John pressed harder on Dean's side, trying to maintain his composure. Dean stared at him with heavy-lidded eyes from where he was propped against the wall, his head tilted to the side as if it were too heavy to hold up any longer.

"Hey buddy, stay with me," John said, managing a terse smile. Dean blinked lethargically.

"'S okay," he slurred, struggling to lift his head. "Think I'm o-okay."

"Yeah, you just hang in there," John said. Sammy came stumbling back from the bathroom, pale-faced and cheeks streaked with tears. He held out a handful of bandages from the first aid kit.

"I-I got some stuff to help," he said, sniffling. His lower lip trembled. "I knew that band-aids were too little."

John looked at the offered bandages, suppressing a sigh when he saw that they were triangle bandages, usually used for making slings.

"They're great, buddy," he said, trying to keep his voice from shaking. "Can you open one for me? I can't let go of Dean."

Sammy nodded, eyes wide, and ripped the package open. Dean was shaking minutely now, bloodied hands clasped over John's. He was slipping into shock, and John couldn't do anything about it.

"Stay with me, Dean-o. You're doing great."

Dean didn't respond and groaned quietly, eyelids fluttering.

"Sammy, can you call 911 again? Ask where the ambulance is," John said, but Sam didn't answer and seemed transfixed by something, his eyes wide and tears welling. "Sammy?"

John followed his son's line of sight and felt his heart sink even as nausea welled. Sam was staring at the hole in the wall above Dean's head and the smear of blood that trailed beneath it.

"Hey, Sammy, look at me. Eyes on me, Sammy. Sam!"

Sam finally turned to look at him, eyes haunted and face almost devoid of color.

"I need you to focus, okay? We're gonna help Dean and he's going to be fine. Can you call 911 for me?"

"I didn't mean to," Sammy whispered, swallowing convulsively. "I just wanted to s-see it."

"I know you did, son. It was an accident, and it's not your fault, okay? But I need you to call 911. You can do it, Sammy."

"Okay," Sam said, scrubbing at his eyes and scurrying towards the living room. John turned back to Dean, whose head was starting to bob as he tried to remain conscious.

"Dean, stay with me buddy," John said, wishing he could offer more comfort to his son but terrified to release the pressure on his abdomen. "Stay awake, kiddo."

"I'm s-sorry," Dean whispered, head falling forward to rest on John's shoulder.

"Nothing to be sorry for, son," John answered immediately. "This wasn't your fault."

"Sh-shouldn' of let S-Sammy near your g-gun," Dean murmured, his warm breath hitting John's shoulder in uneven staccato bursts.

"I shouldn't have left the gun out," John said quickly. "And you didn't know what Sammy was doing. This wasn't your fault, kid."

Dean weakly shook his head, then groaned softly.

"Hurts, Daddy," he whispered.

"I know son, I know, but you're doing great. Just a little longer."

Sam came running back into the room, eyes red.

"She said they're almost here," he announced, falling to his knees next to Dean and wrapping an arm around his shoulders. "Hear that, Dean? You're going to be just fine."

Dean grunted and managed to lift his head a bit before letting it fall back onto John's shoulder. Sam looked up at John with wide eyes, then turned back to Dean, rubbing his neck and shoulders and murmuring a string of assurances under his breath.

The sound of sirens had Sammy up and running toward the door, flinging it open and screaming at the paramedics to hurry. John heaved a sigh of relief that dissipated as soon as the paramedics came into the room and he caught sight of their faces.

"How long ago did this happen?" One medic asked, helping ease Dean to the floor and then easing the bandage from Dean's abdomen to look at the wound.

"Um-" John ran a hand through his hair, realizing halfway through that it was coated in blood, "Ten minutes? Fifteen?" Shit, it seemed like lifetimes, but the clock confirmed his guess.

"What's his name?"


The medic nodded, then tapped at Dean's cheek.

"Hey, Dean? My name's Andrew. Can you hear me? Squeeze my hand if you can hear me. Good. You're doing great."

