AN: Hey all! Welcome to the first through-and-through Sparkiebunny fic! This was the first true collaboration (we always review each other's stuff, but this was a very back-and-forth, you write, I write kinda thing). It's based off teenchester Sam's line in 7x03 (The Girl Next Door).

I've always known that one day, things would come crumbling down, and I'd only have myself to blame.

That's why a small part of me isn't surprised to be in this position. Holding this gun with shaking hands, eyes flicking wildly from man to beast and back again. Dad's still not moving, the werewolf is about to pounce, and I'm standing here wondering what the hell other 13-year-olds do on the weekend.

If Dean was here, he would know what to do, probably without even thinking. But he's not because he's a big, tough 17-year-old, and when Caleb called for an extra pair of hands, Dean was all-too-eager to jump at the opportunity.

He said he'd be back by tomorrow, as soon as the hunt was over. Had to borrow an extra vehicle because there was no way Dad was parting with the Impala for that long.

And now I'm standing here, in my t-shirt and too-thin jacket, darkness all around, but for the streaming light of the full moon. The werewolf was supposed to be easy to kill, an in and out job, but Dad and I didn't anticipate the pursuit into the woods, nor the horrible twist of fate that put us in this position.

Though, in hindsight, nothing in our lives is ever in and out, easy, simple. Maybe we should've foreseen the bad luck.

After the wolf ran into the woods, Dad decided the best plan of action was to station himself in a tree, ready for the kill shot, and me on the ground as backup. The beast walked right into our trap, but of course, nothing can ever go as planned.

After no more than a second, a large crack echoed through the trees. At first, I thought it was the discharge of Dad's weapon. Then I saw the falling mass and realized my mistake. The branch Dad was perched on had cracked right down the middle, twisting toward the ground, taking Dad with it.

It was a decent drop. Somewhere between 10 and 20 feet. The thud was hard and though my vision was obscured, Dad was definitely not getting up. The werewolf stalked closer to Dad's fallen form, slow but clear with its intent.

It's two seconds later, and now I'm trying to get a clear shot, but Dad's the one with the sharp accuracy, not me. And my hands are shaking so bad, I can hardly aim at all. But the burly beast is inching closer to him, and I don't have time to consider the alternatives.

I squint my eyes and pull the trigger.

The wolf recoils, but it's not a kill shot, barely even a wound, if that. From the way the wolf is backtracking, I'd say graze at best, unscathed at worst. But the silver flying through the air is enough to spook the creature. It begins to retreat further into the woods, being swallowed by the shadow of the darkness, scarcely visible.

I only have a few more seconds before the werewolf is gone, and I still have bullets left in the gun. But damnit, Dad's still behind the mass of bark and leaves, and what am I supposed to do? (Nothing at all because I have to breathe first, just breathe for a second, just one breath.)

After a quick drag of air, I make my decision and sprint to the bark and leaves as the wolf runs out of sight, morphing with the long shadows of trees and brush.

The first thing I notice is that Dad is conscious and, though pinned by the long, heavy, branch, appears no worse for wear. The darkness is still laying its blanket over my eyes, but other than some dirt and bruising, I can't see anything more. No blood, no exposed bones, and from what I can tell, nothing to indicate anything worse.

Relief springs up, all-consuming and filling, because Dad is alive and ok, and maybe we could just go home now and be ok, too.

"Where's the wolf?"

My eyes snap to Dad and his strong (though still raspy, always a little raspy) voice. The relief deflates as he looks at me hard and expectant.

"I-It ran."

My heart sinks as his jaw tightens.

"And? Did you shoot it?"

"I tried." God, I feel worse than the flecks of dirt under my nails. "It got away."

The look in his eyes is enough to squeeze and crush any hope I had for the rest of the night. Silently, I grab the branch and with his help (reluctant, was it? Or just angry? I didn't look at him, couldn't tell), hoist it off. He's up in a flash and I find myself jogging to catch up.

