Author's Note: This story was written for Jet's prompt series - #24 Curfew.


In Dependence


"I said no."

Furious as he is, Sam's breath still catches when his father takes a step forward, eyes flashing at the blatant defiance. Sam might be sixteen and just an inch shy of six feet, but he's pretty sure his dad can still force him to take a punishment if he has to. And Sam's not backing down this time. Leave it to John Winchester to order Sam to stay home while he and Dean take a hunt, without a thought for Sam's own plans for the evening. It's not like I might have an actual life or anything. That life is looking suckier by the second, but that's beside the point.

"You were told to stay home; you disobeyed a direct order. We couldn't even reach you, we had no idea - " John stops, tries to calm himself, hands moving to his hips. Christ, he's tired. "What if we'd needed you?" he demands, trying the guilt angle. It's always brought Dean into line, but then his youngest is a different breed. "Too much like you," John imagines his own father saying, and damned if the old man isn't right again.

Sam scoffs. "You never need me. That's kind of the point, isn't it?" he asks, unable to keep the bitterness from creeping into his voice. "You and Dean, the perfect Butch and Sundance?"

"Sam." The tone is pointed, and getting all-too familiar to them both. "You got one last chance to get over here, or - "

"Or what?" Sam wants to know, his temper finally snapping. He's suffered enough humiliation for one night; he's not taking a trip over his father's knee, too. "There's nothing wrong with me going to a party. I'm not some kid who needs you holding my hand or telling me what to do."

The words sting, bring a flush to John's neck. Holding his hand? He isn't babying Sam, he's trying to get him to grow up. The kid has no interest in hunting, in staying alive. No damn idea how much Dean and he look out for him, and the ingratitude is like salt in an open wound. John's jaw shifts, tightens. He pulls a chair out from the corner of the living room, jabs a finger in front of him.

"You either get over here and get your pants down, or I'm done," John growls, damping a flicker of guilt when the kid's eyes widen. He reminds himself he's in the right here, that he's put up with enough from the boy. Time to draw the line. "If you don't want to follow orders, you can look out for yourself."

The dismissal is sharp, and cuts. Is that what Sam is, then? Another soldier? Sam lifts his chin, refusing to give John the satisfaction of seeing him falter. "Great," he volleys, pleased when the response causes his father's hands to tighten into fists. Sam can get by without this crap, no problem. It's not like he isn't the family freak here, anyway.

Before John has the chance to change his mind, Sam turns on his heel, heads for his and Dean's room. He blows into the bedroom and slams the door, throwing his jacket over the chair before dropping glumly onto the bed. The night's a complete and utter bust. If only he hadn't had to wait for John and Dean to head out before leaving for the party, if only he'd gotten there an hour earlier, then maybe Janie would have been making out with him tonight instead of that idiot, Trevor. Janie's been Sam's lab partner for two months now, and she's been hinting for the two of then to do some of their own experiments. And sure, Sam's heard talk, but Janie's friendly, and she seems to like him; really like him. She laughs at Sam's jokes, tells him he's cute. And her sweaters - God, her sweaters…

The muffled sound of voices from the living room rouses Sam from his musings, and a minute later Dean walks in, throwing his own jacket over Sam's. "Where the hell have you been?" he asks, taking a seat on his bed, and Sam wonders when Dean started sounding just like Dad. "I've been looking all over for you."

Sam rolls to face his brother, props himself up on one elbow to watch Dean unlace and kick off his boots. Sam doesn't see any tears or blood on Dean's clothing. Hunt must have gone okay. "Went to that party."

Dean huffs to himself, incredulous. "You got a death wish or something? Since when do you care about some party?"

Sam shifts his gaze to the star-shaped pattern of his worn quilt, not wanting Dean to see his disappointment. His older brother doesn't have trouble getting girls; the trouble comes *after* he gets them. For Dean, girls are a challenge, like pool or a good fight, and a guy certainly doesn't cry over them. "I don't."

The weight of Dean's stare settles heavy on Sam's skin, causing him to fidget. "Then what?" his brother asks, frowning as he pulls off his socks. And okay, Dean might make fun of him, but at least he's actually interested.

"I was supposed to hook up with Janie Wilcox," Sam confides grimly, rolling to his back again and folding his arms behind his head.

"Take it that didn't happen?" Well, there's something to be grateful for. Dean knows all of the Wilcox sisters, a few of them even biblically, and they're not exactly the type to go steady. Any one of the girls could eat his little brother for breakfast.

"I was about an hour too late."

"Sorry." Dean's glance holds grudging sympathy. Kid must have had a rough night. Sam brings most of it on himself these days, though. Even if John hadn't ordered Sam to stay home, the boy has a ten o'clock curfew on week nights, and he passed that about five hours ago. Dean stands and pulls off his shirt, tossing it at the hamper. "Dad hand you your ass already?"

