Chapter Two! This is chapter that I never really intended to write, actually, which is why I submitted Family Matters as a complete story. I was originally going to write a fic where Sam and Dean were, for some reason, not working together, circa season 3/4, and see where it went, but if I threw Ben in the mix, it got a lot more interesting, so - here we are. Same AU as before, but two years later. Dean's still not doing the family business, leaving Sam to cover it on his own, which, it turns out, doesn't work as well as expected. Enjoy!

Keep those peepers open, sonny, Dean's voice said, echoing inside Sam's skull and making everything throb painfully. Sam clutched the steering wheel of his 1972 Chevelle a little harder. The voice in his head was right. If he fell asleep … no, if he fainted … he'd be in big trouble. And not just because his Chevelle would crash, either.

He glanced down at his belly, where one hand was pressed against a whole swath of bloodstained bandages. He'd done his best to patch himself up, and if he'd rested for a few days—hell, a few weeks—he'd have been okay. But Ben's birthday was tomorrow, and he'd promised. And hell if he hadn't spent near to three weeks looking for the perfect present.

Present. Present. Oh, God, the present. The sleek black-and-silver BB gun that he'd used like a club. Nice one, said Dean's voice, and Sam slammed the heel of his hand against the steering wheel. The hole in his gut burned in protest.

It didn't matter, though. What mattered was that he get there on time. He could see Ben's face before him, thinning out as he grew, saying to him, You're never here, Uncle Sam. You missed the championship game and everything. Promise you'll come to my birthday!

"Sure, kid," Sam repeated to himself. "I promise. Come Hell or high water, I'll be there."

And it just might come to that.

But then he passed a sign that told him he was only twenty miles out, so he floored it, and the Chevelle's 454 big-block V8 roared. A gearhead in Mississippi had helped him with the modifications—that guy had had a real way with cars, Sam recalled. He'd milked a further seventy horses out of Sam's Chevelle, turning a respectable 270 to a teeth-rattling 340 horses. In other words—the Chevelle could haul ass.

The Chevelle took off like a shot, performing like a dream despite the wreckage of the back bumper, and the holes punched through its right side. The road ahead of them seemed to blur in Sam's eyes, until he nearly missed his turn; he had to whip the Chevelle around to make it, squealing the tires and sending a blazing hot knife of pain through his entire torso.

He blasted through the suburbia Dean called home at nearly seventy-five miles an hour, barely missing parked cars and sending parents and children alike diving out of the way. Screams of fury sounded in his wake, but Sam didn't hear them; his ears weren't working right, they seemed to be filled with fuzz. He caught the shine off the Impala's back lights and pointed the Chevelle's nose that way, only remembering at the last minute to hit the breaks, and came to shuddering stop.

With shaking hands he opened the door, spilling out onto the sidewalk the Chevelle was parked across, and the people who'd followed him to give him a piece of their mind stopped dead in their tracks. The wild driving had reopened the slash, and the bandages weren't equipped to handle it, already soaked with slow leakage. His blood was running onto the ground, and where it touched, it spread dark and thick. But it wasn't Sam's last act, not by a long shot. He rolled so that he could suck in some air better, and then bellowed, "Dean!" The pain nearly killed him. He tried again, but the sound barely escaped his lips. "Dean—"

"Sammy!" Dean's voice said, this time not in his head, and he saw his brother's face above him, and felt his brother's hands on his face. Sam felt all the tension leave his body, and he relaxed against the sidewalk. Dean was here. Everything was all right now.

"Hey, you hang tight, you hear me?" Dean was saying. "Lisa's calling an ambulance. Hey! Sammy! Keep those peepers open!"

Sam's lips tugged into a smile, and he slipped into the waiting darkness.

Sam awoke in a hospital, with tubes running in and out everywhere, and a little machine standing by to monitor his every move. He hated hospitals. Dean was collapsed against the foot of the bed, half in his chair, half out, and sound asleep. Out in the hall, Sam could see Lisa and Ben in the guest seating, both of them asleep, too. Their rumpled clothes said they'd been there a while.