The ride home is silent, disappointment, anger, blame, blame, blame spreading through the heavy air with biting strength.

I should've known… nothing in our lives is ever in and out.

. . .

The liquor is nearly gone before I'm out of the shower. I step out, clad in a fresh t-shirt and pants, and the smell hits me like a wave. An uneasy feeling fills my chest, swelling over the edges of the rope which binds my thoughts, my feelings, my everything.

Dad is sitting at the small desk in the corner of the room, looking haggard and tired. There's an empty bottle in front of him, another one half-empty in his hand.

"You wanna tell me what the hell you were thinking back there?" he growls. His voice is heavy and deep, not in a comforting way. "You could've gotten to the thing, killed it. Now it's still out there."

The words I didn't know if you were alive or dead or hurt or conscious are stuck in my throat, so instead, I say, "You were vulnerable and I didn't have a clear shot."

"Bullshit. You came after me instead of catching up with it. You did the selfish thing and now it's free."

Anger bubbles in my throat, past the unspoken (never spoken, ever) I was afraid for you, for me, I was afraid. Because I was trying to help him, not myself, and the werewolf getting away was obviously not in the agenda, and sometimes things just happen.

"Would you rather I had left you to die?" I say heatedly.

His eyes narrow at that, and his hand grips the bottle tightly. "I had it under control."

I feel the sharp response tingle on my lips before the rope loosens just enough to let it out. "Oh yeah, really controlled there, Dad. The freaking tree pinning you to the ground was especially convincing."

His eyes glint dangerously. "Don't take that tone with me."

The rope hasn't had a chance to tighten in control yet, so my reply is instant. "Don't blame me for shit that's no one's fault."

Dad stands up with swiftness I didn't think he'd have with all the alcohol in him.

"You need to shut up long enough to realize you're wrong. You made the wrong decision, kiddo, and now any future victims of that thing are gonna pay the price for it. It's high time you stop letting your brother placate you, and start owning up to your own screw-ups!"

"Dean would've done the same thing!" I shout, and I know I shouldn't but he's making me so angry and the tightness of the rope isn't tight enough to keep it all inside.

"No," Dad says firmly, and the word is almost a snarl. "Dean would've done the right thing. Dean would've gotten the job done."

"Well I'm not Dean!" I yell fiercely.

"I think we all know that by now," he replies lowly. "Because one of these days, it's gonna get one of us killed. I know it, you know it, and your brother knows it, too."

"You don't mean that." You don't, you can't, he can't…

"I do," he says without missing a beat. "Sooner or later, you're gonna have to start acting like a real hunter, like me. If you don't, that'll be your fault. This just proves it." The liquor bottle on the table glints from the crack of the window shades where the moonlight is streaming through. And I know he's not himself, but the rope is tight around my chest and it's squeezing out logic to make room for emotion.

"…start acting like a real hunter…like me." The thought punches the air from my lungs.

"No." My voice is icy cold, leaving no room for persuasion. But inside, a tiny crack, just like the one in the window shades, is left open. Where words and thoughts and blame can seep through because it has always been there and always will be. I know how to manage it now, but there's always that crack to suck in all the fault and censure, and somehow without it I feel empty.

Dad stiffens at the outright defiance in my voice. "Excuse me?" The words are slightly slurred, but dangerous nonetheless.

Perhaps more so.

"No," I repeat, voice raised. "I will never be like you." There's a poison and hate in my voice that I've never used before and it scares me.

But not as much as the sudden jerk of Dad's hands on my shirt, scrunching the material and lifting me off the ground. Not by much, but enough. My hands automatically come up to push him away, and thanks to the whiskey, rum, and what-the-hell-else, I manage to plant my hands firmly on his shoulders.

It was stupid and I know it from the moment my hands begin to push, but his fingers are wound so tightly in my t-shirt and the rope is bound so tightly around my lungs. I can't think and can't breathe, so I just shove.

