed to understand Sam wasn't going to hurt him and got to his feet, barking happily. Sam smiled, taking the rope. "We'll walk slow," he said, leading his new found companion toward the cabin.

/~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sam had Bones lying on the floor wrapped tightly in a blanket, the dog's head wedged gently, yet securely under one knee. Using the forceps, Sam struggled to get a good grip on the last quill. "Hold still." Bones whimpered and squirmed. "Sh...sh...almost over...almost...there got it." Sam yanked out the long shaft.

Bones yelped.

"Sorry. I'm sorry," he soothed, rubbing Bones behind the ears.

A dousing of peroxide and antibiotic suave and Bones lay flopped all cushy in Sam's lap, the two sharing the last of his two-day old pizza.

"Don't worry, Bones, I'm going to take care of you. Tomorrow morning, I'll give you a bath, and I'll go hunt us some real food. We need to get some weight on your bones, Bones," Sam laughed, hugging the dog close and ignoring the dried mud crumbling off the animals fur. "Dad would have a cow if I brought a dog home," Sam murmured, picturing his ranting father. "I'll never yell at you, or make you do something you don't want to do. You can trust me." Sam's eyes watered. "I'll love you know matter what." Sam snuggled down next to Bones, his hand curling into the muddy coat. "Even if you never want to hunt a rabbit or fetch a stick. You're not something to be trained…" A tear rolled down Sam's cheek. "You don't have to please me." A sob left Sam's throat. "You're my friend, my family, a-a-and," Sam stuttered. " No matter what you do or don't do, I'll always be there for you."

Bones whined, his pink tongue darting out to lick away Sam's tears.

/~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Three days later -

Morning's light filtered down between the tall trees, sunspots dancing about on the cool forest floor. Sling shot in hand, Sam quietly lurked in and out of the shadows and thorny thickets. Bones trotted along ahead of him obviously following the scent of a trail he'd picked up. It was the dogs first real day up and on his feet. Sam hadn't even ordered Bones to do a thing. Sit, stay, come, track. The dog just seemed to be a natural born hunter. Sam marveled at his newfound friend. In the three days since he and Bones met, the emaciated dog had already put on weight, eating the last of Sam's rations, enough so that Sam could no longer see the animals every rib.

Bones bounded along, having a lot more energy and he wasn't limping anymore, his nose twitching at the ground. As Sam had promised, he'd given Bones and himself a bath in the small creek behind the wayward cabin. Sam hadn't laughed so hard in weeks. It was insanely funny trying to hold the dog still, rubbing a cake of soap over his fur while Bones tried to snap at the little fish swimming by. It took forever, but Sam finally rid Bones of the caked on mud and burs, revealing a thickly feathered, golden coat.

Having always wanted a dog, Sam had taken a book out at the school library over a year ago. He'd researched and studied over one-hundred and fifty breeds, narrowing his favorites down to three. A Beagle, Blue Tick Coonhound, or Golden Retriever.

Sam smiled to himself. He'd actually lucked out - something that almost never happened in a Winchester's life. Bones was a Golden and a beautiful Golden at that. It was hard for Sam to imagine how the dog ended up in such bad shape, far away from human contact. Even harder to imagine, was the fact all three dogs Sam had chosen for himself were hunting breeds. The very thing he was running away from - ran to him. What did that say?

Sam shook his head, not wanting to think on his past life, instead, wondering just what it was his dog was after. He silently hoped it wasn't a bear, skunk, or worse another porcupine.

Bones paused, sniffing around a fallen rotting log. "Don't suppose you're tracking down a short stack with lots of butter, maple syrup and extra crispy bacon." Sam's stomach grumbled. He'd fed the last of his food supply to the emaciated dog, and now he was paying the price - a price Sam considered well worth.

Bones froze, statue-like, staring intently at the hollowed out log.

"What? What you got, boy?"

Bones looked at Sam, only his eyes moving. The rest of the dog's body stayed completely still, not so much as a muscle quivered.

"No short stack in there," Sam whispered. Raising his slingshot, he gave the log a hard kick with his boot; knowing for every action there was an equal and opposite reaction. A blur of brown bounded out of the log. The chase was on; Bones and Sam hot on the trail of the cottontail. They raced around trees, and down a hill, through a small stream, and back up a hill.

"Crap." Sam stumbled over a tree root, causing him to lose sight of their quarry, and his dog. "Crap, crap, crap." He glanced all around. "Damn it," Sam cursed his disappointment. He wasn't disappointed for long. "Good, dog." A smile spread across his face. Bones had cut the beady eyed bunny off and turned him around. Like a dog herding sheep, the cottontail bounded back Sam's way.

Steady," Sam whispered, raising his slingshot.

A single shot spelled victory.

/~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was very dark around the cabin, but the glow of the small campfire Sam had built was enough.

Sam sat on a large rock, Bones by his side. There was something magical about sitting out under the stars. Staring skyward was something he and Dean just recently started doing. Sam listened to the wind through the trees, the smell of burning wood and roasted rabbit permeating the air around him. He recalled, not to long ago, when he and his family had stayed at this very cabin.

