Sooo - here we go again. I've been gone from this site for a while, and being gone for so long hasn't made posting any easier, I have to say.

This has been sitting on my harddrive for ages, and while I initially didn't intend to post it, I never quite stopped thinking about it, so I figures, what the hell. So here I am, putting it out there, hoping you won't find it too terrible.

As usual - please be nice - and gentle. English is not my native language - just keep that in mind.

Also: nothing has changed - I still don't own them - but in two weeks time I will have at least will have seen Jensen and Jared live and in color once again, since i'm going to jibcon in Rome again :)

Alright then - before I change my mind. Here it goes:

PICKING UP THE PIECES

There was so much blood.

He'd never before in his life seen this much blood. Not in real life, anyways – not real blood. It looked so much different than it did on TV…

"Sam,"

Dad's voice made him jump and he tore his eyes away from the red smears to look up at his father, eyes wide and brimming, lips agape and trembling silently. Dad sounded strange – voice sharp and a tad too loud with just that tiny underlying tremor that made Sam realize that this…it had to be really bad. Usually, Dad was all about barking orders – brooking no argument yet remaining calm and to the point when talking to Dean, maybe a tad sharper and with that tiny hint of impatience when it came to Sam. Because Sam never moved fast enough, didn't act quickly enough…didn't do what Dad told him the way he was supposed to.

And it didn't count that Sam had just started 'training', as Dad called it, that he'd started finding his place in the family business only a little while ago. For Dad, he could just never be enough.

"Sam,"

Dad sounded…angry; but no, that wasn't it. There was something else there, not so subtly concealed… It took Sam a moment to place the sentiment – so foreign in his dad's repertoire, it amped up Sam's initial panic another notch or four when he finally figured it out.

It was fear. Dad sounded – and looked – scared.

But that couldn't be.

Dad was never scared.

And still…his eyes were gleaming, dark as coals, his lips set in a tight, thin line and Sam thought he could see the frantic beat of a pulse thrum against his father's neck as John turned his head, casting a frantic look back at his youngest son.

God, he looked downright terrified. And Sam was fairly certain now that Dad had never looked so scared, not even when he'd been the one returning from one of his 'business trips' bloody and beaten before.

"Sam, damnit, NOW!"

A deep, gurgling groan accompanied John's words, and it spurred Sam into action like nothing else ever had.

He jumped, visibly jumped this time, his mouth snapping shut and eyes blinking furiously as he was assaulted with a sudden sense of vertigo.

Slamming the door shut Sam scrambled around his father, rushing to the table in the small kitchenette on the other side of the room. He had to climb up onto a chair, his knees like jello, as he went to push aside the papers and books Dad had left there before setting out on the hunt.

'An easy hunt. In and out in an hour, tops. '

'Keep the doors locked and the salt-lines intact. We'll be back before your bedtime.'

Climbing all the way onto the tabletop Sam carelessly pushed off the last remaining books on the far end on the big, cluttered table, a porcelain cup shattering into a thousand pieces against the tiled floor of the narrow kitchenette. But he didn't care, didn't even hear, his mind preoccupied and practically paralyzed with terrifying thoughts. He'd barely cleaned off the last item when his father pushed up next to him to carefully lower Dean's limp form onto the hard wooden surface.

Dean.

All that blood.

It clung to his brother like a second skin, like his clothing had been dyed a deep crimson red, transferring a scary – a downright terrifying pattern onto his formerly blue shirt and faded denims.

But the worst was Dean's face – blood-smeared as well, even though clearly most of it had been smeared there by someone else but him. There was a large handprint – too large to be Dean's own hand – on his left cheek, some plastered on his lips and nose, even his closed eyelids. The rusty-red liquid smeared over his almost pasty looking skin made Dean look so…

"Sam, towels and water. Quickly."

Dad's eyes never left Dean, never swayed to meet Sam's as he tried to make contact with his father, tried to find the reassurance there that he so desperately needed right now. What he saw in his father's face made that lump that had formed in Sam's throat grow to a size he didn't seem to be able to swallow around.

That was definitely fear there.

And if his Dad was scared…

Sam almost fell off the table in his rush to scamper down, catching himself at the last second.

