Disclaimer: Don't own.


"So, how is she?" Sam asked as he sat on Constance's former, and now broken, porch, watching as his brother slammed the Impala's hood closed. The younger man brushed the back of his hand roughly over his mouth. He could still feel Constance's cold, dead lips pushing into his own; the memory of the touch sent a shiver coursing down his spine. Two days ago he could not have imagined riding in the Impala with his brother, searching for their father, much less being harassed by a woman in white. Pulling his shirt away from his chest, he examined the holes Constance had seared into the cotton.

"Well, I won't have to kill you," Dean said as he ran his fingers over the hood of the Impala, fingertips brushing against scratch after scratch marring the car's jet-black paint. "M'gonna hafta get the driver's side window fixed," tracing the outline of the Impala's shattered headlight, he added, "and I'm gonna need a new headlight." Stuffing his hands inside his pockets, he sighed and turned towards his brother. "But it'd take more than you and that Constance bitch to take her out. Had to waste her. You're just lucky that that old house is so torn up that even a pansy college student could'a taken down those walls. Like that dick, Troy," a pause, "or, well, you."

Dipping his head forward, Sam scoffed, "Hilarious. You're the one who had the bright idea of shooting a spirit in the face."

"Hey, got her off you long enough for you to rocket my baby right into her home," Dean's voice trailed off as he watched Sam absently rub at his chest. "You okay?"

"Huh? Yeah, just having some trouble getting air in," Sam said dismissively as he stood up from the porch, self-conscious that he'd been caught licking his wound. "It's nothing."

"All those hours logged studying, huh? Looks like you lost some stamina, there, Sammy," Dean smirked.

Dropping his hands to his sides, Sam said, "Man, whatever. I can live without the college jokes, alright? Let's go. You said dad left, so there's no reason to be here anymore." Sam reached for the passenger-side door handle, but a strong grip wrapped around his wrist, stopping him from opening the door.

"Hey, untwist your boxers and chill a minute, dude. Remember seeing those blood stains splattered in Troy's car? That Constance chick was probably trying to rip your lung out. Or something close. Doesn't take a genius to figure out why you can't breath right." Dean said as he tossed his brother's hand from the handle. "Lemme take a look at it," Dean said, waving one hand in the direction of the circular marks seared across Sam's chest, the other hand gripping the hem of his kid brother's shirt.

Sam's eyebrows shot up. "You can't be serious," he said, swatting his brother's hand away from him. "It's not that bad. I'll check it myself when I get back to Stanford."

The mention of the university's name twisted something dark and sick inside Dean's gut, but he pushed the sting and resentment attached to the word aside. "Well, looks like you are out of practice. You don't leave a wound unchecked, Sam. It could get infected."

Sam's eyes narrowed. "Dean, I know that-"

"Really? Then stop being a bitch and let me take a look at it, huh?"

"You know what Dean? You're the control freak."

Dean did not answer his brother in words; instead, he faintly dipped his shoulders and raised his eyebrows, the nonchalant body language communicating a nonverbal, "So? What of it?"

"…Jerk…" Sam muttered underneath his breath. Huffing out an exaggerated sigh, he loosened his stance, wordlessly inviting his older brother to inspect his wound.

Soil and rocks crunched beneath Dean's boots as he closed the distance between himself and his brother. Dean clutched the fabric in both hands, hiking Sam's shirt up to his collarbone.

"I can hold it up myself, Dean."

"Would you shut up for a minute?" Dean let out as his eyes took in the red, angry flesh on his brother's chest. "Kinda looks like she burned you while she was diggin' in your skin." Dean heard Sam grunt as he ran the pad of his finger just under the semi dried blood that was lacing one of the five, circular wounds. "It's a little swollen." Dean let the shirt drop once he felt his brother shiver, the cool night air sending goose bumps panning across his kid brother's exposed skin.

"Yeah? Landing a hand to it probably didn't help either, Dean."

Shooting his brother a brief, heated glare that did not impress Sam much, Dean shrugged his shoulder towards the passenger seat. "Get in. I'll get something to patch you up."

The Impala rocked and swayed on its axis as Dean slammed the trunk closed and slid into the driver-side seat. Holding the first aid kit in one hand, Dean used the other to crank the Impala's engine and flip on the heat. Tossing their father's journal and a map onto Sam's lap, he said, "Here. After I'm done you take a look at that and figure out the coordinate dad left us."

Nodding, Sam pushed the journal and map onto the bench seat and stripped off his jacket and hoodie.

"Okay, let's get this show on the road," Dean said as he grasped his brother's shirt and started pulling it over his head, but he stopped when his brother's palm landed across his hand, smacking it away. "Ow," he hissed. Glaring at his brother, he asked, "Dude, what the hell was that for?"

"Dean, do I look like I'm in preschool?"

Dean's lower lip jutted out slightly and he raised one eyebrow, feigning contemplative thought. "You mean look it or act like it?" he asked as he yanked the shirt over Sam's head, pulling it clear from his body.

Sam's Bitch Face was thrown in the older man's direction. Dean would never admit to anyone that he had missed being a victim of Sam's patented glare. "Better be careful, Sammy. Your face will get stuck like that," Dean warned his brother as he pulled a bottle of holy water from his jacket pocket. Moving his glance quickly from the abrasions to his brother's face, then back again, he asked, "Why'd she go after you? Thought she only went after backdoor men."

The Bitch Face melted off Sam's face, quickly replaced by something akin to guilt, unwarranted guilt, to be exact, but he tried to hide it. "Yeah, I know. I'm surprised she didn't throw herself at you."