Dad had built a fire much like the one Sam sat before now. They'd sat around the fire together, eating cooked venison, Dad and Dean telling ghost stories, only these ghost stories were all kinds of real. As usual Dad headed inside early, passing out amass of paper and research, either from too much drink, not enough sleep, or both. With only four channels on the small black and white TV, Sam and Dean were left to their own devices. Paper, scissors, rock was an old stand-by game they'd often play. Sam knew his opponent well. Dean, so predictable, always throwing down scissors. That night around the fire the simple game took a turn.

Sam threw rock.

Dean smiled, unclenching his fist and waving his hand around like a crazy person yelling, "Tickle monster trumps everything." Knocking Sam to the dirt, he dug his fingers into Sam's ribs.

"Stop, stop," Sam laughed so hard he could hardly breath.

"Say mercy and I'll stop," Dean laughed along with Sam.

Moments later Sam cried out, "Mercy."

Spent from laughing so hard, they'd settled around the campfire staring up at the stars and saying nothing. It was peaceful and one of the few 'normal' moments they'd shared in a long time.

Sam smiled at the memory. He missed Dean. If only the supernatural world he knew lay under those stars didn't foil the magic of what could be.

He'd left Dean alone in that world. A world Sam didn't want to deal with. Dean had no choice but to deal, exposed to the life at such an early age.

Sam was only fourteen. He didn't want real, real was whacked- out. He wanted rainbows, little bluebirds, and lollipops. He wanted to be like those other people - those happy people. He wanted to be someone else's kid. And what was the possibility any of that would ever happen, being the son of militant father? Zero-to-none, Sam figured, he had no other choice but to ran- away.

Dad would be too involved with the hunt, or drinking to notice he was gone or care even if he did take notice. But Dean would notice and it was a safe bet that by now his older brother was having cow, a horse, a golden dragon - whatever it was Dean was having these days. when Sam went against Battalion Winchester, Dean was horrified in everyway, but for everyway he as horrified he'd also shown more love for Sam than anyone else on the planet.

Sam felt a twinge of guilt for what Dean might be going through now, but not enough to do much about it. He figured Dean would be fine. He'd get on with the hunt. He'd keep chasing whatever carrot his dad dangled just out of reach in front of him. It killed Sam knowing his father didn't even have to say a thing to Dean, just a look and Dean was doing whatever it was the man wanted him to do. His father was heavy-handed, absolute and intense, if not obsessed with the job. There was no room for normal, for dreams, for futures. There was only room for manning up, doing what you were told. Sometimes Sam wanted normal so bad he couldn't control the hurt inside, and he cried. Dad's reality check when that happened was straight and to the point, 'Can't shoot a gun when you're crying, son.'

A lone tear streaked down Sam's face. Bones licked the drop away. Sam hung an arm around his friend. How was it an animal he'd only known a little over a week, seemed to understand and connect with him so easily.

Sam sighed, staring into the fire seeing only his father's angry eyes.

/~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Nights spent nuzzling and days spent romping, Sam and Bones became more and more the best of friends. Bones - despite the fact Sam felt the animal had been abused - was a well mannered and gentle dog. Sam was happy. His family would never allow him to have a dog. Their life didn't permit it. Dad would say, 'its jut a dog, there are more important things we need to be tending to. Dean, on the other hand, always wanted a dog, said they made great chick magnets, but then in the next breath he would agree with their father. There was no room in the Winchester army for a dog. A dog was work. A dog cost money. A dog was trouble, messy, would slow them down.

HIs family was so wrong. Life with Bones was simple and basic and fun. There was no pressure. No training. No nightmares.

They played fetch with a stick, chased each other around the cabin. While Sam fished, Bones sniffed everything and dug holes, but always staying within sight.

Bones padded along side Sam, everywhere they went. To the creek for water or to wash clothes. Into the woods to hunt and gather berries. On rare occasion, they trekked into the small town to gather what few things Sam could afford to buy, scrounging in dumpsters for the things he couldn't. On one such trip, Bones had awesomely sniffed out a twenty dollar bill hidden in a well trimmed hedge. They'd dined on Macdonald's hamburgers, fries and strawberry shake that night, leaving money left over for pizza the following.

Sam often wondered about the dog's family. Did Bones have a family? Did they miss him? Did they even care or know that he was gone? Had they left him at home alone for days on end? Didn't they know how lonely that could be. How scared Bones must have felt, not knowing where his family was. What if something broke into the house and tried to take Bones, and no one was there to protect him? What if his family was hurt or dead? Bones would never know. Maybe the dog had escaped, searching for them. Or maybe his family had intentionally dumped the dog in the woods, wanting to forget all about him. Because he was a monster pain in the ass. Because he didn't listen. Because he didn't follow orders, because he was just a stupid dog - unimportant. How could anyone do that? Abandon him. Leave him alone to starve or worse. It was cold, and cruel and heartless. Everyone deserved to be loved, to be happy, to have a normal, safe life - even dogs. Or maybe Bones had his own ideas of what family and happiness was. Dog's had rights, too. Maybe he'd decided to make his own way in life, longed to live the way he wanted to live, so he ran away.

