Author's Note: On-A-Dare was an ever-helpful beta. These boys, alas, are not mine.
Dean Winchester is bored.
They've been in Room 142 of the Delta Queen Motel for three days.
The most notable thing about Room 142 of the Delta Queen Motel is that the TV is busted. Which Dean discovered moments after Dad left on a hunt with the usual, "Stay in the room, keep an eye on each other," spiel.
It used to be "Keep an eye on Sam," but it changed in May. It might have changed because Sam turned ten and double digits means somewhat grown up. Or possibly because around that time Dad spent fifteen minutes looking for Dean while Dean was off making out with a motel manager's super hot fifteen-year old daughter. Either way, change it did.
Anyway, they can't exactly call and complain about the TV, because that means drawing attention to the fact that they're here and Dad's not, and letting people into the room, two things are not even remotely in the realm of Good Ideas.
And to add to Dean's annoyance, not only is the TV busted, but Sam doesn't seem to care. He's got a stack of books and a jigsaw puzzle that he picked up on their last stop at a Goodwill.
He's working on the puzzle now, pieces spread out around him in the floor. Dean told him he couldn't use the room's one table, mostly in the hopes of starting an argument, because arguing with Sam would be something to do, and it's always amusing. Sam just shrugged and set it up in the floor.
Dean pushes the room's dingy curtain back a few inches and looks out the window. There's a pizza place across the street that looks like the local hangout. He's seen kids his age coming and going, and he can see video games through its windows. There's a girl headed in now, with a long brown pony tail and short white shorts and—
"You're not allowed to go out," Sam says, without looking up.
Dean drops the curtain guiltily, then remembers that he's fourteen and he's in charge. "I'm allowed to look out the window all I want, Sammy."
"Okay," says Sam. And it's the okay that, in Sam Speak, translates as you and I both know that you're thinking about going over there, and you and I both know that I can't stop you, but you and I also know that I am not going to cover for your sorry ass if Dad calls while you're gone, and you and I both know that Dad's timing on that kind of shit is down right freaky.
Sam has a way with a lack of words.
Dean sighs, more heavily than is necessary, and flings himself onto the bed by the door.
"You can help if you want," Sam says. "With the puzzle."
"Fine," Dean says. It's not like he has anything else to do.
Sam is methodical when he works puzzles. He spreads all the pieces out, organizes them by shape and color, blah blah etcetera. He's been working on this one, on and off, for two days. Dean, now that he thinks about it, is kind of surprised Sam isn't finished with it yet. Or at least a lot closer to being finished than he is.
An hour later and Dean isn't surprised at all. He's not sure this puzzle is workable. He's not even sure that what Sam has is a puzzle, and not random handfuls of pieces from about six puzzles that someone threw in a box and dumped at Goodwill.
Or the puzzle might be possessed. Or cursed.
Dean selects an especially evil-looking piece (it seems to have an eye in the middle of it) and surreptitiously carries it into the bathroom with him. Holy water, salt, and Latin all have no effect on the piece.
He's kind of disappointed. Not that he wants his baby brother playing with a possessed puzzle, of course, but figuring out how to break the curse or whatever would have been a lot more interesting than continuing to try to assemble a picture of a mill by a lake.
Dean dries the piece off as best he can and goes back to where Sam is still trying to make the damned (if not literally) thing go together.
And that's admirable and all, sure. Or whatever. But if at first you don't succeed, it's time to try something else. Because it's not like what you're doing is going to magically start working.
Dean pulls his knife from his pocket, selects a piece, and cuts off the part that keeps it from fitting where he wants to put it.
"Dean! What are you doing?"
"Fixing your puzzle, Sammy," Dean says, finishing with the first piece and selecting a second.
"Stop it! You're ruining it!"
Dean just grins and picks up a third piece.
"Dean!" Sam says, standing and glaring down at his brother, hands on hips.
"You know, if we just make them all square—"
"You're cheating! Cut it out!"
"That's what I'm doing, Sammy," Dean says, cutting out the troublesome parts of another piece.
The phone rings, then, and Sam bolts for it before Dean can even think about getting up. Dean decides to stay in the floor and go on with his alterations.
"Hi, Dad," Sam says. And then after a moment, "When are you coming back?" And then, "Okay, we'll see you then. Hey, Dad? Dean is ruining my puzzle. He's cutting it up and he won't stop." Another moment, and then Sam smiles not-very-innocently and holds the phone out. "Dad wants to talk to you."
Dean takes the phone slowly enough to show Sam that he's not even a little bit concerned, and quickly enough that he cannot be construed in any way, shape, or form to be keeping Dad waiting. "Hey, Dad. Did you get it?"
"Hi, Dean. Yeah, it's taken care of."
"Good. You headed back?"
"I should be there tomorrow. I need to swing by and pick up some stuff from Caleb."
"Okay. Tell him we said hi and shi—stuff," Dean says.
"I will." There's a pause. "So, Dean, what's this about your brother's puzzle?"
"It's that one he got at Goodwill, only I don't think it's actually all of one puzzle. The pieces just don't go together. So he asked for my help—"
"I did not!" Sam says, loudly. "I said you could help if you wanted to."
"—and the goal is to make the pieces fit together, right? So since they weren't fitting together, I decided to cut off the parts that were in the way. And now they fit."
His father clears his throat. Dean, who can read Dad's mood from a glace, or a gesture, or an inflection, knows that that particular throat-clearing sound is the one he makes when he's holding back a laugh.
"You cut off the parts that were in the way?" Dad repeats.
"Yes, sir. With my pocket knife."
"Dean, you shouldn't cut up Sammy's things," Dad says. The amusement is still there, though, underneath the sternness.
"Yes, sir," Dean says. "I'll stop."
"Good. Keep an eye on your brother, Dean."
"Yes, sir. See you tomorrow."
Sam shoots him a triumphant look and goes back to his only slightly maimed puzzle. Or parts of puzzles. Or whatever the hell he's got there.
Which is fine. Let Sammy think he's won something. Dean doesn't care.
Under the sternness and the half-concealed amusement, what Dean just heard in his father's voice was nothing short of pure pride.