Disclaimer: Kripke owns the boys. I just wish I did.

Author's Note: Written for laguera25's prompt, "Dean intercepts Sam's application to Stanford and decides what to do with it." Reviews, as always, are absolute love.

--

His first instinct was to burn it.

Maybe salt it, too, just for the hell of it – because even though there was no chance it would turn into a vengeful spirit, Dean knew that one way or another, it was going to haunt him the rest of his life. Besides, the thing certainly felt evil enough.

It was Dean's own damn fault, really. Sam had been a wreck that morning, running on three and a half hours of sleep in two days and the five cups of coffee he'd gulped down since Dean had shaken him awake five minutes before they had to be out the door. The kid had been passed out across his calc text book, piles of notes and important looking folders surrounding him, mumbling something about limits and derivatives in his sleep; once he was semi-conscious, he'd scrambled desperately to try to stuff everything into his backpack as he raced for the door.

Dean had stopped to grab Sam's AP English notes where they'd fallen to the ground, along with the Impala's keys, and then had been stupid enough to rifle through them.

The envelope was sandwiched between an outline of 100 Years of Solitude and an AP rubric, thick and official looking, Sam's neat, block handwriting printed carefully on the outside. Dean had barely glanced at it, only caught one word, but it was enough to make his mouth go dry, make him recoil as though he'd just been sucker punched in the face.

Stanford.

"Dean? Hurry up, man, I'm already late!" Sam hollered from outside, leaning out the Impala's passenger window.

"Yeah, coming!" Dean called back as he started forward, slipping the envelope from the notes and stuffing it into his jacket's interior pocket. He slammed the screen door shut behind him, and something in the pit of his stomach seemed to clench painfully. "You dropped these, geekboy!" He waved the sheaf of paper around, trying to force his face into an appropriate big brotherly smirk. "Those Save the Rainforest people would beat your ass. This is like a whole bonsai tree's worth of notes, dude." Sam shook his head despairingly and drained the remainder of his coffee, pushing too-floppy bangs out of his eyes and pointedly ignoring his brother as Dean slid into the car, tossed Sam the notes, and backed out of the driveway.

"It's your fault if I get detention," he informed Dean after a minute or so of ignoring him. Sam pried two halves of a mini-bagel apart. "You let me sleep. I told you to wake me up if I was asleep when you came down for breakfast."

"Yeah right, Sasquatch. You've barely gotten any shut-eye since Dad left for Wyoming—I don't care how important your test is, I'm sure your perfect 4.0 can take it." Dean swallowed a little harder than necessary.

"If I miss out on valedictorian," Sam announced, pointing an accusing finger at his brother, "I will actually kill you. Not even kidding, dude." Dean snorted.

"Sure, Sammy. Sure you will."

"I will! I'm taller than you, you know!" Sam scowled as he folded his long arms across his chest, looking more like a petulant four-year-old than a seventeen ("and a half, Dean!") year old high school senior. "And for the last frigging time, don't call me Sammy!"

"Yeah, well I'm the big brother. I will always be able to kick your ass, no matter how tall you get…" Dean paused a beat. "…Sammy." He laughed, jerking away as his brother took a swing at him.

"Jerk!" Sam was fighting a reluctant smile, the annoyance in his voice only half real.

"Bitch," Dean deadpanned, braking purposefully hard at a stop light and making Sam lurch forward. Sam chucked a mini-bagel at his head in response, trying to hide his laugh behind a vehement,

"I'm telling Dad!"

Dean glanced at the kid out of the corner of his eye, stomach clenching again with bitter realization.

Oh, God. Stanford.

--

Dean was sitting in the bedroom he and Sam shared in the tiny house they were renting, the contents of the evil Stanford envelope spread across his lap. The application was more comprehensive than Dean'd expected—all these questions about Sam's family life and economic background and shit, in addition to the usual college B.S. Major, SAT scores, transcript, essay…

Essay. Huh.

Dean bit his lip, wondering whether he should read it or not. Just what would Sam write about, anyway—"I Hate My Dad: You Really Should Accept Me Because He Is a Crazy Bastard and the Fact That I Have Turned Out Relatively Normal Is a Fucking Miracle"…or maybe, "Saving People, Hunting Things: How My Nomadic Life Hunting the Supernatural Has Molded Me Into a Fine Upstanding Citizen"? That sounded like the kind of crap Sam'd try to pull.

Snorting derisively, Dean glanced down at the essay, which actually didn't have a title. Just a question, and an answer. Typical Sam—he never beat around the bush.

Option C: Write about a person that has influenced your life for the better. How have they helped you become who you are today?

Dean grimaced, put down the paper. He couldn't read this—didn't want to read this—he should just get rid of this stupid thing, seriously, what the hell kind of good was it for him to read it—

Suddenly, the door down the hall banged open, and Sam called out loudly,

"Hey, Dean, I didn't leave any envelopes lying around this morning, did I?"

"Nope!" Dean called back, shoving the application under his pillow. "Didn't see anything."

You sure?" Sam sounded desperate.

"Yeah." He swallowed. "I'm sure."

--

Dean didn't look at the application again until he was sure Sam was asleep. His brother had torn the house apart looking for it that afternoon, dodging Dean's obligatory questions about what the hell Sam thought he was doing by saying he'd lost a school assignment.

