Dean sighed. "Alright, Sammy. Let's do this, huh?"

Sam swallowed but said nothing.

"Sounds good," John agreed, guiding Sam's hand to hold the towel in place over his chin, and then glanced from his youngest to his oldest. "You boys get situated while I wash up."

Dean nodded as John stood and entered the bathroom.

A few seconds later, the water turned on, and Dean knew John would linger for as long as he thought it would take Dean to talk Sam into what had to be done.

"You know Dad's like a friggin' surgeon," Dean commented casually, brushing Sam's bangs from his forehead; not surprised to feel an increased degree of warmth since Sam always ran a low-grade fever when he was injured, stressed, and tired.

"I know," Sam answered quietly.

"And you know this is gonna be over like that..." Dean snapped his fingers for emphasis.

Sam looked doubtful.

Dean smiled as he crossed to the bedside table and rummaged around in the first aid kit until he found the small bottle of Tylenol. "Hey, Dad..."

John appeared in the bathroom's doorway, drying his hands and noticing what Dean held in his. "Water?"


John nodded and ducked back into the bathroom.

Sam continued to stand in the corner by the table. The towel was no longer pressed against his chin but was being nervously twisted in his hands as he stared across the room at Dean.

Dean opened his mouth to call his brother over but stopped as John exited the bathroom again; one hand holding a stout glass of water and the other settling in the center of Sam's back, guiding his youngest toward the bed.

Dean smiled – always pleased when he and his dad worked seamlessly as a team, whether they were hunting or taking care of Sam – and palmed two pills, holding them out as Sam approached.

Sam sighed but exchanged the wadded, blood-stained towel for the medicine and then accepted the water from John.

John turned to the bedside table, checking his supplies before readjusting the tilted shade on the floor lamp to provide more light.

Dean nodded his approval as he watched his brother swallow the pills and then sat on the bed, rearranging the pillows against the headboard before leaning back and further situating himself.

Sam frowned at Dean over the top of the glass as he swallowed the last pill. "What are you doing?"

"What does it look like?" Dean asked and then took the glass from Sam, setting it on the bedside table before pulling Sam down to sit on the edge of the mattress.

Sam stared at his brother, thoroughly confused. "Dean..."

"Shut up and lean back," Dean instructed, holding Sam's gaze.

Sam narrowed his eyes, briefly wondering if Dean was somehow mocking him again or setting him up for relentless teasing later. But there was nothing except sincerity and concern in Dean's expression. He genuinely wanted to do whatever would help Sam endure the stitches and somehow knew – even before Sam did – that this was just what Sam needed.

Sam glanced at John, wondering if their dad would think he was a baby if he literally leaned against his big brother while he got stitched up. But there was no judgment in John's expression; only patience and understanding.

Sam looked back at Dean and gave a shy, lopsided smile. Thanks.

Dean returned the smile and reached for his brother – easing Sam back until the kid was resting against him, his legs on either side of his little brother – and then nodded at John.

John sighed, steeling himself for what was not going to be pleasant for any of them, and tore open two alcohol wipes. "Sam..." he began, his hand hovering over his son's chin. "This is gonna hurt – "

"Like a sonuvabitch?" Sam finished, repeating John's description from earlier and startling a laugh out of his father and brother.

"Nice language, Sammy," Dean commented dryly. "However did that word end up in your vocabulary?" he asked primly and then laughed again.

John chuckled, knowing he should probably scold his 12-year old for swearing; but truthfully, Sam's choice of words was a minor offense considering what the kid heard from the older two Winchesters on a daily basis.

Sam's cheeks tinged pink. "Sorry."

John smiled and shrugged. "The truth's the truth," he stated matter-of-factly.

Sam wrinkled his nose.

"Ready?" John asked.

Sam swallowed and nodded; his eyes squinting as the cool, wet alcohol wipe made contact with his chin; burning and stinging as John gently cleaned around the wound with one wipe and then the other.

Satisfied the area was disinfected, John sighed and tossed the used wipes into the trashcan beside the bedside table before reaching for the sutures.

Sam watched as John ripped open the package and removed the coarse black thread; his fingers smoothing the bundle into a straight line and then tying one end onto the curved cutting needle.

Sam shifted nervously; his back against Dean's chest.