"No, and he's not going to, either," Sam says with satisfaction.

Dean's fingers pause in unbuttoning his jeans. "He's not."

"Nope. I'm no longer his son."

"You kidding me?" Dean's forehead draws into a frown.

Sam shrugs. "It was either that or get my ass beat; I'm calling it a win/win."

"Oh, this is great," Dean mutters, shoving the pants down his legs and throwing them at the hamper as well.

"What do you care? More cookies for you."

Dean blinks. "Wow, someone's a bitch tonight."

"Yeah, but I'm my own bitch," Sam replies smugly.

"Shut your cakehole and go to sleep," Dean says, snatching a pillow from his bed and tossing it at the kid. Teenagers.

*****************************************

"We gonna finish this job tonight?" Dean asks his father the following evening. The supper table is unnaturally quiet, charged with tension like it usually is after Sam and their father have it out.

John looks up from his plate. "Yeah." John hopes so. One less thing he'll have to worry about when it comes time to deal with his youngest.

Dean waits for his father to add his usual warnings for Sam to stay inside, keep the salt lines intact. Remind him of their emergency contact for this hunt. It doesn't happen. Instead the man continues to finish his dinner, the silence more telling than words. Sam's fingers tighten on his fork, and Dean clears his throat awkwardly.

"Sam, you - "

"I'm heading out," the kid announces, suddenly scooting back from the table. Sam doesn't look back; just grabs his backpack from the counter and makes for the door. Dean glances at his father, expecting John to look up from his meatloaf at any second, demanding to know just where the hell Sam thinks he's going on a school night. It doesn't happen, though, and a moment later the front door swings shut.

"Dad, what - "

"Follow him, make sure he doesn't get into trouble," John says gruffly.

Well, there goes Dean's night. Should've known. "You mean tail him."

John sets his fork aside and gives his son a hard look. "You gotta problem with that?"

"No, sir," Dean replies, aware that this is shaky ground. "It's just – don't you need my help tonight? You should have back-up, Dad."

"I'll handle it. Your job's your brother." Worry furrows the kid's forehead, and John softens. "No worries, dude; I'll have the cell phone," John tells him, parroting one of Dean's favorite phrases.

"Funny," Dean says, a tiny smile tugging at his lips.

"I thought so," John confesses. "Now get going."

*****************************

Sam hitches the strap of his backpack a little higher up on his shoulder and wraps his arm around himself as he walks. At first he's too upset, too preoccupied to notice anything but the adrenaline rushing through his veins. It's not until a few blocks later that he feels the cold penetrate the thin, long-sleeved t-shirt he's wearing, raising goose bumps on his skin. Well, too bad, he thinks, gritting his teeth against the chill. He'll be damned if he's going back home now. He can't make up his mind who he's angrier at; his father, for being so indifferent, or himself for even caring. Dad and Dean are probably out hunting together right now, creating memories and insides jokes that Sam will never be a part of. Doesn't want to be a part of, Sam reminds himself, but his eyes sting all the same.

This is all some stupid game, so I'll go running back to daddy. Sam scowls into the breeze. He's not a little kid anymore; even if he did miss his dad's usual questions at breakfast this morning, or John's hand on the back of his neck as he sat doing homework. So I only exist if I follow his rules? The backpack is slipping and Sam hitches it up again, his jaw jutting in a way that the other two Winchesters would recognize means trouble. Two can play this game, and for once Sam doesn't intend to lose.

******************************

Dean ends up at the neighborhood park, much to his relief. Seems Sam's as big a geek as ever. Kid's got a free pass, and he still can't figure out how to have a good time. Sam could be out on the town, playing pool, hitting on girls. But no, Dean's newly emancipated little brother is sitting at the playground, for Christ's sake. And if that ain't ironic, Dean doesn't know what is.

Sam shivers on the swing, squinting at a copy of The Old Man and The Sea. Out here in the middle of winter, and not even enough sense to put on a coat. Dean leans back against a tree, frowning at the sight. Sam's shoulders are slumped, his toes dragging the sand. He looks miserable, and Dean sighs. Fine line between being a genius and an idiot, he guesses, and Sam's been straddling it a lot lately. Kid always has preferred reason to orders. And Dean gets it, he does. But scaring the hell out of John Winchester's never been a smart idea, and Sam knows it. Dad can be a stubborn son of a bitch; especially when it comes to their safety.

Dean shakes his head, shoves his hands into his jacket pockets. This is so not going to end well.

**********************

John's sitting in a dark kitchen, nursing a beer when Dean finally sneaks into the house. Sam's come in just a few minutes before, having deliberately missed curfew, and dragged himself off to bed without a word. The kid probably thinks he and Dean are out in the garage cleaning their weapons, cooling down after a job.

