Author's Notes: Italics indicate thoughts.

What You Never Know

"Sam! Will you stop with the fidgeting already?" Dean asks for what seems the hundredth time this hour. He glances over at his brother in the passenger seat. "Man. You're starting to make me nervous."

"Sorry." Sam brings his restless shifting to a halt, hating that he's alerted Dean to his discomfort. The air in the Impala feels stale and hot, and both the achiness in his limbs and growing anticipation are making it difficult to sit still. Sam takes a deep breath and tries to satisfy himself with peering out the barely cracked window. The cold air feels good on his face, and he smiles a little to see a retriever in the car behind them doing the same thing.

"Are you warm? I can turn the heater down." Dean offers.

"I'm okay."

"Uh, huh." Dean squints against the sunlight glinting off the snow on either side of the two-lane highway. "This is going to be fine, you know."

"Why wouldn't it be?"

Dean shakes his head, but lets it go. Sam hasn't said much in the two days since Rockford. Back at the hotel, he'd apologized to Dean again for the incident, his urgent sincerity putting to rest any doubts Dean might have had. Dean doesn't mind that Sam shot him – well, he sure as hell does mind, because it hurts like a son of a bitch – but he doesn't blame him. And Dean doesn't mind that Sam read him the Rockford riot act, either. What he does mind is Sam not being able to tell him this shit…

"How much farther is this place?" Sam asks, several miles later.

"About another twenty minutes up the highway, then another fifteen on the back roads," Dean tells him, relieved that Sam is finally offering up some conversation.

"You've been there before?"

"Dad and I once stayed there in between jobs. Belongs to Pastor Jim."

"Think Dad's been there all this time?" Sam can't quite keep the edge out of his voice.

"Didn't say. It was a short conversation."

"Yeah." Let me guess: "Jump!" and "How high?", Sam thinks, grimly rolling up the window. The cold air has made his face hurt, and now his entire body thrums with dull pain. Perfect.

From the corner of his eye, Dean sees Sam slouch down in his seat again, a brooding frown on his cold-flushed face. And that's all, folks. Dean shakes his head again and starts watching for the next road sign. "I just love these little chats we have."


The ranch house is as Dean remembers it, a small two-story structure set far back in the fields, looking just a little worse for wear since the Winchesters' last visit. He can't stop the smile spreading across his face when he spots his father on the porch, as tall and impossibly broad shouldered as the days when Dean considered him his very own action hero. Dean grabs a bag from the backseat and climbs out of the car, taking a moment to glance over at his brother. Sam gets out and shuts the door with a tense face. He has his own bag slung over his shoulder, but he definitely isn't smiling.

Sighing inwardly, Dean shuts his own door and makes his way up the walk and onto the porch, thankful that Sam falls in behind him. As they draw close, he notices his father looks a little older, a little weary, and maybe a little – nervous? Dad doesn't do nervous.

"Dean." John pulls his eldest son into a hug, and Dean returns the fierce embrace, feeling himself relax for the first time in months.

"Hey, Dad. Good to see you."

"You, too, son," John says, smiling at him warmly before stepping back. He then turns to Sam and hesitates, his dark eyes moving intently over his youngest. After a moment he shoves his fists into his pockets. "You look good, Sammy."

"It's Sam now."

John's mouth curves slightly. "Right. Well, come on in. No use standing out in the cold."

The boys follow John into the house and into a small living room. The plaid couch and easy chairs have seen better days, but it's clean and warm, and smells nicer than any of the motels they've stayed at lately. Dean drops his bag with a loud thud. "Home sweet home," he says, grinning at his father.

"Don't get too excited," John tells him, amused by the enthusiasm. "That fire goes out, you'll be cozier in an igloo."

"So. Where have you been?" Sam pins his father with a stare, unwilling to be pacified by a soft bed and warm fire, his bag still slung firmly over his shoulder.

"Sam." Dean flashes his brother a warning look.

"I was going to ask you the same thing."

Sam flushes. "You know where I've been. Did you get our messages?"

John turns to Dean. "I'm sorry I couldn't answer them; I knew you boys would do okay for yourselves."

Dean opens his mouth to reply, but doesn't get the chance as Sam demands, "Okay? Does he look okay to you?"

John frowns. "Dean?"

"I'm fine, Dad."

"I shot him," Sam says, and is rewarded with a small crack in John's composure.

"What?"

"Damn it, Sam - "

"You heard me," Sam tells his father. "We were following one of your crazy leads, and I shot him."

