My Brother's Keeper
Disclaimer: The show belongs to Kripke. The love belongs to us.
Beta'd: By Muffy Morrigan who graciously agreed to beta while Wysawyg was on vacation.
Special Thanks: To Phx for helping me get Sammy's three-year-old voice right. It's a little hard at times to see the toddler in my thirteen-year-old son anymore. Many thanks, lady!
And to Charlie Girl 79, who is not only a great proof-reader, but concedes to writing sessions that have both of us essentially ignoring each other between bits of, "Hey, does this sound right to you?" Thanks, girly.
Time Line: Sam is three; Dean is seven.
It was one of those one-stop shopping stores, a local version of Wal-Mart only half as big and twice as pricey. At least that was what Dad said before he told Dean to wait in the toy section with his brother. Then he'd gone on to the hunting and fishing section of the store with a final admonition to be careful and to keep an eye on Sammy at all times.
Dean picked up a Star Wars Lego set and eyeballed the contents. He knew they didn't have money for it and besides, Sammy would lose some of the little pieces. Heck, a few months ago, Sammy probably would have eaten some of the little pieces, but that didn't mean he couldn't look. A tug on his pant leg near his hip drew Dean's full attention back to his little brother.
"Dean," Sammy said, his hazel eyes urgent, his little legs squirming in a distinctive dance. "I gotta go."
He sighed. "Can't you hold it, Sammy?" Dean asked. "Dad wanted us to wait here."
The panicked look in Sammy's face intensified and chubby fingers fisted tight on the hem of Dean's shirt giving it a yank. "Nuh-uh, I gotta go now. Please, Dean."
Dean sighed and grabbed his little brother by the hand. He pulled Sammy along to the restrooms, weaving effortlessly through the busy shopping center. Two little boys were practically invisible to the harried adults bustling about their business. Finally reaching their destination, Dean gave Sammy a tiny shove. "Go. Hurry. Dad'll be mad if he can't find us."
"Okay," Sammy said with a big smile. He waved to Dean as he darted the final distance and disappeared into the restroom entryway.
Dean glanced about the store. He knew the monsters his dad fought were not nearly as much a concern right now as the people variety. He'd learned that lesson himself when he was not much older than Sammy. However, that thought only ratcheted up Dean's concern and vigilance another level. He wouldn't allow some stranger to take Sammy by the hand and pull him away from his family, even if it had ended without any real harm, ice cream for desert and getting to sleep between his mom and dad in their bed for a week.
That was why when Sammy didn't emerge from the bathroom in the time Dean estimated it should take, he stomped in after his brother. "Sammy, hey, you about done? Dad's going to be mad. We've been gone too long."
No mop of brown baby curls at the urinals, and Dean nodded in approval. He'd always told Sammy to find a stall and lock himself in. The real problem was there were no small, dirty white sneakers under the door either. "Sammy?" He tried to keep the fear out of his tone, but a little snuck in anyway. There was no answer.
Dean's heart flew into his throat. How did the little guy manage to get past me? He'd been standing right outside the door. There was no way, was there? "Sammy?" His voice sounded like there were tears in it and Dean tightened his fists in determination.
"Hey, kid," a raspy voice echoed from behind the door to the handicapped stall. "You mind? I've got a killer headache." And with those words came the sour scent of vomit and alcohol followed by the distinctive sound of heaving.
Dean didn't care if the guy was an adult. If Sammy was in that stall with him, Dean would kill him. He got down on his hands and knees on the grimy floor and poked his head under the door. The only person in the stall was a stinky, grease-covered old man stooped over, getting sick in the toilet.
Dean heard footsteps behind him, but he wasn't quick enough. "What do you think you're doing?"
He jerked his head back so quickly he thumped the back of it soundly against the bottom of the door. "Looking for my brother," Dean explained standing up and turning to face the store employee. He rubbed the sore spot on the back of his head.
"Was he in there?" The teenage store employee wrinkled his nose in disgust. Dean noticed his name tag said, 'Jesse'. Jesse looked completely clueless, not cool like the Wanamacker brothers who lived two apartments down from theirs.
