In These Black Days

By Carol M.

Summary: As Sam contemplates Stanford, Dean is seriously injured during the preparation for an important hunt. Will John and Sam be able to save Dean's life? Will Sam make the right choice for his future? Pre-series, hurt!Dean, fatherly, brotherly and later, Bobberly h/c

Disclaimer: Don't own them, only love them

Spoilers: Pre-series


Part One…Hard Life to Love

"Tent, sleeping bags, lantern? Dad, this is like full on camping gear," Dean said from shotgun as he glanced over the list John had handed him.

John quirked an eyebrow as he pulled the Impala into the dusty parking lot of Duke's Sports and Things. "Yeah…so?"

"So…I hate camping."

Sam could relate. He seemed to hate everything these days, especially if it involved hunting or dare he even think it, his family. "I thought we were hunting a witch?" he murmured from his folded up position in the backseat, barely able to contain his annoyance.

"We are," answered John in a tone that acknowledged Sam's whine and effectively shut it down, all in one breath. "She happens to live at the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere. Twice a year, on the day of her son's birthday and on the day of his death, she comes down from the mountain, kidnaps three local kids and burns them alive, just like the town did to her son. Her son's birthday is in two months. That should give us plenty of time to track her down and dispose of her before she has a chance to snatch any more kids."

"How do we kill her?" Sam asked.

"I'm working on that," John said. "Her circumstances are…unique. Most likely, we'll have to burn her alive."

"Sounds toasty," Dean remarked, glancing over the list again. "Fifty boxes of ammo? You just said we were probably torching her?"

"We're running low."

A glob of irritation tore through Sam's gut. "How we supposed to pay for all of this? We've got thirty bucks and a credit card with a five hundred dollar limit."

Dean turned and flashed his pearly whites. "Aw come on, Sammy, a little shoplifting never hurt anyone."

"It's stealing, Dean. It's not right."

John caught his eye in the rearview mirror. "Until they start doling out salaries for hunters, you're gonna have to accept a little moral ambiguity, son." He eased the Impala to a stop at the front door of the store. "Meet out here in an hour."

Dean obediently got out of the car, but Sam lingered, staring at the back of his father's neck. "Where you gonna be?"

John nodded down the street. "Body shop across the way. We're going to be in the middle nowhere for a few days. Wanna make sure she doesn't conk out on us and leave us stranded."

"Whatever." Sam bashed the front seat up and got out of the car to join Dean.

"You boys make sure you get everything on the list," John said in a stern tone.

Dean nodded. "We got it, sir."

Sam didn't respond, instead he miserably shoved his hands in his pockets, wanting nothing to do with any of it.

"You hear me Sam? It's important," John shot him a look.

"Yeah, yeah, it's always important," Sam mumbled, barely able to restrain himself from rolling his eyes.

"What was that?"

"We can handle it, dad," Sam said through teeth gritted so hard his jaw cramped up.

"An hour Sammy…one hour."

John backed the car away and Sam watched as the Impala turned into traffic, heading for a body shop that was a few blocks down. Sam's hands sunk deeper into his pockets, the fingers of his right hand brushing against a piece of paper that had been burning a hole in the back pocket of his jeans for the better part of a week. It was a letter Bobby had handed over to him on a recent visit. Bobby had eyed him strangely when he had given him the envelope, but hadn't asked any questions.

He'd been accepted into Stanford. Scholarships would cover tuition, room and board and a part time job would aid in any incidentals he would need. All that stood between him and a new life was the letter of acceptance acknowledging that he would indeed be attending Stanford in the fall. It was the check of a box and his signature. Not an alias either. His real signature. Samuel Winchester.

"Dude, you sightseeing or something?" Dean shouted, interrupting his train of thought.

Sam felt a sudden stab of guilt and let his fingers fall from his pocket. "Right behind you, man."

Forty five minutes later, Sam was pushing a shopping cart filled to the brim with camping supplies while Dean was busy stuffing all of his available pockets with boxes upon boxes of bullets.

"Dude, that's enough," said Sam, noting the suspicious looks they were getting from the locals, who all seemed to fifty and over dressed in the same drab green jackets, dirty camo pants and brown boots while he and Dean stood out like damn tropical fish out of water with their baby faces and colored flannels, jeans and leather jackets, which wasn't at all helpful when you were trying to blend and commit acts of thievery. He stepped closer to Dean, trying to block him from view as Dean continued to shove bullets in his coat. "Let's just get the hell out of here."

