Disclaimer: I don't own or lay claim to Sam, Dean, or John Winchester. But if anybody would like to put Jensen Ackles with a large red bow on his head under my Christmas tree, feel free!
Summary: By the time he entered middle school, he knew six different ways to banish a demon, four methods of destroying an angry spirit, and nine areas that wraiths were most likely to be found. But Dean Winchester was still only eleven-years-old.
Dean Winchester wasn't like other eleven-year-old boys.
Instead of playing kickball after school, he practiced kick-boxing and Tang Soo Do. Instead of throwing a ball around with his dad, he helped his father load guns with rock salt. Instead of learning how to shoot a water-gun, he learned how to shoot a crossbow.
By the time he entered middle school, he knew six different ways to banish a demon, four methods of destroying an angry spirit, and nine areas that wraiths were most likely to be found. He could shoot a gun better than his old man and could scope out any geographical location based on what evil thing could survive in the given climate.
But Dean Winchester was still only eleven-years-old.
"Heads up, Sammy!" he called to his seven-year-old brother as the snowball left his gloved hand. A sly grin slid over his face as his little brother turned around, wide-eyed, and threw himself onto the ground to avoid getting hit in the face.
"That wasn't funny, Dean!" he whined in that munchkin-y voice that all little kids have. Dean chuckled and hurried over to his brother, pulling him to his feet. An icy gust of wind burned his red ears, but he ignored it and pulled his tattered coat more tightly around his body.
Dean pointed at the hill, which seemed enormous to the two young boys. He grabbed the sled that he had "borrowed" from some kids who had been dumb enough to leave it lying on their front lawn while they were immersed in building a snowman. "All right, there it is, Sam. Now remember: if Dad finds out that we left the house while he was on a hunt, there'll be hell to pay. So don't do anything stupid."
"Kay," Sam mumbled beneath the weatherworn scarf Dean had swung around his little brother's face. The kid looked something like a bundle of dirty laundry. Dean had scrounged around and managed to find two coats that seemed to fit his little brother; an old scarf that had been god-knows-where; a pair of his father's old gloves, which were way too big on little Sammy; and a hat that looked like it had been gathering dust for years. All of these he had piled onto his little brother to keep out the cold, taking only a beaten jacket and a pair of old gloves for himself.
After the arduous climb to the top of the hill, the two Winchester brothers peered down the slick, slanted surface with awe. Sam had never gone sledding before.
There were about fifteen other kids of various ages careening down the hill; some looked to be about Sam's age, with their parents helping them up at the bottom of the hill. Others were teenagers who were flying down the hill, laughing, and shouting to their friends at the childish pleasure. Sam's eyes were round and wide with excitement, and despite his annoyance with the cold, Dean couldn't suppress the grin on his face.
"You wanna go down the hill?" Dean asked, setting up the sled so that it was perched precariously, ready to fall at the slightest touch. Sam seemed to ponder it for a moment before shaking his head.
"You go first," he mumbled behind the scarf, his eyes betraying his anxiety about sliding down the icy hill with nothing between him and falling but a plastic sled.
Dean rolled his eyes at his little brother's fear and sat down on the sled. "It's easy, Sammy. It's like…" he paused, trying to come up with an analogy that his brother would understand. Most people would say that it was like riding a bike, or throwing a baseball. But Dean wasn't sure Sam could really do either of those things. "You know how easy it is to cock a .45?" Sam nodded. "Okay, well sledding is about fifty times easier. All you have to do is push off and let gravity take over. Like this." Dean pushed off, and instantly he was zooming down the hill, the wind whipping him in the face with the force of a pissed off spirit.
When Dean stood up at the bottom of the hill, he could see Sam practically bouncing up and down with exuberance back up at the top where he'd left him. As quickly as the snow would allow, Dean hurried back up the hill and over to his brother, who, upon Dean's arrival, announced, "My turn!"
"Okay, your turn," Dean conceded, setting down the sled and helping his energetic little brother onto it. "Ready? Three… two… one!" Giving Sam a gentle push, he watched as the gleeful boy slid away down the hill, his laughter echoing back up to Dean, who couldn't remember ever seeing his little brother quite so happy.
"Well, well, well. If it isn't Monster-Boy," drawled a voice behind him. Dean cringed at the nickname and turned around slowly, unconsciously shifting his weight to his back foot in a fighting stance. Standing in front of him were three boys that Dean knew, unfortunately, quite well. They were all thirteen – eighth graders – and they had a nasty habit of dumping sixth graders in trashcans outside the school.
"What do you want, Brian?" Dean spat fiercely, his fists slowly clenching. The three boys had never managed to get him into a trashcan on account of his speed and martial arts skills; but this seemed only to make them more determined to mess with him.