Dean shook his head. "Some old guy." He took a step towards the door and the teenager moved to intercept.
"Do you need me to call in a code?" Jesse asked. "We're trained to lock the place down when a kid goes missing."
"Sammy's not missing," Dean insisted. He's not! "He's just not where I expected him to be, is all."
"I don't know," Jesse said, placing a hand on Dean's shoulder. "Maybe we should page your mom."
"My mom is dead," Dean stated, matter-of-factly. He hated talking about his mom, it was a painful loss, but sometimes it snuck past his lips as a half-formed angry retort. And there it was. The combined look of sympathy and a horrific, 'Oh, God, what have I said?' Dean really hated that look. "Our dad's here and I'm sure that's where Sammy is."
Jesse nodded dumbly, apparently too afraid of saying the wrong thing again to say anything at all. He stepped aside and Dean rushed past before the well-meaning teenager could change his mind. A cursory scan of the corridor and Dean knew Sammy wasn't anywhere nearby. Sammy was lost.
John Winchester glanced at his watch. Forty-five minutes had passed since he'd left the boys in the toy section. It was entirely too long. Dean was a responsible kid, but he was just a kid and Sammy an energetic toddler. He knew he took advantage of Dean's ability to simultaneously watch out for Sammy and relate to him, but damn if he didn't need the help. He never would have made it through those first two years after Mary's death of heart-wrenching questions and grief if Dean hadn't picked up some of the slack with Sammy.
The fact remained while John was perfectly capable of handling both the boys and the hunting now, Dean made it a little easier for all of them. Dean was perfectly willing to be the caretaker, the one who soothed Sammy's skinned knees and John's bruised spirit. It might be selfish and more than a little bit of a role reversal, but John really did need Dean's help to make it through the tough times.
And Sammy responded to Dean almost as well as he did to John. Oh, he didn't like it when his big brother bossed him around, but he certainly went to Dean first for comfort or to have a story read to him or to ask the never ending series of 'whys' that only Dean seemed to have the patience to handle. A frown crossed John's face as he tried to remember the last time Dean had come to him for any of those things.
He resolved to rectify the situation immediately and just as quickly as the thought formed it disappeared when John spotted his eldest rushing by. Dean had a white face, wide eyes and obviously no little brother in tow.
"Dean!" John barked. He heard the squeak of Dean's tennis shoes stopping abruptly on the tiled floor.
Moments later, his son poked his head around the corner. "Yes, sir?"
John suppressed sigh. So, it was going to be like this. "Where's your brother?" he snapped. "You were supposed to be watching him, Dean."
"I walked him down to the bathroom," Dean explained, coming all the way around the corner to face him. "He never came out and he's not in there."
This time, John did sigh. "Dean, that's not possible. Did you check all the stalls?"
"Yes, sir." Dean's head bobbed with enough enthusiasm to dislodge it from his neck.
"Then he must have gotten past you," John said, his voice hardening again in disapproval.
"No sir," Dean insisted and then he shot John's own words back at him. "That's not possible."
"It's the only thing that is possible," John shot back. "Look, we're not having this discussion. Show me where you last saw your brother." He clamped his hand onto the scruff of Dean's neck with a bit more force than was necessary, but he was more than a little worried.
Dean weaved in and out of the crowd, John hotly on his heels to the restrooms. "I stood right here, Dad," Dean demonstrated, taking a sentry position by the doorway. "There's no way Sammy got past me."
John didn't say a word in acknowledgement. He strode into the bathroom and pounded on the stall doors. "Sammy, front and center!"
"Man, what the hell is your problem?" a disembodied voice demanded from behind one door.
"I'm looking for my son," John explained. He ignored the grumbled response, spun on his heel and exited the restroom. Screw the bastard, he didn't care what the guy thought. His baby was missing.
Dean was standing guard at the entryway, his back stiff and his posture tight. "Dean!" John snapped. Dean turned to face him, the hopeful look on his face dashed when he realized John had no better luck finding Sammy. "He's not in there. He must have slipped past you somehow. I'll talk to customer service and we'll start searching."
