"Dean! Dean! Check this out!" Sam cries, running into the living room of the tiny apartment, his face glowing.

"What, Sam?" Dean says, clearly irritated. He doesn't even look up from cleaning his gun.

"I figured it out! I really did this time! Pick a card, any card."

Dean looks up now, rolling his eyes. "Not this crap again. You're supposed to be obsessed with girls and cars. Not magic tricks."

"Shuttup, Dean," Sam grumbles. "It's not like we stay anywhere long enough for me to get an actual girlfriend."

Dean snorts. "You don't need to be dating to get laid, Sammy."

Sam stares at him, horrified. "Get laid? Dean, I'm thirteen!"

Dean chuckles. "Alright, whatever. How about you show me that trick?"

Sam beams and holds out the deck of cards. "Take one!"

Dean obeys, pulling out a jack of hearts. "Now what?"

"Memorize it, then put it back on top of the deck."

Dean shakes his head with a smile and puts the card on the deck. Sam shuffles it sloppily, sticking his tongue out in concentration.

"Okay. Is…this your card?" he cries, pulling out a queen of spades.

Dean raises an eyebrow. "Good one, Sammy."

Sam cheers. "I told you I got it!"

Dean laughs. "Now go do something useful. We need more bread. Money's on the counter."

Sam scowls. "Fine. But you're doing the shopping next time."



Sam takes the wad of cash off the counter, pulls on his jacket, and heads out into the cold, snowy December evening.


"Hey, kid! What are you doing all alone out here?"

Sam looks up from his shoes and sees three teenagers, at least Dean's age, sneering at him from the other side of the alley. He rolls his eyes and continues walking. He recognizes them. Their faces are plastered all over the newspaper. They'd been kicked off the high school football team for bringing booze to a party. He even remembers their names. The tallest is Chance, the short one is Noah, and the kid in the middle is Jack.

"I'm talking to you, kid!" Chance calls, nudging Noah and starting toward Sam.

Sam flips him off.

"Hey, kid! You need to learn a little respect for your superiors!"

Sam keeps walking.

"Stop!" Chance commands.

Sam doesn't like confrontation, but this guy is a total asshole. So he stops and turns around.

"Funny. That's not what your mom was saying last night," he says coolly. It sounds like something Dean would say.

Chance's face grows red as Noah and Jack bust up laughing. "Shuttup!" he barks at them.

He moves forward and takes a swing at Sam, but Sam easily dodges the sloppy blow. He backs away and turns to run, but runs right into Noah, who grabs his shoulders and spins him around to face Chance. Chance punches Sam in the gut, but Sam doesn't make a sound, only clenches his jaw.

"Oh, you're a tough one, aren't you?" Chance spits, punching Sam again, then once more in the face.

Jack grabs Chance's shoulder. "I've seen his type before, Chance. He's like me. Gets knocked around by his old man at home. He ain't gonna squeal, if that's what you want."

Chance chuckles. "Fine. Noah, hold him."

Noah yanks Sam's arms behind his back, but he remains silent. Chance reaches into the inside pocket of Sam's jacket and pulls out the wad of cash. He smiles and shoves it into his pocket before reaching into the other pocket. He pulls out the deck of cards and a photo. It's of Mary.

Chance throws the cards to the ground and takes a lighter out of his pocket. He flicks it open and holds it near the photo.

"No!" Sam cries. "N-no, please!"

Chance grins wickedly. "I found your weak spot. This pretty little whore," he says, before lighting the photo.

"You son of a bitch!" Sam screams, tearing himself out of Noah's grip and launching himself at Chance.

Before Chance knows what's happening, Sam is on top of him, punching him in the face, head, chest, anywhere he can, yelling whatever insults he can come up with. He doesn't stop when his knuckle splits almost to the bone on Chance's tooth.

Finally, Noah and Jack drag him off of Chance, who's unconscious and bleeding, his nose clearly broken, his lip split, and his tooth lying on the ground.

Sam isn't done, though. Fury coursing through his veins, he punches Noah in the jaw and knees him in the groin. He turns around and flies at Jack, but before he can start in on him, there's a glint of metal and a blinding pain shoots up his side. He screams in agony, grabbing his right side, along his ribcage. Blood snakes its way through his fingers and he cusses loudly falling to his knees.

Jack is standing stock still, his face pale, a knife in his hand, Sam's blood shining on the blade. By then, Noah has recovered, and he grabs Jack's shirt and drags him away, leaving Chance lying on the ground, and Sam kneeling in the snow, staining it red.


