Another school. How many this year so far? And as always, he was the new kid. He was so tired of being the new kid when everyone else had known each other at least since the beginning of the school year.
Seven-year-old Sam Winchester hunched his shoulders as he walked into the cafeteria. No one looked at him but the teachers. Where was he supposed to sit? There were some kids who'd been in his second-grade class earlier, but they were sitting next to kids he didn't recognize. Maybe you didn't have to sit with your grade? He didn't know. It made him feel uneasy. He hated trying to sit with people he didn't know. He didn't fit into any group, and they would just look at him until he wilted. His stomach rolled. Maybe if he said he wasn't hungry they'd let him go to the library or something instead?
He knew better. They always wanted the little kids in the cafeteria where they could keep track of them better.
Sam passed through the line, putting food on his tray. When he came out, he paused, looking. There! An unoccupied table in the corner of the room. At least he wouldn't have to worry about getting The Look from an indifferent kid face.
Settling his tray, Sam sat. He looked down, only at the food in front of him. In a minute he would look up to see if anyone noticed him.
Sam didn't see the big kids coming until they were right in front of him.
"HEY!" Someone yelling. Crash! Another tray slapped down right next to Sam, and he jumped, big brown eyes going wide even as he scrambled to his feet.
Three big boys. They must be in fifth grade at least. And they looked mad.
"This is our table, you baby!" said one of them. Black eyes, black hair, olive skin. And bigger than Sam's slender frame by almost half. "Find another place to sit."
"Yeah," said another one. "Maybe we need to hit him a little, Luis."
"Him? Doesn't look like him to me. Look at that long hair. It's a girl!" said another one.
They all laughed, sneeringly.
Sam paused. Then without a word he picked up his tray and walked away. He chose a table with some kids at it, carefully three or four seats away from anyone else at the table. He didn't eat, though. He just lowered his head a little.
It was probably the pause that did it. Luis expected to see him cringe, shake, cower. Some of the little kids would wet their pants if you yelled at them enough. That was pretty funny. But this new kid didn't look as afraid as Luis and his friends liked.
"You know what?" he said quietly to Manuel and Michael. "I think we need to teach that one some manners after school. He didn't apologize or nothing. He should 'pologize for invading our table."
The boys laughed.
Sitting gingerly on the seat, Sam couldn't hear that the older boys were talking about him. He was too busy worrying that the kids sitting at his table wished he wasn't there. He took an upward peek. Two girls, giggling to each other, paying no attention. A boy, looking mostly at his tray as he quickly and efficiently vacuumed up the contents. Their gazes brushed, then the kid smiled a little. But they didn't talk.
Maybe he'll talk to me tomorrow, Sam thought.
Finally it was time to go back to class. Sam breathed a sigh of relief. At least there he knew where he was supposed to be.
Sam's gaze flicked to the clock. The bell would ring in five minutes and this eternally long day, this first-day-of-new-school day, would finally be over. Dean was supposed to walk over from the middle school and walk him home. Dean always made him feel better.
Dean just didn't care if he was the new kid. He didn't worry about fitting in. Mostly Dean just didn't think school was very important. He was like Dad that way.
After they got home, after changing into sneakers, they'd run. Dad said at least a mile every day for Sam. More for 11-year-old Dean. Dad wouldn't be back for two more days, but they knew better than to disobey.
Sam would tell Dean all about his day, including that he'd sat at a table with another boy who didn't give him the indifferent death stare. Maybe they could be friends.
Dean walked over to elementary school, getting there just as the bell rang. His eyes skimmed over the kids pouring out of the doors. Some of the fifth-grade girls were pretty cute, and a couple of them gave him the once-over, too. Not that it would do any good. Why did they always travel in packs? You couldn't pry them apart if you wanted to talk to one of them.
There he was. Dean zeroed in on Sam. Long brown hair in his face as usual, clutching a book. As Dean eased through the flow of kids toward his little brother, he almost missed the little eddy in the tide. Almost.
Suddenly Sam was surrounded by three much older boys, looming menacingly over the fragile-looking seven-year-old.
"Hey kid," sneered the biggest one, the leader. "I been thinking about lunch. I figure you owe us an apology, man. For sitting at our table. We didn't 'vite you, man."
"Yeah," said Michael. "Maybe you should apologize with, like, money or something. Otherwise we might have to hurt you."
Dean started to move faster. He couldn't hear from so far away in a big group like that, but he knew that body language. But if those kids thought they could lay a finger on Dean's little brother, they had another think coming. No one beat up on Sam but him.
"What?" Sam said.
"Are you stupid, kid? Or just deaf? Bring me your lunch money tomorrow and I won't hit you now. Much."
Sam looked at the three kids standing over him. His eyes widened. But they didn't widen the way Luis expected them to. The kid looked -- was that a smile? Was that kid laughing at Luis and Michael and Manuel?
By the time Dean reached the group, Luis had fallen, clutching his crotch. Manuel had taken a kick to the gut and was gasping. Michael was trying rather clumsily to hit a dancing, weaving Sam. Dean twirled the last fifth-grader around and hit him hard in the face. Michael collapsed with a groan.
Dean put his hand on Sam's shoulder. "Sammy, you okay?"
"Yeah, Dean, thanks." Sam was breathing hard, more with excitement than exertion. The whole thing had taken less than a minute.
"That's my boy." Turning to the three incapacitated fifth-graders, Dean smirked. He said, "Don't ever even think about touching Sam. He'll kick your asses more next time. And if he doesn't, I will."
Turning, the brothers walked away, Sam holding a library-bound book.
Luis had no idea what had just happened. The little kids he beat up never fought. They cowered, they ran, they tried to placate.
But then, none of the other seven-year-olds he'd picked on had ever been handed a gun with instructions to shoot first and ask questions later. None of them ran a mile every school day, and two on weekend days. None of them spent their time training to kill with their bodies.
"Yeah kid? I'm sleepy. It's been a long day."
"Would you read me a bedtime story?"
"Sam… " A muffled moan into the couch cushions.
"Please?" Sam said pleadingly.
"Okay Sammy." Dean hauled himself grumpily from the depths of the couch. "What do you want me to read?"
A sigh. A big, older-brother sigh. "Okay Sammy. But this is like the last time I'll read this. I mean, bunnies? Like little furry ones? You know Dad would so take Bunnicula down in real life, right?"
"Mmmhmm…" Sam, having gotten his way, was already beginning to drift.
Smiling a little, Dean ruffled Sam's hair and then began to read.