Order and Sacrifice

A/N: This is a fic which looks into how Dean is basically Sam's parent, looking at examples from their childhoods... its written as one continous item however due to its length I recognised I'd have to spilt it over two chapters - but I'm posting them at the same time so the flow remains

I hope you enjoy because I loved writing this :)

A glass slammed onto the table.

Dean's gaze shifted from the pool game he was scouting to where half of his attention had been focused since they'd entered the bar.

Unmoved from the counter, shoulder's hunched forwards and head hanging low his dad pushed away the empty whiskey shot as two fingers flicked up to signal another; his fourth since he moved on from the beer five bottles ago.

John Winchester drinking was no rare sight, in truth it would be startling to see him without a form of alcohol within reaching distance; however the second they'd finished the hunt a few hours prior, one which despite their efforts had left another widower in the world who now had to cope with the knowledge of what was really out there, the twenty-two year old had known this wasn't going to be a wind-down session.

Which usually wouldn't be too much of a problem; they all had hunts which hit them deeper than others and there was an understanding to allow the recipient to deal with it in their own manner.

However, usually the youngest member of the family hadn't run off to Stanford six months ago.

Dean's eyes scrunched up and three fingers ran across his brow; mostly he tried not to think about his little brother – in those first months it was all he could think about and basically every conversation with his dad had ended up mentioning something Sam once did, or how Sam would have done that or how Sam would have suggested this.

But after one to many blow-ups over the constant reminder of the third Winchester's absence he'd forced the denial method and pushed down on that part of his life, focusing on the present in whichever town they were in rather than the possible events happening in that particular state.

Yet the whole 'Let's not talk about how messed up this situation is' meant that when nights like this came about, the drink that wrapped around his dad's head always focused on one topic.

"I have a son your age," There was a faint slur to the words and the teenager who had just approached the bar smiled good-naturedly at the middle-aged drunk.

"There's probably a lot of people who have sons my age," He replied, flipping a clearly fake ID at the guy behind the counter and straightening his posture when it was accepted with an eye-roll.

John shifted to face the boy and raised a finger to his chest, "But are you one of the good sons?" He poked his shirt, "Cause a lot of people are sons but not all are particularly good."

The teen pushed away the intruding hand and crossed his arms, "Well I think I'm decent enough."

At this point Dean had stood up and was making his way across the room; his dad drink bitching about Sam was bad enough but doing so to a stranger caused his jaw to clench.

"So you do as your told," A sharp hiss released as he swung back the newly arrived whiskey, "You follow orders when your dad tells you to do something."

He glanced over to a group of students in the far corner and tapped against the wood, clearly wondering how he'd ended up chatting to the guy with pent up issues, "Sure, I guess."

Although from John's glazed expression it seemed he wasn't really looking for an answer, "That's how it should be – you're told to do something so you do it."

Dean slipped past the last table, "Okay dad, I think that's you done for the night," He caught the kid's eye and nodded, letting him collect his drink and head back to his friends whilst trying to ignore the sympathetic look he got in return.

He pried the empty glass out of the man's grip before swinging the arm over his shoulders, the fact he wasn't automatically shoved off showing just how drunk the hunter actually was, "Let's get you back to the motel."

John's head slumped to the side and his gaze followed the retreating eighteen year old, "A kid's always supposed to follow his parent's orders."

Dean eyes remained closed, attempting to keep the pretence of the window being a plump feathered pillow, or at least a ragged blanket, as his ears caught the familiar click of the car door, "Finally," He groaned, "What were-"

A sharp vibration echoed through his head when said door suddenly underwent a hulk slamming and he shot up with a curse, eyes snapping to the offender of his baby, "Dude! Do you have a death wish or is this just your way of telling me you want to walk home today – cause I'm happy to oblige with either scenario."

Sam's shoulder made a brief upwards motion, the rest of his body angled to the window to such an extent Dean just had a mop of hair as a target for his glare.

Hence was what shook off his annoyance and brought a frown to his forehead; there were only two reasons his little brother would ever dare violate the car in such a manner – one because he found it amusing and would take Dean's reaction as an opportunity to have a round of mocking about his unnatural love for the vehicle, or two because something had really upset him.

And since Dean wasn't being asked about where he planned to take the Impala on their honeymoon, he needed to know who he had to go and beat up.

"Sammy, what's wrong?" He placed an assessing hand on the kid's shoulder, "Are you hurt?"

This time he received a shake of the head, which although more motion than a shrug still wasn't actual words so did little to sway his worry, "Is this a new silence craze that I don't know about? Cause clearly I'd have no complaints since it saves me from your constant natter, however you have to give me a heads up first – just so I can make sure I get the date correct when I jot it in my diary."

Now that had been a free shot for 'Isn't it already full with your feelings and little heart drawings' and he didn't give out open teases about being a girl often, they were saved up to describe the geek-boy… but the silence held strong.

"You don't want to tell me? Okay fine – but you know I'm going to find out within the next couple of hours anyway, so really it would save us both the trouble if you just spilled now."


Dean sighed and started up the engine, observing his brother's posture as he pulled away from the school, he seemed to slump even lower as the building was left behind which at least ruled out the theory that the kid had a run in with a loud-mouthed jerk; after an argument, cause Sam would never start a fight in school, with a jock wanting to reassert his authority he'd always get tenser as he got further away from the building, his mind going over things that would have sounded better and other points he could have made, annoyed he didn't think of them earlier.

Furthermore it was fortunately clear nobody had taken a swing at him since either Sam would have visible strain in his muscles or he'd be tearing up with guilt and making Dean drive him to whichever hospital he'd put his fighting partner in.

Seemed all the training had eventually paid off, the kid could almost take him down these days.

But all this still gave no indication to why his little brother was curled in on himself giving an A-class performance of the silent treatment.

"So you think your math test went well today?" Dean asked, opting for the talk-about-education method to gauge a response.

It almost worked; he saw Sam's chest rise to recall the quiz he'd been studying for non-stop all week but at the last second his hand twitched, recognising what Dean was doing and the opening was gone.

That was all he could try while he was driving, so reducing to just throwing a few glances to the fifteen year old every couple of minutes he subtly added pressure to the acceleration whilst being glad their current motel was only a twelve minute drive from the school.

When he pulled up in front of their room he was ready for Sam's attempt to dash out of the car and his hand was clamped onto his arm before he could pull the handle; now able to divert his full attention his voice softened to a tone only his kid brother got to be the recipient of, "You're not going anywhere until you tell me what's bothering you."

He'd lowered his head to let the freakishly long fringe of hair cover his face but Dean wasn't having any of that, he grabbed Sam's chin and dragged his gaze forward, "Dude look at me."

His chest went cold as the familiar brown eyes caught his own for a second, enough to recognise the beginning of unshed tears, "Sammy…"

But his grip was quickly shaken off and with a barely audible, "I'm fine," he was left sitting alone in the car.

However not for long as he was only a few steps behind the kid, catching the peeling red door before it slammed in his face and prepared to literally tackle information out of his brother – because he may quite regularly call Sam a girl, well yes over three times a day, but tears were not something you often saw on the that boys face since he was ten.

Yet the gruff bearded man he nearly ran into definitely wasn't an upset little brother, "Hey dad," He could see Sam sitting on the far bed pretending to get his duffel bag sorted, using their father as a shield from any more questions; they both knew Dean wouldn't risk a chick-flick moment in front of the man with no guarantee his brother would respond, "Any reason you've taken a job as a doorman?"

John rolled his eyes at his eldest usual humour, "I forgot to go and restock on first aid essentials last night – I need you to go and grab some."

They should have really done that a couple of days ago since their last bandage had been wrapped around Dean's upper arm for the past week, courtesy of a particularly feisty ghost, but he didn't mention that, "Yeah sure…" His eyes slid onto his brother, hoping he'd glance up so he could assess whether the kid was alright to be left alone with whatever was going on in his head, but he just kept shuffling through his bag, "I'll go do that."

"And be sharp - we're leaving in an hour," He added as his son returned to the car.

Dean spun and did a quick bow, "As your personal dogsbody I aim to please," Laughing at the huff he got in reply; the pharmacy wasn't too far and luckily their money was currently at a level where he wouldn't need to steal anything, so it'd be an easy shopping trip as well.

However the reminder of them leaving was another reason Sammy's sullenness was putting him on edge.

This hunt was a special one – nothing he'd ever seen organised to such a scale before; it had been talked about for a couple of months and officially planned three weeks ago, involving five hunters along with the three Winchesters.

8 hunters - it was probably a world record; if such a thing existed within their profession and he had been buzzing for it ever since his dad had first mentioned the idea.

A tip had been given about an uncommonly large Vetala nest in North Carolina, it had been anonymous, so nobody thought too much about it until one of Bobby's friends Rufus had stuck his nose in as he was passing by and immediately rung up the old man ranting about forty-something of the blood sucking snake like creatures living it up in a collection of basements along one street.

Bobby had managed to hold the hunter back from storming in and making himself a ready-meal blood bag and called John, asking if he could get a group together to go and take the job.

The reason for the planning stage to take so long was due to the single parents trust issues; each time he finally chose a new hunter to ask to join the fray he simply told them to be ready and he'd give them a call to let them know where to meet at a later date.

And this morning the final guy, Peterson, had rung back to say he was in and they'd got ready to move out.

