Summary: Pre-series, Teenchesters – Injured Sam, Big Brother Dean – Leave it to Sam to try to stop a soccer ball with his face.

Disclaimer: Not mine.

Warnings: Just the usual language...

A/N: Another story born of the drabble challenge for "line".


You got blood on your face. ~ Queen


"You're a dumbass," Dean informed harshly – worry making his tone sharp – as he slowed his jog, finally reaching his 14-year old brother; the kid sprawled on his back in the middle of the grassy field.

Sam shifted on the ground; his movements abnormally slow and uncoordinated as he blinked up at Dean, clearly dazed.

Over to the right, a referee was gesturing to the other players; directing them to their respective sides of the field depending on the color of their uniforms.

"Who the hell tries to stop a soccer ball with their freakin' face, Sam? Seriously..." Dean continued to rant as he squatted beside his brother; remembering the instant fear and panic he had felt just seconds ago when Sam had taken the hit – hard...and right between his eyes – and then had dropped to the ground; the kid's blood having been visible even from the sidelines.

"I was trying to hit it with my head," Sam explained reasonably, his voice soft and slightly slurred as he reached for his face; feeling the alarmingly free flow of blood from his nose as it coated his lips and began to slide over his chin and down his neck.

"Your head?" Dean echoed, and then shook his own head as he intercepted Sam's reach; not wanting the kid to assess the damage before he did. "Who the hell does shit like that?"

"Soccer players," Sam replied wryly, his voice wet as blood drained from his nose and pooled in his throat while he continued to lie on his back; his wrist squirming in Dean's grasp.

"No. Dumbasses," Dean corrected sharply, roughly squeezing Sam's wrist in silent warning to stop struggling. "Dumbasses who apparently have nothing better to do on a Thursday afternoon than to bust their nose."

"It's not that bad," Sam defended, even as he tasted blood in his mouth; could feel it coating his tongue and slipping down his throat; knew it was completely covering his face.

"Hey..." the referee from earlier called, approaching the brothers. "You're not allowed on the field, son," he told Dean.

Dean ignored him, releasing Sam's wrist and reaching toward the kid's blood-covered face.

Sam flinched and hissed in pain. "Dean..."

"It's okay, Sammy," Dean soothed, recognizing the panicked tone of his brother's voice; his expert fingers smearing blood as he gently palpated Sam's already swelling nose.

Sam sighed shakily, his tongue nervously licking his lips and tasting more blood. "It's not b-broken, is it?"

Dean shook his head. "I don't think so. Just one hell of a nosebleed..."

"Hey..." a second referee called, approaching from the left.

Dean glared warningly in the man's direction.

"M'head hurts, too," Sam reported quietly, squinting in the afternoon sun as it intensified the pain throbbing across his forehead and behind his eyes.

"Bet so," Dean agreed, turning his attention back to Sam and shifting; his shadow falling over his brother's face and blocking the autumn sunlight. "Better?"

Sam nodded and then swallowed thickly; coughing from the amount of blood still slipping down his throat.

Dean frowned.

"Hey!" the high school team's athletic trainer yelled, suddenly standing over the brothers with his first aid kit.

Dean glanced up, recognizing the man as one he had seen earlier on the sidelines with Sam's team.

"They said you can't be out here," the trainer told Dean, nodding toward the referees.

"Yeah," Dean agreed dryly, wondering if this man really expected to be taken seriously while wearing that ridiculously bright orange tracksuit. "I heard them, Tangelo."

The trainer arched an eyebrow, immediately recognizing the signs of a smartass. "Then get back behind the line," he further instructed, pointing in the direction of the bleachers. "I'll handle this."

Dean narrowed his eyes, his protective streak instantly flaring at being ordered away from his injured little brother. "No, I'll handle this," he corrected coolly and snatched the first aid kit from the trainer's grasp, dropping it on the ground by his feet for later. "Any dickhead who drags ass and takes ten minutes to come check on an injured player sure as hell ain't touching my brother."

The trainer blinked, momentarily speechless, but quickly recovered. "Excuse me?" he demanded, clearly insulted as he motioned for the referees.

Dean's gaze didn't waver. "You heard me," he told the trainer.

The trainer shook his head. "But this is my job..."

Dean shrugged. "Maybe for the other kids," he agreed easily. "But this one..." He glanced at Sam, rubbing the kid's chest as Sam coughed again. "He's my brother, so that makes this my job. And I'm taking care of it. I've got him."

Sam coughed once more, then gasped and gagged as he seemed to choke on his own blood; his eyes panicked and wide as he reached for Dean, grasping his brother's hand on his chest and squeezing hard.

"Whoa. Hey. Easy..." Dean soothed, instantly refocusing on Sam and squeezing the kid's hand in return. "Sammy. You're okay. Let's just sit you up..."

The two referees began to approach from either side – the one on the right accompanied by a uniformed policeman; the one on the left bringing a third referee.

The trainer glanced in their direction and smirked. "Do I need to have you escorted off the field?" he asked arrogantly, clearly thinking he now had the upper hand; that such a threat would frighten Dean into complying with the rules.

Dean snorted, remaining completely focused on Sam as he carefully eased the kid up. "I wouldn't recommend that," he replied warningly, not even bothering to acknowledge the approaching uniformed officials.

Sam continued to cough, flecks of blood spraying across Dean's shirt; staining the fabric and even the amulet's ugly gold charm as it rested in the center of Dean's chest.

"Dude..." Dean admonished lightly, holding his hand over Sam's mouth as the kid coughed once more.

