For someone who had once taken an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, bear true faith and allegiance to the same, and protect and defend it from all enemies, foreign and domestic, John Winchester really didn't give enough of a shit about following the law. He gave his older son his first fake ID when that son was seventeen, and gave him a car a year later, so that he could go on hunts by himself. He started letting his sons have booze a good five years before they each turned twenty-one.

But for all that, he still wanted to keep his kids with him, so Dean was not allowed to take Sam on hunts when it was just the two of them until Dean was eighteen. The reason was simple: if a minor was caught checking himself and another minor into a motel room, child protective services would be on all their asses faster than they could blink.

It wasn't like Sam hadn't been on hunts with them before – they'd started taking him out when he was twelve, and the occasional burning building aside, the kid wasn't half bad. And God knew he could do research. The issue wasn't that Sam couldn't hunt; the issue was that hunting could be fucking dangerous for a kid. Dean knew this, even as he made himself forget that he'd only been twelve the first time Dad had taken him out, and that he'd been sixteen the first time Dad let him go out alone. Sammy was different.

Which was why, that summer that they'd been in Kearney, Nebraska, and Dad had caught two jobs at the same time, Dean's first instinct had been to ask Dad to call Uncle Bobby and have him work the one in Des Moines so that the three of them could go together to North Platte. John had scoffed.

"Son, since when have we been the type of men who make other people deal with our problems? I'm going to Iowa. You and Sammy are going to North Platte. I'll see you in a few days."

And with that, Dad was gone, leaving Dean to go against his better judgment and shout for Sammy to get packed. Technically they could have worked the job from home since North Platte was only about an hour away from Kearney (less with Dean driving), but it would have been easier to stay in town.

Sam had been practically bouncing in the passenger's seat for the entire drive. Dean had been starting to think that Sam actually hated hunting, but here and now, with just him and Dean and the Impala and the road, he was smiling like a kid on a field trip. He didn't even bitch when Dean put in a Black Sabbath album and cranked it up, and Sam hated Black Sabbath.

The check-in had gone smoothly, and for all the bitching Dad had ever done, the guy at the motel's front desk barely glanced at Dean's ID, and Sam had been outside grabbing their bags anyway. Then they'd hit the road and asked people about the murders, Sam going to the diner and pretending he was the kid of some people visiting relatives and talking to other teenagers while Dean snuck around the house of the dead family. Once they'd met back up and put together what they'd learned, they were pretty sure they were dealing with a cursed object – probably some sort of blade, since the DiMartinos had died by having their throats slit.

"Great," Dean muttered, getting up from his seat at the motel room table and heading over to the duffle sitting on the bed closest to the door – the bed he'd claimed for himself. "It's almost midnight; we should get over there."

Sam frowned. "Shouldn't we do some more digging? Like I don't know, figure out who would have left a cursed object in that house, and why? Dean, we don't even have a working idea of what the damn thing is."

"Sammy, come on," Dean snapped at him. He hadn't expected to feel this jumpy. God knew he'd been in charge of Sam's safety before; he'd been in charge of Sam's safety for almost fourteen years now. "Let's just get this over with. It'll be the thing that makes the EMF spike. This ain't rocket science."

Sam opened his mouth to protest, but then he just sighed and shook his head and came over to join Dean at the gun bag. Dean watched out of the corner of his eye as Sam expertly loaded the nine mil and engaged the safety before tucking it into his waistband. Dean couldn't help the pride that flashed in him as Sam tugged his sweatshirt down over the gun – he'd taught the kid how to do that. He'd made sure that Sam knew everything about gun safety before he'd let Dad take him out to actually fire the damn thing. He handed Sam one of the sheathed silver knives. "Let's go, kiddo."

They drove to the DiMartinos' house, and Sam ducked out of the car to lift up the garage door so Dean could rush the Impala in. They both ignored the yellow crime scene tape on the front door. Dean stepped out of the car and slammed the driver's door shut without bothering to lock it before he came around to where Sam was standing by the door into the house.