"Where was he?" John tries not to sound impatient. He's been sitting here since finishing the cockatrice off about two hours before, and the alcohol isn't killing the pain like it used to.

"No," Dean says, wary of John's displeasure but meaning it all the same. He walks over and leans against the counter. "I'll watch out for him, but I'm not running recon here."

John forces himself to shrug. "Fair enough," he agrees, biting back the need to know if his youngest's been in danger; damns his quick temper. Giving Sam a choice between punishment and freedom has to be John's greatest crime of stupidity since disco. Mary would have his hide for this one, no doubt about it. Then again, if Mary were here, he never would have issued such a dumbass ultimatum in the first place. Now his only hope is that the kid's conscience will kick in, that he'll come running back. Fat chance, John thinks, and suddenly his leg is throbbing like a son of a bitch. Dean's eyes narrow on him.

"What's wrong?" The dim light can hide a lot of things, but he knows his father too well.

"It's nothing, Dean; go to bed."

"Nothing doesn't make you look like crap. Sir," Dean adds for good measure, shoving off the counter and moving closer. His father's pale and perspiration beads his upper lip; hopefully from pain and not from infection.

John closes his eyes, crooks a smile at the blunt observation. "That bad, huh?"

Dean allows himself a smirk. "Sorry to disappoint you. What happened?"

"Took a piece of fencing to the leg. At least it's not my face; the ladies love my face," John drawls, trying for cocky but just sounding tired.

"Dude; when you say it? It's just wrong." Dean frowns, eyes falling to the dark stain on his father's pants. "You get stitches?"

"Singer put 'em in, and gave me hell while he was at it," John owns up. The salvage man turned hunter's never been too keen on solo jobs. "Damn fool notion," the man's fond of muttering. "Now go get some sleep; that's an order, son."

The kid gives him a last once over, and appearing satisfied, heads off to his room. John takes another pull off the beer, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. Maybe he'll take a hydrocodone before going to bed. He takes his time finishing the longneck, waits for the house to grow quiet before climbing stiffly to his feet. The leg hurts, no doubt about it, but the ex-Marine is used to moving through pain. He crosses the shadowed kitchen, tosses the empty bottle into the trash before moving stiffly down the hall toward the boys' room. As usual, he does a quick bed check.

Dean's bed is by the door, always between Sammy and potential danger. The twenty-one year-old is stretched out on his stomach, one arm folded beneath his pillow, where John knows his fingers curl around his knife. "He's like an angel, John." John huffs and makes his way closer, carefully pulling the covers closer around the boy's widening shoulders. Mary's little angel isn't so little now, or so angelic. But he's a good kid, listens to him. Unlike Sam…

John's eyes drift over to the younger boy, the still-growing limbs sprawled loosely over the mattress. He remembers when Sam was small enough to lay that way on him, sprawled over his chest, one chubby fist in his mouth as he drooled himself a wet spot on John's last clean shirt. The kid mumbles in his sleep, and the hunter sighs as he notices the blankets kicked around the Sam's feet. John briefly wrestles with the impulse, then goes over to untangle the boy. He deftly slides the covers free from the coltish legs and draws them up, tucks them around Sam's chest.

The hunter's gaze lingers, studies. He's running out of time here. Boy's bright, and strong; John's seen to that But he's still got some learning to do, and John will see to that, too. In the morning, then. He glances between his children, feeling that rare rush of gratitude at having them near and safe. "Sweet dreams, boys," he murmurs wearily.

******************************

Being 'done' with his youngest isn't quite as easy as John thought it might be. He finds himself drawing back touches, swallowing words; wanting to get a comb through the kid's hair, for Christ's sake. He pours cereal for the boy in the morning, and ends up quickly dumping it back in the box, ignoring the knowing looks Dean shoots his way. He's the father here, damn it, and this is going to work.

It better work, John thinks, staring into his coffee as Sam snatches another piece of bacon off his brother's plate. "Dean, we got a hunt this weekend. Be ready to go when I get home from work."

"What about Sam?" Dean asks, glancing in his brother's direction. John's youngest looks startled; rightfully so. He's only left the boy on his own a handful of times, even though Sam complains bitterly that Dean stayed on his own much younger.

"What about him?" John asks, careful to not give the boy more than a cursory look. "Sam can look after himself. Right, Sam?"

"Right," Sam says, but there's a flash of surprised hurt in the hazel eyes that makes John hate himself a little. It's for the boy's own good. Kid's too smart, thinks he knows everything; has no idea how vulnerable he is. "I'm not some kid who needs you holding my hand or telling me what to do." No, the sooner Sam surrenders this bid for independence, the better. The kid will apologize, John will kick his ass, and they can put this thing behind them.

Or not, John thinks, forcing himself to appear indifferent as Sam's chair shoves back, and the teen makes for the door. Sam glances back over his shoulder, eyes narrowed, and John would have to be deaf to miss the way the slamming door shakes the house. He turns back to Dean, who's staring at him.

