WEECHESTERS - Dean is 16. Sam is 12.

One shot - serves as intro to my story 'Timshel (Thou Mayest...)'


2:32 am and Dean was startled awake by the sound of his father's secret knock on the door.

Before his eyes were even all the way open, he had jumped up out of bed, picked up the shotgun, aimed, and placed himself directly between Sam and the door. Secret knock or not, Dad wasn't supposed to be back for at least another week.

Either thinking the same thing, or responding accordingly to his big brother's reaction, Sam was armed and standing right behind him by the time the door opened.

When their father stepped into the room, Dean faltered slightly, despite his training.

Sam all but dropped his gun and let slip a quiet, "What the hell?"

John closed and locked the door behind him, fixed the salt line, then turned his exhausted gaze to his sons. Neither of them met his eyes. They were both too busy staring in astonishment at the terrified, mud and blood covered little girl in their father's arms. She couldn't have been more than seven years old.

Noting the fear in her eyes, Dean looked to his father imploringly, silently requesting permission to stand down. The instant his father nodded that it was safe, he lowered his gun and tucked it behind his leg. He watched in rapt attention as his father set the girl down on her feet. John knelt in front of her and spoke in a gentle tone Dean had not heard since his earliest memories.

"All right, darling. These here are my boys. Little one's Sammy," John said, pointing over his shoulder to his younger son while Sam waved awkwardly. He pointed to his eldest next. "Big one's Dean. You're every bit as safe with him as you are with me. Got it?"

Dean swelled with pride and stood a little taller at his father's exceedingly rare vote of confidence.

'Sammy' fought the urge to angrily mutter, 'It's SAM.'

The little girl nodded hesitantly, but continued to eye the boys with barely concealed apprehension as John went on.

"Now, I know you aren't gonna be happy about this, but I gotta go back there and make sure none of those bastards are left to bother you or your family again. That means you're gonna stay here and-" He held up a hand when she whimpered and shook her head. "Eh, what did I say?" He chided.

She frowned deeply, stepped even closer to him, and stared down at the floor in response.

"I said you're safe here, right?" He reminded and ducked his head further to meet her eyes. "Dean's gonna take care of you while I'm gone. He'll get you fed, show you where you can get cleaned up, and stand guard so you can catch a few hours of shut eye. I know it's gonna be tough, but I really want you to try to sleep."

With that, he gave Dean a meaningful look. Those were orders, apparently.

Dean nodded and tried not to appear alarmed by his father's words. He didn't know how to take care of a kid! Well, other than Sammy. But that was different. This was a little girl, for starters. Not family and, to be honest, she looked like she was pretty damned well traumatized.

"As soon as I get back, you and I are gonna hit the road and get you back home to your Daddy. Sound like a plan?" John asked, but a sniffle was her only reply.

With a sympathetic smile, John stood and ran a hand reassuringly over the tangled mess of her hair. As gently as possible, he pried her little vice-grip hands from his shirt. His features had hardened once more by the time he turned his attention to his sons. His normal no-nonsense Marine tone was firmly back in place. Dean refused to acknowledge the niggling disappointment some part of him felt upon hearing it.

"Nobody in, nobody out. And I do mean nobody. Both of you'd better keep a weapon handy. Anyone tries to force their way in, it's standard procedure. Dean - be prepared to shoot. Sam - call me immediately. It'll take me less than twenty minutes to get back here. If you don't hear from me by tomorrow afternoon, you call Bobby. Got it?"

The boys had barely finished answering 'Yes, sir' in unison before their Dad was out the door.

The sound of the deadbolt sliding back into place echoed through the room as he locked up behind him. No explanation was provided regarding their unexpected guest.

Dean stood there for a long moment after John left, running a hand roughly over his face while trying to figure out what to do. Sammy and the little girl both stood stone still the whole time, staring at him and waiting for instruction.

Finally, he turned on the lights to get a better look at her. She was filthy and tense, fidgeting nervously and clutching the hem of what had probably been a nice dress at some point. He let out a sigh and shook his head, deciding he'd better break the ice. Recalling how she had attached herself to his father, he guessed she would take comfort from a similar gruff, blunt approach.

"Well...don't you just look like hammered shit," he declared with his hands on his hips.

