The Ripple Effect
Genres: brotherly love, angst, wee!winchesters, OC PoV
Disclaimer: I don't own Sam, Dean, or anything related to Supernatural (if only) – Kripke and others do.
Summary: Ficlet. John's been gone on a hunt for too long, and the boys need food, so Dean breaks the rules and takes Sam out to buy some. But this isn't really their story. It's the story of one woman whose life they unintentionally change forever. Original character pov, wee!winchesters, brotherly love and some angst.
AN: Written for the supernatural.tv First Impressions fan fic challenge. "Write a story about a first impression of Dean, Sam, John, or a combination of the Winchester men. It can be someone from an actual episode, or you can make it up. Hotel managers, people they've helped, anyone. It can be from the person's point of view or told in third person. Your choice."
The Ripple Effect
It was a Saturday afternoon at the local grocery store. Kathy had only been at work for a few hours, and already her day had been terrible. Rude customers squabbling with her over coupons (it wasn't her fault no one ever read the fine print). Loud, obnoxious kids begging their parents for one of the many candy bars lining the shelf next to the register; throwing tantrums when their mothers said "no." Not to mention how busy it was today. There hadn't been a single break in Kathy's line of customers all day, and it didn't look like there would be any time soon.
But this wasn't the worst part of her day. The worst part was that today was the one year anniversary of the last time she had talked to her younger sister.
She hadn't realized that she remembered the date, but she did. She had awoken this morning and just known. It had been one year to the day since she had woken up to find her younger sister gone from the apartment they shared.
It had been a stupid argument really. She could hardly remember what they had fought over in the first place. She hadn't talked to her since that night. She didn't know where her sister had gone, though she was pretty sure she had gone to stay with her boyfriend.
Kathy refused to admit that she had made a mistake. That she had been tired and upset and her sister hadn't meant what she said. Kathy was stubborn; she always had been. She refused to admit she had done anything wrong. That she cared to know how her sister was doing. That she missed her.
If her sister did not want to call her, she sure as hell would not call her sister.
Kathy pulled herself out of her thoughts, realizing she had gone through three customers without even knowing it. She sighed, pushed away thoughts of her sister, and put a smile on her face. She was good at this part of the job. Her customers may drive her crazy, but she was really good at making them think otherwise. She could put a smile on her face and make herself seem as happy as could be, even when, like now, she was anything but.
As she began to ring up the family in front of her – a mother and two children arguing over some box of sugar-coated-sugar cereal – she noticed two young boys get in line. One of them looked about nine, the other maybe four or five. The little one carried a box of Lucky Charms held close to his chest. The other carried an assortment of packages of cheap junk food.
There wasn't a grown-up in sight.
Kathy continued to check out the woman's many items, but she did so mechanically. She couldn't take her eyes off the two boys. They were too young to be out alone. She continued to watch them, hoping someone older would come along soon. She knew it was rude to stare but she couldn't help it. They looked so…sad. And lost. The younger boy clutched the elder's hand tightly, gazing quietly at the ground. She watched the elder look at him and frown slightly. He put his food up on the counter and let go of the younger boy's hand in order to place his arm around him, grasping his shoulder and pulling him close.
"Hey, Sammy, how about this time we open the box and dig the prize out first, huh? I know you don't like waiting."
The young boy looked up at the other, a smile suddenly lighting up his face, stretching up and reaching his eyes, which grew bright and reflected the joy he clearly felt. "Really?" he asked slowly, almost in awe.
The elder smiled. "Yeah, dude," he replied, reaching up with his other hand and messing up the boy's scruffy hair. The younger replied with an indignant "Hey!" and a giggle, swiping the older boy's hand away with his own hand that wasn't clutching the cereal to his chest.
"I know Dad always says the waiting makes you stronger," the elder continued, "but what does he know?"
"Yeah," the little boy agreed. "Besides, he won't find out anyway since he's not-"
"Sam!" the elder interrupted quickly and loudly, and Kathy was horrified when the boy looked right up at her, caught her staring, and glowered at her. She looked away quickly, putting her attention back on the woman she was ringing up, feeling her face get red. She hadn't meant to stare; she was usually so good at keeping her nose out of other people's business. But she just couldn't help it. These two boys were so different from most of the children she dealt with all day, even excluding the fact that they were alone. There seemed to be a lot of love and caring between them, and though she had barely seen them interacting, she could tell that they were brothers, and that they were very close.
