Okay, this is actually something I wrote a while back. I dusted it off, corrected my constant POV shift (except maybe in the last section) and decided to go ahead and post it. And yeah, yeah - I'll get my ass back to working on Lil' Sammy and the new adventures of Sammie Rae, not to mention the new Problems With Dean and additional chapters for Light & Dark. Sheesh! I really gotta learn to focus.

Laundry Day

Darren searched up and down the line of school buses. Where was that Winchester kid? Coach made it his personal mission to get him on the track team. With Winchester's speed and endurance their school could at least place at the state competition this year.

He spotted the short, spiky hair in the window of the wrong bus. He knew Winchester lived near him; Darren had been able to get that much out of him at lunch last week. But then Winchester had taken to eating outside.

" Winchester!" Darren banged on the side of the bus. There was no response. "You're on the wrong bus!" He shouted at the open window. Still nothing. Confused, Darren got on the bus.

Winchester was in one of the back seats, spread out across it with his eyes closed. Darren shook his foot. " Winchester!"

"What?" The lanky kid glared up at him. He had obviously not been asleep.

"This isn't your bus. You're on 225 with me." Darren pointed at the bus parked in front of this one. "Over there."

He saw Winchester's mouth twist to one side. The other boy seemed to be pondering something.

"Dean?" Darren jumped when he realized the bus driver, a young man with wild red hair and startling blue eyes, stood right behind him. "This kid bothering you?"

"Nah," Winchester shook his head. "It's okay. Thanks, dude."

The bus driver shot Darren a glare before heading back to the front of the bus.

"This is the same bus that picks up my kid brother. Instead of standing at the bus stop waiting for him, I can just ride around and we can walk together." Winchester explained.

"Oh." Darren felt the wind leave his sails. He figured that by saving the new kid from riding the wrong bus, he might be able to talk Winchester into trying out for the track team. A new idea occurred to him. "Well, if it's the same route, I can ride with you. Keep you company." Darren shoved Winchester's legs off the seat and sat.

More high school teens piled on the bus. A few nodded to his companion, indicating this was a regular habit for Winchester. Of course, the bus driver kind of cinched that for him\ earlier. "So. How do you think you did on the history exam?" he asked as a couple of students gave him a wary look. Apparently no one tried to sit next to Winchester.

Winchester just shrugged. He looked a little annoyed. Darren guessed it was because his grades were not that high. "I'm hoping for a B, but at least with a C I can still be on the team. I'm sure I got at least a C. You know, if you were on the team, you'd have to keep your grades up. The coach even gets us tutoring when we need it. Your parents would like that like."

Winchester's brows drew together. "I'm not sure my dad would notice," he admitted.

"What about your mom?" Darren asked, thoroughly shocked at the thought of a parent not caring about grades.

"She's, uh, not around," Dean's gaze drifted out the window.

"Sorry," Darren mumbled. They sat in uncomfortable silence while the bus let off more kids. "So you have a brother, huh?"

"Yeah." Winchester's eyes tore away from the widow to survey the bus. It was nearly empty, probably about time to head to the younger Winchester's school.

"What's his name?"

Winchester studied him for a moment. Darren had the distinct feeling he was being judged. "Sam."

He was pretty sure he did not ace that exam, but he guessed he at least made a C to get the brother's name. "And you're Dean, right? Dean and Sam. Well, at least your parents gave you some normal names." Darren figured he was getting desperate to admit to this one. "I'm named after the husband on Bewitched."

Winchester's eyebrows rose. "You're kidding."

"Nope. Mom always thought he was cute, so when she had a boy, I was named Darren. Sick, huh?" Darren felt more than a little embarrassed.

Dean chuckled. "Not so bad," he said with a shake of his head. Darren hoped his grade had risen.

"Duck down," Dean hissed, dropping below the back of the seat.

"Why?" Darren whispered after crouching down beside him.

Dean pressed a finger to his lips. They heard the bus door open. There were heavy footsteps getting on the bus, a short exchange with the driver, then heavy steps off. Darren moved to sit back on the seat, but Dean held him down. In the distance, a bell rang. It was followed by the happy voices of pre-teens being let out for the day. After the first set of running footsteps onto the bus, Dean peeked over the seat.