Truth be told, Dean wasn't really sure why he hadn't confronted Sam by now. The application made him feel sick, angry, betrayed—but at the same time, it didn't surprise him. The way Sam and Dad had been butting heads lately…Dean heaved a sigh. This had been inevitable. Sam had made no secret of the way he felt about hunting.

"Dammit, Sammy." Dean ran a hand over his face, drew a painful breath. On the other side of the room, Sam rolled over, mumbling in his sleep.

It was three-thirty in the morning. The application was right under his pillow, taunting him, an unwelcome, conspicuous presence that wasn't going to let him rest anytime soon…and the longer he let this go, the longer he was going to feel this way.

Five minutes later, he had snuck into the living room, flicked on the light, and pulled the essay out of the stack of papers, determined to keep his hands steady. He wasn't really sure why he was dreading reading this—after all, what more could it hurt? This entire situation was shitty; there really wasn't a way this could get worse, was there?

Resolved, Dean took a steadying breath, and began to read.

Samuel Winchester

College Essay

Option C: Write about a person that has influenced your life. How have they helped you become who you are today?

It may not sound like much when I tell you that I have the best big brother in the world. I know a lot of little kids say it—that their brother is the best because he teaches them how to catch a baseball, or because he lets them watch R-rated movies with him or something—but as soon as they get older, it starts to feel stupid or childish, or they fight with him all the time, so they stop saying it. They stop believing it.

I may not say it out loud all that much anymore, but I have never stopped believing that my brother Dean is Superman. I'm not ashamed, either—because not every little kid can say their big brother raised them. Dean didn't just show me how to throw a baseball or let me see scary movies: he held my head when I was sick, he made me dinner, he walked or drove me to school every day, and most importantly, he taught me how to be a good person.

My mom's been dead since I was six months old, and my dad's work takes him away from home a lot, so for as long as I can remember, it's been Dean and me. He's only four years older than I am, but he's been there for me in a way no one else ever has. My dad did the best he could after Mom, don't get me wrong…it's just that Dean was the one I came to when I had scary dreams. Dean was the one who showed me how to be the new kid on the block, who stood up for me when I was bullied, who has always just been there, no matter what I need.

Dean is a good person. I won't pretend we always get along, or that our personalities are even remotely alike, but he has shown me how to be dependable, how to be honorable, how to stick to a task, no matter how difficult it is. He's shown me what hard work really is, how to defend myself and others around me, how to make a decent bowl of Spaghettios, how to drive. I wouldn't be half the person I am today if not for him.

The hardest thing for me when I leave for college will be living on my own, without Dean or my father. My entire life, I've been told that family is everything—and the thought of leaving them scares me more than anything ever has. The thing is, though, I know I can do it. Above all else, Dean has taught me how to be brave; even without him there to look out for me, I know I'm ready…and I know he'll let me go, even if it will be hard for him. That's just the kind of man my big brother is, I guess, the kind of man I want to be when I grow-up: a man somebody can look up to.

Dean looked up from the essay, a lump in his throat, the ache in his chest more painful than ever before.

He had been wrong. Things had just gotten way, way, way worse.

--

"I think I found that envelope you were looking for," Dean said casually when Sam came home from school the next afternoon, nose buried in a thick textbook. Predictably, the kid practically tripped over his own two feet, fumbling the book in his surprise.

"Oh, um." Sam's face had gone white. "Where was it?"

"Under the fridge." Dean handed it to him, trying to smile. He'd resealed it as best he could; he didn't think anyone would be able to tell it had ever been opened, but he still felt guilty for snooping…especially after what Sam had written about him. "I…it looks important. You should probably send it right now, before the mailman gets here."

Sam looked from the envelope to Dean, a strange expression on his face.

"Dean…I…" He swallowed. "Thank you." Dean shrugged, his face carefully blank.

"What for, Sasquatch?" he asked, though he couldn't hide the slight quaver in his voice. "It's just an envelope." Sam took two tentative steps forward, then threw his arms around Dean, burying his face in his older brother's shoulder.

"For everything, Dean," he whispered. "Thank you for everything."

"Just send the damn thing already," Dean managed gruffly, pulling away and ruffling Sam's hair. Sam merely beamed at him. "Seriously, dude, I may change my mind and torch it." Sam laughed a little, turning the envelope over in his hands.

"You won't tell Dad?"

"Tell Dad what?" Dean winked, and Sam ducked his head, grinning, and headed for the door. "Just—Sammy?" Sam stopped, hand on the doorknob. "Be careful, ok?"

"I always am," he replied softly, wrenching the door open. "And seriously, for the last time, don't call me Sammy."

Dean bit his lip as Sam loped out towards the mailbox, and turned away for a minute, folding his arms, closing his eyes, trying as hard as he could not to regret what he'd just done.

This was right. Unbelievably difficult as it was, this was right. Sam needed to get out there by himself, needed to…to have this. To see that there was more to life than things that went bump in the night, to come into his own. It sucked, it really did, but it was how it was supposed to be.

And yeah, Sammy was going to leave, but Dean had no doubt in his mind he'd come back someday. It might take awhile, but if he'd taught his brother as much as Sam seemed to think he had, Sam would remember in time who he was—and when he was ready to save people and hunt things once more, Dean would be waiting, just as he always had, to welcome his brother home.