Disclaimer: Supernatural doesn't belong to me except for in my mind where schmoop abounds.
A/N: This is the second story in the Wish 'Verse, a sequel to I Wish I was a Growed Up. See, I told you there'd be more. ^.^ In case you haven't read the first one and don't want to, here's a short summary: Young Sammy's wish to be a grown up whenever his big brother, Dean, needed help gets granted by a well-meaning gypsy. The unexpected consequences of the wish cause an unbreakable bond to develop between the brothers. A magical creature, the black imp, attempts to take the wish away from the boys, but is thwarted by John who is then cursed by the imp to forever be in pain when his sons are nearby.
The Reason I Live
Chapter 1 First Day of School
It's Sammy's first day of kindergarten and the kid's so excited he's been babbling non stop since he woke up this morning. Dean would find it kinda cute if he hadn't woken up at five o'clock, before the sun had even begun to lighten the edges of the sky, and insisted that Dean get up too by bouncing up and down on the older boy's bed.
Before the youngster could accidentally wake up their dad, Dean had scooted out of bed and quickly found some crayons and paper to keep Sammy quietly occupied until it was time for breakfast.
"Do you think my teacher'll be nice, Dean? I colored a picture for her 'cause I really want her to like me. Do you think she'll like me?" The little boy shovels a spoonful of cereal into his mouth, milk dribbling off his chin, and peers up at his older brother through a mop-top of unruly brown bangs.
"Course she's gonna like you, squirt." A tolerant smile tugs Dean's lips up. He turns away and rolls his eyes, just a little. As if anyone could not like his eager-to-please little brother with his big earnest eyes and dimpled smile. Some sappy kindergarten teacher isn't gonna know what hit her when Sammy unleashes the full force of his puppy look on her.
Dean's glad Sammy's excited about starting school even though Dean himself isn't nearly as excited about his first day of fourth grade.
The good thing is that the town they're staying in is small enough to only have one elementary school and grades kindergarten through fifth grade all go to the same school. He'll be able to walk to and from school with Sammy and watch out for his little brother during the day if he has to. There are bound to be times when they'll pass in the hall or maybe see each other at recess so he can check up and make sure Sammy's doing all right. Not that he's overprotective like some hovering mom who can't stand to see their little angel start school, or anything. That would just be stupid.
The bad thing is that in a town this small all of the kids in his class will already know each other and Dean is sure he'll stick out like even more of a sore thumb than he usually does in a new school. Not something to look forward to.
Both boys have new backpacks – well, new to them anyway. Dad had picked them up at the thrift store along with a couple sets of clothes decent enough for school for each of them. Sammy is so proud of his blue backpack that he's wearing it while sitting on the stool pulled up to the counter, eating the breakfast Dean made for him. Even though there isn't much in the bag to weigh it down, only the picture for his teacher at this point, it still makes the small boy look unbalanced and top heavy. Dean wonders how Sammy's going to manage once he begins loading school books into the thing. Hopefully there won't be too much homework, if any, assigned to the kindergarten class.
Dean's black backpack sits by the front door looking forlorn and unwanted.
When it's time to leave, Dean puts their cereal bowls in the sink, wipes down the counter, and hands Sammy a napkin for his chin.
"Can I tell dad 'bye'?" Sammy asks while slipping off the stool.
"Nah, he'll know we've gone to school when he gets up." Dean decides.
He knows better than to wake their dad up when he'd been out late the night before. The man has been cranky lately, short-tempered during training sessions, and he seems to stay away from home more and more often, can't even seem to stand to touch either one of his boys, which is…weird. It's not as though their stoic father is the touchy, feely, huggy type, but some amount of touching used to be par for the course, especially during training. Adjusting a weapon grip here or manually correcting a stance there used to be normal operating procedure. Not anymore. Now most training is done with shouted commands from the opposite side of the room and endurance training has been added to the daily routine. Dad sends them off to run laps around the park or swim in the lake if it's warm enough, anything, seemingly, to get his sons away from him.