"What?"

"Nothing," Dean finally mumbles, picking up his toast and beginning to eat again. He knows his father is pissed about this standoff with Sam, but leaving Sam behind while they're off on a hunt isn't like the man. So Dean shouldn't be surprised that afternoon when his father pulls the Sierra off the highway and into the Hale's Motor Inn parking lot.

"Get out," John tells him.

"What?"

John presses a key into the kid's hand. "You're staying behind. Room thirty-one. There's a white Civic in the parking lot with the keys inside."

"This is a joke, right?"

"Do I look like I'm joking?" Dean gives him a doubtful look, obviously considering the possibility. John rubs tiredly at the back on his neck. "Just keep an eye on your brother, make sure he doesn't do anything stupid."

"Stupider than this? Okay," he grumbles, as John raises his brows. "But you owe me a hunt."

The remark earns a small but genuine smile from his father. "There'll be plenty of those, champ," he says, wrapping a hand around the boy's neck and drawing their foreheads together. When did the kid get so big, anyway? The dependability of his eldest fills him with pride. "Thanks," he says quietly, surprised by the rough emotion in his voice. Apparently Dean is, too, because he looks uneasy.

"Sure, Dad." He frowns. "Are you sure you don't want to just go back and beat his ass?"

"Nope," John admits easily. He winks, amused when he gets the expected eye roll. "I'll be back on Sunday; Monday at the latest. Be good."

******************************************

This has got to stop. Dean blows on his hands from his usual observation point behind the trees, wondering idly when Sam is going to catch pneumonia sitting out on these damn swings. Dad's weekend away only made Sam dig his heels in harder. Sullen and pissy, the younger boy's taken to going out in the evenings, leaving after their hushed suppers and returning in the wee hours of the morning. Practically daring Dad to call him on it.

Dean huffs in frustration. Why can't he just swallow his pride, apologize? Hell, Dean's done it lots of times. And Sam has to know he was in the wrong here. He watches as the kid lifts his hand, knuckling his eyes. Shit. Is Sam crying? His little brother doesn't cry much anymore. Too stubborn, determined to prove he's just like Dad and Dean. Only he's not; never has been. Dean makes a point of beating the younger boy home, flopping onto his bed just moments before Sam trails into their room.

"You have fun?" Dean raises a brow, flicks on the small lamp on his nightstand. Up close, the kid looks like hell, tired and drawn.

"Yeah," Sam replies, throwing his brother a suspicious glance as he slides his backpack from his shoulder and onto the chair.

Dean snorts. "I bet. Look, Sam; this thing with Dad and you is getting out of control. You're not happy, - "

Sam straightens, scowls. "I'm happy."

" - Dad's not happy. And I sure as hell ain't happy Just get it over with already. You know you weren't supposed to go out that night. He's still in the garage; just go out there and apologize, and things can go back to the way they were."

"I'm not apologizing," Sam tells him, eyes glinting with unspent tears. "And I'm not letting him spank me, Dean. I'm sixteen years old."

"Could've fooled me," Dean mutters.

Sam ignores that, his fingers catching the hem of his hoodie. He hesitates for a moment, biting his lip. Then, "What's wrong with Dad's leg?"

Dean gives him an exasperated look. "Why don't you ask him?"

You know why. "I'm asking you." At first Sam thought he'd been imagining it. Except his father is slightly stiff in the mornings, and the man's too fit for those kinds of complaints.

"Tore it on the job."

"And he just kept walking on it?"

Dean shrugs. "Said it was fine."

Sam frowns, forgets the hoodie. "Wait a minute. What job?"

"That in-town gig with the kid-eating cockatrice. You know, when he wanted you to stay home and in the house?" Dean reminds the kid pointedly.

"That's why he didn't want me to go out?" Sam watches Dean roll onto his back, a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. "Why didn't he tell me?"

"I don't know; guess he was a little preoccupied with the whole fighting evil thing."

Sam sits down on his bed as Dean switches his light off, apparently done with the conversation, but Sam's too caught up in his own thoughts to be offended. So maybe his father had been looking out for him and not just being an impossible dictator, but how was Sam supposed to know that? If the man didn't insist on keeping us in the dark all the time…

Sam's eyes narrow thoughtfully. He can't go back and apologize now; there has to be a way around this, a way that doesn't involve getting his ass beat. He said he was done with you. The words still sting. Sam finally yanks the sweatshirt over his head. Well, maybe it's time Dad's proven wrong.

***************************************

The first morning Dean finds Sam still laying in bed at ten, he thinks Sam's sick. His little brother swats at the calloused hand on his forehead.

"What the hell, Dean? Go away, m'sleeping," Sam growls, rolling away from Dean's touch and pulling his pillow over his head.