John started pacing and rubbing his hands on his jeans, over and over again in an attempt to clean them of any blood that remained, but he could tell without looking that it was still there, seeped into the cracks in his skin and under his nails.

Andrew pressed gauze to Dean's stomach and his partner settled an oxygen mask over his nose and little sticky things to his chest to track his heartbeat. John wanted to vomit because this was his son, his nine-and-a-half year old boy, and he shouldn't be lying in a pool of his own blood, barely conscious and concerned mostly with how Sam was-

John turned abruptly and realized with some guilt that he hadn't seen Sammy since the medics had come in.

"Andrew, I need to- my other son-"

"He's okay for now, but we're going to have to leave in a hurry. Be fast if you want to ride in with him."

John nodded and bolted toward the bathroom, where he suspects Sam might be hiding. Or crying.

"Sammy? You in here?" John asked, easing the door open.

A sob greeted him from the bathtub, and John pulled the curtain back to reveal Sam sitting with his knees drawn up to his chest, shoulders shaking.

"Come 'ere, Sam," John said, and was only mildly surprised when Sam launched out of the tub and into his arms, sobs wracking his body.

"I'm sorry, Daddy," Sam sobbed, breath heaving piteously. "I didn't mean to hurt him, I swear!"

"I know, kiddo," John said, rubbing at Sam's back. Part of him wanted to chew the kid out, to scream and yell at Sam for playing with his gun when he knew better. The bigger part of him was feeling guilty as hell for leaving a fucking loaded weapon in sight of a five year old and then leaving the room. It had only been a minute, but that had been long enough…

"Okay, we need to leave, now," Andrew said, his voice terse. The oxygen mask had been swapped out and Andrew's partner was squeezing a bag over Dean's nose and mouth. John's heart sank. "You can ride in back with me and Dean, and Sam can ride up front with Ron if that's okay with you."

John nodded numbly even as Sam's grip on him tightened.

"I wanna be with Dean," he mumbled into John's shirt.

John looked at Dean as they wheeled him by, at the blood and the pale skin and the various wiring around him and shook his head. There was no way in hell Dean was going to die, but…but he didn't want Sammy to be there. Just in case. The kid felt guilty enough without adding…that. Not that it would happen.

"No buddy, you need to ride up front, okay? Ron's going to be really awesome."

He walked outside with Sam still clinging to him like a sloth, and watched as they wheeled Dean inside. John gently pried Sam from his neck and stood him on the ground, crouching in front of him.

"Your brother is going to be fine, Sammy. You stay strong, okay?"

Sam nodded and sniffled, rubbing a hand under his nose.


Ron smiled and opened the passenger door to the cab, and John lifted Sam up and buckled him in.

"Daddy?" Sam spoke up just as John turned to go. "Don't let him die."


The ambulance ride was hellacious. John had no idea what was going on, but he knew that the medic was looking more and more concerned and by the time they arrived at the hospital, there was a huge group of people waiting to usher Dean inside before John even knew what was happening.


The waiting room was just as bad. No one said anything to him, just parked him in a little room across from the trauma bay that contained Dean. Sammy was curled up on his lap crying softly and there were some old magazines and a coffee maker from the dark ages on a small table. The room was otherwise bare, and it was depressing and made him feel sick and irrefutable proof that the world had, once again, decided to take a dump on the Winchester family. John tried not to panic as he saw nurses rushing into Dean's room with bags of blood in hand, and finally just closed his eyes and hugged Sam close and tried to ignore the hot tears that welled up behind his eyelids.


Once Dean was stable, they wheeled him up to get surgery done. The doctor used some big words and phrases that essentially boiled down to this: Dean's insides were really screwed up, and the surgery was going to be touchy. Sammy cried himself to sleep and John called in reinforcements because he didn't think he could handle this alone. As soon as Pastor Jim got there hours later, John handed Sammy off to him and bolted to the bathroom and vomited. He stayed curled over the toilet after he was finished and cried for a few minutes before washing his hands and his face and going back out to the waiting room.