She started to bag the woman's groceries, and she found herself looking at the boys again out of the corner of her eye. The elder had moved his attention back to his younger brother (she was convinced they were brothers). He took the box of cereal from him and put it on the counter, stooping down, his hand still on his shoulder, and whispered something in his ear. She watched as the younger's eyes grew wide in horror, and he said quietly, his voice shaking, "I'm sorry, Dean." She barely heard the elder say, "It's okay, Sammy," before he leaned in to whisper again.
Kathy finally drew her attention away from them, resolving to stop snooping. Of course she cared about why they were there by themselves. But the elder boy had shot her such a look. The look had clearly said, "Butt out, he's my brother, I know how to take care of him." She didn't know their circumstances; why they were there alone without a father or mother or any kind of guardian. But she got the clear impression that the older boy knew what he was doing; that he had been doing it for a long, long time.
She processed the woman's check, glancing up quickly to see the two boys silent once more. The elder still had his arm around his little brother, and she recognized it as a protective and caring gesture. She handed the woman her receipt and told her to have a nice day, and she was surprised to realize that her hands were shaking.
Finally, the woman left, dragging her obnoxious kids with her, and the two boys approached the counter, the younger one staring at the floor, while the elder looked at anything but her.
As she began to ring up their items, she greeted them the same way she greeted all of her customers.
"And how are you two doing today?"
The elder didn't answer her, but the younger gazed up at her quickly, a smile on his face as he said happily, "I'm doin' good? How 'bout you?"
She smiled. "I'm doing pretty good," she replied, and she was surprised to realize that she actually meant it. Everything about this boy screamed adorable, and this was rarely ever a word which she applied to kids. The smile, the messy hair, the bright, wide, puppy-dog eyes, and the happy tone of his voice were all infectious, and she realized that the smile on her face, for once, was a genuine one.
When she was able to draw her gaze away from the boy's infectious smile, she realized that she had rung the same item up three times. She began to fix it, and before she could stop herself, before she could even think about what she was asking, which she always did before she ever opened her mouth, she asked, "Where's your Mommy?"
The older boy's head shot up, and he glowered at her. She could tell a harsh retort was on his lips, but before he could say anything the younger one blurted out, "She died."
She felt her heart sink, and she felt instantly guilty. She didn't know what to say to that, and as she felt herself begin to blush, she turned back to her work, realizing that she didn't know which item she'd rung up last and that she'd have to start over again. She heard the elder quietly berate his brother. She tried hard to tune out what they were saying. All she heard was "none of her business…what did Dad tell you about talking to strangers?... what did I tell you?...you know better" and she couldn't help but notice that, though the boy was saying it in a tone which clearly meant he was angry and that he was the boss and his brother needed to pay attention to him, he also said it in a way that clearly came across as loving. It was as though he was saying "You know I love you, but you should know better than to do that." She began to ring up the items again.
"But, Dean," she heard the younger one say, "she seems like a nice lady. She was nice to the people in front of us ev'n though those kids was bein' real loud."
Kathy smiled slightly, taken aback at the compliment, but she didn't look up from her work.
Then she could practically feel the elder boy's eyes boring a hole into her, and she paused, unable to keep herself from looking up. "Just because someone seems nice doesn't mean they are," he said, and she could practically taste the bitterness in his voice.
The younger boy frowned, and Kathy found herself wishing he would smile again. "But Dean, how do you tell if someone's really nice then?"
Kathy had completely stopped what she was doing, frozen to the spot by her curiosity, her eagerness to hear what the boy would say in reply.
"You can't," he said simply, but it was far from a simple comment. Those two words were filled with more doubt and suspicion and anger and bitterness than they had any right to be filled with when coming from the lips of a boy still so young. She was thunderstruck at the amount of maturity and world-weariness radiating off of this child. What had happened to him in so few years to make him so cynical and bitter toward other human beings?
She couldn't tear her eyes away from the boy. She suddenly felt incredibly small and immature under his gaze. She felt like he was the grownup trying to teach her a lesson. His gaze didn't waver from hers, and in it she saw a look of determination which clearly said "no one could ever change my mind about this." But she could also feel, deeper down, buried under the hard glare, a sadness which cried out asking, begging, for someone to prove him wrong. For someone to come along who not only looked nice but was nice, and didn't want anything from him but to show him the love he so desperately craved.
