Writer's Note 1: I swear I'm obsessed with Trialculosis Sam but this story just knocked on my door today & I had to answer.
Writer's Note 2: This story doesn't conform to canon but it does conform to the episode's original script (which they altered later because the actor cast to play Dean seemed older). Dean is 14 and Sam is 10 in this fic.
Writer's Note 3: This is very Dean-centric but trust me when I say: little Sammy delivers in the end. Happy reading!
Dean could get his meager belongings together within the blink of an eye after Sonny left the room. It took more than that to keep the tears away but he still finished fast. He left the dorm without a second glance and hoped Sonny wouldn't be at the base of the stairs to see him off one last time. He needed to do this like pulling off a band-aid. Quick and clean and he'd never think of it again.
Dean passed by his wrestling certificate on the staircase. He turned his head away, deliberately keeping himself from staring at it. He had to erase this. Erase everything.
Sonny sauntered into the foyer from the small living room, fiddling with the Walkman he'd been letting Dean use to drown out the noise in the house while he did his homework. Steeling himself, Dean swallowed and met the man's eyes. Sonny's eyes crinkled with a kind smile and held the device out to him.
Dean's confusion turned to surprise. He resolved against the offer and gave a crooked smile.
"Nah, Sonny. Keep it," Dean replied, shaking his head and playing things off.
"You seen me ever use this thing?" Sonny asked, eyebrow cocked. Dean gave a small chuckle. "C'mon," he pushed the device towards Dean again, willing him to take it.
Dean looked into Sonny's eyes and winced.
Dean reached out slowly and took it. He held the Walkman carefully in his hands like it was made of glass - turning it around, examining it like he'd never seen it before. He licked his lips and tried to stop his eyes from watering again. He wiped his eyes with his sleeve and gave an otherwise radiant smile... were it not for his obvious struggle to hold it together.
Dean nodded and cleared his throat.
"Thank you," he said, lifting the Walkman up, but it was clear to both of them that he didn't just mean the music player. Sonny smiled, accepting the gratitude.
"Ain't nothin'," Sonny replied easily, clapping him on the back. As he slid his hand away, he kept it on Dean's shoulder, tentative: a tacit offer to hug again if Dean needed it.
They were keeping his father waiting though. Dean had to end this. He couldn't afford the sentiment: his father called out emotions as weakness and the last thing Dean wanted was to give the man any indication that he was hurting - much less that he'd been crying.
He turned around hurriedly, coughing loudly to break the soft meanings in their words and actions, and hefted his pack up at the same time he headed for the door, regretting his rejection of the man he owed so much to even after only two months.
"All right now take it easy," Sonny said, pulling away and lapsing into his casual tone of seeing someone off. Dean grunted his agreement, opened the door and felt Sonny hold it open further behind him as he stepped outside.
"Hey and Dean?"
Dean stopped and turned around.
"You're always welcome here. Always."
Dean quirked a smile, swallowed, and nodded. He couldn't say thank you again. His voice would break. Instead he turned on his heel and walked down the cement path to the quietly rumbling Impala.
As Dean approached, Sammy caught sight of him and he could hear his little brother's pitched voice call out to him in the night, quickly followed by the low, chiding tone of their father telling Sam to calm down.
At some point the kid had put the toy plane away and now he was just watching with this cheesy bright smile plastered across his face as Dean came closer. Dad must've told him he had to stay in the car.
Dean knew that he normally took the passenger seat with Dad but there were so many reasons now - just right now - that he didn't want to take it. Dean was sure Dad would want him to seem relieved, admit that he'd learned his lesson, tell him that he'd had a miserable time and couldn't wait for their next hunt, town, no-name school, funky motel room, or disgusting diner takeout meal. He couldn't - well, he didn't want to - give that to his father.
Maybe down the line... in a few hours after he'd cooled off but...
Dean looked at Sam's wide eyes and excited face to see his big brother again after two months. Time was different for kids. Sammy was just ten. These two months had probably felt like six for him.
Dean forced himself to remain stoic and simply nod with acknowledgement as Sam started to wave wildly at him from the car, whispering, "Dean! Dean! Deeeean!"
Dean made the decision to ignore his father for the moment, walking right past the passenger door and coming up to the one with the open window with Sam practically hanging out of it.
"Lean back, squirt," Dean said, ruffling the kid's hair, his voice low but playful. Sam giggled quietly and scrambled off the door so Dean could open it. He swung it out and Dean heard his father shift up front as he ducked under the hood into the back. John's arm spread across the top of the divider to twist around and see them.