Dean wrapped his arm around his brother; his hand splayed against Sam's sternum and frowned as he felt the kid's heart hammering. "It's okay," he quietly assured.

Sam sighed shakily. That was easy for Dean to say.

John smiled sympathetically; slipping his thumb and ring finger through the holes of the hemostat – which always reminded Sam of scissors – and opened the instrument, grasping the middle of the needle within its blunt tip.

John then reached for the forceps – which Sam always thought was a fancy word for "tweezers" – and held it like a writing utensil between his thumb and forefinger in his other hand.

Sam swallowed; his eyes wide as he stared up at John. This was it.

"Alright..." John sighed, once again standing over his youngest and inspecting Sam's chin. "The wound looks clean enough to do continuous sutures, and I'm going to do them as fast as I can. But you need to try to stay still, okay?"

Sam nodded his understanding but not his agreement; because he honestly did not know if he could remain motionless while someone – even if that someone was his dad – was passing a needle and thread through his face.

"We'll be still," Dean assured, answering in plural as he often did when Sam was involved; because anything that affected Sam affected Dean as well, and vice versa.

Sam swallowed, suddenly feeling like he was going to throw up.

John smiled encouragingly. "It's okay. Just lean your head back a little," he instructed and was not surprised when Sam hesitated. "Sam..."

But it was Dean that responded to the order; sweeping his hand under Sam's bangs and tilting the kid's head back; then holding his hand on Sam's forehead to maintain the position and further steady his brother.

"Alright..." John held Dean's gaze, ensuring his oldest was ready for the next step, and then focused back on Sam. "Here we go..." he warned.

Sam swallowed again and felt Dean tighten his hold around him.

John narrowed his eyes in concentration as he used the forceps to gently squeeze the split skin, causing the edges to meet, and then pierced the outside edge with the curved cutting needle.

Sam gasped and squeezed his eyes shut; his hands bunching the denim of his brother's jeans.

"Easy," Dean soothed, continuing to hold Sam's head back while the thumb of his other hand rhythmically rubbed the kid's chest.

"You're doing good, Sam," John praised, even though he had not yet completed the first stitch.

Sam sniffled and pressed his lips together to prevent himself from making another sound, only to remember too late that his bottom lip was injured as well. He cried out at the painful reminder and would have jerked if Dean had not held him still.

"Whoa..." Dean commented and frowned up at John accusingly before realizing the problem – Sam had accidently opened his split lip again; fresh blood beginning to well. "Ah, Sammy..." he sighed, glancing at the first aid kit on the bedside table and reaching for a couple squares of gauze.

Sam made a distressed sound; his eyes still closed but his hand moving toward his face.

"Stop," Dean gently admonished, blocking Sam's hand. "Just relax and be still. I got this."

John quirked a smile and patiently held his position – needle, thread, and hemostat in one hand, forceps in the other – while Dean tended to his brother.

Dean glanced at his father before dabbing at the blood on Sam's bottom lip and then carefully pressed the gauze in place.

Sam's fingers twitched as they continued to grip Dean's jeans.

"I know it's sore. But just a couple more seconds..." Dean soothed even as he counted silently and then peeled the gauze back to check for fresh blood.

Seeing none, Dean tossed the stained gauze into the trashcan and resumed his hold on his brother; hand lighting resting on Sam's chest.

"Ready?" John asked, staring at Dean.

"We were born ready," Dean replied confidently and patted his brother's chest. "Ain't that right, Sammy?"

Sam made a noncommittal noise. Because the only thing he was ready for was for this to be over.

John nodded and refocused on the task at hand; continuing to lean over his youngest as he once again pierced the outside edge of Sam's split skin and pulled it toward the opposite edge.

Sam flinched and pressed his head hard into Dean's shoulder.

Dean winced at his brother's pain, his arm tightening around Sam's chest; communicating comfort and lending strength.

John completed stitch #2 and felt his heart constrict at the sight of Sam's face scrunched in pain; his eyes squeezed shut; his jaw bruised; his bottom lip red, swollen, and quivering.


John's attention flickered up to his oldest.

"How 'bout you tell us what you're doing on the next stitch?" Dean suggested casually, even as he stared meaningfully at John and then glanced down at Sam.