"Listen to me." Dean put his hands on Sam's shoulders and made sure the kid was looking at him. "You know the drill. You let me take point. If I tell you to do something, you do it."

"Dean – relax." Sam shook his hair off his forehead and rolled his eyes. "This isn't the first time I've done this. You know that. And I don't know what you're worried about, anyway – you've been on solo hunts and managed to get your ass home alive."

Dean shrugged, tucking his gun into his waistband and slipping the silver knife up his jacket sleeve. "Man, leave me alone. The day I stop worrying about you, you better just call the doctors. I'm an awesome big brother."

"Whatever." Sam huffed a laugh. "Can we make a deal? If I smash this thing before you do, you have to buy me pizza afterwards."

"You're such a dork," Dean groaned as he slammed the trunk of the Impala shut and joined Sam on the other side of the car. "But fine. I'll buy you pizza if you somehow show me up."

Sam grinned and bumped Dean's shoulder with his own before starting for the door into the house. But Dean reached out and grabbed his brother's wrist, and Sam looked up at him, annoyed. "Now what?"

Dean dragged Sam behind him and raised his eyebrows. "We just talked about this. I'm on point, kid. I'm going in first."

"Oh, come on -"

"Sammy, if anything happens to you, Dad'll have my ass. Hell, I'll have my ass."

"That doesn't make any sense."

"Shut up."

And to Dean's surprise, Sam did. He fell back and was silent as Dean turned the knob, stepped into the house and flicked on his flashlight.

Apparently the crime scene cleanup people had already been and gone, because the only sign of the cops left was what was left of the chalk outlines on the floor from where Mr. and Mrs. DiMartino had died. Dean shone the light over them and could see the pale brown of the washed-out bloodstains.

"There was a kid," Sam murmured, glancing towards the staircase. "A little girl. Around five or six. She must have died upstairs."

Dean nodded without saying anything, guiding the light around the room and finding the archway that led into the kitchen. He jerked his head at Sammy, who followed.

"Grab all the knives," Dean muttered, "and dump them in the middle of the floor." He had a flask of holy oil tucked in his pocket, and his plan was to douse the knives and then torch them.

"Uh… Dean?" Sam frowned. "Are we sure that's the best plan?"

"Sammy, I just want to get this over with," Dean snapped. He was getting jumpier the longer they stayed in the house. He wanted it over – he wanted Sammy gone. He hadn't expected it to be this… this tense.

Sam swallowed back his nerves. They were rushing it, he knew they were rushing it, but he wasn't gonna make it obvious that he was scared, not in front of Dean - because Dean was never scared of anything, ever, and sure he wouldn't make fun of Sam, but he would call this hunt off. Besides, what did he have to be scared of? It was just a cursed object that needed finding, and they had a pretty good idea of what it was. Easy.

Dad wouldn't have let Dean take Sam out without him if it wasn't easy.

At the thought, Sam squared his shoulders and tilted his chin up. He could do this, he could - he'd show Dad that Dean wasn't the only hunter.

Dean started rooting through the drawers as Sam grabbed the wooden block with the knives stuck in it and emptied it out onto the floor. Dean tossed a few carving knives on top of them, then swore under his breath. "Fuck. Ow."

"You okay?" Sam asked, hurrying to Dean's side.

"M'fine. Just nicked myself. Did you get the dishwasher?"

Sam shook his head and pulled the appliance open, grabbing the handful of knives in the basket and tossing them onto the tiled floor too. "I think that's it."

"Fine." Dean sprinkled some of the oil down on the knives, grabbed his matchbook from his pocket, struck a match, and dropped it. The flames were blue, and they stood there silently watching for a second before Dean flinched again, holding up his hand. "Motherfuck," he hissed, and Sam gasped as he saw the blood starting to gush from a large cut on Dean's palm.

