Summary: Pre-series – Injured Sam / Big Brother Dean / Somewhat Awesome John – For a horrifying, heart-stopping moment, Sam was gone; was nothing more than a distorted blur of color beneath the water.

Disclaimer: Not mine.

Warnings: Blood and usual language


Falls are the leading cause of accidental injury among children. More than 2.3 million children ages 14 and under are treated annually at hospital emergency rooms for fall-related injuries. ~ Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh


"Dad's back," Dean reported even before he glanced over his shoulder; the unmistakable rumble of their father's truck heralding its arrival before it actually pulled into the motel's parking lot.

"Already?" Sam asked; his eyes closed as he floated on his back; his bare chest simultaneously warmed by the July sun and cooled by the water of the motel's swimming pool.

"What d'ya mean 'already'? He's been gone for almost five hours," Dean reminded, watching John park his truck beside the Impala and then jot something in his journal; the leather-bound book propped against the steering wheel.

"Yeah, I know," Sam agreed, his arms gliding through the water as he continued to float; his hair fanning out around his head. "I just..."

Sam sighed.

Dean quirked a knowing smile and glanced back at his brother. Like a typical kid, Sam was never ready to get out of the pool. "Dude, you've been in here almost the whole time Dad's been gone."

Sam pulled his legs beneath the water and sat up; his shoulders completely submerged, his feet barely touching the concrete bottom of the pool. "So?" he asked, in that tone mastered by children in response to an obvious statement. "This is the first time I've gone swimming all summer."

And they both knew depending on upcoming hunts, it might be his last.

Because today's break had been nothing short of a miracle. It was strange enough that John would allow them to go back to the motel instead of requiring them to join him over at the library. But for John to actually make the suggestion himself was almost unheard of; a pass that was usually only granted if one of them was sick or injured.

And yet, here they were; had been poolside all afternoon with their dad's blessing.

"You boys head on back," John had said casually as the three of them had exited the diner after lunch a few hours earlier.

Dean had glanced at John but had said nothing; had been momentarily startled by the suggestion and then had been concerned they had done something wrong to warrant dismissal; had been quickly running through the morning's events when Sam had spoken.

"Back to the motel?"

John had nodded. "It's hot."

Sam had wrinkled his nose, confused as to when weather had started to factor into their plans. "So?"

John had smiled as they had approached the curb of the sidewalk; had placed a yielding arm across Sam's chest even though he had known the 12-year old was more than capable of watching for traffic before crossing the street. "So, I thought maybe you would want to go swimming?"

Sam had immediately beamed up at his father and had grabbed John's arm. "Really?"

John had chuckled; the extra time he would have to spend researching alone having just been made completely worth it by Sam's excitement. "Really," he had affirmed, tousling the kid's hair before releasing his youngest to cross the street and then had glanced at his oldest. "Dean..."

"Be careful, Sam," Dean had called out of habit, watching as his brother had run ahead of them towards the Impala parked on the opposite side of the road, and then had turned to face his father as they continued to stand on the sidewalk. "Sir?"

"You're quiet," John had stated and had arched an eyebrow, indicating he had expected an explanation.

Dean had shaken his head as he and John had begun to cross the street. "I'm fine. Just..." He had paused, smiling. "You're kinda freaking me out."

John had laughed. "A man can't be in a good mood?"

"Well, yeah. Sure you can, but..." Dean's voice had trailed off as a car from the opposite direction had suddenly appeared on the horizon. "Wait, Sam..." he had called, even though Sam had already been waiting in the turning lane for the car to pass.

Sam had looked over his shoulder in annoyance. "I can see the car, Dean," he had bitched; tone of voice and facial expression matching perfectly.

"Good," Dean had praised. "Can you see this?"

"Dean..." John had admonished before his oldest could flip off his youngest.

But Sam had known his brother's intentions and had laughed.

Dean had smiled in return. He loved that kid.

The car had passed without incident.

"So, tell me again why I can't be in a good mood?" John had prompted Dean, glancing at Sam as his youngest had run across the other lane of the road and then had jumped over the curb on the opposite sidewalk as if it had been a massive hurdle.

Dean had shaken his head at his brother's antics and then had shrugged. "You can be. I just always have the urge to say 'Christo' whenever you are."

John had laughed. "Nice," he had replied, but had been saddened by the realization of how rare it was that he showed this side of himself to his sons; so rare that his oldest automatically assumed a good mood equaled possession.

There had been silence.

"There's still a lot to go over," Dean had commented as they both had reached the opposite side of the street.