He was relieved when she gave a brief, surprised laugh in response. His guess had been spot-on.

"You got a name, or am I just supposed to call you 'midget'?"

The girl's eyes locked on the floor and mouth formed a tight line.

Dean nodded in understanding. He knew firsthand that after a traumatic event, sometimes speaking was just too much to ask for. He'd personally been silent for several months after losing his Mom.

"Not a big talker, huh? That's fine. I happen to love the sound of my own voice, so I'll just carry the conversation for both of us," he joked and waited for her to meet his eyes again. "We're a bit limited on choices at the moment, but I can fry you up some Spam and eggs. Bathroom's in there," he said, pointing to the open door behind him. "You can get a shower or bath or whatever before you eat. Nothing's gonna be appetizing if you gotta smell yourself over it."

Despite smiling weakly in reply, she stayed firmly rooted in place, as if afraid to move from the spot where John had left her.

After a long, tense moment, Dean held his hand out and motioned for her to follow him.

"Come on, kid. I ain't gonna bite," he coaxed.

Those apparently familiar words got her complete attention. The girl immediately darted across the room to him, deftly tip-toeing over the carpet on dirty, bare feet. Dean realized that his father must have instructed her to sneak during her escape, and she was clearly still in 'flight' mode. His eyes widened in surprise when her too-thin form barreled into him. She very promptly attached herself to his leg.

"Ouch! Damn, girl. Boney much?" He teased and rubbed the spot on his thigh where her sharp little shoulder had connected on impact. "Remind me to give you some extra Spam," he grumbled and exchanged a concerned glance with his little brother.

Sam frowned, but said nothing. Now that the girl was clear of the door, he took the opportunity to fix the salt line and double-check the locks.

While idly gripping fistfuls of Dean's shirt, the little girl peered anxiously behind him into the bathroom. She was clearly now far more afraid of the small, cold, unfamiliar room than she was of him.

Through the mud that caked her skin, Dean noted the presence of open wounds that wrapped around her wrists and ankles. He winced at the sight, knowing that she'd been restrained on top of everything else. His Dad might not have offered an explanation, but the story told by the gathering clues was not pretty: Tied or chained up. Afraid of being put in a small room. Malnourished. Covered in mud and blood. In desperate need of sleep.

He hoped - no, he knew - that his Dad was out there making whatever was responsible suffer.

"We'll get you bandaged up once you're out of the shower," he offered quietly. "Don't worry about cleaning the wounds yourself. I'll take care of them after you get out."

The girl looked up at him in surprise. Quickly releasing her hold on his shirt, she hid her hands behind her back.

"No, it's okay," he soothed. "I know my way around a first aid kit. Sammy here'll tell you. I've fixed him up plenty over the years. Ain't that right, Sam?"

She turned and looked to the younger brother expectantly, seeking confirmation.

Sam shifted under her gaze and shot Dean a nervous look. He didn't want to say the wrong thing.

Dean inclined his head encouragingly. He understood Sam's hesitance, but this girl needed reassurance.

"It's true," Sam finally assured with a smile. "He's pretty good. I just don't usually tell him that. If his ego gets any bigger, we'll need an extra bed for it."

The girl laughed a little and grabbed a hold of Dean's shirt again.

Emboldened by the positive response, Sam took a step closer and continued.

"You can have my towel," he offered. "It's the last clean one we have. We were gonna do laundry tomorrow," he explained, sounding more than a little self-conscious.

Dean knew that Sam was embarrassed about their living conditions, as usual. He just wished his brother would pull his head out of his ass long enough to realize that their motel room currently seemed like a five star resort to this kid. He was glad that Sam had decided to drop his typical pre-teen angst for the night in favor of helping out, though.

Careful not to make any sudden movements near her, Sam slowly walked past them and placed the towel on the bathroom counter. He looked up at Dean in uncertainty after he came back out of the bathroom.

"Almost all of my clothes are dirty," he admitted reluctantly. "She can take my black flannel PJ pants. They're too small for me now and they're still clean. I don't have any shirts left, though."

"No big deal, Sam. I'm sure I've got something," Dean lied with a smile.

