Sam stood by the old, scraped chair, hanging onto it tightly. At just two years old, he could feel the tension in the unfamiliar room, and he didn't like it.
"I'm sick of your attitude, Dean," his father was saying. "We've been on the road for a year and a half. It's about time you learned some responsibility and some respect."
"I don't want responsibility," Dean said. "I just want to go home."
"Well you can't. This is our life now and you need to contribute. It's your job to look after Sammy when I'm not around and right now you're not capable!"
Sam looked up at his father when he heard him say his name. He could tell his father was angry at Dean; maybe he was angry at Sam too, he wasn't sure. He didn't want him to be angry. He glanced at his big brother; he was only six, but to Sam he was as grown up as their father.
"I want mom," Dean muttered, glaring at the floor. Mom… for a moment Sam thought he could remember her. Maybe not her face, but her voice and a strong sense of warmth and safety.
"You're not always going to get what you want," his father said, bitterly, stripping off his jacket and throwing it onto one of the two small beds. "You should learn that now and save yourself some disappointment."
Sam understood what they were saying but he didn't understand why they were always so mad at each other. He didn't know where he was, this room smelled funny, he hadn't seen his father in over a day and now he was back all he was doing was shouting.
Confused and scared, Sam felt himself begin to cry. He walked a little unsteadily over to his father, reaching his arms up to him, looking for that same warmth he remembered from his mom.
"Not now, Sam," his father barked. Sam shrank back, his lip beginning to tremble and he turned to Dean instead.
"Don't yell at him!" Dean said. "None of this is his fault." Dean's raised voice made Sam back away from him too; he didn't know what else to do so he turned from the noise and the tension and hurried to the closest hiding place he could find. He entered the cold bathroom to see a pair of legs in front of him, wearing black trousers and black shoes, the hem of a pale trench coat just visible in Sam's short field of vision. The stranger picked him up and he felt instantly secure. Now that he was face height he looked straight into a pair of bright blue eyes.
"Hello Sam," said a deep, kind voice. Sam put his arms around the man's neck, holding him tightly. He didn't need to know who he was or what he was doing in their motel bathroom, all he knew was that this was someone he felt safe with, someone who wasn't going to yell at him. "You're much shorter than I'm used to," the man added. He sat on the edge of the dirty bathtub, placing Sam on his knee and speaking to him quite matter-of-factly.
"You're going to meet me again in just over twenty years, but you won't remember me. I'm Castiel. I'm your friend." He wiped away the tears that had slipped down Sam's cheeks to his chin.
"You've had a difficult start in life, Sam. I won't be able to visit you often for various and very complex reasons, but I want you to know that I'll be around." Sam heard his father's voice rise again, and he held on a little tighter to the angel's coat sleeve. "Your father is doing his best in an impossible situation," Cas said, gently. "And that six year old boy out there is going to grow up to be the best brother you could wish for. Things will get better." Castiel smiled at him and Sam felt a little better.
"Well, actually, that's not entirely true," Cas continued. "Things will be terrible for a long time. You and Dean will suffer unimaginable pain and loss, but you will always get through it, and things will get better one day. In about thirty years." Sam blinked at him, his little mind utterly incapable of imagining anything like the horrors that were in store for him. Cas sighed. "I'm sorry, Sam. I don't think I'm very good at talking to children. What I'm trying to say is that your lives will be incredibly difficult at times, but Dean will always have your back. And so will I."
The low rumble of Cas's voice was making Sam tired. His eyes felt heavy and his head began to droop. Reflexively, he shuffled closer to this kind stranger's body, his little fist holding tightly to his white shirt. All his worry and confusion slipped to the back of his mind as he quickly drifted off to sleep.
Cas looked down at the little toddler in his arms, almost unrecognisable as the man he knew except for a familiar mop of brown hair. Childhood was supposed to be a time for innocence, Cas thought, but Sam seemed to have missed out on that altogether when he was thrown into the deep end of a life he never wanted.
Cas shifted along the edge of the bathtub so he could lean against the grimy tiles as he listened to the sounds around him. The faucet dripped loudly, a rumble of thunder rose outside just as the rain began to fall on the roof of the motel, John continued to berate Dean, but through it all, Sam slept. Cas listened to his soft breathing and was glad that he could give this sad little boy a few moments of peace.