"You're not just a dog, Bones, you're my dog." Sam patted Bones on the head taking the stick from the dog's mouth. "You want it?" Sam laughed, as Bones leapt high in the air barking loudly, and racing around in circles. "Okay, okay, then, go get it." Sam threw the stick as far as he could, smiling as he watched Bones trot happily off, his long, feathered tail wagging like crazy.

/~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sam wiped the girt of sleep from his eyes, waking up earlier than usual, the sun hadn't even come up yet. Peering out the filmy cabin window revealed why as he watched the storm clouds roll in.

"Guess we're stuck inside all day, Bones." Sam frowned. "Bones?" He turned from the window suddenly realizing his usual stand-by-me-always friend was nowhere in sight. "Bones," Sam whistled. "Hey, where are you?" Slightly panicked, Sam made a quick search of the cabin. Not finding the dog anywhere, he ran barefoot outside. "Bones, here boy," Sam called, the slight panic now gnawing his stomach. The air was heavy and quiet, the storm clouds rolling in fast and dark. "Bones, come here right now!" Sam ordered.

It didn't make sense. How did Bones get out? The cabin windows were shut, the door locked. Fear drove Sam's legs faster as he searched the surrounding forest. He wasn't salting the windows and doors, maybe he should have. What if something came in and took Bones? But why the dog, and not him.

"Bones," Sam hollered as the first fat drops of rain dripped through the trees, dotting the dry dirt. "Bones, come!"

Sam stood still, listening to his pounding heart and squinting through the darkening forest. He inhaled breath after breath, his body quivering, the gnawing in his stomach - all consuming. He didn't want to be alone, not really. And what if something horrible had happened to Bones and he couldn't help him. "What am I going to do?" Sam mumbled.

As if in answer, lightning flashed, thunder crashed, and the rain came pouring down.

Having no other choice, he ran back to the cabin, slammed and locked the door. "Please be okay. Please be okay," Sam pressed his forehead against the door.

A soft whimper came from behind. Sam whirled, jaw dropping. There, sitting in the middle of the cabin was Bones. Sam's half-chewed boot hanging from the dog's mouth. Sure they were only bargain bin boots, but they were all he had.

For a moment Sam stared in shock, rain water dripping off him and pooling at his feet on the floor.

"You jerk," Sam's tone was low and stern. "Those were brand new. They needed to last. Now what am I supposed to do? Are you crazy?" Sam bent down, tugging his boot from the dog's mouth. "Crap." He shook the drool off. "How could you do this to me?" Sam glared at Bones. I don't have the money to buy a new pair. How could you…how could you…" Sam waggled an angry finger in the dog's face. "After everything I've done, you take off without a word." Bones whimpered, crouching down low and staring sadly up at Sam. "I didn't know where you were," Sam ranted on ignoring the look. "Don't ever do that again. Do you realize how worried I was. How scared? I thought… I thought…" A single fleeting image of his dad and brother flashed in Sam's mind. "Just…" Sam tossed his hair out of his eyes and sighed, "Just don't chew the other one."

Bones crept closer, nudging his muzzle under Sam's chin affectionately.

"Okay, I get it, you're sorry." Sam wrapped his arms around Bones' neck. "It's okay. I'll just walk around wearing half a boot. You're still my dog."

/~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Days later:

The storm had lasted longer than Sam anticipated and they were out of food, and on the hunt again. Bones trotted along in his favorite place- near Sam. The forest was cool, lush and green, a living shelter to all who entered its borders.

Sam took a drink of water from his canteen, happy and at ease. "To bad we can't hunt pizza with a slingshot, huh, Bones?" he laughed, taking another full swig of water then offering some to Bones in his cupped hands.

Bones didn't drink the water as he started to bark and wildly jump about.

"What?" Sam chuckled. "You don't like water all of a sudden?"

Bones raced around in circles, barking louder.

"Bones knock it off," Sam said, no longer laughing. "You'll scare away any chance of dinner tonight."

Bones did as ordered. He stood solid in front of Sam, stiff and unmoving, a low growl emitting from his throat and hackles raised high.

Sam stopped mid-step, all his senses quickly wired and on alert. The forest was dead quiet. Not a peep, not a hoot, not so much as the slightest breeze. He'd only been standing still for thirty seconds, a mere five heartbeats before everything changed. A hot, near volcanic draft poured through the trees toward him, like someone had turned on a fan.

"Speaking of dinner." Sam frowned.

A whiff of burning wood filled the air. Bones started to bark again, jumping up on Sam, going totally crazy. Sam turned in a slow circle. The wind changed direction, a gust coming strong and fast, like someone had turned that fan up to super high. Thick swirling smoke danced clockwise, then counter clockwise, ghostly gray ash spreading all around, like snow.