"Okay," he motioned for Darren to get up. "You'd better sit over there. Sam expects to sit with me."

Darren moved to the back seat opposite Dean. He waited, watching every kid that came on. Once or twice he thought he spotted one that looked similar to Dean, but each time the kid would take another seat. A few of the kids waved and smiled at Dean. Then a chubby kid with long, unkempt brown hair walked slowly onto the bus. Darren noticed Dean sit a little straighter. The boy walked all the way to the back without looking up from his untied sneakers. Dean stood, waiting.

The boy slid into the seat, taking the spot next to the window. Dean sat on the aisle. "What's wrong, Sammy?"

Sam stared out the window, watching the other kids rush to their buses.

"Sammy?"

A round-faced girl with straight black hair turned around in her seat. "He's pouting because he didn't get the highest grade on our Math test. Can you talk to him, Dean?"

Dean gave the girl a warm smile. "Thanks, Eliza." He turned back to Sam. "So what did you get?"

Sam scowled as he pulled a rumpled test paper out of his bag. He thrust it into his brother's hands, refusing to make eye contact.

Darren watched as Dean carefully smoothed the paper so he could read it. "You're mad about getting an A?"

Darren looked between the brothers. Were they really related? Dean was completely unconcerned with his grades while his little brother sulked over not earning the highest grade in class.

He heard Dean sigh, probably in relief. Sam glared at Dean.

"What?" Dean demanded.

"I screwed up," Sam snatched the test paper away, turning it to the second page. "See? Right there. Stupid!" He slapped the paper.

Dean's voice was calm and cool as he replied. "Everyone makes mistakes, Sammy. This is a really good grade. I think it needs to," there was a dramatic pause, "go on the refrigerator."

"No!" Sam looked horrified. "Then Dad will see my mistake."

Now that was odd. Dean didn't think his father would notice an improvement in his grades, but Sam was worried about their father seeing a mistake. They were an odd pair, to say the least.

Dean grinned as he ruffled his brother's hair. "It's a good grade, Sammy. Dad will see that."

Sam sunk low into the seat, his eyes glued on the passing trees and houses.

"Sammy, do you know what tonight is?" Dean asked casually.

Sam grunted.

"I think it's laundry night."

Sam turned cautious eyes on his older brother. "Really? You're not teasing me?"

The bright smile radiated from Dean's face. "I definitely think it's laundry night."

"What's laundry night?" Darren asked, consumed by curiosity. Who the hell gets excited about laundry?

"Who is that, Dean?" The younger boy shrank back.

"He's in a couple of my classes. Darren, this is my brother, Sam." Dean introduced him. Sam sat straight up at the introduction and looked distinctly pleased about something. He wondered if it was the fact Dean did not introduce him as Sammy instead of Sam.

"Nice to meet you, Sam," Darren reached across Dean to shake Sam's hand. Sam beamed.

"So what's laundry night?" he asked again.

Sam squirmed in the seat next to Dean. Dean leaned over to whisper, "Go ahead. Tell him."

"It's when we do laundry and I get to order pizza," Sam said beaming, his math misery forgotten.

The girl Eliza turned around in her seat again. "You like doing laundry?" she asked.

"Yes. And I like ordering pizza!" Sam snapped back. This brought shouts of "pizza, pizza" ricocheting through the bus. Dean laughed as he sat back, obviously enjoying the ruckus. The shouting died down to a dull roar as the bus pulled off the busy street into a neighborhood.

"Come on, Sammy," Dean grabbed Sam's bag with his to walk up the aisle. "Dude!" he shouted to the bus driver. "Let us off at the corner today, okay?"

The driver smiled into his rear mirror as he waved to Dean. The school bus slowed to a stop by a run-down strip center. The doors opened to let out Sam and Dean.

"Wait up!" Darren saw his opportunity slipping away. He knew his mother would pick him up just about anywhere, and this was pretty close to home anyway. He rushed off the bus, ignoring the glare from the bus driver and the fact Sam was staring daggers at Dean. Laundry could not possibly be that big of a deal.

"You don't live here!" Darren was looking at the strip center with a mixture of disbelief and revulsion.

"No. But we need pizza money," Dean's voice indicated that further questions would not be answered.