So although being part of the hunter's supreme team and getting to slice through a mass of bloodsuckers was awesome, there was no doubt that it was also highly dangerous so he needed to know Sam was fully focused.

But dammit he couldn't think of anything that would have set the kid into a round of serious sulking.

Of course he always got a bit iffy when they left a town and especially so if he'd made friends; Sammy didn't always warm up to his new classmates but when he did, he had a habit of being able to make firm friends fast – the kind who were sincerely going to miss you when after a few months you suddenly announced you were leaving.

Dean never had that problem, sure basically everyone he met was swayed by his charm but that's all it was… charm – he was somebody people would love in a second and forget in exactly the same amount of time.

Yet that couldn't be Sam's problem, they were coming back to this town; they'd just arrived a few weeks ago to scan out a potential job but the Vetala hunt was now set to go so their dad said they'd come back to finish up here afterwards.

His hands automatically grabbed the needed items when he got to the pharmacy and already had the bill on the counter before the woman called up the price, although before collecting his purchases he hesitated for a moment and grabbed a chocolate slab, throwing down some extra coins – perhaps sugar would loosen his brother's tongue.

Arriving back at the motel he noted his family's bags were already in the back of his dad's truck so he threw in the new items as well.

John stood up as he entered, "Good – lets hit the road then, we're all meeting up at Jeff's place tonight and then we'll hit the Vet' town the next day."

"Sounds like a plan," Dean grinned, fetching his own bag off the bed as John led the way out.

But as his brother passed him he slid a hand into his jacket and held out the chocolate, his voice lowering although their dad wasn't in the room, "Snack for the road."

Sam's eyes fixed onto the candy bar blocking his path and for a second Dean thought he was just going to shove it away; but instead he caught a brief flicker of the corner of the kid's mouth and his hand moved to gently snap a small piece off.

Dean smirked, health-freak, and released his grip; but the nearly whole bar was put back in his hand.

He raised an eyebrow at the teenager; Sam's face had gone back to a blank slate yet he heard the muttered, "Sorry for slamming the car," Before the kid scuttled out of the room.

With that one sentence he had to physically swallow down his groan; he had been thinking of just letting his brother's attitude slide, everyone had bad days and with their lives who wouldn't expect it, plus once they got to this hunter's place he'd probably of perked up again.

But when the kid looked so miserable yet still let him keep the chocolate and actually apologised for his treatment of the car… well how was he supposed to just let it go and assume he'd sort whatever it was out in his own head.

The things he did for that boy, "Shoot, hey dad!" He shouted, plastering on a sheepish expression, "I totally forgot about the bandages – I'll quickly go back and get some."

"For goodness sake Dean! We're leaving late enough already cause Sam was whining about being dragged out of school," Their dad's ability to switch from humour to drill sergeant was its own kind of skill.

"Sorry," He held up his hands, "Look you two go ahead, I'll just catch up – I won't get there much later than you."

Sam's eyes had widened at the remark, adding another puzzle to the mystery but John didn't have the same problem with the idea, "Fine – but ring when you hit the main road so we know how far behind you are."

Dean resisted rolling his eyes, at nineteen some people would think he'd be treated a bit more like an adult, "Will do."

He slid behind the wheel as the other two Winchester's settled in the truck, lifting a hand out of the window he called, "Ring if you need anything," Then pulled out of the parking lot.

And maybe his eyes had latched onto Sam's through the wing mirror for that last sentence.

On turning left he stepped on the gas, checking the truck hadn't followed yet and slipped down a side road; he took a space between two parked cars and sat with his eyes locked on the road that headed out of town.

After a few minutes, dad must have remembered he had to drop the key at reception, the ugly familiar sight of the truck he really thought should be replaced passed by and Dean restarted his baby, smoothly driving out of the space and re-joining the main road – heading the opposite way to the direction his dad had just gone and where the pharmacy lay and instead right pass the motel.

Something had changed Sam from his cheery attitude as he'd wrestled Dean for the first shower this morning, to hanging his head and using his hair to cover the water in his eyes.

So somebody in that school had some answering to do.

He had no idea why, but teachers always seemed to still be hanging around even when the day had ended over an hour ago; if he worked in a school he'd be out of there at the last bell, although if he worked at a school he probably wouldn't have turned up at the beginning of the day anyway so it wouldn't really matter.

Knowing Sam's last lesson had been World History with Miss Kent, since he always seemed to memorise his brother's timetable without even trying, walking into the reception, it wasn't hard to grace his way into the building with directions of where to find her room.

He couldn't remember ever knocking on a teacher's door before entering, but he figured he should make a good impression.

"Yes?" The distinctive youth to the female voice triggered his 'I know you're curious' smirk as he opened the door and he was pleased by the hint of red that flushed her cheeks as she looked up.

"Hey, I'm not interrupting am I?" He asked despite already having walked into the room and perched on the edge of the desk directly in front of hers.

"Um, no…" She then remembered this was her workspace and she was the one in control, "Sorry but who are you?"

"Dean Winchester," He grinned, tilting his head in greeting, "My little brother, Sammy, is in your class."

Her persona suddenly clicked into teacher mode on hearing she was dealing with a pupils relative, the change was actually quite impressive; the subtle appreciative gaze that had travelled down his body a few seconds ago was nowhere in sight, just a professional smile of interest – she could teach Sam a thing or two about playing a part, not that he'd have to do the marshal routine for a couple more years.

"Oh yes Sam, I was planning on calling your father about the matter this evening, do you know if he's available at the moment?"

"Currently indisposed," The smile had left his face, "What matter?"

Her brow gently dipped, "I was assuming you already knew – isn't that why you're here?"

Dean folded his arms, "I'm here because my little brother came home holding back tears," He forced out a breath, noticing his tone had started to take on the hint of a growl, "Now what's wrong?"

She was slightly taken back by the sudden hardness in the man's tone but her voice remained neutral, "Well World History is a new class the sophomores take, so unlike most of their other subjects we don't have past grades to look at," She slid a file out of her desk which Dean could guess meant Sam had sat through this exact same conversation earlier, "And the problem is your brother hasn't handed in any of the assignments yet - all of them are counting towards his coursework and he's four behind."

"Four? We've only been here just under three weeks – you can't have set that many already."

"No but this is from his previous schools as well," She added, "We contacted them so his averages would stay up, he only gets the highest praise in his other classes, but they said he never handed any in."

That caught him by surprise, boy-genius never missed a deadline; how on earth had he missed four?

"So, what does that mean?" He asked, still confused by why this would have upset Sam so much – sure he was becoming a bit slack on his work, but he was hardly flunking.

The young woman bit her lip, sincere sympathy lining her reply, "Mr Winchester, due to this Sam is currently looking at potentially having to re-sit the year."

And there was the bucket of ice water; being moved down a grade, no wonder the kid was acting like the walking dead – that would kill him.

Hence why Dean was on his feet, glare set down on the young teacher who had slid her chair slightly back from the looming figure, "How is that even possible? You just said he's acing all his other classes!"

"Yes I know, but the system doesn't work like that – he has to pass all of the classes to get through the grade."

"Well that's just stupid," He spat, resisting the urge to kick over a desk, he needed to fix this, "Okay fine – he's behind on his assignments – what does he have to do to start passing?"

"I discussed it with him before he left – a few weeks before Sam arrived my students had begun working on a final project which would count for half their grade; I didn't ask your brother to do it when he got here as I assumed he would have done enough in his other school." A wariness tinted her eyes as she continued, "I told him that if he can get a decent draft of that project in by Wednesday, along with one of the four assignments he didn't hand in – he can scrap a pass and he'll be fine."

He ran two fingers over his mouth, his eyes briefly clamping down; this was just perfect timing, Sam finds out he's failing and has to complete an inhumane amount of work if he wants a chance of getting to eleventh grade on the weekend he gets dragged into a giant hunt with a group of people who couldn't care less about school.

Great. Just great.

Of course it's not like he cared about education, normally he'd be on the side of the hunters; why deal with stupid coursework when there were creatures to be killed… however it was important to Sam and therefore it had just become a priority.

"Wednesday? Is that really the latest you can give him?" His brother may be the king of the puppy eyes but he was definitely a close second.

He could see the argument running through her head, her bottom lip turning redder as she continued holding it between her teeth; then with a sigh she shook her head and replied, "Fine he can have till Friday – but that is literally the latest I can do, after that all the students coursework has to be in and completed."

"Right okay – Friday," That still didn't give him great confidence but in typical Winchester fashion he relaxed his posture and re-drew his disarming smirk, "I really appreciate this Miss Kent."

It was a success as the teacher's eyes softened and she gave her own smile in return, "Carol – and no problem, Sam's an amazing student with great potential, I don't want him to have to suffer a re-sit."

"Yeah," He muttered, throwing the young woman a trademark wink before heading out of the room, "Well you have a good weekend Carol."

"You to Mr Winchester."

His head poked past the door as it began to swing shut, "Please," He grinned, "Call me Dean."

It was a wonder how Sammy always managed to get the good looking teachers, his had always been bordering on fifty and had no idea what the word fashion meant; maybe he would have stayed in school more if he had that view.

But he had a bigger problem to fix right now; Sam – his geeky head-in-a-book brother – had fallen so far behind he was suffering the re-sit threat?