"S-sorry," Sam rasped wetly, leaning into Dean's touch as his brother grasped his bony shoulder and steadied him where he sat.

"You're fine," Dean assured, thumbing some of the blood away from Sam's bottom lip. "Just thought I'd raised you better than to go around coughing on people..."

Sam's lips twitched in a smile, and he swallowed.

Dean quirked an answering smile as he squeezed Sam's shoulder – encouragement and comfort in one gesture – and then opened the first aid kit one-handed while still keeping a firm hold on his brother; a skill he had perfected over the years.

Sam watched as Dean scanned the kit for what was needed and continued to breathe through his mouth; his nose completely clogged with blood.

Dean frowned at the sound of Sam's congested, wet breathing. "You okay?"

Sam nodded but then shrugged.

Dean's frown deepened. "Sam..."

There was a beat of silence.

"My head hurts worse than my nose," Sam quietly confessed and then swallowed. "Like – "

"Like a migraine," Dean finished, because he could see the tell-tale signs on his brother's face; the kid's squinted eyes and wrinkled forehead being the primary red flags.

Sam shrugged again. "Maybe."

Dean nodded.

Because it was hard to tell for sure; but it seemed like just about anything could – and would – trigger the kid's migraines these days.

And being smacked between the eyes with a soccer ball would probably do the trick today.

"Migraine?" the trainer echoed, obviously eavesdropping, and then shook his head. "No way would a hit like that cause a migraine," he scoffed. "I think somebody's being a little dramatic..."

Sam glanced at the trainer and then back at Dean, looking equal parts upset and embarrassed.

Dean clenched his jaw against the rage that instantly pulsed through him at the trainer's insensitive words and at the resulting expression on Sam's face; the ass kicker in him wanting to handle the trainer like the colossal dick he was...but the big brother arguing that taking care of Sam was more important right now.

After several seconds, Dean exhaled an even, controlled breath; holding Sam's gaze and knowing his little brother would realize the plan of action – to ignore the asshole in the orange tracksuit standing beside them.

Sam nodded and then winced as he instinctively sniffled against the blood flowing from his nose.

Dean winced in sympathy and turned his attention back to the first aid kit at his feet.

The trainer sighed loudly, exasperated about being so blatantly ignored by a teenage punk playing hero to his whiney little brother. "Hey..."

"Not now, Chachi," Dean replied distractedly and winked at Sam as he removed several pads of gauze from the kit and folded them against his knee before gently covering Sam's bleeding nose.

Sam offered another weak smile – because Dean was just being himself...a smartass and a big brother all at the same time – and then softly grunted as he felt the pressure of Dean's pinch.

"You should be wearing gloves," the trainer remarked disapprovingly, frowning at Dean's blood-covered fingers.

"And you should be wearing an asshat," Dean countered, not even bothering to look up as he continued to pinch his brother's nose.

Sam laughed softly and then hissed from the pain it caused; both sounds muffled by the gauze held over his face.

Dean smiled, always pleased with himself when he could make Sam laugh – especially when the kid needed distraction from being hurt – and eased his brother forward until Sam's forehead was resting on his shoulder.

Sam sighed, clearly comforted by the contact.

The trainer scowled. "You can't sit out here all afternoon."

"We can if that's what Sam needs," Dean corrected, his thumb rubbing back and forth over his brother's shoulder as he continued to hold the kid upright.

"Please," the trainer drawled and rolled his eyes. "It's just a little nosebleed," he remarked casually, as if Sam's blood wasn't seemingly everywhere in the small patch of surrounding grass. "And we've got a game to finish," he literally pointed out, gesturing to the field around them and then to the teams gawking on either side.

"Good for you," Dean quipped and then eased his brother back. "Look at me..." he ordered softly, tilting Sam's head to get a better view of the damage up close; pleased that the bleeding was beginning to stop but frowning at the swelling around his brother's nose and at the bruising already visible beneath the kid's eyes.

"His nose looks broken," the trainer commented bluntly, staring down at Sam's face critically.

Sam's eyes predictably widened; his gaze flickering to the trainer and then back to Dean for reassurance.

Dean shook his head. "It's not," he replied evenly to his brother; holding Sam's gaze as he covered the kid's nose again with fresh gauze and gently pinched it closed before glaring up at the trainer; wondering if the man knew how close he was to having his ass kicked.

"Is there a problem here?" one of the referees asked, arriving at the center of the field with the other two referees and the officer.

"There's about to be," Dean answered, continuing to stare threateningly at the trainer while also continuing to carefully tend to his brother; displaying his talents as a multitasking badass.

The trainer's eyes widened at the implication of trouble, looking appropriately startled.

The officer, having been trained to recognize and diffuse potentially physical altercations, stepped forward. "I suggest you leave the field," he said brusquely, his tone implying it wasn't a suggestion; it was an order.

Dean glanced up at the officer, thinking he vaguely recognized the voice.

And he did.

The officer's face confirmed it.

Well, sonuvabitch...

It was a small world after all.

"Did you hear me?" the officer asked, in that unmistakable tone that must be taught at all police academies. "I suggest you leave the field."

The trainer nodded authoritatively. "Now," he added, crossing his arms over his chest like the pompous ass he was and staring down at Dean and Sam expectantly.

"I wasn't talking to them," the officer corrected coolly – as Dean knew he would – and stepped between the trainer and the brothers.

"What?" the trainer sputtered, equal parts offended, shocked, and pissed.