"I can loan you some…" his voice trailed off at the scowl on Dean's face. As they approached a pool hall tucked into the far corner of the strip center, Darren noticed Dean's precise walk shift into a confident swagger. Dean's shoulders dropped, loose and easy. When they came to the door of the pool hall, Dean bent down to talk to Sam eye-to-eye. He did not have to bend far, at the age of twelve chubby Sam reached his chin.

"What are the rules?" he asked gently.

Sam groaned, gritting his teeth.

"Come on Sammy. Do you want laundry night or not?"

Sam scowled. "Don't talk to strangers. Don't leave with anyone but you. Stay in sight. And if someone tries to hit you with a pool cue, scream for all I'm worth."

A dazzling smile erupted on Dean's face. "That's my boy!" He turned to Darren. "You. Stay out of trouble and out of my way. Got it?"

Darren nodded. As he followed the two brothers inside, he felt in his pocket to see if he had any change in case he needed to call his parents for a ride. Or bail.

Dean sauntered up to one of the pool tables by the back wall. He set their bookbags down on the floor and motioned for Sam to sit on one of the bar stools set against the wall. Sam climbed up, ready to watch the game. Darren stood beside Sam, feeling like a huge third wheel.

"Gentlemen, who is ready for a real game?" Dean rubbed his hands together in anticipation.

Four sets of eyes locked onto him. Dean seemed to bask in their attention. Even Darren could tell they were the kind of men who hung out in pool halls all day, hoping some white collar sucker having a bad day would drop in to blow off some steam. He wondered why Dean looked so at home here, and why Sam was scowling.

Darren watched Dean face off against the hustler. At least, he assumed someone who hung out in a pool hall at this time of the afternoon was a hustler, at least a regular. They were both terrible. Darren wondered who was worse until Dean sunk the cue ball. He cringed when he heard Dean mention his game might improve if there was something worth playing for. The hustler, who was at least ten years older than they were, suggested twenty dollars. Dean slapped his money on the corner of the table.

"But he's terrible," Darren hissed into Sam's ear. Sam waved him off with a scowl.

This game was far different from the first. It started off slow, each making a silly mistake on each play. Then when about half the balls were still left on the table, Dean's accuracy suddenly improved dramatically. He called his shots, sinking ball after ball. Darren noticed the other players laughing, but the hustler Dean was playing against looked downright mad. Sam slipped off his stool. He shouldered his and Dean's bookbags and whispered to Darren, "Get ready."

Feeling it would be useless to ask why, Darren picked up his own bag and waited, standing beside Sam. Sam was watching everyone in the room closely, as though he were keeping a lookout for his older brother.

"And finally, eight ball in the corner pocket." Dean sunk the ball. It landed in the pocket with a finality that laundry night was still on. Dean snagged the money off the corner of the table and headed toward Sam and the door.

"Wait a minute. Aren't you going to give me a chance to win it back?" The hustler called out.

Sam and Dean exchanged a look, then Sam pulled Darren with him through the door. They waited outside. When crashing and sounds of a fight reached them, Darren started to rush in. Sam stopped him.

"No. Dean might not recognize you." Sam said.

"What is that supposed to mean?" Darren demanded. "He's probably getting his ass kicked in there. I could help!" And then he would definitely join the track team. Fights could be bonding, even if he got his ass kicked too.

Sam stood resolutely in the way. He shook his head. "Dean can take care of himself."

The sounds of fighting died away as quickly as they had started. It was several minutes later when the door behind Sam opened. Dean sauntered out into the midafternoon sun, shielding his eyes after the dark and dank poolhall.

"Okay, Sammy. Ready for laundry night?" Dean grinned at him.

"You said I could call in the pizza, remember? You said." Sam insisted, as though he were afraid his brother had forgotten.

"Yes, I did." Dean nodded, leading them away from the strip center. "Sammy, remind me not to go in there again for a while, okay?" He took his bookbag from Sam.

"Sure, Dean!" Sam held his head up high and stuck his chest out.

"What was all that noise in there?" Darren asked, wondering for the hundredth time why he got off the bus with them.

Dean looked over at Darren with some surprise. "You still here?"