John had shrugged. "There is," he had agreed and then had nodded at his youngest already standing on the passenger side of the Impala. "But Sam needs a break sometimes." He had glanced at Dean. "And so do you."

"You too, Dad," Dean had reminded as he had stared at John meaningfully.

John had nodded as he had stood beside his truck – parked in front of the Impala – and had quirked a smile; had been unexpectedly touched by Dean's concern.

"Let's go, Dean!" Sam had yelled, had been practically bouncing beside the Impala.

Dean had cut his eyes at his brother. "Chill, Sam. The pool's not going anywhere."

John had chuckled while he had unlocked his truck.

"Do we have a hunt tonight?" Dean had asked as John had opened his driver's side door.

John had shaken his head. "Not unless I find more than I expect at the library this afternoon."

"We could help research," Dean had offered, to which Sam had immediately made a dismayed sound; as though he had been concerned John would accept Dean's offer.

Dean had glared at his brother. Shut up, Sam.

But John had shaken his head again. "Not much has happened since we pulled into town, so we're probably just chasing a cold trail anyway."

Dean had nodded, ignoring the relieved sigh from Sam.

John had smiled and had climbed up into his truck. "Sam..." – mind your brother – "...Dean..." – watch out for Sam – "...you boys enjoy your afternoon, and I'll see you in a few hours," John had said and then had pulled his door shut, had cranked the engine, and had driven off.

Dean had watched until John had turned the corner and was out of sight; had felt torn between being a son and being a brother.

"Can we go now?" Sam had huffed from where he had leaned across the Impala's hood.

"Dude, off the car," Dean had barked as he had turned to unlock his driver's side door. "You'll dent the hood with those bony elbows of yours."

Sam had laughed and had lingered on the hood a few seconds longer just because he could. "Hey, Dean?"

Dean had sighed. He loved his little brother, but sometimes Sam grated on his nerves when he was all wound up like this. "Yeah?" he had ventured as he had ducked into the Impala and had immediately rolled down the driver's side window.

"Are you going swimming with me?" Sam had asked as he had slid into the passenger seat and had done the same with the window on his side.

Dean had snorted and had turned his key in the ignition. "What do you think?"

"No," Sam had instantly responded; his tone and expression reflecting his disappointment. "But we could get you another bathing suit. We found mine at that Goodwill place, and they probably have one for you, too, and then you could..."

"Save it, Sam," Dean had interrupted as he had eased the Impala into traffic. "Swim trunks are way too close to shorts, and I don't do shorts."

Sam had rolled his eyes.

"Besides..." Dean had continued, speaking a little louder than usual as the warm wind had roared through the Impala's open windows. "I'm too old to play in the pool."

Sam had wrinkled his nose. "No, you're not. That's stupid," he had declared as he had stuck his arm out the window on the passenger side and had allowed the resistance of the wind to blow his hand back against the doorframe.

Dean had shaken his head. "When you're 16, you'll understand," he had advised sagely.

To which Sam had rolled his eyes again. "Whatever."

There had been silence.

"But you're still gonna come watch me, right?" Sam had asked hopefully; his hazel-green eyes impossibly large under his fringe of bangs as he had turned to stare at Dean from the passenger seat.

Dean had glanced at his brother and had smiled. "What do you think?"

And that had been almost five hours ago.

From the time they had reached the motel, Sam had been a whirl of activity. He had changed clothes in record time – donning his royal blue bathing suit with yellow stripes down either side; had grabbed one of the standard white towels from the bathroom; and had ran out of their room and was halfway down the sidewalk before Dean had caught up with him – a stunt which had earned Sam a stern lecture about slowing his scrawny ass down and, 12-years old or not, waiting for his big brother.

But since then, everything had gone well.

Dean had been patiently sitting by the pool – which was remarkably large and clean for such a small, somewhat skanky motel – and had been relieved when no one else had joined them on the deck all afternoon, allowing Dean to relax a little himself.

Sam had enjoyed having reign over the entire pool, and Dean had watched the kid do everything from cannon balls to underwater handstands and flips to whatever other "tricks" his brother had come up with.

And while that was fine, and Dean was glad that Sam was having a good time and enjoying himself, Dean was also ready to move on to something else. Sam's antics were certainly entertaining; but truthfully, Dean was bored and was hot – even though he had shed his boots, socks, and t-shirt hours ago – and he was looking forward to going inside.

Sam on the other hand...

Dean glanced at his brother as the kid bobbed in place in the middle of the pool; Sam's thin arms treading water as his legs did the same. "Sam..."

Sam sighed, swiping his plastered bangs off his forehead and blinking against the water that dripped down his face as a result. He knew what was coming.