He raced into the tiny bathroom, bare feet heedlessly breaking the salt-lines Dean had so painstakingly put across every threshold before leaving the house earlier, warning Sam time and time again to not move one single grain of salt while he was by himself.

But it didn't matter now.

There were no clean towels, dumps like their current motel not coming with the daily room service they were supposed to and Sam hastily gathered all the towels he could find off the racks, gathering up a bunched up, still damp one from the floor next to the rusty tub as well. Cradling them in his trembling arms he held them tight as if they were the only thing that was going to save his brother. He only realized he was crying when a fat teardrop splashed onto the pale green tiles beneath his feet as he bent down to retrieve the last of the flimsy washcloths from the shelve underneath the sink.

Dean was dying.

Dean was dying because Dad had taken him hunting. And Dad had only taken Dean hunting because Sam had insisted that he was old enough to stay home alone for a couple of hours.

'I'm almost eleven years old. I can take care of myself.'

He'd known Dean had wanted to go to dig up and burn that body with Dad so very badly. Ever since Sam had found out about the family business, every since Dad and Dean didn't need to keep things secret anymore, Dean had been training harder than ever. He wanted in as he called it, wanted to help Dad out, not just stay behind and watch over his little brother anymore, but 'go out there and waste some monsters', like he'd been practicing for years.

Sam really didn't like staying by himself, but he also knew that Dean enjoyed hunting, so he tried to be brave and let his brother go with their father more and more often. Dean deserved to have fun, too, even though it seemed like an awfully sick and twisted kind of fun to Sam. But Dean talked about nothing else, wanted to be just like their Dad. He dressed like him, talked like him, listened to the same music, loved the same cars…and he wanted nothing more than to be as good a hunter as Dad was.

While Sam didn't know where exactly the incentive lay, he did want Dean to be happy. He loved his big brother like no one else in the world and seeing Dean smile was the most awesome thing. It was infectious, could pull Sam along no matter in how broody a mood he was in.

And Dean always beamed when he talked about hunting. He seemed to love the hours before setting out the most, him and Dad sitting at the table, talking about what monster they were about to kill, talking strategies, weapons, backup plans.

His mood always was a little less…enthusiastic when coming back, his zeal somehow fake and artificial – only a façade that even Sam could somehow see through, even though Dean did his best to appear as alright and excited as when setting out. He tried too hard to appear normal, and Sam guessed it was because of the things he'd seen and done but wouldn't ever tell Sam about.

But Dean did his best to not let Sam feel it – not let Dad feel it either. And no matter how horrible the things he must have seen, how gruesome the reality - he still loved hunting. Nothing could sway him from that path. Sam didn't know if it was what Dean really wanted, or what he thought Dad expected of him, but he guessed that Dean would find out sooner or later, that he'd figure out what he really wanted. Just like Sam already knew that he wanted to become a doctor when he was grown up – would go to med-school and work in a big hospital and save people – just like Dad and Dean did, but he'd do it his own way.

But Dean kept insisting that he wanted to be a hunter – just like Dad, that he could do a lot more good than any doctor or policeman or fireman out there. And he was good, Sam guessed, at least Dad kept saying so when he was on the phone with Pastor Jim or Bobby, his voice both defensive and proud at the same time.

"Dean's good – a natural. He's got great reflexes, awesome focus. Not long now and he can come along on the big hunts, back me up…"

And so far, everything had gone as planned. Dad and Dean had returned from their hunts, maybe a little bruised and tired, but alright. Nothing a good night's rest and some Advil hadn't been able fix.

But this…this was exactly what Sam had been most afraid of, what he'd dreamed about, over and over and over again. All his nightmares, terrifying and gruesome and graphic, always revolved around his one, single incident.

Dean dying. Leaving Sam and Dad behind – all by themselves.

A sob broke through the lump constricting his throat and Sam buried his face in the mountain of towels gathered in his arms. But he refused to go to his knees, give in to the blinding agony ripping through his chest at the thought of his brother – out there – dying; of a life without Dean.