"Sometimes hustlers don't like getting hustled," Sam explained. Dean shot him a look. Sam's eyes dropped to the ground. "But can I still…"

Dean gave his younger brother's shoulder a squeeze. "Yeah, you can still order the pizza."

"Are you gonna join us, Darren? Because if you are, I need to order two pizzas."

Darren grinned. "I don't know. I'll have to call my parents to see when they want to pick me up. Can I call from your place?"

Dean frowned. "We're not supposed to have strangers over."

"Oh, come on, Dean," Sam walked backward in front of them. "He's in your class, so he's not exactly a stranger. And Dad's not due back for a couple of days anyway."

Dean really gave Sam a really stern look at that one.

"Your Dad trusts you by yourselves? That is so cool!" The possibilities were nearly overwhelming. "We could have a party at your place, and no one would ever know!"

Dean stopped dead still in the middle of the sidewalk. He turned a hard stare on Darren. "Dude, if you ever tell anybody that my Dad leaves us alone, I will beat the everliving…"

"He won't, Dean! He won't!" Sam rushed up to his big brother. "Will you Darren? Tell Dean you were kidding." Sam seemed panicked.

Darren looked from panicked Sam to furious Dean.

"Tell him!" Sam pleaded. "Don't ruin laundry night."

The statement struck Darren, at that moment, as one of the strangest and funniest things he had ever heard. "I won't. I swear." He chuckled at Sam.

Dean shoved him in the chest, hard. "You better not." His green eyes were hard and cold. All the laid-back, easy-going traits had vanished in the face of his comment.

"Chill, man. It's cool. Really." Darren took a couple of steps back. "Can I still use your phone?"

"Yeah. It should be working." Dean turned away from him, leading the way up the street.

Sam hung behind, a mischievous grin on his face. "You owe me," he said in a low voice.

"What?" Darren was startled. The whole time in the pool hall he tried to get Sam to talk to him, but the boy was too busy watching everyone else in the place.

"I just saved you from an ass-kicking. You owe me." Sam was still grinning as he stretched his long legs to catch up with his brother.

"I could handle it!" Darren called after the boy.

Sam looked back to laugh and shake his head.

He heard Dean ask his brother, "He could handle what?"

Sam grinned back. "You."

Dean scoffed. "Yeah, right."

Darren looked Dean over. They were about the same age, weight and height. He felt pretty confident that he could hold his own. Then again, something had happened in that pool hall and those guys were all older and definitely looked bigger. His confidence slipped a notch. Maybe he did owe Sam one.

"That's what I said!" Sam's laughter easily carried the few steps back to Darren. "We are still doing laundry night?"

"Yes, Sammy! Jesus! Yes! Will you quit asking already?" Dean stood aside for Sam to go up the apartment stairs first. As Darren caught up with Dean, the other boy shouted, "Sammy!" Dean tossed the key up, which Sam caught easily. "Don't forget to check…"

"I know! I know!" Dean put out a hand to stop Darren. They waited at the foot of the stairs. "Okay!" Sam called down.

Dean walked up just ahead of Darren. "Wait here," he said gruffly before going inside. Darren could hear Dean walking into different rooms in the apartment. He shot Sam a questioning look.

"My brother is just, uh, a little protective." Sam gave him a weak smile.

Darren's eyebrows notched a little, but he said nothing.

"Clear!" Dean called out from another room. Sam grinned, went inside and turned on the television. Darren followed, wondering if he should join Sam or go find Dean.

"He'll be out in a minute," Sam answered his unspoken question. Darren joined Sam on the well-worn couch. He looked around the small apartment.

"Three of you live here?" he asked, unable to keep the surprise out of his voice.

"Yeah. Roomy, huh?" Sam pointed to the kitchen counter. "There's the phone."

"Thanks." Darren stood. He could feel Sam's eyes on him as he talked to his mother. He felt uneasy about talking to his mom in front of a kid who did not have one, but it could not be helped. After giving her directions to the tiny apartment and the phone number, rattled off in a monotone by Sam, she gave him permission to stay for a while.

Dean walked out of the backroom wearing a plaid shirt over the t-shirt he wore to school, holding a large laundry basket piled high with clothes.

"So? Are we gonna do this?"