"Time to get out," Dean advised and then narrowed his eyes.

Was it just him, or did Sam's shoulders look a little red? They had both put on sunscreen earlier – a bottle over a year old that Dean had found at the bottom of his duffle – but now Dean was beginning to wonder if such things expired.

Experimentally, Dean lightly pressed his palm over his own bare chest, feeling heat from the sun but not feeling sunburned, which meant Sam was probably okay, too. Even still, Dean reached behind himself for his t-shirt.

"Sam..." Dean called again.

"Just five more minutes," Sam begged and then Dean watched as the kid dove forward like a skinny little torpedo, disappearing under the water as his feet kicked furiously.

Dean shook his head at his little brother and then pulled his t-shirt on; smoothing the worn grey fabric over his chest. He paused, impressed with himself at how well-defined his pecs were becoming with the extra physical training he had been assigned since he had turned 16, and then reached under his collar to free the amulet.

"Dean..."

Dean turned at the sound of his father's voice, a little embarrassed that he had not heard John exit his truck or approach the pool.

"Hey, Dad," Dean greeted as he stood – the concrete almost unbearably hot to his bare feet – and stepped around the dingy plastic lounger he had been sitting on by the edge of the water.

John squinted up, blocking the sun with his arm as he waited for Dean to cross to the side of the deck; the enclosure surrounding the pool several feet higher than the parking lot.

In the next instant, Dean appeared. "Have much luck?" he asked, leaning against the wooden railing as he peered down at his father.

John shook his head. "Just more dead ends," he answered and sighed, seeming more tired and in less of a good mood than before.

Dean nodded.

"Having fun?" John asked knowingly, his lips hinting a smile.

Dean shrugged and glanced over his shoulder at the sound of Sam noisily splashing as the kid surfaced from his impromptu underwater excursion. "Sam is," he stated flatly, even as he smiled and then looked back at his father.

John nodded and chuckled. "He's always loved the water," he agreed; his spirits momentarily lifted at the sounds of his youngest being a goofy, 12-year old kid.

In the next instant, Sam laughed for no apparent reason and then dove forward again, kicking particularly hard and splashing the deck.

"Dude!" Dean yelled, sidestepping the sudden spray of water.

John chuckled again and shook his head, his smile lingering; reluctant to end this moment – Sam having fun, both boys obviously relaxed – but knowing they needed to move on.

Dean's focus flickered between keeping an eye on Sam as the kid continued to swim underwater and keeping an ear out for John, because Dean knew what was coming.

As if on cue, John sighed. "Alright..." he began. "You boys wrap it up. As far as I can tell, there's no case in this town. But Bobby called a little while ago. He's a few towns over in Willow Creek and thinks he has a lead on something. So I want to be packed and on the road in ten minutes."

"Yes, sir," Dean replied, his mind already listing all that needed to be done in that short timeframe. "What about dinner?"

John smiled, wondering if his oldest was ever not hungry. "We'll meet up with Bobby, and then we'll get dinner. But right now, get Sam, get packed, and get loaded. Ten minutes..."

"Yes, sir," Dean replied again and watched as John nodded and then turned away, crossing back to their motel room only three doors down from the pool and disappearing inside.

Dean sighed and then returned his attention to his brother as the kid once again resurfaced.

"Sam..."

Sam rubbed his hand over his face – palm and fingers wrinkly from being in the water so long – and looked up at Dean expectantly.

"Out," Dean ordered and gave his brother a hard look to reinforce that he was serious this time.

"Oh, man..." Sam whined but nodded his understanding and began to swim toward the deep end to the pool's only ladder.

Dean watched intently, knowing Sam was a strong swimmer but always feeling inexplicably nervous when he knew the kid could no longer touch the bottom.

"Be careful getting out," Dean warned as his brother neared the ladder on the far side of the pool.

"Yeah, yeah..." Sam replied, and although the kid's back was to Dean, Dean knew his brother had rolled his eyes.

Dean quirked a smile, continuing to watch Sam swim, and then heard the sound of the motel room door creaking open again.

"Dean..." John called even before he was on the sidewalk.

Dean glanced over his shoulder, seeing John emerge from their room, and then looked back at Sam as the kid finally reached the far end of the pool and was grasping either side of the ladder to pull himself up.

Dean nodded his approval and then turned his back to his brother as John called his name again.

"Dean..."

"Yes, sir?" Dean responded; the words barely leaving his mouth before Sam made a startled sound – half gasp, half yell – that was immediately followed by a huge splash.

