"You just couldn't keep your trap shut, could you?"

Sam had expected it. On some level, he had figured that Isabel would ask Dean and Dean would have a fit because he'd blabbed. But it still made him feel like he'd been caught with his hand in the forbidden cookie jar. With a bit of an effort – he was hurt, after all – he pushed himself upward and avoided looking at his obviously pissed off sibling. "It ... slipped out."

"Slipped out?" Dean didn't really sound angry. He just sounded annoyed, which was better than angry. Way better, actually. "Okay, so it's out there and Izzie knows. She asked me about it. I tried to deny it, but she obviously thought you were nuts. I had to run some damage control there if you ever want a snowball's chance in hell of tapping that."

Sam grimaced, in part at what he considered a crude expression and in part because Dean was right. "What's the point? We can't get involved. Besides, she doesn't believe it anyway. And why should she? Have you ever considered how insane this all sounds?" He glanced sideways at Dean, who still stood by the door and looked like he was torn between anger and amusement.

"Yeah, at least once a day. And twice on Sundays. That's not the point, is it? You have been so uptight for so long, I'm surprised you haven't busted a seam yet. You need some fun in your life. Our existence is too piss-poor already. No sense in making it worse." Dean glanced over one shoulder, then pushed the door shut and stepped closer. "What exactly is it you have against fun, Sam? I just don't get that."

"Fun?" Sam rubbed his right arm lightly and cursed the wound to hell. He felt like crap right now. "This isn't about having fun. This is about us being cursed. And don't tell me we're not, because ... I mean, look at our track record, man. When's the last time you had a successful relationship? Ever?"

Dean eyed him for a moment, then settled down on the edge of the bed. "Okay, so we don't come across so well when it comes to that part of 'normal'. But maybe we've got a shot now. No more demons, no one around to mess it all up. I think it's worth a shot. And if all there is out there now is trolls ... well, I'm all in favor of staying here for a bit. Which is why I went out and found us a place to stay. It's a few blocks down, but close enough to walk if you want to. It's not pretty, but it'll do. It's no worse than any of the motel rooms we've stayed in over the years. And it's ours."

A sense of unreality settled on him and weighed him down. He blinked, frowned lightly, then glanced toward the door and couldn't for the life of him think of anything to say to that one. The idea alone that his brother, the perpetual nomad that he was, Dean, who loved motels and greasy diners and not having any ties other than what he carried with him, had gone out and found them an apartment was so far from real that he couldn't really grasp it right now. "What?" was all he could think to say right now.

Dean smirked. "Thought that would throw you for a loop," he said and chuckled. "I like Michelle, okay? I know you like Izzie. We're still not doing too good on the money front, but the guy with the apartment has a ghost-problem. I promised I'd take care of it and in return we've got a place to stay for life. Dude says the spook is scaring off potential tenants and he's not making any dough on account of it."

Hopeful to the last, Sam wondered if this meant that Dean wasn't pissed he had told Isabel about the reason for his wound. That didn't overrule his surprise at Dean's ability of finding the supernatural element out there. The guy was like a damned magnet when it came to spooks. "How the hell did you manage to find a place with a haunting?"

Dean shrugged. "Guess I've got a feel for stuff like that. Fact is, it's happening. I've already taken our stuff there and as soon as you're able to take two steps without falling on your ass, we're going home."

Home? That word sounded so damned strange coming from Dean. The only place Sam had ever heard Dean refer to as home had been Lawrence and that had always been with an undercurrent of dread and foreboding. The idea of a home, any place they could stay at for more than a few days without having to worry about the credit cards being rejected, settled something in Sam he hadn't been aware was unsettled until this very moment. It didn't take the pain away, didn't make him feel better physically, but it did wonders to his peace of mind. "Sounds ... good."

"Thought you'd say that," Dean said and gave him a look he couldn't really interpret. "Doesn't mean you're off the hook about the family code, though."

Like a dog with a bone, he thought and mentally shook his head. "Give me a break, man. I'm in pain here," he tried.