"Dad, he couldn't have," Dean said. "He wouldn't have. Sammy knows better."
"Dean, he's three. No matter how much we've drilled it into his head, Sammy could have wandered off."
Dean shook his head in denial and John felt his ire rising. "Excuse me, but are one of you Dean?" a woman with a kind voice asked.
"I am," Dean replied, not bothering to look in John's direction for approval. Sometimes John felt he'd lost all semblance of control.
"There's a little boy in the women's restroom," the ash blonde woman explained. "I've tried to coax him out, but he won't budge. He keeps asking for Dean."
John saw Dean edge towards the restroom and stop short. "Uh, is anyone, uh?"
"Coast is clear," the woman said with a wink. "I made sure."
Dean looked up at his dad for clearance to enter the women's restroom. "Go," John commanded. "I'll stay here and keep anyone from going in. Just hurry, son."
"Yes, sir," Dean replied. He smiled at the woman. "Thank you." Dean didn't wait for a response. He quickly ducked into the restroom.
John breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you, Ms?"
"Sharlette," she corrected with a smile. "I'm afraid I don't relate to children all that well. It took me five minutes just to get him to talk to me."
"Don't be offended," John replied with a return smile of relief. "Some days, I don't do any better than you did."
Sammy sat on the toilet with his elbows on his knees, his chin resting in his hands. Dean would never come in here looking for him, and he couldn't leave without Dean. There was no way he would be caught walking out of a stall in the girls' bathroom. Sammy barely even knew any girls and he certainly didn't want anyone thinking he went to the bathroom where they did. Shame and embarrassment mingled until tears formed in his eyes. He was going to be in here forever.
His head jerked in the direction of the sound. He could not possibly have heard his big brother's voice, but it sure sounded like him. "Sammy?"
"Dean?" he asked, tentatively, brushing away the traitorous tears with the back of his hand. Big boys didn't cry, Daddy said so.
"Whatcha doing in the girls' bathroom, Sammy?" Dean asked.
"I didn't know," Sammy wailed, his embarrassment back full force. "The doors said this was the boys' bathroom." Dean had taught him that 'women' was a longer word than 'men.' He had used the right door.
"I'm sorry, kiddo," Dean said. "We'll look on the way out, but it's time to leave."
"I can't," Sammy whispered. He fidgeted on the toilet trying to escape the cold, wet spot on his jeans. "I couldn't go in here, Dean. It's the girls' bathroom."
"Did you have an accident?" Dean asked, knocking softly on the stall door. "Come on, Sammy, let me in."
Sammy shook his head. He didn't want Dean or his daddy to see his accident. He had only just turned three a couple of weeks ago, Dean started letting him stay up late enough to watch 'Simpsons' with him while Daddy was out. If he had an accident Dean would make him go to bed earlier again and he'd miss out on the fun.
"Sammy?" Dean's voice sounded scared. Well, not really scared, just a tiny bit like when their daddy was out too late.
A second later, Sammy jumped back on the seat when first Dean's head and then the rest of his body appeared on Sammy's side of the door. "Dean, no!" He jumped off the toilet and stood in the corner of the stall, his back to Dean.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and shook his head. "Sammy, it's okay," Dean insisted. "Dad'll understand."
"I'm not a baby," Sammy insisted. "I'm not, Dean."
"I know, Sammy," Dean said. The hand on his shoulder became an arm around his back and he turned to hug his big brother. Dean's arms wrapped around him and pulled him close. He rested his head on Dean's chest.
"Dean, you're holding me too tight," Sammy protested a moment later, squirming in Dean's grasp. "You squeezed tears out."
Sammy heard Dean's chuckle through the rumble in his chest. "Sorry, Sammy." Dean released his grip, stepped back away from him and used his thumb to brush Sammy's cheek. "Looks like you were right, I did squeeze a tear out."
Sammy nodded his head and sniffed once. "You don't think I'm a baby?"