John nodded, realizing he was being extended an invitation to distract their youngest; that while most patients probably would not want to hear about how their skin was being sewn back together, Sam's analytical mind would eagerly latch onto such information; would probably even store it for future use.

"Dad..." Dean prompted, shifting slightly under Sam's weight.

"Good idea," John agreed, his tone just as casual as Dean's had been, and then paused, refocusing on Sam's chin. "Okay, should start from the outside edge and make sure the needle tip enters the tissues perpendicular to the skin," John advised, doing just that. "The needle will go through the epidermis – the top layer of skin – and then..."

Sam made a guttural sound as his hands gripped the fabric of Dean's jeans impossibly tighter.

Dean rubbed Sam's chest. Easy.

John paused. "And then once the needle tip has penetrated through the top layer of the skin," he continued, squinting as he maneuvered the hemostat, "you should twist your wrist so that the needle passes through the subcutaneous tissue and then comes out into the wound before you then enter the subcutaneous tissue on the opposite side, and come out the epidermis above."

Sam whimpered as John completed stitch #3 and then immediately swallowed, as if he had not meant for that sound to be heard.

John froze, glancing at Sam and then at Dean.

"I know, Sammy," Dean soothed, pressing his cheek against Sam's temple; feeling the heat of a slight fever and the dampness of drying hair. "But you're doing good, kiddo. Just a couple more..."

Sam made a vague sound of acknowledgment; his eyes still closed as silent tears slipped through his lashes; his breaths harsh; his body a rigid rod of tension as he braced for stitch #4.

Dean sighed – hating this as much as Sam did – and thumbed the tears from Sam's cheeks before readjusting his hold on his brother; smoothing away Sam's bangs as he continued to tilt the kid's head back.

John waited for Dean to nod and then began the next stitch, pleased with how evenly the split skin was coming together despite the amount of inflammation and swelling.

Dean watched as John once again maneuvered the hemostat and pierced the outside edge of Sam's skin with the curved needle, twisting his wrist ever-so-slightly before guiding the needle through the wound over to the opposite side; the thread of the suture gliding through the skin and joining both edges together.

Sam's breath hitched as he dug the back of his head into Dean's collarbone.

Dean winced at the flare of pain in his shoulder. "Easy, Sam. Just one more..."

"Maybe two," John softly corrected, inwardly cringing as Dean cut his eyes at him. "I know I said only five, but I think you need an extra stitch, Sam."

Sam moaned; either from pain or frustration, John could not tell.

But as usual, Dean was already taking care of it.

"It's okay, Sammy," Dean soothed, rubbing Sam's chest. "Half a dozen stitches sounds way more badass than 'only five', don't 'cha think?"

Sam did not respond; his hands cramping from gripping the denim of Dean's jeans so tightly.

Dean continued to rub Sam's chest and then nodded at John; watching their father repeat the familiar routine – pierce, pull across, pierce, pull tight.

"Want to know why you twist your wrist like that after the needle penetrates the skin?" John asked as he completed the fifth stitch.

Dean arched an eyebrow at the randomness of the question. "Um...sure."

John began the sixth stitch. "Because when you do that, it helps to ensure that the edges of skin will evert – which means you get the underlying dermis from both sides of the wound to touch – and that will ensure the wound heals fully and properly."

Dean nodded. He had heard this lesson before and had actually done these steps himself the few times John had allowed him to stitch a wound. But he was unexpectedly captivated hearing John explain the procedure again while demonstrating; was reminded of how right he had been earlier when he had assured Sam that John was practically a surgeon; how lucky they were to have a dad who knew so much about so many different things and was constantly teaching them.

Dean blinked as Sam began to squirm against him, the relentless pain making his little brother restless.

"Be still, Sammy," Dean whispered; his splayed hand lightly pressing against Sam's chest as John completed the last stitch. "Almost done..."

"Just have to tie these off, buddy. Hang on..." John added, pulling the suture through the skin so that just a few centimeters of the thread was left out. He then removed the needle from the hemostat and wrapped the suture that was still attached to the needle around the hemostat's tip before grabbing the short, unattached end of the suture and pulling it through the loop, tying a knot.

"Only two more knots..." Dean reported even as he watched John tie them.