"You can never have too many bullets, Sammy." Dean squeezed one last box into his jacket pocket.

"You sound just like dad," Sam said in a sarcastic tone as the brothers hauled their load towards the front of the store.

"I'm gonna do you a favor and take that as a compliment." Dean flashed him a stern look as he struggled to keep under wraps all of the boxes of bullets hidden in his clothes.

"You take it however you want," Sam said as he approached the counter in a huff.

A burly, bearded man of about fifty dressed in the same drab uniform as everybody else eyed them suspiciously from behind the counter, looking at both of them as if they were aliens. "How may I help you boys?" the man asked in a tone that clearly stated he wanted nothing to do with either one of them and definitely didn't want to help them.

Dean sauntered to the counter, motioning to the cart of supplies. "We'll take all of this." He eyed a display of beef jerky next to the register and picked up a handful, letting them fall all over the counter. "These too." He took one of the packages of beefy jerky and tore it open with his teeth, taking a huge bite.

Sam inwardly cringed at Dean's smartass in your face antics wishing that he would just cool the hell out and not play the wisecracking outlaw. Frankly, Sam just wasn't in the mood. Especially when Dean was stuffed to the gills with stolen merchandise.

Burly eyed them up and down, his nostrils flaring in and out like he was a bull. "Nice jacket," he said to Dean, eyeing the beat up leather coat.

Dean beamed with pride. "It's my dad's."

"You boys aren't from around here, are you?"

"What was your first clue, Paul Bunyan?" Dean smirked.

Paul's gaze drifted to the cart filled with supplies, eyeing the guns and knives and tent shoved inside. "Just what you plan on doing with all that?"

"We're gonna bake a cake with it," Dean said sharply.

"Dean," warned Sam, growing more and more uneasy as he watched the man's fat hand none so nonchalantly disappear under the counter.

"What you gonna do with all those different types of weapons, huh? All that camping gear? You two some kind of deranged serial killers or somethin'?"

"Oh come on, man, we're just a couple of city slickers looking for some kicks. Shooting cans, that kinda thing," Dean offered in a humbled tone.

It was at that exact moment that the last box of bullets he had wedged into his jacket tipped out of the pocket and fell with a spectacular crash to the ground, the box splitting open and the bullets rolling across the floor.

Sam's gut seized in dread as Dean offered Paul a weak smile. "I was totally gonna pay for those."

But Paul wasn't buying it. He whipped out a pistol from behind the counter and aimed it squarely at Dean. "You robbing me, son? You and your sicko serial killing friend gonna kidnap some girl and do all kinds of crap to her, huh? Using my bullets? From my store?"

"No, not at all, Pops. You got us figured all wrong, man."Dean's fingers casually skittered towards his back waistband, where his gun was always faithfully tucked.

Sam groaned, getting a monumentally bad feeling about this whole situation. He eyed Dean, trying to discourage the reaching motion, which Dean promptly ignored.

Unfortunately, the shop keeper picked up on the motion himself. "What do you think you're doing!"

By the time Dean got his hand on the gun, it was too late. Sam watched in horror as Paul fired his gun at Dean, who jerked and let out a shocked grunt of pain. "Sammy?" Dean uttered a split second before staggering down to one knee, a blossom of blood blooming over his T-shirt right over his stomach.

"Oh god," murmured Sam.

Paul shakily aimed the gun at Sam. "You hold it right there. I'm calling the sheriff."

Sam acquiesced and put his hands up in the air in surrender, sneaking a quick glance down at Dean before he gave Paul his best sensitive puppy dog eye look. "Please, sir, this is just a misunderstanding. My brother and me we…"

"Drop the weapon, or I drop you."

Sam jumped at the interruption and was even more startled when he saw his father at the entrance of the store, a gun pointed at Paul Bunyan.

Paul looked like he wanted to protest, but then John crept closer, the gun pointed right at the man's head. "Drop it. Now."

Paul huffed and then let the gun drop to the floor with a loud clank.

John glanced down at Dean, his expression unreadable. "You alright?"

Dean looked up blurrily, holding his hand firmly against his stomach, blood oozing out from between his fingers. "Just a scratch."