Dean nodded. "I know. That's why I'm not busting your ass over this right now. But don't get too comfortable. We are going to talk about this once you're up to it." That said, he rose and left the room without a backwards glance.

These were the times when Sam could consciously admit that he didn't like his brother. Not because he played the disciplinarian so much as the fact that the guy kept acting like he was dad. With a heartfelt sigh, he closed his eyes and realized he was in a somewhat awkward position. His neck was beginning to ache from the odd angle he was lying in. "Crap," he muttered and struggled to get into a better position.


It was a pain best forgotten. Not a physical pain, but one that burrowed deeply into his chest and tried to dig out his heart. It sat there, clawing at the feeble defenses he had once erected around the organ – imaginary or not – while it waited for the cracks in his armor to deepen and expand enough for it to get through. And it was a slippery customer, that pain. It would fit through even the smallest crack. And once it hit his heart, it was curtains. He knew that, so he fought it. Letting anyone in was dangerous. Sam slipped past the barrier on occasion, but it happened so rarely that he didn't count it as dangerous. And he knew how to repel that attack. With all his knowledge gained from dusty old tomes all over this god-forsaken country, Sam was still gullible enough to buy most of what Dean sold him.

The apartment was silent. It had this hushed kind of silence over it that came from heavy carpets, curtains and furniture. It was a silence he remembered in his bones, a silence that was at the same time cloying like hell and the most wonderful thing he could imagine. It was mom for some reason. She hadn't been particularly quiet – not that he remembered anyway – but she had managed to make the silence seem good and comforting. It brought back memories of sitting under the dining table, playing with whatever toy was his favorite at the time, while mom bustled around the kitchen. And it was safe and quiet and everything around him breathed peace. And he missed that feeling so bad, it was almost painful at times.

Isabel had left, had gone off to do her job or something – and he was alone, waiting for Michelle to come home, waiting for his brother to get better, just waiting. And most of the time he hated the waiting game. In his world, waiting usually meant bad things. Waiting in hospitals for word about brother or father. Waiting to go on a hunt to find something evil that was killing and hurting people. Waiting. But this waiting wasn't so bad. He felt a bit restless, couldn't really sit still, but it wasn't a bad restlessness.

He glanced at the phone, considered calling Grace. In no time at all, that woman had wormed her way through his defenses and she wouldn't leave again. Not that he wanted her to. She was ... well, she wasn't mom, but she was close. She listened and didn't judge. Just like he thought mom would have if she had still been around. Grace was there when he needed to talk. But could he really share with her what was going through his head right now? Would she understand? If he told her, he would have to make damned sure she didn't tell Bobby. No way did he want the older hunter to think he was a sap. That would be the death of him.

With a sigh, he sent a look around the livingroom. It was a nice room, really. Not cluttered, not too feminine. It could be anybodies home. The thought of having to decorate a place like this made him frown. What was it with people and decorations anyway? Plants? Carpets? Knick-knacks? What was the purpose of those? Comfort? Silence? Was there a logical explanation for stuff like that? Most people lived in the past and were constantly worried about the future. What was the big deal? Why couldn't they just live in the present?

A snort escaped him when he sank down on the edge of the couch and stared down at the powder-blue carpet. It was thick and soft, looked new. Not the threadbare stuff he'd experienced throughout his life. The floors at home had been bare. But the wood had been warm and always clean.

Before he knew what he was doing, he had the phone in his hand and had dialed the number. Not sure what he was going to say, he held it up to his ear.


He smirked. She sounded preoccupied. "Did I catch you at a bad time?"

"Dean!" The preoccupation was instantly replaced with full attention and what he liked to think of as happiness. "No, sweety. Just leafing through some stuff that doesn't make a lick of sense to me. How are things at your end?"

"Same old same old," he said and glanced toward the hallway. "Well ... Sam got himself hurt on a hunt, but he'll be fine. Just needs to be careful for a bit." Even now, after having known Grace for a while, he still didn't expect her reaction.

"Oh my god, is he okay? How bad is it? Does he need a hospital?" If those words had come any faster, it would have been garbled.