Dean felt his lips twitch in a satisfied smile; barely resisting the urge to spread his smartass wisdom about how karma was a bitch.

The trainer continued to gape at the officer. "You're serious, aren't you?"

The officer nodded. "Yes. This is my serious face," he deadpanned. "Would you like to see my pissed face?"

Dean ducked his head, swallowing a laugh.

Sam glanced at his brother and shifted nervously, still leaning slightly forward as Dean grasped his shoulder and held him upright with one hand while pinching Sam's nose with the other.

Dean winked encouragingly, his thumb still rubbing over Sam's shoulder, and then refocused on the scene in front of them.

The trainer's gaze flickered to the referees standing behind the officer, silently demanding they somehow come to his rescue in this situation.

The officer shook his head. "I wouldn't look to them for assistance," he advised dryly. "Because the only assistance they're going to be able to provide is when they help you off this field."

The trainer glared. "You can't do that," he protested arrogantly. "I have a job to do out here, a player to take care of."

The officer arched an eyebrow as the trainer motioned toward Sam and then glanced at Dean. "You need his help?"

Dean instinctively tightened his grip on Sam at the thought of the trainer touching his brother; of anyone tending to the kid besides himself. "Hell no."

The officer nodded, having expected that answer. "In that case..."

He glanced over his shoulder and motioned to the referees, who looked confused but came forward.

"Please escort our friend off the field," the officer requested, once again using that tone that brooked no argument.

The referees exchanged hesitant glances, unsure about the sudden turn of events but knowing better than to disobey an officer's order.

"This is bullshit!" the trainer fumed as the referees surrounded him and began to herd him in the direction of the sidelines.

The officer arched an eyebrow. "Careful," he warned, a hint of amusement in his voice. "Using language like that on the field will get you carded..."

Dean smiled, having been to enough of Sam's soccer games to recognize and appreciate the ironic humor.

"This isn't over," the trainer growled, pointing over his shoulder at Sam. "I'll make sure you don't play in any other games this season. You hear me?"

Dean once again pulled Sam marginally closer; his protective streak always flaring anytime someone directly pointed at his brother like that.

But the trainer's words didn't matter; because they were leaving town tomorrow. Today's game was the last one Sam was going to play in anyway; a privilege their dad had agreed to surprisingly easily...but would probably bitch about for the next few days once John saw Sam's face.

Dean sighed, the victory of witnessing the public humiliation of a rude, arrogant dickhead paling instantly at the reminder of an injured little brother.

"Sammy..." Dean called, once again pushing on the kid's shoulder to make him sit up straighter. "How you doin', huh? Let me see..."

Sam obediently tilted his head back as Dean removed the blood-soaked gauze.

Dean narrowed his eyes as he inspected his brother's face. "Looks better..." he reported, gently turning Sam's head from side to side to view the damage from all angles.

"That's better?" the officer asked, squatting beside the brothers and staring at Sam worriedly.

Dean chuckled and nodded. "Anything that's not bleeding is better," he informed, dropping the soiled gauze into the open first aid kit at his feet and wiping his blood-stained fingers across his jeans. "Right, Sammy?"

Sam nodded, his gaze shyly flickering from Dean to the officer.

The officer smiled warmly. "Hi, Sam. You remember me?"

"No, sir," Sam responded politely, his voice more nasally than usual due to his swollen nose, and then glanced back at Dean as his brother once again covered his face with fresh gauze.

"Hold this," Dean instructed and then glanced at the officer. "This is Deacon. He was in the Marines with Dad," he reminded his brother, realizing Sam had been too young the last time their paths had crossed with their dad's friend to remember who he was and why he was helping them.

Sam nodded but didn't otherwise respond as he held the gauze over his nose; his forehead wrinkling as his eyes briefly closed and then opened but remained squinted in pain.

Dean frowned, not liking the implications of Sam's expression. "Alright, dude," he said casually, even as he felt an increasing urgency to get his brother home. "You done being a drama queen? Think we can get up and head back to the motel?"

Sam smiled weakly, recognizing Dean's worry. "Yeah," he agreed and shifted to stand.

Dean did the same, keeping a firm grasp on Sam's upper arm as they both rose from the ground; steadying the kid when he swayed slightly. "Sammy. You good?"

Sam blushed as applause and cheers erupted from both sides of the soccer field now that he was back on his feet; ducking his head at the unwanted attention and noticing the blood, dirt, and grass stains covering the front of his white jersey.

"Sammy..." Dean prompted, nudging the kid with his shoulder. "Talk to me. You good?"

Sam glanced up at Dean. "Yeah. Just kinda dizzy," he admitted and then swallowed.

Deacon frowned as he stood beside the brothers. "He doesn't have a concussion, does he?"

Dean shook his head. "Nah," he replied, having already checked for signs and knowing Sam's dizziness had nothing to do with a head injury and everything to do with the kid's impending migraine. "He just needs to get home."

Deacon nodded; remembering how even when they had both been kids, Dean had taken care of Sam; had seemed to just know what his little brother needed without asking.

Deacon glanced at the referees as they returned from the sidelines; one retrieving the trainer's first aid kit from where Dean had left it in the middle of the field while another poured a bucket of water over the blood-stained grass and the other one began calling both teams forth; the game preparing to resume as though the past 20 minutes had never happened.

"Didn't know you boys were in town," Deacon commented conversationally as he followed the brothers off the field. "Your old man here, too?"

"Yeah," Dean confirmed, his arm protectively draped over Sam's shoulders; keeping his brother close and expertly steering the kid while Sam's head remained slightly bent. "Still bleeding, Sammy?"