"You sick?" Dean frowns down at Sam's blanketed shape. The kid never misses school. But Sam doesn't feel like he's running a fever. Doesn't sound like it, either.

"I'm taking the day off." Sam's muffled voice filters through the bedding.

Oh, yeah? "To do what?" Dean wants to know.

Sam shrugs against the sheets. "Smoke dope, watch porn, whatever it is the other delinquents are doing these days."

Dean scowls. "You think that's funny?"

"Kinda," Sam admits.

"Yeah, well we'll see how funny it is when Dad finds out you're missing school," Dean says, giving the kid's shoulder a rough shove. But Sam only burrows in deeper.

"He's not going to do anything."

Much to Dean's annoyance, Sam seems to be right. A week passes, and the young hunter's patience is just about at an end. Dean's tired of the tailing, and the tension, and he's about ready to pack his shit and head for Bobby's until Dad and Sam figure this out.

"That's the fourth time the school's called this month, and it's only the eleventh," Dean charges, turning to his father as he hangs up the phone. John keeps reading his paper. "Dad. Did you hear what I said?"

John's fingers tighten on the newsprint. "I heard you, Dean."

"Then when are you gonna do something?" Dean asks, folding his arms and leaning against the counter.

John doesn't like the tone; Dean doesn't question his judgment. Unless it involves Sam. "Sam can afford to miss a few days of school."

"That's not what I'm talking about, and you know it. He's not just skipping classes; little geek actually likes school. He's trying to get your attention."

"I know what he's trying to do." Kid's a master at pushing his buttons. And it's not going to work. "He chose this, Dean; Sam. Now he needs to be the one to admit he made a mistake."

"Great," Dean says, his tone suggesting it's anything but. "So that's what this is now? A pissing contest between you two?"

"Look, Sam's the one who walked out when we could've needed him; could've had his head ripped off by that thing. And for what? A party?" John scoffs.

Dean shakes his head. "Come on, Dad, you know him better than that. Sam doesn't care about that stuff; he only went because he wanted to meet some girl.

"A girl." The tone is impassive, but momentary interest flickers in the older man's eyes. He can't remember Sam mentioning a girl for a couple of years now.

"Yeah," Dean says. "Think he really liked this one, too. But that's no excuse for him to go screwing his life up." And no reason for you to let him.

"I good as gave my word," John says tightly, hearing the unspoken accusation in his son's voice.

"So ungive it."

John slaps the paper down. "I'll be out in the garage if Joshua calls." There's the low screech of the chair against cheap linoleum, and the hunter stalks out of the kitchen.

Dean glares after him for a moment, frustration a low growl in his throat. Then, "Sam!" He barks the word, makes his way into the living room to find Sam lounging leisurely on the couch, one leg dangling to the floor as he watches cartoons on the small television. Dean resists the urge to dump the brat on the floor. "School called again."

"Yeah?" Sam doesn't bother looking up. "Guess they like me there."

"I don't care if they raise you on a golden throne and tell the natives you're a god. Because here? You got responsibilities, and one of them includes going to school."

Sam finally looks at his brother, unsettled by the older boy's displeasure. "Dad doesn't care, why should you?" Sam asks, trying to sound snarky and only managing sullen. It doesn't seem to matter what Sam does lately; his father doesn't notice. "He's washed his hands of me, remember?"

Like I could forget? "Dad does care; he's just too damned stubborn to do anything about it, so start getting your ass to school."

"Dad said - "

"I don't care what Dad said," Dean snaps, gratified when Sam's eyes widen at the blasphemy. "You stop this shit now, or swear to god, Sam, I'm gonna stop it for you."

"Yeah?" Sam snorts. He's a little too big for noogies these days. And like Dean has room to talk. Dean missed more days of school than he attended. Still, his brother's anger doesn't give Sam any of the satisfaction his father's would; even makes him feel a little guilty. After all, none of this is really Dean' fault. "Fine," Sam concedes grudgingly. "I'll go to school." That plan wasn't exactly working anyway. "We good now?"

"Closer," Dean tells him, his mouth curving the slightest bit at the hopeful look the kid throws his way.

"Close enough to give me a ride to the library later?"

"Sure," Dean says, relieved at the more Sam-like request. A night off surveillance. About freakin' time.

****************************************

"'Lo."

Sam hears his brother's cheerful voice on the other end of the phone and glances nervously at the waiting police officer. Wonders if he shouldn't just ask the guy to lock him up, anyway.

"Sam?" Dean frowns at the silence and shifts his cell so it's cradled on his shoulder. "That you?"

"Yeah, it's me."

Dean relaxes, winks at the blonde to his left as he reaches across the bar for his beer. "You ready for me to pick you up?" That went by fast. Lucky for Sam, bars and drinking aren't nearly as fun now that they're legal.