"No, no, it's okay. We've got help on this one. It's covered," he assured her quickly, hoping she wouldn't dig, knowing she would.

"Help? What kind of help? You took him to the hospital, right? Is it infected? Dammit, boy, tell me!"

He couldn't help the smirk. She went into complete overdrive sometimes. "Chill, Grace, would you? He got stabbed in the shoulder. Yes, it was infected last night, but we're staying with a nurse right now and she's taking good care of him. So don't worry about it, okay? He'll be fine. I just called to let you both know that we're going to be sticking around Minneapolis for a while. Those trolls are almost impossible to root out. I have no clue where they come from, but they keep turning up."

This was answered by a brief patch of silence, but this silence was laden with concern and discomfort. "Okay, fine," Grace finally said and sighed audibly. "Sorry. I didn't mean to go off on a tangent there. I just get worried when you boys get hurt."

He realized right there and then why he'd told her. Because her words made him feel all warm and mushy inside. She brought him as close to that feeling he identified as mom as he had ever been just by being concerned about them and not hiding it. "No need to worry, Grace. We've been doing this for ages after all. It's not the first time Sam's gotten hurt and it most likely won't be the last either. But we always come out alive at the other end."

"You better keep it that way," she warned, but there was that smile in her voice again. "Apart from getting stabbed by a troll, how is Sam?"

"He's fine. Everything's back to normal with him. No funny vision, no odd inclinations to go running after wood wraiths or any such thing. Everything's ah-okay." In part, he needed to reassure himself of this too. What had been going on with Sam had been freakish to say the least and he kept snapping back to dad's words, to the ominous message that he may have to kill his own brother if he couldn't save him. Obviously, dad hadn't had all the details on that one. Someone had obviously neglected to tell both mom and dad about their intended destiny.

"Good to hear. So ... are you going to be staying with that nurse for the duration?" Was that a hint of hope he heard in her voice?

"No, we've found a place to stay that's not a motel for once. Met this guy who owns an apartment building downtown and he can't get anyone to stay there because it's haunted," he said and leaned back on the couch. "It's not pretty, but it's fine. Better than some of the motel rooms we've stayed in over the years."

"An apartment, huh?" He could almost see her waggling her eyebrows. "That must be a new one for you."

"Nah, we've stayed in apartments before. Always rentals, of course. This one ... the guy said if we got rid of the spook, we can stay as long as we want. It's a pretty sweet deal, all things considered." He inspected his fingernails on his left hand and grimaced. "The spook's gone, by the way. I took care of it at once. Wasn't hard to do either."

"That's good to hear. So ... where'd you meet that nurse?"

He almost groaned. Stop digging, already, he thought, but at the same time couldn't help loving her for caring enough to dig. Dad sure as hell hadn't. Their conversations had always been short and to the point. "In the ER," he said truthfully. "I kinda cut my palm the first night we where here. Again, no big deal. It's almost healed," he added and eyed the now decidedly shabby-looking bandage after shifting the phone to his left ear.

"Are you seeing her?"

He closed his eyes and let his bandaged hand drop. "Yes, Grace, I'm seeing her," he said and made sure his tone was sufficiently suffering. "Look, it's no big deal, okay? She's nice, we hit it off, we've been out a few times and ... well, that's really it. Sam got hurt, I asked for her help, she offered. And that's as far as it goes."

She chuckled and he felt himself blush and thanked his lucky stars that nobody was around to see it. "If you say so, sweety," she said, her tone indicating that she knew exactly what was going on here. He wished she'd clue him in, because he still wasn't too sure he was reading the signs right. "Don't worry. I'll stop asking questions now. At least about that," she added.

"Thank you," he muttered and rubbed his right cheek pensively, then grimaced at the sodden smell of the bandages. He needed to change that. "Anyway, just wanted to let you know what's going on and where you can find us for now."

"Always good to hear from you, sweety. Tell Sam I said hi and wish him a speedy recovery. Bobby says hi too," Grace said.

