Title: "Are Monsters Real?"
Genre: Gen
Characters: Wee!chesters, John, OCs
Rating: PG-13 for kiddies in perilous situations
Words: 13,000
Spoilers: None
Summary: Eight-year-old Sam Winchester is just coming to terms with The Big Family Secret when he discovers there might be a monster living right on his doorstep. A monster who has set his sights on Dean as his next victim.
Disclaimer: I own nothing but Sam's soul. I keep it in a jar by the door.
A/N: So take this as a practice run, just to see if I'm still capable of writing something with some semblance of a plot that isn't Virtual Season-related. Although this story is a vague prequel to "Better the Devil" an earlier story I wrote (in the sense that it provides some back story to a single throwaway paragraph), you really don't need to have any knowledge of that one to read this one.


Once upon a time Sam Winchester's dad had been a travelling salesman.

He'd travelled the country selling stuff door to door and sometimes had to leave Sam and his big brother Dean behind when he was going places he couldn't take his kids.

Dean had taken care of Sam, made sure he had food to eat and brushed his teeth and changed his clothes and didn't get picked on by the inevitable class bully at every school Sam had ever attended.

That was back when Sam's life had made some kind of sense.

Back before "Are monsters real?"

Back before "We have the coolest dad in the world. He's a superhero," and "Monsters are real. Dad fights 'em. He's fighting them right now," and "It'll all be better when you wake up."

It wasn't better.

It was never going to be better again.

Now Sam saw monsters everywhere, and not just under his bed.

He'd walk down the street and someone would look at him, and Dean would do his whole human shield thing and Sam would wonder, was that a monster? Was that the monster that got Mom? The monster that would get them?

It was almost a month to the day since Broken Bow. Since Christmas Eve.

Tomorrow was Dean's thirteenth birthday.

Dad wouldn't be here. Just like he'd not been here for Christmas. Or Thanksgiving. Or Dean's last birthday.

Dean would make an excuse. Dean always made an excuse. Dad's off fighting monsters. Dad's off saving the world.

And Sam would nod like he believed it.

Dad was never here when it mattered. Birthdays, holidays, when Sam aced a test, got an A, got picked for the soccer team.

And November 2nd. Dad was never here November 2nd.

Not since that time a couple years ago when he'd crawled to the bottom of a bottle of Jack and yelled at Sam for reading too loud and told Dean to go to his room because he reminded him too much of his mom.

Dad got mean on November 2nd.

Dean had made an excuse that day too. Eventually. When his eyes weren't red rimmed and puffy anymore.

"He misses Mom, Sammy."

Yeah, well Dad wasn't the only one who missed Mom on November 2nd, in case the old man hadn't noticed.

But he hadn't noticed.

And Dean never reminded him.

Not ever.

And it made Sam so mad with him sometimes.

Dean wasn't stupid. Not like his teachers all seemed to think he was. So why he couldn't see through Dad's bullcrap, Sam would never know.

Always with the excuses.

Always with the empty reassurances.

"Nothin's gonna get you while I'm here, Sammy."

"We're okay."

They weren't okay. Maybe they'd never been okay.

But Sam had felt like they were.



Before "Are monsters real?"

He sighed heavily, his eyes refusing to focus on the math homework open on the table in front of him.

"Is Dad coming home tomorrow?"

Dean looked up from the TV for two seconds and shrugged. "Don't think so. Why?"

Dean was thirteen tomorrow. Man of the house. Didn't give a crap about birthdays.

Dean's brand of bullcrap was almost as bad as Dad's sometimes.

Sam kicked at the wobbly kitchen table, turned his attention back to his algebra.

"Thought he might come home. For tomorrow."

Dean's focus was all on the TV. "I guess his hunt's gone longer than he thought."

"He was supposed to be home a week ago, Dean."

"Yeah, well, these things take time, Sammy."

"But tomorrow's—"

"I know what tomorrow is, Sam."

Dean clicked off the TV at the sound of a knock on the door, his gaze meeting Sam's for the briefest of instants.

He looked nervous.

Although no one but Sam might have noticed.

Other people who didn't know him as well as Sam did thought Dean didn't get nervous. Or worried. Or scared.

Sam knew better.

And he had a pretty good idea who was knocking at their door.

"Dad's not here and we're still behind on the rent," Sam offered, as Dean slouched toward the bowed front door of their dingy little one-bed apartment.

When Dad was here the old man slept on the couch.