"Yeah, sure. About that…" "So you see, there was this girl, and a sweater…"

"Yeah," Dean says absently, as the sassy vixen crosses her legs and smiles at him.

Sam grimaces. "I'm not really where you dropped me off."

"You want me to pick you up at the side door?"

Sam ducks his head, preparing for incoming fire. "Not exactly."

********************************

It's a tense ride home; the tensest Sam can remember with the exception of the time Dean had to drive two hours to pick him up after he'd ran away. That ride hadn't ended so well, but Sam's a little big for his brother to be putting over his knee these days. Doesn't mean he won't kick your ass, Sam reminds himself, glancing over at Dean's furious profile and replaying their earlier conversation.

"So, what? Staying out all night and ditching school isn't enough for you; now you're lying to me? You told me you were going to the library."

"That's your problem? That I wasn't at the library?"

"Don't get smart with me."

Sam wonders just what's so great about Janie's sweaters, anyway. The soft, low-cut angora that falls slightly open as she picks up her pencils and - Oh, yeah. Still, he probably shouldn't have left the library with her, but he couldn't believe his luck, and so what if her friends were a bunch of drunken idiots? They weren't going to ride with them very far, anyway, just over to the movie theaters and is it his fault they got pulled over?

Sam jerks forward as Dean pulls into the driveway, hitting the brakes abruptly. He darts a look at his brother, who switches off the ignition.

"Get out." Dean has had enough. If his father won't answer this, Dean will. He steps out of the car and slams the door behind him, not bothering to wait for Sam.

Sam sighs, but climbs out of the Impala, following at Dean's heels as his brother strides up the walk and opens the door for them both. Fortunately for the neighbors, Dean waits until they're safely inside to begin his lecture.

"What the hell were you thinking?" Dean struggles to keep his hands at his sides. Because, yeah, Sam can be as pig-headed as Dad, but he's rarely this stupid.

"I didn't mean for it to happen."

Dean snorts, but there's no humor to the sound. "Yeah, right; like I'm supposed to believe that? You think getting back at Dad is worth dying for?"

"What does it matter? It's none of your business, anyway," Sam fires back. He doesn't expect Dean to lunge at him, isn't quick enough to dodge his grasp. Sam finds himself swung flat against the door, pinned with an arm behind his back. A hard slap cracks against the seat of his jeans, and Sam gasps, struggling uselessly. "Ow! Knock it off!"

Dean ignores the shocked complaint and swats a few more times, pleased at Sam's yells and the burn in his palm.

"Let him go, Dean." The terse command cuts through the noise, and Dean reluctantly releases the younger boy and turns to face their father. Sam shoves himself back from the door and rubs his behind, gives Dean a reproachful look. John's hands move to his hips, and he wonders just why he thought tonight was going to be quiet. "What the hell is going on here?"

Dean hitches his chin in John's direction. "Go ahead; tell him."

Sam crosses his arms. "I'm not telling him anything."

"You wanna bet?" Dean asks, taking a step toward his brother again.

"Dean." It's enough to make his oldest stand down; at least for the moment. John glances at the younger boy. "Sam, go to your room."

"I'm not - " he unconsciously takes a step back as both hunters glare at him. "Fine," he finally spits out. "Going there, anyway," Sam mutters under his breath, and disappears down the hallway.

John studies Dean's taut features, raises a brow. "You got a reason for hitting your brother?"

Dean shrugs. "Had to pick him up at the police station."

"Excuse me? Damn it, I thought you were watching him."

"I was," Dean shoots back, before remembering himself. "The little shit lied to me; he was supposed to be spending the night at the library. Instead he decides it'd be more fun to cruise around town with a bunch of drunks."

John speechless. Dean's mistaken; has to be. Sam can be a punk, but he's a smart kid, and he's seen plenty of examples along every highway of why cars and alcohol don't mix. "You sure about this?"

"Yeah… Dad?" Dean asks, frowning as the man runs a tired hand over his head.

"Yeah, I'm thinking." The words are curt, sharpened by the image of Sam's blood shining from mangled metal. "If you don't want to follow orders, you can look out for yourself." John's stomach takes a sickening drop. His son could be broken, dead, and he wouldn't have lifted a finger to stop it. "He's trying to get your attention." Well, Sam's got it. Although John expects the kid will be regretting that in pretty short order.

Dean watches his father's face harden with resolve. "So now you're gonna do something, right?"

John scrapes a hand over his stubbled chin. "Yeah, Dean, I am."

****************************************

"Sam."

Sam stands up when his father enters the room. Once a soldier, always a soldier. He straightens to full height, suddenly wishing he hadn't kicked his shoes off already. It should be satisfying, seeing the man's composure finally crack, but the mixed anger and disappointment on his father's face only causes Sam's throat to tighten.

"Guess I owe you an apology." John takes a seat on the edge of Dean's bed, clasping his hands and finding Sam with a piercing gaze. Kid looks nervous. Good.