It definitely explained the sullenness, the kid must feel like he's trapped in some alternative dimension nightmare; although he didn't know why Sam hadn't just told him what was wrong in the first place – he told him everything, even when most of the time Dean didn't want to hear it because it was just another string of whining; so why would he stay silent on something big like this?

These were all questions he'd have to stew over on the long car-ride; not his idea of a relaxing journey – hopefully some Metallica would let him put aside the worry until he got to this hunter's place.

The house he pulled in front of four hours later was the spitting image of the kind of shack he'd expected; to be honest every friend of dad's they'd visited all lived in basically identical houses – he wouldn't be surprised if there was some kind of hunter's furnishing business.

It was two storeys and made of wood that looked like it'd never seen the light of day; half of the front porch was actually just a giant hole where it'd rotted away – the windows also had that classic haunted house feel with layers of dust and cobwebs plus he was pretty sure he'd just seen a rat disappear into one of the walls.

Home sweet home wasn't really the phrase that came to mind.

Locking up his baby among the array of trucks which signalled he was the last hunter to arrive, he jumped the creaky stairs and let himself in – another benefit of their profession, nobody cared about manners.

"But dad if you'd just –"

Dean's eyes widened at the familiar sound of his little brother bashing head's with their dad; he'd hope the kid would have been smart enough not to try and resolve his school issues while a group of the man's friends were on-looking, one thing John couldn't stand was being showed disrespect in front of other people – fellow hunters especially.

"Your damn backside will be in that truck tomorrow and that is final!"

His dad's growl echoed throughout the entire house and Dean entered the room just in time to see his little brother with wet cheeks storming out of the far door and up the stairs.

Awkward was a mild description for the atmosphere in the room; three men he didn't recognise were sitting around a table with a map laid out and studying it with intense concentration, attempting to pretend they hadn't just sat there while John and his son had gone a round with each other.

"So, did the party start without me?" He asked in a tone he'd mastered to defuse these kinds of situations.

John's focus snapped away from the stairs at the voice and his face seemed to relax, as if knowing at least this son wouldn't be causing him any embarrassment, "Dean – you finally made it then."

"Yeah sorry, hit some traffic," He couldn't remember when it became so easy to lie to his dad, approaching the table he ran an assessment over the Vetala layers blueprints and gave a greeting nod to the new guys before casually adding, "Is Sammy okay?"

He could hear the rant forming in the man's throat, however it was one of the hunters who spoke up, "Man – your brother is certainly something, I was afraid I was going to end up with a broken pile of furniture for a living room."

So cowboy boots must be Jeff; he looked around the same age as their dad, "So not much difference then?"

The group burst into laughter, one smacking Jeff's shoulder as he scowled at the comment; even John's face broke the hint of a grin and he walked over to sit at the table, adding his own remark about the décor and settling into an eased attitude, seemingly forgetting about the shouting match he'd just had.

Which had been Dean's intention; the man never let him go and talk to his brother after these arguments, stating it was Sam's own fault for his bratty behaviour and it shouldn't be encouraged by giving him the attention he's looking for; so he always had to make a distraction so his dad didn't realise that was what he was going to do.

Re-adjusting the duffel bag on his shoulder the group didn't notice as he left the room and headed up the stairs in the direction his brother had retreated; they'd slipped right back into talking about the hunt, so he had as much time as he wanted.

There were four rooms on the top corridor, but the light coming from under the middle one made it clear where he was needed.

Swinging open the door he found a pile of gangly limbs curled up on the single bed, the kid's face was pressed into the pillow and from the vibrations in his shoulders it was clear he was trying to stop his tears.

In most crying incidents Dean could solve everything with a few well-placed jokes at his expense and a gentle grip on the back of the kid's neck, but he knew it was going to require slightly more than that this time.

"Sammy?" He softly pried, settling on the edge of the mattress and placing a hand on his back; when he got no response he sighed and decided just to throw it out there, "I went and spoke to your teacher."

This caused the teenager to flip over, his eyes visibly red but wide with shock at the news, "What!" His voice had a slight croak to it, "You saw Miss Kent?"

"Yep – and you've been holding out on me, because she is –" A sniffle cut him off, that thought track was best saved for later, "Anyway… why didn't you tell me what was going on?"

The hazel orbs blinked up at him as he brought his legs closer to his chest, Sam's voice seemed to regress a couple of years as he spoke, "Don't know… didn't want to worry you."

And there was the tug in his chest, "Okay," He settled a hand on the legs which were poking into his stomach, "You want to tell me why you thought trying to sort the issue with dad in front of a group of strangers was a good idea?"

"Thought Bobby would be here… " He mumbled into the sheet, "But he and Rufus are on surveillance."

Dean winched, that must have been a blow; using Bobby as a shield was a smart plan, he was one of those few people who wouldn't back down from their dad even against his biggest rages – and he almost always took their side if they were discussing anything John Winchester.

"Could have waited for me then."

"They were talking about what everyone's separate jobs were going to be," Sam muttered, subconsciously etching closer to his brother, "If I left it after everything had been organised he'd have been even madder."

No kidding, "Did you actually tell him why –"

"Yeah but –"

"He heard but didn't listen… right," It was a one thing their dad was highly skilled in; selective hearing, you could give that man a detailed explanation about how you'd blown a tyre, had to walk two miles to find a mechanics, drag the spare tyre back by hand and change it with no jack but he would just take away the information that you were two hours late.

Not saying it was a bad thing, he had more important things to think about than idle excuses, but in the privacy of Dean's thoughts… it was frustrating.

"Well," He ran a hand through his hair and gestured it for a compromise, "Look, this hunt isn't going to take long, I mean have you ever seen anything so well prepared – we'll probably be done by tomorrow night, the next morning at the latest and I worked my charm to get you until Friday to do your projects… you'll still have time to get them done."

"Oh of course! It'll be easy!" Sam snapped, his upset quickly manifesting into rage with a speed only a hormonal teenager could achieve, "That projects three months of work Dean! It's all the class has been doing – with access to Miss Kent, getting rough drafts corrected, advice for improvements; and the other assignment is a 3000 word essay! How is that supposed to done in four days? Even if I could get out of this hunt that's still only a week – I can't do it… I can't –"

His voice hitched as the tears came back and he shoved his face into the pillow again, causing Dean to tighten his grip on the kid's leg.

"Okay, okay fair enough," He admitted, "But I'm pretty sure we could do it."

He felt Sam's muscles twitch under his hand and a grin spread onto his features, "Hey don't give me that – I may not have been all boy-genius like a certain someone in school but that's mainly cause I couldn't give a toss about the work; I promise for the available days I'll be a proper geek – then that's only half the load on your shoulders."

A pair of eyes peaked up at him from under a mess of hair and he raised three fingers, "Scouts honour."

That actually earned him the flicker of a smile, however it was gone just as quickly along with the rest of the head which re-buried itself – it seemed the sacrifice of offering to do work wasn't enough to convince his brother he'd be able to finish the coursework in time.

But Dean really wanted to go on this hunt; it was the pinnacle of all jobs – if somebody was going to make a movie about the lives of hunters this would be the case that'd make up the main action scene… a group of machete swinging professionals, destroying the biggest bloodsucker nest ever found.

Yet on the other hand he had his baby brother practically curled up against his stomach shedding tears into a pillow which didn't look properly washed.

So although there was heavy reluctance… he wasn't surprised when his next words were, "And - you don't have to go on the hunt."

"Really!" Finally the spark reappeared in the kid's eyes as he shot up, nearly knocking Dean off the bed with the energy of the motion.

"Yeah sure," He replied, holding up a hand as he noticed the look Sam was getting, "So long as you don't make a chick-flick moment – I don't need your snotty face messing up my jacket."

Sam snorted, opting to punch his brother in the arm instead, "Whatever man – I know where that jackets been and there's not much that could make it worse."

"Jealousy is not an attractive trait Sammy," He quipped, the strain in his chest fading as the teen returned back to his usual annoying self, "Anyway, enough about my awesome style; don't you have a class to not fail?"

That shut him up, and as if he had a geek homing beacon there was suddenly a textbook open on his lap accompanied by a pad of paper and pen at the ready; seriously, he'd never understand how someone could actually enjoy school work.

Flinging his legs onto the bed Dean folded his arms under his head; he'd like to go and see how the plan of action was going, give a bit of input, show these new hunters that he was worth their time – not just John Winchester's son.

But seeing as Vetala killing was no longer on his agenda it wouldn't have any satisfaction, plus he'd have to wait till everyone had gone to bed before taking the challenge of convincing their dad to let him take Sammy off the hunt – man wasn't that going to be fun.

He let his eyes slip shut as he listened to the scratch of Sam's pen, his habit of twitching his leg when thinking lightly shaking the bed and his mind lingered onto his brother's immediate acceptance of him saying he didn't have to go on the hunt.

In a way, perhaps that small warmth from the knowledge that Sam simply took his word without question softened the disappointment of missing out on the killing spree…


That was the thought on his mind as his closed eyes relaxed further into the darkness.

A creak caused Dean's eyes to snap open and he glanced up to see a hunter who was probably only a few years older than him shoving the door, "Morning kid, you better -"

The guy froze when his gaze flicked forward and was met with the miffed stare of the elder Winchester rather than the gangly kid; for a second he seemed to be thinking he had the wrong room but then he noticed the other body still asleep on the bed; one arm covering an open book and the other spread over his brother's stomach.