Sam's toes felt numb against the cool tiles of the bathroom, his socks forgotten in his haste to open the door for his father and brother. He was in his pajamas already – watching TV in bed while his brother had gotten maimed and Dad had driven him, bleeding, back here. He'd been snug and warm in his bed as his brother had been in pain…

Suddenly, there was the sound of something crashing to the ground outside, followed by a muted expletive coming from Dad and a horrifying, blood-curdling groan of unspeakable pain from Dean. Sam whipped his head up, thinking that his heart most definitely stopped at the sound.

Before he even knew that he'd been moving, he was standing in the kitchenette again, towels still clutched to his chest, eyes wide and legs trembling at the sight in front of him.

Dean was awake.

He was still lying on his back and Dad was almost on top of him, holding his shoulders down and practically pinning him to the table's surface. Dean was writhing, one leg bent with the booted foot flat against the wooden surface as he tried to push himself up and away, his whole body tensed to the uttermost extend.

He wasn't screaming, was merely panting – grounding out harsh breaths between groaning gasps of agony.

Dad was talking to him, voice low and hushed, mouth close to Dean's ear and Sam couldn't catch what he was saying. But he didn't think he'd understand anyways for his heart was beating so loudly inside his chest, Sam was sure it would drown out anything else. Anything but his brother's whimpered gasps. Sam watched as his brother stilled, then shuddered again, another groan pushing its way up from deep inside him, filling the stuffy room with the suffocating stench of dread and pain and agony.

But that sound seemed to be the trigger that burst the bubble surrounding Sam, somehow, his ears almost bursting – like after a shower when he had to clear the water out of his ears only to find himself assaulted by the everyday noise surrounding him again.

Tears once again rose to the surface, making his vision even more blurry than before but at that moment Dad looked up, found him standing in the middle of the room as if rooted to the spot.

"Sam, get over here. And get me the first aid kit…water," he trailed off as Dean bucked in his grip again, forcing John to refasten his hold on his son's shoulders.

Sam did as he was told, dumping the towels on one of the chairs and bustling off again, almost unable to carry the heavy first aid kit before filling a pot from one of the cupboards with the hottest water the motel room's bad plumbing managed to produce. When he returned to the table Dad had already cut off Dean's shirt, displaying a horrible gash in Dean's side. Even though he quickly pressed one of the towels onto the wound there was no way to miss how deep the wound was, how ragged and gaping.

It had to be pure terror that kept Sam right there, next to his brother, when every atom of his being wanted nothing more than to turn around and run away, lock himself into the closet and not come out until Dean would knock on the door to coax him out of his hiding place with promises of his favorite sweets.

Because, clearly, this couldn't be anything but a bad, bad dream.

Sam shuddered, his mouth dry while every other inch of his skin seemed to be bathed in sweat all of a sudden. As if mirroring his little brother, Dean shuddered too, the motion accumulating into a bone-charring tremor that didn't seem to abate for an eternity. There was still so much blood, smeared all over Dean's side and torso and seeping into the hem of his favorite pair of jeans. Sam didn't want to look at it, couldn't grasp the sheer amount of it, couldn't fathom the pain he knew his brother had to be in.

Those simply were things he couldn't understand, couldn't come close to imagining. All he knew was, that he hurt – for his brother – and that he didn't even have the faintest notion of what it really had to feel like.

Sam had never been as terrified in his entire life. Not even when, a few years ago their Dad had come home, bleeding, and Dean had had to put some stitches into his upper thigh where – Dad had told Sam back then – he'd hurt himself falling down some stairs. Back then it hadn't occurred to Sam, of course, to question his father's poor explanation of the deep puncture wound that Dean had stitched closed with the most amazing display of silent stoicism that Sam had ever seen in his brother, ever before. Dean had done the bloody deed, had given their father some pills, had helped him change his clothes and made him lie down.

Then he'd fixed Sam dinner and got their Dad up so he could eat and drink before going back to sleep. Dean had given Sam his nightly bath and put him into his PJ's before reading him a story and tucking him in, all the while assuring his little brother that nothing bad was going to happen to him – to them, that Dad was going to be fine.

Just a scratch.

Dean had taken care of it.

It hadn't been until much later, in the middle of the night, when Sam had woken up to his brother silently crying in bed next to him, his trembling shoulders and occasional shuddering intake of breath the only signs that he was not doing quite as alright as he'd wanted to make his little brother believe.