"With rock salt," Dean adds quickly. "And I'm fine."

"Are you?" Sam snaps.

"I just said so twice." The brothers glare at each other.

John looks back and forth between his sons. "I think one of you should explain from the beginning."

"It's nothing, Dad. Sam got a little possessed back at Rockford, but we took care of it."

"We don't have to explain anything," Sam says, glancing at Dean with disgust. "He's the one who's had us playing Where in The World is Carmen Santiago these last six months, and I think we deserve to know why."

John looks at Dean. "Carmen Santiago?"

Dean shrugs helplessly. He's no stranger to friendly fire, and there's no doubt he'll be catching shrapnel in the ass if he doesn't defuse this, and quickly. "Hey. Sam." Sam reluctantly turns from glaring at their father. Dean raises his brows. "Think you could give him a chance to answer?"

Sam feels the flush wash over his entire body. He knows he's being belligerent, but can't seem to help it. He nods and takes a breath, willing what now are blurry edges to sharpen. "So where have you been?"

John looks uncomfortable, but doesn't flinch. "I can't tell you that. Not yet."

Sam scoffs. "You're kidding, right? You're fucking unbelievable..."

"Watch your mouth, young man."

Sam ignores the warning, turning around so that his father and brother won't see the tears stinging his eyes. He stares off towards the kitchen and tries to swallow, nearly sick with disappointment. He vaguely makes out Dean's voice behind him.

"Ah…" Dean scratches at the back of his neck and manages a smile, a little uncomfortable himself. "I don't understand. I thought we were a team."

John puts a reassuring hand on Dean's shoulder. "We are, son. But every team has a leader, and I need you to trust that I'm doing what's right."

"Look, Dad, I do, but you've gotta be able to give us a little more than that?"

"Forget it, Dean," Sam tells him, turning once more to his family, his jaw set in a way the other two are all too familiar with. He tightens his grip on the bag. "He won't tell you anything. I'm going."

"What do you mean, 'you're going'?" Dean asks, stepping closer to his brother. The look Sam gives him has "Duh…" written all over it.

"What I mean is we found Dad. And hey, he looks great!" Sam says, waving an arm in his John's direction. "He certainly doesn't need us to rescue him. So if you want to stay, stay. But I've got work to do."

Dean doesn't wait to see what John might have to say about this; simply grabs Sam by the coat and pulls him aside. "Man, I am not playing Austria in your little World War II reenactment," he hisses under his breath. "You've got to - "

"Switzerland," Sam says weakly, willing his knees to stay locked as things go blurry again.

"What?"

"You mean Switzerland."

Dean closes his eyes briefly and wonders why it is he's never done Sam bodily harm. "Whatever. Doesn't matter," he continues in a low voice. "You're gonna stay here, and work this out, or so help me I'm gonna – Sam?" Dean asks, as Sam sways slightly in his grip. He's now close enough to see the perspiration beading up on Sam's face, and realizes his brother's bright eyes and flushed features have nothing to do with the cold or high-running emotions. "Sam," he repeats sharply, and from out of the corner of his eye sees John move toward them.

Sam wants to tell Dean that he can hear him – people back on the highway can hear him – but instead he mutters just a single word before his world goes blindingly white.

"Perfect."


John Winchester considers himself a competent man; years of training and necessity have left little room for doubt. And yet, gazing at the sleeping form of his youngest child, he feels more uncertain and out of his depth than he has in the entire twenty-two plus years of Sam's life. His eyes slowly shift to Dean, who's been sitting in a chair at Sam's bedside for the last two hours.

"Think he's grown another inch since the last time I saw him," John remarks quietly, although he senses that nothing short of the apocalypse could rouse Sam from his present fevered delirium.

"Yeah. He's getting awfully big to be carried," Dean says. "The next time he decides to faint, he sure as hell better do it upstairs."

John smiles from the chair he's dragged in from the hallway. "He was a little heavy."

"A little?" Dean raises a brow. "The guy eats like a horse. I had to get three more credit cards just so I could feed him."

"He's too skinny," John says, his dark eyes lingering on Sam's flushed face.

"He's been running on all cylinders for a while. Figures he'd crash sooner or later." Dean pauses as Sam stirs, and the incoherent mumbling that's punctuated the younger man's sleep begins all over again. Dean puts a hand to his brother's forehead before the rant can reach its agitated peak. "Easy, bro," he murmurs, and is gratified when Sam settles back down into what Dean hopes is a dreamless sleep. Several minutes pass in silence, both men lost in their thoughts.