John's face got that pissed look on it that was so often focused at Sam. He repositioned the gun so it was closer to the man's head. "Open the register and hand over all the money."

"Dad?" Sam muttered before he could help himself, his heart racing in uneasiness and shock. Fear.

"Grab your brother and get him out to the car," John said, his eyes drifting down to Dean once more before his hand tightened on the gun and stepped even closer to Paul, the gun practically flush against the man's head.

"Dad," Sam whispered.

"Now, dude, that's an order," John said sternly accompanied with a look that even Sam didn't have the gall to argue with.

"Yes, sir." Sam shakily clamored for Dean, whose eyes were glazed in shock and pain. He grabbed Dean's hand and hefted him up to a standing position. Dean yelped and his eyes fluttered, threatening to close. Sam slapped him lightly on the cheek. "Come on, bro, we gotta get moving." He could feel sweat and shivers rolling off his brother in waves. "Is it bad?"

Dean's jaw clenched in a visible knot of tension. "Let's just get to the car, Sammy."

"It's right outside," John offered as they walked past. "I'm right behind you." He tossed an empty bag onto the counter in Paul's direction, who was busy pulling money of the register. "Fill it up," he said to Paul, who looked downright spooked.

Sam chose to ignore the unbelievable sight before him and instead focused on getting his brother out to the car in one piece. "Easy. One step at a time," he whispered in Dean's ear as he basically pushed his brother out the door and to the car, which, true to their dad's word, was parked right outside. Sam pulled several more boxes of bullets out of Dean's clothes so he could get a better grip on his brother. The boxes fell to the ground, the bullets skattering all over the ground.

"Dude, I got shot for those! Don't waste em!" Dean said, pissed.

"Whatever, Dean, I don't really care right now," Sam said firmly, giving Dean the evil eye as he struggled to open the car door.

Dean's face softened at Sam's glare. "Never been shot before," he said through gritted teeth as Sam held him against the car while he opened up the passenger's side door. "Bet the scar'll be awesome."

Sam rolled his eyes in utter annoyance. "You have a bullet in you, Dean. It's not exactly a paper cut." He got the door open and then manhandled Dean into the backseat, much to his older brother's chagrin.

"Dude, I can sit shotgun," Dean muttered, his eyes barely focusing, his body trembling.

Sam couldn't help but laugh. "You're such a jerk." He settled in next to Dean in the backseat, offering his shoulder for support.

"Whatever, bitch," Dean grumbled.

Sam closed the door and a strange muted quiet settled through the car, punctuated only by Dean's pain ridden wheezes. The whole situation seemed unreal, like a dream or a movie.

What's more was that the damn Stanford application had somehow bunched up in his back pocket and was now poking him firmly, almost painfully in the backside. He didn't know whether to take that as a sign from God or from the devil himself.

Moments later, John yanked open the driver's side door of the Impala, causing Sam to jump in surprise, jostling Dean and his bleeding stomach in the process.

"Ah," Dean panted.

"Sorry bro," muttered Sam, clutching Dean tighter against him.

John settled into the car, tossing a bag full of money on the passenger's side seat and then hastily slamming the driver's side door shut.

"Dad?" said Sam.

John didn't seem to hear him. Instead, he took a deep breath and shut his eyes for a moment.

Sam cleared his throat, wanting some kind of acknowledgement. "What are we gonna do?"

John opened his eyes and swiped a glance at the bag of money. Then he turned and regarded him and Dean, his gaze strangely locked on the blood gushing out of Dean's stomach.

"It's gonna be okay," John uttered. "It's gonna be okay."

The statement seemed to ignite a firestorm of anger inside of Sam. "How?" he yelled as he pressed his hand against Dean's wound to try and staunch the bleeding a little. Dean grunted against the pressure, his head dropping onto Sam's shoulder. Sam switched hands to get a better hold on the wound and flashed the now unoccupied and very bloody hand at his father. "How is this gonna be okay?"

"Sam," Dean warned.

John's eyes took in the bloody hand and then he turned back to the steering wheel. "Just take care of your brother, Sam."

Sam glared at him in the rearview mirror, spoiling for John to meet his gaze. But John never did. Instead he turned on the ignition and sped out of the parking lot, leaving Sam holding his bleeding and quaking brother in his arms.

Sam glanced down at Dean's wound, his heart thrumming in fear at all the blood. "It's gonna be okay, Dean. It's gonna be okay."