He raised an eyebrow, "Dude – you know there was an empty room at the end of the corridor."

Dean didn't appreciate the look on the hunter's face and his voice took on its hardened edge, "I didn't know alarm clocks could talk."

The guy flushed at the comment but fortunately thought better of replying, noticing the elder brother's hand tensing to make a fist, so instead settling with a sharp, "We're leaving in fifteen," And a slam of the door.

He let his hand loosen, glad Sam hadn't woken to their morning guest; the kid would have done the whole flustered rambling excuses routine which would have just got them an even more scrutinising expression.

Wait… his head finally finishing waking up he was suddenly hit with the information that it was the morning.

"Shoot," He groaned, running a hand down his face – he hadn't meant to fall asleep, he'd been supposed to go and sort out the new hunt arrangements with their dad… now what was he going to do?

The arm pinning him down suddenly twitched and he turned his head to his brother's muffled slur, "Dean?"

"Morning sleeping beauty," He grinned, no point in letting on that his statement about not hunting now held nearly no certainty, "You and your book have a good time last night?"

Sam grunted in reply, to which Dean shoved him out off the bed to change it into a sharp yelp.


"Yes?" He smirked, rolling onto his stomach to look down at his brother in a heap on the floor.

"I hate you," The teen muttered, pushing himself up and swiping at his bird nest hair; another reason for the long list of why the kid should get a hair-cut.

"I know," He answered, swinging his duffel bag that he hadn't even opened onto his shoulder, "And get your stuff together – we're leaving in fifteen."

Sam's eyes widened, "But… I thought –"

Dean sighed, chucking a pen that had rolled onto the floor at the kid's head, "Unless of course you want to stay the weekend in this wreck?"

His features relaxed again, "What and wait for the ghost-hunting locals to arrive."

"I knew it looked like a cartoon haunted house!"

Sam rolled his eyes but a chuckle escaped his lips; shaking his head Dean left him to finish packing… he was hoping he could catch his dad before he was around the other hunters, in theory it should be easy – his dad was hardly the sociable type.

Yet it seemed today didn't want to do him any favours, because when he got to the bottom of the stairs he glanced out the window to see the pack gathered around the two trucks which had been chosen for the trip.

"Perfect," He muttered, his jaw clicking as he saw his dad check his watch; there'd be no chance of dragging him to the side for a quick chat.

Dean sighed and glanced up the stairs to where his little brother was probably tidying the bed like the neat-freak he was, "The things I do for you kid."

Pushing his way through the front door he strolled over to the group with his lazy grin and loose stance projected to its fullest; he'd decided since all his normal tactics were off the table he would just have to go for the casual drop.

"Ah Dean," His dad grinned as his son appeared, clearly set and ready for the job ahead, "At least one of you is up – your brother ready yet?"

Here goes nothing.

"Yeah, about that," Dean began, willing his eyes to keep contact, "The thing is Sammy's got this really important coursework he has to get done – we're talking failing a class if not completed kind of thing so I was thinking for appearances sake, since we're going back to that town for another few weeks, it would be good if he sat this one out to get the assignments sorted."

The light glint in the man's eyes had hardened as his son spoke and his tone wasn't far off a growl when he answered, "If Sam's behind on a class that's not my problem, he should know how to deal with his own issues by now – but this town we're going to save from a hoard of Vets' don't know how to help themselves… I think it's clear where priority lies in this situation… you're both coming!"

It was at this point Sam arrived at his shoulder and their dad's expression managed to darken to another level; guessing that it was his youngest who had caused his brother's suggestion.

"Get in the truck Sam," John snapped, annoyed that the boy had now questioned his orders twice in front of fellow hunters.

The teen hesitated, throwing a look at his brother who seemed to be having an inner conflict as he kept his gaze on their dad.

Shrugging his bag off, Dean handed it to the kid and with a tension in his jaw as if it was a physical pain to do so whispered, "Get in the Impala Sammy."

There was no pause at his brother's order and he immediately headed to the car, not daring to risk a glance up as he didn't want to see the rage that he could imagine was lighting their dad's eyes.

"That was an order son!" John barked, beneath the anger a glimpse of disbelief that his eldest would go against him like that – and that his youngest had followed his brother's command with no hesitation to the fact it contradicted his own.

Dean knew that any sign of hostility was just going to worsen the situation so he adopted his most reassuring tone, the one normally used to convince witnesses of a hunt that he wasn't a serial killer, "I'm sorry – look I'll find us a nearby motel, we'll shack up for the weekend and then meet you back in the old town on Monday."

His dad still seemed about to blow a fuse so he pulled out the guarantee, lowering his voice and taking a small step closer, "You know how worked up Sammy gets about all this school stuff – I just figured it would be safer if he did a hunt to this scale when he wasn't distracted by the thought of coursework…" He switched to a grin and raised his hands, "I mean do we really want his gravestone saying 'Here lays Samuel Winchester, killed by his homework' – it's hardly the noblest way to go."

The discussion of safety was what stabbed through the cloud of rage and Dean saw his dad's posture slowly uncoil; which was lucky because the only other plan he'd had left was to make a run for it and hope the man didn't have a gun on hand.

"Fine," He begrudgingly agreed, "But I'm expecting him to double his training next week."

"Double laps – it'll be like Christmas come early," Dean smirked.

John rolled his eyes, never being able to stay angry at the boy for very long, "Okay – I'll call you when I get a chance, stay safe and –"

"Yep I know the drill," He interrupted, throwing his dad a half salute and making sure to bump into clock boy as he passed; he'd noticed the jerk grinning while their little family tiff had been playing out, how did his dad even know that guy anyway?

Before he'd even closed the door Sam was already streaming a flurry of questions, "What'd dad say? How angry is he? Are we making a run for it or is this a sort of allowed trip?"

"Words, about a seven and moodily allowed," He replied, twisting the key and pulling away from the house just in case then man suddenly changed his mind; disobeying his father's orders the once was painful enough, he wasn't sure if he'd be able to do it again.

Sam winched, "Fair enough," His eyes lowered to his hands, wondering whether to say whatever it was he was thinking but after a few moments his mouth was open, "Dean… I – I mean I know it must have been hard –"

He cut off at the glare he received for the path of that particular sentence and waited until his brother's gaze had drifted back to the road, he didn't care if Dean didn't like to be called up on the sacrifices he made, sometimes he needed to say something.

"Just… " He sighed, deciding he'd let his brother shrug of the extent of his action if that's what he wanted, "Thanks jerk."

The corner of Dean's mouth curved up and his eyes flicked to the kid's profile as he stared at the landscape in front of them; although on the other hand, he couldn't fully dismiss the slight warmth in his chest at the fact Sam had followed his word without question, showing a trust that he knew his older brother would sort everything out.

"Whatever bitch."

Dean stumbled as he shouldered open the bar door and his legs almost buckled under his dad's weight since the man was still mumbling about eighteen year olds so didn't think to try and use his own feet for support.

"You need to lay off the burgers," He grunted, dragging the hunter out of the threshold and leaving them in the silent darkness as the evening chatter disappeared behind the door, "Or at least remember I'm not a frickin' pack-mule."

The comments lay on the thin border between receiving a smirk or a clipped tone, however when his dad was in this incoherent state he could barely notice if someone was talking to him let alone what the actual words were.

Since Dean had guessed how this evening was going to pan out when they first took the turning for the local drink gutter he'd only allowed himself one beer meaning the Impala was good for use; if he'd had to attempt to walk back they'd probably have ended up sleeping on the side of the road half way from the motel.

"He's just so selfish," John slurred, his head rolling onto his eldest's shoulder, "Didn't even think what this whole thing does to us… where it leaves you and me in this hunt for the demon…"

Dean grit his teeth; apparently the Sam bashing was going to be the full version tonight – if the fact his whole evening was now wasted hadn't been enough.

There'd been a gorgeous blonde in the far corner who'd been throwing him all the signals; his next hours could have been spent with pleasurable company doing even more pleasurable activities.

It wasn't that he didn't want to help his dad, or that he blamed him for falling a bit too hard into the bottle now and then – but when it came with a side of constant sniping about his brother it didn't make it easy.

"Should 'ppreciate all I did for him – but 'stead he just runs off."

"Still have a poor taste in beer I see," John smirked, taking the bottle that was handed to him and clicking the cap off against the edge of the small wooden table.

The mid-twenties man, known as Pike to most although it was common fact that it wasn't his real name, flashed his teeth, "Take what you get my friend," As he slid into the chair opposite the hunter he raised an eyebrow and gestured the drink towards the fourteen year old who was sprawled on the couch parallel to them, "Did you want one kid?"

Dean's face lit up at the offer and he eagerly leant forward but his dad's stare stopped him from opening his mouth.

John lightly smacked the bottle away, humour lacing his tone, "Come on Pike don't tease the boy; he nags me enough about being at an age where he deserves a drink as it is."

"Hey, there ain't no harm in it," Pike shrugged, "I was much younger than him when I tried my first whiskey – burnt in my throat for days that did, but I think the pride of the matter was worth it."

"You realise I didn't come here to hire you as my son's bad role model."