He hadn't moved, but Dean's head turned to look at him anyway, and a slow smile broke on his big brother's face. "Welcome back, Sammy."

"Thanks," said Sam. "I think. What happened?"

Dean's eyebrows hitched upward just a hair.

"No, I mean—I remember driving—and I remember flooring it—but that's it."

"Mm," agreed Dean. He sat up, gave a stretch. "Well, if the mayhem you left in your wake is anything to go by, you nearly ran down half the neighborhood on your way to my front yard."

"Your front yard?"

"I think you were aiming for the driveway."

"Huh," said Sam, and then grinned. So did Dean, even though he was the one who was going to have to fix the sod Sam had torn up.

"So're you going to tell me how that happened?" Dean asked, gesturing at Sam's middle, where there was an impressive set of very thick bandages.

"Oh, man," said Sam. "It was a nightmare. I went in to kill a banshee and ended up facing off with squad of gill-men."

"Say what?"

"Gill-men. I know, right? Turns out they were golems, but in the meantime they hacked me up pretty good."

"Gill-men, like, Creature of the Black Lagoon gill-men?"

"The one and the same."

"What I wouldn't have given to see that," Dean said, with relish. Then he sobered. "The Chevelle's seats were soaked, dude. How far did you drive?"

"I don't know," Sam replied, honestly. "A day or two."

He saw his brother's face smooth, but his head jerked away, almost like a tick, an expression Sam knew was disapproval of the highest kind, especially because Dean was trying to hide it. It was a moment before Dean could speak. "And there weren't any hospitals along the way?"

"Ben's birthday—"

"Don't bullshit me, Sam," Dean snapped, his voice dropping to a low growl that said he was well and truly pissed. "You missed his birthday last year, and if there were gill-men involved, you know he'd have forgiven you for being a little late."

"Yeah, well, maybe I didn't want to miss it again," Sam said stubbornly. "Why is this such an issue?"

Dean came to his feet, so fast it made Sam dizzy, and said in a rumbling voice that was only a hair or two below a shout, "Because you almost died, you fuckwit!"

Sam stared at him. "It's not like it hasn't happened before—hell, Dean, we've died more than once."

"Yeah," agreed Dean, looking thunderously down at his brother. "But back then I was there to watch your ass."

They looked at one another, very still. Dean was thinking he's going to get himself killed and Sam was thinking I kind of missed this.

"Look, I was really out of it," Sam said finally. "I didn't know where I was most of the time. I just—"

Dean paced a little, running a hand down his face, before taking a seat again. "Sammy," he said, voice still deep like he was angry, though his tone was soft. "You gotta be careful, man. You don't have back up out there anymore."

"So come out with me," Sam suggested, voice low. "Just to the big ones, the ones I'd need help on. It'd only be a few times a year. What would it hurt?"

Dean stared at him, eyes troubled, and then pointed out the door to where Lisa and Ben were sleeping. "You want me to leave that?"

"I'm not asking you to give it up," Sam protested. "I'm just—asking that you don't give up the family business either. Not entirely."

"Jesus, Sam," said Dean, and sat back in his chair. He looked shaken, and a little pale. "Jesus."

Dean had gotten himself a part-time job as a mechanic to help out Lisa, which had some months later developed into a full-time job once Danny O realized that Dean actually liked the work. It meant that although he had gotten a day's reprieve to look after his little brother, he was back on the clock the following day.

Sam didn't mind. He had a substitute sitting cross-legged on his bed, peering down at what Sam was ninety percent sure was a rotten hand.

"Just admit it, kid," Sam said, grinning. "You're sunk."

"Am not," said Ben, and pushed two pudding cups, a wad of pretzels, and one dry old cookie into the pot. Sam whistled.

