Thanks to Mandy for the great input and encouragement. Happy Birthday!!
Thanks are also due to Michaela, whose kindness made this terrible week a little better, and to Kati, for the comment that got me thinking and eventually led to this story. And especially to Seth and Stephen, who show me every day what brotherhood is really about.
Just Like My Big Brother
"All right, class, let's welcome our families to the first-ever annual Family Day." Miss Scott, the pretty first-grade teacher, smiled warmly at everyone assembled. "I'm so glad all of you parents—and siblings—" she nodded to Dean where he sat at an empty desk in the third row, "could join us. Don't worry, this isn't like detention. We won't keep you too long. I know you're all probably anxious to get home and have supper." There was light laughter at that, and chatter broke out as first-graders turned to greet their families or wave at them from across the room.
Miss Scott cleared her throat to get everyone's attention and continued. "I thought we'd kick things off by having some of the students read an assignment they did today. Each student was supposed to think of someone they want to be like when they grow up, and write about the qualities they admire in that person. All right, class, who wants to go first?"
A hand shot straight up into the air before the question was even finished forming. Dean looked over to the desk next to him to see Sam in his seat, arm waving eagerly, eyes bright, dimples flashing. He rolled his eyes affectionately at the sight. Sammy was such a geek boy.
But sure enough, the teacher couldn't resist those puppy eyes any more than Dean could. She laughed, pleased at Sam's eagerness. "All right," she smiled kindly at him, "come on up." Then she turned her attention to the group at large and gestured toward the small boy making his way to the front. With a little flourish the teacher presented him, "Sam Winchester, everyone," and turned the floor over to Sam as she settled herself into a chair off to the side.
Sam practically skipped up the aisle in his excitement, small sweaty hand clutching a piece of wide-ruled paper. Dean braced himself to hear a talk about Thomas Edison or Marie Curie or someone else brainy and old and dead.
When Sam got to the front and turned back to face the assembled group though, his eyes grew wide and a little panicked. He wasn't used to talking in front of all these people. His gaze darted over to Dean, who gave him an encouraging nod and smile.
Sam nodded back and took a deep breath, then smiled at the assembled crowd, dimples deepening though his eyes were still a little shy. But when he read from the paper he was holding in front of him with a trembling hand, his voice came out clear and confident.
"When I grow up, I wanna be just like my big brother, Dean." He beamed a smile at said brother, who was looking a little stunned. Sure, he knew the kid loved him, but he'd thought Sammy'd pick somebody important, like Einstein or somethin', to want to be like when he grew up.
Sam carried on, blissfully unaware of his brother's surprise or the way he darted looks around self-consciously to see if anyone was watching him. But they were all focused on the little boy, who grew more animated and enthusiastic as he talked.
"Dean is the best," he stated firmly. "He's really, really smart. He always knows how to help me with my homework. Even fractions." Sam grimaced at the very mention of the dread subject. "And he always fixes my walkman when it gets broke and my flashlight when I drop it, cuz he knows all about the circus," Sam finished proudly.
"Uh…the circus, Sam?" his teacher broke in, clearly confused.
"Yeah—the circus. Y'know, like with 'lectricity and stuff."
"Oh." Understanding dawned and Miss Scott tried not to smile, though her blue eyes twinkled. "You mean the circuits."
"Yeah, 's what I said. Sir-cuts." Sam pronounced the word carefully, as if his teacher might be a little slow. "Anyway, Dean knows all 'bout 'em. He can fix anything. He knows everything 'bout superheroes, too. Go on, ask him." Sam nodded toward his brother, whose face was now a bright red, as if urging someone to try and stump him.
When no one did, he continued. "He's really strong, too. He can do way more pushups 'n me, and this summer when we were walking home from the pool and didn't have no shoes on, I stepped on a bee," Sam paused to let the seriousness of this sink in to his audience, starting to get into the moment. "And it hurt really bad. And we were still really far from home but my foot hurt too bad to walk all the way, so Dean told me to climb up on his back and he gave me a piggy back ride all the way home." Sam's eyes widened in remembered awe.
He continued, voice earnest. "And he's really brave, too. Dean never gets scared of nothin'. When we watch scary movies, Dean just laughs and says no monster better ever mess with him, cuz he would end them. And last year, when I was a little kid, a bully pushed me down on the playground, and my knee was bleeding, and I cried a little, cuz it really hurt. But Dean ran right up to that bully, even though he was way bigger 'n Dean, and he said 'Nobody messes with my little brother.'" Sam's voice dropped a little lower in a good imitation of Dean's furious tone. "And he called the boy a bad name and he punched him. Right in the face. Ka-pow!!" Sam pantomimed the punch, almost losing his paper in the process. "And that bad boy fell down and Dean said that's what he gets for picking on little kids." Sam nodded, emphatic, then repeated in satisfaction, "Just punched him right out."