Recognition set in fast. "Crap. Forest fire."

Sam squinted his eyes, searching for the flames. He was very familiar with fire. Fire was a big part of being a Winchester. The things they hunted and killed almost always had to be burned to finish the job. Fire-safety and hazards had been one of his first lessons. Sam remembered what Dean had taught him about fire. How it could be your friend as much as it could be your foe. He'd taught him about testing doors before you opened them. Crawling low to the ground where the oxygen levels were better. Should your clothing catch fire, stop, drop and roll. How it didn't matter how fresh or old the bones were as long as they were well seasoned with salt. How when burning,, said bones went snap, crackle, pop and you'd better be far enough away from the grave or you'd get skeletal fragments embedded into your skin or spit into your eye. Right now, Sam was remembering how wild forest fires were known to move faster than a person could run, eating up everything in its path.

"Bones," Sam screeched.

'Have a plan, always have a plan.' His dad's voice whirled around inside his head, like a Tasmania twister.

"We got to go, now. Come on!" Sam did an about face, heading back to the trailhead they'd come from, Bones following hot on his heels.

If they couldn't get out of the forest fast enough, they'd have to find a rocky shelter, try to conceal themselves from the deadly flames.

Sam's plan of action went south fast as a blasting breath of hot air roared past him, like flames pouring out the nostrils of a dragon. The lush, cool green forest quickly became a tinderbox, soaked in gasoline. Treacherous orange, purple and blue flames consuming everything in its path. Sam knew the dragon's ferocious appetite would leave nothing in its wake as the woods and everything in it quickly succumbed to the beast's evil inferno.

It was hot, so damn hot, and Sam was sweating bucket loads. His hair fell wetly over his eyes, obscuring his vision further, but he kept running. Bones ran ahead, disappearing into the black smoke.

"Bones. Get back here. Bones." Sam chased after the dog.

He could hear the familiar snap, crackle, pop, swore he heard Dean calling out to him. He turned to look. They were in a bad position. And things were about to get ugly fast. Fire danced around the majestic trees, shooting straight up their trunks, eating them like they were nothing more than Popsicle sticks, and closing in on him next. He tripped hard and fell crashing face first to the ground, sucking in a mouthful of dirt.

"Ugh," Sam spit, rolling over to pick himself up, but it was like the weight of a grizzly bear had tamped down on his chest. "Nuuu," he gagged, struggled to breathe, frantic to stay aware.

Time stopped, the roar of the flames silenced, and the glowing orange light went out as Sam's eyes rolled to the back of his head.

/~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sam woke with a quick jerk to the sound of shrill barking.

Lifting his head, he looked all around. "Bo…" he choked and hacked on a lungful of smoke. "Bones." He opened his eyes. Flames wildly licked at the air around him. Sam could fee the heat stinging his skin, burning and tearing his eyes. He desperately sucked in what little oxygen was left. "Uhgn," he retched, feeling the water he had drank earlier boiling in his gut.

The forest was nearly gone, the tall sturdy trees little more than ash and wood shavings. Any second he was next. Sam struggled to sit up, squeezing his eyes shut to the pain in his chest. He could hardly breathe and his lungs constricted like steel chains wrapped around him, squeezing tight. He sucked in a deep gasp of air trying to keep the last of his breath. His strength was gone and he could barely see through the thick, black smoke and powerful flames baring down on him. He wouldn't last much longer.

Over the loud roar of the blaze, Sam heard the softhearted whimpers of his dog. "Bones," he yelled as loud as he could, fear slamming into his heart. He struggled to stand. "Gah." He fell flat to his back, intense pain throbbing through his ankle, the fiery world wavering in front of him. "Please, no." He had to find his dog. Sam sucked in a deep gasp and tried again to stand, but his world titled like a broken carnival ride and he dropped down again. "Dean." The name slipped out involuntarily.

Suddenly, something licked at his face. "Nuh." Sam blinked away the crocodile sized tears. It was hard to see, his eyes burning and watering at the same time. He could see enough, however, to know the fire was spreading, headed straight for him. "Ah," Sam cried out, too weak from lack of oxygen to move. A shadow suddenly appeared, standing between him and the fire. At first Sam wasn't sure what he was looking at his eyes too hazy to tell, then it hit him. "Bones," he wheezed.

Bones was guarding over him. The dog yipped and yelped, pawing frantically at Sam's arm. Sam grasped at the long golden strands of fur, desperate to pull himself to his feet. He was boiling hot, and could hardly breathe.

"Can't," he moaned, flopping back down to the ground.

Bones gave up pawing, instead closing his mouth around Sam's arm and biting down. "Uhhh," Sam whimpered, instinct telling him to pull away.

Bones growled and tugged, and Sam realized even through the fog of smoke he continually sucked in, his dog was trying to save him. The earth beneath his back was jagged and rocky and hot. The dog's teeth unintentionally ripping at Sam's flesh as Bones dragged Sam inch-by-painfully-slow-inch away from the fire. Sam would have cried out if he could have. Would have gotten to his feet, but his arms and legs were tingly and numb.