John then dropped the forceps into the suture kit and exchanged the hemostat for small scissors. A few seconds later, the ends of the thread were cut, leaving a neat row of tight, precise stitches secured with three flat knots.

"Done," John declared, tossing the scissors on the bedside table and standing to his full height; stretching muscles that had long since cramped from stooping over his youngest to apply the sutures.

"Hear that, Sammy?" Dean asked, carding his fingers through Sam's hair as he released his hold on the kid's forehead.

Sam sighed shakily and slowly opened his eyes, blinking at the light that continued to shine directly in his face.

Noticing Sam squint, John quickly tilted the lamp's shade back in place and moved it further in the corner.

"How do they feel?" John checked, once again peering at the stitches.

Sam swallowed; his hands beginning to release their hold on his brother's jeans; his fingers sore from the intensity of their grip. "Hurts," he admitted quietly.

John nodded. "I know, kiddo."

"When do they come out?" Sam asked, clearly eager for that day already.

John chuckled. "It depends, but stitches usually stay in for seven to ten days."

Sam sighed. Seven to ten days seemed like a lifetime to a 12-year old. "Will it hurt?"

"It shouldn't," Dean soothed, shifting under his brother's weight as Sam continued to lean against his chest. "Might feel like a small pinch or something, but that's it."

John nodded. "But don't worry about that now," he advised. "Your chin should start feeling better in a couple days as the swelling goes down, and the wound starts to fully heal." His fingers gently probed the swollen flesh and then skimmed the stitches. "Plus, some of this bruising will start to fade," John added; carefully grasping Sam's chin with the tips of his fingers and turning his son's face from side to side; examining the bluish-purple splotches along the kid's jawline.

Dean watched as John examined Sam; his little brother motionless against him, holding himself still while John continued his inspection.

"And you'll need to be careful with this," John reminded as he released Sam's chin and ghosted his thumb over the kid's freshly clotted bottom lip.

Sam nodded and was startled when his father suddenly looked him directly in the eye.

"I'm proud of you," John said simply but held Sam's gaze, making sure his youngest knew the depth of those four words; knew he was serious; knew just how proud. "I've seen grown men...hunters...who did not tolerate stitches as well as you just did with no local anesthetic. And I'm damn proud of you, kiddo."

Dean smiled and nodded; both in agreement with their father's words and in silent praise that John had realized Sam needed to hear them.

Sam felt stunned; staring at John for a moment before smiling shyly. "Thanks, Dad."

John smiled in return; his expression warm and genuine as he lightly tousled Sam's hair and then shifted his focus to Dean; his oldest still propped against the headboard while he held his brother. "I'm going to wash up and clean up. Then we'll get packed and head out. I want to be on the road in less than ten minutes."

"Yes, sir," Dean replied, knowing the responsibility of Sam was being passed back to him; that John expected Dean to finish tending to his little brother and then get the kid – and their duffels – loaded in the Impala.

John held Dean's gaze and then turned to the bedside table, tossing the used suture kit into the trashcan before crossing to the bathroom to wash up.

Sam watched John disappear behind the half-closed door but remained motionless; seeming content to continue to rest against Dean.

Dean felt Sam lean more heavily into his chest as the kid finally began to fully relax; shoulders drooping as tension melted away; his small hands no longer bunching denim; his head slightly lolling into the hollow created by Dean's neck and shoulder.

Sam sighed – a sound of relief – and closed his eyes.

Dean smiled affectionately and briefly buried his face into Sam's hair, smelling sun and chlorine as he, too, closed his eyes; knowing something much worse than a split lip and busted chin could have happened earlier when Sam fell and feeling incredibly thankful that his little brother was okay.

The water in the bathroom shut off, and Dean opened his eyes; sighing his reluctance to move. He could tell Sam was no longer just resting but was now seconds away from being asleep. And while Dean would have been fine with continuing to sit on the bed and hold his brother while the kid slept, that was not an option.

Now that Sam was stitched up, John's focus was already shifting back to hunting, and their dad was serious when he said he wanted to be on the road in less than ten minutes.

The bathroom door fully opened, and John paused in the doorway; his eyes narrowing in concern since his sons had not moved from where he had left them a few minutes ago.

"He's okay," Dean quietly assured. "Just resting for a minute..."