Dean spun around, instantly focused on where his brother should have been – by the ladder on the far side of the pool. But for a horrifying, heart-stopping moment, Sam was gone; was nothing more than a distorted blur of color beneath the water.

"Sam!" Dean yelled, amazed that he could say anything since his heart was suddenly lodged in his throat.

Sam made no response to indicate he had heard Dean, but his small body began to flail beneath the surface; the blue-hued water surrounding him beginning to turn vaguely pink.

"Oh my god..." Dean whispered – because this had the potential to be really fucking bad – and pushed off the side of the deck where he had been leaning. "Sam!" he yelled again before diving into the pool; not giving a shit that he was fully clothed.

John stood frozen on the sidewalk; panic spreading through his chest at the realization of some kind of accident happening mere feet away. Because he had heard Sam's startled shout, followed by Dean's frantic yell; a tone Dean only used when Sam was in danger. And although John could not see the actual pool from where he stood, it was obvious his oldest had just jumped in the water.

"Dean!" John bellowed; the motel room door left open as he ran down the sidewalk.

There was no answer.

"Shit!" John hissed, craning to see between the wooden slats of the fence surrounding the pool as he ran alongside of it. "Dean!" he yelled again, approaching the deck's gate as his oldest finally surfaced in a swell of water, bringing a gasping Sam with him. "Jesus..." John breathed at the sight; his fingers fumbling with the gate's latch. "Dean!"

But if Dean heard his father, he ignored him; solely focused on the coughing child held in his arms.

"You're okay," Dean panted over and over – because if Sam was coughing, he was breathing – and briefly held his brother at arm's length; giving the kid a once-over before clutching Sam to his chest with one arm and swimming toward the edge of the pool with the other.

Frustrated with the rusted latch on the gate, John took two steps back and then kicked it open; overwhelmed by a visceral need to be near his children; to know what had just happened and if Sam was indeed okay.

Dean glanced up at his father as John suddenly appeared.

"What happened?" John demanded, kneeling on the wet concrete.

"I think he slipped on the ladder," Dean reported, still panting from the rush of fear and panic and exertion as he finally reached shallower water and was able to wade more than swim.

Sam coughed harshly as he clung to his brother; his breaths ragged; his hands gripping the saturated fabric of Dean's t-shirt.

John swallowed his own emotions; willing himself to stay calm for his sons.

"Is he okay?" John asked, wishing he could see Sam's face to gauge the kid's condition for himself.

But his youngest was turned away; his thin, shuddering back towards John, while his face was pressed into the hollow created by Dean's neck and shoulder.

Sam coughed again before releasing a wheezed breath, and Dean tightened his grip, holding his brother impossibly closer.

"You're okay, Sammy," Dean soothed, even as his own heart hammered. "Just hang on..."

"Is he okay?" John asked again, worry making his tone sharp.

"I think so," Dean responded; his tone just as clipped with concern. "There's blood on his mouth and chin but – "

"Blood?" John interrupted; a fresh wave of panic passing over him. "How much?"

"Not too much," Dean assured for Sam's sake, even as his tone and facial expression indicated otherwise.

John nodded, knowing the face and mouth were extremely vascular areas; that even small injuries had a tendency to bleed like a bitch and look worse than they actually were.

"I think he hit his chin when he fell," Dean continued to casually report as he neared the edge of the pool. "And that knocked the breath out of him and made him bite his lip before he fell back in the water."

John nodded again – that scenario certainly made sense – and reached for his youngest child; hooking his hands under Sam's arms and gently lifting the kid up and out of the pool as Dean hauled himself out as well.

John – his shirt and jeans now soaked with water – set Sam on his feet but remained on his knees in order to stay eye level with his son. "Sam..."

Sam's breath hitched, but he made no other response as he stared at John.

John frowned, his large hands cupping over bony shoulders as he steadied his shaking child and got his first good look at the damage.

As expected – and as Dean had indirectly warned – blood was everywhere; was slightly diluted by the pool water and was thus quickly spreading over Sam's mouth and chin and down his neck.

John shook his head, amazed – even after everything he had experienced over the years – how quickly things could change. Because less than a minute ago, Sam was fine; was actually a happy, somewhat normal kid having a good time in the pool on a summer afternoon – and now, his youngest was scared and bleeding and on the verge of tears.

And despite John's intentions of remaining calm, the realization caused a fresh wave of anger; as if the world had just intentionally spit in his face and offered up this incident as a reminder that John could not protect his children from everything. That if it wanted to, the world or fate or whatever the fuck you wanted to call it, could take his boys just as quickly and as easily as it took his Mary – a fact that had always frightened John more than anything else.