"Maybe just a little," Sam reported quietly behind the gauze he held over his nose.

Dean nodded as they moved from the grassy field to the gravel parking lot.

Deacon continued to follow, his eyes scanning the perimeter; feeling strangely protective of John's boys. "Y'all just passing through town?"

"Aren't we always?" Dean returned dryly and smiled as Deacon nodded his agreement. "We've been here about a month, but we're moving on tomorrow." He paused, glancing at the officer. "How 'bout you? Didn't know you worked high school security now."

Deacon made a dismissive sound. "Not my real job," he assured. "Just moonlighting sometimes. It's an easy way to make $25 an hour when times are tough."

"I hear that," Dean agreed, knowing all too well how hard money was to come by.

"Y'all still do..." Deacon paused and glanced at Sam, uncertain if the kid knew about his family's business; remembering how it had seemed important to both John and Dean to keep Sam sheltered for as long as they could.

Dean arched an eyebrow, both amused and strangely touched by Deacon's hesitance to mention their job around Sam. "He knows," he quietly informed and smiled his thanks to Deacon for treading carefully. "And yeah...we still do what we do."

Deacon nodded and then let out a low, appreciative whistle as the Impala came into view amid the rows of minivans and practical sedans in the high school's parking lot. "She's still looking good," he remarked and glanced at Dean. "She yours now, or is John just letting you drive her?"

"She's mine," Dean claimed proudly, digging the Impala's keys from his jeans pocket before unlocking the passenger side door. "Dad gave her to me a couple years ago."

"Huh," Deacon mused, never thinking he'd hear of John parting with his favorite Chevy.

Dean opened the passenger door and motioned for Sam to sit; watching as the kid did so and then squatting in front of his brother to inspect Sam's injury once again. "Let me see..."

Sam obliged, carefully removing the blood-splotched gauze and staring at Dean for reassurance that it wasn't as bad as it felt.

Dean smiled encouragingly. "It's gonna be okay, Sammy," he soothed, giving a quick squeeze to the kid's knee before standing. "Just sit tight a minute..."

Sam sighed shakily as Dean crossed to the trunk and then glanced up at Deacon as the officer stared at him.

Deacon smiled at John's youngest, thinking he looked too small to be in high school. "What grade you in?"

"I'm a freshman," Sam replied quietly, knowing why Deacon was asking – because he looked 12, not 14.

"Really? Wow..." Deacon responded, continuing to stare at Sam.

Sam squirmed uncomfortably beneath the officer's gaze.

Deacon resisted the urge to chuckle at the kid. "How long you been playing soccer?"

Sam shrugged. "Just the past month," he answered, listening to the familiar sounds of Dean assembling an icepack at the back of the Impala; picturing his brother tossing a few handfuls of ice from the green cooler into a plastic zip-top baggie and then wrapping it in a towel.

"You were doing pretty good," Deacon praised as Dean slammed the trunk and came back into view.

Sam snorted and then winced. "Yeah...right up until the ball hit my face," he grumbled, equal parts disgusted and embarrassed as his fingers gently touched his bloodied, swollen nose and then skimmed over the bruised flesh beneath his eyes.

"You'll be fine, princess," Dean quipped, returning to stand beside Deacon; one hand holding the homemade icepack while the other palmed Tylenol. "Might not win the photogenic category in your next beauty pageant..." he remarked playfully, adjusting the water bottle tucked under his arm. "...but you'll be fine."

Deacon chuckled.

Sam sighed harshly at his brother's good-natured teasing; wanting to scowl but thinking better of it since his headache was steadily increasing.

Dean frowned, recognizing the sound of a tired, in pain little brother who wasn't in the mood for joking and taking it as his cue to wrap things up with Deacon and hit the road.

"Icepack, huh?" Deacon commented, nodding toward what was held in Dean's hand. "I swear...the Impala's trunk always was like Mary Poppins's bag."

Dean chuckled, having no idea who this Poppins chick was or what kind of bag she had but pretty sure she wasn't nearly as awesome as himself or the Impala.

But whatever...

"Always prepared," Dean replied cheekily and stepped closer to Sam as his brother continued to sit in the passenger seat and stare up at him as though the kid expected Dean to make everything better.

...which Dean fully intended to do.

Deacon snorted. "Always prepared," he repeated, clearly amused. "You a Boy Scout or something?"

Dean shook his head. "Not quite," he assured the officer dryly, handing Sam the pain medicine along with the water bottle. "Just an awesome big brother," he further explained and winked at his little brother.

Sam quirked a tired smile before downing the Tylenol with a swallow of cool water; not having to say a word to let Dean know he totally agreed – he had an awesome big brother.

Dean held Sam's gaze and returned the smile, feeling inexplicably sappy...just like he always did when the kid looked at him like that.

Silence momentarily settled between them but was suddenly filled with cheers and applause along with the echoed voice of the soccer game's announcer as he called the names of goal-scoring players.

Sam glanced across the parking lot toward the field and sighed, looking on the verge of frustrated tears...because that should've been him. He should've been playing and scoring in his last soccer game in this town instead of having a busted nose and a slowly building migraine.

Dean watched his brother, wishing he could ease the pain of Sam's disappointment as easily and as quickly as he could ease the kid's physical pain; but there was no icepack to soothe bruised feelings.

Deacon shifted, uncomfortable with the strained silence and uncertain if he should say or do anything.

