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John groaned at the sound of his younger son's alarm. Sheets rustled and bedsprings creaked before the annoying tone was silenced.

Maybe he'll go back to sleep.

But the quiet sounds of waking continued, the brush of bare feet on carpeting unmistakable in their intent.

John cracked one eye open. "You can't just take one day off?"

"It's Friday. I've got a final exam."

The older man sighed heavily, the events of the night before pressing him into the worn mattress. "Make it up next week," he suggested.

"Next week is the last one for seniors. No time."

The bathroom door closed, sealing John's fate.

Pain, sweat, and fear heralded his return to consciousness.

The pounding of his heart paralyzed him as Dean struggled to untangle reality from dreamland.

Bobby's guest room.

And with that realization, everything else fell into place.

The awareness that the pain in his upper body was real, not something that would fade with his latest dream, nearly drove the young hunter to bury his head beneath his pillow and chase down oblivion for a little longer.

The brightness and heat in the room were unfamiliar enough to pique his curiosity to a level that transcended physical discomfort. He raised his head, stifling a groan, and squinted at the radio alarm on the nightstand.

Coulda sworn I set that damned thing before I crashed.

No numbers glowed and no sound could be heard from the small device.

What the hell?

Face contorting first with the expectation, then the reality of extreme discomfort, Dean forced himself to roll onto one side.

Sunlight streamed in through the west facing window.

"Well, son of a bitch."

He pushed into a sitting position only to stall, hunched on the edge of the bed, nausea clawing at his throat while the room seemed to spin around him.

When he felt that he was able, Dean rose slowly to his feet, listening carefully to see how his body would protest.

Nothing happened.

Sighing deeply, he left the room to find - and apologize to - the man that Dean was supposed to be nursing back to health.

"Welcome back to the land of the living, Princess."

Dean blushed. "Sorry, Bobby. I thought I set the alarm, but I don't think the clock's working."

"That's 'cause I unplugged it, ya idjit. Siddown, I'll get ya some coffee. Hungry?"

Dean waited until the older man turned away to get the coffee before he pulled out a chair, wincing at even that small contraction of his pectoral muscles, and sat down. "Why'd you unplug it?"

Bobby set a mug in front of Dean, then moved to the refrigerator. "Eggs and bacon? It's mornin' for you."

Dean ran a hand over the flat plane of his abdomen. "Not really feelin' too hungry yet, Bobby." What he felt was nauseous, but he wasn't going to tell his surrogate father that. "You didn't answer my question: why'd you unplug the clock?"

"'Cause you were up all night on a hunt." Bobby had crossed behind Dean to rummage through his pantry. "Figured you needed the sleep. How'd that go, anyway?"

"Wasn't a hunt, just a salt-n-burn. Went fine." He lifted the mug to his lips, closing his eyes to savor the hot liquid.

"Uh-huh." Bobby came back around with a can of tomato and rice soup in his hand, holding it out in front of Dean. "This do ya?"

Dean grunted. "Yeah. That'll work."

"Good." Bobby patted him on the chest, and Dean flinched away with a small cry. "'Went fine,' huh?" He slapped the can down on the table and glared down at the younger man. "Next time ya plan on lyin' to me, ya might not wanna tell the guy you were with to call me and check up on you."

"Oh, shit," Dean groaned, and he would have covered his eyes with his hand if it didn't hurt so damned much to raise his arms. "Travis called you."

"Yeah, he did. Shirt off, now."

"Bobby…" He's not in any shape to force me, but do I really want to push him so hard that he makes some kind of threat? He sighed heavily. 'S not worth it.

He kept his eyes closed as his fingers worked the buttons on his flannel shirt. Glad I don't have a t-shirt on. Bobby'd have to cut it off.

"Don't freak out, okay, Bobby? I cleaned it out already, and it looks worse than it feels."

He opened his eyes as he pulled the shirt open. Bandages covered him from armpits to waist, but the part of his chest above that level was mottled purple and black.

Bobby shook his head. "I said, 'off', Dean. That means bandages, too."

Dean looked away, face heating under the older man's obvious disgust. I don't think I can, but he stood, trying not to wince as he shrugged the soft cotton off his shoulders, letting it slide to the floor.

Bobby stopped him as he raised a hand to try to find the end of the disposable elastic bandage. "I'll get some scissors."

"Thanks. Finding the end of this thing'd be damn near impossible."

The first aid kit was already out on the counter. Bobby held up a pair of bandage scissors, and Dean grunted appreciatively.

"Probably hurt less if I cut down the back," Bobby pointed out, and presently Dean felt cold metal slide along his spine as the constricting material parted.

The gauze was stuck to him where the punctures had bled, and Bobby peeled it away with uncharacteristic gentleness. "Gettin' awful tired of seein' you beat all to hell and back, boy."

Dean hung his head, fear and shame raising goose bumps on his skin. "Sorry." I know I keep fucking up. Please don't give up on me.

"I didn't mean it that way, Son." Bobby's tone was as gentle as the fingers working on Dean's wounds. "I meant I don't like you gettin' hurt. You don't deserve it." He had removed the last of the guaze and leaned in, scrutinizing the area closely. "Travis told me how this happened, and weren't any part of it your fault." He glanced up, seeing that Dean had his eyes closed, face lined with pain. "Whadja clean it with?"

"Holy water and peroxide."

"Well, ya did a good job. Doesn't look infected." He straightened. "You get all the shot out?"

Dean shook his head, face grim. "Some of it. Some was too deep."

Bobby moved to the freezer. "You got any antibiotics in ya?"

Dean opened his eyes. "Yeah. Got a 'script filled last night." He looked down at his chest, at first awed, then repulsed at the totality of the bruising. I look like a monster.

Bobby returned with several ice packs. "Didn't ice it, I imagine."


"Well, siddown and git to it." He dropped his offering onto the table. "Wounds are sealed, so we'll leave the pellets alone for now. If they start to fester, we'll have to dig 'em out, but chances are they'll just be a good excuse to avoid metal detectors."

Dean sank gratefully into his chair, bringing a bag of ice to his chest with a groan. "Thanks, Bobby."

"Don't thank me yet. 'S bad luck." He picked up the soup can. "I'll heat this up; you can have some narcotics as an appetizer."

"Then can I thank you? 'Cause you toss a few hydrocodone my way, and I might even kiss you."

Bobby chuckled. "'Thanks' 'll do just fine, ya knucklehead."

"Stanford University. How may I direct your call?"

Sam glanced around, more out of habit than any rational concern that his father might over hear him. John had never entered one of their schools while classes were in session. Not unless one or the other of the boys had been called into the principal's office for something.

"I just received my acceptance letter, and I'd like to set up a time to come and tour the campus."