"Ah well," The man sighed, leaning towards the teenager and lowering his voice as if sharing an important secret, "Maybe next time right kid."

Then ignoring John's groan he took a swig of his beer, throwing Dean a wink which he returned with a honest grin.

He had been fully prepared to dislike this mysterious Pike guy when six hours earlier his dad had told them to pack up and prepare for a long drive; usually he enjoyed a lengthy journey in the Impala but when it was just to make a pit stop to some stranger who lived in the middle of nowhere, taking them off track to their next town and adding another three hours onto the trip which they were going to do in the same night – it formed a bit of pent up frustration.

Not that he'd complained to his dad; which Sammy would have done if they hadn't kept quiet about the full driving hours.

However when he entered the house and actually met Pike he couldn't hold the annoyance of a long journey on him; he wasn't like the normal people his dad took them to see, who were all old and treated him like some stupid kid – this guy was what hunters should look like, with a gun in his waistband and some attitude in his step… that's what Dean wanted to look like.

Plus then he'd found out Pike was actually a hunter's weapon supplier and everything just became even more awesome.

"So, what can I do you for John?" The young man asked, lounging back in his chair ready for a new round of bartering with another client.

"I'm looking to move onto some new hunts," He restrained an eyeroll as he noticed his eldest practically leap with excitement, his quick mind realising that meant he was upgrading the boy to some more challenging creatures to kill, "So I need sets of equipment for these."

He slid a scrap of paper across the table which Pike picked up and skimmed over, he raised an eyebrow at one of the words near the end, flicking his gaze to the hunter but like a good business man didn't make a comment.

"Okay – I'm pretty sure I'm stocked up for all that," He put the paper down and linked his hands together on top of it, his tone losing it casualness, "But it's not going to be cheap."

Here Dean sunk back into the couch; he already knew how this conversation would play out – he'd seen his dad hustle enough people in his life to know the price would end up within their range.

Zoning out the adults voices he took a moment to re-attune his hearing to the kitchen in the adjoining room where Sammy had disappeared when they'd arrived; at the age of ten the kid had just begun the bottomless-pit-for-a-stomach phase so although had eaten three sandwiches as well as half of his in the car, he'd still asked if Pike had any food when they walked in.

Well, he didn't specifically ask, but Dean could tell by the kicked-puppy expression and fingers tapping his stomach every thirty seconds or so that it was what he'd been thinking so he'd voiced the request for him.

Although to be fair this time his little brother did have more of an excuse for his hunger than just stating he didn't feel full yet; the kid had been bed-ridden with a nasty flu for the past five days which had only made its full disappearance this morning, so he hadn't been able to eat much recently.

He could hear a clink of a plate, along with a tap of glass; which probably meant his brother had decided to make yet another sandwich and wash it down with some milk - or orange juice dependant on if Pike actually had any milk in the house.

"You think crossbows are easy to come by Winchester?" The exasperated tone drew the teen's attention and he had to hide a smirk at the hint of disbelief on the man's face; it seemed he'd never tried to cut a deal with his dad before.

John simply shrugged, "I know of other places you can find them."

"Yeah but not to my quality –"

"What's your quality?" Dean suddenly asked, he hadn't meant to say anything but this was a weapon discussion - he did know a few things.

And he felt a flush of pride when Pike didn't give him a quick look of dismissal, but instead turned his focus with a note of interest, "Well what do you think counts as quality for a crossbow?"

A grin etched onto his face at the question, he'd actually been reading about this particular weapon the other night while he was sitting up with Sammy coaxing him to ignore his sore throat and try to get some sleep, so he was eager to reply, "Well the stock and prod needs to be made from hardwood, ideally oak or maple."

The weapon's dealer smiled, "Good… go on, anything else?"

"For the action, if it shot at 250 fps that would be efficient enough," As he spoke the part of him that was naturally tuned to his little brother noticed the kid enter the room, although his gaze didn't leave Pike's, "But at 350 fps it would hit harder with a flatter trajectory, so judging distance would be less of an issue which is kind of useful when you're chasing down something that's probably trying to kill you."

He felt the familiar weight of Sam's head on his chest and he automatically placed an arm around the kid as he curled into his side, he always got like this immediately after recovering from an illness, "Also it would need a premium trigger with a fair balance of creep."

He couldn't hold back the smugness in his grin as he finished; there wasn't often much opportunity to show off his knowledge to people who weren't his dad.

Pike raised his hands in surrender, "Wow kid I'm impressed – seems I'm dealing with two professionals here."

The man's gaze then cut down to the third Winchester, who had a fist wrapped in his brother's shirt and eyes drooping shut.

He coughed and turned to the hunter, "Bit clingy your other one isn't he."

John pulled a forced smile and let his own eye-line fall onto his sons, his youngest in particular; he was aware Sam was more of an open book kid, the kind who was more out there with his emotions and stuff – but those kinds of characteristics weren't greatly appreciated in hunter circles.

"Come on Sam," He prompted with a gruff tone, "I think you're a bit too old to be using your brother as a pillow."

The ten year old wearily opened his eyes at his dad's voice, however didn't move – instead angled his neck to look up at his big brother.

Dean could tell from the faint veins in his eyes becoming slightly more prominent that the kid was shattered, the nights of disturbed sleep finally catching up with him.

So in response he placed a gentle hand on the top of Sam's hair and gave him a small smile that said 'No you're not – don't worry, try and get some sleep.'

The kid's eyes closed again and his head settled back down onto his brother's chest.

Dean raised his head and spoke to draw his dad's furrowed brow off Sam, "Don't worry about it – knowing him he'd probably fall and break a leg if he tried to waddle off to the car to collapse, I mean he can barely function his legs properly when he's fully awake."

He grinned at Pike for the last part of the sentence, who returned it with a smirk but still let a critical eye pass over the ten year old.

Dean began to think maybe his original opinion of the guy on the car ride here had been correct.

John looked like he wanted to rebuke his youngest for not following an order – and if they hadn't been with company he probably would have dragged the kid away instead; however he didn't need Sam making a scene so he stored the verbal reprimand in his head for later.

"Shall we go and have a look at these weapons then?" His dad asked, forcing his attention back to the purpose for being at the house.

This also seemed to re-boot Pike, "Indeed," He rose from the table and clapped a hand on John's shoulder as he moved over to his side, "Perhaps I can even tempt you with a few new beauties I've got last week."

Opening a side door the young dealer paused then slowly turned back around to the brothers, gesturing a hand to the direction of his armoury, "You want to come kid? I know I've got quite a few things you'd love to try out."

Dean's gaze hardened; the man knew just what to say to stab him in the gut.

Because yes, of course he wanted to go and explore the treasure chest of killing machines – to get his hands on a load of things his dad would never let him touch in any other circumstance.

And also he wanted to be able to show that he had even more knowledge about so many other kinds of weapons; he wanted to experience that glimpse of admiration again, to feel like an equal rather than just someone who was learning the ropes.

But he was aware of the gentle rise and fall of his brother indicating the kid was managing to lower himself into a proper sleep, he knew that as he'd only had a collective sixteen hours of beneficial rest in the past four days that this was needed and most of all he knew that Sam couldn't sleep with a stranger's presence nearby if he didn't feel safe.

Meaning Dean's only answer could be, "No you're alright, I'm not that fussed."

Pike tilted his head at the response and his eyes once again swept over the youngest Winchester.

Dean's arm tightened around the sleeping kid and his posture stiffened; he really didn't like the judgmental assessment the dealer was giving his little brother, he was a sick ten year old – if he needed a bit of comfort to help him recover then he was damn well getting it whatever this guy's opinion was.

He cleared his throat and Pike's gaze flicked back to the teenager to be met with a ridged glare.

The man relented with a shrug but the corner of his mouth curled up in a cold smirk, "Okay - whatever you want."

Then his expression cleared as he placed a hand on John's back and guided him out of the room, picking up his discussion on realistic prices he could offer.

"Douchebag," Dean muttered, glaring at where the dealer had been standing.

Sighing he let his head fall back against the couch - sitting and staring at an empty room… his favourite past time.

"You realise this means I'm getting first bathroom privileges for the next two weeks," He informed the unconscious form on his chest.

Sam responded by burrowing his face deeper into his shirt.

"Girl," He chuckled, tightening his arm around the kid's small frame.

Now - what could he steal from this guy's place?

Placing a hand on the top of his dad's head he pushed him into the car cop style and slammed it shut, the hunter's cheek colliding with the glass just in time to prevent him from face-dunking back onto the concrete.

Dean stalked around to the driver's side; a grip on the handle and a palm on the roof – he paused with the cool metal under his skin, accepting comfort from the third constant in his life… or as it currently seemed, second, before squeezing his grip and sliding behind the wheel.

"What's happening?"

It was prolonged exposure to similar circumstances that allowed the young man to translate the garbled noise that came from his dad's mouth, "I cut you off."

John's eyes skirted between his son and the bar that was shrinking in the rear view mirror, "Why'd y'do that? I ain't some teen to be babysat."

"Could have fooled me," Dean muttered.

Fortunately the hunter didn't notice the reply, "You gonna go back after?"

He clicked the indicator, "I think I'm done for the night."

"It's hardly turned night – haven't you got some pool to play or somethin'?"

He nodded to the driver who let him pass, "Wasn't a good table."