"Dean, how–"

"We pissed it off," Dean barked, using his clean hand to grab Sam and drag him from the kitchen. "We didn't get it, but it knows we're here, it knows we're looking. Go wait in the car."

"What? No – fuck you!" Sam sputtered, wrenching his arm free. "I'm not leaving you in here with it!"

"For fuck's sake, Sam, I told you–"

"And I'm telling you no!" Sam shouted. "You wouldn't leave Dad alone in a house with an angry cursed object! I'm not gonna go!"

"Oh, for – fine." Dean dug his EMF detector out of his pocket. "Here. Go through the upstairs. I'll look down here."

"But you don't have–"

"No, I don't, so let's hurry, okay?"

Sam swallowed hard and nodded, clicking the detector on before darting for the staircase. Dean watched him go, heard him pound up the stairs before spinning and rushing to the couch in the living room, pulling up cushions, cursing when another laceration appeared, on his forearm this time. As long as it was targeting him and not Sammy, it was fine. He'd deal with it later.

He went through the living room, the little entryway, the dining room, the bathroom, the office space – nothing. No more knives. Not even a goddamn letter opener. By now blood was dripping down both his hands, staining everything he touched. He had two new cuts, and they were starting to burn.

Okay. Okay. What was he doing wrong? If it wasn't a knife, then–

But then a scream sounded from upstairs, and Dean stopped thinking.

"Sammy?" he bellowed, racing up the stairs two at a time and ducking into doorways. "Sam, where are you, man?"

"Bathroom," Sam's voice groaned, and Dean sprinted down the hall, shoving the door out of his way and almost collapsing at the sight of his baby brother, lying on the tiled floor. Dean flicked on the light and dropped down beside Sam.

"No…"

"Dean," Sam whimpered, and his eyes were so big in his face as he stared at Dean. "I think… I think it got…"

But Dean was already there, his fingers probing along the sleeve of Sam's coat, searching for the source of the blood that was gushing out too much, too fast, making a puddle around Sam's shoulder. "It got your fucking artery."

Sam tried to nod, but his head just kind of drifted to the side, eyes drifting closed.

"Sam – Sammy, stay with me, man, okay?" Dean reached up and grabbed one of the hand towels. "Here – I'm gonna wrap this around it, and then I need you to reach over and put pressure on it. Can you do that? Can you do that for me, kiddo?"

An "uh huh" drifted out of Sam's mouth as Dean secured the towel in place, ignoring how Sam's blood was coating the floor, how it stained the white towel red. Sam's right hand drifted up and over his chest, but he did begin to press down on the towel, applying pressure just like Dean told him to do.

"Okay. Okay," Dean said, brushing Sam's hair off his forehead. "Keep it there, you understand me? Don't move. I'll be right back, I promise."

"Please hurry," Sam whispered, and it was that, Sam's acknowledgement of the fact that he was in trouble, that sent another bolt of adrenaline through Dean as he scrambled around and grabbed the EMF detector from where Sam had dropped it when he fell. He glanced at his little brother one last time before he bolted to his feet and ran down the stairs, knowing that if the damn thing was up here, Sam would have found it.

Once he was back downstairs, he rushed from room to room, running the detector over everything, every desk and shelf and table, missing nothing, trying not to think about the fact that Sam had been right, that Dean had been so desperate to get this hunt over and done with that he'd forgotten the fucking basics.

Finally, finally, the EMF started spiking when Dean got back into the dining room. He almost sobbed in relief as the hissing got louder and all the red lights lit up as he approached the sideboard along the wall. There was nothing on top of it, though, except a single picture frame. Dean swore and was ready to smash the thing apart, if that was what it took, before he noticed something. The edges of the silver frame were kind of sharp. He set the EMF down and directed his flashlight at the edges of the frame, and that was when he saw the faint brownish red stains at the very edge of the silver. That was also when another gash appeared on his right forearm.