Exhaustion and smoke inhalation had set in, and all Sam could do was tremble and gasp weakly. Darkness was closing in and his gasping quickly turned into wheezing - Sam's body going limp and unresponsive. They weren't going to make it. Sam thought about his family. How'd they'd never know what happen to him. How he didn't say goodbye, not even in a note. The world Dean and his Dad wanted him to live in was a scary, freaky place. Sam just wanted normal and safe. He was horrified to learn the harsh truth - there was no normal, no safe. He pictured Dean half-crazed, his dad, too. He hadn't meant things to end this way, to hurt them like this.

"De," Sam struggled to breathe, but the smoke clogged his lungs. Bones stumbled and whimpered, the smell of burning hair filling the air. "Kh, kh." Sam tried to clear his throat of smoke. "Plea…he-ha…uggh…" His heart skipped two beats. "No…" he gasped and strained.

He was coughing so hard now he couldn't breathe at all, like his mouth and nose had been plugged with burning rags.

There was a loud crash and a yelp. Sam was dimly aware the pressure on his arm had disappeared. He rolled from his back to his stomach fingers clawing, legs thrashing against the dirt. He could see Bones on his side, and unmoving near a burning tree. Hot tears dripped to the dirt as Sam desperately tried to get up and run to the dog. Dead. Dead. Was Bones dead? Unable to move, he took in short breath after short breath his jaw working, calling silently to the dog.

'Bones. Bones.'

Sam took two more shallow breaths before he finally ran out of air and collapsed, semi-aware of the roaring flames around him. He wanted Dean. Where was his Dad? Sam closed his eyes, unable to do anything but lay in the dirt and tumble through dark nothingness. Each beat of his fluttering heart screamed out for someone to save Bones.

'Dean-Dean-Dean.'

/~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He must have fallen to the bottom of a hole, face down. Everything was dark and muffled and his chest felt heavy. He needed to breathe. Sam tried to draw in a breath but couldn't, it was as if dirt was hard-packed into his nose. What was he doing here? The answer came to him fast - forest fire.

On the edge of consciousness, he could feel the flames bursting hotter all around him. Sam concentrated harder; someone was coming. He could just make out a pair of boots hitting rocks, snapping sticks - coming closer - heavy, fast and desperate. A distant, pained voice screamed his name just as knees hit the ground with a thud, skidding next to him.

"Okay, okay." Someone hovered so close Sam could feel the whispery breath in his ear. "I'm here." Rough, powerful, sure hands gripped him by his forearms, swiftly flipping him from stomach to back. "Hey. Snap out of it." The hands clutched at his shirt, half-raising him up off the ground and shaking him hard. "Enough! Wake up!" Sam tried to open his eyes and struggling to breathe. Desperately, he tried to tell this person to leave him alone, let him go, they were hurting him. All his struggling did no good, he couldn't budge - limp and quiet in the person's hold. "You're not doing this, kiddo. Not after what you put me through." He was lowered flat to the ground, trembling fingers pressing painfully along the side of his neck. "Shit, shit, shit." There came a pressure, pushing up and down repeatedly collapsing his rib cage, followed by air being forced through the gag in his mouth. "One-two-three- four," a breath, "One-two-three-four," another breath. "Breathe, breathe, breathe damn you," the voice repeated over and over. Small amounts of warm air continued to filter down his burning throat after each count of four. "Don't. Don't." The voice started to sound scared. "You're going to make it. One-two-three-four," without pause, more air was forced down his throat, "You hearing me?" Sam wanted to slip deeper into the darkness, but this person would not hear of it. "You don't get to do this." Hot air continued to trickle down Sam's throat, making him want to choke. The up and down pressure against his chest causing him pain, and cruelly seemed to go on forever. In between counting, a litany of words whirled around inside Sam's brain, frantic frightened, threatening. "One-two-three-four," a puff of air, "Breathe, breathe, for God's sake, breathe!" The demand was strong, hysterical. "One-two-three- four," A rush of air, "Sammy!"

Sam's body jerked as he somehow caught a half-breath. His back arched up off the ground, choking then heaving for more air - vomiting water.

"Okay, that's okay." He was hauled to his side. "Easy." Feather light fingers brushed hair away from his eyes. "I got you. I got you back." A moment more of vomiting, of comforting whispers, then he was immediately scooped up into a pair of strong arms.

"Eh," Sam grunted and gasped.

"Here we go, here we go, just hang on."

Whoever had him moved in a zig-zag patteren, making Sam dizzy. He weakly tried to twist loose of the arms, but he was only held closer.

"Wha'," Sam rasped, "Wha' doing?"

"Getting you out of here." Sam's head dangled backward. His eyes rolled open and he stared skyward. All he could see was blackness. He wanted to move, but had no control, his arms and legs flopping about - dead weight. "You ever take off like that again," the voice yelled, "I swear to Christ," said softly.