"Yeah?" Sam tries for disinterested, even though his palms are starting to sweat. Because really, how long did it take the guy? Doesn't matter, he guesses. He's prepared to be graceful about this.

"I should have put a stop to this a long time ago."

Sam blinks, the cryptic words shaking him from his musings. "What do you mean?"

"I mean you're in for a damn good spanking. Now get over here."

Sam's heart skips an erratic beat. "No; you said - "

"I lied." John pats his thigh meaningfully. "You've got until the count of three, little boy, and then things are gonna get ugly. One."

"B-but, Dad," Sam stutters. This was so not how he planned this, the apology he anticipated. "You can't just - "

"Two."

Oh, fuck. "I didn't mean it, I just wanted you to see - "

"Three." John surges to his feet and crosses the distance between them in three quick strides, his fingers catching the boy's bicep and marching him back to the bed. "Bad decision, Samuel," John tells him, taking a seat on the edge of the mattress and pulling the boy between his legs. To Sam's chagrin, he deftly unbuttons the kid's jeans and tugs them to his knees.

"Dad, please - " Sam says breathlessly, just before he's hauled over his father's lap. He flails for balance, steadied only by John's arm locking around his waist. There's a moment's relief as his pitch toward the carpet halts, and then Sam startles as his father's fingers hitch on the waistband of his briefs. "No!"

John strips the kid's underwear down to join his pants, leaving him with a squirming, vulnerable target. Sam flings back a hand, either in modesty or self-preservation, John doesn't know which. Doesn't care, either. He leans with his elbow and pins the boy's hand to the small of his back, drawing a frustrated whimper from his youngest.

Sam tries to leverage himself against his father's knees, but the ex-marine has him firmly contained, and he winces as John pats his bared backside experimentally. There's a cool rush of air, and then his father's palm delivers a stinging brand of heat to his right cheek. Sam's body bows in protest, the swat driving him onto his fingertips. He grits back a yelp as the second one lands, this time on his left cheek, and then another, and another. It's the same steady barrage of spanks Sam's gotten since he was six and stepped from the car on a hunt. Only it's not supposed to hurt like this. Each swat heightens the flames burning up his behind, and Sam wants nothing more than to crawl out of his own skin.

"Dad, stop!" Sam demands, furious to be kicking in a puddle of his jeans like some kindergartener. The response to his command is several sharp slaps to his thighs, each one drawing a sharp hiss from him. His eyes grow hot with threatening tears. "Okay! I got the message – just let me go!"

"Forget it," John tells him, returning his attention to the kid's rapidly brightening buttocks. "You want my attention? You be man enough to ask; you don't try to manipulate me."

"Okay!" Sam agrees again, growing frantic as John delivers another volley of smacks to his scalded flesh. How long is he going to be able to take this?

"And you don't endanger yourself for any reason; you hear?"

"Yes!" Sam blinks fast, but he feels a tear spill down his cheek anyway. "I won't! M'sorry – owww – I'll never do it again!"

"From now on, when I say stay home, you stay home. And if you do ever leave this house again, you'll be home by ten, and not a second after. Do we understand each other?"

"I got it; I swear!" Sam insists frantically.

John snorts, some of his humor returning. At this point in the spanking, both boys will usually promise anything if it means getting off his knee. But they tend to keep those promises a hell of a lot better when John takes his time being convinced. "I've heard that before."

"But this time I mean it," Sam wails, distressed when his father actually chuckles. He's sixteen and being spanked, for crying out loud, and his father thinks it's funny?

"No, Sam, I don't think it's funny," John replies sternly, and Sam realizes with alarm that he babbled that last part out loud. "I hoped at this age that you and your brother would've outgrown this, but it's become pretty obvious during the last week or so that's gonna be a long time coming."

A sob chokes free at the grim pronouncement, and Sam jerks under the punishing hand. The heat is quickly growing unbearable, and it's harder and harder to catch his breath. "Please! I won't – ow! I won't backtalk, and – owww – I'll follow orders– yeow, Dad, please! I won't hang out with those – ow! Those kids anymore! Dad, I promise!" Sam hollers, and bursts into desperate tears.

John bites back a sigh of relief. "We'll see; you break any of those promises, and we're gonna revisit this." He rains the last round of swats over the sensitive area where buttocks meet thighs, watching his handprints bloom red on skin that's already pink and hot to the touch. Sam wails again in response, going limp over John's knees. The kid doesn't even seem to notice when John stops and shakes out his hand, lays it gently on the boy's back.

"All over, kiddo," he rumbles softly, knowing Sam is too upset to hear the catch in his voice. "Just take it easy." He gives his youngest's back a reassuring rub, then reaches down and repositions Sam's briefs and jeans, grimacing in sympathy at the gasp even soft cotton wrings from the boy. Not giving the kid a chance to regroup his defenses, John turns Sam in his arms and pulls the lean teenager up against his chest.