Dean shrugged, glaring around the room defensively. Kid deserved a good punch. He wasn't gonna apologize for it. It was his job to take care of Sammy and he had. He wasn't gonna be sorry about it.
Miss Scott cleared her throat, feeling she needed to interject. "You know, Sam, violence is never the answer." She looked at him meaningfully.
"Yeah." Sam nodded sagely, paused a moment, then shrugged matter-of-factly. "Only…it is for Dean." He gave the teacher an apologetic smile.
Miss Scott nodded, at a loss for how to respond to that. "Uh…okay, then." She looked like she thought she should say something more, but couldn't figure out what, so she settled for nervously fiddling with a soft golden curl.
Sam plunged ahead, oblivious to the havoc he was wreaking. "And Dean is really nice, too. Sometimes when we're walking home from school, like if I got a good grade on my spelling test or somethin', he'll use his chore money to buy us an ice cream cone to share and he always lets us get vanilla, even though he likes chocolate best, cuz it's my favorite. Right, Dean?" Sam looked over to his brother for confirmation.
Dean rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably, but pulled up a smile for his kid brother. "Sure, Sammy." Inwardly, he winced. Leave it to the kid to make a federal case out of ice cream.
Miss Scott smiled at the small boy, "Well Sam, that's very good. Now how about we give someone else a turn?"
Sam looked alarmed. "No, wait, Miss Scott! I got more."
"Really, Sam? You've got more written on your paper?" She looked at him skeptically. That paper was only so big.
"Yes, Miss Scott." Sam's eyes were wide with innocence when he answered.
The teacher sighed a little, nonplussed again. "Okay, Sam. Keep going then."
A blinding smile was her reward and Sam picked up where he'd left off. "And also, Dean is really tall. He is way taller than me. And when I can't reach stuff, like the toothpaste or cereal, Dean always gets it down for me. Someday I'm gonna be tall, just like Dean."
Dean smirked at that. No way the kid was ever gonna be as tall as him.
"And Dean makes the best gun and 'xplosion noises when we play. And he has lots of friends, 'specially girls. Girls really like Dean." Dean's smirk grew wider at this, and he raised his eyebrows at a first-grade girl he caught staring at him in awe. The ladies couldn't resist him; that much was true. "I even saw one kiss him once. Right on the lips." Sam wrinkled his nose in disgust. "But Dean said she didn't have cooties too bad." He looked a little doubtful about that himself, but continued on to the next item on his paper.
"And Dean has a super good 'mag'narium."
Miss Scott looked confused. "What, Sam?"
"'Mag'narium," Sam repeated patiently. "You know—he makes up cool stuff."
Her confusion cleared, and she smiled at the little boy. "Oh, you mean imagination."
"'S what I said—mag i nay shun. Anyway, he gots a good one. He can make up totally cool stuff, like monsters and everything." Dean groaned softly, a feeling of dread telling him where this story was going. "Like the other day, he told me 'bout a monster called a when dee go," he sounded the word out carefully, like he'd been practicing.
Dean shook his head frantically at Sam, trying to cut him off, but when Sammy just plowed on, he dropped his head into his hand with a groan. He knew it had been a mistake teaching the kid to talk. "It was totally cool—it used to be a man, only it got too hungry and didn't have nothin' to eat, so it ate a person," Sam's little face grimaced in disgust. "And that turned it into a monster, so now it has, like, superpowers and stuff and it takes people—"
"Uh, Sam…" Miss Scott hurried to cut him off, horrified. "I think we should skip that part. We don't want to give the other kids nightmares."
Sam looked around, and noticed that the kids in his class were wide-eyed and scared. He felt a little bad about that, so he tried to make them feel better. "Well, last week when I had a nightmare, I woke up and I was so scared, but Dean, he told me he wouldn't let anything bad happen to me. So I wasn't scared anymore." Sam's simple and complete trust shone through in his words. "I went right back to sleep, cuz Dean said. And Dean never breaks his promises. Right, Dean?" He looked to his big brother for confirmation.
Dean had raised his head again by this time, and looked his little brother in the eye, voice firm. "Right, Sammy."
"Yeah." Sam nodded. He'd known that.
Miss Scott saw her opportunity and grabbed it with a slight air of desperation. "Okay, Sam, well I'm sure Dean has many other great qualities—"
"He does." It was such a fervent declaration that Dean felt himself blushing again, even the tips of his ears turning red.
"But we need to let the other children have a turn too," she finished firmly.
"But teacher," a hint of whine entered Sam's voice, "I got more on my paper." He waved the sheet for emphasis.
"I know, Sam." Though really, how could one little sheet of paper have so much on it? They'd only been given 25 minutes for the writing assignment. Miss Scott made a note to shorten that the next time. "But we have to take turns, right?" She looked at Sam expectantly.
"I guess." The acceptance was grudging, and Sam's small face looked so dejected that she felt a little bad.
"It sounds like Dean is a great big brother, though," she offered.
