Dean woke to the quiet dark of a hospital room. Sammy's warm form lay beside him, breathing low and steady in sleep. Dean smiled as he reached out and covered his brother with the blanket. A picture of Sammy, fists clenched and jaw set in an exceedingly bulldoggish way flashed before his eyes. He imagined that no one would've been willing to drag a seven-year-old child through the hospital as he was kicking and screaming about how he needed to stay with his brother. Dean knew first hand that no one could stop a Winchester once they made up their mind.

A rustle of movement pulled Dean's attention to the chair in the corner of the room. John Winchester loomed in the darkness, eyes on Dean and hands steepled in front of him. Dean matched his gaze for a moment but the pain meds and dimness made it impossible to tell exactly what his dad was thinking. He dropped his eyes to the bandage wrapped around his right arm and forced himself to break the silence. "I'm sorry, Dad. I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to cause you problems." His dad made a strangled sound and Dean plunged on before his dad could say anything. "I know that I'm not supposed to get into trouble and I thought-"

"Dean."

"I know I shouldn't've involved the cops, I know that, I didn't mean to-"

"Dean."

"But I knew that George wouldn't-. I had a plan, it-"

"Dean!

His dad's voice cut through Dean's desperate attempt to explain and he shuddered to a stop, breathing heavily.

"I know what happened."

Dean waited for him to continue, trying to come up with a suitable apology for all of his failures in dealing with this. His dad kept his voice pitched low, but it still filled the room. Equal parts comfort and rebuke.

"I talked to Mrs. Mitchell and Sheriff Thompson. The three boys who attacked you are in jail on charges of drug possession, assault and attempted..." his dad stopped, took a deep breath and cleared his throat before going on, "attempted murder."

There was a thick undercurrent of emotion in his dad's voice that Dean didn't know how to interpret. Evil and murderous SOBs were the stock and trade of John Winchester. He'd dealt with far nastier creatures than drug-dealing teenagers. No, it had to be disappointment in Dean that had him so worked up. Dean bit back another half-formed apology, knowing that it wouldn't help. He lay in the darkness waiting for an opportunity to fix the mess he created.

"The Sheriff said that they knew someone was working the area, but they just couldn't get to who was behind it all. There've even been some assaults, kids getting badly beaten. But no one was willing to talk about it. Seems George and his friends had most of the kids running scared."

That Dean could understand. He would die before he'd admit it to his dad, but he'd been scared of George, too.

"Did you know Mrs. Mitchell works with the school in an At-Risk program? She kinda keeps tabs on the kids who could use a little extra help. She pointed the Sheriff in the direction of that Melody girl that you helped. When I left to come here, she was taking to her, trying to convince her to tell the Sheriff what happened."

Dean smiled. If anyone could talk Melody into it, it would be Mrs. Mitchell.

"Anyhow, it's obvious that Mrs. Mitchell thinks the world of you. Did you know she tracked me down last week? Called me up to talk about you."

"What?" Dean fought to keep his voice low, panic eating away at him. "But- How? I didn't give her your number, Dad. I'd never do that."

"You didn't have to, Dean. The school always has a number where they can reach me."

"They do?" Dean hadn't known.

"Of course. They have to know where I am and how to get a hold of me. In case there's trouble. And she was right to call me. This was a dangerous situation and you needed help. I just don't understand why you didn't call me yourself."

The low painful feeling of inadequacy burned in Dean's stomach. He bit back urge to claim that he hadn't needed any help; that he hadn't wanted any. "I didn't want to take you away from..." He paused, looking down at Sammy's sleeping form before continuing, "...away from your work. It's important."

"You're important, too, Dean. You and Sam."

His dad's voice caught when he spoke and Dean was sure he knew why. "I made sure Sammy was safe. Up in the library." Dean's eyes stung from the need to have his dad understand. "I kept Sammy safe." He stared at the far wall and blinked into the darkness, fighting for control.

"I know you did, Dean." His dad suddenly stood beside Dean, his large, rough hand oddly gentle on Dean's shoulder. "You always keep Sammy safe. But it's important you're safe, too." John took another shaking breath.

Dean leaned into his father's grasp, drinking in warmth and strength it offered and he needed it so badly that it frightened him. "I'm so sorry, Dad." It was the only thing he could say.

"I could've lost you, Dean. Lost you to some-" His dad's hand tightened on his shoulder. "What would I do without you?"

"You're never going to lose me, Dad," Dean promised. "I'll always be here to help you. I won't fail you again. You can count on me, I promise."

His dad made the same strangled sound he'd made before. For a brief second Dean feared that he was going to tell him it wasn't true, that he'd never trust Dean again. Afraid that he'd put into words what Dean saw in his eyes every time his older son failed him. Dean focused on a nonexistent spot on the other side of the room and steeled himself for the inevitable.

"No. That's not-" His dad broke off with a quiet curse.

Dean stiffened, biting his lip so hard he tasted blood. He waited, not sure if he was more afraid that his dad would continue or would just walk away.

Instead he moved his hand to Dean's face, gently turning his head, forcing Dean to meet his eyes. "I know I can count on you, Dean."

There was such conviction in the statement and Dean needed so badly to believe it that it almost broke him. Their eyes met for a second, then his dad enveloped him in a bone-crushing hug.

"I know that."

The words were whispered right into Dean's heart. He returned the hug with his good arm, barely daring to breathe. His dad released him and walked to the doorway, standing there a moment, looking down the hall. Dean was grateful for the minute's respite. He needed to pull himself together before he did something really stupid, like cry in front of his dad.

His dad cleared his throat a few times, then left the door to go sit back in the corner chair. "I was thinking about what we're going to do next. If we move on before this is settled, those sons o' bitches could skate. I'm not going to let that happen. Besides, Sammy seems to like it here. We could stay; maybe finish out the school year?"

Dean looked down at the sleeping form of his brother, then back up at his dad. "I think Sammy would love that. He's been talking about wanting to go on the trip to the water park his class always takes on the last day of school."

"What about you?"

Dean shrugged at the pointless question. "School's school. It doesn't matter where I go." He let his head fall against the pillow, giving into the exhaustion that ate at him.

"It's not that, Dean. This is a small town. Everyone's going to know what happened here. You'll probably have to testify at trial. Get on the stand in front of all those people." His dad's voice drifted, quiet and comforting, across the dark room. "It could be a littleā€¦ scary."

"Don't worry, Dad," Dean said. With Sam sleeping beside him and his dad sitting in the corner, there wasn't a thing in the world he world he couldn't do. Testifying would be easy. "I can do it." As long as they were together, there was nothing to be scared of.