The hands that propel me back aren't the hands that helped me take my first step or clapped me on the shoulder or held me so tightly in infancy. These hands are strong, but not in the way I've come to know my father. These hands are baleful and unrelenting as they tighten their grip on my shirt and, with the force of a grown man but the effort of an indifferent spectator, drive me back, off my feet, into the wall behind me.

It wasn't meant to be especially harmful (not that the liquor has a firm differentiation there anyway), and wouldn't have been had I not been standing directly in front of the lamp fixture jutting out of the wall.

Such a small, insignificant thing, easy to ignore, simple to overlook. But the protruding glass cone hits the back of my head like a rocket and I wish I could see stars but all I see is a weary face, animated by anger, framed before me like a grotesque portrait of who I'm destined to become (Oh God, please let that be the Ghost of What May Be and not of What Will Be).

The rope frays as pain explodes from the back of my skull to the front, down my neck, through my face and makes the return trip more than once. The edges of the face blur, but I can still see the anger, palpable, like a living thing only released by the glinting bottle on the table and the empty containers in places I can't see.

"You should've left me and gone after it. Who knows how many will die now." The voice has lost its biting edge, but none of its intensity.

And suddenly, he's right there, inches from my face. His eyes are glassy and hard, like diamonds. Full, dark diamonds glinting with anger and brokenness. There's hate swimming in the brown depths, but I'm afraid to think of who it's for.

He leans in close, those dark diamonds still glinting, shooting daggers at me, fraying the rope even further.

"It was your fault," he exhales roughly. His breath smells like whiskey and rum and regret. "That's blood on your hands now, don't you get that? We can't stay. We have to leave. And anyone that's left behind to die?" His grip on my shirt loosens as a large, dirty finger pokes the center of my chest. "You have to live with that."

The last words weren't hard and dark like his eyes, but soft and regretful like the breath slipping out of his mouth in measured puffs. I can't bring myself to look away from the long lines of his face, the stubble on his jaw, the small scar above his eyebrow. The throbbing at the back of my head fades as I picture the glassy eyes instead vibrant, and the smell more sweat and leather instead of rum and regret.

And no matter what my brain tells me or my eyes register…despite the increasing throb in the back of my skull and those dark eyes full of hate…All I can see is Dad. In the driver's seat, at a motel desk, in the middle of the woods on a hunt we never should've taken. And doing it all with those dark eyes and broken heart that he never wanted anyone to see. All I can see is the man who used to pick me up on his shoulders and call me Sammy and look at me like I was one of the only good things left in the world.

And even though those eyes are still dark and full of hate, they're so much more full of pain that I'm too sad to be mad. He may be drunk, but he's not crazy. He's not stupid.

He's not lying because he's two-thirds full of hard liquor and can't.

Which means he's right and it's my fault, but if I'm honest, I knew that all along.

"You were wrong, Sam," he says. His hands aren't as tight on my shirt anymore. "You were wrong and now you have to live with that." The dark eyes lower briefly. "I never wanted you to have to live with something like that. No one should live with blood on their hands."

I don't really know what to say to that, so I don't say anything at all. I'm not even sure if he's talking to me anymore and my head hurts and I just want to cry, but I'm too grown-up for that now.

And just like that, he's gone. His hands let go, leaving me to slide to the floor. Through my foggy vision, I can see him pick up the keys on the table, open the door, then slam it shut. He's gone, probably to either pick up more booze or spend a few hours at the nearest bar, and while the small voice of conscience in the back of my head (battling past the spiking, stabbing pain, making it worse) tells me to go after him (someone could get hurt, he could get in an accident, he's not himself), I can't move.

Because the pain in my head is losing the battle to the pain in my chest. That merciless, ripping pain that comes from inside, from places Winchesters don't talk about. The slam of the door echoes in my mind, and the rope around my chest is tightening because what if he doesn't come back. What if I've fucked up so bad this time that he's just gone and Dean isn't here and I'm left with the fact that it really is all my fault.