"Okay. Talk to you soon," he said and hung up. For a moment he just sat there with the phone in one hand and stared at it. There was a part of him that would much rather be with Grace and Bobby than out here on his own. But the attraction of this town was growing on a daily basis.


Sam got off the bed with an effort, every move he made labored because of the dull ache in his shoulder. Being bedridden had never been his favorite pastime, but right now he had to admit that he was leaning more toward staying put than moving. But, with this latest revelation of Dean's, he knew it was only a matter of time before his brother wanted to get them settled in that apartment. The best thing he could do was get off his butt and back into the swing of things as fast as possible. An antsy Dean was not something he wanted to deal with right now.

Moving was easier than it had been the night before. He vaguely remembered his feverish quest for food and realized he was still hungry. A quick glance toward the nightstand made him grimace. The sandwich from last night was still sitting there, the top bread bending slightly upward at the edges, the crust darker than the rest of the bread. Whatever was between those slices was probably a direct route to botulism and he really didn't need to add to his misery. Instead, he made his way carefully over to the door and gingerly released his right arm to open the door and step out into the corridor.

"Okay. Talk to you soon," he heard Dean say somewhere up ahead.

He took a careful hold of his right arm just above the elbow and clawed the fingers of his right hand into the left side of his t-shirt. Was Isabel still here? Probably not. Dean had taken over the babysitting-duty now. He made it to the end of the corridor before he started wondering what was wrong with him. Why did he insist on getting up when he wasn't in any obvious shape to be standing?

Exhausted already, he carefully leaned his left shoulder against the wall and briefly closed his eyes.

"What the hell are you doing out of bed?" Dean sounded annoyed. "Again," he added sharply.

"I'm getting bedsores," Sam replied and squinted at his brother. "Back off. I'm fine," he added when Dean reached a helping hand out to him.

"Fine? You're anything but fine. You look like death incarnate, man," Dean claimed. "Guess I was lying my head off when I told Grace you were fine, huh?"

"Bite me," Sam hissed and carefully pushed away from the wall. "I'm fed up with that room. There's no air in there."

"Bull. This place is air-conditioned. What do you want? The Ritz?" Despite Sam's mute insistence that he could handle this on his own, Dean still took a firm hold of his left arm. "Stop being so pigheaded. You're gonna hurt yourself."

"Yeah, like you would ever accept a helping hand when you're hurt," Sam shot back. He didn't know why he was in such a crappy mood. Maybe it was because of the lack of daylight. Maybe it was because of the pain. Hell, it could be anything right now.

"This isn't about me. It's about you, man. What's with you? Are you feverish again?" Before Sam could do anything to stop it, Dean slipped a hand onto his brow and grimaced. "Sweaty, but not feverish," he stated and slipped an arm around Sam's back. "Come on. There's a super-comfy couch waiting for you."

He sank down on the couch with the aide of his brother and once more cursed his injury to hell. It hurt and it made him dizzy and grumpy. Not that being grumpy was anything new if you asked Dean, of course. With a groan borne of both frustration and pain, he let his head drop against the back of the couch. "I'm fed up with trolls," he admitted.

"Yeah, I get that," Dean agreed. "Me too," he added and grimaced. "Michelle is going to ask more questions and I would kinda like to avoid that right now. At least until I know she'll respond like Izzie did. Which I don't think she will." He scrubbed a hand over his lips, the look in his eyes distant. "It would be so much easier if I could just tell her. But ..."

"Why don't you?" Sam wasn't really in the mood to be understanding right now, but something told him to hold off on the grumpiness. It was so damned rare that his brother opened up and he was consciously aware of the inherent danger of snapping at him right now.

The pursing of the lips, the slight frown, the sideways glance. Sam knew those by heart. But usually they meant Dean was annoyed by something. Right now, though, Sam had the impression that his brother was uncertain. "Because ... what if she ..." He stopped, shook his head lightly. "Nah, I did that once and it really blew up in my face."

Sam briefly closed his eyes, tried to will the pain away and be sensitive to his brother's needs right now, but it was hard work. "Just because Cassie responded that way doesn't mean Michelle will," he tried.