Dean dropped the damn thing onto the floor, ignoring the shot of the happy, smiling family in the frame, and pulled out his flask of holy oil. He practically emptied it on the frame and set it on fire. He didn't know how or why it was cursed and he didn't care – his little brother might have been bleeding out upstairs, and now that this was done, all Dean wanted was to get Sam the fuck out of the house.

He raced back up the stairs without bothering to put the fire out – who gave a fuck if the house burned down? – and shouted Sam's name as he bolted around the corner and found the bathroom again. Sam didn't answer, and his eyes were closed – and another cut had appeared on the back of his hand. The hand that had been keeping pressure on his artery cut had gone slack, and Sam's breaths were shallow and short.

"Sammy – damn it, no, you don't get to do this–" Dean leaned over his brother and cradled his face in his hands, eyes frantically scanning Sam's features. "Sammy, please, kiddo, come on–"

Sam groaned and his eyes fluttered, and it was all Dean needed. "Thank God." Keeping one hand on Sam's face, Dean reached up and grabbed one of the big towels, tearing a strip off it and tying it around the makeshift bandage on Sam's arm. "Let's get you gone, okay, kiddo? Come on."

Dean scooped Sam up in his arms, thanking God that the kid hadn't gone through his last growth spurt yet. As carefully as he could with as fast as he was moving, Dean carried Sam down the stairs, half-glancing into the dining room and noticing that the fire from the picture frame was catching. He didn't give a damn.

It was a struggle to get the passenger's door of the Impala open without putting Sam down, but Dean got him in and got him settled, and managed to tear himself away from the kid long enough to get the garage door open. Then he ran back to the car and flung himself into the driver's seat and jammed Baby into gear and almost skidded back into the street, his heart clenching when he heard Sam groan in discomfort.

"You're okay, kiddo, I gotcha," Dean chanted, reaching a hand out to ruffle Sam's hair. He knew that a cut artery wasn't something he could just patch up at the hotel – they had to get to a hospital. And it was only because Sam had internalized Uncle Bobby's orders to always know where the nearest hospital was that Dean even had a prayer of finding one.

Dean was a reckless driver on his best days. He knew it, and he wasn't sorry for it. But now? With Sam bleeding into a towel in the passenger's seat as Dean rushed through North Platte, he was downright dangerous. He didn't give a damn about the red lights he was running or the corners he was cutting, and it was probably a good thing that it was one in the morning and nobody was out.

Later, Dean couldn't remember much of what happened next. He had a vague sense of haphazardly parking the Impala and scooping Sam out of the passenger's seat, of barreling into the emergency room and demanding help, of someone coming and taking Sammy away from him, even though Dean fought them, he had to stay with Sammy, he had to–

"Sir, please!" the triage nurse snapped at him as she placed a hand in the center of his chest and made him watch as Sammy was wheeled away on a gurney. "He's going to receive the best possible care, and I need to talk to you!"

Dean ran a hand across his forehead, ignoring the way he was streaking blood all over his face. The large metallic doors swished shut behind Sam and the nurses with him. "Fine," he mumbled to the triage nurse, feeling himself starting to crash as the adrenaline faded.

"Thank you," she said, her tone a little gentler, leading him into a tiny room and having him sit opposite her desk. Now that Dean was paying attention, he saw that she looked like a nice person, maybe Uncle Bobby's age. "Now, can I get your name, sweetheart?"

"Dean – Davis," Dean stammered, but at least he had the presence of mind to give the name on the insurance card in his wallet. He fished the card out and handed it to her. "That was my brother Sam."

The nurse nodded briskly and began typing Dean's information in. "And are you eighteen or older?"

Dean nodded, staring down at his hands. It looked like his cuts were no longer bleeding, but they were still open. "Yeah, I am. My brother is fourteen."

The nurse nodded again and then asked, "And how did you both sustain your injuries?"

It only took Dean a moment to scramble for an acceptable answer. "We were leaving the movie theater downtown and we got mugged. Can I see my brother now?"

