Disclaimer: I don't own them, but I'm grateful to those who do for sharing them with us.
A/N: This is a look at the brothers, and occasionally John, through the years.
for one and one for all
My brother and my friend
What fun we have
The time we share
Brothers 'til the end.
Dean Winchester leaned against the door frame, watching his younger brother as he slept. Their father left them with a trusted friend, Pastor Jim, while he went off on a hunt. Sam was only eight years old and, after a hard day on the playground, he retreated to the room the brothers were sharing. Despite Dean's attempts to get him to the dinner table, Sam insisted on staying in the bedroom. Jim checked on him a few times, but was convinced the little boy was only tired and in need of some time to himself.
"Dean?" Jim stood next to the twelve year old. "Why all the concern?"
"Sammy wasn't acting like himself when he got back."
"He probably wore himself out. He hasn't had the chance to play like that in a long time."
"I'm sure he'll be back to normal in the morning. Why don't you get some sleep?"
After getting ready for bed, Dean still felt somewhat uneasy. Jim was probably right, he told himself after hovering over his brother for a moment, the little guy was probably just exhausted. The older boy crawled under the blankets of his own bed and laid on his side, watching Sam, until he fell asleep.
He woke up a few hours later to the sound of his little crying softly in a corner of the room.
"Sammy?" Dean tossed the covers aside and went to his side. "What's wrong?"
Sam sat up straight and wiped his face with a sleeve of his pajama top.
"What's going on?" Dean asked, sitting next to him on the floor.
"Where is Daddy?"
"What? You know where he is. He's off on a job."
"The kids on the playground called me an orphan. They said Daddy wasn't ever coming back."
"That's crazy, Sam. Dad always comes back. Why would you pay attention to them?"
"They said Pastor Jim takes kids in when their parents leave them; they said that's why we're here."
"Sam, Dad has left us here before and he's always come back. Those kids don't know what they're talking about."
Sam leaned against his older brother and Dean put an arm around his shoulders. "Is that why you stayed up here and wouldn't come down for dinner?"
He nodded against Dean's chest.
"Don't do that again, okay? When something bothers you, you talk to me."
"I promise, Dean."
"Good. Now, are you hungry?"
"Come on, let's go downstairs and see what we can find."
After mugs of hot chocolate and some graham crackers, the brothers quietly went back to their bed room. Dean tucked his little brother into bed, then crawled into his own.
"Don't tell Dad. Please, Dean? Don't tell Dad."
"I think he's going to notice the black eye, Sam."
"I'll tell him it happened when you and I were training. He'll believe it. I don't want him to know I got into a fight at school."
"You want him to kick my ass for hurting you?"
"He won't." the ten year old said desperately, taking the ice pack away from his face. "Not if we tell him we were sparring. He'll just tell me to learn from my mistakes. Come on. Please?"
Dean sighed. "All right. He won't be home until tomorrow anyway. Maybe it won't look so bad by then. Keep that ice on there."
Sam did as he was told while Dean busied himself at the stove. "You gonna tell me what happened?"
Sam was quiet and Dean glanced behind him at the younger boy. "You know more about fighting than anyone else at that school. You were trained by John Winchester, right? So what happened? The guy get a lucky punch in?"
Sam still didn't answer. Dean put two mugs of hot chocolate on the table and grabbed a box of graham crackers from a cabinet.
"Dad bought these before he left." Dean said as he rejoined his brother at the table. He nodded toward the ice pack. "Let me see."
Sam put the ice pack on the table.
"It doesn't look too bad. What happened?
Sam took a sip from his mug. "It doesn't matter."
"Sure it does. You were fighting at school. If a teacher had seen you before I did, you'd be in trouble and the principle would have tried to call Dad. You know we can't bring attention to ourselves."
Sam sighed. "I know. I've heard the speech."
"It's not just a speech, Sammy. The last thing Dad needs is to come back and find one of us in trouble at school."
"So? Talk to me."
Sam looked at his brother. If there was anyone in the world he could trust, it was Dean. For as long as Sam could remember, his big brother had been by his side. Dean protected him, encouraged him, taught him what he needed to know. In some ways Dean was more of a father to him than John; at least Dean understood him better.
"I was walking through the playground to meet you and I saw these kids picking on a smaller kid. I just wanted them to leave him alone." Sam could remember being the smaller kid not that long ago and he never liked being picked on. Now at twelve, he was the tallest boy in his class. When Sam wasn't at their normal meeting place after school, Dean went to look for him. He found him on the elementary school playground in a fight with another boy and three other boys running away. Dean broke up the fight and brought his brother home.