Then, "He's a little mad at me."

Dean smiles at the wry comment. "Yeah, he's a little mad at me, too."

"Are you?"

"What?" Dean asks, looking up at his father. "Mad at myself?"

"No. Mad at me."

Dean leans back in his chair. "I don't know. Should I be?"

"Probably." John rubs tiredly at his whiskered face.

"Look; I trust you've got your reasons. But sooner or later, you're gonna have to tell Sam and I what's going on." Or you're going to lose him. And so am I.

"I will, Dean. I promise. But this isn't the time. There are other things to take care of first."

Dean nods, the two hunters once more falling into their natural accord.

"So. These nightmares." John begins.

"Yeah?"

"He have them every night?"

"Almost," Dean says, watching Sam for signs of distress. "Less now than at first."

"About the girl?" John knows about the girl. A girl Sam might have married, if Winchesters had luck in such matters.

"Yeah."

"She was a looker, huh?"

Dean looks back up and grins. "Way out of his league. Legs up to here."

John chuckles. "I still remember him crying when that Sarah up the street kissed him…" They both smile, remembering the little blonde girl with pigtails who'd wanted to marry Sam. "Think he'll be okay?"

Dean's lips twist grimly, and the light-hearted moment passes. "Were you?"

John won't answer that. He's not even sure he can. He looks at Dean speculatively. "Your chest still hurting?" John had inspected the wounds earlier, and had to admit Sam had done a damn good job patching Dean up.

"Only when I breathe."

"The first aid kit's on the dresser in my room," John says. "There's some Vicodin in there."

Dean shakes his head. "It'll put me to sleep."

"Which is where you should be," John tells him, standing up and stretching. "I can sit with Sam for a while."

"I don't think - "

"Dean. We can manage. I used to be pretty good at this stuff, you know."

The tone is deceptively casual, but Dean senses that his father wants this. Needs it, even. And maybe Sam does, too. "Okay… Thanks, Dad."

"On the dresser," John reminds him. He waits for Dean to head off down the hallways, then slowly sinks into his vacated seat. He reaches out and brushes the sweaty strands of hair from Sam's face, puts his hand to his forehead. The fever is still high, but John expects it will break in the next several hours. Until then, he sits and allows himself to savor the sensation of being close to his youngest, of being able to touch him. For the last four years he's visited Sam whenever he can. But Sam is always at a distance, always out of reach. Four years too many. For him, and for Dean. And especially for Sam. Yes, John Winchester considers himself a competent man.

He never makes the same mistake twice.


"Morning, sunshine."

"Dean… What happened?" Sam croaks from his pillow. His throat feels like dry cotton, and it takes all his concentration to keep the room from spinning.

"You fainted," Dean informs him cheerfully.

Sam frowns. "Why?"

"Flu, from what we can tell – Uh, uh," Dean says, quickly putting a hand to Sam's chest before the younger man can rise. "You were running a temp of a hundred-five last night. You need to rest."

"I need to piss," Sam tells him, slapping the hand away.

"Fine. I'll help you." Sam gives him a look, and Dean realizes how that must have sounded. "To get to the bathroom, dude. After that, you're on your own."

"I've been making it to the bathroom on my own for years, Dean. I think I can make it one more time," Sam tells him, hoping his brother won't argue the point. Just sitting up he can feel the sweat break out all over his body.

Dean shakes his head. "It's me or I can call Dad, your pick."

"Dad doesn't answer calls," Sam says peevishly.

"Sam."

"Sorry." The stern expression on his brother's face leads Sam to believe that a mutiny isn't going to be welcome, if not out and out impossible.

"No problem. So what's it gonna be?"

"You," Sam grouses. As if you didn't know.

Dean grins, his good humor quickly restored. "Peachy. Let's do this."

In the next few moments, Sam has reason to be grateful for Dean's assistance, although he sure as hell isn't going to admit it. He doesn't need to, anyway. There's no way Dean will miss how unsteady he is; his legs are shaky and if not for Dean's arm around his waist, he's certain he'd already be eating floorboard.

Dean pauses as the two of them reach the adjoining bathroom's door, wanting to give Sam a moment to rest. "You might want to take a shower, too. You smell like Wendigo."

Sam scowls. "You suck. You do know that, right?"