There's definitely something wrong with his dad and it all seems to have started shortly after their experience with the black imp a little over a year ago. The way their dad rubs his forehead all the time makes Dean uneasy because it looks kinda creepy, like dad's trying to keep something from exploding out of his head. Each time he tries to ask his dad about it though, the man shrugs and says it's nothing, often following up with a gruff command to get started with some chore or another. It's almost enough to make Dean stop asking, almost, but not quite because Dean doesn't have it in him to let someone he cares about suffer without trying to help. He loves his dad and there must be something Dean can do. Maybe Bobby knows something; he'll ask next time he sees the older hunter.
Sammy has certainly noticed their dad's strange behavior. The worried glances and the way he tries extra hard to be quiet when dad gets grouchy, or more grouchy than usual, are sure signs that Sammy is clued in to the wrongness. The kid may be small, but he knows a lot of things other kids his age don't know. There's good reason for that and Dean is one of the few people who knows all about the Wish (he always capitalizes it in his head) and its effects.
What Dean isn't so sure about is how much Sammy remembers about those times when he's all grown up, like during the two weeks around the black imp attack. The two weeks when he was magically aged to twenty-four years old, standing as tall, or even taller, than dad. It's hard for child Sammy to explain what he remembers from those times, about half a dozen of them so far, when his wish to be a grown up whenever his older brother needs help, kicks in and he's instantly transformed into an adult only to regress back to his normal age when the danger or whatever is over.
Dean remembers each and every time pretty vividly however. He remembers what it feels like to have someone big and strong come to his rescue. Someone who puts him first above all else, who would do anything for him, no matter what, who always wants what's best for him, openly shows affection. Someone who is proud of him and loves him. Dean has always been devoted to his baby brother and now the devotion flows both ways. Of course, Sammy loves him when he's a child, probably just as much as when he's an adult, but it feels different coming from a grown up. Dean doesn't know why it's different, it just is.
And then there's his dad. Oh, Dean knows his dad loves him even though he doesn't frequently show affection. But…Dean doesn't entirely trust his father, not anymore, not the way he used to. The reasons for his mistrust hurt deep down inside him and it's not something he likes to think about. Knowing that your own parent might not always choose your well being over everything else leaves a dark mark on a child's soul, leaves a dent in a child's developing self-worth. These concepts fly over Dean's head, he doesn't understand them and he certainly doesn't want to dwell on them, but they are a part of him.
Sammy fills a gaping hole in Dean and he tries his best to pick up whatever slack is left in his little brother's life in return, playing parent and brother and friend and whatever else is needed.
During the mile and a half walk to school, Sammy stops talking for the first time all morning.
"Whatcha thinking about, Sammy?" Dean asks while sensing along the invisible strand of their bond at the same time.
It helps Dean to think about their bond as a string that connects his brother to him at all times. When he wants to experience Sammy's feelings, he has to concentrate real hard on the connection and pull the feelings across the line and into himself.
This 'empathy' as their dad calls it, only developed recently. Dad told them other side effects from the Wish could continue to pop up and they are to let him know right away if anything strange happens. Dean can tell their dad is still not comfortable with the Wish or anything associated with it.
Sammy, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have to concentrate at all or even think about Dean to know what his older brother is feeling, he just knows.
Hiding anything from Sammy is now impossible; Dean has learned not to even attempt it. Part of him wants to be annoyed with the empathy part of Sammy's Wish, but another part of him finds it kind of liberating because now there's one person he can be totally open with, one person he doesn't have to guard himself from or keep up some kind of brave face with or pretend with. There's no point, Sammy will feel everything he's feeling no matter what he does.
Right now, his little brother's never-ending excitement is being tempered by a dose of anxiety. Dean waits to hear what's bothering the kid.
"You don't wanna go to school, today. How come?" The little boy's eyebrows draw together in a concerned knot.
Dean should have realized Sammy would sense his reluctance to spend a perfectly good day in a classroom around teachers and kids he doesn't know, who don't know about his life and will never understand.