Sam's vision cleared some. The forest was like a war zone in the dead of night. What little Sam could see stung his eyes. Flames hissed, huge branches snapped and trees fell hitting the ground like explosives. Whoever had a hold of him was obviously used to dangerous situations. The shadowy form didn't even flinch, dodging this way and that with an all out, can-do attitude.

"Uugggg," Sam groaned.

"Hey." The arms tightened around him. "You with me?"

Sam shuddered, staring past the face into the suddenly blue and smokeless sky. He didn't understand anything. What? Who? Where? When? Did any of that even really matter. Bones. He remembered his dog, Bones. He'd run off. Through the forest, the forest that was on fire.

"You with me?" The voice ordered.

"B'oh, B'oh," Sam sucked in a shallow breath and tried to call his dog, but couldn't.

"Sh, sorry, don't talk. A simple nod, buddy, that's proof enough."

Sam nodded, confusion and fear setting in deep.

"Keep it that way," the voice said with absoluteness.

A cool wind blew across his heated face. Sam coughed raggedly, taking in gulps of air. The distinctive mix of leather, gun-smoke, dirt, burnt coffee and a splash of Brut filling his nostrils, filling his lungs. If tough had a smell - that was it. He knew this person who had loaded him up in his arms, but the name was lost to him. This person, his person, would never lay down and die, would go to the ends of the world and back again with him dangling dead weight - forever and ever - until the end of time. He knew everything this person was feeling, the emotions transferring right down the sturdy arms and into Sam.

Gratefulness.

Relief.

Strong will.

Undying Love.

Angry-fear

The angry-fear filled Sam's being. He was leaving something important behind and couldn't do that. He tried to wiggle his way out of the tight hold, but nothing in his body did seemed to work right as he fell back into black oblivion.

/~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was hard to breathe, like he was in a glass jar full of water. Sam couldn't remember a thing. Was like he was chasing a lost, out of bounds ball around at the bottom of a dark ocean. He heard voices, tiny and distant and niggling in his clogged ears. Sam stared into the darkness, searching, drifting, swimming upward - the ball he was chasing just out of his reach.

As he neared the surface, the first thing he realized was that he was lying flat. On sand? No, bed. The second thing he noticed was a hard, plastic shell-like object over his mouth and nose. He frowned, concentrating hard - clam shell? No, oxygen mask. He sucked in the cool air, feeling a pinching sensation in his left arm. His fingers twitched - stinging jelly fish? No, IV line. He sucked in another breath and sobbed. A cool hand came to rest gently against his forehead, and someone whispered in his ear. The words didn't register, but something did, and he relaxed into the touch.

Sam chased that ball around and around the deepest end of the ocean. For how long he wasn't sure. Deciding that plan of action was getting him nowhere; Sam stilled his mind, focusing in on the voices.

Both male. One familiar, one, not so much.

"He has a bad ankle sprain and some nasty bruising on his chest from the CPR."

There came a mournful groan.

"It's okay, nothing's broken, the stitches in his arm won't leave a scar, we still aren't sure how he got those. Looked like teeth marks. He'll be okay, just take time. He can go home when he starts breathing properly."

"And the burns?"

"Will heal in time, no skin grafts will be necessary, he was lucky there."

"The boy won't be so lucky when he recovers enough," the well-known voice grumbled angrily, "For me to put him back down."

"Teens will be teens. You're son's going to be okay," came a light chuckle. "Give him a couple more days here, and we'll be sending him home."

Shit. What was so funny? Sam stiffened, the out of bounds ball driving hard into his chest. He remembered everything now. Running away. The cabin. Pizza and Funyons. Hunting rabbit. The fire. Oh, God, the fire. Someone dragging him over the ground, scooping him up into their arms, racing through the heat. No, not someone, Dad. Somehow Dad had found him. And now he was in a hospital. His ass was so grass. Sam struggled not to move or open his eyes, sucking in another breathe. He wasn't ready to face the wrath of John 'my will is as strong as yours' Winchester, just yet.

"You should get something to eat," the male voice - obviously the doctor - said.

A rough grumble was his dad's only response as the door to the room opened and shut and they were left alone.

Sam listened to his Dad's boots scuff the floor as he paced back and forth nearby. He could hear his father's anger, huffing and puffing with every breath. Could sense his father's weighted stare - all one hundred and ninety-nine pounds of hotter than hot - burning more fiercely than any forest fire ever could.

If he strained, Sam could see his dad from behind his closed lids. Could see the haggard and royally pissed look. Everything in the room got very quiet, and it was all Sam could do to keep his eyes closed, lay very still and not make a sound. He knew his father was bent low over him, head nearly close enough to touch. An annoying lock of hair tickling his forehead threatened to ruin his possum act, but Sam remained still, he just couldn't face the man right now.

"Sam." His father's breath hitched, and a trembling hand came to press gently to the side of his cheek. "I…" he sobbed.

His father was crying. Sam held his breath to keep from gasping.