Actually, he wasn't sure at all. He had postponed laundry day as long as possible again, just in case Dad came back late and they needed the money for food. On top of that, he had only washed Sam's clothes on the last laundry run to keep the cost down. He'd taken to washing his own clothing in the tub when needed.

After somehow managing to make his way over to his duffel with the girl reattached to him like glue, he rooted through his limited selection of clothes. He tried to mask his disappointment that the only mostly-clean shirt he owned was his beloved vintage Lynyrd Skynyrd. His favorite. It figured.

Thankfully, one glance down at the pitiful sight beside him cured him of his disappointment. At least she'd be getting something that had been washed in actual laundry detergent (not motel hand soap) and had only been worn once since then.

"This'll work," he declared.

Across the room, Sam let out a muffled growl of disapproval. His little brother knew damned well how much he loved this shirt. Once the girl was on her way home, he was sure Sam would throw a full on bitch-fit on his behalf, wailing at the unfairness of their lives and blaming their father for the loss of Dean's prized threads. He'd be far more upset about it than Dean. But for now, Sam thankfully kept his mouth shut.

After a great deal of assurance that it was safe, Dean managed to get the girl to set foot in the bathroom. Then, thinking that she was content, he left her standing beside the tub while he walked out and closed the door.

BIG mistake. Given the sounds that came out of the girl, they were lucky no one called the cops thinking they were murdering a kid in their room.

He cursed his stupidity as he flung the door back open and held out his arms for her. She raced back out sobbing and clung to him. It was a long, tense ten minutes after that. Her whole body shook like a leaf while he held her and promised over and over that he wasn't going to lock her up.

Once she'd calmed down, he tried to get her to go into the bathroom by herself again. She latched onto his arm and tried to drag him with her, which led to a carefully worded refusal. When she still wouldn't relent, he had no choice but to tell her flat-out that it would be creepy for a 16 year old guy to help bathe a seven year old girl. Maybe if she was his kid sister. Hell, he'd sat next to the tub while Sammy bathed till he was about six. Or if she was really hurt or something and had life threatening wounds that needed to be cleaned and treated. He'd have no problem overlooking the creep factor then. His father had always drilled 'no room for modesty when you're the medic' into his head. It'd be awkward as hell, yeah, but he'd deal if there was no other way.

As it stood, though, she was neither related to him nor gravely wounded, so he asked her to be brave and take a shower alone.

They came to a compromise. The door was to be closed over, but left open at least an inch and most definitely not latched. Before she'd agree to his terms, Dean had to solemnly vow to stand directly outside the door with his shotgun, humming loudly the entire time so that she knew he was still there. His original plan was to cook while she was getting cleaned up, but she wasn't having any of that.

Whatever she'd witnessed that night, it had made her a big fan of having a Winchester in the immediate vicinity, armed and ready to shoot things in her defense. Halfway through the chorus of 'Wherever I May Roam', he idly wondered if that had anything to do with the blood spatter on her clothes. It clearly wasn't hers.

He glanced down at his own clothing and sighed, noticing for the first time that drying mud was falling off the side of his shorts in clumps. He shook off the majority of what remained and counted his blessings that the material was black. His t-shirt was white, but mercifully, she was short enough that the top of her head only just barely reached his hip. There were a few streaks on the hem of the shirt, but he was confident he'd be able to get them out (even with motel hand soap).

When she finally exited the bathroom, he shouldered his shotgun and grinned at the improvement. As dirty as she'd been, he had no idea she was even blonde until now.

"Hey, look, Sammy! There was a little girl hiding under all that crud," he teased.

"You could've fooled me," Sam laughed.

The girl blushed, but said nothing. Instead, she clung nervously to the oversized garments that hung off her tiny frame. Sam's bed pants were so large on her that she was apparently having a hard time keeping them up on her hips. Dean's prized t-shirt could have served as a nightgown.

Now that the muck was off of her skin, Dean could see dark bruising forming on her cheek and a split in her lower lip.

"Come sit down," he instructed and pointed over to the kitchen table. "We'll get you fixed up and then get some food in you."

As he took a seat, he smiled that Sam had brought out the first aid kit for him without being asked. He nodded across the room to his little brother in approval of the items that had been laid out. Sam might be going through a bratty phase, but he was still a damned good kid.