"No, but then again she might and I really don't wanna blow this right now," Dean countered and settled down next to Sam.

"So, how long are you going to keep up the charade before we blow town?" Sam glanced at him, too tired to turn his head.

"As long as it takes," Dean said and sighed lightly. "No good comes of telling her the truth. Besides ... we're not gonna be around forever."

For some reason the idea that this might end up being a longer stay than either of them had anticipated struck Sam for a moment. The what-ifs he had learned to steer clear off in later years reared their heads again, making him ache with longing for that taste of normal he'd had with Jess. And, in part, Isabel reminded him of Jess. The sense of strength that permeated everything she did, everything she said. Despite her minute stature, she was still a powerhouse. And she cared. She didn't know him, but she cared. And she hadn't left when he'd told her the truth.

"Hey, Earth to Sam. Are you with me?" Dean snapped his fingers right in front of his nose, causing him to jerk his head back, which in turn put strain on his injured shoulder.

"Ow!" he snapped and grabbed his right arm just below the joint. "What?!"

Dean pulled back a fraction of an inch, his expression bordering on annoyed yet again. "Chill, dude. You zoned out."

"I've told you before, but I'll tell you again just for good measure. I'm in pain!" He couldn't help snapping. It was probably uncalled for, but on many levels it made up for thousands of times when Dean could have been more sensitive about any given situation. Of course, expecting his brother to be sensitive was the same as expecting to see God walking the Earth. With a tired sigh, he let his head drop back again and tightened his grip on his upper right arm. "Sorry," he added quietly.

"No problem," Dean assured him with little conviction. "Guess being stabbed through the shoulder doesn't do much for your social skills, does it?"

"Shut up," he growled and wished he'd stayed in bed. But the idea of going back to that room, of not seeing daylight for the next few days ... he just couldn't face it. "Let's just get to that apartment already. I'm assuming it has daylight?"

"It does," Dean agreed and eyed him critically. "Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure," Sam insisted. He wasn't, but that was beside the point. What was right on the money was that he pretty much felt about Isabel as Dean did about Michelle. Of course, Isabel knew what they did for a living now, but that still didn't mean she'd be okay with it or would be interested in pursuing anything further. Not that he was in any condition to make a move on her right now.

"Fine. But you need to get dressed first, man. No way am I dragging you half-naked through town." Dean rose and disappeared and Sam assumed he had gone in search of clothes.

He dropped his head and squinted down himself. "I'm not half-naked," he grumbled, took a moment to steel himself, then shoved off from the back of the couch and slowly came to his feet. Considering the size of the injury, it irked him that he couldn't get over this faster. The blade hadn't been that big and according to Michelle there was no serious internal injury. Or had he dreamed that one? He couldn't remember and that annoyed him too.

"Hey, sit down, dude. You'll fall over if you don't."

The sound of his brother's voice made him bristle. It was the attitude he couldn't take right now, the fact that Dean believed he was incapable of handling himself. "Would you just give me a damned break? I got stabbed through the shoulder, okay? I didn't get hit over the head." He snapped, he was pissed and his equilibrium was instantly utterly upset when he turned a little too fast to hopefully convey his annoyance to his brother.

Dean dropped what he was holding and grabbed a hold of Sam's left arm, steadying him before he could crash sideways back down on the couch. "Yeah, I know that. And I've never met anyone more stubborn than you," he countered evenly. "Except perhaps for dad. He was more stubborn than you by a mile."

Most of all, Sam wanted to push Dean away, wanted to show him that he could do this on his own, but he knew that he couldn't, knew that if Dean let go, he would fall. So instead of doing what came natural – namely thank Dean for his help – he clamped up and allowed his big brother to help him settle back down on the couch.

"You may not have hit your head, man, but this type of injury will floor anyone. Remember that scratch dad had on his leg that got infected? He was cursing everyone within a one hundred mile radius, raising hell about the stupidity of being laid up with an injury that small, but he still couldn't walk for almost a week and the wound didn't heal properly for a full month. So I think you're excused for being wobbly." Dean picked up the stuff he'd dropped and dumped a pile of clothes next to him.