"Chill out, Monster-Boy. We're just talkin'," Brian replied with a grin. "Say, I think my little sister saw somethin' under her bed last night. After she saw there was nothin' there, she said she felt like a wimp for believin' there was. But I told her, there are bigger wimps out there, right?" Dean no longer felt the cold; boiling anger and embarrassment welled within him, the kind that makes eleven-year-olds like him do stupid things. "Still believe in Casper, do you? Winter play this year at school's gonna be A Christmas Carol. But I said we shouldn't do it, 'cause people like you might actually think that the ghosts are—"
But Dean's fist, a certain amount of pain and shock, and a knocked-out tooth stopped Brian from saying anything else. Dean could feel bruising starting on his fist from where it had contacted the older boy's jaw, and he had fallen back into a fighting stance, his front leg bent and his right fist chambered at his side. Brian grabbed his jaw, his mouth and eyes wide with shock, and felt the blood dripping down his split lip. He spat a tooth out into his gloved hand, the look in his eyes resembling that of an angry bull.
"Well, what are you waiting for? Get him!" Brian shouted to his two cronies, who had been struck dumb. Immediately, the three thirteen-year-olds leapt into action. Three things happened simultaneously: a foot kicked Dean in the shin, a fist buried itself into his stomach and knocked the wind out of him, and another fist slammed into his face and caused a searing pain in his nose. As all of these body parts collided, Dean slid on the slippery snow and found himself tumbling backwards, head over heels, banging various body parts onto the icy surface as he went.
When he came to a stop, he found himself lying at the bottom of the hill with his face pressed into the snow, which was thankfully numbing the dull ache in his nose. For a moment he didn't want to get up. He just wanted to lay there and get swallowed up by the snow. But then he heard hasty footsteps shuffle through the snow and Sammy's fearful cry of, "Dean!" Unwillingly, he rolled himself over so that he was on his back, looking up at the small bit of his little brother's terrified face that he could see over the scarf. "Dean?"
The latter sat up and rubbed away the wetness that the snow had left on his face; he soon found himself angrily rubbing away the stinging, burning sensation in his eyes, too. When he sniffed, frustrated with himself, Sam said his name again in a quiet, wavering voice. "I'm fine, Sam," he muttered. "I just… got some snow in my eyes." He almost believed himself. Truthfully, the punches and kicks he had received didn't really hurt anymore. So he didn't know why he was acting like such a baby. Didn't his father always tell him that crying solves nothing, that grownups don't cry? But his eyes kept burning anyway. He hoped that Brian couldn't see him.
Dean's breath hitched as he looked up, slowly and fearfully, to see the towering form of his father stomping over to them, a furious look on his face. When he got closer, he continued, "I told you not to leave the house, Dean! And what do you do? Drag your brother all the way out here, leaving me to come back to an empty house, no note, no boys, no nothing! What do you have to say for yourself, Dean?"
Dean prayed that his father couldn't see the redness in his eyes. "Sorry, Dad," he said in a low voice.
John Winchester frowned at his eldest son before continuing in a firm voice, "Looks like you've broken your nose. Did you get in another fight?" Without waiting for an answer, he grabbed Dean by the collar and hauled him to his feet. When he spoke again, his voice was gentler. "I'm disappointed, Dean. You've got to be more responsible than this. What if something had happened to your brother?"
Their dad led the two of them away from the hill, making them leave the stolen sled there. Dean glanced at Sam, who was walking alongside him, and he could tell that the boy was trying not to cry. Dean didn't blame him; Sammy was still a little boy. Dean wasn't. If Dean cried, his dad would be mad and wouldn't let him go hunting in two years, like he promised. So Dean bit back the stinging sensation lingering somewhere above his dully aching nose and trudged through the snow behind his father.
They reached the car and drove back to the house in silence. John didn't even turn on the radio. The only sound that penetrated their ears was the rumble of the engine and the group of people singing Christmas carols that they passed on their way back. Once they were inside and warming up, John reset Dean's nose and chucked a blanket at him, which Dean gave to Sammy, who was still shivering under his own blanket.
"Dean?" Sam's quiet voice spoke over the crackle of the fire in the fireplace.
"I don't like sledding."
Dean grimaced. "Good, 'cause you probably won't ever get to go again in your life." Sam looked up at his big brother with big puppy-dog eyes before snuggling into Dean's side. The eleven-year-old put an arm around his little brother, blinking his glistening eyes and inwardly scolding himself some more when he sniffled. But he couldn't make sense of it. His dad treated him like a grownup; he worked him hard, raised him with high expectations, gave him the responsibility of looking after Sam, and never ever talked down to him. But the bully eighth-graders at school treated him like a little kid; so did the teachers. So which was he? Grownup or little kid? He definitely wasn't a kid. But he wasn't sure he could be a grownup all the time like Dad wanted him to be, either.
Dean Winchester wasn't like other eleven-year-old boys.
Instead of worrying about missing soccer practice, he worried about his brother or father getting killed by monsters. Instead of preparing himself for high school, he prepared himself for hunting evil things. Instead of sledding, he was expected to take care of his little brother like a grownup. When his mom was taken, he was expected to become an adult right away. But there's only so much growing up a five-year-old can do at once.
And so, eleven-year-old Dean Winchester sat in front of the fire with his little brother curled up next to him, caught irreversibly somewhere between childhood and adulthood.