"Son, I…"

The door to the room flew open sending a whoosh of air so strong it blew the annoying lock of hair off Sam's forehead. "Sammy," Footsteps thumped quickly across the floor, "Oh, gaw," Dean whispered in a shaky voice, "He's so pale."

"He's okay, Dean." The hitch in his dad's voice disappeared as fast as the hand on his cheek. "Sam's going to be okay." The military tone Sam was so used to was back full force. "The doctor said in a few days we can take him home."

"How'd you know to check up at the cabin? If you didn't. Son of a bitch, look at him," Dean gasped, "He's a mess, he almost…"

"Systematic search. Almost, how's and why's don't matter. I found him. It's the only fact that matters." A loud thump came from across the room. "Except for the fact that this will never ever happen again, Dean. Not fucking ever."

"How are we going to keep it from happening. Sam's different, Dad, he doesn't want…"

"I'll task him more, you'll watch him better. Sam's gotta learn."

"Being harder on him isn't the answer."

"There's no favoritism in this man's army, Dean. Sam's gotta learn to be a solider in every sense of the word. When things start to get rough, he has to know how to stand up and protect himself and those around him."

"Dad…"

"That's finale. We're not talking about this anymore."

"Yes, sir."

Sam wanted to bolt again, but look at where that had landed him - in a hospital bed, right back in the middle between Dad and Dean. Maybe if Sam kept his eyes shut, he'd fall back into the deep end of the ocean. Maybe if he stayed really, really still he could avoid his family a little longer.

"I need some air, don't leave the boy alone."

"Yes, sir," Dean said assuredly.

The door opened then closed, but Sam could still hear his father's gravely voice cursing him, along with the scuff, scuff of world-weary boots as John Winchester stormed away.

Sam concentrated on breathing evenly, he was in pain, inside and out. He wanted to cry but resisted that impulse.

"Sam."

Sam didn't budge, feeling Dean's hot breath on his face.

"Dude, I know you're awake The drool on your pillow is almost dry."

Sam groaned, opening his yes and shifting away from Dean so he couldn't see his face. "Dad's pissed." Sam licked at his dry lips.

"Beyond pissed, and he's not the only one," Dean sighed.

Sam stared at the floor, his gaze landing on his shoes - one half chewed. Oh, God, his brain finally catching up with his body. How could he forget. "Bones," he coughed harshly, struggling to sit up and trying to pull the oxygen mask off his face.

"Sam, calm down. Let me." Dean removed Sam's oxygen mask, slipping a straw between his lips. "Small sip," Dean instructed.

Sam did as he was told, the cool water, easing his tortured throat.

"Don't worry, you'll probably only get thirty days incarceration." Dean pulled the straw away, replacing the mask. "I'll sneak a file in your Moon Pies," Dean paused. "Son of a bitch, Sam, how could you do this to me, to Dad, bolt like that, no note, no nothing."

Sam swallowed hard, blindsided by memories. The fire, the noise. Pain, confusion, fear. Bones lying still as the flames neared.

"Do you realize I thought…"

Sam sat bolt up, bringing both hands to his chest and holding them there. "He, he, he," Sam couldn't seem to get a breath. "He, he…"

"What? Sam, what?" Dean's hands were all over him.

"Sorry, couldn't, tried…" he choked, unable to get a breath of air even amidst the oxygen flowing from the mask. "He saved me."

"Hey, easy. Of course he saved you, he's dad." Sam was forced back down, head against the pillow. "All he and I want in this entire screwed up world is to keep you safe." Dean held a hand over the mask, pressing it firmly to Sam's face. "Just breathe, Sam. You're okay, just breath."

"D'n, nuh," Sam nearly choked on the words. "Guh." Sam tilted his head back, straining to pull the mask off. His dog. Oh, God, his dog. "Bones," Sam gagged.

"Bro, you didn't break any bones, now lay back." Dean's hands were on him, easing him smoothly back down.

"Dead."

"Keep that on," Dean ordered, placing the mask back over Sam's. "You're okay, this won't happen again, Sam, if it kills me, I swear I'll keep you safe."

"Not jus' dog, solider."

Sam found himself entangled in Dean's arms.

Sam ducked his head under Dean's chin, sobbing and hacking violently.

"You need to slow down, bro." Dean slipped a hand behind Sam, pulling him closer. "Slow down, slow down," he repeated over and over in a clam voice, rocking Sam back and forth. "Don't think about anything right now."

Sam's tension began to ease. Bones was gone, there was nothing he could do. Dean was here. The gentle hand of his brother rubbing up and down his back, trying to ease his pain.

"Sam, just sleep."

A dull haze filled him as Sam began to drift. "In so m-much troub-trouble," Sam whispered groggily.

"Afraid you brought home the gold in that race, dude."

"Uh. " Sam trembled, fumbling to get hold of Dean's shirt and fist it tight.

"Come on, bro, won't take Dad long to go on another hunt, and when he does, I promise, we'll go shoot off those fireworks I bought in Ohio six months ago."