"That's a serious bluff to make, there, short-stuff."

Ben didn't seem to hear him. He was gazing down at his cards like they held the secret to the universe. Eventually he looked up at his uncle, young face serious, and said, "Has Dean ever gotten hurt like you?"

Sam figured telling the kid about Dean's stint in Hell probably wasn't the best bet, so he settled with, "Yeah. And worse."

"Worse?" Ben demanded. He looked scared.

"Hunting isn't like being a mechanic, Ben," Sam said. "It's dangerous. Really dangerous. People die doing this job."

Ben's face had grown pale. "Will you die?"

I already have. "Course not. Want to know why?"

Ben nodded.

"Because your dad's watching out for me. I'm good at my job, but Dean? Dean's the best there is." Sam gave Ben a smile, but Ben didn't smile back. His cards slipped out of his fingers and splayed out on the hospital bed.

"No, he's not," Ben said, his voice lowered so that Sam could barely hear him.


"I said," Ben repeated, "no, he's not. He's here. With me and mom. He can't watch out for you if he's here with us."

"That's where you're wrong," Sam said, though secretly he agreed. "Why do you think I'm here?"

"Because you miss him."

Sam winced a little. Well, wasn't the kid right? Hunting wasn't the same without Dean. Sure, the jobs were a little tougher, but that wasn't what he meant. It felt like a burden, like a prison sentence, instead of the family business. Because he was alone. Where was the family in that?

"Maybe I could go with you," Ben said. "I could watch your back for you. Right?"

Sam was already shaking his head. "No. No way. Dean would kill me."

"Why? I heard Bobby say that Dean knew how to shoot before he was five! I've never even held a gun!"

"Look," Sam said. "Dean loves you, Ben. You and Lisa. He's trying to protect you. His old life—my life—it's dangerous. Too dangerous for kids."

"How old do I have to be to prove to you I can do this?" Ben shot right back. "Fifty?"

How old was Ben now? Twelve? Sam had two knives and his own peashooter by ten. Ben was a lucky kid, to have a dad more concerned with making sure Ben grew up the right way than doing the job, but Sam couldn't help but wonder if maybe it was time for Dean to start taking Ben seriously. Ben had been begging to learn the ropes for as long as Sam could remember, and if Dean's wry comments were anything to go by, he'd been going on like that long before Sam came on the scene.

"I know it's dangerous," Ben continued. "I was there for the changeling thing, remember? But I really want to do it. It's—it's not like being a mechanic, like you said. It's the family business. And aren't I family?"

Ouch. That was hitting where it hurt, for sure. Sam looked up, to where Lisa was leaning in the doorway, and saw the troubled expression on her face. "Sure you are," Sam agreed. "But Dean's right about this one, bud. You still need a few more inches on you before we talk seriously."

"I am serious," Ben muttered, but he picked his cards back up, and Sam diligently pretended he hadn't seen what they were.

Dean knew the instant he turned the corner that something was wrong. Lisa was waiting for him outside Sam's room with a look on her face that said trouble with a capital T, and not the good kind, either. He gave her a kiss and glanced into Sam's room, where Sam was asleep and Ben was watching television with his feet up on Sam's bed.

"We need to talk," she said without preamble, and took him down the hall, out of earshot of Sam's room.

"Okay," said Dean, trying not to look too perplexed. "What's up?"

"It's about Ben," she said, her brows drawing together in a neat furrow. "This—this whole hunting thing, it was supposed to be a phase, Dean."

He waited, mostly because he wasn't sure what to say to that.

"And this thing with Sam—I was hoping seeing his uncle laid out like that would scare it right out of him. But he wants it more than ever. He's been begging Sam to take him with him when he goes." Lisa shook her head, making her dark hair swing. "I've been hoping it would be like soccer—"

"Yeah, me too," Dean agreed, looking back towards the room. "What did Sam say?"