The girl sat down beside him and reluctantly put her hands up on the table. Dean had just placed his hands on her forearm when her entire body went rigid and breath caught in her throat.

"Sorry, kiddo... I'll take it easy," he offered gently, thinking that he had somehow jostled her injured wrists and brought on a flare up of pain. But when he looked into her eyes, he was surprised to find her gaze locked instead on his brother.

Sam approached slowly and cautiously, but she watched him every single step of the way, her anxiety growing the closer he came.

"Hey," Dean said quietly, drawing her attention back to him. "He's a good guy, too. You're safe with us, midget. I promise."

She nodded reluctantly as Sam took a seat across from her.

"Anything I can do?" Sam asked his brother quietly.

Dean shook his head as he bent to the task of inspecting her wrists.

"Nah," he answered distractedly, his mind busy laying out how best to care for the wounds. "Not so far, anyway. Looks like you brought out everything I'm gonna need."

The subtle disappointed slouch of Sam's shoulders did not go unnoticed by Dean. He glanced over at his little brother, smiling lightly at his eagerness to help.

"Could change, though. Stick around for me, would ya?" He added knowingly and just that quickly, Sam's face brightened.

"K." Sam replied, leaning forward and watching with interest as Dean got started.

Dean took his time cleaning the wounds on her wrists, careful to cause as little pain as possible in the process. Once they were bandaged, he repeated the process with her ankles.

The split on her lip didn't require a lot of attention, but he cleaned it out just the same, hoping to help her avoid a scar that would mar her features as an adult. It wasn't fresh, probably a couple days old already, but there was dirt dried in the scab. It clearly hadn't been tended to since it happened.

She didn't freak out when he ran his fingers along her cheekbone experimentally, so the bone was in tact, at least. She'd have one hell of a shiner by the morning, though.

"Is that it?" He asked once he finished and was thankfully able to keep all traces of trepidation from his voice.

The girl nodded...but averted her gaze.

Dean eyed her guilty posture suspiciously.

"You're sure?" He pressed.

She chewed the inside of her cheek and nodded again, more forcefully this time, but the lie was evident in her features. Involuntarily, she placed a hand over her side, then clutched the shirt tightly around herself.

Sighing and sitting back in his chair, Dean tried to figure out the best course of action. He knew she was hiding another wound. She knew that he knew she was hiding another wound. Now there was just the matter of getting her to admit it and let him take care of it.

He couldn't blame her for feeling uneasy in this situation. She'd been through something traumatic - had probably just learned firsthand that monsters were real. Now she was sitting here in a crappy motel room with two strange guys, in pain and likely feeling majorly vulnerable.

Yeah, he could definitely understand why she was more attached to his t-shirt in that moment than he ever had been.

It was one of those WWJWD moments. As in, 'What Would John Winchester Do?'

"Sammy, how about you see what's on TV?" He suggested, but the evenness of his tone clearly conveyed that it was not open for debate.

Sam's brows drew together as he tried to get a read on the situation. He knew something was happening that was not being put into words. Seeing the rigidity of the girl's posture and the frankly Dad-ish expression on his brother's face, he nodded in understanding.

"Sure. I'll see if I can find something to fall asleep to," he offered before going to the far side of the room. He sank down on the beat-up old recliner with his back to them.

It wasn't much, but it granted as much privacy as the girl was going to get.

Dean leaned forward and rested his forearms on his knees. Clasping his hands tightly and pursing his lips, he waited a moment before speaking.

Gruff and blunt. Teasing and quiet. She responded to that.

"Look, kid. We both know you're hurt and I'd really prefer it if I didn't have to fight you to see what's wrong. Little girls are known to kick shins and pull hair, after all. I happen to like my shins bruise-free and, well," he ran his hand through his spiked tresses. "I'm sure you can tell how much I love my hair."

She had tensed at first, but a hint of a smile tugged at her lips by the time he paused.

"Now, I realize you've probably had the world's shittiest night... and past few days, for that matter. I realize that all you want in the whole world right now is to get home to your Pops. I'd feel the same if I were in your shoes. And hey, I'd just as soon let you have your way and leave you alone about this. The problem is, if I let you pretend you're not hurt, and then you keel over and die on me while I'm watching you? My Dad is gonna kick my ass so hard, I'll be tasting the leather of his boot for a month."