What happened next shook her to her very core, and she was hard pressed to hold back the tears she felt forming in her eyes.
"But Dean, I can tell when people are nice. I can tell that you're nice. You always take care of me and play with me and make me feel safe when Daddy's not there-"
"Be quiet," the elder ground out angrily.
But the boy continued. "-and you tuck me in at night and tell me stories about Mommy when I feel bad and let me have the last of the Lucky Charms-"
"-and tell me that you love me."
She watched in fascination as the hard look on the older boy's face slowly melted away, and she was almost positive she saw tears forming in his eyes. But she blinked and the look was gone, only to be replaced with a joking smile as the boy reached down and ran his hand through his brother's hair again, messing it up once more and eliciting yet another cry of "Hey!" from the younger.
"Of course I'm nice to you, Sam. I'm your older brother; that's my job." He said it jokingly, as if it was a simple job that he was required to do and he could easily brush off as meaning nothing more than that, but Kathy could clearly hear the love behind it.
The younger boy smiled at the older, and Kathy finally drew herself out of her stupor and quickly rang up the rest of their items, hoping they hadn't noticed her watching their interaction. She told the boy the cost, and as she put their items in a bag and the elder began counting out his money, she couldn't help marveling at the interaction she had just been allowed to witness.
Finally, the boy looked up at her and said, "I'm a dollar short, I gotta put something back."
Once again, she couldn't stop herself. It was like she had lost all control over what came out of her mouth. "Don't worry about it," she said.
"I told you she was nice," said the younger brother happily, grinning widely at her.
The older boy paused and looked up at her again, looked her straight in the eye, and said, "She's not nice. She just feels sorry for us."
Kathy was shocked to see his eyes welling up with bitter tears, and she felt guilty again. When had she stopped thinking before she spoke?
"Take off the doughnuts," the boy said, and Kathy didn't hesitate to obey him, taking the doughnuts out of the bag and adjusting the register. She told him the new total and took the money from him. As she began to put it away and count out change, once again too ashamed to look up, she heard the younger boy ask, "What's wrong, Dean?"
"Nothing's wrong. I'm fine, Sammy. Everything's fine," and she could tell that he was lying.
So, apparently, could his brother. "I don't like it when you lie," he said quietly, and Kathy was upset to hear the shakiness and the tears behind his voice. She looked up to find the boy frowning and sniffling, tears falling quietly down his face. "I don't like it when you're sad."
The look of horror that had appeared on the elder's face when his brother had caught his lie faded immediately at the second admission. He frowned slightly and reached down, picked his brother up, and held him close, looking around nervously. The little boy wrapped his arms around his brother's neck, buried his head in his shoulder, and started to sob. "I love you," he said quietly.
Kathy watched the older boy's eyes stop darting around nervously, and his gaze landed on his brother, his eyes softening, the plea for love she had seen in them before being answered. He reached up with his free hand and rubbed it through his brother's hair gently and said, "It's okay, Sammy."
His gaze stopped on Kathy. "Can I just have my bags, please?"
Kathy quickly pulled out the rest of the change and the receipt and thrust them into his hand. He put the money in his pocket and she gathered the bags and handed them to him hastily. Then he walked away without saying a word.
Kathy couldn't help but watch them go. She saw Sam hug his brother tighter, saw that he had stopped crying, and she heard him say, "Don't be sad, Dean. Daddy'll be home soon."
And she heard Dean quietly reply, "I know."
She quietly watched them leave the store, and she realized that, though she had known them only a brief time, she felt like she had known them all her life.
The voice of an elderly woman pulled her back into reality.
"Those poor boys," the older woman said, putting her grocery basket on the counter. "Their father is probably a rotten drunk."
"Maybe…" Kathy replied, not really paying attention.
"They could really use a mother," she said, as though she knew just what would help make them feel better. And Kathy felt stunned by a realization.
She looked up at the woman in front of her and said, with more conviction than she had felt in a long time, "Maybe. But at least they have each other."
Kathy left work early that day. She took the first sick day she had taken in a year. She went home to her apartment – her quiet, lonely apartment – sat on her couch with her head in her hands, and began to cry softly.
When the tears finally stopped, she took the phone off of the table next to her and held the number 1 down, putting it to her ear, praying that someone would answer.
When the person on the other end of the phone picked up, Kathy spoke quietly, unable to keep the tears from her voice.
"Rachel? I'm so sorry."