Dean glanced at the officer, shaking his head once and then directing his attention back to Sam. "Alright, Sammy..." he sighed conversationally. "Ready to hit the road?"

Sam blinked and turned back to face Dean. "Yeah, I guess."

Dean nodded, taking the water bottle from Sam and motioning for his brother to get more situated in the passenger seat; watching as the kid kicked off his cleats – since Dean didn't allow him to wear them in the Impala – and then swung his short legs into the floorboard.

Dean smiled fondly – wondering if Sam was ever going to grow – and then handed his brother the towel-wrapped icepack as he leaned over to collect the kid's cleats; picking up the shoes and holding them by their heels with two fingers.

Sam sighed and leaned his head back on the bench seat before carefully settling the ice over his injured face. "Thanks," he murmured, closing his eyes as Dean shut the door.

There was a beat of silence; Dean making sure Sam was indeed settled and okay before he turned to Deacon.

"Thanks for everything," Dean told his dad's friend.

Deacon shrugged. "My pleasure. If I had known it was y'all, I would've come out on the field sooner."

Dean smiled and nodded his appreciation.

"It was good to see you, Dean," Deacon told John's oldest, his tone genuine.

"Same here," Dean returned, crossing to the Impala's trunk and tossing Sam's cleats in before closing it and returning to stand beside Deacon. "And who knows...with the way we're constantly traveling around, maybe our paths will cross again down the line, and we'll be able to return the favor and help you next time."

"Maybe," Deacon agreed, watching as Dean glanced over his shoulder to check on Sam as the kid continued to sit in the passenger seat with his head back and the icepack over his face. "He gonna be okay?"

Dean looked back at the officer, quirking a smile at such a ridiculous question. "Yeah, he'll be fine. I'll take care of him."

Deacon nodded and smiled, not doubting that. "Yeah, well..." he sighed, extending his hand to Dean. "Drive safe. And be sure to tell John I said 'hey'."

"Will do," Dean assured, briefly grasping Deacon's hand before crossing to the driver's side of the Impala and ducking inside the car.

Sam lowered the icepack and glanced at his brother as Dean settled behind the steering wheel.

Dean narrowed his eyes, giving the kid a once-over; pleased Sam's nose was no longer actively bleeding but not liking the amount of dried blood and swelling and bruising marring his brother's face.

Sam squirmed self-consciously in the passenger seat. "My face looks bad, doesn't it?"

Dean shrugged, slipping the key into the Impala's ignition and cranking her. "No worse than usual," he joked and winked at his brother.

Sam sighed, in no mood to be teased. "Dean..."

Dean chuckled. "Relax, Sammy," he urged, shifting the Impala into gear and giving one last wave to Deacon before backing out of the parking space. "Everything's gonna be fine."

"That's easy for you to say," Sam replied quietly, placing the icepack back over his face.

"Meaning?" Dean prompted, once again shifting the Impala's gears; the Chevy's engine rumbling as it rolled through the parking lot and out onto the highway.

"Dad's gonna be pissed," Sam reported; the tone of his voice indicating he had been thinking about it for the past several minutes while he had been alone in the car waiting for Dean.

Dean shook his head. "Not pissed, Sam – worried."

"Whatever," Sam mumbled from behind the icepack. "There's still gonna be yelling."

Dean shook his head again. "No, there's not," he countered, checking his rearview before glancing at his brother. "You hear me?"

Sam turned his head; one tired, bruised eye staring at Dean as he continued to hold the icepack in the center of his face.

"It's gonna be fine, Sam," Dean reassured, his tone soothing and confident; the perfect balm to Sam's frazzled nerves. "I'll handle Dad."

Sam sighed; knowing Dean would do just that but still feeling anxious.

There was a beat of silence, filled only with the rumble of the Impala and the sound of Sam's congested breathing.

Dean glanced again at his brother. "You still okay over there?"

"Yeah," Sam answered, readjusting his grip on the melting icepack.

Dean nodded, exiting the highway. "How's your nose?"

"Sore."

"Head?"

"Hurts." Sam paused. "Really hurts."

Dean nodded again, uneasy that Sam felt the need to add that clarifying word to describe the pain of his headache.

There was more silence.

"We're almost home," Dean reported, knowing Sam knew – they had certainly traveled this stretch of highway and back roads enough over the past few weeks for his brother to be familiar with the distance between the high school and the motel – but unable to resist the urge to say something comforting to the kid.

Sam nodded and sighed.

Dean arched an eyebrow; checking his rearview and waiting for Sam to say whatever was on his mind.

"I just wanted to do good today," Sam finally said, lowering the soggy icepack from his face and looking at Dean as though his brother had asked him what he was thinking. "That's all I wanted...to do good."

"You did," Dean assured without hesitation. "You were great out there, Sammy."

Sam shook his head; his eyes squinted in pain and disappointment. "No," he responded quietly. "I tried to do what I thought I was supposed to do, but I just screwed it up and got hurt and just..."

Sam shook his head again, blinking against the welling tears of frustration and fatigue.

Dean felt his own heart twist at the sight of his upset little brother. "Hey..." he called across the bench seat and nudged Sam's knee with his own when the kid didn't look at him. "Sammy."

Sam sighed shakily, glancing at his brother; the smudges of dark blue and purple beneath his eyes making them look impossibly large in his small face. "I'm sorry if I embarrassed you," he told Dean, his voice strained from holding back his tears.

Dean frowned. "Embarrassed me?" he repeated and didn't know whether to smack his brother upside his floppy-haired head or to hug the kid tight. "Where the hell do you get this shit, Sam?"