She giggled at that. A real giggle. A giggle that attested to the fact that she'd met his Dad and knew there was validity to his concerns.

Dean was thankful to hear her laughing, until he noticed how tightly she was clutching her side. The movement was agitating her injury further. Time to close the deal here.

"So, how about you show me what we're dealing with?" He asked quietly. "The sooner you get bandaged, the sooner you can eat and get comfortable."

At first, he thought she was going to stand her ground and sit there in pain. Thankfully, she decided to spare him an ass-kicking.

Slowly and hesitantly, she lifted up the shirt enough to let him access the wound on her side.

"Well... aren't you resourceful?" He muttered, equally concerned and impressed when he got a look at the makeshift bandage.

In her efforts to conceal the injury from him, she had taken the drawstring out of the PJ pants and used it to bind a washcloth over her wound. It had served its intended purpose and prevented any blood from reaching the t-shirt. If she'd had a better poker face, Dean might not have ever caught on that anything was wrong.

"That was pretty damned sneaky. But I guess it explains why the pants are falling off your scrawny ass, huh?" He joked.

She looked down fearfully in response. Her nostrils flared and breathing quickened before he realized that she must have thought she was in trouble.

"No, it's okay. I'm not mad," he assured quickly. "Really. It's just... I'm only trying to help you, okay? And I can't do that if you're gonna hide stuff from me. If there's anything else, you gotta tell me. Promise?"

She only nodded, but her now-tearful eyes adequately conveyed that she was sorry for not trusting him.

"You're not smuggling around any other injuries under there, right?" He asked, eyeing her skeptically. "I mean, your leg's not like... being held on by duct tape or anything like that?"

She laughed and shook her head.

"Good, cuz that'd just be gross," he muttered under his breath while leaning closer to get to work on her wound. "And I'd probably faint. I'd definitely puke. And then Sammy would see it and tell my Dad. And then neither one of them would ever let me live it down..." he rambled, successfully keeping her amused and distracted while he carefully removed the makeshift bandage from her side.

Once the sizable gash on her abdomen came into view, he gritted his teeth and hoped against hope that she wouldn't need stitches. They didn't have anything in the place other than liquor for pain relief and he damned sure wasn't about to get this little girl drunk. He kept talking to hold her attention while he inspected the wound and made sure it was clear of debris.

"You're one tough little kid, you know that? I'd be crying if I were you. Well, maybe not me. But Sammy'd definitely be bawling like a little girl...is...supposed to...bawl under these circumstances," he quirked a brow in amusement at his choice of phrases. "You know, little girls other than yourself, that is. Then again, Sammy's a bit overly sensitive. Between you and me? I'm actually starting to wonder about him..."

"Hey!" Sam called indignantly from across the room.

Dean snickered and glanced up to see that the girl was smiling, too.

After retrieving what he needed from the first aid supplies on the table, he bent to the task of carefully cleaning the wound. To her credit, she tensed up and winced, but never made a sound. It was a pretty long gash, fairly deep, too, but the edges were relatively smooth. He was relieved to find that he could get away with using butterfly bandages to close it up.

A few minutes and a lot of rambling later, he was finished. The girl lowered the shirt carefully over the wound while he packed up the first aid kit.

"All right, let me go get some grub on. I'm guessing you're hungry, considering your stomach's said way more to me than you have."

He stood and walked over to the kitchenette area, snagging their beat-to-hell frying pan on the way and setting it on the hot plate. Opening the cabinet, he grabbed a can of Spam. He took a quick inventory of their remaining canned goods and winced before turning to retrieve the eggs from the fridge. He'd be cutting school again soon to hustle for grocery money if their Dad didn't give him some cash. Even sooner, if this girl wound up staying with them for more than a few meals. It was okay, though. Out of necessity, he'd gotten talented in a wide array of ways to score fast cash. His illegal entrepreneurial activities had kept them fed and clothed many times over the years.

"I think I'm gonna join you. Fried spam and eggs is sorta the Winchester House Special," he commented before calling across the room to his brother. "You hungry, Sam?"

"I could eat," Sam answered.

"Of course you could eat," Dean grumbled. "The amount of food you put down, you're gonna be a freaking giant."