"Dean are you gonna sit with me?!" Sam whispered gleefully, eyes buggering and reaching out to take Dean's proffered rucksack in his lap if it'd mean he'd have Dean's company in the back.
Dean was about to grin and whisper, "yeah." Then he'd tell him to shut up and shove him further across the seat claiming he'd need more space if he was going to sit in the back with such a geek-dork-nerd like him. Dean would settle in back, mess with the kid's hair, give him a few mock punches asking him if he'd missed him and Sam would laugh and say, "No!" in retaliation. John would tell them to knock it off and once they did Dean would hear Sam whisper that he'd lied: he had missed his big brother.
His father brought him up short.
"No, Sam, Dean's riding up front with me."
It was an order.
Sam's face fell. Dean's heart sank. He just wanted to be... Was it too much to ask? He just wanted to be with the reason he'd chosen his family.
That reason was in the backseat, not the front.
Sam knew better than to whine for Dean. Dean knew better than to argue with his father. Neither of them were very happy but Dean quirked a smile, ruffled Sam's hair again, and shut the door to come around to the passenger seat.
Dean climbed in quietly and John gunned the engine. They took off a second later in silence, the Impala's hind wheels picking up dust and gravel behind them.
Their father waited a good ten minutes before speaking. Dean furtively checked the backseat and noticed Sam had lapsed into his own world by then, staring out the window, slowly falling asleep probably.
"So," John dragged out quietly, inflecting smugness and Dean wanted to punch the man for the first time in his life. His father's eyebrows lifted after awhile, completely misinterpreting Dean's silence. "That bad, huh?"
Dean struggled and fought the knee-jerk reaction to roll his eyes.
"D'you learn anything?" John asked challengingly.
"Yes, sir," Dean replied automatically, knowing this tune.
"Actions have consequences. Sometimes punishment is a consequence," Dean repeated verbatim what John had told him over the phone two months ago.
"That's right. You did your time for your mistake. I'm proud of you," John said, his tone final.
That would be it, Dean knew. They'd never mention this again.
"I told Sam you were on a hunt. Got lost. You found your way there at... uh... Stevie's home for-
"Sonny's home for boys."
"Right. You found your way there safe 'n sound. Soon as I heard from you we came to pick you up."
Dean knew this was just another tactic. His father wanted him to feel shame over these two months. By making this a secret John was inferring that Dean would lose his footing on the pedestal Sam placed him on.
"All right?" John said, his voice demanding and harsh. Dean realized he'd been deep in thought, practically seething. Luckily he'd been looking down and it was dark: John hadn't picked up on his thoughts.
"Yes, sir," Dean responded immediately, accidentally sounding much too forceful. John gave Dean a double-take. He turned his eyes back to the road and held the silence captive between them.
"Drop the attitude, Dean," he warned quietly.
Dean dropped his head down and nodded.
"Yes sir," he whispered clearly, this time obsequious. He clasped his hands tightly, stared down into his lap, kept his head bowed as if in deference to his father's judgment.
It was all bullshit. But whatever. Yes, Dean was harboring some serious resentment here but he knew he'd have to let that go soon; couldn't let this fester. His gut told him their tiny family depended on his belief that their father knew best. It'd never been more clear to him than right now how ridiculous that belief was but it didn't matter. Dean had to tow the line. Too much was at stake. His father's life was at stake... and as soon as Sammy started to go out on hunts with them, Sammy's life would be at stake.
And that last one always froze Dean's heart with fear. He'd do anything to make sure that everyone was in sync during hunts when Sammy was involved even if it meant following a man - and ordering Sammy to follow a man - whose priorities were so fucked up as to bring his own twelve year old within a ten mile radius of the shit he hunted. Because Dean couldn't deny that his father's training was the key to surviving these hunts. The war, Dean decided - this vendetta of his father's? - was neither here nor there. He needed his family alive.
Whatever. It didn't matter.
Dean composed himself properly in the front seat, playing the part, letting his father believe that Dean had been taught the lesson he'd wanted him to learn instead of the one he'd actually learned. He could wait, he supposed, to spend time with the real reason he was in this car.
It was around midnight when John got a call. It sounded urgent, his questions and answers short. When he hung up he swore under his breath.
"What?" Dean asked.
John shook his head and bit his lip, obviously arguing with himself.
"Ah... I gotta drop you guys off," John finally admitted.