"What the hell, Sam?" John demanded, realizing he sounded more accusatory than concerned; as if Sam had wanted to fall and become covered in blood from the neck up.

Sam's eyes widened; his wet, harsh breathing becoming more rapid as he blinked against welling tears.

In the next instant, Dean had cleared the side of the pool – his drenched clothes clinging to his body – and was unceremoniously shoving John aside.

"Don't yell at him," Dean warned, offering nothing more than a glance at John as he pushed his father back and then crouched in front of Sam, his eyes sweeping over his little brother. "Sammy..."

The kid was definitely a mess; was pale and bloody, shivering and shaken; bravely holding back threatening tears as he stared intensely at Dean.

"It's okay," Dean softly assured; his hand gently squeezing the back of his brother's neck; the fringe of the kid's hair dripping water over his fingers.

"Like hell it is!" John yelled again, his tone still pissed; always finding it easier to be angry than scared or worried. "You know better than to play on the ladder, Sam!"

Sam flinched as the words were hurled at him, and Dean was instantly done with John's bullshit.

"Enough," Dean growled, glaring at John over his shoulder. "Sam wasn't playing on the ladder."

"Then what hap – "

"Shit happens, Dad," Dean informed; his tone indicating this part of the conversation was over.

John narrowed his eyes. The older Dean got, the less he seemed to tolerate John yelling at Sam. And John was not sure if he was proud or pissed at the enhanced protective streak in his oldest.

Dean unflinchingly held his father's gaze – I mean it. Leave him alone.

"Fine." John practically spat the word and then clenched his jaw; still too keyed up to let it go. "So, what the hell were you doing, Dean? You're supposed to watch your brother!"

"He..." Sam's breath hitched, and he swallowed. "He was watching me," he quietly defended; fresh blood flowing from his bottom lip as he spoke.

Still crouched, Dean turned back to Sam and smiled proudly. Because while he was more than capable of holding his own against their old man, Dean was touched that his little brother – his dazed, injured little brother – would come to his defense.

It's you and me against the world, kid.

Sam's attention flickered to Dean, and he smiled shyly; then winced as pain flared in his mouth.

Dean winced in sympathy and then squeezed his brother's neck again; a gesture of comfort and solidarity and love.

John watched the exchange in silence; anger abruptly draining and replaced with repentant frustration. Because what the fuck did he think he was accomplishing by yelling and attempting to assign blame for what was truly an accident? One son was injured and both sons were shaken, and here he was ranting like a lunatic.

There was silence.

John shook his head in disgust – because he was such a fucking idiot sometimes – and sighed. "I, um..."

There was more silence.

John cleared his throat; hating it when he had been an asshole to his kids. "I'm sorry." He swallowed the bitter tang of crow. "I just..." John sighed again. "I'm sorry."

Dean said nothing; did not even turn to acknowledge John had spoken.

But Sam – sweet, forgiving child that he was and had always been – immediately responded.

"It's okay, Dad," Sam quietly assured, blood continuing to flow from his split lip. "It scared you, too."

John exhaled a shaky breath and nodded. "Yeah," he agreed and smiled sadly; because he should be comforting his child, not his child comforting him. "I guess you're right, kiddo."

Sam nodded as well – he knew he was right, had seen the expression on John's face when his father had first seen all the blood – and then directed his attention to Dean.

Dean stared back at Sam; was still pissed at John for running off at the mouth – again – but knew his brother was asking him to let it go...so, he did.

"Apology accepted," Dean said and glanced over his shoulder at John, once again holding his father's gaze; silently communicating that while he was letting this go, he was only doing so for Sam and would not tolerate any further shit from John today.

John nodded his understanding and was unexpectedly proud of his oldest; because if anyone could keep John in line, it was Dean.

Dean turned back to Sam. "Alright, Sammy..." he sighed, eyes sweeping over his brother even as he spoke to John. "Dad's gonna go get your towel, and we're gonna get you dried off, sorted out, and patched up, okay?"

Sam nodded as John scanned the pool area. Seeing the motel bath towel slung over the back of the lounger Dean had been sitting on minutes before, John stood and crossed to the opposite end of the pool.

Dean waited for John to pass before standing himself – his legs and back beginning to cramp from his crouched position – and pulled another deck chair closer and sat, shuffling Sam to stand in front of him as he kept his hands on the kid's shoulders.

Dean's eyes scanned his brother, a mixture of relief and worry spreading through his chest. Because everything from the neck down seemed fine; Sam was wet and shivering – more from shock than from temperature – but otherwise was okay.

But from the neck up...

Dean sighed, aware that John was once again standing beside him; their father performing his own visual triage as he handed the towel to Dean.