Sam blinked, the icepack now resting in his lap. "What?"

"You heard me," Dean responded, his tone sharp with annoyance.

Sam said nothing, fingers nervously twisting in the damp towel that cover the icepack.

Dean sighed harshly, wondering how his smart little brother could be so damn stupid sometimes. "Sam..." he began, signaling right and then turning the Impala onto one of the side streets as they approached the downtown area. "You have never been an embarrassment to me...or a disappointment or anything other than one of the best things in my life."

Dean paused; making sure the kid beside him had time to absorb his uncharacteristically sappy confession.

Sam glanced at his brother, looking equally surprised, touched, and soothed.

"You hear me?" Dean asked and waited for Sam to nod. "Good." He paused again. "Don't let me catch you saying stupid shit like that again. Understood?"

Sam nodded once more, a small smile twitching his lips.

"Good," Dean repeated and quirked his own smile; hoping Sam knew that as long as he was okay, that was all that mattered.

There was silence again before Sam startled them both by coughing.

Dean cut his eyes at his brother, signaling a left turn as the motel appeared up ahead. "You okay?"

Sam swallowed thickly as Dean turned into the motel's parking lot. "Yeah," he replied, even though his voice sounded wet. "I just..."

Sam's voice faded as Dean steered the Impala toward their room.

Dean shook his head, seeing the same thing Sam saw – their dad's truck parked outside their door. "It's okay, Sammy," he reminded, pulling into the space beside John's vehicle. "What's done is done, right? And you're okay. That's all that's gonna matter to Dad."

Sam stared straight ahead; John's shadow visible through the window as he sat at the small table inside the room; their dad's head bowed as his hand rubbed his forehead while he talked on the phone pressed to his ear.

Dean sighed at Sam's silence, switching off the Impala's ignition. "Sammy..."

Sam turned wide eyes to his brother.

Dean smiled encouragingly. "Relax."

Sam swallowed, watching as Dean opened the driver's side door and then did the same on the passenger side; climbing out of the Impala just as Dean crossed to join him on the sidewalk.

Sam fidgeted with the icepack he still held while his sock-clad feet shifted on the rough, bumpy concrete.

Dean sighed, hating it when Sam was this worked up, and squeezed the kid's neck in silent comfort before wrapping his arm around his little brother's shoulders and steering him toward the motel room.

"Yeah, I checked that..." John was saying heatedly into his phone as Dean opened the door.

Sam glanced at Dean...because John already sounded pissed, and he didn't even know yet what had happened at the soccer field.

Dean shrugged, still unfazed, and closed the door behind them; taking the icepack from Sam's grasp and setting it on the dresser along with the Impala's keys.

"What?" John asked sharply to the person on the opposite end of the line; vaguely aware of his sons entering the room as he talked.

Dean slipped his arm – the one not around his kid brother – through the handles of his duffel and then did the same with Sam's; both bags haphazardly slung over his shoulder.

"Of course it was the right one," John snapped to whoever he continued to talk to, his grip tightening around the phone he held. "Don't start your shit with me, Bobby. I – "

John paused as Bobby evidently interrupted him and then rolled his eyes, glancing in his sons' direction as the older hunter bitched over phone...and then did an obvious double-take at the sight that greeted him as he watched his boys cross to the bathroom.

Without thinking, John ended the call with Bobby Singer; dropping his phone to the table with a clatter as he stood abruptly from the table; his chair smacking into the wall behind it.

"What the hell?" John demanded; his voice loud and harsh as he intercepted his sons; his hand splayed in the center of Sam's chest to halt further movement; his eyes taking in the blood streaked on the kid's white uniform and smeared across his face, over his chin, down his neck...and even splattered on Dean's shirt.

"Just a little accident during the game," Dean reported casually, sidestepping their father; his arm still draped over Sam's shoulders as he maneuvered the kid around John and into the small bathroom.

"I can see that," John replied dryly, following behind his sons and standing in the bathroom's doorway; watching as Dean turned on the light and dropped the duffels to the dingy tiled floor while Sam sat on the closed toilet seat; narrowing his eyes as he gave his youngest a once-over.

Sam shifted uncomfortably beneath his father's gaze as Dean reached over him and grabbed a washcloth from the rack mounted on the wall.

"Sam..." John called and waited for his youngest to look at him, inwardly cringing at the amount of swelling and dried blood on the kid's face; at the obviously busted nose and resulting bruised eyes. "What happened?"

Sam swallowed nervously, glancing at Dean and then back at John. "The ball hit me in the face."

John grimaced at the imagined visual; knowing how hard the ball must have smacked his youngest to have caused the amount of damage that was now evident on the kid's face. "Are you okay?"

Dean scowled as he turned on the sink's faucet and held the washcloth under the flowing water; knowing John couldn't stop himself from asking that question but still feeling irritated and slightly insulted. Because didn't their dad know Dean had already made sure Sam was okay?

Sam sighed and nodded at John. "Yes, sir," he answered quietly; his voice sounding as congested as his breathing.

John shook his head; his expression hardening as worry over his youngest morphed into anger at the situation. "How did this happen?"

Sam didn't respond; feeling his heart beginning to beat faster as he sensed his dad's mood suddenly darken.

"How did this happen?" John repeated, staring at Sam.

But it was Dean who responded, shrugging as he turned away from the sink and back to face Sam. "Shit happens, Dad," he informed their father, as if John wasn't already familiar with that particular life lesson. "It's not a big deal. Sam's fine."

