Monsters

For Ms. Lewis

In honor of the killer chimpanzees.

"Is there such a thing as monsters?"

Dean's finger stilled on the trigger of his gun, aimed perfectly at the battered heart of the target that Dad gave him for his tenth birthday—last month, but already worn from weeks of paintballs and (twice in the backyard, when Dad was out) bullets. Sammy watched him without blinking, head tilted to the right and hands clasped on the tabletop. His big brother cocked an eyebrow, mouth tilted downwards.

"Why?" He asked, his tone light. But Sammy knew that when answers from Dean didn't end in 'dickweasel' or 'fathead' or some derivative thereof, then there was something wrong. "Sammy?" Dean prompted.

He shrugged, bringing his pinkie to his mouth and nibbling at the nail. "'Cuz," he answered, before remembering that Dean said that nobody liked liars. Sammy wanted to be liked. "Somebody at school said that if I don't help him win the spelling bee then a monster will rip out my guts."

Dean didn't say anything for a second, simply squinted at the gun in his hands. Finally, lifting his shoulders in a shrug, he said, "Sammy, you know that I'm never going to let nothing get you, right? No matter what?" And Sammy nodded, because Dean never let anyone hurt him, not ever, and even the bullies at school thought he was so cool and tough (mostly, Sammy figured, because he was).

But Tyler had told him that even Dean couldn't protect him from monsters. Sammy said, Dean will shoot it and Tyler sneered nastily, everyone knows you can't shoot monsters.

Dean grinned as he ruffled his little brother's hair with the hand not clutching his gun. "Then what are you worried for, turdmonkey?" Then he paused, expression darkening. "And you show me who told you that and I'll kick his butt, 'kay?" Sam nodded for the third time, smacking his lips in anticipation as Dean suddenly went to the Candy Cupboard and tossed him a Tootsie Pop. Dean punched his shoulder with a smile, but Sammy could see that his eyes were unfocused and worried. "Don't tell Dad, uglymug." Then he took aim again, and the red paint across the target's surface unsettled Sammy for reasons that he couldn't place.

"I won't," he promised, licking happily at the surface, counting in his head because he wanted to write a letter to the company and tell them how many licks it takes to get to the center. That way they could tell the poor boy in the commercials who just wants to know—and Sammy could totally sympathize with that because Dad and Dean didn't like to talk about certain stuff even though Sammy wanted to know.

When his tongue touched chocolate he started, losing count in his head as he realized that Dean never answered the question. "Dean," he said between bites of the sweet, tangy shell of his treat, "Ms. Nelson says monsters don't exist, 'cept in our heads, and then can't get us from in there."

His brother ignored him, but Sammy noticed that his shoulders were stiff and movements forced as he walked towards the target, brushing his thumb against the wet paint. "Monsters. Huh." He murmured quietly. Dean kept his back to Sammy, but both boys knew that Dean wasn't sniffing because of a cold. That scared Sammy; Dean never cried. Dean said that nobody liked a cry baby, so Sammy tried not to either, but it was hard sometimes.

"Dean?" Sammy ventured, holding out the pathetic remainder of the Tootsie Pop as a peace offering. "I don't care about monsters anymore," he added. "Tyler's a big stupid buttface, that's all."

His big brother refused Sammy's hand, gesturing for him to finish off his own candy. His lifted his head slowly, eyes fastened on the target with a mysterious brightness in them. He fired off four shots in quick succession, each dead center, red paint splattering both boys' shirts. "No, Sammy," he decided finally, knuckles white on the gun. "There's no such thing as monsters."

Sammy wasn't sure, but as he trundled back into his room he thought he heard Dean add, "Not for you. Not yet."