Dean, always there. Always trying to smooth things over, Always protecting him, even when he wanted to throttle him. It was easy for Dean to live this life. It would never be easy for Sam. He was just different, would always be different. He couldn't make Dean understand.

"I'm just, I'm just," Sam inhaled, "Don't understand."

Dean shushed him, "When you're fourteen, Sam, you don't get much. But don't worry. I get you, more than you get yourself." Dean lowered his voice to a whisper."You're not just a solider, Sam, you're my brother, your Dad's son, always will be."

Sam nodded. Like Bones would always be his dog. Maybe Dean understood a little more than he thought.

"Thanks," Sam whispered back, falling asleep in his brother's arms.

/~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

EPILOGUE

Two months later

It was just another cabin, in another forest, near another town, under the same star-filled sky. Sam and Dean sat on top the hood of the Impala, both looking up, not saying a word. A box of pizza and twelve pack of root beer between them. Stargazing had become a tradition they came to enjoy, especially while there dad was away hunting or busy pouring over research.

Sam tossed his uneaten crust into the box, his stomach doing little flip-flops. Crap he was so sick of pizza. If Bones were here he'd be sick of it, too. Man he missed his dog. He'd prayed every night that the retriever had somehow made it out of the fire alive. A few weeks ago, while watching the news, Sam had heard a remarkable story about a dog. A Golden Retriever to be exact, who had pulled a small boy out of his burning home surely saving the kid from the fire. Deep down, Sam knew it couldn't be Bones. The incident happened seven states away from the cabin he and Bones had stayed at. Not to mention the dog on the news had been the families pet for ten years. Still, Sam liked to dream, and he often dreamt that Bones was safe, living with a normal, happy family that loved him.

Sam could feel Dean staring at him.

"What?" Sam asked, breaking the code of silence, while still staring skyward.

"Dad still working you hard?" Dean asked.

"I…I don't know," Sam said, "Guess not so hard, lot of wood chopping."

"Yeah, well there's a lot of wood around here to chop," Dean laughed.

Sam didn't crack a smile, eyes transfixed on a single star.

"Hey." Dean elbow nudged Sam. "You sick?"

Sam side glanced over at Dean. "Of you." He smiled smugly, going back to stargazing.

"No way." Dean chugged down half a bottle of root beer. "How can anyone ever get sick of me, I'm..."

"So help me, Dean, if you say you're batman…"

"I'm awesome."

"You're a jerk."

"I know you are but what am I?"

"You're a stupid jerk."

"I know you are but what am I?"

"You're a big, stupid jerk."

"I know you are but what am I?"

"I'm sorry Dad dropped you on your head when you were little, Dean."

"I know you are but…he didn't drop me on my head, Sam, he dropped me on yours. Ha!"

Sam sighed. "You act like a five-year-old."

"Least I don't act like a fifty five-year-old in a shrimp's body."

"La-la-la-la," Sam sung, hands pressed over his ears.

"Now who's acting like a five-year-old? You done with this?" Dean gestured toward the uneaten piece of crust.

Sam nodded.

Snatching up the dough and taking a bite, Dean mumbled, "Dad's going on a hunt, fireworks tomorrow night, bro."

"Believe it when I see it," Sam said distrustfully, pointing to the spot he'd been staring at. "See that star, the brightest one in the sky?"

"Dude, I'm serious this time."

Ignoring Dean as it was the fourth time in a week he'd promised they'd shoot off the rockets, Sam said, "That's Sirius - the dog star. Did you know it burns twenty times brighter than the sun?"

"Sam, I swear it, we're going to burn down that field, wait and see."

"Whatever, Dean."

"You'll be thanking me big-time tomorrow."

"Yeah, okay." Sam rolled his eyes. "So, you think there's a heaven for dogs?"

"Geeze, Sammy. I know you're fourteen and can't control your hormones, but try to control that big, slimy thing you call a brain would you? You're making me dizzy."

"Dean, do you?" Sam's big eyes pleaded with Dean for an answer.

Dean paused. "Sam," he licked his lips nervously, "I don't know why you're asking me this, and I don't like it, but if you have to know the truth…" Dean swallowed. "I don't even know if there's a heaven for horses, humans, or that gopher dude from Caddy Shack." Dean shoved the last of the crust into his mouth. "Hav'ta go somewhere is my guess, right?"

"Guess so." Sam tossed the empty pizza box to the ground. "When I die I want to go wherever it is dogs go."

"Sam," Dean twisted toward him. "That's a helluve a thought."

"Just thinking."

We'll stop thinking you're giving me a headache, and you're not dying."

"Everything dies, Dean."

"You're not. I won't let you."

"Where do you want to go when you die?" Sam questioned seriously.

"When I die, and you don't," Dean pointed out firmly, then smiled. "With any luck, " he crossed his fingers, "The Rocketts dressing room. Ha!"

The end.

Note: No cottontails were actually shot, killed or roasted during the writing of this story. No forests burned. Nor did any dogs die. They live forever in our hearts, and yes dogs do go to heaven - all of them!