"... and if I stared too long, I'd probably break down and cry."
Sweet Child of Mine ~ Guns 'n' Roses
The three of them ventured out into the parking lot of the motel and off towards the woods, Frank leading the way and Sam and young Dean following close behind. The sky was still gray and a cold, drizzling rain had started falling from the heavy clouds. Dean folded his arms around himself and shivered next to Sam.
"Hey, don't you have a sweatshirt or something?" Sam asked, suddenly realizing that the kid had left the room with nothing on but jeans and a t-shirt. He scolded himself inwardly for not noticing sooner. Dean would have had Sammy in a coat before they'd even walked out the door. Hell, he'd probably be carrying a damn umbrella for the kid, Sam thought, rolling his eyes.
"I forgot it. I'm fine." Dean said as he kept walking.
"Let's just run back and-"
"No! I want to find my brother."
Sam knew that tone, and he knew there was going to be no arguing with him. He also knew he could just go back and make them wait, but instead he sighed and wriggled out of his flannel.
"Hey! I don't need-" Dean batted his arm at Sam who was trying to drape his flannel over his shoulders.
"Knock it off. You wear this or I'm going back to get your sweatshirt and you'll have to wait. Ok?"
Dean huffed and looked up at Sam. He tried to push the sleeves up as they walked. "I'll probably trip and break my neck- how are you so freakishly tall?"
"You're just freakishly short. Now shut up and try to stay warm, all right?" Sam grinned at him and chanced a little pat on Dean's back.
Dean didn't seem to object, and even looked at Sam without a scowl.
They had come to a clearing in the woods and Frank had stopped and was working with the shew stone.
Sam got down in front of Dean and started rolling up the sleeves on the too-long shirt. He expected snarky comments and perhaps a bit of a fight, but when he caught the ten year old's gaze, all he saw was fear, sadness and... gratitude?
"Hey..." he reached out slowly and gently gripped the kids arm. "You ok?"
Dean glanced nervously at Frank and then back to Sam, his eyes communicating everything he couldn't with words: Are you sure this is going to work? I don't trust that guy. Thanks for bringing me, but I'm not sure I trust you, either. I'm scared, but I need to find my brother.
And Sam knew him well enough to hear it all loud and clear. "I know. It's ok. I've done this once already and I'm still in one piece, ok? We're gonna go get your brother. You with me?"
A little bit of confidence returned to Dean's face and he nodded.
"Are we ready?" Frank asked as cheerfully as if they were just headed for a stroll in the park.
"Yeah, let's go," Sam growled at him as he stood. He looked down at his little big brother and decided to take another chance. He lifted his arm a bit and motioned for Dean. "C'mere..."
Dean looked at him for a second and then to Sam's surprise, moved to stand next to him, right under his arm. Sam dropped his hand to Dean's shoulder and gave a reassuring squeeze. It was slight, but he felt the kid press up against him. Sam could feel him shaking and he knew it wasn't all from the cold.
"'s ok... I've got you." Sam whispered as they stepped through the portal with Frank.
Dean stood with his hands on his hips looking down at the petulant 5 year old. "Sammy, you have to sit in the seat."
"We go through this every time we get in the car. How is this not sinking in?"
"I don't like it."
"I don't care! This is not a choice-"
"We'll get pulled over-"
Dean pressed his hands to his eyes, exasperated. He sighed then. "Well, I guess we'll have to just stay here at the playground and if your brother-"
Sammy wordlessly climbed into the car, sat himself in the car seat and scowled at Dean.
Dean shook his head. It was amazing how things went from horribly, dramatically devastating, to stubborn nonsense or even goofiness with this kid. How were 5 year olds able to bounce so easily from one emotion to the other? But he had to admit, even though he himself had been close to tears just a few minutes ago, he was having trouble not laughing at Sammy's antics.
He leaned into the car and fastened the buckles on the car seat before the kid changed his mind. Once Sammy was strapped down, he tickled him a little.
Sammy squealed and tried to push Dean's hands away.
"You're a real pita sometimes, you know that?"
"What's a pita?" Sammy asked looking confused.
"Pain in the... something that starts with 'A'" Dean said ruffling his hair.
Sammy just stared at him for a minute, clearly trying to think of an suitable 'a' word for the situation. "Automobile?"
And Dean couldn't stop the laugh then if he had tried. "Yes, Sammy. You are a real pain in the automobile."
And Sammy laughed loudly then, only because Dean was laughing. He wasn't actually sure what was so funny.
Dean closed the door and went around to the driver's side. He climbed in and smiled to himself as the tape deck started playing 'Sweet Child of Mine'.
Sammy sang along in the back seat, shamelessly belting out the lyrics that he knew and making up the ones he didn't. Dean kept the volume down low enough so he could hear the little 5 year old voice, not yet old enough to have developed any sort of self-consciousness that would otherwise have prevented the little solo concert. A smile tugged continuously at Dean's lips as he glanced occasionally in the mirror. God, that kid was adorable.