"We're almost done here, sweetie. Now can you tell me if either you or Sam have any allergies or if you're on any medication?"

Dean fidgeted as he answered the last few questions – he didn't actually know if there was a history of cancer in his family, so he just said no – and when the nurse said they were done he stood up, expecting to be taken to see Sammy.

"Sweetie, I'm sorry," the nurse told him, looking at him like he was crazy. "Your brother is in surgery, and we have to get you stitched up."

"I'm fine – you have to let me see Sam, they can't put him under unless I see him first–"

"Mr. Davis, I'm sorry." The nurse put a hand on Dean's arm, careful to avoid any of his cuts. "He's already under, and I'm telling you that you have to go get stitched up now. Here," she nodded at the doorway, where another nurse, this one way younger, was waiting with a smile. "This is Laurie, and she'll be taking care of you. Come on."

Reluctantly, Dean decided that, when they did let him see Sammy, it would just freak the kid out to see him with cuts all up and down his arms, so he followed Nurse Laurie back through the office and down a hallway until they wound up in a big room with a bunch of beds.

"Have a seat," Nurse Laurie said, gesturing to one of the empty beds towards the end of the room and pulling over a rolling cart with a bunch of drawers in it. "Now, you're Dean, right?"

Dean just nodded. He could feel a headache coming on, and all he wanted to do was ask about Sammy, but he doubted Nurse Laurie knew anything.

"Okay, Dean, let's get this jacket off you, okay?"

Dean winced as she helped him shift his arms back and drag the jacket off his shoulders, leaving him in a black t-shirt. He was glad it was just a normal jacket and not his dad's leather one, because even if Dad hardly ever wore it, he'd still get pissed at Dean for getting blood on a perfectly good jacket. He was grateful that Nurse Laurie managed to keep her professional face on as she asked Dean to hold out his arms. He counted along with her: a total of seven cuts, three on his left arm, four on his right, five of them deep enough to require stitches, one that could just be butterflied, and one that only needed a bandage. Nurse Laurie nodded briskly, got a damp cloth and some antiseptic, and set to work wiping off the blood that was beginning to dry on Dean's skin. He winced a little when one of the cuts got water in it.

"Sorry about that." Nurse Laurie smiled and quickly used a paper towel to pat down Dean's arms. "Do you want a local anesthetic?"

Dean shook his head. "I'll be fine." He didn't want to waste time on that, not now – he had to get back to Sammy.

Nurse Laurie grabbed the curved needle and the straight one, got the thread ready, and moved closer to Dean. "All right. If you change your mind, let me know and we'll stop, okay?"

Dean didn't bother answering her. He didn't watch as the needle bit into his skin, and he didn't notice when she finished off the first cut and moved on to the second. His heart was still pounding, and he knew it was too much too fast, but Sammy was on some goddamn table somewhere in this hospital with people supposedly trying to fix him and what if they couldn't?

What if he died all alone, and Dean never got to say goodbye?

"What's that?" Nurse Laurie asked, forcing Dean to look back at her from where he'd been staring at the door of the ward, hoping that some doctor or someone would come in and tell him what the hell was going on with Sam.

"What's what?"

"Your necklace." She tied off the last stitch on another one of the cuts. "Do you want to tell me about it?"

Reflexively, Dean started to reach up for the amulet, but remembered the nurse's warning to not move his arms until she was done with him. "My brother gave it to me. When we were kids."

She threaded the needle again and started in on the first cut on Dean's other arm. "Does it mean anything?"

Dean opened his mouth and then shut it, because how could he answer that? He'd never really thought about it - it had just been enough that Sammy had given it to him because he thought Dean deserved it. He didn't know if he could put that into words, though, so he just shrugged.

"Don't move," she scolded gently, pausing the motion of the needles until Dean resettled. "You're very close to your brother."