"Come on, Sammy, admit it: I'm the best brother you've ever had."

"You're the only brother I've ever had," Sam reminds him, but pointing it out does little to dampen Dean's mood. Sam can hear him humming Sad But True the entire time he's showering. It's only when he's in clean pants and arguing about going back to bed that Dean loses some of his patience.

"Man, I'm telling you I feel fine." Sam feels like he's been hit by a Mack truck, but that's beside the point.

Dean snorts. "You wouldn't get as far as the door – don't even try it," Dean warns, tightening his arm around Sam's waist when his brother would have stepped away. "You feel better now, but in another hour or so your fever's going to start climbing again, and I'm not going to be hauling your sorry ass back up here from wherever it drops."

"Then don't."

Dean gives him a narrow-eyed look but doesn't say anything, and Sam finds himself escorted back to the bed and practically shoved under the covers.

"So what do you want?" Dean asks, walking over to a small table in the corner where a paper bag is sitting. "Orange juice, apple juice, or 7-Up?"

"Does it matter?"

Dean reaches into the bag and grabs the orange juice. He pops the cap off the plastic bottle and delivers it to Sam. "Drink up." He ignores Sam's glare and sits down next to the bed, flipping through a magazine he grabs from the nightstand.

"Damn it, Dean – I can't just lie here."

"So sleep."

And much to Sam's annoyance, just minutes later, he does.


As Dean predicted, Sam's fever returns. Sam spends the afternoon drifting in and out of consciousness, alternating between sweats and violent chills. His father is there at some point, his hands gentle and soothing, but surely Sam is dreaming, because the words his father whispers are softer than any Sam has heard him utter.

"Dean?"

"I've got some Tylenol for you."

Sam raises up on his elbows, wincing as his headache protests the movement. Dean frowns and first hands him the pills, then the 7-Up he's holding to wash them down. "Headache's a bitch, huh?"

Sam takes a gulp of the 7-Up to help the pills go down, then reaches over and sets the can on the nightstand. "Yeah." Sam gives his brother a small smile of thanks. "Is Dad here?"

The frown on Dean's face deepens. He wonders if Sam is sicker than they suspect. "He's downstairs… Do you want me to get him?"

"No," Sam says quickly, and Dean relaxes at the more typical response. "I thought I heard him, that's all."

"You probably did," Dean tells him, walking into the bathroom and fetching a washcloth. "He was up here earlier," he adds a little louder, as he wets the cloth and wrings it out. "You must have been asleep."

"Oh." Sam closes his eyes for a moment, and when he opens them again, Dean is holding out the washcloth. "Thanks." Sam flops back to his pillow and slaps the washcloth over his forehead and eyes. The coolness dulls some of the pain behind his eyes. "Think this is the worst of it?"

Sam sounds so defeated that Dean can't help feeling sorry for him. Even if he can be an ungrateful little shit. "Wait for tomorrow, Sam. Tomorrow'll tell.


The first thing Sam notices is the smell of warm cookies. He pockets his keys and calls out to Jess, winding slowly through the dark apartment. He smiles as he spies the plate of cookies with the "I love you" note, and once again marvels at his good fortune. Popping a cookie into his mouth, he heads toward the bedroom, the sounds of the running shower drifting from the bathroom. Sam throws himself down onto the bed and closes his eyes, inhaling the sweet scent of the lotion Jess uses that lingers in the bedding.

"Why Sam?"

Sam's world explodes in fire.

Sam wakes up gasping. He looks around the room, but for once Dean isn't here to witness his torment. He sits up in bed and tries to steady his ragged breathing, suddenly feeling almost claustrophobic in the small room. He can't keep doing this, can't sit still any longer. That thing is still out there, and Jess is waiting for him to end it.

Ignoring the small hammer Sam's sure is pounding at his skull, he swings his legs to the floor and stands. Not bad. Winchesters wobble but they don't fall down. Sam glances toward the window and guesses it's early afternoon; he can still make it out of state today. He moves as quietly and quickly as his weakened body will allow, making brief use of the bathroom before changing into some clean clothes from his bag. It takes him longer than it should, but he manages. And that's enough.

Sam picks up the bag and lets it slide over his shoulder. He stands still for a moment, listening for sounds of life downstairs. He doesn't hear anything, and wonders if maybe he's gotten lucky. Maybe the elder Winchesters have gone into town? It's unlikely, but worth hoping for. Sam sighs and heads downstairs.

