You Watch My Back, I Watch Yours

Summary: Sparks fly as Dean & Sam deal with the new dynamics in their relationship after they reunite. It gets even more complicated when Sam is injured on a hunt. Hurt!Sam. Protective!Dean. Set in Season 1. #3 in the Bicycle Verse.

A/N: "Bicycle Verse" stories are set in Season 1 and deal with all the angst and drama as Sam and Dean try to reconnect after being separated for four years while Sam was at Stanford. This is the third story in the Verse; the first two were "Like Riding A Bicycle" and "Sickbed Confessions". If you haven't already read them, feel free to check them out but this one can stand on its own.

A/N: The best beta in the universe is Ericka Jane; thanks again girlie!

Disclaimer: I don't own Supernatural but I sure have a great time pretending like I do.

A boy went to Stanford and a man came back.

Dean knew that Sam couldn't be a child forever but he had grown into a man who was too stubborn for his own good. Sam had been stupid enough to disobey orders in the middle of hunt, and had almost gotten himself killed as a result. And for his stubbornness and stupidity, he was about to feel his big brother's wrath.

Sam and Dean had been attacked by a vengeful spirit in the middle of what was supposed to be a simple salt and burn. Dean had seen the ghost's quick approach and had ordered Sam to move. Sam had stood his ground despite Dean's increasingly desperate orders. For his trouble he'd been slashed near his right shoulder and flung against a wall.

Dean had barely managed to burn the remains of the psychotic spirit before it permanently removed Sam from the land of the living. They had fled the scene, driving back to the motel in painfully tense silence. Then, as soon as they were behind closed doors, Dean rounded on his brother.

"What the hell is wrong with you? Did you lose your mind at that overpriced college? I told you to move, Sam! You of all people know you never disobey an order in the middle of a job."

"Maybe I'm not as good at taking orders as you are."

"Cut the crap. If I tell you to move then you move."

"So you can get hit?"

"That's not the point, Sam."

"Yes it is. You wanted me out of the way, you didn't care that the damn ghost was practically going to behead you with that sword."

"I saw him coming. I had it covered."

"Like hell you did, Dean. You weren't in any position to take him down, you just wanted me out of his way and you didn't care that it meant that lunatic would be coming straight for you."

"O.K. so you almost got your arm amputated, are you satisfied?"

"Yes, considering the alternative was you having your head amputated, or do you think that would have been a better result?"

"Sam, I don't need you second guessing me when we're under the gun."

"And I don't need you jumping in between me and everything coming my way. I'm not fourteen anymore Dean and I'm not gonna follow orders, even from you, if it means you'll get hurt."

"Look, it's my job to protect you."

"And while you're busy doing that, who's looking out for you?"

The answer to that used to be simple: Dad.

The Winchester trio once had their hunting dynamics down to a science. Dean watched Sam and Dad watched Dean. But first Sam had run off to college and distorted the natural order, then Dad had disappeared and shattered the equilibrium. Now Sam was back but gone was the cautious teenager who needed his big brother's support and assurance. In his place was a grown man demanding to be treated as an equal, and damn if it wasn't doing a number on Dean's head.

Dean had always been bigger, wiser, and stronger than Sam; but now he was confronted with a "little" brother who outweighed him, outflanked him, and could probably outsmart him. A little brother who didn't seem to need him nearly as much having gained a new confidence from striking out on his own. A little brother who he was struggling to relate to now that it seemed the rules of the game had changed.

"I look out for me, Sam," Dean tried hard not to sound bitter, but failed. "Without you or Dad around that's something I had to learn real fast."

Resentment and frustration had Sam's temper flaring. "Are you gonna throw that in my face for the rest of my life? Goddamn you Dean, just let it go and move on!"

Dean's comeback line died on his lips when he noticed that blood was seeping from the shoulder wound, that Sam had hastily bandaged as they were driving away from the chaotic hunt.

"Hey," he cautioned, raising his hands to call a halt to the argument. "We can finish this later; you better let me take a look at that cut before you bleed to death."

Dean stepped towards his brother reaching for the injured arm.

"I got it." Still agitated, Sam stepped away, keeping his arm out of his brother's grasp.

"Don't be an idiot, Sam," Dean pressed. "Let me see."

"Stop treating me like I'm a child!"

"Stop acting like one. That arm looks like it's gonna need stitches so just shut up and let me take care of it."

Sam's blood boiled with anger and agitation. He was a grown man now and his brother was trying to relegate him to a nursery. He had managed to survive for four years without his father or Dean. It was time Dean saw him as an equal and not a lifelong babysitting assignment.

"I'll take care of it," Sam yelled. "You're not the only one who's had to learn to look out for himself. I survived four years without a goddamn nursemaid and I don't need one now!"

Sam stormed into the bathroom slamming the door between him and his brother. But in the confined space, he felt the anger and adrenaline quickly drain out of his body leaving him light-headed and unsteady. He stumbled back against the door as the fear and anxiety of the near-death experience caught up with him, and his knees gave out. As he fell, the ground tilted under him and the room spun, eliciting an involuntary gasp.

Seconds later, when the bathroom door swung open and Dean stepped towards him; Sam was too relieved to be anything but grateful at the sight of his brother.

"Oh crap, Sammy," Dean said crouching down to take Sam's head in his hands. "You must have hit your head pretty bad when that bastard threw you against the wall."

Sam stared at Dean vacantly, shaking his head and blinking desperately to clear his mind and steady his vision. Still the small room swam around him and the ground swayed.

"Help me," the words were out before he could stop them. Then once they'd been said, Sam could only sigh as his head sagged against his brother's chest.