"Yeah," Dean snapped. He didn't want to talk about Sammy anymore, not when it was Dean's own damn fault that either of them were in the hospital to begin with – he should have listened to Sammy, he should have taken the hunt more slowly, he should never have suggested that they split up in the house–

He bit the inside of his mouth so hard it bled. God, if his Sammy died, and it was his fault–

No. Sammy couldn't. He wouldn't die. He knew that if he left Dean, Dean would have nothing, and he'd never taken the kid back to the Grand Canyon like they'd talked about, he'd never embarrassed the first girl Sam took out on a date, he'd never taken the kid to a concert….

"That's it for the stitches," Nurse Laurie said, startling Dean out of his thoughts. He moved to get up, but she put a hand on his shoulder. "Sit back down. Let me butterfly and bandage these last two; then you can go."

Dean almost yelled at her to hurry up, but he managed to stop. It wasn't her fault that his stomach was rolling, and it wasn't her fault that Dean had gotten Sam into this mess.

He felt the butterflies tug at his skin, and the stick of the bandage over the last of the cuts, and he'd started to stand before Nurse Laurie had said, "All right, that's you done."

"Can you take me to Sam now?"

"As far as I know, he's still in surgery," she told him, "but let's get you back to the waiting room and see if we can't get someone to talk to you."

"Fine," Dean bit out, and without waiting for her, he stalked back towards the swinging doors they'd come through. He circled around the triage nurse's office and dropped into a chair in the waiting room, as close as possible to the doors they'd taken Sammy through. Dean leaned forward and dropped his face into his hands, ignoring the pull he felt from his stitches. Sammy was back there somewhere, maybe dying, maybe awake and asking for Dean, maybe scared and lonely – and Dean was here.

He should call Dad. His gut twisted at the thought. His hand drifted down towards his pocket, but his fingers didn't wrap around the phone. It would be better to not tell Dad until he knew for sure that Sam was going to be okay. One of the things Dad hated more than anything was not enough information.

He jumped when the doors swung open, but the nurse who bustled through them didn't even glance at him.

God it was like Dean wanted to crawl out of his skin, to pace, to punch things, to cry, to scream. He had never been scared before - not like this. This wasn't a bolt of nervous adrenaline before a hunt, this wasn't anything he could fix or control. He had fucked up and Sammy had paid for it and Sammy might die and Dean might have to live without him.

Sammy.

He hadn't noticed Nurse Laurie follow him into the waiting room, so he jumped when she spoke to him. "Dean, is there anything I can get for you?"

"Yeah, you can get me in to see my brother."

"Dean." Nurse Laurie's voice was gentle, but Dean cut her off before she could continue.

"Listen to me," he said earnestly, subconsciously trying to imitate Sam's puppy-dog thing. "I'm telling you that if my brother wakes up alone in a hospital room, he's gonna be scared. I have to be there. I have to."

Laurie hesitated, then sighed and said, "All right, I'll see what I can do. If I can, I'll be sure to come and get you as soon as he's moved into recovery."

"Thank you," Dean exhaled, slumping back in his chair a little. "Thank you so much."

There was a pause, and then Laurie nodded and touched Dean's shoulder. It was light and brief, but he could tell she was trying to make it feel better, and he tried to convince himself that it worked.

Oh God, Sammy.

Dean forced himself to sit still for the next hour, realizing that if he caused too much of a disturbance, they'd throw him out, and while they couldn't keep him out, it wasn't a fight he felt like having when Sammy was hurt.

For what felt like the hundredth time that night, Dean reviewed the hunt again. He'd been such a fucking dumbass, he'd made Sam half-ass the research, he'd gone in with only one EMF detector, he'd had them split up, he'd refused to consider any alternatives to his own theory… God. It should have been him in surgery right now; it should have been him with the sliced-open arm.

Sam had been so excited to go on this hunt with Dean, he'd been so happy to finally do something with just Dean, because they hadn't had nearly as much time together since Dean dropped out of school and started hunting full-time. Dean's throat tightened. He shouldn't have done that – spent so much time hunting that Sammy figured the only way to get his attention was to go on hunts too.

