Dean looked down at the faded blue shirt he was wearing. The red and gold Superman logo was cracked and nowhere near as brilliant as it had been three years previous when a very excited five-year old had watched him open the newspaper wrapping on his ninth birthday. It was still the boy's favorite shirt, even if it did hug his chest and arms and had a rip on the sleeve. He couldn't help thinking that it fit his role in Sam's life, and wasn't about to retire it just yet.
"No way, Sammy. I love this shirt. Do you remember giving it…wait a minute," the words died on his lips as he stared at his brother's face. There was blood dripping down the side of his face, and his features were taught, but the smile that filled his cheeks reached past the pain and dizziness from being unconscious and caused Dean to draw his gaze to Sam's eyes. Bright blue orbs stared back at him, clear enough to remind the older boy of the wisp of a memory he had of his mother's eyes. They were the same color: the color of the Kansas skyline the day after it rained.
Sam laughed when Dean continued to stare. "Have you figured it out yet, dummy?" He poked at Dean's nose with such accuracy that there was no way Dean could continue to have any doubts.
Without regard for his brother's inevitable concussion, Dean pulled Sam up into his arms and swung him around in a circle, giggling hysterically. The joy was music to the younger boy's ears, even if it was making his headache ten times worse.
"Dean. Dean, stop, please. You're making me sick!" The circling was stopped immediately, and Sam was hugged to his brother's chest. But the nausea didn't stop, and Sam found himself still counting Samsteps as he raced for the door and then the bathroom. He didn't see his father slumped over just outside the room, but the older boy did.
Dean was torn between making sure his brother was going to make it to the bathroom on his own two feet and seeing if his father was still breathing. The man disgusted him at the moment, however, as he remembered the disregard the man had held in keeping his sons safe as opposed to turning to his new best friends. Without a second glance Dean, too, raced for the bathroom.
The view in front of him broke Dean's heart. His little brother was curled up in the smallest ball imaginable as he shivered and wiped his mouth. The older boy could hear the sniffles from Sam's running nose and he could feel, more than he could see, the tears that his baby brother was valiantly managing to stave off. Damn you, Dad. He's only eight.
A few seconds of staring at the boy was enough to pull Sam's attention to him too. He looked up at his protector and bit the inside of his lip. His father told him that crying was for babies, and he didn't want Dean to think that he was still a little kid. All he wanted inside, though, was for his brother to come and make him feel better. After not having used his eyes since before the accident, all the input taxing his brain was crippling. He almost wished for the darkness again to make him feel better.
Dean wondered if he was channeling his brother when his head began to pound at the bright light in the bathroom. He reached over to the outlet and clicked the nightlight on before turning off the light. "I'll be right back, Sammy. Don't worry."
Sam watched as his brother ran from the room again and sniffled. The cold from the tile beneath him was making his teeth chatter, and the feeling in his stomach hadn't quite left him. It only intensified when he looked up as the light came on again, causing him to flinch and bury his head in his arms.
"What are you doing on the ground? Little brat, you should be sleeping." The words weren't exactly mean, and the tone wasn't quite angry, the nickname having been given to the boy a while ago in jest.
Sam looked up to his father's face and instantly tried to make himself look less afraid, more sure of himself. "Daddy? I don't feel so good."
Had John been sober, the words would have crumbled any resolve he had not to baby his boys. After all, the little one held a dear spot in his heart that he had feared losing when Sam was in the hospital. However, alcohol was filling that spot right now, and the boy was in his way.
"Get up. Go back to bed. I don't want to see you out of that room again until…" John's words were cut off as he was pulled from behind and shoved against the wall. Shock registered slowly as he found himself looking down at his twelve-year old son holding him against the plaster.
"Don't you dare speak to him that way, you ass. He could have died again tonight and you were too busy getting drunk to care. So drunk that you passed out in the hallway after completely IGNORING the fact that a spirit was ATTACKING us! How dare you come in here after that and hurt him further. You don't want to care about me like that, then fine, I know how to handle myself. But Sammy's only eight, and he doesn't need you to scare him any more than he already is. I'll take care of him, just leave us alone." Dean's voice had wavered between dangerously calm and all-out yelling, but he wasn't going to let his father do any more damage to the youngest boy. It was the first time Dean stood up to the man in his brother's defense, the only reason he would ever do so, and he had some vague idea that it wouldn't be the last.