Sam flings the door open, rushes through the apartment, throwing his coat on the ground as he does, and locks himself in the bathroom, ignoring Dean's shouts. Wincing, he pulls his shirt off. The gash isn't too deep, but it's long and there's a hell of a lot of blood. His left eye is swollen shut. Now that the adrenaline is gone, he realizes that his left ribs are aching, and are probably cracked.

Dean pounds on the door. "Open the damn door, Sam!"

Sam ignores his brother and sits on the floor.

"Sam!" Dean roars, and the door bursts open. Dean stares at Sam, his face red, chest heaving. "What the hell, Sammy?"

"Damn it. I forgot to get the bread," Sam mutters, standing clumsily and bracing himself against the wall. He sways forward.

Dean catches him. Sam hisses in pain.

"Whoa, whoa, there Sammy," Dean says.

"I'm fine, Dean," Sam gasps.

"The hell you are! Dammit, what happened to you?"

"Nothing. I don't want to talk about it."

"Damn, damn. Uh…Here," Dean says, taking a towel from the rack on the wall. "Hold this to your side. I'm gonna go call Dad."

"No!" Sam cries, wincing. "Please. No."

"Sam, this needs stitches, and there's no way I can take you to a hospital without getting Dad into some deep shit," Dean says sternly. "Now I'll be right back. Don't move."

He starts walking but freezes when he hears a sob from Sam. He turns around. Sam's wiry frame is hunched over and trembling.

"Crap," Dean mutters. He isn't very good at the comfort thing. But he'll have to give it a shot. He sits on the floor and put his arm around Sam's shoulders. "Hey. Hey, hey, hey. Come on, Sammy. You're okay. What happened? Tell me what happened."

Sam doesn't say anything, just cries. Dean pulls him close and holds him, pressing the towel to the gash, and they just sit like that, Dean running his fingers through Sam's hair.

Sam finally calms down enough to speak. "I-I was so stupid," he murmurs.

"Whatever you did can't have been that bad, Sammy," Dean answers. "Now spit it out."

"I picked a fight."

"You? Picked a fight?" Sam holds up his hands, showing Dean his bloody knuckles. Dean lets out a low whistle.

"Well, no. Not exactly. He was yelling at me, and I got annoyed so I-I insulted him. And then he started beating on me. But I wouldn't cry. So he went through my pockets. He took the money and he-" A sob cuts him off.

"What'd he do, Sammy?"

"He found the picture. Of mom. He burned it. I was so stupid. I should have ignored him."

Dean's blood is boiling, and he struggles to keep his voice steady. "How many were there?"


"Son of a bitch," Dean says quietly, his voice cracking. "And that?" He points to the towel, which by now is stained through with red.

"I beat up two of them. The third one pulled a knife."

Dean shakes his head in disbelief. "We've gotta call Dad."

"No! Dean! No. Dad will kill me!"

Dean shakes his head. "Dad cares about you, Sam, and he'll be more pissed if he gets home and sees that someone beat the crap out of you and I didn't call."

"No, Dean. You can just stitch me up and-and I'll be okay, and-"

Dean grabs hold of Sam's shoulder and looks him in the face. "Sam, you listen to me. I know you and Dad don't always see eye-to-eye. I know he's a bit rough around the edges. But he loves you, damn it! He loves you, and I am going to call him, and he is going to come back here and figure out what to do. Okay?" He reaches forward and wipes the tears from Sam's face with his thumb. "Okay?" he repeats.

Sam nods weakly. His eyes start to flutter and Dean feels panic rising in his throat like bile. He taps Sam's face.

"Sam? Sammy, come on! Don't. Don't sleep." With shaking hands, Dean takes the towel away. Blood is still spilling from the wound. He shuts his eyes tight and mutters a few choice words.

Unsure what to do, Dean pushes the towel back and scoops up his little brother. Sam's head lolls back limply.

"No, no, no," Dean mutters. He walks as quickly as he can without jarring Sam around. He lays him carefully on the couch, picks up the phone, and desperately dials Bobby's number. It rings once, twice, three times.

"Pick up! Come on, pick up, pick up, pick up…"


Dean breathes a sigh of relief. "Bobby! Oh, thank God!"

"Dean? What the hell is going on?"

"It's Sam- He's- he's-" Dean can't get the words out.

"What is it, Dean? What's happened?" Bobby's voice is tight with concern. Dean can just hear John's voice: "Bobby, tell Dean he can take care of his own problems! We've got work to do!"

That's all Dean needs to hear to get talking. "He got jumped. In an alley. He made it back here, and now…I don't know what to do, Bobby! If I take him in to the hospital, there'll be too many questions! I can't…Bobby, you need to come back here!" Dean is uncharacteristically panicked, his heart and mind racing. He can't hold onto a thought.

"Dean!" It's John's voice. "Dean, we're coming back, okay? We'll be there soon. Just hang in there."