When Sammy got better, Dean decided, they were going camping. Normal camping – with a tent and a fire and marshmallows and what the fuck ever. Just the two of them. They both needed it.

Dean was just starting to plan the trip in his head when the doors swung open and a nurse called out, "Dean Davis?"

Dean scrambled to his feet, feeling his heart start pounding in double-time. "Here. Me."

The guy walked up to him and looked him up and down, like he was trying to decide whether he was actually going to tell Dean anything. "Your brother's out of surgery, but we'll have to keep him overnight."

Dean stared at him, waiting for him to go on, but when the guy started to turn away, Dean's hand shot out and he gripped the guy's arm. "Wait, that's it? You're not gonna tell me how he's doing?"

The nurse stared pointedly at Dean's hand on his arm until Dean huffed and removed it, and then he said, "I've told you all you can. Sam is in recovery, and he's in stable condition. You'll have to wait out here, or go home."

"I don't – why are you saying that? What the hell is it supposed to mean? Patch him up and send him home!" Dean tried, without much success, to swallow back his temper. Who the hell did this asshat think he was, to stop Dean from seeing his Sammy?

"Mr. Davis." The nurse raised his hands and shook his head. "It's not that simple. Your brother has lost a significant amount of blood. The doctor just gave him a transfusion, and I'll check his progress in a few hours and see if he needs another one. And I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I can't tell you anything more."

"Why the hell not?" Dean yelled, ignoring the way that some of the other assholes in the waiting room glared at him. It wasn't like it was their brother fucking dying behind those goddamned swinging doors, and even if it was, it wasn't like any of their brothers were Sammy. Dean's Sammy.

"Because you're not his parent, son," the nurse snapped, glaring at him. "And I'm going to have to insist that you not yell in here."

"Alan? What the hell are you doing?" Laurie's voice said sharply, and both men turned to see her coming through the swinging doors, glaring at the other nurse. "I told Dr. Lawton that I would come find Dean."

The guy shrugged. "You seemed busy with the kid."

Laurie scoffed. "Go on your rounds, Alan, before I report you for lying to a family member." When Alan hesitated, Laurie took another step right into his personal space. "I said go."

With that, Alan scoffed, muttering something about "protocol" and "parents", but he did stalk off. Laurie scowled at his retreating back until he disappeared inside the doors before she turned back to Dean. "I am so sorry about that. Please, come with me."

"Is Sammy okay?" Dean demanded, following her urgent steps through the doors and down a white hallway. "The guy said–"

"Sam is going to be fine," Laurie said soothingly, taking quick strides around a corner. "Alan was right about the transfusion, and about the overnight, and you lucked out and Sam doesn't have a roommate, but – here, this is Dr. Lawton. I'll let him tell you the rest."

They had stopped in front of a silver-haired guy in scrubs reading a clipboard outside a closed door. He looked up when he heard Laurie, and extended his right hand. Dean shook it quickly, noting with relief that the guy didn't look worried. "You're Dean?" When Dean nodded, the doctor smiled. "Sam was asking for you."

Dean reached for the doorknob, but Dr. Lawton gently reached a hand out to stop him. "Let me give you a rundown on his prognosis first, all right?"

"Yeah. Yeah," Dean stammered, running a hand through his hair. "Sorry – I just–"

"I understand, son. Now, I had to give Sam a transfusion, but it seems to have taken fine. I want to keep him overnight anyway, just in case. As for his arm, it's bandaged, and tomorrow morning I'll have someone show you how to change it, because that'll need doing about once a day for the next week." Dean nodded; he could handle that. "I also want him in a sling for that same amount of time. Make sure he gets plenty of fluids – water, Gatorade, things like that. Here," he continued, scribbling something on a pad of paper at the top of his clipboard, which he then tore off and handed to Dean, "is a prescription for some painkillers, to be taken as needed. He's on a dose right now, actually. You'll be able to take him home tomorrow."