But Dean didn't make believe now. He was shivering, trembling, the sounds of discomfort that pushed past his pale lips almost unbearable to listen to. Sam didn't know much about pain, didn't know how bad it had to be if Dean, the guy that hadn't even cried when he'd broken his ankle playing soccer in the park last year, was now practically coming undone right in front of his father and little brother. It had to be bad, had to be…

Another sharp intake of breath from the table had Sam flinching, fresh tears spilling from burning eyes as he watched from a couple feet's distance as his father dipped one of the still clean towels into the water before starting to clean the gash in Dean's side with gentle yet decisive strokes, trying to wash away the blood that just kept staining Dean's skin a sickening red.

Sam wanted to turn around and run away, hide in the bathroom and not come out until his father was done, would come and get him and tell him that Dean was alright and well, that it really hadn't been as bad as it had looked. Just a scratch.

But as much as he wanted to leave, he couldn't. He couldn't leave his brother, couldn't avert his eyes even because he somehow knew that if he did, Dean would be gone when he looked back again.

Just like in those terrifying, all too real dreams he kept having.

Dean would be gone and not come back.

Sam couldn't let that happen. He took a tentative step closer to the table, his hands balled into fists at his sides, his heart racing a mile a minute inside his chest. His breath was stuttering almost like Dean's, choking sobs of fear bouncing around inside of him before pushing up to tumble off his trembling lips.

Dad was working with fierce concentration, his face a tightly set mask, lips a thin line in his bearded face. Sam was almost at the table where Dean's hand, fingers balled into fists, lay on the wooden surface, pushing against the wood in an incessant rhythm. Carefully, Sam reached out a hand, fingers just short of touching yet somehow unable to make contact.

What if he hurt his brother? What if Dean died and Sam held his hand as he did? How would that feel? How would he…

"Sam, get up here," Dad's voice was distracted, rushed, and Sam reflexively snatched his hand away again, terrified that he'd done something wrong.

John only spared the shortest look at his younger son before he directed all his concentration back on Dean's wounded side.

"Get up on the table and hold him. You gotta make him lie still. I have to stop the bleeding, close the wound. You need to hold him still so I can work,"

A part of Sam still didn't know if he could, though, couldn't risk getting too close, to feel his brother suffering. Because that would make it real. But there really wasn't a question as to whether or not Sam wanted to be close to his brother.

There never was a question as to whether or not he would be there for Dean. Just like Dean always was there when Sam needed him.

He had to use a chair to climb up onto the table, had to scoot around his father until he found a free spot next to his brother's shoulders.

Dad shot him a look, never smiling – not even that reassuring upturn of his lips that never fooled Sam, but still always made him feel better, somehow.

"Hold his shoulders, Sam. Make him stay down. This…it ain't gonna be easy on him,"

Maybe Sam was wrong, but he detected another flash of fear in his father's eyes, an almost invisible furrow of his brows – thought he saw Dad's hand gently brush against Dean's leg for a moment, squeezing the trembling limb in reassurance. Then Sam's eyes fell on the assortment of instruments his father had laid out on the table and he averted his eyes quickly, latched onto his brother's face instead.

He thought he was going to be sick.

What he'd seen there – the needles and threads and… He didn't even know the names of some of the things his Dad had made ready to use on Dean. But they still managed to scare the living hell out of Sam.

When he touched Dean's shoulder, Dean tensed.

"Dad no…" Dean's voice made Sam flinch, made him shudder inside.

It was so…raw, garbled and rough, painful breathing cutting his words shorts and making them sound as if the effort to say them out loud was too much already.

Dean's eyes were open, tiny slits of green barely visible through long, tangled lashes, glassy yet focused entirely on Sam as he spoke to their father.

"Sam…go…don't stay…here… Can't see…"

His words left Sam confused – and hurt. Because why the hell would Dean demand that Sam leave? Why wouldn't he want him there with him – for him?

"Sam's alright with this. He's going to help me patch you back up. He's old enough to help, Dean. But you got to be strong alright? Be strong for your brother."