But there was nothing much Sam could hide from Dean, even if the older brother had not been in the same room as his kid brother in almost two years. Dean chuckled quietly, "I know that's true." Silence followed his words, the grin on his face falling away with each passing second. Twisting off the cap of the holy water, he added, "I guess the chance to turn a faithful man sour was too good of an opportunity for that sick bitch to pass up."

Sam instantly locked eyes with his brother. Dean's gaze was piercing, but clear. The fact that Dean knew Sam had felt tainted by Constance, and was now trying to reassure the younger man that he did not do anything wrong, loosened the knot in Sam's chest. It also made him ache emotionally: he had missed his brother. The corner of his lips curled a fraction, and he gave his brother a quiet, "Thanks."

Nodding, Dean turned in his seat, situating himself closer to his brother. "Alright, lean back so I can cleanse that wound for ya."

Sam leaned his back against the passenger door, resting the back of his head against the glass, settling once he felt Dean's hand splaying against his shoulder, steadying him. A cool sensation trickled down his chest, immediately followed by a relentless burn. Sam tensed as the blessed water bubbled and hissed against his skin and within his wounds, clearing the vestiges of Constance's unholy mark from his person.

As soon as Dean felt Sam's muscles tighten, he started moving his thumb in small circles over Sam's jugular. Neither man openly acknowledged the presence of the soothing touch, but the act of reassurance and comfort from the older brother coaxed Sam to relax a bit and sink further into the Impala's leather.

"Been outta the hunt for a while, you forget how much it stings?"

"Naw, just reminded," Sam answered, a glint of white breaking against the shadows draping his face, lips turned up in a grin. "I can handle it."

When Dean smiled to himself at Sam's statement, the content expression on his face, along with the gentle motion moving across his neck, sent the emotional ache in Sam's chest barreling into the forefront of his mind. "God, why didn't I pick up the phone?" he thought to himself. Cause you're a stubborn ass. Dean's voice ran through his head. But he was afraid to—and angry—especially after his father's parting words; after all, Sam was not the only stubborn person in his family. He did not think he was wrong for wanting to go to college, but the way the situation had played out had not ended well for any Winchester. "After the interview, I should meet up with Dean…" Sam thought as he gazed at his brother's face for a moment before scooping up his father's journal and relaxing completely into the bench seat.

When Sam went limp under his hands, comfortable enough to let Dean take care of him while he occupied himself with the journal, something warm and familiar coursed through Dean's veins. It felt like family.

"You just gonna live some normal, apple pie life? Is that it?"

"No, not normal. Safe."

To Dean, Sam was safest when he was in his older brother's sight. Taking care of Sam was Dean's job, ever since the fire. It's what defined him: watching over Sam and protecting him. The problem: he did not know how to communicate that sentiment to his brother without risking the vulnerability. Dean was extremely intelligent, as much as Sam, just not quite as emotionally so. Sam had left him, under circumstances no one wanted or appreciated, and now his father had left him without so much as a warning or a decent explanation—signaling to Dean that Sam and John may be alike in more ways than one. The insecurity beating at his psyche from such experiences from the people he loved the most would be enough to make anyone want to close in on themselves. "Course, it's not like I tried to stop Sam," the unwanted thought passed between his ears. Quickly pushing the thought from his mind, he pulled himself from that dark corner of his consciousness that he would rather bury than deal with, mostly because he did not fully know how to deal with it.

But the open, calmed body language Sam was currently displaying with his brother—even as said brother poked and prodded at the lacerations on his chest— revealed that, at least unconsciously, Sam felt safe and comfortable in his big brother's presence, that Sam trusted him. That alone eased Dean's mind somewhat, but not completely. Gently applying some gauze over Sam's wound with both hands, Dean smirked when Sam automatically and unknowingly frowned at the absence of Dean's thumb moving across his neck. Plopping Sam's jackets and shirt onto his belly, he said, "Why don't you get dressed?" After putting the Impala in drive and cruising off Constance's lot, he dumped the map onto the journal's open page and added, "And actually take a look at the journal with the map, instead of just starin' at the coordinate as if the location's gonna jump out at ya."

Rummaging through the glove compartment, Sam yanked out the flashlight hidden within its depths and shone the beam of light onto the map. "Give me a minute."

"You got it," Dean said, content to have his researcher back where he belonged: home, in the passenger seat and next to him.

The Impala had only made it a few miles away from where Constance and her children were put to rest when Sam spoke up. "Okay, here's where dad went. It's called Black Water Ridge, Colorado."

Dean took a glance at the map in Sam's lap and then returned his gaze towards the black expanse of road in front of the Impala. "Sounds charming. How far?"

"About six hundred miles."

A flurry of anxiety fluttered in the pit of Dean's stomach as he made another attempt to keep his brother with him and away from Stanford. Taking a deep, mental breath, Dean almost broke a sweat trying to sound casual when he said, "We still got gas; we can make it by morning." But the look Sam gave him even before he spoke gave Dean the answer he did not want to receive.

"Dean…I…" When Sam's voice trailed off awkwardly, Dean's gut dropped to his boots.

"You're not going." It was not a question.

"The interview is in, like, ten hours. I gotta be there."

"Yeah, whatever," Dean said, trying to brush off the rebuff. "I'll take you home." Dean's voice was flat as he fought to keep the disappointed and angry edge out of his tone.

"I can't do this alone."

"Yes, you can."

"Yeah, well, I don't want to."

Dean's eyebrows creased as he remembered the conversation he had had with Sam earlier. "I don't want to," he repeated to himself as he stared down the dark road in front of him, knowing that, without his father or baby brother, the only thing he'd find at the end of the long stretch of asphalt was loneliness.


A/N: Whoa, I did not count on exploring the Dean angst so much.

I know people get sensitive about Sam going away to college, so please don't flame.

Constructive reviews welcome.