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Collateral Damage

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He has to empty and refill the bucket seven times. The blood just won't wash away. He scrubs and scrubs until his hands ache, until he doesn't know if the redness of his knuckles is from his own skin-raw efforts or from the his son's near-death.

Bobby Singer watches. He's behind John, leaning against the kitchen counter, watching, judging.

His boys are in the next room. One of them is more stitches than skin, probably, wrapped up so he's barely visible under gauze and blankets. The other, mostly unhurt except for the gash from eyebrow to cheek, sits and watches and worries.

"What's it going to take, John?" Bobby asks.

John grits his teeth, pauses the hundredth wipe of cloth over table.

"What are talking about?" he retorts, playing dumb,

Bobby sighs irritably. "What will it take for you to see sense? What will make you stop sending your boys out there to fight monsters? Sam's just a boy, John. Will it take him dying before you realise this isn't the right thing for your kids?"

John slaps the cloth on the table. "Don't talk to me like that Singer," he hisses. He turns to him, numb fists clenching. "You don't have any children, Bobby. You have no right to tell me what I should do because you don't have any idea."

Bobby nods, calm in a way that makes John want to punch him in the teeth.

"You're right, John. I don't have children. I'm not a parent and I can't tell you how to be one. What I do know is that several hours ago I had to cut open a fifteen-year-old while he was still conscious on my goddamn kitchen table because his daddy brought him out to the middle of the woods without actually knowing what he was facing."

John turns away, catches sight of Dean watching them from the living room. John closes the kitchen door and turns back to finish cleaning the table. There's an orange tinge on the blue surface that will likely never come out. He still hasn't gotten around to mopping up the floor.

John keeps one hand on Sam's chest, feels him breathing frantically. He holds him up, Dean taking his legs, and the two of them move as quickly and steadily as they can up Bobby Singer's driveway. Sam has been trying so hard, holding back from crying, but his pain is audible through his gritted teeth. He yelps now and then if they jolt him too hard, moans the whole way.

Bobby's porch light flicks on and he steps out, taking the three of them in.

"What in the hell?"

"Bobby, he's hurt real bad," Dean says, mouth trembling. He's pale white, looks shocked and ghost-like against the deep, red smear on the side of his face.

Singer hurries down to meet them and carefully takes a hold of Sam's middle to keep his body straight. Each step up the porch wrangles a cry from Sam, who's given up on any effort to keep himself quiet.

"Kitchen table," Bobby suggests and they steer themselves in that direction. Under the harsh light, Sam looks half-dead; blue-lipped, white-skinned, not quite there in his eyes. Blood. A lot of it.

"Dad?" Dean says. His voice is quiet, lost. "We should take him to a hospital."

"We can't," John says. There's a claw several inches long sticking out of Sam's middle, a street sign among too many gashed paths. The claw isn't something they can pass off as a regular animal's. If Sam goes to hospital, there'll be investigations, more prying than is necessary.

At this point, Sam wouldn't even make it to the hospital.

Bobby reappears at John's side, hands dressed in blue plastic gloves, a scalpel in hand.

"We need to cut it out."

Bobby gave up on guilting John, not that he had to make much effort because John's already drowning in it, and he left him alone, heading into the study to catch up on work and keep an eye on the boys.

And here John sits, hiding from it all behind a glass of whiskey. He sips and wishes it would burn his throat more than it does.

He's re-filling his glass when the door opens and Dean slips inside. He glances at the blood stains on the table and swallows hard, then he takes a seat opposite.

"Sammy's still sleeping," he says. John notices his eyes wander to the bottle of whiskey, but Dean quickly looks away. "He'll be okay."

It's more a question that a statement. John nods. "He's going to be okay," he says. Until the next time, his mind supplies.

"He, uh - Sammy..." Dean stops, lets out a breath. John hears what he can't say; the horrors they just witness, what they almost lost. It's more than any kid, and Dean's still a kid, should have to handle.

More than anyone should have to handle.

Dean coaxes pills down Sam's throat and Sam almost chokes them back up again. Once they're down, they still won't be enough to help with the pain. Dean sits by Sam's head, leaning in close like he's telling a secret. He brushes his fingers through Sam's hair and tries to tell jokes, Sam tries to laugh at them.

"I'm going to start now, Sam," Bobby says softly, scalpel poised above the boy's abdomen.

Sam's eyes travel downwards and widen at the sight of the claw, the knife in Bobby's hand. He tries to struggle but Dean and John hold him down tightly.

"Please! Please, uncle Bobby," Sam sobs, tears falling freely.

"Just try to breathe, Sam," Bobby says. His face looks agonised. Bobby, like everyone else there, would do anything to take the boy's place.

Dean leans close to Sam, speaks softly, forcing him to look away from what Bobby's doing.

Bobby presses the scalpel into skin and Sam lets out a scream that tears John to pieces.

John ends up pouring the second glass of whiskey down the sink. He gets up and follows Dean into the next room. Bobby's gaze is heavy with judgement and John looks away because he can't bear the weight of it. Sam is still asleep, unconscious, passed out. He's still breathing, too. There's not much colour in his skin and the boy's cheeks are salty and tear-stained.

John takes the empty chair by the couch and puts a hand on Sam's cheek. His other hand rubs the back of Sam's, a needle sticks out of a vein, the tube winding up to the blood bag hanging from the Bobby's lamp.

Sam breathes deeply and his eyes open a fraction. For a moment, John suspects Sam's still not awake as his eyes linger blankly on nothing in particular, then he blinks and looks around tiredly. His eyes stop on John.

"Sammy." John breaks out into a grin, thumb rubbing across his boy's temple.

Sam licks his lips, swallows painfully a few times. When he speaks, his voice is barely loud enough to hear, raw and rasping.

"I don't want to do this anymore, Dad."