Dean's eyes snapped open a little farther as Dad's words hit him and he sucked in a breath, staring at Sam with an almost terrified look. And Sam was just as terrified – and mad. Mad at their father for using that tone of voice now – the voice usually reserved for training sessions with his sons – when Dean was wounded and in pain. Mad that Dad would use the one thing he knew would work to make Dean do anything he ever demanded of him – the 'do-it-for-Sammy' card when Dean was hurting and bleeding, was maybe going to die.

And he hated Dean because, as sure as anything, it worked.

Sam could see his brother's walls come up as if they were a visible thing yet his gaze remained fixed on Sam as their father went to work. He didn't say anything else, his breath too precious, too vital to remain at least part of his barely held up composure. Sam latched both his hands on his brother's shoulders, then scooted over and cradled Dean's head into his lap, one hand shifting to splay against his brother's clammy forehead, the other arm wrapped across his big brother's chest as far as possible.

Dean was a lot taller than him. A lot stronger, too. Even now, Dean was so much stronger, so much braver.

Sam knew he was crying even though he barely felt the hot tears that slid down his cheeks, but he saw them splashing onto his brother's face and neck, saw Dean flinch as they made contact. And if it was even possible, Dean became stiller in Sam's grasp with every single tear that hit his sweat-slicked skin.

He stopped struggling against his father's ministrations even though his skin and muscles kept twitching on their own volition, his body not entirely under his own control anymore as the pain took over his very being. His breathing remained ragged and painful to listen to, his groans of pain not always kept prisoner inside his chest but pushing to the surface every so often. But through it all, he remained right there, in Sam's arms.

He didn't leave.

He didn't die.

At one point Dean reached up one of his arms, fastening a trembling hand around Sam's skinny forearm and held on, squeezing so tightly that Sam was sure he was going to leave behind the most wicked bruises. But if he did, Sam would be proud of them, because they'd be a testament to what a fighter his brother was, how brave he was. And they were proof, if he ever needed it, that Sam could be there for his brother, too. That he could help Dean, even though Sam still was just a kid still weak and just an annoying little maggot that Dean had to watch while he could do something more interesting instead.

Sam, of course, knew that his brother loved him, that he only teased him when he called him names and made him do the dishes when it really was Dean's turn to do them. He knew it and still it was good to be able to do something to help, actively, instead of being forced to stand at the sidelines, watching his father and brother train and shoot their guns and talk shop over the Impala's open hood. He was still too young to actively be involved in the family business. Dad made him train, sure, but Dean always made sure that Sam wasn't taken along when they set out on a hunt, made sure Sam stayed behind. That he was kept safe.

'You need a lot more training, squirt, before you can tag along.'

As much as Dan was enthusiastic about hunting himself, he seemed to want to keep his little brother away from it as long as possible.

And Sam didn't want to join the family business, not now – probably not ever. But another part of him knew that he needed to know everything about it in order to be able to not be afraid – to know what was out there. Knowledge could be scary, but to Sam it was imperative to know. He simply needed to know…

And he needed to earn his spurs in the action, too, because someone had to be there protect his big brother, to make sure that he wouldn't get hurt – ever again.

Dad didn't seem to be making such a bang up job there, as it was.

The thought curled Sam's insides into the tightest ball imaginable, made the sour taste of injustice rise in his throat – so goddamn hard to swallow down. But this was not the time to call Dad on it. And Sam knew his dad didn't mean to put Dean in danger – it was just so goddamn hard to forgive him for still doing it, time and time again.

Cradling Dean's head even closer to his body, Sam looked up, hoping to catch his father's eyes but found him fiercely preoccupied, his entire focus on his injured son.

Dad stitched up Dean's side with fierce concentration, his face a tightly set mask. He never even looked up, never even spoke a word to either of his sons.

And because Sam knew that Dean didn't like silence – hated it even - he started talking. Dean would usually fill his day with music, the sound of the TV, chatting with Sam. Sam didn't know why, but he knew his brother despised silence as much as Sam was scared of the dark. And because Dean always kept a light on during the night so Sam didn't have to be scared, Sam decided right then and there that he'd always be there to fill Dean's silence when he needed it.