"Come back," my voice cracks. The horrid, rough sound cuts through the room and is swallowed by silence. Tears spring to my eyes (keep them in, never let them spill, never let them out), and I hear the same voice whisper, "Please."

I don't know who I'm talking to (Dad, Dean, Mom, the childhood I never really had), all I know is that I don't get an answer.

A sudden shot of pain in the back of my head reminds me that I should probably get off the floor and check the damage. My legs are shaking slightly as I stand. So are my hands.

I cringe hard as I see the blood slick and wet on the sharp edge of the protruding lamp, and even harder when my eyes fall on the blotchy streak from when I slid down the wall. Moisture slides down the back of my neck and I'm pretty sure it's not sweat.

First things first—clean the lamp and wall. Can't have some maid coming in and seeing the stains, bringing up questions. I stumble into the bathroom (everything is still shaking and I wish it'd stop) and grab some towels.

Making my way back to the wall, I bunch up one of the towels and begin to wipe things down. The blood comes off the glass lamp fixture easily, but when the towel touches the wall, it just smears. I'll have to scrub it with some water.

This time, it's up to me to clean up my own mess, without help from Dad or Dean or anyone. On one hand, it feels good because it was my fault to begin with and I can make up for it now, fix it. On the other hand, it's lonely and I really want Dad to come back and say he's sorry and it'll never happen again, and for Dean to appear and tell me everything'll be ok.

But neither of those things is happening, so I just keep scrubbing.

When I'm done, I have a small pile of towels stained with red and a little brown with the dust and grime from whatever was caked on the wall and light. There's one clean towel to spare, and feeling the drying blood stiffening in my hair, I figure I should take care of that, too.

The bathroom is small and has a dampness to it, but there's a mirror, a toilet, and a shower, so it serves its purpose. The mirror is on the short side, though, so I have to crouch a bit and twist to see the back of my head.

It looks worse than it is. Blood is matting down the brown hair (Dad says too long, but I act like I don't care what he thinks) and leaves a trail across the back of my neck, seeping a little onto my t-shirt. It's starting to dry now, but still needs to be cleaned up.

I wet the towel and hiss as it wipes the clotted blood from the wound. When I finally get it clear enough to see, I note that the wound itself is only about an inch long and not too deep. No stitches, but it'll sting for awhile. Coupled with the swelling goose-egg just starting to form, it's very tender to the touch, so as soon as I clean all the blood away and stop the bleeding, I lower the towel and sigh.

The lingering pain is still clouding my mind, but I manage to bundle all of the towels together in my arms. I figure, for now, under the bed will have to do. It's late and I'm tired, and the bed looks so appealing.

I shove the dirty towels under the bed without another thought, a hidden secret, a filthy reminder of your fault, get one of us killed, wrong.

The thought and memory makes my head hurt even worse, and before I even know what's happening, I'm grabbing the cell phone off the night table (Dad took the keys and left his phone, what if something had happened and I'd never know? Or what if something happened and he'd never know?).

I pick up the phone and hold down the speed-dial because in that moment, I don't know what else to do, and when I don't know what to do, I know exactly what to do.

Talk to Dean.

The phone rings once before he picks up. "Sammy?"

"Yeah," I answer.

There's a curious pause before Dean says tentatively, "Everything ok? It's almost one in the morning, kid."

"M'not a kid," I mumble. (Can never be a kid, don't think I ever was).

"Yeah, whatever you say…Seriously, what's wrong?"

"Nothing." Everything. "Just wondering when you'll be home."

I can hear Dean trying to muffle a yawn, and realize that he probably hasn't gotten much sleep, if any. I probably woke him up from one of his few rest breaks.


Because I want you, because I need you, because I'm bleeding and it's because of Dad and not some monster, and I'm having trouble telling the difference unless I think really hard.

"No reason."

