A/N: Well, I'm finally back! Took me a while to get things going, but here it is & I hope you enjoy!

A/N #2: This story is part of The Winchester House: Fic Exchange - this story is written for Ibelieveinsam (Dev)

A/N #3: Obviously the characters of Supernatural (namely Sam & Dean & all characters portrayed or mentioned on the show) are not my own (damnit...) - I just like to play in the Supernatural sandbox sometimes.

The sound of harsh coughing echoes through the halls of the Men of Letters bunker, bringing Dean out of a deep sleep.

Groaning, Dean rolled over to his left and opened one eye, glaring at the clock.

5:20 am.

Dropping his head back onto the pillow with a sigh, Dean threw the blankets to the side as he pushed himself up, reaching with one hand to the floor for his jeans and stifling a yawn with the other.

By the time Dean opened his door to the darkened hallway, the coughing had stopped.

He paused, waiting until he heard the toilet flush before he moved into the kitchen, turning on a few lights as he did so.

Digging around in the cupboard, he finally found the bag of coffee and dumped a healthy amount into the coffee maker and hit the start button.

By the time the coffee was almost finished, Sam trudged into the kitchen, sitting down heavily into the nearest kitchen chair. "Morning."

"Morning." Dean replied, frowning at the gaunt and disheveled appearance before him.

Sam would deny the severity of it, but ever since the trials started, they have been slowly sucking the life and energy out of his brother, especially after completing the second trial two weeks ago. By Dean's estimation, his brother had lost close to twenty pounds since the beginning of the trials. His skin was pale and his face pinched with an ever present headache.

Sam squirmed under the scrutiny. "You're up early." He finally said, putting his hands on the table and pushed himself up. His legs shook minutely.

Dean waved a hand at him as he stood up and moved into the kitchen.

Sam slowly lowered himself back down.

"I had been awake for a while. Thought I might as well get up." Dean was lying through his teeth and he suspected that Sam knew that. Some things didn't need to be said out loud though. "Coffee?"

Sam nodded and Dean grabbed a cup from the cupboard above his head, pouring a healthy amount of the hot liquid. He opened the fridge and grabbed the girly coffee cream Sam liked and stirred it into the cup with a spoon from the sink.

Casually, he asked, "what do you want for breakfast?"

With his back turned, he missed the grimace Sam gave him. He could hear it in his voice though.

"I'm not really hungry."

Dean shook his head as he pushed the cup into Sam's hands before heading back into the kitchen. "I didn't ask you if you were hungry – I asked what you wanted to eat."

A sigh this time. "Dean."

The elder brother opened the fridge, his head disappearing behind the door. "Don't say I didn't ask." Dean heard his brother mumble something about 'bossy older brothers' and smiled to himself.

A few minutes later, Dean sat down with Sam's food in one hand and his own toast and eggs in the other.

Sam was busy reading one of the texts from the library on demonology and didn't look up until Dean was pulling out yesterday's newspaper across from him.

Behind the newspaper, Dean waited.

He didn't have to wait long.

Sam stared at the bowl in front of him, unsure of what to say. Finally, "Is that…Lucky Charms?"

Dean lowered the paper enough that he could see Sam's baffled expression, before glancing at the bowl in question. He raised the newspaper again. "Huh. I guess it is."

It took a minute, Dean staring a hole through the newspaper, as he listened, before he heard the metal spoon clang against the ceramic bowl. He smiled to himself as he shoveled some scrambled egg into his mouth, catching up on the latest sports scores from the day before.


The youngest Winchester blearily opened his eyes, taking in his surroundings. He was sitting in one of the leather library chairs tucked into a corner, shelves of books lined against the walls on either side of him.

As he straightened in the chair, he clumsily caught the book that had been resting against his chest. Absently, he rubbed tired eyes, trying to clear his head. He must have fallen asleep, if the blanket dropped across his lap was any indication. He had been doing that more and more often ever since he had completed the second trial.

His brother leaned against the table across from him, looking both concerned and amused. "Are you planning to sleep all day?"

Sam smothered a yawn behind his hand. "What time is it?"

Dean glanced at his watch. "Almost six o'clock."

Sam blinked. He'd slept all afternoon? He rotated his neck, feeling tightness and pain there.

He watched as his brother pushed off from the table. "Just relax. Give yourself a few minutes to really wake up. I'll get something going for dinner." His brother turned to walk away.


Sam surprised even himself by the outburst. It's not as though Dean's cooking was bad – far from it actually – but at that very moment, all Sam felt was the unrelenting need to get away from their adoptive home; Away from the constant reminder of the trials, of Sam's own diminishing strength and his increasing dependence on his brother. Whether Dean would admit it or not, he could use a night out too.

He watched as his brother stopped mid-stride, head canted towards him, waiting for him to elaborate.

Sam sighed, letting the blanket fall to the floor as he shakily pushed himself up. "Look, I just want to get out of here for a bit. Hit a diner, or a bar. Just have a night out."

Dean's eyebrows climbed high on his forehead. "You? Wanting to go out to a bar? How delirious are you?" He reached out as if to touch his brother's forehead.

Sam batted his hand away half-heartedly. "Knock it off." Taking a deep breath, Sam continued. "Look, once in a while I like to get out too." Trying a different approach, he added, "Besides, wouldn't want you getting rusty at your pool skills."

His brother rarely walked away from a challenge, and Sam was hoping that Winchester pride would kick in here.

It did.

Dean nodded after a moment. "Okay, let's go." Before Sam could celebrate such a victory, his brother poked a finger at his chest. "But the moment you start hacking up blood, puking, or generally being your as-of-late horrendously sick and disgusting self, we're going home."