The boy turned back to the bathroom, intent on slamming the door in his father's face when he thought of something else. "By the way, sir, your son can see again. That is, if you care."
Then the door was locked and John was left to drunkenly stare at the door, wondering when his son had grown up.
Dean turned the light out again and moved over to his brother. He could see that Sam was trembling and his breath was hitching, his face buried in his arms again. "Shh, it's all right now, Sammy. I've got you. No one else is going to yell at you now. It's all right, tiger. Here, let's get you warmed up, okay?"
The blanket that Dean had run back for was wrapped around the boy's shoulders, the stuffed fox was tucked under Sam's arm, and the sunglasses were settled over small ears. The older boy settled down next to his brother and pulled him close, wrapping one arm around the boy's back and tangling his fingers into his hair, and laying his head on Sam's. The other hand checked him for fever, just in case, and then rubbed absently up and down the small arm until he was sure the boy was asleep. He had spent the time assuring Sam that it was going to be okay, and listening his brother's tears that finally fell freely.
Dean wasn't sure what had woken him an hour or so later, still huddled against the cold bathroom wall. He groaned lightly and stretched out his neck as his eyes darted around for danger. Then he felt the small form curled against his side trembling once more, his shoulders rising and falling as tears threatened again.
"Sammy? What's the matter, little brother? You're safe here."
"Dean...I think I re...you don't really think I'm not important do you?"
There was hurt in the older boy's eyes, but fear also as he registered his brother's words. "Why would you say that, Sammy?"
"I remembered what happened before...before I got hurt."
The memory assaulted Dean, and left him shaking as well. Standing outside, talking to Emily. "Nah, it's not important. It's just my little brother. Don't worry about him."
"Oh God, Sammy. I…I didn't mean it. Not like that." Dean's heart was in the pit of his stomach, threatening to shatter into a million pieces again. He had to make this right somehow. His brother had just fully taped that heart back together with his returned sight.
"I don't mean to be in your way, Dean. I just wanted to play."
"I know, Sammy. That was the worst thing I've ever done, little brother, and I swear, you are more important to me than some dumb girl. I am so sorry for everything that happened, kiddo. I…I never meant for you to get hurt like that. I never meant for you to get hurt at all. God, Sammy; I'd do anything to make sure you never got hurt. You're my little brother; you're all I've got." Dean's guilt was making him ramble more and more, but he needed his brother's forgiveness more than anything. Sam was all he had left to remind him of what he had lost; all he had left to remind him of his mother.
Dean was still rambling when Sam lifted his casted arm and covered his brother's mouth. "Dean. A car hurt me. Some dumb girl made me hurt. You didn't do it."
"Oh Sammy. Don't you see? If I hadn't kicked the ball into the street, you wouldn't have gotten hurt. It's my fault for this," he pointed to the cast on the boy's arm, "and this," to the casted leg, "and God, all of this." Dean pulled up the boy's shirt and showed him the scars for the first time.
Sam stared at the mass of stitch marks and incisions that crossed his chest and then up to his brother's eyes. Guilt and fear crossed his brother's eyes, and Sam pulled the older boy into as fierce a hug as he could manage.
"I don't care about all this stuff. You already told me that I'd be okay, so none of this matters. I just…you're still my big brother, right? My best friend?"
The blunt and innocent words stunned Dean. His little brother wasn't blaming him for any of what happened. He didn't think that Dean had caused him to get hurt, just wanted some kind of reassurance that his brother still loved him. How could I be so stupid as to ever put someone before him?
"Always, Sammy. Nothing could ever change that." He paused, not having uttered his next words since the little boy was learning to walk. But he knew that no matter how uncomfortable the words made him feel, he had to say them. "I love you, little brother."
Sam looked up at his brother's face. "Eww." He giggled and snuggled his head back into Dean's chest. "I love you too, jerkface."
"Brat. Let's go to bed. Unless, of course, you like sleeping on the bathroom floor." The light in Dean's eyes that had gone out the day Cassie had almost stolen Sam from him the first time was shining brightly once more. He stood carefully, letting the dizziness from his encounter with the closet doors wash over him and then pushed it aside, pulling his baby brother up beside him.
Sam rubbed the side of his head just under the Steri-strips his brother had laid down and groaned. "What'd I hit?"