"So how'd you get the black eye?"
He shrugged, staring at the marshmallows in the hot chocolate. "I let one of the guys get a punch in so he'd think he could beat me."
Dean grinned. "That's what you didn't want to tell me? That you took a punch to draw some idiot in? Sam, that was a good idea."
"You know," Dean said a moment later, trying to sound casual. "If something else happened, you could tell me."
"Cuz, I, uh, I didn't notice a smaller kid around when I got there."
"Maybe he ran away."
Sam was sullen, staring into his mug of cocoa. Dean reached out and laid a hand on his arm. Sam refused to look at him.
"Is that what really happened? If you say that is was, I'll believe you and not bring it up again. If something else happened, maybe we need to talk about it."
Dean waited a moment, then opened the box of crackers. He put some on a plate and took one for himself.
"Dean?" Sam began quietly.
"That's kind of what happened."
Sam nodded. "They were picking on another kid, but not cuz he was smaller. They were picking on him because he's been hanging out with me."
Dean wanted to react angrily, but kept calm for Sam's sake. "So the kid has good taste."
"Sam, there's nothing wrong with you. You know more, have seen more, can do more than anyone else at that school will ever know, see or do. Don't let them get to you."
Sam continued to stare into his mug.
"Listen to me." Dean said, using the tone his brother could never ignore. Sam looked at him with tears in his eyes. "You help people. The things you know and the things you face would scare the shit out of every one of those other kids. Let them think whatever they want to because you and I know the truth."
Sam smiled. "Thanks, Dean."
"You're gonna be okay, you hear me?" Dean said, trying to sound more sure than he felt. He was standing next to his brother's hospital bed and although he'd seen Sam hurt before, he had never seen him this hurt.
He and Sam were helping their father with a haunted house and Sam fell through some rotten floorboards into the basement. Luckily he landed on a pile of old blankets, but he had still suffered some injuries. He was unconscious and the doctor had no way of knowing when that might change, though he assured the other Winchesters there was no permanent damage. Dean didn't like the dark circles under his eyes and the pale skin. He looked so young in the hospital bed and, despite the growth spurts in the last couple of years, he somehow seemed very small.
Dean brushed the hair off his brother's forehead with a shaking hand. "Come on, Sammy, please. You have to wake up. I – uh – I need you, kid."
Dean glanced away from Sam when he heard the door open behind him. He felt John's hand on his neck.
"How's he doing?"
"How are you doing?"
"I'm not the one in the hospital bed."
"He's strong, Dean. He'll be okay."
"You don't know that." Dean said quietly. "He's been hurt before, but he's never been unconscious. We should have let him play in the soccer game and not made him come on this hunt."
"He's thirteen. He couldn't stay by himself."
"Caleb could have come –"
"Dean, don't, okay? No one, not even you, can change the past." John squeezed his neck affectionately.
"I'm worried, Dad."
"I know you are. I'll be honest with you. I am, too."
Dean didn't want to hear that. For his father to be worried, things must really be bad.
"You should go back to the motel; get some sleep." John said later.
"I'm not leaving him."
John didn't expect anything less and they sat together by Sam's bed, both dozing off sometime during the night. Dean's eyes opened suddenly and he wondered what woke him up. A moment later he heard his brother's small voice.
The older brother moved closer. "Hey, kid, how ya doin'?"
"Sore. What happened?"
"The floorboards were rotten; you fell through."
"Dad mad at me?"
"Of course not."
"Really." John said. He stood next to Dean and put a hand on Sam's leg. "How are you feeling?"
Sam was discharged from the hospital late in the afternoon. John made them a light dinner, and after he cleaned up, helped Dean settle Sam into bed. He hadn't had any time alone with his younger son since he was admitted into the hospital; Dean was very devoted to his brother and tended to hover even when Sam only had a cold. Injuries serious enough for hospitalization made the older brother very nervous. John knew Sam didn't mind Dean's attention. He also knew that Dean was good for Sam and could anticipate his needs so Sam would want for nothing.
"Dean, would you mind giving me a minute with your brother?" John asked as he paused on his way to bed later.
The brothers exchanged a glance.
"Yes, Sir." Dean said. He looked at his brother encouragingly, both of them afraid that Sam was about to be lectured.
John waited until Dean left the room, pretty sure he would be out in the hallway listening, before he sat on the edge of Sam's bed.