"What? Why? Is the hunt here?" Dean asked, forcing himself to keep an even tone.
"Nah about forty miles north of us but the thing's going after kids now," John paused, thinking, and Dean knew he'd continue without prompting: "There's a new vic - twelve year old girl found about twenty minutes ago fits this thing's M.O. Autopsy's in a couple of hours. I gotta be there," John finished, his frustration building. After a brief lull, he hit the steering wheel. "Damn it."
A few minutes later he flicked his blinker to get into the exit lane, his movements sharp and severe.
Dean genuinely didn't know whether his father was angry about this new young victim or that he'd have to leave his sons so soon. He wouldn't dare ask.
"How long'll you be gone?" Dean asked, his voice steady even though he felt something in him slipping. He was falling into his old role, giving their father's rulings blanket acceptance.
"Couple of days at most," John replied seriously. He turned onto an exit that'd just come up.
"Want us to research anything while you're there?"
"I'll call you if I do."
"No he went on a hunt after I picked Sam up. Point'll be Caleb. Still got his number memorized?"
"Yes, sir. Two-six-five, five-five-five, one-oh-one-three."
"Good. Money's in the glove," John added, lazily pointing to the compartment. Dean responded to the cue and pulled a black zip-lock pouch from it. "Take out fifty."
Dean nodded and did as he was told. He bit back his request for more in case John's two-day estimate was off.
John pulled into the motel and parked the car. Before getting out, he turned to make sure Sam was asleep and angled himself back to facing Dean.
"If you so much as think about using that money on even just a pinball game, you're headed straight back to that home, do you understand me?" John said, his voice unsettlingly quiet.
Dean swallowed nervously, feeling the threat of losing Sammy pierce through him. It wasn't the fear John thought he was evoking but it worked all the same.
"Am I making myself clear?"
John appraised his son, gave a long sigh, and nodded sharply before pulling the keys from the ignition and throwing them a short distance to Dean. Dean's reflexes were as sharp as ever; John didn't even wait to see Dean catch them as he got out pay for their room.
Dean rubbed his eyes and temples in the passenger seat, exhausted after everything that had happened - and everything that was supposed to happen - that night. He sighed and with a burst of resolve suddenly wrenched the door open and got out. He stretched as he rapped his knuckles against the window Sam had been sleeping against. He saw the kid jerk awake and just continued walking to the back to open the trunk and pull Sam's things out. He strapped the kid's bag over his shoulder just as he heard a car door open slowly. He slammed the trunk shut and saw Sammy, still slightly disoriented and groggy, stumble out into the empty parking lot, his legs obviously numb.
"We stopping?" He asked, squinting puffy eyes up at the motel's neon sign above them: The Lucky Duck Motel.
"Yeah - get my bag, will you?" Dean asked lightly, walking back to the driver's side and crouching inside to turn the engine over for their father.
Sam knelt into the car at the same time and looked up from getting Dean's bag.
"Why're you starting the car up again?"
"Dad's gotta go after he books the room for us," Dean answered tiredly.
"What?!" Sam said, alarmed. "But-"
"The hunt's taken a bad turn - Dad's gotta be on his own for this one."
"-Dean!" It was their father, striding towards them quickly and holding a room key out for him. Dean jumped to attention, nearly knocking his head against the roof of the car.
"Okay you're paid up for three days. Third day's just in case," he said, handing his eldest the key. Dean took it with a sharp, silent nod. Messaged received. "You all set?"
John looked over to see Sammy sidling up next to his brother, still blurry from uncomfortable backseat sleeping.
"Yes, sir," Sam said, reluctantly following his brother's example. Dean caught a brief flicker of confused relief surface in his father's expression.
Dean wanted to smirk. Their father would be lost at sea with Sam if it wasn't for him.
"Good. Sam, you listen to your brother, do you understand me?"
"Yes, sir," Sam replied hazily.
"Dean? You watch out for him."
"Good boys. See you in a couple days."
And with that, John got into the driver's seat and shut the door. With a final stoic nod to his eldest, he reversed the car and pulled out of the lot as his two sons watched from where they'd been left in the parking lot.
Dean sighed and lost his posture.
"C'mon," he said, nudging his forlorn little brother to walk with him to their room. Sam moved along and Dean absently pulled his bag from Sam's shoulders so he was carrying both.
"Here, you wanna do it?" Dean asked as they approached their room, handing the key out to Sam.