Any aspirations Sam has for an uneventful departure vanish as soon as he steps into the house's entryway. Newspapers are strewn all over the coffee table as Dean and his father look for work. Both men rise when they see him, and neither one looks happy. Sam doesn't have to be psychic to predict the eruption.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Dean swears under his breath and moves closer to his brother, just in case he decides to fall on his ass. Or in case I decide to knock him on it.

Sam holds out a hand in what he hopes is a placating gesture. "Look, I'm sorry, man. But it's time for me to go. I've wasted too much time here already," he adds, casting John a withering look.

Dean isn't placated. If reason doesn't work, try, try again. "So that's it, huh? See you in another couple of years?"

Sam flinches. "Come on, Dean. You know it's not like that." Then, "I have a responsibility."

"Now where have I heard that before?" Dean cuts off Sam's angry reply. "No. I'm not taking you anywhere."

"So I'll hitch."

"And how are you going to get to the highway, college boy?"

"I'll walk," Sam tells him, although it dawns on him that maybe this isn't his best idea. It doesn't matter, though; he's come this far – he's not turning back.

"In the snow? That's freakin' brilliant."

"Why are we even talking about this?" Sam asks heatedly. "You can answer my calls or not, it's up to you, but either way, I'm going."

"No." John's baritone echoes in the small space.

Sam turns to his father, gives a short huff of incredulity. "No? I'm not Dean, Dad. The days of you giving me orders are at an end." Hurt flashes on Dean's face, and Sam tries to ignore the sudden pang of guilt. The hammer in his head is pounding away again, but he steadies the bag on his shoulder anyway.

"Samuel." John's voice brooks no resistance. "You're in no shape to travel. Drop that bag and get upstairs. NOW."

Sam ignores him. "I'm sorry," he says to Dean, opening the door to leave. He forgets how fast his father can move. Or maybe Sam really isn't in any condition to travel, because it seems like only an instant later John catches him from behind, pinning his arms to his side before kicking the door shut.

"Damn it!" Sam twists in his father's grasp. "Let me go!"

"Dean. Go into town and see if you can't find us some more firewood. Your brother and I need to talk."

"The hell we do."

"Dad - " Dean frowns as Sam pants and struggles against the older man.

"Now, Dean." John lowers his voice, still holding on to six foot three of rebellious son. "We'll be fine." For a moment he thinks his eldest is going to object, but then Dean nods and leaves the room.

"Fuck! Just let me go!"

"I warned you about that mouth," John says, wresting Sam over to the worn sofa. He sits down and hauls Sam over his knee. Sam struggles even harder, recognizing the position, but it helps him about as much now as it did when he was thirteen. A moment later John has him restrained, his cheek pressed flat against the sofa cushion.

"Settle down," John tells him, delivering a firm swat to the seat of his jeans.

Sam jumps at the sting, trying to ignore the tears of fury and frustration threatening to spill. This couldn't be happening. He has no right. "Let me up," he grates.

John swats him twice more. "Are you ready to be reasonable?"

"No," Sam shoots back, unwilling to let John think he's won so easily.

John sighs. "Wrong answer, Sammy." And then he spanks him in earnest.


Sam can't believe how much this hurts. His struggles last all of a few minutes before he's exhausted and gives up, lying limply over John's lap. He's done; it's over. And as painful as the growing ache in his backside is, the suspicion that Dean and his father might have been right is even worse. The thought chokes a little sob from him.

John hears the soft, hitching sound and gentles his swats a little, regret thick in his throat. Sam is still sick, and grieving, and not entirely responsible for his bad temper. After another minute or so of spanking, John stops altogether. "Are you ready to listen now?" he asks gruffly.

Sam nods tearfully, and John gives the hand he's been holding behind Sam's back a reassuring squeeze.

"Good. Then here's what's going to happen. When we're finished here, you're going back upstairs, getting into bed, and you're going to rest. If Dean or I ask you to do something, you're going to do it. And you're going to lose the attitude. I might deserve it, but your brother doesn't. Are we clear?"

"Yes, sir," Sam whispers hoarsely, hoping John doesn't hear the quaver in his voice.

"Okay, then." John releases Sam's hand and uncrosses his legs. Sam lifts himself unsteadily. His legs feel like rubber beneath him and he thinks he might fall until he feels his father's strong hands reach for him. John helps him up and into a sitting position next to him on the sofa. Sam shifts immediately to take his weight off the injured area, not able to look at his father as he wipes at his eyes with the back of his hand.