"The bedpost, little brother. Here, let's clean the rest of that up while we're in here." Dean sat Sam down on the toilet seat and reached for the washcloth, carefully wiping away the dried blood with warm soap and water before looking at the gash under the bandages more carefully. "I don't think Dad's gonna need to stitch this up even, little brother. Looks like you got lucky."
Sam whimpered and shut his eyes tightly at the ministrations. "I'm sleepy, Dean."
"Then let's go to bed, all right. It's going to be morning soon."
The two boys left the bathroom and had to stumble over their father's form again. Dean glared at the man who was sleeping off the night's work, and was content to leave John there, but Sam had different ideas.
The blanket that had been in his crib the night his mother had been murdered was still a treasured object to the boy, and it had been the same cover that his brother had gone back for. It still lay draped carefully over his shoulders, almost like a cape, until the boy tugged it down and looked at it. To him, his father looked cold, and he didn't want the man to suffer. The blanket was the laid over the man's chest to Dean's astonishment.
"Sammy? What are you doing?"
"He's cold. Now he won't be." The eight-year old was nothing if not blunt, and as much as Dean wanted the man to suffer, he couldn't argue with his brother. Sighing, he nodded and led his brother back to bed, his arm taking the place of the security blanket.
It was easier to get the boy ready for bed now that he could see and take care of changing his shirt and crawling under the blankets by himself. Dean still insisted on tucking the covers tightly around his brother's form, laying a kiss on the boy's forehead, and sitting on the edge of the bed for a moment, as if to assure himself that Sam was going to be just fine now. He had done his job, and he had done it better than either he or his father could have imagined. His brother was growing up, that was solid in Dean's mind, and he knew that while he would always need to protect Sam, the boy was going to be able to protect himself just as well soon, and that scared the oldest boy.
"Dean? Are you all right?"
Having been caught staring, Dean started and then laughed. "Never better, Sammy. You ready for bed now?"
"Okay then. Goodnight, little brother." Dean rose from the bed and headed back to the door, shutting off the main light before reaching for the bedside one as he lay in his own bed. He had just sent the room into darkness when he heard Sam yelp.
"Dean?" The fear in the boy's voice startled Dean and he found himself looking around for something else that was trying to hurt his brother
"Yeah, Sammy?" He didn't see anything out of the ordinary, but he couldn't see much in the darkness, and then he realized what had scared the boy.
"Do you think...do we still have that old nightlight?"
Dean smiled, reaching over and pulling the object from the table's drawer. He remembered waking up every morning with a headache from the light when his brother was younger and was afraid of the dark, and had nearly jumped for joy the year before when his brother had decreed that he was too old for that anymore. But if Sam needed that little beacon to remind him of what he had gained once more, who was Dean to deny him for a little bit of pain. He owed his brother at least that much.
When the light was plugged in and the soothing glow had cemented in Sam's mind that he really could see again, the boy eased back against his pillows and curled on his side. His eyes were just closing when he felt the bed sag under Dean's weight. The words were unintelligible as sleep had almost claimed him, but Sam's meaning came across. Dean, what are you doing?
"Don't worry about anything now, Sammy. Just sleep." Dean flicked the hair out of Sam's eyes and then moved his hand down onto the boy's back. "Just sleep."
Sam mumbled something that even Dean couldn't make out before shutting his eyes and journeying to the land of dreams. The older brother watched the boy until he was almost ready to fall off the bed in his own exhaustion. "Good night, Sammy boy," was whispered gently into the boy's ear before Dean moved off to his own bed, flipping off the alarm clock without a second thought. He didn't care if his father wanted them up at 5:30 every morning; the two had more than earned the morning sleeping in if he could help it. The twelve-year old was asleep before his head was cocooned in his pillows.
John was woken by the light streaming in through the bathroom window and he moaned as the headache made itself known. He raised his hand to his forehead to rub his temples, but was stopped at the feel of soft fabric covering his arm. Forcing his eyes open against his better judgment, he gazed on the blanket that had kept him warm through the early morning hours. Guilt stabbed through him as he stared at his youngest son's prized blanket, and images from the night before flooded his memory. Yelling at Sam when it was obvious the boy was sick and hurt. The blood that covered one side of his son's face that the man had ignored. His oldest son protecting Sam from him, looking afraid that the man would hurt his baby brother. Dean yelling for him before that. The smell of ozone and the chill that was in the boys' room as he entered to scold them. The mist that he should have noticed signaled a spirit's presence.