Sam was stuck between being extremely grumpy and being ashamed of his behavior and that didn't exactly help his mood. "Bite me," he muttered.

"Not likely," Dean countered. "You need help with this?"

To others it might sound like a helping hand, but to Sam, who knew how his brother operated, this was a stick to poke him with. Normally, Dean wouldn't have asked. He would have helped him whether he wanted it or not. The fact that he asked was his way of getting back at Sam for being grumpy. He was going to make him ask for help. So Sam did the only thing he could at this point. "No," he pressed out and avoided looking at Dean.

"Right. I'll leave you to it then. Gotta take a leak," he said and left.

Sam just sat there and wished for some magic recovery that would take the pain away and make him able to move again. But that wasn't going to happen. Not again. And, in part, he knew where the majority of this grumpiness stemmed from. It reminded him too much of his fairly recent handicap, which he had assumed he'd have to live with for the rest of his life back then. He released his right arm and raised his left hand up to stare at it for a moment. Then he flexed the fingers a few times before doing more or less the same with his right hand. He didn't raise that one, but he did flex the fingers and it settled him a little that his hands were fully functional.


Dean had stopped just past the wall of the kitchen and watched his brother with some concern. That Sam was grumpy was a given. He would be grumpy too with an injury like that. But the snapping and the continued conviction that he could get up and move on his own when he so obviously couldn't had Dean worried a little. Had Sam actually hit his head? Was there a hidden injury there that he wasn't aware of?

"Crap," he muttered under his breath. Sam made no move to get dressed and Dean knew he couldn't.

Before he could make a conscious decision to help him, though, something thumped him in the middle of the back. It wasn't hard enough to drive him forward, but it was hard enough to be felt. "What are you standing around for? Shouldn't you help him?"

He was taken aback by the fact that Isabel was back. That she had managed to enter the apartment without attracting his attention made him doubt his own senses. "He was ..." He stopped and gave her a look that would make bigger men than him think twice about taking him on.

Yet here was this petite little woman and she didn't even blink. He would have to get used to the fact that he couldn't intimidate her. "He was what? He needs help and you're just standing around? Honestly!" she huffed. "If I didn't know any better, I'd think this was a childish prank." Again before he could make a conscious decision on how to react, she pushed past him and settled down next to Sam. "What are you doing out of bed?" she asked and slipped a hand onto his brother's brow. Sam frowned lightly, but said nothing. "You're feverish again."

"'m not going back to that room. There's no light in there," Sam grumbled.

Isabel eyed him for a moment, then glanced back at Dean. "Which is why I think we should get out of your hair and into our new place," he said and stepped forward.

"Do you know how to treat a wound like this?" she asked.

He eyed her, issuing a silent challenge. "Do you?" he countered.

Isabel's expression tensed a little. "Michelle does," she offered.

"And Michelle has a brutal schedule. I can only imagine that she'd be happy to have her place to herself again," he shot back.

"You don't know anything," Isabel said, her tone clipped, before she returned her attention to Sam. "Is that what you want?"

Sam muttered something under his breath, which Dean didn't catch. Isabel seemed to, though. She arched an eyebrow. "That's not very nice," she chastised. "But if that's what you want, I think you should do that. But wait until Michelle gets home. She can provide you with whatever you need to take care of this."

The idea of having to confront Michelle, say thanks but no thanks for the help she had so far offered, didn't sit well with him. He was worried about her response. "I think it's best to get out of here now," he disagreed.

Isabel's expression tightened. "So ... what? ... you're just gonna bail on her? At least stay long enough to thank her for her hospitality."

"Isabel's right," Sam agreed. "We should stay until Michelle get's home."

"Which would be right around now."

Dean closed his eyes briefly, then turned back to face Michelle, who had just stepped into the apartment and had obviously heard some of what they had talked about. And all he could think was, 'busted!'. "Hey," he said.

She eyed him for a moment. "Hey yourself. What's going on here?"