John nodded, but his expression said it all – he can rest in the car – and then crossed to the bureau; briefly digging through his duffel as it sat beside the television and then zipped it and shouldered it, exiting the room.

Dean sighed as he tracked John's movement through the open door and then glanced down at Sam. "Sammy..." he called, rubbing his brother's chest in an attempt to rouse.

Sam shifted, but the motion was more snuggling deeper into Dean than waking up.

Such trusting gestures from Sam always made Dean's protectiveness flare, and Dean instinctively tightened his grip around his brother.

Outside their room, John slammed his truck door.

Dean sighed again. "Sam..." he called a little louder.

Sam grunted his annoyance at not being allowed to sleep and opened his eyes, cutting them hard at Dean.

"Sorry, kiddo," Dean chuckled – the kid's expression reminding him of a sleepy, moody toddler – and grasped his brother's shoulders, carefully easing Sam to sit up. "But we've gotta hit the road."

Sam frowned as Dean slipped out from under him and stood. "Why?"

Dean turned to the first aid kit. "Because Dad got a call from Bobby about another hunt, and we're going to meet him a few towns over," he explained, tearing open a fresh alcohol wipe.

Sam nodded, sliding closer to the edge of the mattress and sitting patiently as he waited for Dean to do whatever he was going to do.

Dean crouched in front of his brother and felt his protectiveness flare once again as he noticed Sam's feet did not even touch the floor as the kid sat on the side of bed.

Sam frowned as Dean stared at him. "What?"

Dean shook his head. "Nothing," he replied, even though sometimes it bothered Dean just how small his little brother was; made him worry even more about keeping Sam safe.

Sam blinked drowsily and yawned, wincing as his sore mouth stretched wide.

"Careful," Dean warned, dabbing at the remnants of dried blood around and between the stitches on Sam's chin.

Sam wrinkled his nose at the familiar sting but remained still.

Dean gave a final inspection to the row of sutures before tossing the used alcohol wipe into the trashcan. He then reached for Sam's sneakers at the foot of the bed, where the kid had kicked them off earlier before heading out to the pool.

"I need socks," Sam reminded but made no move to stop Dean.

"You can put them on later," Dean countered, knowing they did not have time for all that, and slipped the shoes on Sam's feet.

Sam sighed, looking beyond Dean as John entered the room with a large black trash bag in his hand.

John smiled warmly as Sam focused on him. "You boys almost ready?" he asked, picking up the blood-stained towel Dean had thrown on the floor earlier and stuffing it into the bag.

"Almost," Dean responded over his shoulder as he quickly tied the laces of his brother's sneakers – Sam seeming content to let Dean do so as he drowsily watched – and then stood; grabbing the first aid kit and crossing to the table in the corner.

Sam continued to sit on the edge of the mattress. His chin and mouth throbbed; his entire body was sore; and he was surprised by how exhausted he felt.

John grabbed the smaller hand towel Sam had been holding against his chin and shoved it into the plastic trash bag.

"Sam's bathing suit and my wet clothes are in the tub," Dean reported as he sorted through their duffels on the table.

"Yeah, I saw," John commented, pausing between the beds as Sam's eyes suddenly dipped closed – the kid seeming to fall asleep where he sat. "Sam..."

"He's okay," Dean quietly assured as he crossed to take the trash bag from John; his tone indicating he did not want his dad to disturb his dozing brother. "I told you he's tired."

John arched an eyebrow at the clipped tone of his oldest as Dean disappeared into the bathroom to gather his and Sam's wet clothes along with the blood-stained washcloth.

In the next instant, Dean was taking a final look in his and Sam's duffels – double-checking for toiletry kits – and then zipping the bags before shouldering both of them and grabbing the trash bag from the chair.

Dean glanced at Sam and then at John. "I'll be right back."

John nodded – knowing Dean was momentarily passing the responsibility of Sam over to him – as Dean exited the room. His oldest tossed the duffels and trash bag into the backseat of the Impala and then crossed to the trunk, spending an unusual amount of time searching for something.

John narrowed his eyes, wondering what could possibly be that hidden in such a well-organized trunk. He glanced at Sam – who seemed fine, still sleeping where he sat– and then grabbed the weapons bag from under the corner table and crossed to the motel room door.