When Dad wasn't here Dean didn't sleep much at all.

"I know, Sam," Dean said quietly, taking a slow breath as he rested one hand on the doorknob, the other on the latch.

"You gonna look who it is first?"

Sam knew Dean didn't need to look. He knew who it was just as surely as Sam did.

But he looked anyway, standing on his tiptoes to see through the spyhole.

Dean was kinda short and scrawny for almost-thirteen.

But he had a .45 tucked in the back of his jeans and a razor blade hidden in the heel of his sneaker.

He took another breath as he unlocked the door.

"Hey, Mr. Avery."


Sam looked up from his homework, his skin crawling at the mere sound of the building super's syrupy voice.

He didn't really want to acknowledge the slimeball's presence, but he'd noticed the creep tended not to look at Dean quite the same way when he thought Sam was watching.

He hated the way Mr. Avery looked at Dean.

Glancing into the apartment over Dean's shoulder as Sam's brother held the door half-closed in front of him, the super's eyes met Sam's and he nodded, just once, before his attention returned to Dean.

Sam could see his brother's cheeks coloring, even from that distance.

"So's your dad home?" Avery asked, his beady black eyes roving from Dean's face to his feet and back up again. Slowly.

Dean's posture stiffened, his back straightening as he tried his best to stand a little taller.

Dean did that a lot, Sam noticed. Especially when Dad wasn't around and protecting Sam from anything and everything seemed his only function in life.

Dean's Prime Directive.

Protect Sammy.

Default setting.

"He's working," Sam heard Dean say through clenched teeth, his fingers tightening on the edge of the door.

Avery nodded, all his attention focused solely on Dean. "He works a lot, your dad."

Dean swallowed. "Yeah, he does."

"Leaves you boys alone a lot too."

"We're not alone," Dean responded tightly.

"Uh-huh," Avery said, nodding again. "Course you're not."

He was looking over Dean's shoulder again, his eyes roving around the living room, the dirty dishes in the sink, the laundry Dean had hung haphazardly over the furniture to dry.

"I'm sure CPS would believe that too."

Dean didn't move, just continued to stare evenly at the super, while Sam's fingers tightened around his pencil, his breathing quickening at the very mention of CPS.

They'd had a few run-ins with the local social workers in more states than Sam cared to remember. And some he didn't remember, if Dean's horror stories were anything to go by.

"I'm sure my dad would be happy to speak with them when he gets home from work," Dean said amicably.

"And when's that going to be exactly?"

Dean shrugged. "Dunno. He's pulling a double shift at the plant."

Avery narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. "Sure he is. And I don't suppose he left the month and a half's rent he owes, did he?"

Dean shifted minutely, the fingers of his left hand grazing the heavy lump lodged in the back of his waistband. "He says he'll have it for you by the end of the week," he assured the super, treating the sleaze to one of his sunniest smiles.

Avery shifted from one foot to the other, hands jammed deep into his pants pockets.

"Y'know," he began slowly, taking a step closer to the doorway and to Dean, who didn't move, didn't flinch, didn't give an inch. "I tried to work things out with your dad. Offered to give him a deal on the rent. Maybe let things slide till he gets back on his feet." He drew one hand out of his pocket, fingertips grazing Dean's cheek.

Still Dean didn't move, didn't blink, didn't slam the door in Avery's face like Sam wanted him to so very much right then.

"Uh-huh?" was all Dean said, not taking his eyes off the super. Not reacting at all.

Avery drew back his hand hesitantly, as if he wanted to carry on touching.

"You know, we could help each other out, you and me," he continued, his wandering hand finding its way back into his pocket. "While your dad's not around. Left you to take care of business, huh?"

Dean didn't say anything, just blankly continued to meet Avery's disquieting gaze.

His hand came out of his pocket again, reaching out, gently touching Dean's hair.

Dean still didn't move, and Sam wanted to scream at him to blow the old pervert's head off.

But he didn't.

"My dad'll have your rent tomorrow," he said instead, his voice completely flat and emotionless.

Avery drew back his hand as if scalded. "Tomorrow?" he said, and Sam could swear he sounded disappointed.

"When he gets his paycheck," Dean clarified coolly. "That okay with you?"

Avery licked his lips, the expression on his face altering minutely.

And now Sam wanted to blow the bastard's head off.

"I guess," he said slowly. "That'll be dandy."

Dean nodded just once. "Okay then," he said shortly, making to close the door.

Avery's palm flattened against the wood, holding it open.