"No, I don't," Dean said, his tone spoke of utter conviction. "It's not your fault. I should have made sure you made it in the right bathroom."
It wasn't Dean's fault either. It was an accident. Before he could lodge a protest, their father's voice boomed into the room. "Put a little hustle in it boys, we've got some ladies here who'd like to use the restroom."
And with that, Dean grabbed Sammy's hand and hauled him out of the bathroom before he could say another word. Sammy used his free hand to hook his fingers in Dean's belt loop. He didn't want his daddy to think he was a baby, but Sammy was a little afraid. Dean had said Daddy would be mad if they weren't where they said they would be.
Sammy hid behind his brother, trying not to let his daddy see the wet spot on his jeans. When his daddy's eyes fell on Sammy and his big brother, a smile creased his face. "Boys," was all he said, crouching low and opening his arms. Dean accepted the gesture, pulling Sammy along with him for the hug.
"Are you okay, Sammy?" John asked, pulling back out of the embrace.
Sammy nodded. "Yes, sir." He squirmed under his father's scrutiny and cracked at the pat on his back from Dean. "I'm sorry. I went in the wrong bathroom and…" Sammy swallowed hard past the catch in his voice. "I had an accident," he finished with a whisper. He edged further behind his big brother in embarrassment.
"It's okay, Sammy," John said, standing. "I'm just glad you're both okay and you remembered the rule about staying put until someone found you." Sammy nodded, but didn't come out from behind Dean. "Come on, kiddo. Let's go pick up my ammo and some new clothes for you."
Sammy smiled. "I want jeans like Dean's." Sammy frowned at Dean's groan, but his dad chuckled.
"Okay, we'll find a pair." Sammy followed behind his dad, clutching Dean's belt loop. He didn't want to risk getting lost again today.
Dean sat in the backseat with Sammy, something he didn't do all the time. Sometimes, his dad would let him ride up front so they could discuss grown-up stuff. But Sammy had latched onto Dean, his little fingers holding tight to Dean's belt loop for dear life. He couldn't bear to cut his brother loose and Sammy, for his part, didn't seem inclined to let go anyway.
Even now, side by side in the roomy back seat of their dad's car, Sammy's shoe touched Dean's knee and his fingers dug into Dean's side until he gave Sammy the hem of his shirt to bunch in his hands. Dean reached over and ruffled his little brother's hair.
At first, Sammy looked annoyed, but the look quickly vanished and a grin lit his face, dimples sinking further into his chubby cheeks. "Don't," he complained, but a giggle accompanied the protest.
Dean tossed Sammy a lop-sided smirk. "Boys," John said.
"Yeah, Dad?" Dean asked, his face pinched with worry over what their dad wanted to talk about.
"This could have happened even if I'd been there." His dad's face was soft, not accusing and Dean relaxed a little, although he knew it wasn't true. Dad didn't make mistakes. "The point is, no one is to blame here and no one is in trouble."
"Yes, sir," Sammy piped up. "And Dean's gonna teach me how to read!"
Dean caught his father's questioning look in the review mirror. "Men's and Women's," Dean explained. "But it wouldn't have helped today."
John shook his head. "I'm not sure 'Stallions' and 'Mares' were something we could have anticipated son," he agreed with a chuckle.
Dean did laugh a little at that, but no matter what his dad said, he knew the truth. The moment his father had placed baby Sammy in his arms and told him to run from their burning house, Dean had known it. He was the big brother and it was his job to look after his little brother.
Sammy leaned closer to him and rested his head on Dean's shoulder. He looked down and noticed Sammy was blinking hard and fiddling with Dean's shirt hem, trying to stay awake. He smiled. It was a responsibility he didn't mind in the least.
AN: No real plot, I know, just brotherly schmoop run amok. But sometimes, a girl's gotta have her fix.
Story inspired by true events – we just won't say whose!
I'd actually forgotten this one was written, beta'd and just waiting to be posted. D'oh!
AN2: As per Charlie Girl's suggestion: For anyone keeping track this is one of the three times I'd mentioned in Envy that Sammy had gone missing.