Dean released a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding. "Thanks, doc. So much."

"No problem." The doctor smiled and patted Dean's shoulder. "As I said, he's been asking for you." He nodded at Laurie before he tucked his clipboard under his arm and walked away.

Dean tucked the prescription slip into his pocket and eased the door open. The room was dark except for what looked like a nightlight in the corner.

"Dean." Sammy's voice was so faint, but he was at least smiling a little, so Dean wasn't gonna panic. Not yet.

"Hey, kiddo," he whispered, ignoring the chair next to Sam's bed and sitting on the mattress instead. "How you feeling, huh?"

Sam shifted under his blankets, and Dean resisted the urge to re-tuck them tighter under the kid's chin. "Okay. I think I'm on drugs."

Dean nodded and laughed once. "You are, in fact, on drugs, Sammy. So be sure to say something stupid that I can hold over your head for the rest of your life."

"Jerk."

"Bitch," Dean retorted automatically, and then his smile faded. God, what would he have done without this? He reached out and grabbed Sam's right hand, because he didn't dare touch anything on the left side of the kid's body for fear of messing with his bandages. He stared down at their hands and some part of his brain noticed that Sam's hands - and feet too, for that matter - were getting pretty damn big. Kid was gonna be tall, Dean knew it. "Sammy, I'm so sorry."

"What? Dean, no, it's not your–"

"It is," Dean insisted, feeling his voice get rough. "If I hadn't–"

There was the soft sound of a voice being cleared behind them, and Dean turned to see Laurie standing just inside the door. "I'm so sorry to interrupt, but I'm about to go on a round. Can I get anything for either of you? Something tells me that we're not getting Dean to leave tonight."

Dean wasn't sure, but he thought she was smiling. He grinned back at her. "I think we're good. Kiddo?"

"'M'fine," Sam murmured, and Laurie nodded and smiled at them again before leaving, shutting the door softly behind her. Sam's eyes slid back to Dean, and even though they were hazy with the pain meds, he still managed to look worried. "Dean, don't, okay? You can't."

"I was supposed to take care of you," Dean gasped out, wrapping his other hand around Sam's too. "Sammy, I'm sorry, I was a dumbass about this hunt, and I got you hurt–"

"Don't," Sam whined, tugging on Dean's hand. Dean shifted so that he was lying on top of the blankets next to Sammy, propped up against the bed's headboard. He wrapped his arm around the kid, being so careful not to jostle his left arm. Sam went on, "Dean, this isn't your fault. It really isn't. Please don't blame yourself?"

Dean swallowed down the retort that he wanted to spit out, that he had been reckless and careless and Sammy had paid for it, but he could tell that the conversation was upsetting his brother. So instead, he just pulled Sammy closer and rested his chin on top of the kid's head. He closed his eyes as he whispered, "Fine, kiddo. Get some sleep, okay?"

"You too," Sam tried to insist, and Dean almost smiled at how drowsy the kid's voice sounded. "You too, Dean. Don't go anywhere."

"'Course not," Dean promised, and he thought he heard Sam mutter something that sounded like 'good.' But before Sammy completely fell asleep, his good hand reached up and batted at the amulet hanging around Dean's neck. Then he was out like a light.

Dean watched Sam's chest rise and fall with his breaths for a while, and for the second time that night his own hand drifted up to touch the amulet. Dean wasn't ready to forgive himself for the shitshow that tonight had been – he doubted he'd ever be ready to forgive himself for Sammy getting hurt. But Sammy had forgiven him.

Dean swallowed hard. Sammy had trusted Dean, and Dean had almost gotten him killed. Never again.

He knew better than to think that Sam would stop hunting – Dad would never allow it, and Sam would probably never agree to it. But Dean would do better by Sammy. He'd keep him safe, he swore it.

Again, he closed his eyes and pressed his face into his little brother's hair. "Thank you," he whispered, to whoever might have been listening, whoever might have helped Sammy pull through.