Sam jumped to his feet, a wide smile on his face. He was halfway across the room when Dean said, "Homework?" Sam shook his head. "Finished it at school."

Dean tilted his head to one side. "Planning on laundry night, were you?"

Sam avoided looking him in the eye as he squeezed past, his cheeks bright pink. Dean rolled his eyes at Darren. "You got a kid brother?"

"Uh, yeah, actually I do."

Dean motioned with his head for Darren to follow Sam out the door. He set the laundry basket down to lock the door. "Is yours a huge pain in the ass, too?"

"Pretty much. But you seem to handle it better than I do."

"Yeah?" Dean picked up the basket and hurried to catch up with Sam. "Good. That means I've been taking it too easy on him." He winked over his laundry at Darren as they went into the apartment complex's laundry room. There was one man in there doing his wash. Dean set his basket down and glared at him.

"I'm leavin'! Sheesh!" He slapped down a couple of quarters on the dryer. "Sammy, put my stuff in the dryer for me? It's my work shirts."

"Sure thing, Hal. Don't worry about it. Pass the word?"

"You boys should put up a sign," Hal said as he left, holding his hands as though holding up the sign, "Winchester Laundry Day, Keep Out!"

Dean nodded seriously. "Good idea. Thanks, Hal."

Hal paused just outside the door. "Hey, Dean? My truck is missing again. Think you could take a look at it later?"

"Got twenty bucks?" Dean asked, separating the clothes into different piles.

"Dean!" Sam looked shocked.

Big eyes focused on Dean. Darren watched them work magic. Dean's shoulders slumped and he sighed. "Sure, Hal. We'll check it out after the laundry is done." Sam beamed.

"So, um, how come no one can be in here while you're doing laundry?" Darren asked, starting to feel more nervous than he was in the poolhall, and he did not think that was possible.

Dean pulled a roll of quarters out of his pocket, something Darren suspected was always available in poolhalls, slamming them down next to Sam. Sam unwrapped one end, taking out enough quarters for two washing machines. Neither bothered to answer Darren. He invited himself along, so he could just wait and see. Dean thrust the pile of mostly whites into one machine and everything else into the other. Darren could not help notice that there were not that many pairs of jeans, or clothes in general, for three people. Sam carefully measured out the laundry detergent and dumped it into each machine. Dean closed the lids, Sam put the money in, Dean turned them on.

"Ready?" Dean asked, his eyes sparkling.

Sam checked where he was standing in the laundry room, positioning himself just where he wanted to be. "Okay. Ready."

Dean's fist hurtled through the air toward his younger brother. A scream rose in Darren's throat, catching just as Sam blocked the blow. He sucked it in when Sam lashed out at his big brother, a blow Dean easily warded off. The fists started flying faster and faster, but neither ever landed a blow on the other's face. Darren found he was watching in amazement, like he was at the movie theater watching a new action film.

The washing machine buzzed. As though signaling the end of a round, both boys stopped the fight and returned to the washing machines. They raced to see who could move the wet clothes from the washing machines to the dryers. Sam slammed the quarters into the slots and Dean rammed them home. One of the dryers did not start. Dean scowled, giving it a swift kick. It turned on with a sickening wheeze.

"I am not fixing that again," Dean told Sam pointedly as Sam loaded Hal's work clothes into another dryer.

Sam came at Dean swinging, but Dean dodged it easily. Now Dean let loose with a kick, which Sam blocked as easily as he did his brother's fists. After a couple of minutes, Sam also sent some kicks flying at his brother.

"Stop!" Dean held up his hands. "Your technique needs work." Dean spent about ten minutes instructing his younger brother in how to properly kick in a fight. Then they went back to sparring, because Darren suddenly realized that was what they were doing. "Better," Dean shouted. He held up his hand, pointing to his palm. "Right here!" Sam aimed kick after kick at his brother's hands. The dryers buzzed simultaneously.

"How was that, Dean?" Sam asked breathlessly.

"Much, much better. You're really getting the hang of it, Sammy. Dad will be really surprised." Dean pulled out a single shirt and started to fold it.

"You think so?" Sam grinned, reaching into the other dryer. "Darn it! I got the underwear again!"

"That's because you're closer to it," Dean teased.

"And when I'm taller than you?" Sam asked.