When Dad finally tied off the last stitch, Sam felt like he was going to drop from exhaustion. The heat emanating from his brother's body had seeped into Sam's very core and he felt hot, felt beaten and sore, his arms trembling from holding his brother as tightly as he could, his mouth parched from whispering desperate words of reassurance.

And Dean…Dean was still conscious, somehow, even though he seemed to barely be holding on anymore. Sam didn't dare look at their father – not for reassurance or guidance or goddamn comfort. He didn't look because he didn't want to see the fear in his eyes. As long as he didn't see John's eyes darkened in fear, Sam could still pretend that Dean would be up and about again in no time…

Keeping his focus on Dean's face instead didn't prove to be much of a reassurance, though. Dean's eyes had closed some time ago during the ordeal, but the rapid fluttering of a pulse underneath his sweat slicked neck, the rushed expulsions of stuttering breaths from between slightly parted lips were at least a sign that he was still with them.

Running soothing circles on Dean's forehead Sam whispered softly to his brother, trying to keep his own voice from trembling but not quite succeeding.

"It's going to be alright, Dean…it will be over soon,"

There was a stuttering release of breath as Dad's hands left Dean's side for a moment, another sharp intake as they returned to tape a patch of gauze over the row of black stitches. But other than that there barely was a reaction anymore, his head heavy in Sam's lap.

Then, suddenly, when Sam was just about to breathe sigh of relieve, certain that now it finally was over, Dean's hands on Sam's arm went lax, sweaty fingers loosening and slipping off.

"Dean, no," Sam whispered brokenly, curling his body over his brother's head in a desperate attempt to hold him, to make him wake up again.

God, he was hot. And so heavy.

Out of the corner of his eyes Sam saw his father reach for Dean's other hand, saw him press pointer- and middle-finger to Dean's pulse-point and hold them there for a couple of agonizing seconds.

"Dean, don't… Please don't go…"

He didn't care that he sounded like a little kid, didn't care if his brother would call him a girl for blubbering like he did. He didn't care about anything but his brother waking up.

Sam didn't realize Dean was awake and talking until he felt the warm puff of a shaky exhale on his cheek, felt his brother's lips move rather than hearing him speak.

He snapped his head up, eyes wide and searching Dean's face. Dean's eyes remained closed, the effort to open them apparently too much on his abused body, but sure enough his lips were moving, forming words that didn't make it out in the open. Sam shot a quick look toward his father, realizing that Dad was staring at them with a strange look on his face, fingers still wrapped around Dean's wrist even though the act of feeling his pulse seemed to be forgotten at the moment.

Sam leaned forward again, bringing his ear closer to Dean's mouth.

The words, even though barely audible, still rang loud and clear and Sam thought he was going to sob out in relief.

"Not going anywhere…,"

Sam sniffed loudly, laughing past the pain constricting his chest at how weak his brother sounded, how much pain carried through his voice.

"I'm sorry, Dean. So sorry…"

All Sam wanted to do was curl up next to his brother again, like when he'd been little and Dean would let him crawl into bed with him when he'd woken up from one of his nightmares and was too scared to go back to sleep again.

"You…did good…Sammy. Real good… you were…very brave," Dean whispered, a note of pride coloring his voice even though he could barely move his lips enough to form the words right. But the words made Sam feel better, inexplicably so, even though he knew that he'd done nothing to help his brother, not really.

Sam didn't have anything to say to that, just kept holding his brother's head in his lap and waiting until, seconds or minutes or hours later Dean's breath finally evened out, his heartbeat underneath Sam's palm steady and strong. Only when he was sure that his brother was indeed sleeping more or less peacefully did Sam lessen his hold and look up. His back was screaming from sitting hunched over on the table for god knew how long, but he knew his pain was nothing compared to his brother's.

Dad was still standing there, next to the table, his hand on Dean's wrist with a strange look in his dark eyes. He was looking straight at Sam and his gaze didn't waver, didn't skit away even when Sam matched his stare. Neither of them said a word.

A part of Sam wanted his Dad to speak the hell up, to come over and take Sam into his arms, hold him tight and tell him that everything was going to be alright. That he'd done good – that Dean had done good. That they hadn't just been too goddamn close to losing Dean, still might lose him, if the fever didn't go down.

