DISCLAIMER: I don't own things! (In other words, De Boyz aren't mine, and neither is the song found at the end of this fic. There, now that I've spelled it out with painful clarity, let us move on.

Characters: Sam and Dean Winchester

Setting: Pre-Pilot up to Faith

Warnings: None, except that there's a little of what you'd call fluff


For The Love of a Winchester

Every childhood is marked by experiences. Some of them are big, and some of them are small. Some are of great importance, influencing that child for the rest of his life, and some are so insignificant as to be entirely forgotten and lost in the sands of time.

Dean Winchester never experienced those little things, because Dena Winchester lost his childhood—the time of the little things—at five years old, when the fire-thing stole his mother away.

It was the time he forgot what innocence meant.

It was the time he began to learn to do things that most adults never imagine attempting.

It was the time he gave up the friendships that all little hearts crave.

It was the time he gave up crying, because his father said that tears were for babies, and Dean didn't have the luxury of being a baby anymore.

In short, it was the time he gave up anything resembling normalcy.

Save for Sammy.

XXX

If Dean lost his childhood at a young age, in his own opinion, he was the lucky one in their screwed-up family. It may be an extremely small comfort, but at least he'd gotten to be young and innocent, if only for the first five years of his life.

His baby brother's time of childish innocence lasted five months.

And in Dean's opinion, that was the worst crime the fire-thing had committed—not taking his mother.

Of course, Dean could never speak this thought aloud, for he learned quickly that even hinting at how sorry he felt for Sam was sure to bring around a fight with his father. But that fact only seemed to increase his love for his brother, even if he never said the words aloud.

XXX

That was another unusual thing about Dean Winchester—what he felt toward his brother.

Oh, everyone loves their brothers, of course. Dean knew that. But in many cases, little brothers are seen as an annoyance, to be entertained when it was requested by parents, and ignored the rest of the time.

With Dean it was different. He thought more of his brother than anything in the world, more than life itself. The boy was so much like the mother he would never know or remember that the senior Winchesters couldn't help thinking even more of him than of each other.

The only difference was, their father didn't show it.

Dean did. From the moment he had realized how much their lives were going to change, he had made it his mission to give Sam all the love he could, to make up for everything Sam never had. From the time he was old enough to understand what their lives were going to be, Dean had been taught to protect his brother, until he stopped needing to be told, until it became simply a part of what he did every day.

Like breathing.

XXX

When Dean was eight and Sam was four, their father took them on a hunting trip in Nebraska. They checked into the miserable two-bed motel room and their father had put down the salt lines and they had gone to bed as usual.

That night, the thing they had come to hunt found them, and at around one in the morning it attacked. Dean had awoken first, even before his father, and the first thing he saw was the monster, heading straight for Sam, who was sharing the bed with him. Dean had shouted to wake his father even as he leapt to pull Sam away, but he was too slow, and Dean had come out of the encounter with a long, deep scratch in his arm, which would later become his first-ever battle scar.

Later, after John had beaten the monster, he stitched Dean up, and while he did, he told Dean off in a loud, carrying voice that must have woken every person in the thin-walled motel, anger and harsh words masking the ever-constant and absolute fear.

But the whole time, Dean had been more concerned with his brother than with his father's panicked anger or with the sharp pain of the needle in his arm.

Sam was young enough that he forgot the incident entirely within a couple of weeks, but it stuck with Dean. It was the first time he had actually gotten physically injured protecting his little brother, but he didn't regret it.

And deep down, he also knew this wouldn't be the last time.

XXX

When Sam was six, he went to school for the first time, because they had settled down for at least a few months and their father was determined to give him as much of an education as possible.

Dean walked him there and took him to his class. The smiling woman who greeted them at the door seemed surprised to see Sam holding fast to the hand of his ten-year-old brother instead of being with his mother like all the other kids, and quite nicely she asked if their "mommy" was on her way in.

Sam looked surprised by the question, but Dean had replied before his brother could, saying that he was the one bringing Sam because their father was at work, and the woman, having at least some sense, didn't ask any more questions.

But that night, Dean walked into the room he and Sam shared at the rented apartment to find Sam curled up on one of the twin beds, crying. Dean didn't ask any questions at first, simply sitting down next to Sam and hugging him gently, until Sam's tears slowed. Then he asked, "What's wrong, Sammy?"

Sam hadn't answered for a moment, but then he sniffed and said, "Dean, is everyone supposed to have a mommy?"

This was not what Dean expected, but he tried to answer anyway. "Not everyone, but…most kids do, yeah."

"T-then where's our mommy?"

It was obvious from Sam's voice that he had never thought of the question before, and Dean felt himself choke up as he realized that no one had ever bothered to explain to Sam exactly why they basically lived on the move except for a few months out of the year, or why there was always salt around their beds at night, or why John was away so often, or why it was so important that he never, ever say anything to anyone about the things he had seen.

Or why they had only one parent when so many others had two.

This life was normal to Sam. He didn't know anything else, and until that day he hadn't ever had reason to wonder about it.