"Like that's gonna happen," Dean scoffed.

"It could! I'm almost as tall as you are now." Sam matched a pair of socks and rolled them into a ball.

"You'll still be the little brother," he replied, neatly folding a pair of jeans.

"This is laundry day?" Darren asked, finally finding his voice.

Dean looked up sharply, as though he had forgotten Daren was standing there. "Yeah. So?"

"So?" Darren was unsure of what he should say. "So, that was one of the coolest things I've ever seen! Where did you learn to fight like that?"

"Dad," they replied in unison.

"Your Dad must be the coolest." Darren was in awe.

Sam was silent. "He's the best," Dean said in a strong voice. "So, Sammy," he deftly changed the subject, "what kind of pizza are you going to order?"

Sam returned to his Laundry Day mode. He talked about the different kinds of pizza they could order while they finished folding clothes and all the way upstairs to their apartment. Dean disappeared into the back bedrooms while Sam headed for the refrigerator. He pulled a magnet off advertising pizza delivery and noticed his math test.

"That Dean. When did he do that?" Sam pointed out the test.

Darren shrugged; he never saw Dean do it either. "So what are you ordering?"

Sam dialed the phone. "A large with everything for me, and a large pepperoni for you two."

"You're going to eat a whole pizza by yourself?" Darren asked. Sam just grinned as he waited for the local pizza place to take his order.

Dean came out of the bedroom to fiddle with the television. He grinned as he found the show he wanted. "Sammy! Rockford Files!" Sam gave him a thumbs-up.

Sam hung up the phone. "Friends is on later," he said. Dean scowled, but Sam did not appear to notice. "Don't forget about Hal's truck," Sam reminded him.

"But it's Jim Rockford!" Dean pointed to the tv.

"You promised," Sam replied simply.

"I didn't mean it."

"Dean!"

Dean groaned. "Fine. Let's go." Sam bounded down the stairs while Dean grabbed a toolbox from under the table and locked the door behind them. "Pain in my ass," he mumbled as he started down the stairs, Darren fast on his heels

"So why are you doing it?" Darren asked.

"Because he won't shut up until I do," at the foot of the stairs Dean made a motion to Sam. Sam knocked on the door of the apartment directly below theirs. Hal answered, looking as though Sam had woken him, and handed over his truck keys.

"I gotta leave for work in, um," Hal checked his watch, "an hour?"

"No problem," Sam said with a grin. "My brother can do it." Dean nodded at Hal from where he was standing.

"Thanks, guys. Owe ya one." Hal shut the door, yawning.

"More like a dozen," Dean muttered, following Sam out to the parking lot and Hal's ten year old pickup. Sam unlocked the truck and popped the hood. "It's probably that bad sparkplug again," Dean hollered to Sam as he leaned over the engine. He popped off an oily orange sparkplug wire. After fumbling in his toolbox, Dean pulled out a ratchet that already had the correct socket on it. Dean removed the offending sparkplug.

"Yep. Look at that!" He pulled some fine grit sandpaper out of the box and proceeded to clean it. When Dean was satisfied with that, he re-gaped it and screwed it back in. Then he checked the wire, shook his head over it, and plugged back on. "Okay, Sammy! Turn it over!"

Sam hit the key, starting the truck. It sputtered to life. Dean stood listening carefully for several minutes. He slammed the hood and waved at Sam. Sam cut the engine.

"Okay, Sammy. That's the best we can do until he breaks down and buys new sparkplugs. Give him his keys back."

"Right!" Sam raced back to the apartment.

"Runs pretty well for a chunky kid," Darren observed. He received a punch to his shoulder for that.

"Sammy isn't chunky. He's just big for his age."

"Right," Darren rubbed the spot where Dean hit him. "Sorry."

"You will be if you say that in front of Sammy," Dean's voice was soft but menacing.

"You sure make a lot of threats," Darren observed.

Dean was silent as he climbed the stairs and unlocked the door. Their pizza was delivered in plenty of time for Sam to eat and watch Friends. Darren's mother arrived to pick him up as the credits were rolling. Dean was so charming and polite that she invited both boys over for dinner that weekend.