Closing the refrigerator door, he turned and damned near tripped over the little girl, who had evidently come to stand directly behind him.

"Jesus!" He yelped in surprise as she stared up at him innocently. "Stomp your feet when you walk or something, kid. I'm gonna have to put a freaking bell on you!"

She tilted her head to the side, not immediately frightened of him this time, but anxiously trying to judge whether or not he was really angry at her.

Seeing the questions in her eyes, he reached down and patted the top of her head in unspoken reassurance.

A snort of laughter came from the other side of the room. He scowled and looked over at a thoroughly amused Sam.

"Did I really just see a little girl sneak up on you?" Sam taunted.

"What? Pfft. No! Definitely not." Dean insisted a little too quickly. He looked down at the girl and winked conspiratorially, earning a soft laugh in response.

"Dude, she totally snuck up on you," Sam declared.

Dean put his hands on his hips stubbornly. "Yeah, but she's not a little girl. She's clearly a little ninja disguised as a little girl."

"Sure she is," Sam snorted. "You just keep telling yourself that."

"It's true," he insisted. "That's the real reason she doesn't talk. She's a kung fu monk and she took a vow of silence. Isn't that right?"

The girl smiled, but said nothing.

"See? Told you!" Dean said and grinned triumphantly, as if she'd given all the confirmation required.

He got to work preparing the food as the girl took up her favored position, stuck to his leg. By the time he'd cut up the Spam and slid it into the frying pan, she was already growing impatient. Her short stature made it next to impossible to see what he was doing up on the counter. When her grip indicated that she was very seriously considering climbing him like a tree, he caved and hoisted her up.

She eagerly attached herself to his side, wrapping her arms around his neck to hold herself up while intently watching the food sizzle in the pan. It wasn't easy cooking with one hand, but it was a one time deal and it seemed to make her happy, so what the hell?

By the time their impromptu meal was finished and he was divvying it up on three plates, the girl was positively trembling and staring down at the food with wide, hopeful eyes. Her tiny fingers were pressing into the side of his neck so hard that he was sure to have bruises in the morning. He loaded up her plate, only taking enough for himself and Sam for it to technically qualify as them eating the meal with her.

"All right, midget. You gotta go sit down. I mean I'm good, but even I can't balance three plates and a kid at the same time," he teased.

He was only slightly surprised when she immediately released her hold on him, clambered down his side, and scurried over to take a seat.

He gave her credit for forcing herself to use the fork instead of just shoveling food into her mouth with both hands.

Sam sat across from her at the table, pushing his eggs around his plate while trying not to stare too openly.

Dean took his seat between the two and wasted a couple of minutes on the unnecessary task of cutting his slices of Spam into even smaller pieces. He had a hunch he wouldn't be eating it.

Just as he he suspected, bare spots were fast appearing on her plate and she showed no sign of slowing down. He scraped his own food onto her dish without hesitation.

She paused just long enough to give him an embarrassed but grateful smile, then went right back to eating.

Sam frowned and gave Dean a look that required no words. Dean nodded and watched his little brother add his own meager serving to the girl's plate.

She turned to give Sam a grateful smile, too, but her eyes unexpectedly filled with tears. Sam watched in bewilderment as her face fell slowly. Without warning, and for seemingly no reason, she burst into tears.

"What did I do wrong?" Sam asked in a panic and stood from the table, trying to give her some room.

Dean just shook his head as he pulled the girl into his lap. "You didn't do anything wrong, Sammy," he assured over her sobs. "It's all just finally catching up with her."

Any fear he had of not knowing how to help this little girl went right out the window in that moment. It wasn't so different than the way he used to calm Sam after his nightmares. His arms were holding her tight and chin was resting on the top of her head as if he'd done this a thousand times before. Words of reassurance tumbled from his lips without thought. He rocked her as she held onto him and clutched fistfuls of his shirt. He even caught himself kissing the top of her head before shooting Sam a look that clearly said, 'You tell anyone about this, you die.'

It took a long time for her to finally settle down, but eventually her sobs turned into soft, exhausted whimpers.

"What triggered that?" Sam all but whispered.

"Adrenaline's worn off. She's safe, clean, bandaged up, fed..." Dean offered and shrugged. "Should've been crying before, but there was still too much else going on. Happens a lot when a person goes through something real bad."