Sam's entire body relaxes the moment his cheek makes contact with his father's flannel-covered shoulder, and he huffs tearfully. It's unfair how much comfort his father's simple presence offers, especially when he's the reason Sam needs comfort.

Hearing the affronted exhale, John's mouth curves indulgently. "What is it, Sammy?"

Sam sniffles into the man's neck, not particularly caring if he gets John wet. Serves him right. "You lied to me."

"Yeah, I guess I did."

Sam blinks again, amazed at the admission. Then, "That's all you're gonna say? 'I guess I did'? What happened to your Marines Corps values?" the teen demands.

"You didn't need a Marine, you needed a father."

Oh. The response is strangely appeasing, and Sam sighs as his father's arms tighten around him. "Took you long enough," he grumbles, swiping the tears from his face with the back of his hand.

"And didn't you just promise to watch the backtalk?" John asks wryly.

Sam squirms at the reminder, the fire blazing in his backside enough to subdue any lingering resentment. "Sorry, sir."

Uh, huh. At least until next time, John thinks with a small smile. He smoothes a palm over Sam's hair, taking advantage of the rare opportunity to hold the boy. "How come you didn't tell me about the girl?"

Sam's eyelids droop, lulled by the steady stroking of his father's hand. "Would it have made a difference?"

John's lips twist ruefully. "The 'no' would've come a little slower."

"Great." Sam gazes blearily at the red and charcoal threads running through his father's shirt. "Why didn't you tell me about the cockatrice?"

"You'd have stayed home?"

Sam thinks of Janie and her amazing sweater. "Uhh, maybe not," he mumbles, and flushes a bit. Maybe his father has good reason to be frustrated with him. "M'sorry."

"You're not the only guy who's ever done something stupid because of a girl," John tells him. "Your mom led me a hell of a chase."

Sam's forehead crinkles. "I thought you were smooth like Dean."

John grunts. "I thought I was smooth. But I wasn't, and your brother's gonna find he isn't, either. When a woman really matters, no guy is smooth; you can only be honest and hope she takes pity on you. That doesn't mean you're off the hook here," he adds sternly, seeing Sam's wheels start to turn. "You can plan on doing a lot of your homework in the car; I don't want you out of sight."

The kid peers up at John through dark lashes, a hint of mischief in the sleepy eyes. "You were worried about me."

"Dean was worried," John says gruffly.

"Right," Sam scoffs, then owws as John lightly swats what he can reach of Sam's behind.

"You know damn well I was," John growls, the rough kiss pressed to Sam's head making up for the renewed sting in his backside. "And don't think we're done talking about this, either."

Sam groans, but the complaint is quickly interrupted by a yawn. He closes his eyes, his body feeling heavy and drugged against his father's warmth.

"Oh, no you don't," John tells him, amused by how quickly the sixteen year-old can still drop off. "Bedtime, Sammy." He eases the boy to his feet again, Sam's hands groggily finding John's shoulders as his father leans to slide the jeans back down Sam's slim legs. "Step out," John urges quietly, feeling a rush of tenderness at his son's drowsy compliance. He pulls the denim from the kid's feet and tosses it to the side, leaving Sam in his t-shirt and briefs. Standing himself, he steers around the boy and pulls the covers back on the bed, making room for Sam to lie beneath. "C'mon - in you go."

Sam doesn't think anything could possibly look as good as his own bed right now. He crawls gracelessly over the sheet and flops onto his stomach. "Hey, Dad?" he mumbles again, as John pulls the covers up over his throbbing backside and tucks them around his shoulders.

"Yeah, Sammy?" His fingers tangle in the boy's hair, smoothing the damps strands back from the flushed face. The kid is half-asleep already.

"'Missed you."

Aw, Christ. "You're killing me here, kiddo," John murmurs, shaking his head when he receives a quiet snore in response. That's his boy. Always has to have the last word.

***************************************

"Everything okay?" Dean looks over his shoulder from the sink where he's drying the last of the dinner dishes. Which would be funny if John didn't know how tense the kid has to be to actually clean.

John opens the refrigerator and pulls out a beer. "Everything's fine; I'm just glad it's over." For now.

Dean finishes and turns, grabs a dishtowel from the counter as he turns toward his father. "Still sorry about breaking your word?" he asks, drying his hands and watching the older hunter twist the cap off his drink.

John's mouth quirks sadly as he lifts the bottle. "Not like it's the first time," he says, taking a pull from the longneck.

Dean considers; huffs softly. But he thumps John gently with his fist as he heads off toward the shower.

John clutches the bottle cap tightly in his free hand, feels the sharp teeth sink into his calloused palm. No, definitely not the first time. And John knows for sure; it won't be the last.

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