The next day, Darren looked for Dean in class, but he was not there. Darren asked around school, but no one had seen him. Concerned, Darren decided to get off the bus a few stops early, near the apartments the Winchester boys lived in. He tried knocking on their door first, but there was no answer. Then he decided to wake up Hal. Darren had to beat on the door for several minutes before a very cranky and groggy Hal answered the door.

"Sir, you don't happen to know where the Winchesters are?" Darren pointed upstairs as he spoke.

Hal rubbed red, tired eyes. "Um, yeah. The hospital."

"What?"

"The boy, Sammy, got really sick last night. Dean asked me to take them to the ER when I got home from work. They admitted the kid at about 6 am, that's when I came back. If their dad still isn't home later, I'll go back up there and check on 'em. Sorry kid, but I got to get some sleep." Hal shut the door in Darren's face.

Darren stood staring at the closed door, wondering what he should do next. He thought of calling his mother and asking her to pick him up so they could check on his new friends at the hospital, when a slamming door caught his attention.

In the parking lot was a large black truck, covered with thick brown dust and caked on mud. A large, burly man with wild black hair and a rough beard was bearing down the path. He headed straight up the stairs to bang on the door over Darren's head.

"Dean! Dean!" Pound. Pound. Pound. "Dean! Sammy!"

Darren backed up until he could see the man. "Mister Winchester?" he called out.

The man spun around, faster than Darren would have imagined for a man that size. "Who are you? Where are my boys?"

Darren pointed to Hal's door. "Hal said Sammy is sick, he took them to the hospital this morning."

"Must the one by the freeway. It's closest," Mister Winchester Winchester ran back to his truck. Darren followed, finding his track training useful when hanging around Winchesters. He jumped into the passenger seat. Mister Winchester glared at him as he started the truck.

"Can I come? Sir?" Darren asked meekly.

Mister Winchester grunted. "Who are you?" He backed out of the parking space, leaving rubber marks on the pavement.

"Dean and I are classmates, sir," Darren replied, a little frightened at the way the elder Winchester was tearing down the residential streets.

Mister Winchester let out a lonely chuckle. "Dean has a friend? Well, that's new."

"I, uh," Darren clutched the door as Mister Winchester sped up rounding a corner, "I can be kinda pushy."

"Yeah," Mister Winchester slammed on the brakes as they turned into the hospital parking lot, "I noticed."

They ran inside, up to the information desk. Mister Winchester demanded to know where his boys were. The woman manning the desk informed them that Sam was being released but should still be in room 212. Mister Winchester and Darren bolted for the elevators, then raced around the second floor until they found the right room.

"Sammy?" Mister Winchester rushed into the room, clearly relieved to see both his boys in one piece. He hugged both his sons, then sat next to Sam on the bed, a strong arm wrapped around his youngest. "What happened?"

"Food poisoning," Dean explained. "It must have been the pizza he had last night."

"He had?" Mister Winchester looked alarmed. "And what did you have?'

"I ordered Dad. We got separate pizzas," Sam explained before Dean could open his mouth.

"And where did you get money for pizza?" The elder Winchester demanded.

Darren backed up behind Dean. "From that sleazy poolhall on the corner," Dean replied calmly.

Mister Winchester's face broke into a grin. "Been meaning to check that out myself. Good marks?"

Dean shrugged. "Probably better a day or two after payday."

"Feeling better, Sammy?" Mister Winchester ruffled his son's already wild hair.

"Yes, sir." Sam's face was still pale, but color was slowly creeping into it.

Mister Winchester's eyes locked with Dean's. "If it weren't for your friend there, I would have kicked in the door. Forget something, Dean?"

Dark circles accentuated tired, bleary eyes. Dean looked at his father as though he could not understand the words coming out of his mouth. "Sir?"

"A note on the door, Dean? In case of emergencies?" Mister Winchester prompted, sounding more like a commanding officer than a father.

Dean rubbed his face with one hand. "Right. Yes, sir. Sorry. It won't happen again, sir." He was standing, but he started to tilt to one side. He stumbled to regain his balance.

"Dean?" Mister Winchester jumped off the bed to hold him up.

"No problem, Dad. I'm fine. But I'm going down to that pizza place tomorrow and kick somebody's ass."