Dean nodded his thanks and shook out the towel; quickly drying his own face, before lightly swiping the fabric over Sam's forehead and cheeks and then draping it over the kid's shoulders; briskly rubbing the towel over his brother's thin chest and skinny arms.

Sam shivered and coughed wetly.

Dean frowned, knowing Sam had not been under long enough to inhale a dangerous amount of water, but still...

"You okay?"

Which was a relative question, but Sam seemed to understand that Dean was asking about his breathing, not his injuries, and he nodded.

Dean nodded in return, remembering the last time Sam had the breath knocked out of him and how long it had taken the kid's breathing to even out; but still making a mental note to keep a check on the issue in case Sam continued to cough like that.

John sat beside Dean on the long pool lounger; his added weight causing the chair to squeak and dip closer to the concrete underneath it.

But Dean remained focused on Sam.

"I see you busted open your chin, kiddo," Dean commented, carefully tilting Sam's head back to examine the damage; gentle fingers smearing blood as they probed around the split skin. "Looks like stitches are in your future..." he reported and glanced at John for confirmation.

John nodded and leaned slightly forward as Dean still grasped Sam's chin. "Probably at least four or five, buddy."

Dean nodded – his thoughts exactly – and released his grip, allowing Sam to straighten his head, and then gently pressed one of the towel's corners against the steadily bleeding wound.

Sam swallowed a hiss of pain and blinked rapidly against the sting of tears. Because although he had gotten stitches before, he did not remember it being a pleasant experience; and this time, they were talking about stitches on his face.

Dean smiled encouragingly. "It's okay," he soothed, even as he could feel the warmth of blood seep through the fabric as he continued to hold the towel against Sam's chin.

Sam did not look convinced and sniffled pitifully.

Dean sighed – his heart breaking for his distressed little brother – and leaned slightly forward as though he was about to confide something to Sam. "Dude, even I've never had chin stitches," he half whispered, his tone sounding envious. Dean glanced at John. "Dad, neither."

John nodded, immediately realizing that his oldest was using a different tactic to soothe their youngest; that Dean was trying to make something that was sure to be painful and a little scary seem cool and even desirable.

"Dean's right," John replied and then paused. "But chin stitches sound pretty badass, huh?"

"Because they are badass," Dean affirmed and winked at his little brother as he eased the towel away from Sam's chin; keeping his expression neutral despite the amount of blood now staining the fabric's corner and simply lifting the opposite corner to cover the kid's injury.

Sam sighed shakily and offered a watery smile in appreciation for what he knew his family was trying to do and then wrinkled his nose at the pain from his split lip.

John's thumb lightly passed over the fresh trickle of blood. "Looks like you bit your lip pretty hard, kiddo..."

Dean narrowed his eyes, focusing on the center of his brother's bottom lip where the kid's top teeth had sunk into the tender flesh when Sam fell.

Sam's eyes widened at Dean's scrutiny. More stitches?

Dean shook his head. "No," he assured. "No stitches for that."

John nodded in agreement. "After we clean it up, it should be scabbed over by morning. You'll just have to be careful when you eat or drink or brush your teeth until it fully heals."

Sam held his father's gaze, believing John's words but still looking to Dean for confirmation.

Dean smiled. "Piece of cake, huh?" He paused and then winked at his little brother. "Or pie..."

Sam laughed softly and then coughed, his chin bobbing in Dean's grasp.

Dean frowned and gently rubbed his brother's chest. He really did not like Sam coughing like that. "You okay?"

Sam nodded.

There was a beat of silence.

"Did you hit your head when you fell?" Dean checked, even as he brushed back Sam's wet bangs; his thumb smoothing over his brother's forehead looking for bumps, bruises, or any trace of blood while his other hand continued to lightly press the towel to the kid's chin.

Sam sniffled and shook his head.

"You sure?" John pressed, running his own hand over the back of his child's skull.

Sam nodded. "I'm sure," he replied, his gaze flickering from John to Dean. "I just..." He swallowed. "I was coming up the ladder..." Sam looked intently at his brother. "...and I was being careful like you said, Dean...I promise..."

Dean smiled affectionately. This kid...

"I know you were, Sammy," Dean assured, uncovering his brother's chin to allow Sam to talk more easily.

Sam's attention darted to John, as if checking to see if their father believed him as well, before looking back at Dean.

Dean nodded his encouragement. "Then what?" he prompted, annoyed with himself that he had to ask; because if he had continued to watch Sam as the kid had climbed the ladder, he would have already known.