"Eh, school's just not really my thing, ya know? There's lots of other stuff I'd rather be doing. You can still be excited about it though." It would be a shame to ruin his little brother's good mood with his own less than enthusiastic views on learning how to label the parts of a sentence.
"Like what? What would you rather be doing?" His inquisitive little brother wants to know.
Dean thinks on the question for a couple of seconds. "Oh, I dunno." He kicks a stone off the sidewalk and into the grass as they continue walking. "I could help dad with research, practice throwing my knives, stuff like that."
The knives are the latest addition to Dean's training regimen and he thinks they're pretty cool, all shiny and sharp, intriguing in a way that appeals to his boyish sense of danger. Unlike the guns, he's allowed to keep them in his room and practice with them whenever he wants. He can always get to a gun if he needs one, but he's not supposed to practice with them unless dad is nearby.
Sammy gives him a wistful look and then takes his big brother's hand in his smaller one as though he's afraid Dean's going to turn around and go back home without him.
Smiling softly, Dean sends feelings of contentment through the bond to his brother until Sammy starts to skip happily beside him again. Okay, so sometimes he can sort through his feelings and place a little more emphasis on certain ones for Sammy's sake, but the feeling has to be there to some degree to start off or it won't work.
The kindergarten classrooms are at the very front of the building, off a hallway next to the cafeteria. Seeing the cafeteria reminds Dean that Sammy's going to need something to eat for lunch and he completely forgot to pack anything. Luckily, there are a few dollar bills in Dean's pocket, change from the grocery shopping he'd done yesterday. He pulls them out and stuffs them into Sammy's back pants pocket.
"Use that for lunch, squirt." He tells his brother.
Resigned to his own hunger come lunch time, Dean mentally kicks himself for his forgetfulness and stupidity.
Sammy bites his bottom lip nervously, clearly feeling his brother's agitation which only makes Dean angrier at himself. Now he's upsetting Sammy on his first day of school. Way to go, way to make your little brother pay for your mistakes, Dean berates himself bitterly. Sometimes it just doesn't seem like he can do anything right.
A small tug on his arm brings his eyes down to meet the younger boy's. "You're the best big brother in the whole wide world, Dean." Sammy fidgets slightly while giving a tentative smile, obvious in his attempt to make his troubled brother feel better.
Recognizing that their linked emotions could quickly spiral out of control, Dean shakes off the self pity, forces himself to think happy thoughts, gives Sammy's hand a reassuring squeeze and leads the youngster down the corridor where all the kindergarten classrooms are located, looking for Sammy's room number.
Kindergarten room 105 is three doors down on the left; Dean counts out loud so his brother can find his way by himself if he ever needs to and points out the bright red apples taped in straight rows on the door, one of which has Sam W. printed on it in black marker.
"Look, Sammy, your name is on the door and everything."
The little boy grins up at his sibling, eyes sparkling like those laminated poster board apples are the most wonderful things he's ever seen.
His breath catches in his throat briefly as Dean watches his brother walk up to the woman behind the teacher's desk, the teacher presumably, and give her the picture he had colored that morning, a proud, radiant smile on his hopeful little face, then the older boy turns and ambles slowly to his own classroom.
Most of the other children are already in their seats when Dean arrives at fourth grade room 512. Twenty-three pairs of curious eyes turn to watch as he stands uncertainly in the doorway so he puts on his trusty devil-may-care expression and saunters over to the nearest empty seat, cool as can be. Slouching down into the chair, Dean makes a point of meeting every stare in turn, oozing confidence. It's important not to invite trouble by appearing to be easy prey, John Winchester's rules to live by number fifteen. More than any of his father's other rules, that one has come in handy during Dean's school career to date.
Dean's first impression of his fourth grade teacher is that she's not the type to put up with anything from anybody including students, parents, or other teachers; you're either doing things her way or you're doing them the wrong way. She writes her name, Mrs. Simon, on the blackboard in big block letters and spends a good forty-five minutes discussing classroom rules, the next half hour telling her students that parents are expected to review and sign every piece of homework before it can be counted as turned in.