John huffed, fingers scratching against his beard, "What's up with you?"

"What's with all the questions?"

Silence held the reply for a few seconds; then the stiff tone returned, "Your brother was always asking questions."

Dean's knuckles whitened.

"Always had to know everythin'… couldn't just accept some things needed to be followed not understood," His head rolled sideways to face his son and he flopped a hand onto his shoulder, "I'm his father, he shoulda known I gotta keep some things to myself – but no, he had to keep askin' why all the time… couldn't just behave and do as he's told."

John's hand fell down, the tension in the twenty two year olds muscles suggesting it may have been shrugged off but the drunk didn't have the capable awareness to analyse it, simply slid back to stare out the window as his eyes began to droop.

"Couldn't just do as he's told…"

For not the first time in his life and likely not the last Dean really wished his little brother came with a mute button.

" – And Jack's dad has all these really old books which are in a room we're not supposed to go in but sometimes he leaves the door unlocked so we go and read them –"

His shoe scuffed against a partly uprooted slab of the pavement and his eyes quickly fell to check the action hadn't left a mark; this pair were brand new, he'd won them in the small poker ring he'd established behind the abandoned storage unit around the back of the school and seeing as they were also the first designer items he had ever owned he wanted to keep them smart.

The thought automatically moved his gaze to the scabby thin material covering the twelve year olds feet bouncing along next to him – tomorrow he'd have to pull in the senior group again and win some actual cash; unlike the tenth graders they weren't so easily intimidated by his leather jacket and silver knife so were always quicker to throw punches on defeats, meaning he always had to carefully space out how often he conned them into going a few rounds.

However it earned a lot more than just trading food and accessories.

" – we should all do our fair share, so Mrs Himmons has a washing up list which she put me on as well because she said it made sense because I'm over so much but I don't think she'll put you on the list yet –"

If only his dad hadn't taken the Impala; then he could be listening to a steady stream of Metallica rather than the kid's continuous prattle – however unfortunately the truck was in the garage and the hunter had been heading a few states across for a couple of weeks, so Dean's wings were clipped until further notice.

" – because she doesn't like that… Dean! Are you listening?"

"What?" The teen's head snapped around as his ears registered the change of tone.

Sam huffed and threw his arms into the air like the drama queen he was, "Do you remember what I said you have to do when you walk in?"

"Course," He replied with a neutral expression, "Go into the fridge and see if they have any decent beer."


Only his brother could whine his name in such a way that it was irritation yet still a plea, "Look just relax man – we're going over for dinner with a kid you've known for six months, if the family's put up with you for that long there's nothing that some chatting over a bowl of pasta will change now."

The teenager resisted the urge to whack the kid over the head as he let out another huff at his reply - it was like he was dragging him out to meet his girlfriend's family rather than a that of a fellow twelve year old.

Sam had made friends with Jack Himmons around the third week they'd arrived in town; his vulnerable features mixed with a snarky mouth picked up from his older brother meant despite all the complaints the kid never had trouble finding a group to integrate into – however it was quickly apparent that Jack would be added onto the list of real friends Sam Winchester had found through the years.

He'd come round to their rented apartment a few times in the first month since their dad wasn't around but once he reappeared it switched to Sam disappearing to his friend's place.

Which was huge.

Dean had dropped the kid round the first time he'd gone over to make sure he knew where Sam was going to be hanging out and it wasn't hard to miss, it was literally a mansion, weird garden ornaments and everything – trust Sam to manage to befriend the millionaire in the area.

So the routine that had developed was in everyone's favour; the kid could spend a couple of evenings a week as well as basically every weekend playing house with his friend whilst Dean was able to go and do his own playing with some friends of the female variety.

Of course when their dad was around it was back to training and 'Don't leave the room' 'Keep an eye on your brother' but out of the six months he'd only be around for about half of the time so this town had ended up turning into a unique form of holiday destination.

Yet tonight the separate activities were going to cross since after weeks of hassling Dean had finally relented and agreed to go around for dinner and meet Jack's family who seemed to have hung the sun in the eyes of his little brother.

"It's not me I'm worried about," Sam muttered.

The teenager smirked, "Worried I'm going to embarrass you in front of your boyfriend?"

His jaw tensed but he didn't rise to the jibe, "No… it's what you're going to do to his mum – gross man – I mean, just maybe try not to be your full self around her, she's really nice and I don't want her not liking you."

"Sammy please, I'm the most lovable person you know."

"Doubt she'll have the same opinion."

"See – I think that actually you're just worried she'll like me more than you."

A laugh broke through the twelve year olds tense expression, "If she was one of those senior girls who come over to me every other day asking for your phone number then maybe that'd be true."

"You're right," Dean grinned, throwing an arm around the kid's shoulder, "It's probably best for everyone if I stick to the hot chicks and let you handle the middle aged women."

"Don't let her hear you say that," He hissed as they stopped outside the double oak door, shoving his brother off before knocking with three polite taps; Dean hadn't even been to some of the guys from schools houses more than once and he'd just walk in unannounced – it was always a wonder who the kid had picked up his manners from.

There was a hurried tap of heels across a wooden floor and suddenly the evening darkness was lit by an excessive lamp collection in a stretched hallway and a rosy cheeked brunette with a glaring cookie-baking mom vibe beaming at them… well more specifically, at his little brother.

"Sam!" She exclaimed, pulling the kid into a hug which he automatically returned; clearly it was a common trait for the woman, "Right on time as usual – you know I'm still waiting for the day it'll rub off on Jack… but anyway, are you okay dear? Would you like a drink?"

He ducked his head at the attention but the twitch of the corner of his mouth showed he was actually enjoying it, "No I'm alright thank you Mrs Himmons."

"Sweetie I don't know how many times I've told you – its Martha," She put a hand on his shoulder, guiding him off the porch, "Sometimes you're too polite for your own good."

"That's what Dean always says," The kid replied as he shrugged his coat off and placed it in a cupboard under the staircase with an ease that showed how often he'd been coming around to the house, despite the shyness he emitted when talking to the woman.

And it was because of this action that the kid didn't notice the looked that passed between Martha Himmons and his brother.

The sentence had seemed to jolt her into realising there was in fact another person standing in the doorway; but if Dean had been expecting the same gushing treatment and sweet smiles he would have been disappointed.

Because as the woman's face turned and her gaze naturally drifted down to take in his appearance and demeanour he saw the glint he seen many a time… it was the one that spoke of disapproval, suspicion and a hint of patronisation.

So in an automatic response - because his charm may work on many people but soccer school moms were not on that list – his mouth slid into a daring grin and his posture morphed to match the troublemaker stereotype he'd just been given.

Over the years he'd learnt it was always easier just to act as people think you will rather than try and change their opinion.

"Oh – so this must be your brother," The dip in her tone on the third word making it seem like she had discovered Sam was related to a garden rat rather than another human being, "Well, it's lovely to meet you."

Dean smirked and let himself over the threshold, chucking his jacket to carelessly spread over a nearby desk, "Likewise Martha – great place you've got here by the way," He let his fingers run over a fountain pen by the phone, "All this stuff must be worth quite a bit."

Her smile tightened and she took his arm in a firm grip with a pretence of guiding him to the next room whilst the movement actually took him out of reaching distance of any nearby item, "I'm not sure that's of any importance – now why don't we take our seats, we made sure dinner would be ready for your arrival; I didn't want you going hungry."

Sam may have been behind them but it was clear she had been talking to him.

"Thanks, that's very kind of you," The kid replied, purposefully stepping on the back of his brother's foot causing him to stumble.

Dean tilted his head around, "Watch it bitch," He snapped, but his eyes showed the glint of humour at the annoyance he was causing the twelve year old.

Sam's mouth opened to give an automatic colourful reply, temporarily forgetting he was among company, however fortunately soccer mom interrupted him by pushing Dean into an open chair, "You can sit here."

The young hunter winced as his spine vibrated, the woman had a stronger arm than appearance suggested; but true to his act he glanced up and flashed his teeth, "Thanks sweetheart."

Her fingers dug into his shoulder but she didn't verbally acknowledge the remark, instead turning to Sam with a soft gaze, "I'll just go and fetch Henry; don't worry Jack should be down any second – I'm pretty sure he'd been looking out for you at his window."

Watching her leave, which was a pretty nice image, to go and fetch who he assumed was the husband Dean momentarily forgot he should have been watching his back.

The hit he received sure hurt for the fact it came from a twelve year old, "Dude, we're guests – you need to work on your manners."

"This isn't funny Dean! You said you'd behave – she's only known you a few minutes and she's already set to gut you!"

"Sammy relax," He sighed, holding his hands in front of him, "I'm just having some fun – something's got to get me through this evening with the picket fence folks."

The kid huffed and slid into the adjacent chair, arms folded and lip sticking out, "Could you at least tone it down – it's really embarrassing."

"That's kind of the point," He smirked, clapping a hand on his shoulder which was quickly shrugged off, "Besides think of the positives – the worse I seem the better you look."

Unfortunately for Sam his brother kept true to his word during the meal and there were quite a few times he thought the kid was actually going to throw the knife that was gripped between white knuckles at his head.

When Martha had returned with her suited husband in tow, making Dean's ripped jeans and faded Metallica shirt seem dumpster originated, she had been quick to reseat Sam and her son to the opposite side of the table – as far from the young hunter as possible.