Dean let Sam lean on him, placing a supporting hand on the back of his sibling's head. "I got you," he said.

Those were words that Sam had heard all his life. And they never failed to do exactly what they were doing now: calm his fear and sooth his nerves. The adult in him could put on a brave face but the little boy still needed the comfort, the reassurance, and most importantly, the sense of safety.

"Can you stand?" Dean asked when Sam's breathing felt smoother.

Steadier now, Sam nodded.

Dean got up, pulled Sam to his feet and ushered him to the nearest bed. When he had Sam propped up on pillows against the headboard, Dean couldn't resist getting one in.

"You see now why you shouldn't scream your head off after you've just had it bashed in by a psychopathic ghost?"

That at least got a rueful snicker out of Sam.

"Shut up, jerk," Sam shot back, weakly.

"You shut up," Dean rejoined. "And hand over that arm."

Sam complied, now content to lie back and let his brother care for him.

"It's gonna need stitches," Dean concluded after a brief examination. "And I don't want to take a chance and give you any alcohol or painkillers until we figure out what's up with that head of yours. Are you up to a little skydiving without a parachute?"

Sam had done it before, on more occasions than he cared to remember. But even if it was to save his life, Dean never did anything he knew would hurt his little brother without asking first. It was a ritual that they had developed when they were younger and Sam found it reassuring that Dean would still observe this time-honoured tradition.

"I'll manage," Sam whispered.

Dean carried out the minor surgical procedure with the same care and gentleness he had always used when administering first aid to his little brother. He kept up an excessively trivial and light hearted conversation to distract Sam and apologized repeatedly when anything he did caused Sam to gasp or wince. In every gesture Sam recognised the timeless truth; his big brother couldn't bear to hurt him, even if it was for his own good.

When he was stitched and bandaged Sam yawned exhaustedly as Dean adjusted the pillows and settled him down on the bed.

"Get some rest, Sammy," Dean advised. "I'll wake you in about an hour."

Dean pulled a chair up to the side of Sam's bed to wait and watch. "I don't care if you grow to seven feet, you idiot," he whispered when he was certain Sam was asleep. "You're not getting yourself killed on my watch."

It was a long night, with Dean waking Sam up every hour to make sure he was O.K. When Sam awoke for the first time on his own, the hotel room clock said 2:45AM. Glancing around, he saw his brother sitting in a chair by his bedside. Almost instantly, a sense of calm came over Sam. It was the kind of peace he'd often felt when he was younger when he thought he was alone, but realised that Dean was watching over him.

There'd been no monsters at Stanford and still he'd often found himself looking over his shoulder, constantly aware of his vulnerability in the absence of his big brother. And while he may have abandoned the hunt to preserve his safety, he'd never really felt secure without Dean.

"How's the head?" Dean asked.

"I think I'll live," Sam said after taking a few moments to get his bearings.

"I'll be the judge of that," Dean grabbed a bottle of Gatorade from the bedside table and held it out to him.

Sam drained the bottle and then shakily raised himself up to a seated position. Dean watched closely, not wanting to hover, but ready to move if his brother needed him.

"Did you get any sleep at all?"

"I'm good," Dean said quickly.

"That's not what I asked.

"I'll sleep soon, Sam. I just want to know that you're alright."

"I'm getting there," Sam assured him with no heat.

The tension had drained out of the atmosphere and the anger had burned itself out. That just left the two of them with hurt feelings and unresolved issues.

Surprisingly, Dean went first. "I'm glad you're feeling better. I'll give you some space."

"That's not what I want, Dean," Sam said with no rage to colour his words.

"Well, if you tell me what you do want, I'd be happy to oblige."

"I want you to understand where I'm coming from. I wasn't just being a pain in the butt, Dean. I didn't move when you told me to because I knew if I did that thing was coming straight for you. I don't care how good you are or what you had planned, you can't ask me protect myself at your expense."

"So now you're a martyr?"

"No. I'm just not going to allow you to sacrifice yourself to defend me."

"That's my job, Sammy. I'm your big brother."

"Yes and you could always look out for me when Dad was looking out for you. But he's not here now, so keeping you alive is my job."

"Don't even think that."

"Why?" Sam couldn't hide his frustration. "Is it that you don't think I'm strong enough? Or is it that you just don't trust me?"

"Trust you? Sam you're the only person, apart from Dad that I trust with my life."

"Then why do you shove me out of the way every time I try to help you?"

"Because I'm the big brother, Sam, and looking out for you is probably the only thing I've ever really been good at."

"And you do a damn good job of it, Dean. I've always known that there wasn't anything you wouldn't do for me so why would I give you anything less?"

Dean's stomach clenched involuntarily. He'd forgotten what it did to him when Sam made these emotional declarations. How it broke down his walls, neutralized all of his trademark defences and made him feel that being Sam Winchester's big brother was the best job in the world.

Running his hands through his hair Dean looked away, stealing time to collect himself.

Sam waited until his brother was facing him again. "Dean, don't ask me to put my safety above yours. I know you think it's noble but it's not fair. I don't want to have to live without you anymore than you want to live without me."

"I'm still your big brother Sam; don't ask me to stop protecting you."

"I'm not. I'm just asking you to let me protect you too. Can you give me that?"

Slammed by the full force of his love for his little brother and its reciprocity, Dean knew he would never have the strength to refuse after hearing that soft, pleading tone and looking into his brother's hopeful eyes.

Helpless, he surrendered.

"Sure, Sammy," Dean shrugged but couldn't quite manage to keep his voice casual. "I can give you that."