John snorted. "Yeah, he looks fine," he returned sarcastically, crossing his arms over his chest as he continued to lean in the bathroom's doorway. "You know, this is one of the reasons why I didn't want you playing soccer, Sam. Remember?"

Sam shifted where he sat, glancing at Dean as his brother cupped his jaw and began to carefully wipe the damp washcloth over his face; gentle fingers scrubbing away the remnants of dried blood around his eyes, nose, and mouth while being sure not to cause fresh bleeding or pain in the process.

"I told you, remember?" John asked, slowly building to a rant. "Never mind the hours of training you've missed because of practices and games. And never mind about the expense of a uniform and cleats and whatever else. But remember my first concern?"

Sam shifted again on the closed toilet seat, his heart beating hard in his chest as his sock-clad feet swung nervously back and forth; knowing John expected an answer.

"Sam..." John called, his voice deep and demanding in the small bathroom.

"We remember, Dad," Dean replied, not turning to face John; remaining completely focused on tending to his brother...while also handling their father. "You said Sam could get hurt...and now he has."

"Exactly," John confirmed, staring at his youngest. "So, I hope you enjoyed playing soccer in this town because you won't be playing it in the next."

Sam swallowed, his throat suddenly tight from the urge to cry; because he knew John would react like this; knew there would be yelling; knew their dad would take away his one slice of normal.

Dean shook his head. "We'll see..." he soothed his brother, folding the now blood-stained washcloth over to reveal clean fabric on the opposite side.

John arched an eyebrow at Dean's comment. "Excuse me?"

"We'll see," Dean repeated, keeping his back to their father as he continued to clean the blood and dirt from Sam's face and neck; noticing the kid's hands twisting anxiously in his lap.

"And why do you think you have any say in this decision?" John asked, clearly pissed by Dean's boldness at going against him...especially in front of Sam. "I'm Sam's father."

"Yeah, you are," Dean agreed easily, satisfied that Sam's face was clean enough for now and giving the washcloth a final swipe under his brother's bangs before finally turning to face John. "But I'm the one who catches him up on the training he's missed. And I'm the one who takes him to his soccer practices and picks him up...and then goes to his games and brings him home."

Dean paused, dropping the soiled washcloth in the sink and stepping closer to John; feeling his own rant beginning to build as he released his rarely expressed frustration with their dad for being absent in their lives...in Sam's life.

"And I'm the one who paid for Sam's uniform and everything else he needed," Dean reminded their dad coolly; not regretting a cent but wanting John to remember just who did what.

John stared at his oldest, quietly fuming.

"And I'm the one who said I would take care of him if he got hurt," Dean continued, his gaze unwavering from his father's. "...and I did. And you know what, Dad? I'll do it all again, if that's what Sam wants."

Dean paused once more, glancing over his shoulder at Sam; the risk he was taking with this impromptu speech to their dad being totally worth it for the expression of love and gratitude on the kid's swollen, bruised face.

Dean smiled – because it would always be him and Sam against the world – and then turned back to John.

"So, Dad, the way I see it...since you haven't been involved in any of this, this decision isn't yours – it's ours...it's mine and Sam's. And if Sam wants to play soccer in the next town, then I want him to...and he will. And I'll be there for him just like I always am." Dean stared at John meaningfully. "Where will you be?"

The question seemed to hang in the air as John stared back at his oldest; feeling his quiet rage transform into stunned realization...because Dean was right.

Somewhere amidst the miles of highways and stacks of research and years solely focused on one thing – revenge – John had allowed himself to become a lazy, absent parent; always depending on Dean to pick up his slack; to take care of himself and his little brother, too.

And Dean had.

Because his oldest loved him, Dean had tolerated John's bullshit without complaint; had made excuses and had granted forgiveness more times than John deserved and had encouraged Sam to do the same.

But now it seemed Dean was done...and it was no surprise that the last straw had been John threatening Sam's happiness; threatening to take away the one sliver of good the kid had left in this fucked up life.

John sighed, his gaze flickering between his sons. "I'm sorry," he apologized; his tone genuine but strained, as if he had almost choked over the two words unaccustomed to leaving his mouth even though he had meant them.

Dean nodded. "We know," he assured, feeling his anger begin to disperse as quickly as it had gathered. "But Dad..."

Dean sighed and shook his head.

"Yeah," John agreed as Dean's voice faded; not needing his oldest to spell out his expectations but also not ready to make promises he would probably fail to keep. "I'll try," he promised instead, hoping that would be enough and glancing at Sam to make sure his youngest was not only listening but also knew he meant it.

Sam stared back at him from where he continued to sit on the closed toilet seat behind Dean, looking exhausted; his clean face causing the inflammation and bruising from his injury to be even starker on his pale skin.

John frowned, not liking the way Sam's eyes squinted and then dipped closed.

Dean noticed his father's expression and turned, instantly refocusing on his brother. "Sammy..." he called, instinctively reaching for his brother and squeezing the kid's shoulder.

Sam scrunched his face against the intense throbbing behind his eyes and across his forehead. "M'okay," he replied; his quiet, slurred tone suggesting otherwise. "My head just..." he swallowed. "...just really hurts all of a sudden."

"Yeah, I know. I can see that," Dean soothed, recognizing the renewed signs of one of Sam's quickly arriving migraines.

"Did you give him – "

"Yeah," Dean interrupted their father, glancing over his shoulder at the duffel bags he had dropped on the floor earlier. "I gave him Tylenol back at the soccer field. He just needs to lie down."