"Yeah," Sam murmured, getting the key from his brother and reaching the door. He fiddled with it for awhile with the dexterity of a ten year old and Dean waited patiently, watching him, realizing how much he'd missed this skinny little twerp. Wishing he could have him and Robin in the same life...
Sam finally got it and opened the door. Their father, ever the spendthrift, had gotten a single double bed for them. No real surprise there though, Dean thought as they moved inside.
"You still tired?" Dean asked, setting their bags down on a small table to the left of the door. Sam shrugged, standing in the middle of the room.
"Get ready for bed anyway. Here," Dean pulled out a small zip-lock bag from Sam's bag, carrying his toothbrush and toothpaste. Sam nodded and grabbed it before heading into the bathroom. Dean rummaged around further to find the hand-me-down sweatpants and t-shirts Sam used as pajamas. The door to the bathroom was closed so Dean yelled through it to tell Sam he'd laid his clothes out on the bed. When Sam called back an, "okay, thank you," Dean wandered into the kitchenette to check things out. He thanked god there was a microwave; it opened the possibility of stretching diner leftovers into a second meal. No mini-fridge though: those diner leftovers would have to be second consecutive meals. Whatever.
Still, he couldn't help the pang of hunger that blew through him as he stood there considering their budget. Dean would have to get used to rationed meals again: for two months he'd been eating seconds and thirds of carb- and protein-heavy foods, a diet directly tailored for young, active boys with skyrocketing metabolisms as they entered adolescence.
Whatever, Dean thought for the hundredth time tonight. Didn't matter. None of it mattered. He'd made his choice and he was sure it'd been the right one.
Dean grabbed the salt canister that'd been packed into Sam's things to line the door and sills. He was just finishing up on the small window in the kitchen when he heard the door to the bathroom open. Dean walked back to the main room to meet him. They say 'hey' to each other before Sam moved to the side of the bed and started changing into his pajamas. Dean walked to the TV and turned it on, ready to test out its reception. Grainy but not too bad. He flicked through the channels.
"Mm. No cable," he grunted. Sam didn't reply and Dean turned to see if he had heard. Sam was now busy pulling the blankets out from underneath the mattress. Sammy hated military corners. Dean didn't blame him but the drawback was that Sammy loved to steal the covers, twisting and turning in sleep to the point of cocooning himself inside. Dean sometimes had to roll him and spread the blankets out again in the middle of the night.
Despite himself, Dean gave a small smile.
Finished with the bed, Sam sat down on the side closest to the nightstand. It'd always been his side: he always wanted to turn the light off earlier than Dean. They compromised that Dean always got the remote. Tonight Sammy could have it though.
"Okay," Dean said, turning to toss the remote to Sam, "channels under twelve's all we got. I'm gonna wash up."
"Okay," Sam replied easily, leaning back against the head board. He started flicking through the channels as Dean headed for the bathroom.
Dean took his time, mentally adjusting. He was back in it - back to this life. He had to suck it up and move on. Sammy depended on him more than anyone. He couldn't let the kid down - not ever.
Wiping his face off with the grungy hand towel, he finished up and moved out to grab his own sweats from his bag. Sam seemed engrossed in some PBS documentary about the universe. Dean idly listened as he changed for bed. When he was done he plopped down onto his side and Sam coughed to get his attention. Dean glanced over expectantly.
"We don't have to watch this if you don't want."
"Nah it's cool," Dean replied, casually slipping under the covers, then bolting up again to find the knife he always kept under his pillow. As he moved back to his bag he could feel Sam's eyes on him.
"Hey... Dean?" Sam asked to his back as he rummaged around with his hand, feeling for the distinctive leather sheath.
"Mm," Dean hummed back, letting Sam know he heard him.
"Are you okay?" Sam asked, his voice small like he was scared Dean would bite his head off for asking something so innocuous. Dean took a second to wonder if, before two months ago, he would've snapped at Sam.
Dean found the knife in his bag and pulled it out, unsheathing it and putting it back in thought.
Thing was, Sonny had opened his eyes to the fact that authority could mean kindness, patience, and even wisdom. Sonny wasn't the bad ass hero he knew his father was, but Sonny had still managed to earn Dean's respect. Respect that he thought he'd only ever grant to his father... and Sonny was nothing like Dean's father.
Now that Dean thought about it, he realized that throughout his life he'd never respected authority figures that'd behaved like his father. He undermined them at every chance he got. Laughed at their frustration when he thwarted their transparent manipulations. He felt it always served them right for demanding respect without earning it.