The girl in his arms was growing limp, but her hold on him hadn't let up in the least. The little bit of food remaining on her plate sat cold and forgotten.

"All right, kid. Let's go put you somewhere so you can sleep for a while." He stood and carried her to the bed, but found when he tried to put her down that she had zero intention of letting go. "Uh, midget? I need you to relax the kung-fu action grip here for a sec, okay?"

Nope.

With a defeated sigh, he stood upright again and walked to the couch, snagging his shotgun as he went.

"All right. Infomercials it is," he said before taking a seat and placing his gun within reach. "You can go hit the hay, Sam."

His brother shook his head and stubbornly sat on the end of the couch.

"Great. Looks like nobody's getting to sleep in a bed tonight. I hope you're happy," he teased, but found when he looked down that the girl was already out cold.

Her hair was starting to dry now. The color seemed to be getting lighter by the second and curls were starting to form. He smiled down at her for a second. She looked a hell of a lot better now than she had when she arrived.

He wrapped an arm around her back to steady her and picked up the remote, resigned to a night of bad television and babysitting.

-SPN-

9:44 am and he heard the Impala pull up outside.

His father was back on time and gave the appropriate knock, so Dean merely leveled his shotgun at the door without getting up.

The girl sleeping against him didn't bat an eyelash.

Sam stood, though, and Dean gave him credit for his stance as he pointed his own pistol at the door.

John entered looking tired as hell, but still determined. He walked to the sink and washed his hands and forearms thoroughly, undoubtedly getting rid of any blood he might have missed.

Dean noted that his father's shirt looked entirely too clean. He knew he had changed clothes before coming back. Probably burned whatever he'd been wearing, too. That didn't bode well for whatever baddie his father had gone to straighten out.

When John was finished, he walked over, looked down at the sleeping girl, and sighed.

Slowly and carefully, he scooped her up out of Dean's arms and into his own. In her deep sleep, her grip had finally relaxed some.

Without a word, John walked out the door with her.

Dean watched in confusion as the door closed behind his father. Then sat in astonishment when the Impala started up and pulled away.

That was it.

No explanation.

No goodbye to the girl he'd just helped.

Nothing.

-SPN-

Over the course of that night, Sam had spent the majority of his time hanging back. He was unsure of what to do or say around the little girl, afraid that he would inadvertently make the situation worse. But he had been more than happy to watch his brother interact with her.

After all, it was truly a rare thing to see the softer side of Dean these days. Unfortunately, even at 12 years old, Sam was smart enough to realize that was at least partially his fault.

His big brother used to be like... well, like a mother to him, as weird as that might seem. Despite only being four years older, Dean had been the one to feed him, clothe him, bathe him, teach him, read him bedtime stories, tuck him in, comfort him when he had nightmares...

He couldn't remember that far back (thank God), but he even had the horrible feeling that his brother had been the one changing his diapers after their Mom died. Hell, he'd probably potty trained him, too.

Eventually, though, like all kids, Sam had grown eager to shed anything in his life that made him look or feel like a 'baby'. And that meant countless cruel outbursts directed at Dean demanding that the nurturing had to "Stop!"

He couldn't pinpoint exactly when the change happened. At some point, though, between his own harsh rebukes, their father's militarized parenting techniques, and Dean's regular exposure to all the things that went bump in the night, his big brother transformed. One day Sam realized that the freckle-faced kid with the kind heart and nurturing streak - the kid who had been his surrogate mother and father - was inexplicably gone. In his place was a total bad ass, far too tough for anything even remotely resembling affection (aside from sleeping with every hot cheerleader in every school they attended).

The only time Sam got a glimpse of Dean's nurturing side nowadays was when he was hurt. Well... As long as there was no one responsible for the hurting, of course. Because in those instances, Dean's protective side came out instead and, yeah - total bad ass.

A year prior, Sam had broken his arm falling down a flight of stairs at school. Nobody tripped him, he was just clumsy. It had been a BAD break. Bone protruding, blood all over the place... You get it. The whole shebang.