Sam needed Dad to say anything at all to not make him feel so damn alone without Dean there to keep him company. Sam needed his father to take the responsibility off his shoulders, to lessen the burden off his conscience that he hadn't been there when Dean had gotten hurt.

Bus Dad said nothing.

He broke eye-contact to place Dean's hand carefully on his stomach a little ways above the wound, instructed Sam to do the same to Dean's other hand and climb off the table.

Sam was reluctant to let his brother go, but he knew there was no way Dean could keep laying on the hard table. They had to move him to the bed, so Sam did as his father told him, hurrying over to one of the two queens and pulling the sheets and comforters down. He watched with wordless apprehension as his father lifted Dean's still unconscious form off the table and cradled him impossibly gently in his arms.

Dean was way too big to be carried like this – too tall, too, and there should have been words of protest and indignation, but none ever came.

Dad carried him over and Sam was actually relived when, while his face did scrunch up in discomfort during the short journey, Dean remained out of it all the way through it.

They removed Dean's boots and pants in silence and Sam took on the task of cleaning his brother's torso of the last remnants of dried blood still sticking to his skin, washing him down with a damp cloth. While Dad gave Dean a shot of painkillers and some other kind of drugs, Sam ran wet fingers through his brother's hair to spike it back up again where it lay plastered against his fever-hot forehead. Dean hated when his hair hung down like this. He was always teasing Sam about his bangs hanging into his eyes, and while Dean's hair wasn't nearly as long he'd still never be seen outside the motel room without at least a minimum amount of gel forming it into questioningly stylish spikes.

When Dean was tucked in underneath layers of blankets and the comforter from both beds Dad made Sam wash up and change into a new pair of PJs before hitting the bathroom himself.

As he heard the water turn on inside the bathroom, Sam sat down on his own bed, watching his brother sleep. He wanted, with every fiber of his body, to crawl into bed with Dean again, if to ease his own mind or try and comfort his brother, he didn't have a clue. But he wanted to, the little kid in him needing the comfort, the familiarity.

He knew he shouldn't. Shouldn't, because Dean wouldn't want it – he was too big to share a bed with his brother, after all. And he shouldn't because Sam would only risk hurting Dean when he moved in his sleep, jostling his injury, making him bleed again. Dad would give him hell for it – and Sam just couldn't risk it…

So Sam waited, hands wrung together in his lap as he sat there, hoping that his Dad would come out of the bathroom, would tell him what to do.

But Dad didn't come out there for an awfully long time.

At one point Sam thought he heard strange sounds coming out from behind the closed door but when he listened more carefully the sounds tapered off again, became too faint to make out. And there was no way Sam was going to leave his brother's side to get closer so he could listen in.

Dean started getting restless about half an hour or so after their father had disappeared into the bathroom. He started writhing in his sleep, made low noises of discomfort between halted breaths. Sam leaned forward, casting his eyes between the bathroom door and his brother.

"Dean," he whispered, afraid to wake his brother but at the same time afraid that he would keep tossing and turning and in turn aggravating his wound.

Dean didn't hear him, kept working himself up as the pain apparently dug its way through the blanket of painkillers to settle heavily in his subconscious.

The sound of running water still drifted out from the closed bathroom and Sam bit his lips as he got up, taking the step that separated his bed from his brother's.

"Dean," he repeated carefully, but his brother remained oblivious to his presence.

Sam couldn't be completely sure it was his doing, but he was convinced that, the moment he sneaked underneath the covers, Dean stilled his incessant writhing. His brows remained furrowed, his breathing too ragged, but as if he was trying not to jostle his little brother in his sleep his movements calmed down. Whatever agitation remained bled out of him slowly but surely and within minutes he lay still again.

So Sam stayed right where he was.

It didn't matter that it was childish to need to feel his brother's presence –and to hell with it, but Sam technically was a child still, wasn't he? And Dean…Dean was just fifteen. No matter how much he wanted to be all grown up and self-dependant, no matter how many times he had to be all grown up and in control, deep down he wasn't.