"Since you are in fourth grade, your parents are also in fourth grade. I expect a high level of commitment from your parents to your education." She intones as though issuing some kind of royal decree.
Mrs. Simon and his dad are sure to rub each other the wrong way if they ever meet. Dean makes a very quiet scoffing noise. There's no way John Winchester is going to spend his precious time reviewing and signing his first-born son's homework. No problem, it won't be the first time he has forged his father's signature, now he'll be getting lots of practice at it, that's all.
The teacher drones on and Dean stifles a yawn. It had been a long night waiting for his dad to get home from goodness only knows where last night. The man hadn't shared his whereabouts with his oldest son, just inclined his head in greeting on his way to his bedroom when he got home after midnight. The late night coupled with his little brother shaped alarm clock in the morning and the boredom of classroom procedures are all conspiring to make Dean feel muzzy headed.
Lunch time for his class starts at 11:45AM and lasts half an hour. Scanning the cafeteria for signs of Sammy, Dean's shoulders slump when he doesn't see him. Kindergarten classes must eat at a different time. The feelings coming across their bond when he concentrates on it, excitement, happiness, and curiosity, assure him that the youngest Winchester is still enjoying his first day of school.
Without anything to eat to keep his hands and mind busy, lunch is kind of a lonely period for Dean. He takes the time to inspect the cafeteria, noting all entrances to the large room and watching children and teachers move through the food line, make their selections and take their seats.
Each class has an assigned lunch table. Teachers usher their students into the cafeteria in straight lines, maintaining strict discipline while their charges pick up trays, cartons of milk and chose between chicken nuggets and beefaroni. The whole process is regimented to an unusual degree for an elementary school. Dean should know, he's been to five elementary schools already.
The kids around him eye the empty space in front of Dean with suspicion. Apparently they've never seen one of their classmates skip lunch before.
Eventually, his teacher bends over his shoulder, talking softly in his ear. "If you forgot your lunch today you can get a free cheese sandwich."
Not wanting to bring any more unwanted attention to himself and more than a little bit mortified by the idea of a free cheese sandwich, Dean slumps in his chair. "Nah, I'm not hungry." He drawls lazily, hoping to give the impression of being utterly unconcerned. It's the truth; he's not really all that hungry right now. Later he will be, but it's still pretty early in the day, breakfast only a couple of hours behind him.
Mrs. Simon looks him up and down as if she's trying to determine if he's malnourished by what little of him she can see under his loose fitting school clothes before turning to walk back to the teachers' table.
As soon as she's gone, the volume at his table goes up a notch or two as his classmates resume their stalled conversations. Dean's attention is caught by two boys across the table from him when he hears the one wearing a blue and white striped shirt say, "Yeah, he's been missing for a long time. He's a goner for sure."
Dean recognizes the boy speaking from his reading group that morning. His name is Grant and he's a bit of a know-it-all, loves to be the center of attention. The other boy sits up near the front of the class and Dean doesn't remember his name. He's a skinny boy with black hair, olive skin tone and glasses.
Behind his glasses, the second boy's eyes get big and round. "What do you mean a goner?"
"My brother says there's a monster that lives under our school. He says it's huge, with giant fangs and tentacles for arms." Grant accompanies his description with hand gestures so exaggerated he almost knocks a carton of milk out of the hand of the girl sitting beside him. "He says anyone who even looks at it gets so scared they can't move a muscle. I bet the monster got him." Sitting back in his chair, Grant crosses his arms in front of his chest, a superior expression on his face.
"Nuh uh, there's no such thing as monsters." The skinny kid disagrees.
A scowl settles on Grant's face. "Well, my brother says there is and I believe him. He's in high school." This last is said as though it solves everything.
"Hold on." Dean interrupts, sitting forward and putting his elbows on the table. "Who's missing and what does this have to do with a monster?"
Monsters are certainly real and if there's one anywhere near the school, Dean needs to find out as much about it as he can so he can tell his dad. There's no way he's letting Sammy go to school somewhere dangerous.
To be continued.
A/N: Thank you for reading. If you have the time, I'd love to hear from you!