Most of the conversation revolved around the two kids and everything school related; meaning he took to entertaining himself by interrupting with snarky quips wherever he could… and enjoying the growing annoyance on his brother's face.

"So Sam, I hear your extra curriculum history report got top marks."

Dean glanced up with his mouth still full of food, "Yeah the geek practically moved into the library, the amount of times I had to sit around waiting for him – I mean if he'd been meeting a girl in those shelves then that would have been a different story…"

"Have you looked after the class hamster yet?"

"That'd be good," He cut in over the cutlery he was drumming on the table, "You'd finally have someone to share your pointless rabbit food with."

"Are you ready for the test next week?"

"Man don't start on that, "He groaned, running a hand through his hair, "I'm ready for the stupid test with all the pacing and muttering he's been doing."

Yet his stream of remarks meant that once dessert arrived, which frustratingly wasn't pie, the mom began turning her questions onto him – or more she asked Sam about him as if he wasn't sitting directly opposite.

"Slow down sweetie, there's more if you want it," She laughed, prompting the twelve year old to gulp his mouthful and offer a sheepish grin.

"Sorry – it's just really good; we don't have this kind of stuff at home."

Jack nudged him in the side, "Yeah, he actually eats the school food… I didn't think anyone would subject themselves to that kind of torture."

"I think that's a bit of an exaggeration," Martha chided with a fond smile before turning her gaze back to Sam, "But you could take a packed lunch instead."

Dean had only been partly listening to the conversation, more entertained with watching Mr Himmons who was trying to discreetly text under the table with who he'd take a bet on being another woman based on the flush around his neck; however something about her tone of voice crawled under his skin and he refocused.

The twelve year old shrugged, "No it's fine – the meals aren't that bad, Jack's just ridiculously picky."

"Then maybe you could take a snack in with you," She persisted, "So you can have at least one enjoyable thing during the day."

Dean stiffened at the comment; he was aware the slob they gave his brother at school wasn't top of the range but their dad had been away for a few weeks now and their money was getting slimmer – so he'd had to switch the kid from the usual package he made for him each morning to the free meals provided for people on their level of income.

Yet despite that he would still grab a few bars of Sam's favourite candy every other evening even if it meant he had to skip his own lunch that day.

The kid flicked his eyes towards his brother from under his fringe, "Um – no, it's not that –"

Dean quickly interrupted before he could start spouting out about their lack of money, it wasn't something he'd told him but the geek wasn't stupid, "Well we wouldn't want him eating too much sweet stuff," He smirked, "Bad for your teeth and all that."

Martha's posture angled so she was now facing him directly, "Of course," She clasped her hands together and rested them by her plate, "It must help keep him healthy as well."

His brow drew down, not following her thought path, but before he could make a remark she was speaking again, "What with the training the two of you do – Sam said it's a form of… judo?"

That was the excuse the kid used when someone had noticed any bruises or cuts from a hunt, which meant this conversation was turning south fast, "You could call it that," He replied, folding his arms across his chest.

Mr Himmons must have been having a lapse in his text conversation because he suddenly decided to join in, "Did you take classes then?"

Dean switched his gaze, "No, learnt it from my dad."

"Good," He nodded, there was no hidden motive with this guy's tone, clearly whatever was bothering his missus he hadn't been brought in the loop, "I always say what's the point in having a hobby if it's not useful; reading, math competitions… what's that going to get you apart from some school benefits – but things like self-defence and sport, they're the ones that'll see you by."

"Yes well," Martha bit in through clenched teeth with a glare that made her husband retreat back to his phone, "I'm not sure if fighting should be encouraged, especially for a twelve year old."

"He's tougher than he looks," Dean returned, attempting to catch his brother's eye to communicate that he needed a bit of verbal support here.

However the kid was still fully focused on inhaling his dessert.

Martha's eyes narrowed at his comment and she turned to Sam, placing a gentle hand on his arm, "Sweetie – do you enjoy training with your brother?"

If the boy had actually been listening to the conversation and taken a glance at his brother he would have noticed the look which told him to revert to his generic answers Dean had made him memorise over the years; yet since he'd been practically living with this family for the past few months his senses had relaxed in the familiar environment.

Meaning he just heard the word training and gave the moody reaction he attached to the activity their dad made them do when he'd rather be doing homework.

"Whatever," He murmured, raising his shoulders, "I guess..." The last part was mostly muffled out by him sliding another slice of cake in his mouth but from the way the mom's body tensed, Dean was pretty sure she heard it, "It'd happen anyway."

The young hunter stood up at this point, "You mind if I use your bathroom?" Then without waiting for a reply he quickly slid out to the corridor.

He should never have come here – he should never had let Sam come here, what had he been thinking letting the kid basically move in with a group of strangers… of course they'd start asking questions if they saw him on a regular basis.

Leaning against one of the desks - because seriously how many tables did you need in one house – he realised no, the only problem in this situation was him.

The guy who just because he didn't appreciate the judgemental glance over, had gone into full jerk mode and probably confirmed everything going through the woman's head.

Because what didn't scream neglected or abused kids like a reserved twelve year old who turned up with bruises and his defensive smart-mouthed older brother.

He may as well have just called CPS on their dad himself.

The only silver lining he could find was that Sam clearly hadn't cottoned onto the suspicions his friend's mom had about them; which he was going to keep that way – the one thing the kid hated the most was being seen as different and if he found out he'd been part of a pity plea all this time it would make him doubt that any of the attention had been because they liked him and instead was because they'd felt sorry for him.

And he couldn't deal with seeing that kicked puppy expression.

"Having trouble finding the bathroom?"

Dean's head snapped up, not surprised to see Martha staring back at him, "Well you have got a rather big place."

Her heels echoed on the wooden floor as she shortened the distance between them, coming to a stop when she had placed herself firmly in the middle of his exit point, "Dean," Her tone indicating she was done with edging around the topic, "I believe we need to talk."

The teen couldn't help but roll his eyes, he couldn't remember the number of times he'd gone through his 'You really have nothing to worry about speech' over the years – sure people had tried it with Sam a few times but he would always step in to take over and usually the concerns were directed at him more often anyway… especially once he'd hit fifteen and could go on some of the more serious hunts.

Relaxing his posture, pulling up his dis-arming grin and dropping the attitude from his voice he took the first step, "Look, I appreciate what you're trying to do but –"

"Don't you dare try that speech with me," She hissed, her eyes blazing with what was definitely some level of hatred.

Dean blinked; this was not the sympathetic response he had been expecting.

"I can't believe that you think you can just waltz into my home, a place where that poor boy can actually feel safe and mess with him right in front of me," His back hit the wall as she drew closer, her hands turning into fists at her side, "And don't think I'm not trying to feel a degree of empathy for your situation – but just because your father beat on you before you got tough enough to defend yourself does not give you any right to do the same to your brother!"

On her last word the restraint disappeared and her hand swung towards his cheek; automatically Dean's fingers clasped around her wrist, holding it in place as they both stared at one another – a pair of lionesses over the protection of a cub.

His throat had dried at the woman's outburst, brain needing a second to fully register her words… because he was used to people thinking their dad hurt them - he didn't like it and had the urge to punch everyone who suggested it – but he was used to it.

However he had never had someone question his relationship with Sam.

Him… purposefully hurting his little brother.

Him… being the reason for the kid's shyness.

Him… totalling up the past and future hospital visits.

The thought made him want to throw up.

So how could this stranger even contemplate the idea?

When he finally brought himself back into the situation, his voice was barely vocal but the raw anger was dominant, "I would never hurt my brother."

Martha flinched at the tone and snatched her hand free, retreating from the sixteen year old who currently looked capable of her implications and much worse; but that didn't sway her.

"Then how do you explain all those bruises? How do you explain the mumbled excuses and shifting eyes when I ask him where they came from?"

"He told you – we practice self-defence," He growled, aware his aggressive behaviour wasn't helping his argument but being unable to hold it down, "Just because it's not a common past time doesn't mean there's anything wrong with it."

"Self-defence, so that's how you justify it!" She spat, "Oh no Sam this is for your own good – this is totally normal!"

He was pretty he was gaining permission to hit this woman, "Look momma bear, you don't know how off track you are on this one – so how about you just stop sticking your nose where it ain't needed or wanted."

Moving to shove past her a pressure on his arm held him back, "Actually I think I've hit the truth full on," She continued, her jaw clenched and stance firm, "I bet this is the first time anyone's confronted you – always going for the traditional father angle… but Jack told me how your dad's hardly been here, always off working – so that means there's only been one person around that child."

Dean inwardly cursed his little brother's big mouth; he told him not to tell people about their dad being away a lot and with the kid's annoyance at the absence, of course he'd exaggerate to make it sound like the man was actually never there.

"Yeah, fine you're right, I am the one who's mainly there," He replied, tensing his body in attempt to prevent him from lashing out – because who was she to judge him; sitting in her twelve bedroom house with no worries over simplicities like food or clothes, probably dropping her kid off with babysitters whenever she felt like having a night to herself, only having to sit by her son's bed at night because of colds or a flu rather than because she had to hold him as he screamed as the monsters in his dreams killed his family.