Launching himself to his feet and grabbing onto the wall to steady himself, the ex-Marine raced to his sons' room, praying to God that his mistake hadn't cost either boy too dearly. The door was opened slowly, not totally ready to see any carnage that may be there. John caught sight of the blood on the carpet from his youngest's head, and the closet door that had been knocked off its track. There was salt all over the room, and the box was nearly crushed, abandoned on the floor. The man felt sick to his stomach as he realized what had almost happened. Tears came to his eyes when he saw both boys sleeping peacefully, and he crept into the room, covering Sam in his blanket before laying a hand on his head and offering a quick thank you to whoever had made his oldest son so responsible for the boy.
Bending over to kiss Dean carefully on the forehead before leaving the room once more, pulling the shade down over the window to keep out the sun's rays, John noticed the nightlight. His son's words came back to him, and his head whipped around to stare at Sam. The boy could see; he was going to be just fine now. Guilt plagued him and the man raced down the hall, unaware that his oldest had woken and was now following him.
Dean watched as his father pulled bottle after bottle from the kitchen where he had hidden all of them, and then poured each one down the sink. He shook his head, not young enough to believe that this would be the last time he witnessed a sight like this, and not old enough to realize that his father needed some help. He simply waited until John turned to face him.
"Good," was all he offered as he glared at the man and turned back to his room, waiting for his baby brother to wake up.
One month later
A new apartment and a new job greeted the family Winchester just three days after Sam's casts had been removed and he had been given a fully clean bill of health. There was something to be said for the resilience of young children, and it seemed that after the one panic attack in the Impala, Sam had completely forgotten about the incident.
The boys were in the back of the complex, far from any street or car, playing soccer. While Sam's fear had disappeared, it seemed that Dean's protectiveness had only increased, and as John watched his boys kicked the old, battered basketball around, he couldn't help realizing that the accident had played a large part in that as he knew it would. He watched over the boys, himself, with more of a fervor than he ever would have, afraid almost to let the two boys out of his sight. He had vowed to be a better father to the boys, but the last banishment he had worked had taken a lot out of him, and he tore his gaze from the boys to stare at the new bottle of Jack Daniels. The bottle was quickly hidden in the kitchen, and John sighed. Some things, it seemed, were beyond his control to change.
John turned back to the boys again and saw some girl from the complex slide up to Dean and try to get his attention.
Sam saw the girl start talking to Dean and picked up the ball. He wasn't going to tempt fate a second time.
Dean stared at the red-head talking to him. She was half a head shorter than him and the twelve-year old was impressed at the girl's impulsiveness. He had kicked the ball back to Sam and turned his attention to her, but when he saw Sam pick up the ball, his heart clenched. There was no way he was going to let his baby brother think that some stranger was more important than him.
"Whatever. Can't you see I'm playing soccer with my brother? I'm busy." He ran past her and caught up with Sam, tackling the boy to the ground and stealing the ball. "Come on, Sammy. You aren't tired out yet, are you? We were just getting into the game."
The smile that came from his brother filled Sam's face completely as he untangled himself from Dean and giggled. There was a sparkle in the boy's eye that Dean hoped would never fade. The boy hugged the ball that had been handed back to him, and his blond hair was falling more fully into his eyes, making the boy look as innocent as ever.
That was the image Dean thought of as he stared out of the window ten years later. He watched as his baby brother loaded 3 small bags in the trunk of the neighbor's car and got in. The boy was leaving them for Stanford, and their father had told him to never come back. As much as the now twenty-two year old wanted to keep the young man right by his side, he couldn't help thinking of the sparkle that had indeed begun to fade as Sam had become more bitter about hunting. There was something that his little brother wasn't telling him about why he was leaving, of that Dean was sure, but he knew in his heart that it would be for the best if Sam stayed away. Dean felt as though he had lost his brother for good this time. And so he cried.
So, I'm done...but I do have more stories planned, I promise...I just have to get around to writing them...and if anyone has any plot bunnies that they aren't using and would like to see me attempt, I can try, I'm always open to ideas...
Thanks to everyone who has read and reviewed this...I got over 10,000 hits on this story, more than I've ever gotten on one, and too many reviews to mention them all...so you all know who you are, I can't thank you enough...