John nodded his agreement, entering the small bathroom and lifting the bags before Dean could; settling Dean's on the counter and Sam's on top of his. "Sweats?"

Dean quirked a smile, pleased to see a glimpse of the dad he used to know; the dad who knew what needed to be done to take care of Sam and just did it without being asked or instructed.

"Yeah," Dean answered and glanced back at his brother as John set out the fresh clothes on top of the bag.

"I'll get the room ready," John commented and exited the bathroom.

Dean nodded and squeezed his brother's shoulder. "Sammy..."

Sam's forehead wrinkled – as though Dean calling his name was too loud and painful in the small, tiled space – but opened his eyes to slits.

Dean smiled encouragingly, guiding Sam to his feet as he spoke. "Before you check out on me, I need you to change clothes, okay?"

Sam sighed – as though just the idea made him tired – but nodded once and reached for the hem of his jersey; struggling more than he should have to get it over his head.

Dean chuckled. "Dude..." he admonished fondly, carefully helping Sam out of the jersey and then into the t-shirt he usually wore to bed. "Now, sit."

Sam blinked but did as he was told and accepted the sweatpants Dean pushed into his hands.

"Think you can put those on without falling off the toilet?" Dean asked seriously.

Sam's lips twitched in a smile. "Yeah," he assured softly and set about proving he could.

Dean nodded, turning back to the counter and pulling a fresh shirt from his own duffel; listening to the sounds of John moving around in the main room, drawing curtains and turning off lights so as not to bother Sam's sensitive eyes.

"You good?" Dean checked, glancing at Sam as he changed his own shirt; freeing the amulet from under the clean tee and dropping the blood-splattered shirt to join Sam's uniform on the floor.

Sam carefully rubbed his nose. "Yeah," he replied, sitting patiently on the closed toilet seat in his sweatpants and t-shirt.

Dean frowned. "Be careful," he warned, lightly swatting the kid's hand away from his bruised, swollen face.

"It hurts," Sam needlessly reported; his tone dangerously close to a whine. "And I can't breathe."

"I know," Dean agreed, motioning for Sam to stand and then following the kid into the main room; no more than an arm's reach away while they crossed to the bed furthest from the motel room's door but closest to the bathroom.

"Everything okay?" John asked, hovering in the space between the beds and the table; uncertain if his sons needed his help.

"I think we're good for now," Dean answered, watching as Sam crawled under the sheets and situated himself in the bed. "Right, Sammy?"

Sam hummed his agreement as his eyes closed; already drifting off to sleep as his body demanded rest and retreat from the afternoon's physical trauma and emotional drama.

Dean shook his head fondly at his kid brother and perched on the edge of bed he and Sam shared. "By the way...we saw Deacon at the game," he told John as he leaned over to untie his boots.

"Deacon?" John repeated, confused by the random comment but only knowing one person by that name. "You mean Deacon from – "

"Yep," Dean confirmed, pulling off one boot and then the other before grabbing the remote from the bedside table.

"He's here?" John asked and frowned, resuming his place at the table. "What was he doing at the game?"

Dean shrugged, situating himself more fully on the bed and leaning against the headboard. "He said he was working a second job as security or something."

"Huh," John mused. "Small world, I guess."

"Yeah," Dean agreed, glancing down at Sam as his brother shifted closer to him and sighed.

Dean smiled affectionately at the kid lying beside him and brushed the floppy bangs out of his brother's face to further survey the damage.

"He okay?" John asked, watching from across the room.

"He'll be fine," Dean assured, resting his hand protectively on Sam's chest as he switched on the television and turned the volume down low. "He'll probably be tired, sore, and cranky for the next couple of days, but we'll live."

John smiled, continuing to watch his sons – protector and protected – in the blue-hued glare of the television screen and feeling a strange mix of emotions...of love and pride and sadness.

"You hungry?" John asked, knowing it was almost dinnertime and knowing Dean didn't like to miss meals.

Dean shrugged. "I can wait," he replied, glancing again at Sam; clearly not interested in anything else right now besides standing guard.

John smiled again and then sighed, halfheartedly turning his attention back to the research piled on the table in front of him; vaguely surprised his phone didn't have any swear-filled voicemails from Bobby over being hung up on earlier.

John shook his head at the thought of the older hunter and flipped the pages in his journal as he listened to the muffled voices on television mixed with the congested breathing of his youngest; several minutes passing by before curiosity got the better of him.

"Hey, Dean..."

Dean glanced in John's direction; his hand rubbing Sam's chest soothingly as the kid shifted at the sound of their dad's voice calling across the room. "Yeah..."

"How did that happen?" John asked, nodding toward Sam's face; the bruised swelling evident even in the room's dim light. "Did another player kick it toward his face, or…"

Dean shook his head and chuckled. "Not exactly," he quietly responded. "Another player did kick it, but it was Sam who was trying to hit the ball with his head and just happened to hit it with his face instead."

"With his head?" John asked, sounding as baffled as Dean had earlier on the field when Sam had given him the same explanation. "Why would you try to hit a ball with your head? Who the hell does shit like that?"

Dean chuckled again at hearing John ask another of his own questions from earlier; glancing back at Sam as his brother slept noisily beside him and smiling affectionately – proudly – as he repeated the response Sam had given him when he had asked the kid the same.

"Soccer players."


FIN

In 2.19, we met Deacon, who served in the Corps with John and who also called on the boys to help him with a suspected haunting at the detention center in which he worked.