"Looking for something?" John called, leaning in the doorway and frowning when Dean did not immediately answer. "Dean..."

Dean sighed. "That stupid Queen tape," he remarked distractedly. "I could've sworn I put it..." his voice trailed off. "Never mind. Found it," Dean declared, leaning deeper into the trunk before slamming its hood. "'Bout damn time..." he muttered to himself as he approached the motel room's door.

John quirked a knowing smile as he glanced at the cassette in Dean's hand. "Queen, huh?"

Dean snorted. "Shut up."

John laughed as he brushed past Dean; his smile lingering as he crossed to his truck and carefully placed the weapons bag inside.

"We'll be out in a minute," Dean called to John as he slipped the tape into his jeans pocket and entered the room; his gaze immediately focused on Sam, just in time to see his brother slowly list to the side and softly land on the bank of pillows still propped against the bed's headboard.

Sam's eyes snapped open, even the soft landing painful to his sore body and stitched skin. He blinked against the sudden sting of tears and startled when Dean gently grasped his shoulder.

"Just me..." Dean soothed as he once again eased Sam to a sitting position and then pulled the kid to his feet, keeping a steadying hand on his brother's shoulder.

Sam stared up at Dean, a few rogue tears jarring loose as he blinked. "Sorry," he quietly apologized, swiping the back of his hand over his cheeks.

Dean smiled warmly and shrugged. "It's okay, kiddo. You've been through a lot over the past hour," he reminded, brushing Sam's bangs away from his eyes. "You're just sore and tired."

...and entitled to a few random tears.

Sam nodded – always comforted by how well Dean knew him, how patient and understanding his big brother usually was when Sam was fragile – and inhaled a shaky breath.

Dean rubbed Sam's back – a gesture of comfort and encouragement – and then reached into the pocket of his jeans.

Sam sniffled and watched, instantly recognizing the artwork on the cover of the cassette as Dean held it out.

"Ever heard of these guys?" Dean asked conversationally, turning the case over in his hand as though he had never seen it.

Sam nodded and smiled. "I used to listen to them all the time, until my brother hid the tape from me."

"Dude, that's rough," Dean commented and shook his head in sympathy. "No offense, but your brother sounds like a dick."

Sam shrugged. "Sometimes," he conceded.

Dean scowled, but there was no heat in the expression.

Sam laughed softly and then shook his head. "But he doesn't mean it and usually makes it up to me."

Dean smiled and held Sam's gaze. "Well, since you put it like that, your brother sounds pretty awesome."

Sam grinned up at Dean, even though the expression stretched his sore skin. "He is," he said simply and knew Dean would hear what was left unspoken.

Dean's smile widened, and he nodded. Love you too, kiddo.

There was a beat of silence.


Dean glanced over his shoulder at the sound of John's voice calling them from the parking lot and then turned back to Sam, tilting his head toward the door. "Ready?"

Sam nodded. "Guess so," he replied, taking the cassette from Dean's hand. "Are you?" he asked, waving the tape in the air.

"Dude, I was listening to Queen before you were even born," Dean countered, following behind Sam as they exited the motel room.

"Then why don't we listen to them more often?"

"Because you drive me crazy listening to that 'Fat-Bottomed Girls' song," Dean defended, glancing at John as they approached the vehicles.

"I've checked the map," John informed, leaning against the hood of his truck. "We should be in Willow Creek in a couple hours."

Dean nodded, hearing Sam open the passenger side door of the Impala.

"Stay close," John reminded, as he did every time they headed out to a new location. He glanced at Sam – his youngest now sitting in the passenger seat, opening the cassette case – before looking back at Dean. "And have fun," he added, his lips hinting a smile.

Dean rolled his eyes good-naturedly and crossed to the driver's side of the Impala as John climbed into his truck.

"I think 'Fat-Bottomed Girls' is funny," Sam announced as soon as Dean was behind the wheel. "Don't you?"

"Not as much as you do," Dean answered, trying to remember what it was like to think like a 12-year old as he cranked the Impala. "Now, 'Bohemian Rhapsody'...that's a kick-ass song."

Sam shook his head and wrinkled his nose. "I don't like that song."

Dean rolled his eyes. "Of course you don't."