"You," Sam says, and catches his breath. "You should have let me go."

"Can't do it, Sammy." Not then, not now.

"I don't need you." The words are as bitter and salty as Sam's tears.

"You're right," John says, and what's left of his heart breaks just a little. "You don't. But you got me." He pulls Sam into his shoulder, unsurprised when his youngest stiffens. Sam practically vibrates with tension, and John knows this may be his last chance. "You've got me," he repeats softly, urgently, willing Sam to believe it. To believe in him. He presses a warm kiss to the side of Sam's head and waits. Hopes. And floods with relief when Sam relaxes against him.

His father's shoulder isn't exactly comfortable - it's hard and the sweater he's wearing is scratchy – but Sam goes ahead and dampens it anyway. He breathes in his father's scent, the one he remembers from childhood as a strangely calming blend of wood smoke, oil, and anise. Realizes he's actually forgotten it. Maybe it's been easier that way. Sam eventually draws in a shuddering breath, and slowly eases from John's embrace.

"You didn't come." Sam hates how small his voice sounds.

John reaches over and thumbs away a stray tear. "I did what I thought best."

"And what was that?" Sam wants to know.

"Kept you busy." Sam shoots him a surprised look. "Grief can kill a man without a purpose." John glances down at his wedding ring. It feels warm on his finger, even now.

"I'm going to find Mom and Jessica's killer, Dad."

"No; we're going to. We do this together; all of us." John chooses his next words carefully. "I know you need answers, Sam. And I know we need to – talk more. But I can't change overnight. It's going to be a long road." He pauses. "Think you can live with that?"

Sam lets out a deep breath. "I think I can try."

They sit in silence for a while, the tentative truce still hanging in the air. Just when Sam decides the conversation is over and is about to head upstairs, John speaks again.

"I was afraid."

"What?"

"That night, when you said you'd gotten your scholarship."

Sam blinks. "Afraid of what?"

"Failing. Of not being able to keep you safe."

Sam doesn't know what to say. "That's not your job anymore, Dad."

"I'm your father, Sam. It'll always be my job."

"So why tell me not to come home?"

John sighs, rubs at the back of his neck. "You were hell-bent on going your own way… I thought if I didn't know what you were doing, what risks you were taking - "

"What you never know won't hurt you?"

"Something like that." John pushes a wave of dark hair from Sam's eyes, once more grateful to actually look at his son.

Sam blushes. "Yeah, I know. It's too long, right? It's not usually this long, but haircuts haven't exactly been a priority lately - "

"It's fine, Sam," John tells him, and smiles. "It's just fine." And for the first time in a long time, Sam believes it.
        

"Oh, man, that smells good. What are you making?" Dean leans over John's shoulder to get a better look at what's on the stove. Home cooking isn't a luxury they often indulge in, and Dean's stomach rumbles in anticipation.

"Spaghetti," John says. "You want to taste?" He stops stirring and holds the spoon out to Dean, who cautiously licks the tip.

"Mmmmm." The sauce is thick and sweet with wine. "It's been forever since we had that. You usually only make it when Sam - … Oh." Dean doesn't finish the thought, his brows raising slightly in surprise.

"What?" John asks.

Dean tries to think of something to say, but nothing comes to mind. He shrugs. "Nothing. So," he says, leaning back against the kitchen counter. "Any trouble with Sam?"

"Any more than usual?" John asks dryly. "He's fine; I think he finally shook the fever. I sent him upstairs to rest so I could make him something to eat." He glances at Dean, a spark of humor lighting his eyes. "Looks like you'll be needing to break out those credit cards again."

"Couldn't we just have gotten a dog?" John chuckles, as Dean meant him to. "Whatever. I'm gonna go keep him company for a while," he says, shoving off the counter and heading for the stairs.

"Dean." John's voice stops him before he even leaves the kitchen.

"Yeah, Dad?"

John looks over his shoulder at his eldest son. "Sam needs to rest. I don't want any roughhousing."

"Roughhousing?" Dean snorts. "What am I, twelve?" He turns to head for the stairs again.

"Dean!"

Uh, oh.
Dean turns back around. John is facing him now, his brows drawn sternly. "I mean it," John says, pointing the spoon at him for emphasis.

Dean holds up his hands. "Got it," he promises.

"Okay." John says, satisfied they're in agreement. "Oh. And Dean?"

"Yeah?" Dean asks cautiously.