Dean looked dead. John didn't want to think it, but it popped into his head anyway and refused to leave. He was pale and still and there were tubes popping out of places they had no right to be, and the doctors had left his wound open with some kind of protective thingy over it that meant John could see his insides. Sammy started crying again when he saw his older brother, and John was pretty sure that he was on the verge of completely melting down. Pastor Jim held him cradled to his chest while John sat with Dean and held his hand and whispered to him and felt completely useless.


"Can you explain what happened, Mr. Hughes?"

The cops actually looked pretty sympathetic.

"My boys and I live in a shitty neighborhood," John said, because it was the truth. "I keep a gun on hand at all times, for safety."

The cop nodded and made a note in a little pad of paper.

"I had my gun out, to clean it. I got a phone call and left it on the counter, out of Sammy's reach, but…he must've used a chair. My older son, Dean, walked into the room and surprised him, and Sam accidentally fired. I- I heard the gunshot and by the time I got there, Dean was- there was blood everywhere and Sam was hysterical. I called an ambulance and put pressure on the wound."

The cop nodded and closed his notepad before standing up with a sigh.

"Mr. Hughes, it sounds like it was just a tragic accident. Typically, I would suggest that you take a class on gun safety, but…"

"But I won't be making this mistake again."

The cop nodded.

"Figured as much. I'm just sorry you had to learn this lesson the hard way."

John swallowed thickly and stood. He managed to wait until he was alone before breaking down.


Dean's second surgery, to close the wound that had been left open, went flawlessly and John figured they deserved at least something going right. He stayed at the hospital for most of the day, with Pastor Jim bringing Sammy by for a few hours. He seemed a little more balanced and a little less on the constant verge of hysteria, probably courtesy of some reassurance from Pastor Jim. John felt a brief pang of guilt that he hadn't been the one to comfort Sam, but one look back at Dean's pale form and he felt confident in his decision to stay at the hospital.

Sammy was sitting, once again, curled up in John's lap, his moppy hair tickling the bottom of John's chin.

"Daddy, is Dean ever gonna wake up?" Sam whispered loudly, his fingers tightening in John's shirt. John rested a big hand on Sam's head and stroked his hair.

"Yeah, kiddo. His body's just trying to get better before he wakes up."

Sam let out a huff, and John could just see the pouty expression his son was doubtlessly wearing.

"Why can't he get better when he's awake?"

John chuckled softly and rubbed at Sam's back.

"He just can't, buddy. He'll wake up, though. You've just gotta be patient."

Sammy squirmed so that his back was against John's chest and crossed his arms petulantly.

"I hate being patient."

"Me too, Sammy," John said quietly, ruffling his son's hair.


When Dean woke up the first time, it was almost anti-climactic. John was drowsing in the chair next to the bed, Dean's hand tucked inside his, and was startled awake when the fingers in his twitched. He looked up and made eye contact with Dean for a few sweet seconds before Dean slipped back into unconsciousness.

The doctor said that it was normal, considering the trauma he'd experienced, and that he would probably wake up for longer periods throughout the night. Hopefully by tomorrow, he'd be able to carry on a conversation for a few minutes before getting too exhausted to continue.

John stared at his son in the lonely darkness of the hospital room and heard the words of the cop echoing in his head: I'm just sorry you had to learn this lesson the hard way.


Dean was awake and semi-coherent when Sammy and Pastor Jim showed up the next morning, and Sam nearly bounced off the walls in his excitement at seeing his brother awake. John leaned against the door and watched as Sammy chattered animatedly at Dean, who, though clearly tired, was grinning broadly.

"They're good boys, John," Pastor Jim said.

"Yeah," John agreed. "They are."

He watched as Sam waved his arms and then made a face and felt a pang at the naïve innocence of his youngest son, a big part of him wishing that he could shield his youngest from all the shit in the world. It wasn't going to happen, though; he'd already made his decision.

As soon as Dean was out of the hospital, Sammy would be learning to shoot.

Lesson learned.