Sam rolled his eyes as he brushed past his brother as he headed towards the door. "Yes Mom. Will you read me a bedtime story before bed too?"

He smothered a grin at his brother's murmured, "Ungrateful bitch" as he led the way towards a free evening.

The crack of wood hitting a ball signaled the start of another game of pool.

Sam watched, amused, at his table near the back of the bar at the simple pleasure his brother got out of schooling people.

He put his beer down, only his second of the night. He absently traced patterns on the worn wood table as he watched his brother line up his next shot.

They had traveled almost an hour before pulling into Harold's Bar, just on the outskirts of another small Midwestern town. Coming in, they settled themselves into one of the back tables and ordered a plate of onion rings and chicken wings, with a beer for each of them to start. They polished off the food with gusto; well, Dean with gusto while insisting Sam eat more than a few bites of each.

By the time the elder Winchester ordered his second beer, a few more patrons had entered the bar, with a couple of them grabbing beers and heading towards the pool tables.

Dean clinked his glass against his brother's, muttered 'easy money,' and slowly made his way over, surveying the scene like a lion circling a wounded animal, looking for the best way to get in close enough to make the kill.

Sam tried not to smile at the thought.

The bar was only half full on a Wednesday night. The bartender, a middle age Chinese man with a receding hairline alternated pouring drinks for customers and yelling in Cantonese at the guy in the back, working the grill.

A couple of girls, probably in their mid-twenties, sat a few tables down from them. They were loud and raucous, the brunette on the far side slamming her palm on the table after each shot she knocked back. Her friends laughing with her or at her, Sam couldn't decide.

He had caught one of the girls – a leggy blonde with the skimpy mini-skirt – giving his brother the once over when he went up to the bar to get them a second round of drinks. She giggled and turned away, face red, when his brother returned and gave her a wink.

An older couple sat near the doors, eating their meal in companionable silence, occasionally speaking softly to one another.

Sam smiled to himself behind his beer, feeling a pang in his chest. He remembered doing that with Amelia not that long ago; and with Jess many years before that. He had dreamed of growing old with someone, still loving them with that same adoration and passion as the day they had met.

A dream he'd be better off letting go – knowing that dream was never meant to be.

His drifting thoughts were pulled away as his brother slid into the booth across from him, grinning at him with money held up by two fingers.

"Having fun?" Sam asked, pleased to see his brother seemingly having some genuine fun.

Dean tucked the money into his shirt pocket and patted it. "Making money and kicking ass is always fun."

They had only been seated a few minutes before a tall burly man with torn jeans and a dark button up shirt approached their table. "Hear you beat my brother," the man nodded his head in the direction of the pool table, where Dean's earlier opponent stood, grinning at him. "You up for a game?"

The brothers' glanced at one another – Sam shrugged, tipping his beer toward the other man. Dean rolled his eyes, tossing the last of his beer back and slamming it against the table. "What the hell, right?" He said, pulling himself out of the booth and following the guy down the steps toward the pool table. He paused on the last step, turning around toward Sam, whose eyebrows were raised in question. "Get me another beer, Francis." He grinned at Sam's eye roll before catching up to the other man.

Sam watched him go, shaking his head. He swallowed the last of his own beer before pushing himself up, making his way toward the exit.

The night air was damp with all the rain and Sam fought to contain a cough as he headed towards the Impala. While Dean was busy enjoying himself, Sam thought he would get a little research don while he sat there – maybe make up for what he'd missed today.

His brother never said anything, but Sam was feeling next to useless as the trials continued. He felt weak as the effects of the trials began to take a toll on his body, leaving him drained and in a perpetual state of exhaustion.

Sam's strides lengthened unconsciously. No, Dean needed a break from trying to do everything. From looking after Sam, to research, to hunting, driving and everything else, his brother needed a night off.

So long as Sam wasn't stuck at the bunker and got some air, he'd happily do some research.

Speaking of air, Sam's chest shook with the force of the cough as it erupted past his lips, like exhaling shards of broken, jagged glass.

Standing by the Impala's driver door, Sam struggled to cover his mouth with one hand and find the key in his coat pocket with the other.

Sam tried to suck in air in between coughs, but it served to only further irritate his airways. Blood splattered against the fist he had jammed against his mouth, feeling his ribs ache in protest to the coughing fit.

The key slid out of his fingers as he pulled them out of his pocket, landing on the asphalt by the front tire.

The lighting on the street was poor, the Impala parallel parked along the main road. The nearest light was forty feet across the road near a closed down donut shop with boards slapped across the windows.

The rain had slowed from the barrage of earlier in the evening to a light drizzle.

Perhaps it was the relentless coughing, or the patter of rain, or even the lack of decent lighting that had Sam fail to notice the approaching car that was driving too fast and too close to the parked cars.

He was just beginning to reach for the dropped keys when the sound of screeching tires reached his ears. He barely managed to turn his head in the direction of the sound before the world up-ended itself with a cacophony of shattered glass, grinding metal and high pitched screaming.

The world righted itself with a bone crunching rattle as Sam landed in a heap several feet past the Impala's rear bumper, coming to a rest on his back, rain drops peppering his blood streaked face.

A young woman stared into her rear-view mirror, fear etched into the lines of her face. A moment later, she stomped on the gas, tires screeching as she drove away, leaving Sam moaning and bloody in the middle of the street.

As the back-lights of the car disappeared, the street returned to its eerie silence, the rain the only sound as it danced across the cars in the cool spring evening.

Hehe - cliffie time! *dodges incoming tomatoes*

Should only be one more chapter after this.

~ Spoilerwolf