Sam swallowed. "Then I just..." He paused, tears beginning to well as the reality of what happened freshly dawned. "I mean...my foot kinda slipped on the top step, and then I just fell forward and then back and then..."

Sam shook his head, not wanting to cry like a baby – especially in front of John – but unable to stop himself. Because it had happened so fast and had scared him. And now his chest was tight, and his chin and lip hurt, and they were talking about stitches and just...

Sam shook his head again and closed his eyes, tears slipping beneath his lashes.

John glanced at Dean, surprised by how emotional he felt at hearing Sam's story and how overwhelmed he was by the need to comfort his child. But John knew Sam was overwhelmed, too; that his youngest was in pain and was scared and upset and embarrassed.

And John had no idea what to do to make it better.

Dean quirked a smile, always amused how Sam could reduce a badass hunter like their dad into the proverbial deer in headlights; how even after all these years, John never seemed to know how to handle an emotional Sam; would completely freeze at the first sign of the kid's tears.

He's okay, Dean mouthed to John and then rubbed Sam's arms with the towel still draped over his brother's shoulders.

There was silence.

"Dad, I think we're going to sit out here for a few more minutes," Dean reported conversationally, even as he stared meaningfully at John. "If you want to grab my boots and go back to the room to get things ready..."

John nodded. "Sounds good," he agreed and lingered for a moment before gently tousling Sam's wet hair – his own gesture of comfort and love for his youngest – and then standing and crossing to retrieve Dean's boots from the far end of the deck.

Dean watched as John exited the pool area through the gate – which now hung a little crooked since John had kicked it open – and then listened to John's boots scuff the sidewalk as their father returned to their room.

The door did not close, though, and Dean knew John was keeping an ear out in case they needed him.

Dean smiled softly; was unexpectedly touched as he was reminded by that simple gesture that their father did care about them – just sucked at showing it sometimes – and that Sam had been right; John had been just as scared by what had happened as he and Sam had been.

Dean sighed, refocusing on his brother standing in front of him.

Sam's eyes were still closed; tears still silently streaking his pale cheeks; blood still oozing from the split lip and busted chin.

Dean shook his head, eyes narrowing at the bruising and swelling now becoming more prominent around both injury sites. "Ah, Sammy..."

Sam opened his eyes, releasing a fresh flood of tears but said nothing.

Dean nodded. "I know," he assured, because they had never needed words. "But you're okay now."

Sam's face scrunched, from emotion as well as pain, and he shook his head.

Dean smiled warmly. "Well, you will be," he amended and then reached for his brother, pulling Sam closer until the kid's forehead rested on Dean's shoulder.

Sam's breath hitched on a sob – no longer trying to hold back his tears now that John was no longer part of his audience – and he buried his face into the crook of Dean's neck; the collar of Dean's t-shirt still saturated with pool water.

"It r-really scared me," Sam admitted quietly.

"I know," Dean whispered as Sam folded against him; practically sitting in Dean's lap as Dean continued to sit on the edge of the deck chair. "You scared the shit out of all of us..." Dean chuckled good-naturedly and rubbed his brother's back through the damp towel. "But you're okay."

Sam swallowed noisily and sniffled. "I-I'm...sorry."

Dean shook his head, wondering why his little brother always felt the need to apologize.

"Nothing to be sorry for, kiddo," Dean assured as he continued to hold his brother close. "Like I told Dad – shit happens, huh? You didn't plan to fall."

"N-no," Sam agreed, his breath hitching again as his hands bunched Dean's shirt; squeezing a trickle of water from the drenched fabric.

"Alright then," Dean replied, his tone implying the issue was settled.

They sat together in silence for several minutes; Dean's arms loosely wrapped around his brother; one hand rhythmically rubbing the kid's back while he patiently waited for Sam to pull himself together.

And when Sam exhaled a steadier breath and released his hold on Dean's shirt in favor of repeatedly tracing the outline of the amulet with his finger, Dean knew the storm had passed – at least for now.

"Hey..." Dean shrugged his shoulder and felt Sam's head lift with the motion. "You good?"

Sam sighed, the sound wobbling as it often did after crying, but did not respond beyond that. He instead continued to trace the amulet in a comfort-seeking gesture that was a step above actually grasping the gold charm but still spoke volumes to a big brother.

Dean narrowed his eyes. Something else was going on here. "Sammy..."

Sam remained quiet and then, "I don't want stitches."

Dean chuckled. "Yeah, well..."

"I'm serious, Dean," Sam replied, pushing back from his brother but not pulling away. "I don't want 'em."