"These last few months…" John clears his throat. "You did good, son. Real good."

"Ah, well. Thanks, Dad." Dean smiles and shoves his hands into his back pockets, not sure what to do with the unexpected praise. A moment passes. "This is awkward."

"Yeah." Then, "Get outta here."


Dean finds his little brother exactly where he expects. Sam's sprawled out on his stomach on top of the bed, his head cradled by his arm as he sleeps. Dean moves closer, smiling slightly as he notes a small puddle of drool, and takes a careful seat on the side of the bed.

Sam's eyes flutter and open sleepily. "Hey."

"Hey yourself." Dean gives Sam a moment to wake up.

"Where's Dad?"

"Making spaghetti."

Sam inches up on his side. "Really? That used to be my favorite."

"No kidding." Dean resists the urge to roll his eyes. If Sam ever catches on to the big guy, Dean will be eating spaghetti every night of the week. "You hungry?"

"Starved," Sam admits. "Dean." Sam waits for his brother to look at him. "I know I've said it a lot lately, but I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"The things I said. Being an idiot."

"Yeah, well. Forget it. You can make it up to me the next time I'm sick."

"You don't get sick.

"I know – ain't life grand?"

Sam thinks about shoving him off the bed. Then, "I would have come back."

Dean smirks. "You mean turned around in the driveway?"

"I was six," Sam says indignantly. "I wasn't supposed to leave the yard."

"Uh, huh." Dean's eyes move appraisingly over Sam's face. "You okay?"

Sam knows he's not asking about the fever. "I'm fine. Well, parts of me, anyway," Sam grumbles.

"Welcome home, Sammy."

"It's Sam, you jerk."

"Sam," Dean amends, standing and reaching out to slap his brother's behind as he walks past. He chuckles at the following yelp, and then grunts as Sam's weight hits his back. They hit the floorboards hard, each kicking and bucking for leverage. A blow to the nightstand causes the lamp to topple, and both brothers startle at the sound of shattering glass.

"Shit," Dean breathes, and Sam almost laughs out loud at the expression on his face.

"Boys." John's voice booms from below. "Am I going to have to come up there?"

"Yes," calls Sam, before Dean can clap his hand over his mouth. Dean stares at his little brother in disbelief.

"You are so dead."

John Winchester dries his hands on the dishtowel, listening to the voices carrying from upstairs.

"Say uncle."

"Get off of me, you idiot!"

"Make me – oomph!"

"I would if you weren't so fat!"

"Fat? FAT??"

John smiles to himself and heads upstairs to join his family.


Sam is up early, before the sun, before any rooster on a neighboring farm launches a triumphant crow. He stands just a few feet from the porch steps, shifting from foot to foot to keep warm and listening to Dean and his father still debating logistics in the house behind him. This scene is familiar to him, comforting if not comfortable. The four years of his life when he didn't pack up all his gear and move out before the locals were awake seem like a dream, and Sam wonders if there will come a day he won't remember them at all.

"Ready to move out?" Dean appears beside him, looking entirely too chipper for such an obscene hour of the morning.

"It's five a.m., Dean. The only thing I'm ready to do is sleep." Sam wonders if Dean and his father know it's perfectly legal to leave town after the sun comes up.

"Sleep?" Dean scoffs. "C'mon, Sammy; who can sleep when evil's waiting to have a cap popped in its ugly ass?"

Sam raises a hand. "Me. I can. I'll even volunteer."

"No such luck, kiddo," John says from behind them, a bag slung over each shoulder. "We need to be in Cheyenne by dinner time."

"Cheyenne?" Sam asks, turning around. "What's in Cheyenne?"

John throws him a bag. "Won't know until we get there," he says, winking at Dean before walking ahead to the Impala.

"I hate it when he does that," Sam mutters, throwing the bags' straps over his shoulders.

"Shotgun," Dean chirps, heading towards the car.

"No way," Sam shouts at his brother's back.

"I called it, end of story," Dean replies, opening the front passenger door. "What is - Hank Williams? Dad, are you kidding me?"

"House rules, son: Driver picks the music, shotgun shuts his cake-hole."

"Fine," Dean says. "But we're taking shifts."

Sam shakes his head and goes to join them, knowing he should at least mount a token protest at riding in the bumpy back seat, or the horrific choice of music, but's surprised to find he doesn't mind. Nope, he thinks, watching as Dean and his father shove a map back and forth between them. He doesn't mind at all…

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