"Your brother give you the pain medication?" John asked.
Sam looked down.
"Sammy, there's no shame in taking medicine to help take the edge off."
"He gave it to me." Sam said, looking at his father. "Are you mad at me?"
"No, of course I'm not. You didn't do anything wrong; you had no way of knowing those floorboards were in such bad shape. But it's a good reminder for all of us to be more careful. I'm really glad you weren't hurt worse."
"You did good out there, Son. I'm proud of you."
Sam beamed. "Thank you, Dad."
John patted his leg. He raised his voice to be sure Dean could hear him from the hallway. "You boys don't stay up too late."
He winked at Sam and headed toward the door; Dean stood just inside the room. He put a hand on Dean's shoulder. "I put the water on; there's a fresh box of grahams on the counter."
Dean looked away, embarrassed, but John squeezed his shoulder. "I think it's just what Sammy needs to settle in for the night."
He looked up from the array of weapons he was cleaning to see his younger brother standing uncertainly in the kitchen doorway.
"Can I talk to you?"
"Sure." Dean went back to cleaning.
Sam didn't move and Dean looked at him again. "Sam?"
"Can you, uh, move away from the knives?"
Dean looked at him, a mixture of surprise and concern, before following his younger brother to the living room. The brothers were staying in another in a series of rundown apartments with their father. John spent the last week working on a job with a family friend and was scheduled to be home later that day.
Sam sat down on the fraying couch, his elbows resting on his knees and his hands clasped nervously.
"What's wrong, Sammy?" Dean asked, sitting next to him.
Sam opened his mouth to say something, but closed it and handed his brother a folded piece of paper instead. Dean took it, watching Sam's face closely. His jaw was set and he was staring straight ahead. Still watching him, Dean unfolded the paper and slowly turned his attention to it. He read the letter, then looked at Sam.
Sam nodded, looking at him anxiously. "Not just college, Dean, Stanford."
"But – Sammy –"
"You gotta help me with Dad. He's gonna go ballistic."
"At the very least." Dean said, feeling as if he'd been hit in the stomach. "Sam, you can't do this."
"I don't want this life, Dean. You've known that for a long time – how many times have we talked about it? This isn't me."
"You're a Winchester. What about what happened to mom?"
Sam looked at his brother sympathetically. "Dean, I care about that, I do. But I want to go to college. I need to get away from this for a while and – and be normal."
Dean knew his brother was applying to colleges and, although he managed to keep amazing grades despite moving around a lot, he never thought Sam's leaving would become a reality. He knew their father wouldn't take the news very well, and that was putting it mildly. Dean wanted to be angry with Sam for being willing to walk away from everything this way, but the truth was he knew this was what Sam needed.
Dean closed his eyes for a moment and folded the acceptance letter. When he looked at Sam again, he saw the expression he could never ignore. When Sam looked at him with such pleading in his eyes, there was nothing the older brother wouldn't do for him. He sighed.
"Okay, Sammy. I'll do what I can with Dad, but there's no way he's going to take this well."
That was probably the biggest underestimation Dean ever had. John didn't just take it badly; he became angrier than either of his sons could ever remember seeing him. And, despite every attempt Dean made to intervene, John and Sam got into a huge fight. In the end, John gave Sam an ultimatum; if he left to go to college, he could never come back. Defiant, Sam packed his bags and left that night. He stayed with Pastor Jim until it was time to leave for California.
"You all packed?" Dean asked quietly, standing in the bedroom at Jim's house they'd shared many times before.
Sam nodded, sitting on the edge of the bed. He was leaving the next morning.
Dean sat down next to him. "Dad won't talk about it."
Sam nodded again. He was afraid if he spoke, he would start to cry and that wasn't something either of them needed.
"You got everything you need?"
Again, Sam nodded.
Dean wasn't holding himself together very well, but he spent years being strong for Sam and he wasn't about to stop now.
"Look, I'd better get back before Dad gets any more mad at me." Dean put his arm around Sam's shoulders. "You do good, okay?"
"Yeah." Sam managed.
"I – uh – I won some money in a poker game last night." Dean dug into his pocket and pulled out a roll of bills. "It's not a lot, but it will help."
"I can't –" Sam's voice cracked.
"Yeah, you can." Dean tossed it into Sam's open duffle bag. He stood up. "You need anything, you can call okay?"
Sam nodded. "Yeah."
They looked at each other for a moment, their expressions saying everything they couldn't force themselves to say out loud.