"He's the best big brother ever. The very, very best." His emphatic adoration was both immediate and heartfelt.
Miss Scott smiled at him warmly and patted Sam on the head, before placing a gentle hand on his back to urge him along. "Well, why don't you go take a seat by Dean and show him your paper? I'm sure he'd love to see it." She looked to Dean for help and he nodded to his little brother encouragingly.
"'Kay." Sam perked up immediately at the thought of showing Dean his work.
There was a round of scattered applause from the parents and other children as Sam made his way to an empty seat, in front of Dean this time. He twisted around to put the paper on Dean's desk, head close to his big brother's, eyes shining and face flushed with pride. "What'd y'think, Dean? Huh? Didja like it?" His eyes were intent on his big brother's face, eager and hopeful.
Dean nodded. His throat was tight and it kinda hurt, so it was hard to squeeze words out. Maybe he was getting sick or somethin'. His throat only ever felt this way when he thought about his mom, or when his dad came home hurt from a hunt.
But he knew Sammy was waiting, so he cleared his throat and pushed out the words his little brother needed to hear. "Y' did good, Sammy. Real good." He nodded for emphasis.
Sam beamed at him, a bright sunshiny smile. "Thanks, Dean. Here." Sam pushed the assignment toward him, paper wrinkled from sweaty hands. "I want you to have it."
"Thanks, Sammy." Dean's voice was quiet but sincere.
Sam nodded and turned back around to listen to his classmate give a lame talk on Thomas Jefferson. He bet Thomas Jefferson couldn't hit a moving target with a rock from two doors down, like Dean had when their neighbor's pit bull had lunged toward Sam and scared him. Or hit a home run like Dean had when he'd tried out for little league. Or make macaroni and cheese just the way Sam liked it. He nodded to himself, sure he was right. Lame old Thomas Jefferson had nothin' on Dean.
Dean tuned out the next kid's speech while he spread Sam's paper out carefully on his desk to look at it, smoothing the wrinkles and unbending the corners Sammy had crimped with his nerves.
It was a list with his name at the top in big letters, underlined twice. Underneath that, it listed the qualities Sam had talked about, some with another word next to them as an example, like bee next to strong and ice cream next to nice. Dean laughed to himself when he saw Sammy's two attempts at writing the word imagination before he gave up and crossed them both out, replacing them with makes up stuff. He smirked when he saw that Cool!! had been one of the items on the list Sam hadn't gotten to. He couldn't argue with that. Or with can eat a whole pizza. But the last item takes care of me had him swallowing hard again against the prickly feeling in his throat.
Carefully, Dean folded the paper into a neat square and put it in the new wallet he'd gotten for Christmas that looked just like his dad's. As he did so, he saw the two wrinkled dollar bills he'd gotten for running errands and doing chores for old Mrs. Wannamaker next door. He fingered the money as he secured Sam's paper inside, an idea coming to him.
"Hey, Sammy," he whispered, leaning up next to his brother's ear. "You wanna stop for an ice cream on the way home?"
Sam turned to look at him, eyes wide and face lit with excitement. "Really, Dean? Can we get vanilla?"
Dean smiled affectionately. "Sure, squirt. Vanilla it is."
Dean ran into the convenience store while Sam pumped the Impala full of gas. There were a few road trip essentials they needed to stock up on if they were going to drive through the night. He thought the Impala sounded like she had a little rattle to her, but they'd have to wait until daylight to check her out. In the meantime, he wanted to put as much distance between them and Gordon's headless corpse as possible. He hurriedly grabbed the few essential items and went to the counter to pay, pulling out his well-worn wallet for the necessary money while he waited in line.
As he reached in to grab the bills, his fingers brushed something familiar and treasured. He pulled out the small square and unfolded it. It was faded, yellowed with age, and a bit worse for the wear, its edges tattered.
But for all that, it was still legible and Sammy's wobbly first-grade writing still clear enough to read. Dean felt his throat grow tight as he looked it over, past and present converging. Hearing again, "I've been looking up to you since I was four, Dean. Studying you, trying to be just like my big brother," and, "He's the best big brother ever," and, "I wish you would drop the show and be my brother again." He nodded to himself as he carefully folded the paper back up and tucked it away in its customary spot. There were a lot of things he couldn't control, but…that he could do. Had been doing it his whole life.
"Sir. Are you ready to pay?" From the tone of the cashier's voice, it was clear this wasn't the first time he'd asked.
Dean looked up as he put his wallet away. "No, I uh, I just need to get one more thing." He left the line and walked over to the in-store ice cream counter.
The attendant looked up at his approach. "What can I get ya?"
"Two scoops." Dean put up two fingers and nodded at the cake cone the guy held up for approval. "Vanilla."
When he took the ice cream out to Sam, a surprised and pleased smile lit up his face, making him look again like that six-year-old who thought Dean could do anything. Yeah, the big brother thing…that he could do.