"Sam's not doing too good with the lack of daylight, so I thought we'd just get out of your hair and get ourselves settled in the new place," he said, happily grabbing the most prominent of reasons he could think of right now.

If he had expected a reaction, he didn't get it. Not one he could read, anyway. "I see," she said and shifted her attention to Sam and Isabel now that she was standing next to him. "Mind if I take a look at Sam first?"

"I'm still in the room," Sam growled.

"He's getting grumpy from the lack of light. I do not want to put you two through his temper tantrums," Dean said quietly, hoping she would see things his way.

"He's in pain. And, from what I can see here, feverish too. Obviously he'll be grumpy," Michelle countered and covered the distance to the couch. She checked Sam over for a moment. "I don't like this fever," she said. "Izzie, your guestroom has a window. Can he stay there?"

"Sure," Isabel instantly agreed and Dean couldn't help a brief smirk. She was eager alright, but Sam would kill this if he didn't simmer down soon. And knowing his brother's dislike of being stationary while sick ... well, he wouldn't be surprised if Isabel would be happy to see him leave in the end.

"What do you think, Sam? Or would you rather move into that apartment Dean found?" Michelle asked.

'Don't ask him questions like that,' Dean thought, exasperated already.

Sam considered it for a moment. "I think we'd better get out our your way," he finally said and sent a glance up at Dean, who was mildly surprised by his answer.

He couldn't do anything other than agree, of course. "Yeah."

"You're not in the way," Isabel tried and it was becoming more and more obvious to Dean that she was hot and bothered about his brother.

"Still ... I think it would be better. We don't want to be a burden," Sam said sagely. Dean barely prevented himself from rolling his eyes. Damn, that kid laid it on thick sometimes.

"But you're not a burden," Michelle insisted.

"Ladies, please," Dean said, raising both hands and giving Michelle a crooked little smile. "I'm sure you can find better things to do with your time than look after us. We'll be fine. Besides ... we're not that far away. So if you can't stand the distance any more ..."

Michelle's expression tensed a little and he knew he was getting awfully close to the edge from where there was no return. If he broke this now, it would be broken for good and all his hidden hopes would be crushed.

"What I'm trying to say is that we need space. We're not used to this," he said and made a sweeping gesture to encompass the apartment and everything it contained and meant. "Sam can't heal if he doesn't relax. And, let's face it, it's hard to relax with two such beautiful women around."

Michelle was not impressed. Isabel blushed all the way to her hair roots. "That's crap," Michelle stated and folded her arms over her ample chest. "He would heal better in controlled surroundings. Some dump uptown isn't what I would call controlled surroundings."

"Dump?" Dean stared at her. "What are you talking about? Okay, so it's not the Ritz or this place, but we've been laid up in worse places than that and could heal just fine." In part he found it hilarious that he got this worked up about what essentially was a dump. It wasn't much to look at and the furniture that was part of the apartment was so threadbare, it was sticking together with spit and rubber bands. So yes, she was right, it was a dump. But just like he would not allow anyone to say a bad word about his car, he figured he felt the same way about what he considered his apartment.

Sam struggled to get up from the couch and turned to face all of them. "Dean's right. I need peace and quiet. And, most of all, I need air and I need light. There's no air in this place," he said and made a sweeping gesture toward the ceiling. "Recycled air isn't air," he added before either of the girls could make an input on that one.

Michelle eyed him for a moment, then shifted her attention to Isabel, who arched one eyebrow and shrugged lightly. Dean figured he would have been able to decipher that look if he'd bothered to try. "Well, if you think you can handle that wound without it getting infected ... I won't stop you," she finally said and shifted her gaze to him. She seemed a tad disappointed, which struck him as odd.

"We can handle it," he assured her and stepped down next to Sam to lend him a hand. He figured the kid could stay in his sweats for now. "Thanks for your help, Michelle. I appreciate it. But we gotta handle the rest on our own."

She nodded once. "No problem. Just make sure you keep my number in case he does get another infection."

That one took him by surprise. He had half expected her to tell him to not bother calling her again. Instead she told him to. Of course, that could be out of concern for Sam's well-being more than anything, he figured.