The only family member who could claim that was their father. And it wasn't fair that he passed on his responsibility to his eldest, no matter how willingly Dean seemed to accept that assignment, just like he took on every other assignment his Dad ever gave him.

Sam curled himself up on his side, his back pressed into Dean's good side, hoping that his brother would use the contact to ground himself. After a moment or two Dean shifted, if still in sleep or consciously so, Sam couldn't tell. Then he sighed, a sound emanating from deep inside his chest – but it wasn't a sound sired by pain and discomfort, or at least Sam didn't think it was. Then Dean's breathing evened out again, the rhythm not as deep and as peaceful as it usually was, but it was close enough to give Sam hope again.

Sam remained stock-still, too anxious to move, too worked up to go to sleep.

Dad came out of the bathroom more than an hour after going in.

There was a cloud of steam billowing out from the open door as he stepped back into the dimply lit main room. He smelled like shampoo and soap, his skin pink as if he'd scrubbed himself clean off all the blood and grime with more force than absolutely necessary. He'd shaved his beard off, the curly, shaggy hair on his head raked back haphazardly.

Sam started at him from his position on the bed next to his brother, layers of blankets leaving only his face free. Dad looked at him – at them, and Sam stared back. For a moment he was afraid that his father would make him leave, would make him get into his own bed and sleep there.

Dad stepped closer, his bare feet leaving damp footprints on the worn linoleum that slowly dissolved as the cool air in the room dried them off. He stopped right in front of the bed, staring down, his eyes shifting between Dean and Sam.

Then he reached out his hand, running it first over Dean's forehead and letting it rest there for a moment before brushing his fingers over Sam's head, tousling his hair gently. He smiled, but somehow the smile looked so sad, Sam thought he was going to start crying again.

"You did good today, buddy. I'm very proud of you-"

He swallowed, flipped a shock of bangs out of Sam's eyes.

"How about you keep your brother safe tonight?"

Sam could only nod.

This time Dad's smile was a little less sad, a whole lot more proud. It made the skin around his eyes crinkle and his eyes soften and his shoulders drop a little, helped slip off some of that awful tension that always locked him tight whenever returning from a hunt.

Once more he brushed his large hand over Sam's skull and Sam instinctively closed his eyes, reveling in the warmth and safety his father's touch still provided him with.

He whispered something else but Sam didn't catch it but when he wanted to make his Dad repeat what he'd said, Dad's hand left his scalp and he stepped away.

"Be careful with him – make sure he lies still, alright?" he finally added softly, and once again Sam only nodded.

"Go to sleep now, Sammy. You have to be exhausted," Dad said, the words an order, albeit spoken so very gently.

But it didn't matter how tired Sam was, how exhausted to his very core he felt. The responsibility of watching over his brother weighed heavily on his shoulders, no matter how much he longed to return the favor. He stubbornly kept his eyes open, not so much in order to defy Dad, but to make sure he didn't accidentally abandon his post and fall asleep when his body followed the incessant pull of exhaustion wearing him down.

Dad sighed and stepped closer to the bed again and for a moment Sam tensed, afraid that Dad would change his mind and make Sam leave Dean alone, after all, would make him lie down in his own bed.

But he didn't make Sam leave, nor did he go to lay down on the creaky fold-out sofa he'd used as a bed the previous nights they'd stayed here.

He merely brushed his fingers through Dean's hair again before stepping away, out of sight. A minute later Sam heard a low, scraping sound from behind. As he turned his head he caught sight of their father as he pushed the heavy-looking queen that used to be Sam's bed across the worn floor to line it up side by side with Dean's bed until there was not an inch of space between them.

It wasn't the first time the three of them shared a bed – they'd often had to share a king – all three of them - when they hadn't been able to afford a room with two queens, let alone a family room with a bed for each of them.

It wasn't the first time, but it certainly was one of the first times that Sam didn't mind the close quarters.

Dean lay between them, oblivious for the moment of how his pain at least brought some kind of good to their little family, if one could find anything good in a situation like this.

Tonight, at least, Dad and Sam both were going to help make sure that Dean didn't need to worry about a thing except getting better again.

The end

A/N

Alright, so what do you think? I know I'm terribly out of shape. Just let me know what you think.

Take care!