"Mommy…had to go away, Sammy. A long time ago, when you were only a baby."

"…Will she come back?"

"No, Sammy."

"Ever?"

"…No."

Sam began to cry again, and after a moment of indecision, Dean ducked under the bed and pulled out an old shoebox that had obviously been opened and closed many times. "Here. Look in there."

Sam opened the box without any real thought, and pulled out a stack of photographs. On top was a picture of a blond woman in a white T-shirt and jeans, smiling, not at the camera itself, but rather at the person holding it.

"That's her, Sammy. That's our mom."

XXX

When Sam was seven, Dean and John explained to him exactly what had happened to Mary Winchester, and what it was that John did on the road. Sam didn't seem too alarmed by the fact, but then, he had lived this way his whole life, so all that he'd really needed was to have it put into actual words.

They explained things to Sam because Dean was about to go on his first hunt after training for nearly five years, which meant that Sam would have to be left alone for the first time. Before, John would drive to whatever place the job happened to be, and then leave Dean and Sam in the car with protective amulets and salt containers. But that night, Sam was left in the car on his own with these things, and told firmly to stay there.

Sam obeyed at Dean's request—even then he was rebellious toward his father, but Dean…Dean was pretty much a god in his eyes—but the job took longer than they thought, and by the time they returned to the car an hour and a half later, Sam was terrified. Dean barely made it through the car door before Sam jumped forward and clung to him, shaking. He tried to hug John the same way, but their father simply told him curtly that he would have to get used to this because it would probably happen frequently.

Sam was too young to understand why he received these warnings—too young to perceive the implications and the meanings behind the words.

And so he never let his father see him frightened again.

XXX

When Sam was eleven, he went on his first hunt, for an ice spirit in Colorado. It was December, so naturally it was freezing outside, and in Colorado, at least, it was snowing. By the time the Winchesters were ready to go out, the snow had turned into a blizzard. But John said that they couldn't wait—the spirit they hunted thrived in the cold, so the blizzard put even more lives at risk. Nor would he agree to wait and put Sam's first hunt at a safer time—he would have to get used to danger soon enough, anyway. They would just have to be more careful than usual, that was all.

But it was still Sam's first hunt, and he didn't really have any experience keeping track of both friend and foe in the best of times, much less in a blizzard. Even Dean had managed to forget that in the face of the spirit, and the boy would rather have died than remind them. So the three set out for the forest in which the demon was said to live.

They hadn't been walking for half an hour before Dean suddenly realized that Sam wasn't behind him. He abandoned the hunt immediately in favor of finding his brother, and instead of an ice spirit, the Winchesters spent their two days in Colorado hunting for one of their own.

That experience strengthened the bond of the brothers into something almost visible, tangible. They had been close before, but after Colorado, they were nearly inseparable.

And something else changed, too. Sam had nearly died on a hunt, and now there was no turning back, no matter how he might want to. He was, for better or worse—a hunter.

XXX

When Sam was thirteen, the Winchesters settled temporarily in a city in Ohio, and Sam attended middle school. Dean had already dropped out—did it as soon as legally possible, in fact—but Sam wouldn't have if he could. Much to Dean and John's confusion, the boy liked school, and he enrolled every time they stopped for more than a month.

Considering how often he changed schools, Sam's education should have been fragmented and behind. But it was quite the opposite, actually—Sam was the top of all his classes in all his schools. Dean called him a geek constantly to his face, but in fact he was ridiculously proud of his brother, even if these days didn't often see him admitting any such sentimental thoughts aloud.

But even Dean wasn't aware that school was also giving Sam a taste of the normal life he never had. Every day, Sam went to school, and he watched all the other kids hanging out with friends and having actual lives, lives that didn't involve demons or monsters or going off into life-threatening situations at least once a week.

And he wanted that, more than he ever would have thought he did.

But it was years before anyone knew it.

XXX

When Sam was seventeen, he stopped going with his father and brother on every hunt. He still hunted, of course, but not as often, and when he did, his heart wasn't in it. He spent more time in their motel rooms or apartments, reading God-knew-what and poring over stacks of papers which he would quickly shove out of sight if Dean or John came near.

Both father and brother wondered about this, but neither of them could figure it out and outright asking Sam would be worse than useless. Once John even went so far as to search the room in a fit of bad temper, but he found absolutely no sign of books or papers and Dean's outrage on behalf of his brother convinced him to leave well enough alone.

So Sam was allowed to continue whatever he was doing uninterrupted, and since his activities hadn't gotten anyone hurt, the older Winchesters resolved to ignore it in hopes that his behavior would soon return to normal.

And it all worked out fine.

Until the day that cursed letter arrived in the mail.

XXX

When Sam was eighteen, he got a full ride to Stanford College. He applied in secret—hence, the reason for his odd behavior over the past six months—and even after he was accepted, he kept the knowledge from his family for over two weeks.

The fight that followed when Sam had finally shared his news was the worst one he'd ever been involved in, because for the first time in recorded history, Dean sided with their father. John didn't want Sam to leave and Dean felt the same. And by this point in life, Dean had already turned into the average American male—he'd much rather shout than try to reason.