And the line goes silent with a click.


The apartment door bursts open and John runs in, Bobby following close behind. He stops short when he sees Sam, lying still on the couch, his face pale, blood covering his torso. Dean is holding the towel against his side, tear spilling down his cheeks, muttering under his breath.

"Sam!" he cries, rushing forward. Dean doesn't look up. John pushes him out of the way and grabs Sam's hand. "Sammy, come on!"

Sam's eyes flutter open and roll around, struggling to focus on John's face. They finally lock onto John's face.


John pushes Sam's bangs back. "Yeah, Sammy. It's me. I'm here. I'm here now. We're gonna get you patched up, okay?"

"I'm sorry," Sam whimpers.

"Hush," John says gently. "Don't. Okay? You don't have to be sorry."

Bobby nudges John with his foot and hands him a small black bag and a bottle of whiskey. John takes them gratefully and opens the whiskey.

"Sammy, this may hurt a little," he says softly. He's about to pour it onto the wound when a hand grabs his wrist.

"Wait," Dean says. "He needs something to bite down on so he doesn't bite off his own tongue." He offers John a rolled up sock.

"Thanks, Dean," John says taking it and putting it between Sam's teeth. He pours the whiskey out of the bottle. Sam screams, though it's muffled, and tears run down his face. Sweat rolls down his forehead.

"Dean, I need you to hold him down," John commands. Dean obeys numbly, seating himself on the couch with Sam's head in his lap. He grabs hold of Sam's shoulders.

"Bobby, thanks for everything. Go finish the hunt."

"But John-" Bobby starts.

"Bobby!" John says firmly.

"Idjit," Bobby mutters before leaving.

"Why'd you make him leave, Dad? He could've helped us out," Dean says, watching the door shut.

"We can take care of ourselves," John snaps. Dean sets his jaw. Sam's eyes widen as John takes out a curved needle and thread out of the bag.

"Dean, hold Sam tight."

Dean obeys, wrapping his arms around Sam's upper chest and holding him firmly. John threads the needle and carefully puts it into Sam's skin. He jerks, but Dean holds him tight and John keeps going, careful and slow as Sam whimpers, tears leaking from his eyes.

"Shh, shh, Dean says softly. "You're almost done. Almost done. Hang in there a few more seconds, Sammy."

"Done!" John cries, tying off the end of the thread. Sam lets out a little gasp before his eyes close.

"Sam! Sammy!" Dean cries.

John grabs Dean's shoulder. "It's okay. He's tired. He's probably just out from the pain. Let him sleep for a bit." He stands and starts to leave.

Dean looks down at Sam. He's skinny and pasty white, and his chest is shiny with sweat and blood. He's possessed by a sudden fury, and he stands up and follows John into the narrow hallway.

"This is your fault," he says before he can stop himself. John freezes, and Dean sees his shoulders tense like he's getting ready for a fight.

"What'd you say to me, boy?" John says, his voice low and dangerous.

"This is your fault. You go off all the time and expect me to raise Sam on my own. Well I can't, Dad! I can't raise him! If you weren't so hell-bent on finding the demon that killed Mom, maybe you would stop and take a look at your youngest son! Maybe you would notice that you can see his ribs poking out! Maybe you would see that he needs his dad around! And by 'around' I don't mean sitting on the couch with a beer in your hand! You wonder why you and Sam don't get along. It's because you abandoned him. It's because he doesn't know that you love him!" Dean shouts. John's eyes are fiery and he hits Dean across the face with the back of his hand.

"You do not lecture me on how to raise a family! You hear me? I don't want to hear that kinda bullshit from you!"

Dean wipes his hand across his face, looking at the blood from his mouth before looking up at John. "You know what happened today, Dad? I told Sam I was gonna call you, and he said no. He said no because he was scared that you'd be mad at him. He was scared that you'd be more upset about having to leave your hunt than the fact that he'd been beat up."

John grabs the front of Dean's shirt and pushes him against the wall. "That's enough, Dean! If you don't like how I run things, you can leave! Good luck!"

"You don't think I would?" Dean screams. "The only thing keeping me here is Sammy! If I wasn't too worried about him, I would have been long gone by now!" He regrets it as soon as he says it, but he doesn't apologize. John steps back, breathing heavily, his face red.

"I'm sorry," John offers softly. Dean is taken aback. John rarely apologizes, especially after a fight. But he doesn't say anything in return, just nods. John walks into the kitchen and wets a towel, then goes into the living room and gently wipes the blood from Sam's body.

Sam's eyes open tiredly, and Dean watches from the hallway as John rubs his hair and whispers something to him. Whatever it was, it made Sam smile. Dean heaves a sigh. Maybe John can be a dad after all.