After a little while, the singing turned to humming Sammy started to rub his eyes.
"You getting tired, buddy?"
Sammy yawned. "No."
Dean smirked and shook his head.
"You know what else starts with 'A', Dean?" Sammy asked, eyelids drooping.
"Uhh.. what?" Dean bit his lip, hoping the kid hadn't finally put two and two together and figured out what a 'pita' really was.
"Yes. Apple does start with 'A'. Are you hungry, kiddo?"
Sammy didn't answer him, but the silence was answer enough.
"We've got one more apple and some cereal... and a few other things. We'll find you something to eat, ok?"
When he looked in the rearview mirror again, Sammy's head was flopped over to the side and his eyes were closed.
When they pulled into the motel parking lot, Sammy was still out cold. Dean carefully unbuckled the car seat and lifted him out. The little arms immediately wrapped around his neck as Sammy curled himself up under Dean's chin.
As sappy as he knew it was, Dean stood there, trying to soak in the moment, this gift of a memory that had manifested itself in the form of reality. His breath caught in his throat as a tiny nose pressed up against the side of his neck. He pressed his own nose down into the floppy mop of hair and tried to just breathe as he finally let a couple of tears spill from his eyes. His heart broke as he felt the little hands clutching the fabric of his shirt and heard the sleepy yawn. He was overcome with grief and sorrow as he held on to the little boy who still trusted him... who still loved him. And he knew he had to go inside and face the now grown man who didn't. I'm so, so sorry, Sammy, he thought miserably. I don't even know how to tell you.
As they emerged on the other side, a thought suddenly occurred to Sam. Maybe Dean was right... maybe keeping them here was something they should consider. Because... how? How could he send Dean back knowing everything that would happen to him? The little boy pressed up against his side deserved better. He deserved to have a childhood. He deserved to be able to play and laugh and even to cry if he needed to and have someone take care of him for once.
But... Sam started to wonder, was that even possible? Was this kid too far gone? And how on earth would this work?
Sam didn't get a chance to sort out his thoughts because within seconds of entering the forest, Dean bolted from under Sam's arm.
And there was Sam's answer. This was why they couldn't stay. They didn't want to. Those kids would take off at every possible opportunity to get back to where they belonged. Even if it meant a ruined childhood and life on the road. They would never stop trying.
"Dean!" Sam shouted after him. "Hey!"
Dean was fast, but Sam caught up to him quickly. He grabbed him as gently as he could and got in front of him.
"Hey-hey-hey- slow down!"
Dean bared his teeth and snarled, "You let me go- Sammy! SAM!" he called squirming in Sam's grasp.
"Dean, please. Please! Just listen to me for a second." Sam's voice was desperate. Because although concerned for the young counterparts, he hadn't forgotten his own brother. The last thing he wanted to was have Sammy just yanked out of Dean's arms and that was exactly what would happen if he didn't get this Dean to calm down.
Dean was still squirming and Sam knew he had to douse this fire before the kid started getting violent.
"Listen to me!" Sam demanded. "You've got to calm down or somebody is going to get hurt!"
That stopped him. He froze and met Sam's gaze then. "Sammy?"
"No," Sam said, cautiously loosening his grasp. "Sammy is going to be fine, I'm talking about my brother."
Dean glared then. "I thought I was your brother."
"Yeah... you are, sort of. But I'm talking about the older version. I want you to just think for a second about what's going on here. I know this has been awful for you, you've been totally freaked out... but the 'you' from 2014, my actual brother, has been taking care of 5 year old Sammy for a couple of days. It's been really scary for us too... we didn't know where he came from or how to get him home, but it's still Sammy... and it's still 'you' that has him right now-"
"I don't care! That is MY brother we're talking about and- oh, God..."
Sam could see that something terrible had just occurred to the kid. He swallowed nervously.
"He's not going to let him go, is he?" Dean glared accusingly at Sam.
"He's not going to have a choice," Sam said reluctantly. But the truth was he wasn't sure what Dean would do. He only knew he would step in if he had to. The kids had to go back. "Sammy will come right to you. Dean will have to let him go." At least, that was what Sam was hoping.
Dean was looking panicked.
"I just need you to settle down."
"You know I'm not going just stand here and-"
"I'm not asking you to," Sam said softly. "I'm not asking you to. I just want you to think about what will happen if you go running in there and try to take him. You know exactly what this will do to him. I just want you to slow it down, ok?" Sam looked pleadingly at him.
Dean looked skeptical.
"He's... he's been hurt enough. Please," Sam said, his expression clouded with guilt, his tone close to begging. "Please."
Sam wasn't sure that Dean was going to give the kid up at all, but he knew if they went in with guns blazing, they didn't stand a chance. He also knew that if he had to take any action, it would be the straw that broke the camel's back. He'd pushed things so far with his brother he was surprised he was still around. But this, Dean wouldn't be able to get over. This would be the end of them.