"Told him he had to grow up a little more first. But I could see it in his face, he doesn't agree. Sam thinks you should be—I don't know—training our son. God. Training."

"It's hard to explain," Dean said, "but hunting—it's not exactly a lifestyle choice. Yeah, I'm here, I'm walking the walk, but I still check the papers, and I've done two exorcisms this year." Lisa's eyes narrowed. "At the garage of all places. Word's gotten out that I'm here, and they're coming to me, now, instead of me going to them. I'm doing my best to cut this crap out of my life for good, but it's in my blood, Lees, and the whole world goddam knows it."

"What are you saying?"

"I'm saying that I'd be a hunter even if my dad hadn't dragged me all over creation." Dean rubbed tiredly at his eyes. "If Ben's serious—he's not going to let up, Lees. Winchesters don't give up, especially when someone tells them to."

"You think he'd try to do it alone?" Lisa asked, eyes worried.

"You do, too," Dean pointed out.

"Christ, Dean."

"Sorry." He hesitated, then said, "You know I don't want this."

"Of course I know that." She put her arms around his middle and buried her face in his chest. "Of course I do."

Sam, much healed, stood by his Chevelle, also patched up, and watched Dean show Ben how to load a gun. After a minute Ben shook him off impatiently, brought the gun to his shoulder, and fired, hitting the soda can dead on. It spun to the ground and Ben whooped.

Figured. Let it never be said there was a Winchester who couldn't shoot.

He'd worried that Dean would sock him one for talking to Ben about hunting, but apparently his wait-till-you're-older speech had won him brownie points, because he got a frown instead. It was either that or the fact that Sam had been in the hospital still, and by the time he'd gotten out, Dean's temper had burned itself out. Even Lisa seemed mild about the whole thing, but maybe they'd been expecting something like this.

Sam and Dean had stayed up half the night drawing up a plan. It was the slow-and-steady version of what they'd gone through. Ben wouldn't go on an actual hunt until he was sixteen, they'd decided, and a solo hunt was off limits until he was at least twenty-one. Sam assumed Lisa had approved because he heard her telling Ben that sixteen was only four years away.

Dean had also made the decision to go out with Sam again a few times a year—for Ben's sake, he said, so that his pops wouldn't be rusty, but neither Lisa nor Sam was fooled by that. They all knew he'd missed it, no matter how much he loved his new life and wanted the weight of the old one gone. Lisa took it all well, and went out with them a few times to learn how to shoot herself.

It was the exact opposite of what Dean had wanted, Sam knew. But the tension in the house was gone, and Sam was no longer a relic of Dean's past, but a member of the family again. The rest of the stuff, sure, whatever. It was good that Ben was finally getting to stretch his wings a little. But mostly Sam was glad that he still had his brother to rely on.

Sam had a copy of The Plan in his wallet, with dates highlighted all down its length. Those were the days that he showed Ben a thing or two, and while he'd landed a lot of the research lessons, he had a few fight and tactics ones, too. It was a little military, The Plan, but it took things slow and steady, and gave Ben plenty of time to back out if he wanted to—not that any of them really expected that. Hoped for it, maybe.

One thing was for sure: if Sam was ever half so lucky as Dean, he'd be Xeroxing The Plan and using it for his own kid, in a heartbeat.

He took another peek at it. Next month he'd been put down for sparring, leaving him just enough time to go down to Florida and check out a possible poltergeist.

"Did you see that?" Ben shouted, turning to look for Sam's approval.

"I bet you can't hit that post," Sam said, nodding towards the one stationed some forty feet back from the fence the soda can had been on.

"Bet I can," Ben said, and shot it dead center just to prove his point.

On second thought, Florida was pretty far; if the poltergeist thing got hairy he might not make it back in time. Besides, there were rumors about an Old Hag haunting one state over he could check out.

Not that Old Hags were better than poltergeists. But this was one date Sam was determined not to be late for.