After an eventful first day on campus, Sam sat on the edge of his bed. He picked up his duffle bag, ready to unpack. He didn't have much; a few clothes, an old family photo and – he looked at the bottom of the duffle and smiled to himself, but suddenly missing his brother very much. He pulled out the box of graham crackers and the envelopes of hot cocoa, tucking them safely into a dresser drawer.
A lot happened over the next couple of years. Sam excelled in school, he made friends, and he fell in love with Jessica. At first, it was defiance that kept him from calling Dean; he didn't want to admit he missed his brother. Then it became habit. Sometimes it was anger that Dean didn't care enough to get in touch with him. But a few days before Sam's law school interview, Dean came roaring back into his life and things changed forever.
Their father was missing and Dean came to California to ask Sam for his help in finding him. They spent the weekend searching and, while they learned quite a few things, they didn't find John. The night Sam came home, the thing that killed his mother came for Jessica. She was pinned to the ceiling over their bed, her blood dripping onto Sam's forehead. She burst into flames in front of his eyes, and if Dean hadn't suspected something was wrong and returned to the apartment, Sam most likely would have died with her.
Eventually the family reunited, and nearly died in after the Impala was hit by a semi truck, driven by someone possessed by a demon. They were lucky to be alive and after the worst of the injuries healed, they went back to tracking down the demon that destroyed their family. There was another battle in which the Winchesters, battered and broken, were victorious. A few weeks after the fact, they were settled into a cabin on a lake. It was close to a town that was big enough where they didn't stand out.
"How ya doin', Sammy?" John asked as he joined Sam on the porch one evening.
"I'm okay. How about you?"
John lowered himself onto a chair and put the cane he was now forced to use aside. "I've been worse."
"Yes, Sir." Sam smiled.
"Where's your brother?"
"He said he was going into town for a while. He's probably hanging out at the bar."
"That sounds about right." John smiled. "What about you?"
"What about me?"
"When are you going to get back out there?"
Sam smiled uncomfortably and ran his hand over his hair. "I don't know."
"You're young, Sammy. Don't make the same mistake I did."
Sam looked at him. "Mistake?"
"Don't get me wrong. I'm proud that we finally stopped that damn thing and that it won't hurt any more families. But I – and you boys – sacrificed a lot to make that happen. I'm sure your mother would have wanted different for you and for me. I don't want you to get so wrapped up in grief that you forget to live."
Sam looked thoughtful. "It's not that any more. I know Jess would want me to be happy and to go on living."
"What is it, then?"
"I don't know what I want to do with my life now that we've killed the demon. I need to figure some things out before I can get involved with someone."
"But before you can get involved, you need to get back in the game. I'm not pushing you, Son, I just don't want you to get used to being lonely."
Sam smiled at his father. They'd spent a lot of time fighting as Sam grew up, but eventually he came to understand that John did the best he could under extremely difficult circumstances. No one could accuse John of being a perfect father, but the love for his boys didn't keep him from making very bad choices for them. After Jessica died, Sam had a new understanding for his father and what he went through when Mary was taken from him, and it helped them fix their relationship and become close again.
Father and son fell into a comfortable silence and a few minutes later, could hear the growl of the Impala as it approached the cabin. Dean waved and parked in the back. He came through the house a few minutes later with three mugs and a box of graham crackers under his arm.
"You boys still do this?" John asked as he took one of the mugs from his son.
"Not for a long time." Sam said, catching Dean's eye.
The older brother sat in the vacant chair.
The three men talked about nothing in particular for a while, then John picked up his cane. "I think I'll head on in to bed."
"This was nice, Dean." Sam said, gently waving his mug.
The older brother nodded, noncommittally. "It was always a nice way to relax."
"Dad tell you he's thinking of staying here?" Sam asked after a moment.
Dean nodded. "He mentioned it."
"What about you?"
"I only know how to do one thing, Sammy." Dean looked at him sadly. "You going back to school?"
Sam sighed. "I don't know. It doesn't have the same importance as it did before, but seems like something I should finish."
Dean nodded, staring toward the dark lake.
"I haven't decided for sure yet, but you know that no matter what, we'll always be family, right? No matter where we are?"
"I know." Dean looked at him. "But it won't be the same. Not being together, I mean."
"No, it won't." Sam said, their eyes locked. "But we'll always be brothers."
Dean held out his mug and Sam tapped it with his.
"Don't hog the cracker, dude." Dean smiled reaching for the box.