John cranked his truck and backed out of his parking space; nodding once to Dean before easing into traffic.

Dean did the same with the Impala and followed behind their dad.

"That song is depressing, Dean," Sam informed, as though he was the expert on such topics.

Dean frowned. "How do you figure that?"

"It opens with the guy talking about killing somebody," Sam stated flatly.

Dean shrugged.

"And then the guy is talking about how he wishes he was never born, and then they're saying they're never gonna let the guy go...even though he keeps asking...and then it talks about the devil being put aside just for him and how nothing really matters and just..." Sam shook his head, remembering the weird dream he had one time that was eerily similar. "I don't like it."

Dean briefly lifted his hands from the steering wheel in a surrendering gesture. "Dude, chill. It's just a song."

"Maybe," Sam agreed. "But I don't like it."

Dean chuckled. "Yeah. I got that part."

There was silence.

Dean glanced at Sam; his brother still grasping the cassette in one hand while the fingers of his other hand were lightly skimming back and forth across the stitches in his chin.

Dean frowned. "Hey..."

Sam's fingers continued to inspect the sutures. "What?"

"Leave 'em alone."

"They hurt."

"I know," Dean agreed. "But you'll make them even sorer if you play with them, so leave 'em alone."

Sam scowled.

"Sam..." Dean called warningly when his brother did not respond to his order.

"Fine," Sam sighed, finally doing as he was told – leaving the stitches alone – and instead leaned forward in the passenger seat; his mood instantly brightening as he shoved the cassette he had been holding into the tape deck. "Ready to sing?" he asked cheekily.

Dean snorted but offered no other response.

Sam laughed; waiting a few seconds for the tape to start playing and then fast forwarding through the first song.

Dean felt a hint of a smile and glanced at Sam.

The kid's bottom lip was red and puffy, and his chin was the same; the skin slightly puckered from the dark row of stitches. Sam's jaw was bruised in a remarkably vibrant pattern of blue and purple, and he looked tired and maybe even a little flushed from the low-grade fever stubbornly hanging on.

But despite all of that, Sam was inarguably happy at the moment.

And that was enough for Dean; was all that ever mattered.

Sam noticed Dean looking at him and grinned, wincing a little when the expression stretched his sore lip. But he was so ridiculously excited about being allowed to play "his song" – even if "his song" tended to change every month – that he could not help but beam at Dean, the best big brother in the world.

Dean smiled back and refocused on the road, signaling a right turn seconds after John did and bracing himself for what was to come.

And then...

"Are you gonna take me home tonight? Oh, down beside that red firelight. Are you gonna let it all hang out? Fat-bottomed girls, you make the rockin' world go round!"

Sam sang the opening chorus at the top of his voice – just like he always did – and then touched his chin and bottom lip during the guitar solo that followed, his eyes squinted in pain.

Dean frowned. "Be careful," he warned.

Sam nodded. "No blood," he reassured and showed his fingers to Dean as proof.

"Yeah, well..." Dean checked his rearview and then glanced again at Sam. "Keep it that way, huh?"

Sam nodded once more, readying himself to start singing the first verse.

And so it went for the next hour.

But when Sam did not immediately rewind the song, Dean knew the inevitable had finally happened – his little brother was asleep.

"'Bout time," Dean commented good-naturedly; because Sam had been obviously fighting sleep; had been yawning more than singing for the past 30 minutes.

Dean glanced to the passenger seat, not surprised to see Sam's eyes were closed; Queen apparently being no match for the combination of injury and fatigue, especially when those two factors were paired with the familiar, comforting rumble of the Impala.

Because the kid was definitely out for the count; was slouched in the seat and was already listing toward Dean.

Dean smiled affectionately; his attention flickering between Sam and the road as he turned his headlights on, turned the radio off – finally – and then reached to pull the kid closer.

As soon as Sam felt Dean's touch, he instinctively curled even more toward his brother; his head on Dean's shoulder as he leaned against Dean and sighed; content and safe.

Dean's smile widened – continuing to steer with his left arm while wrapping his right arm around Sam – and settled in for the last hour of the trip; feeling surprisingly happy, despite the afternoon's events.

Because as long as Dean had his dad's taillights in front of him; his little brother beside him; and his car beneath was good.