It seemed like he'd no sooner drawn a breath after that first bloodcurdling scream than Dean was there. The memory was admittedly hazy due to the extreme amount of pain he'd been in, but to this day, Sam was still fairly certain that no one went to get Dean. It was like he just knew. His big-brother spidey-senses were tingling or something. Or maybe he had heard that scream from the other side of the school and immediately recognized it as Sam.

However it happened, he was infinitely thankful that it had.

He remembered Dean scooping him up and running to the nurse's office. He could still hear his brother telling the nurse (in a voice entirely too calm for a 15 year old in that situation) that Sam had a compound fracture. He remembered the nurse turning positively green at the sight of his arm and saying that she would call 911.

But his brother didn't wait. He pulled Sam right up onto that exam table, sat behind him, wrapped his legs around him to hold him steady, kissed the back of his head, and said reassuring things in his ear before, during, and after he set the bone.

Sam shrieked.

The nurse threw up.

Dean didn't miss a step. He dug through her cabinets and found what he needed to clean and bandage the protrusion site without her assistance.

Sam remembered the paramedics yelling at Dean when they got there. They said he should have waited and let the hospital fix the bone. They said that Sam might have needed surgery and could get an infection now.

But they didn't know how Dean had been trained. The John Winchester School of Medicine taught that if you went to a hospital, 'somebody'd damned well better be dying.'

For 24 hours after that incident, he and his brother had been inseparable. Dean's anti-affection rule was temporarily revoked (likely due to his need to reassure himself that Sam was okay).

Sam had forgotten how comforting it was to share a bed with his brother. He didn't have a single nightmare that night.

It was a little sad, but that broken arm was actually a fond memory for him, and it was all because of Dean.

He wished he could have figured out a way to tell his big brother that he wanted to take it all back - all the times he'd fought off the care and affection. A way to say that he had been wrong and desperately wanted the old Dean back. But he could never find the words. And his raging hormones often led him to tear into his brother and say even more things he didn't mean.

At this point, no thanks to him, the wall Dean had built around himself was damned near unscalable. But the little girl had managed it. Hell, she'd taken a tiny hammer to that wall and cracked the facade, exposed Dean's big heart.

And then, fifteen minutes ago, their Dad had walked in, picked her up out of Dean's lap, carried her out to the car while she was still sleeping, and left without saying a word.

Dean was still sitting on the couch, looking out the window in a daze. He hadn't moved a muscle since hearing the Impala drive away. He didn't cry or yell or anything to express what he was feeling. He just sat there and kept it all inside like always.

Once again, Sam didn't know what to say or do. He thought he'd been afraid to say the wrong thing before, but now?

After another ten minutes passed in cold silence, he cautiously approached his brother. He could sense the emotions swirling just beneath the surface. His brother was like a raw nerve.

He just wanted Dean to talk. Just for once. To go back to the way he used to be. To share things with him.

"You okay?" He asked softly.

As usual, he'd chosen the wrong words.

Dean's posture turned defensive and he could almost hear the wall returning to its former impervious state.

"Of course, I'm okay, Samantha. Don't make this a thing," Dean warned before climbing to his feet, entering the bathroom, and slamming the door behind him.

-SPN-

Dean didn't know how long he had sat there on the couch feeling utterly numb. Slowly, though, that lack of feeling had been replaced by a pain that he would never admit to being heartache.

He knew he snapped at Sam, but he just didn't feel like talking. There was nothing to say.

It shouldn't have cut him so deeply - having that kid thrust into his world, then yanked back out again. Shouldn't have, but did.

He tried to hold his wounded heart together with both hands, but it was no use. So, he did what he did best, he focused on locking it up inside. Deep so it wouldn't hurt anymore. Or, at the very least, so that he could hide that he was hurting at all.

When his father returned early the next morning, he gave no explanation still. Even when Sammy grilled him for information, he just dismissed the whole topic as if it had never happened.

It was at least a year before Dean stopped wondering about that girl on a daily basis. She still popped into his head from time to time for years after that, any time their hunts came across a young girl, or if he saw a kid with curly blonde hair.

Eventually, he forced himself to accept that he didn't need an explanation or a goodbye. They helped people. That's what he'd done. That was all that mattered.

He just hoped that some day, he might find out if what he'd done had been enough...


A/N: Thoughts? Feels? Be sure to share them! I love reading reviews - they're writing fuel! :)