There's a decisive silence on the other end, and in that moment, I know Dean's leaving and coming here as soon as his bag is packed. It's just something I can tell, but part of me doesn't dare to hope. The other part whispers weak, wrong, disappointment and doesn't want Dean around to see that.

"Get some sleep, Sammy," his voice says through the line. "I'll see you soon enough."

Not soon enough, never soon enough.

"See you later, Dean."

The dial tone in my ear sends a dull ache through my skull.

. . .

He's back quicker than I thought he'd be. It's early the next morning by the time he shows up, which means he spent all night driving, probably didn't even stop for food.

By the time he shows up, I've changed and showered, laid in bed for a few hours (couldn't sleep, but it was nice to lay down for a bit), and gotten up again to pack for the next hunt.

Dad hasn't said a word to me since stumbling in late (even later than usual), and I can't tell if it's through guilt or disgust. I'm afraid to find out, so I remain silent as well.

But silence is impossible when Dean's around.

"Heya, Sammy," he says cheerfully, striding through the door and dropping his bag. He looks tired but content, which is nice because you can sleep off tired.

You can't sleep off wrong, fucked-up, and disappointment, which is fine because—like I said—I couldn't sleep last night anyway.

"Hey," I reply. It's too quiet, too suspicious, so I clear my throat and try again (even paste on a smile for the cause). "What took you so long, jerk?"

Dean smiles back and I consider it a success.

"Shut up, bitch, you're lucky I came back at all."

I am. So lucky. I want to say thank you, but I don't.

Dad walks up to Dean and claps him on the shoulder. His hands are rough yet gentle, nothing like they were last night.

"How'd it go?"

Asking about the hunt, always asking about the hunt. I'm not surprised, but it still makes me a little sad.

Dean and Dad talk for awhile about the hunt, and I just sit on the bed because for some reason, when they do that, I feel out-of-place, like a stranger at the party of a friend-of-a-friend. I'm there, but I don't want to be.

My head still aches from last night, and an especially hearty laugh from Dad (only Dean ever makes him laugh, never me) sends a throb of pain through it. I should re-check the wound, haven't done that yet.

They're still talking, so I figure it's safe to slip into the bathroom for a few minutes.

Another inspection in the too-small mirror reveals an ugly, mostly scabbed abrasion and slightly swelled bruise, but only when I move my hair out of the way. Positioning the locks back into place around the wound, I sigh and lean on the sink counter. The lights around the mirror are so bright, too bright (throb throb throb through my head).

"Sammy!" Dean's voice is too loud, and I try to hide the wince.

"Shut up, Dean, it's six-thirty in the morning," I grind out.

I shouldn't have said it because next thing I know, a swift hand arcs toward my head, smacking it playfully.

It doesn't feel playful.

Dean's headslap sends a jolt of agony through my tender skull and this time, I can't hold back the wince, or the cry of pain. I bite my lip after it squeaks out, but it's too late.

Dean's eyes go from teasing to worried. His brow furrows and before I can stop him, his hands are examining the back of my head. It takes about 3 seconds for his fingers to find the rough wound, and his eyes instantly go hard.

"What the hell is this?" he says. The concern is thinly masked.

"It's nothing, Dean, chill out."

And what a shock, Sam Winchester fails once again.

"Was it the hunt? Did Dad clean you up? Concussion?"

I try to lie and say yes, but the rope is too tight and won't let me. Dean is still talking, pushing, demanding, unrelenting like Dad's hands, and it's all just too much.

"It was my fault, okay!" I find myself shouting. The rope is looser now and I can't stop. "He was right, I deserved it anyways."

The moment the words leave my lips, I know I said the wrong thing. I can see the wheels turning, Dean putting two and two together (because people joke that I'm the smart brother, but he's so much smarter than I'll ever be, and stronger and kinder and just better), and I can't decide if I want to take them back or not.

Dean's voice is small with caution. "Dad did this?"