His voice hardened as the thoughts swirled around his head and his emotions snapped, "I'm the one who gets him ready in the morning and gets him to school, I'm the one who cooks for him, I'm the one who helps him with his homework, I'm the one who cares for him," His face was now mere inches from hers, "And I am the one who protects him."

The threat was clear; this woman was not taking Sam away from him.

She simply stared at him for a few seconds, her eyes searching his face - and for a moment part of him thought she'd see the truth behind his words… understand she'd read the situation wrong and that it was silly for her to think that Sam was in any kind of danger.

Yet unfortunately she was too wrapped up in the theory she'd probably been weaving since the first week Sam had entered her home - so no such thing happened.

Damn maternal figures falling for the kid's sweet vulnerable vibe.

"You aren't his owner!" She rebuked, "He isn't some puppet for you to control!"

How the woman could flip a rare truthful rant lined with emotion to a proof of abuse he didn't understand.

"Do you even have ears?" He exclaimed, "Did you actually listen to anything I just said?"

But she ignored his question, now set on simply ranting about anything and everything, "And the way you speak to him! Calling him degrading names and mocking him for any achievement he has – it's lucky he still takes pride in his school work with you there at his back berating him!"

That was it – another word and he was officially going to punch the first woman in his life… they needed to get out of here.

"You know what? I don't care – think whatever you want," He pushed her arm away as she tried to restrained him again; "I'm done."

Heading straight for the front door rather than detouring back to the dining room he yelled, "Sammy we're leaving!"

Grabbing his jacket and twisting the door handle in one fluid motion he turned on his heel to wait for the kid to appear; his feet were positioned half way across the threshold so that if this started getting physical he wouldn't lose control of the exit.

On cue Sam jogged into the corridor, clearly having noticed his brother's tone had been off, "Dean?"

"Get your coat," He replied, fingers tightening around the handle as psycho mom gained proximity; he wanted to rush forward and grab his brother before she could make her own move but he knew that would mean leaving the opportunity for someone to get to the door and lock them in – so he settled for snapping, "Hurry up."

The kid had shrugged his coat on but paused at the harsh bite, his features etching into a frown, "Why? You said earlier I could stay as long as I wanted – why are we leaving early?"

Jack joined the ensemble, a bowl of ice cream clutched in his hands, "You're going?" His wide eyes turned to look up at the young hunter, "But I just asked Sam if he wanted to sleep over and he said yes, he can't go – that's being mean."

"Don't worry," Momma bear finally caught up and her paws latched down onto his brother's shoulders, "If Sam wants to stay then of course he's going to stay."

Her gaze was fixed on his as she spoke but then it flicked to meet the twelve year olds who'd look up when the unexpected grip had fallen on him and her voice softened, "Sweetie, would you like to stay here with us?"

A faint growl left Dean's lips; the kid may just be hearing the offer of a sleepover but he knew what the woman was getting at – and no way was she ripping his little brother away from him.

Sam mouth opened, predictably about to reply with a confirmation; which wasn't the kid's fault – he didn't realise how Martha would take the answer, that in her twisted head she'd see it as proof that his big brother had been hurting him and he wanted to escape.

So Dean got there first; because she may think she had everything figured out and that these past six months meant Sam had come to trust her, listen to her and would do as she said.

"Sam, we are leaving right now."

But she was wildly off-track.

Sighing, the kid pulled away from Martha and stomped over to his brother; despite following the order conveying how much he hated it using every feature of his body.

Reaching the door he turned around, likely meaning to give his usual speech of gratitude, farewell and apology for the elder Winchester but Dean wasn't wasting anymore time and as soon as the kid was in reach he grabbed his arm and dragged him out, then quickly slammed the door.

Ignoring the petulant cries from his brother and the fact that his rough actions probably hadn't done much to help him on his whole not-an-abuser argument, he sprinted across the road; turning into a dimly lit alley down the side of the giant house opposite and pulling the kid closer to his side – it wasn't an ideal route to be taking late at night but he could already hear their hosts door re-opening and rushed footsteps searching for which direction they'd gone.

He just had to hope the ideology about rich, scrubbed up neighbourhoods having less crime was right.

"Dean!" Sam snapped, nearly tripping over his feet as he tried to keep up with the sixteen year olds strides, "What are you doing? First you're a first class douche all evening and now you're a weird lunatic – where are we even going?"

"Home," Came the short reply, flicking his eyes between the two lanes before opting for the left; he had been this way once a months ago when he hooked up with one of the cheerleaders who lived nearby however it hadn't been as dark then and he'd been a bit distracted, "Just thought we'd take the scenic route."

"It's a murderous alley way Dean!" He snapped, shuffling his arm as he battled with the desire to shove the hand off but the need to let it stay because as he just said, it was a dodgy dimly lit path which was kind of freaking him out, "Why couldn't we have just stayed the night? I mean sure they now hate you but you could have still slept on the couch or something – plus you didn't even let me say thank you! Do you know how rude that is? And I didn't even say goodbye to Jack… everything's going to be all awkward next time I go over now thanks to you!"

They suddenly emerged onto a housed road with rows of street lights and Sam automatically broke free; clenching his fists and kicking at a trash can.

Dean rolled his eyes at the tantrum before glancing around to try and work out which way would get them back to the motel, "Yeah well lucky for you you're not going back there again so I guess you have nothing to worry about."

He hadn't meant to let that slip at this precise moment; he'd planned to wait till he had buttered the kid up but there were so many issues currently running through his head he didn't have enough concentration to keep the filter on his mouth.

It was a talent that the kid could emit an un-ignorable stunned silence on a sleeping street.

Dean ran a hand over his mouth and turned around with a sigh, "Look Sammy –"

"What do you mean I'm not going back there!" He winched at the volume, never mind Martha Himmons soon the whole damn neighbourhood was going to have him pegged as a child beater, "Jack is my best friend and I like it at his house! They think it's cool that I do all my homework, they let me watch my nature shows and they let me do nice normal things!"

He stumbled back as the kid rushed forward and started pounding at his chest, his voice hitching as water began to swell in his eyes, "Why do you have to ruin everything! Just because you don't like them because you don't fit in doesn't mean they don't like me – and you can't make me not go over! It's not fair!"

He couldn't deny the words stabbed though him; no matter how many times he'd heard a different variation of them over the years - but right now it wasn't the discussion to get into.

Catching the fists as they came at him once more he covered them with his palms and knelt down so they were eye level; usually he would have shouted back but this was serious and he needed the kid to listen.

"Sam," The mixture of soft authority halted another verbal attack and his brother's damp eyes latched onto him, "You know that I would never do something to purposefully make you sad."

There was still anger in the brown orbs but the kid gave a minor nod.

"Okay," He breathed, "So I need you to trust me when I say you can't under any circumstances go back over to that house."

Slowly the heat faded until all that remained was the innocent confusion of a little boy who shouldn't have to have the threat of foster homes hanging over him every time he went over to play with a friend.

Tilting his head there was a tiny crack in his voice as he whispered, "But why?

Dean's chest expanded; those puppy dog eyes were going to be the death of him.

But what could he say? The kid loved the stupid suburban family – he couldn't taint all those memories by telling him all the time the mom was analysing him for abuse; he'd start thinking that they never really cared for him and had just let him hang around out of pity.

And Sam should never have to shred tears because he thinks he's unworthy.

Releasing the small fists he moved his hands to settle on the base of the kid's neck, rubbing a thumb along his collar bone in one of the comforting gestures exclusive to his little brother.

"Because this is something I need you to do for me," He replied, "Because I've always got your back and you've got mine – so I really need you to help me out… can you do that for me?"

Sam chewed on his bottom lip but as the young hunter expected - which made him love the kid even more - when he heard his big brother asking for help he gave a firm nod.

But Dean didn't release his hold quite yet.

"So what aren't you going to do?"

There was strain in his reply, because of course there was a large part of him that urged to disagree but he muttered, "I'm not going to back over to Jack's house."

Dean's face stretched into a grin and he jumped up, ruffling the mop of hair, "Right then, good," He threw an arm around the kid's shoulders, "Now let's see if we can find our way back home."

He chuckled as Sam whacked him in the chest; he knew that even though he'd got a willing agreement now, in a couple of days he would be dealing with another temper tantrum over the unfairness of it all and how he was the worst person in the world.

But if protecting his brother from the truth of the situation meant taking on the bad guy role – so be it.

The next day he moved them into a bed and breakfast in the opposite direction of their motel; it meant increasing his frequency of poker games but it was the only reasonable shelter that got them off radar.

Next he gave Sam clear instructions to follow at school – usually a potential CPS issue warranted immediate relocation to another state however he didn't know when their dad would be getting back and he wasn't answering his phone so they had to stick it out.

He could still talk and hang out with Jack – he wasn't cruel enough to make the kid cut ties with his best friend – but he wasn't allowed to give any information about where they were living or answer any personal questions regarding his family or life at home.

At the end of school he was to tell anyone who asked that he was getting the bus home but cut back into the school unseen and wait for Dean to call him to come out so they could walk back together.

If he at any point saw Mrs Himmons he had to disappear into the crowd.

Or if there was nobody else around he had to run to a teacher and tell them that a strange lady was following him.

And most importantly; if he ever saw any people in fancy suits he had to hide and call him immediately.

The kid whined, huffed and ranted when the rules were set out – he hated being given orders, especially without a proper explanation.

But nonetheless… he followed them.