"I have a feeling you'll still be asleep," Mister Winchester said softly, lowering his oldest to the visitor chair.

"Nope, not tired at all," Dean protested as he settled into the chair, his eyes closing.

A nurse wheeled in a chair. "Are we ready to go?" her chipper voice asked.

"Um, can we get two of those?" Mister Winchester asked, pointing to his sleeping son.


Dean woke in their cheap, furnished apartment. He looked over at the second bed in his room. It was unmade and the sheets were rumpled. "Sammy!"

Heavy footsteps sounded in the hall as Dean sat up. "Dean!" Sam burst into their room, his face beaming. "You're awake. Finally!"

"huh?" Dean rubbed the sleep from his eyes. "Why? How did we get here?"

"Dad came to the hospital and picked us up." Sam started laughing. "I wish I had a camera so I could have taken a picture of Dad carrying you upstairs. Dude, you were out!"

"I was?" Dean ran a hand over his short crewcut. He shook his head. "Feeling better, Sammy?"

"Yep," Sam rubbed his stomach. "Dad even did my favorite take-out. You slept through it, but I saved you some. It's in the fridge."

"Thanks." Dean stood and stretched. "I am pretty hungry." He followed his younger brother out to the kitchen. Dad was sitting on the couch pouring over some papers. Dean knew what that meant.

"We are we leaving, Dad?" he asked.

"Leaving? Already?" Sam looked at their father in a panic. "But I just started making friends, Dad!"

"Sorry, Sammy, but evil doesn't wait on the school year." John shuffled through his papers. "I think we can wait until Monday. How's that, boys?"

"Yes, sir. No problem." Dean found his leftovers and set them in the small microwave to reheat. "Dad? What is today?"

"Friday."

"Friday!" Dean straightened up, fully awake now. "And we're leaving Monday? Quick, what time is it?"

John gave his son an odd look as he answered, " Two o'clock."

Dean's eyes widened. "Dad, can I use the truck?"

"What for?"

"To get Sammy's school transcripts before they leave for the day."

John hesitated, but threw the keys to Dean. Dean caught them with one hand and headed directly out the door.

"Dean! Your dinner!" Sam called after him.

"When I get back," Dean said as the door shut behind him. Since it was Dean who registered Sam in school with his Dad's forged signature, he had no trouble getting Sam's official transcript and a current copy of his records. He suspected that the officials at the school thought their father was useless and negligent, but as long as Dean could use it to his advantage he did not see the need to correct them, even though the looks of pity aggravated him.


As a family they decided not to wait until Monday to leave. They had the truck packed and ready to go Saturday evening when a two year old sedan pulled up.

"Dean!" Darren called from the open passenger window. "You didn't forget about dinner, did you?"

Sam slapped himself in the forehead. "I did!"

Darren's mother stepped out of the car. "Mr. Winchester? I'm Darren's mother. Thanks so much for bringing him home the other day. I didn't even know he was gone."

John gave her a friendly smile. "No problem, ma'am. Darren was very helpful in locating my boys, so I should be the one saying thanks."

"Can we invite you all over for dinner tonight? I made roast with potatoes, salad, mac and cheese, mixed vegetables, and for dessert, apple pie."

John stood in shocked silence. In all the years he had been hunting, no one that he had saved ever invited him over for dinner. His older son made one friend, and the whole family was invited to a feast.

"Dad?" Sam was practically bouncing with excitement. Dean did not look thrilled, but he never did have many friends.

"Why not?" John smiled broadly. "Sounds like fun. Come on, Dean." After they climbed into the truck and were all safely belted in, John turned to address his sons. "Since we're packed, we can leave right from their house. And yes, Sammy, I paid for the apartment and told them we were leaving." John put the truck in drive.

"So where are we going, Dad?" Dean asked from the front passenger seat.

" Austin, Texas. Might be a shapeshifter."

Dean felt chubby fingers prodding his shoulder. "Are we going to try to get close enough to a school so Sammy and I can walk this time?" He shrugged off the reminding fingers.

"I'll try, Dean. I'll try." John followed the blue sedan with the normal, unaware family in it. He thought to himself, 'I always try.' "You know, I've been thinking of getting a car for you to drive, Dean. Got anything in mind?"

Dean grinned. Yes, he did.