Mine is small with shame. "It wasn't his fault."

The crestfallen look on his face (even though he tries so hard to hide it) makes me feel as if I've stolen his favorite action figure and pointed out the hidden crack that he never saw and probably never would've seen had I kept my mouth shut.

It takes me about a minute to tell him everything, from the hunt to the rum to the shove to the dirty towels shoved under the bed.

He just looks at me the whole time, trying so hard to keep his face impassive. But he's Dean and he's always been hot-tempered, impulsive, quick to emotion, even if he never shows it.

And being the person that knows him better than anyone, even himself (especially himself), I see all of his slip-ups. I see the glint of anger in his twitching jaw and the raw sadness in his narrowed eyes.

"Stay here, Sammy," he says. He stands up.

"Dean," I begin, but there is no real argument in my words.

He cuts me off anyway, but not in a way that makes me flinch or look down sheepishly. "Stay here," he repeats.

The door opens and closes again, and I draw my knees closer to my chest. My head is throbbing, but I can still hear the muffled sound of Dean's voice.

I can't hear what he's saying and I'm not sure if I want to. It goes on for a bit, my head eventually pounding hard enough to drown out the voices (or maybe they just got quieter?).

When Dean comes into the bathroom a few minutes later, all is silent and his lips are pinched, which I know by now means he's angry. But then he sits down and just looks at me, in a way he doesn't usually, with a horrible mixture of love and fear, as if he's afraid I'll wisp away on a breeze and leave him behind.

But I'd never do that to him. I wish he knew that.

His hazel eyes are still on me, roaming my face as if it were a rare and coveted thing, something really special that scares him to think of giving up.

Only Dean could ever look at me like that; only Dean ever had. The rope around my throat tightens while loosening its grip on my emotions. Because only Dean can make a fuck-up like me feel so goddamn special, just...just because.

Tears prick the corners of my eyes, and before I can move to brush them away (because Winchesters don't cry, especially not about nothing, but what defined nothing when I was looking at Dean and it felt like everything?), he has already leaned forward and put his arms around me. They're tight and firm, but so soft I just wanted to melt into the embrace because it makes me feel like a kid again, and when did 13 stop being a kid?

I don't know and don't care when I can smell gel and leather and love all at once.

. . .

The next day comes just like any other. Dad doesn't say anything to me, but offers to carry my bag out to the car, which I guess for now is enough. But I still mutter 'no thanks' and turn away so I don't have to see the disappointment on his face.

Dean is waiting in the car, Dad is finishing up packing, and I'm sitting on the bed, watching some TV so I don't have to think about dirty towels or people dying or a real hunter, like me.

But of course, nothing in our lives is ever in and out, easy, simple.

The show I'm watching (but not really watching) is on commercial break, and on comes a news report. A short teaser, just enough to make you watch that night, never enough to let you know the whole story. Sometimes, you don't need to.

Sometimes, you already do.

"Tonight, mother of three found dead in a local alleyway. Possible wild animal attack baffles police. Tune in at 11."

My mind goes blank for a moment and I will it to stay that way (it doesn't). Because I'm a Winchester, but not a good one. Dean, Dad—they can shut their minds off, ignore what they've done at least enough to shove it down and forget for awhile. But I can't (I want to so bad it hurts).

The heavy knot of the rope tightens, winding itself around me. It constricts around my chest, my arms, my head, my heart. My fingers tingle, but I barely notice it anymore.

A sidelong glance and the swift click of the remote silences the room once again. I can hear Dean calling my name, beckoning me to the awaiting car, off to another town, another name, another life (another lie). The rope tugs me closer to the door, the scrape echoing in my ears along with whispers of your fault, wrong, people dying, yourfaultyourfaultyourfault.

With a release of tension (of freedom, control, choice), I let the rope drag me through the door. Because in the end, I've always known that one day, things would come crumbling down.

And I'd only have myself to blame.