But he had never turned his maleness on Sam before.

And that, more than anything else, might have been what caused Sam to move out and cut his family off so completely. Their father provided him with an excuse by telling him not to come back, but Sam knew, deep down, that his father didn't mean it.

No, it was Dean's anger that set Sam off, and opened the gulf between them.

XXX

When Sam was twenty-two, John Winchester went missing, and Dean went to him for help. The rift between them was even more noticeable than before, but Sam, being Sam, went with his brother anyway, and during that road trip they rediscovered what they had both denied—that they belonged together.

Two days later, the love of Sam's life was dead, killed by the thing that had taken his mother so many years ago, and Dean had his brother back.

And Dean hated it with a passion even while he was thankful, because he would much rather be alone than have Sam go through this.

XXX

A few months later, Dean and Sam went back to Lawrence, Kansas, the one place Dean had sworn he would never return to, because Sam apparently had a new Shining thing going on and Dean never could deny him when he gave him that look that said he was scared.

Sam nearly died twice there, and Dean received the fright of his life. But even so, he had to admit that going back to his old home, while painful, was also strangely helpful.

But that was another thing he wouldn't ever tell Sam.

Along with how freaked out he was by those "visions" or whatever the hell they were…

XXX

Six months after Jessica died, Dean and Sam had their first real fight since Sam left for Stanford. Sam left, and Dean was forced to contemplate returning to the road alone. He hated the mere thought, but there was no way to force Sam to stay if he didn't want to—and even if there was, Dean wanted his brother to stick around because he wanted to, not because he felt forced.

But the worrying turned out to be for nothing, because Sam came back. Sam came back, and he saved his brother's life, which should have been a lot more humiliating than it actually was but Dean was so happy that he wasn't going to be left alone again that he could barely avoid a chick-flick moment, so there was no way he could actually care.

XXX

A month after that incident, Dean came closer to dying than he ever had before, and of something as lame as a heart attack. He didn't let it slip once, but the truth was, he was terrified, even while he was cracking jokes.

He never thought Sam could actually find a way to save him.

And he was ashamed of that, because who was he to deny his brother's intellect when he had seen it in action so many times?

But in retrospect, Dean had to admit that really, it wasn't that he doubted Sam, but rather that he doubted the existence of anything other than evil, and evil certainly wouldn't save him.

XXX

As a rule, Dean Winchester didn't really believe in higher powers.

Oh, he had when he was young, of course—his mother told him all about God and the Bible and prayer and especially angels, which she loved, and Dean believed it all because if Mommy told him it was true, then it was. Period.

But then came the night when Mommy got hurt.

And the Winchesters stopped believing in God.

XXX

Dean glanced over at his brother as he drove, and smiled at the sight that met him. Sam had drifted off to sleep, and his rest was peaceful for now. He was half-curled, his long legs tucked under the dash, his head resting against the window and his arms crossed. There was a little smile on his face, and Dean hoped that for once his dreams were pleasant.

As he watched his brother sleep, a thought came to Dean, and it seemed as natural and obvious as if he had not spent the last twenty-two years of his life denying it.

Of course angels existed. Didn't Dean see one living inside his brother every day?


I was walking home from school on a cold winter's day.
Took a shortcut through the woods and I lost my way.
It was getting late and I was scared and alone.
Then a kind old man took my hand and led me home.
Mama couldn't see him, but he was standing there,
And I knew in my heart, he was the answer to my prayers.

Oh I believe there are angels among us,
Sent down to us from somewhere up above.
They come to you and me in our darkest hours,
To show us how to live,
To teach us how to give,
To guide us with a light of love.

When life dealt troubled times and had me down on my knees,
There's always been someone there to come along and comfort me.
A kind word from a stranger to lend a helping hand,
A phone call from a friend just to say I understand.
Ain't it kind of funny at the dark end of the road,
Someone lights the way with just a single ray of hope?

Oh I believe there are angels among us,
Sent down to us from somewhere up above.
They come to you and me in our darkest hours,
To show us how to live,
To teach us how to give,
To guide us with a light of love.

They wear so many faces,
Show up in the strangest places,
Grace us with their mercy,
In our time of need.

Oh I believe there are angels among us,
Sent down to us from somewhere up above.
They come to you and me in our darkest hours,
To show us how to live,
To teach us how to give,
To guide us with a light of love.

To guide us with the light of love…


Author's Note: All right, just for side information: I didn't actually know how old Sam was when he started hunting, or how old Dean was, and I also am not sure when Sam left for college, so I just picked the ages that seemed best to me.

Also, I'll soon be writing a one-shot fic about Sam's first hunt. It's semi-described in this piece, but I wasn't satisfied with just a couple paragraphs on the subject, and since the whole story didn't fit in with what I was trying to create here, I'm just going to make it its own separate story.

Please review, people! As I said, it's my first Supernatural fic, so be kind and tell me if I should even attempt it again! (All right, so I plan to regardless, but I still want to know if it's a bad idea.)