"Maybe not," Dean conceded, staring at the gaping wound on his brother's chin. "But you need them, so – "

"No, I don't," Sam interrupted and shook his head for emphasis as he swiped the back of his hand under his chin to stop a fresh trickle of blood from sliding down his neck. "I don't."

Dean arched an eyebrow, wondering if Sam realized what he just did; and decided probably not, given the determined expression on the kid's face.

Without a word, Dean eased Sam back, so that the kid was once again standing in front of him, and grabbed his brother's arm – Dean's fingers actually overlapping his thumb because Sam's wrist was still so small in Dean's grasp – and held the kid's hand up, showing Sam the wide smear of blood. "You don't, huh?"

Sam blinked and stared at his hand.

"Exactly," Dean responded dryly, removing the towel from Sam's shoulders and wiping the blood from the kid's hand before lightly dabbing his brother's lip, then chin.

Sam remained still, watching Dean tend to him. "Stitches are gonna hurt," he whispered, as if Dean did not already know.

"A little," Dean agreed; folding the towel so that Sam would not see all of the blood splotched over the fabric. "But what's one of the things Dad always says? We do what's gotta be done, right?" he asked as he stood, tucking the towel under his arm.

Sam sighed but nodded, leaning into Dean's side as Dean wrapped his arm around Sam's shoulders.

"Plus..." Dean continued, steering his little brother toward the open gate. "Chin stitches are badass, remember?"

"Yeah, I guess," Sam replied softly as they exited the pool area. "But what if they leave a scar?"

"Chicks dig scars," Dean wisely informed his brother, allowing Sam to walk in front of him as they descended the steps of the deck; their wet bare feet leaving footprints on the sun-bleached wood.

Sam paused at the bottom of the stairs, shifting nervously as he stared up at Dean.

Dean arched an eyebrow as he came to stand beside his brother. "What?"

Sam's top teeth hovered over his bottom lip before he stopped himself from biting down and settled for licking his top lip instead; one nervous habit substituted for another. "Will you do them?"

"Do what? The stitches?" Dean sought to clarify and was not surprised when Sam nodded; because even though Sam trusted their father, the kid was not used to John tending to him.

"Will you?" Sam pressed and then attempted to seal the deal. "Please?"

Dean snorted – because the kid certainly knew how to play him – but shook his head. "I would do the stitches if Dad wasn't here. But Dad is here," he reminded.

"So are you."

Dean rolled his eyes at his tenacious little brother. "Yeah," he drawled as he slung an arm over Sam's shoulders and began moving them toward the motel room.

"So..." Sam prompted hopefully, glancing up at Dean as they walked down the sidewalk.

Dean shook his head, unexpectedly irritated by Sam's persistence on this issue. "Jesus, Sam...let it go. It's not that big of a deal. Dad will do the stitches, and I'll hold your precious little hand," he remarked dryly. "Will that work for you, princess?"

Sam scowled and roughly shoved away from his brother. "You don't have to be a jerk, Dean," he retorted, even as his voice wavered and tears sprang to his eyes; annoyed yet hurt by Dean's comment.

Dean inwardly cringed, instantly regretting his words and his tone. Because he knew better than what he had just done; knew that Sam was injured and shaken and thus exceptionally touchy and not in the mood to be teased. And even if Sam was getting on Dean's nerves, his little brother was not harping on the issue of who was applying stitches to purposefully annoy Dean; it was just the kid's way of dealing with his anxiety.

And Dean knew that.

But in a moment of aggravation, Dean's attempt to end the issue with his usual sarcasm had only managed to upset his already fragile little brother. And to make matters worse, now Sam was staring at Dean as if Dean had somehow betrayed him – not by refusing to do the stitches but by making light of a situation that was serious to Sam.

Dean sighed, freshly annoyed with himself.

"Sam..."

"Never mind," Sam snapped, wincing before lightly touching his lip; fresh blood welling as a result from how intensely he had flung those two words.

Dean frowned – both at the blood and at how upset Sam sounded – and reached toward his brother. "Sammy..."

Sam shrugged away from Dean's touch. "I'm fine," he said, his expression and tone indicating otherwise. "Just..." He shook his head, looking like he was going to cry again; like Dean was going to make him cry again.

And that was unacceptable.

"Sam..." Dean tried once more.

Sam blinked and looked away. "Just never mind," he whispered and turned his back to Dean, walking down the sidewalk.

And Dean watched him go, feeling even shittier than he had seconds before; never ceasing to be amazed at how quickly a situation could deteriorate all because of poorly chosen words.


TBC

This is another oneshot that ended up being too long, so it became a "three shot". Next chapter will be posted on Wednesday or Thursday.