There was literally only one person that he'd ever allow to speak to him with the full expectation of automatic obedience. That man had just left him in charge of his ten year old little brother in the Lucky Duck Motel parking lot to live on their own for what would likely turn into much longer than a three day stay.
Dean had always been more lenient and much less authoritative than their father with regards to Sam. Sam was probably only fearful that Dean would blow him off - maybe call him a dork for asking him about his feelings. Nothing even close to the rebukes they got from John when it came to emotions.
Now though, with the exposure he'd had to Sonny, Dean had a more fleshed out understanding of why he'd never demanded blind obedience from Sam the way John did from him. He preferred Sonny's model of authority and he was willing to bet a hundred bucks that Sam would've too.
"-Dean?" Sam prompted, breaking him out of his reverie. Dean turned around and quirked a genuine smile as he moved back to his side of the bed and slid the knife under his pillow.
"Yeah I'm fine, kiddo," he said gently.
"Really?" Sam pushed, more curious than skeptical. Dean saw worry in there too.
Dean smiled at his brother and nodded, Sam's concern warming him to the decision he'd made.
"Yeah. Really," he said honestly. Sam nodded.
"Okay," he said, carefully turning his gaze back to the TV.
Dean realized his eyes had started watering again and with a small chuckle over how ridiculously soft he'd somehow become in only two months, he wiped them clear and scooted down further under the covers to rest his head on the pillow. He crossed his arms over his chest and closed his eyes, willing to let the monotone narrator from the TV lull him to sleep.
Sam noticed and looked down at his brother.
"You're going to sleep?" Sam said, astonished. Sam always fell asleep earlier than Dean. Dean didn't open his eyes, just lifted his eyebrows.
"You're gonna go to sleep now?"
"S'late, Sammy. You can stay up - you caught some Z's in the car," Dean whispered.
After nearly a full minute of quiet deliberation, Dean finally felt the bed shift under Sam's weight, the blankets rustling as he got under. A second later the light switch turned off, then the TV.
Dean opened his eyes for a second, assessing how dark their motel room would be at night. The neon sign streamed electric blue light through the window; a tactical advantage: Dean would be able to see decently if he had to wake up suddenly. He closed his eyes again and sighed. Out of nowhere he felt a pang of guilt rip through him for standing Robin up. He wondered if she decided to go anyway. If Sonny explained the situation properly so that she knew he'd been given an impossible ultimatum.
It didn't matter. She would be safe and lead a normal life untouched by the evil that surrounded his. Dean pressed his head down a little, feeling his knife's impression through the thin motel pillow against his head. He could tell it was angled correctly if he needed to reach it in one quick grip. The salt would keep them safe anyway though.
His mind continued to wander, leading him into random curiosities like whether there was some minimum distance between one grain of salt and another in order to repel spirits. Their father had always just subscribed to 'the more the better' and while that philosophy had kept them safe so far it didn't hurt to wonder if-
Suddenly Sam was on top of him, trapping Dean's folded arms against his chest, hugging him with all the strength the skinny kid could muster, his head ducked down against Dean's shoulder.
"I'm sorry," Sam croaked. He wasn't crying or anything. Dean was pretty sure the kid was just apologizing for this... shameless... attack... hug thing he was doing.
Dean smiled but it quickly turned into laughter as Sam refused to let go as Dean remained comically still. Finally, he pulled his arms out from under him. Sam immediately squirmed to wrap his arms around Dean's chest as Dean laid his hands over Sam's back and returned the embrace.
Holding Sam now, Dean realized how little the kid still was. Sam's back was so narrow that Dean had to bend his elbows and the weight of him was like the equivalent of a... a slightly heavy quilt.
Dean couldn't believe how fragile Sam was. Couldn't believe that he was this kid's guardian, responsible for everything this goofy, scraggly little ball of affection and warmth needed.
"I really missed you," Sam whispered against him. Dean closed his eyes and hugged Sam back, reveling in the moment.
Yeah, he'd made the right decision. He'd made a great decision.
"I missed you too, Sammy," he replied sincerely and, placing a hand against Sam's unruly mop of hair, gave him a brief kiss against the side of his head.
Sam hugged him tightly once more before awkwardly disengaging.
Dean let him and stayed down, smiling at his little brother's expense as he watched the kid try to figure out where the invisible line designating bed sides was after he'd totally disregarded it... but also Dean was smiling because he'd needed that.
He'd really, really needed that.
Writer's End Note: Thank you so much for reading! Please comment/review if you can spare the time! ~ Alex