"Tomorrow," he said. "Or you and me are gonna have to come to some kind of alternative arrangement, you understand me?"

His voice was honey and ice and things Sam didn't even want to think about.

Dean nodded. "Okay," he agreed shortly. "I gotta go now. My brother needs help with his homework."

Sam didn't need help with his homework, but if it got the door closed with Mr. Avery on the other side of it, he didn't mind Dean using him as an excuse one bit.

Avery nodded, slowly removing his hand from the door. "Tomorrow then," he said, his black eyes glittering. "When you get home from school."

"Can't wait," Dean said flatly, slamming the door and throwing home the deadbolt.

He didn't move for a second, one hand still on the latch, the other on the doorknob.

His knuckles were white.

He drew in a shaky breath, leaning his forehead against the door for a second.

"Dean," Sam said quietly.

Dean didn't reply immediately.

"Dean," Sam repeated a little more forcefully. "Dad's not bringing the rent money tomorrow."

"I know, Sammy," Dean said quietly, still facing the closed doorway. "Happy birthday to me," he added as an afterthought.


Dean turned slowly, fixing Sam with a gaze as blank and emotionless as the one he'd used on Mr. Avery. "It'll be okay, Sam," he said, just like he always did.

"So your brother's kinda dumb, right?" Josh Nickerson mumbled around a mouthful of PB and J. "I heard he's in remedial class."

Sam's fingers tightened around the can of soda clutched in his hand, his eyes narrowing as his gaze raked the other kids crowding around the cafeteria table.

"He's not dumb," he replied shortly. "He's the smartest person I know."

"So why's he in remedial class?" Jodie Asher asked, twirling her pigtail around her finger. "My dad says that's where they put the stupid kids."

"He's not stupid," Sam insisted, vision tunneling. "He's good at stuff teachers don't see."

"Like what?" Scotty Monroe enquired, his eyes widening.

Scotty lived in the apartment below theirs with his mom and his four sisters.

He had a habit of looking at Dean like he was Superman, Batman, and Flash Gordon all rolled into one.

"Fixing cars," Sam said. "And other stuff. He's really good at fixing stuff."

"Bet they say that about all the serial killers," Dana Raymond snickered. "'He was really good at fixing stuff, and kind to small animals.'"

"Shut up," Sam admonished her, angrily pulling the last two pieces of bread the Winchester family had to its name out of his brown sack.

He wasn't hungry anymore.

"Bet that's what they say about the Monster too," Dana added with a wicked grin.

Sam's head shot up.

"What monster?"

"Come on, Dana, that's just a stupid bedtime story," Josh chided her, shaking his head.

"Is not," Dana insisted, pouting. "My big sister told me three kids disappeared since Christmas."

"Bull," Josh snorted. "No one's disappeared. You know any kid not turned up for school since Christmas?"

Dana narrowed her eyes. "My sister says the Monster just takes kids nobody's going to miss. Kids nobody cares about. Like, homeless kids and—" her eyes skittered in Sam's direction, "—kids in remedial class."

Sam had never punched a girl in his life, but there was a first time for everything.

"I heard he only takes boys," Jodie interjected. "The Monster. He takes 'em back to his lair and he eats 'em up like cheeseburgers."

Josh snorted. "Cheeseburgers? Jeez. Jodie, you're a total spaz. You know that, right?"

Jodie scowled at him. "Takes one to know one," she retorted. "And anyway, I heard all they found of the last boy the Monster took was his left sneaker."

Sam shuddered, his eyes unconsciously roving the cafeteria for his brother.

"There's no monster in town," Josh scoffed. "There's no such thing as monsters. Monsters are just something parents make up to scare their kids into doing their chores. Am I right, Sammy?"

Sam's attention skittered to the older boy, his brain screeching to an unceremonious halt while his mouth opened and closed soundlessly.

"I need to go," he managed at length, jumping up out of his chair, grabbing the remains of his lunch and booking as fast as he could.

"They said it's a monster, Dean!" Sam burst out, virtually bouncing along at his brother's side as the two of them walked the snow-covered sidewalk.

The sole of Dean's sneaker had a hole in it, and his jeans jacket didn't seem to be doing much of anything to keep out the cold, judging by the rigid set of his shoulders.

"Sam, there's no monster," he said tiredly, deftly sidestepping a puddle of gray slush. "You think Dad would have left us alone for three weeks in a town with a child-killing monster on the loose?"

Sam thought about that for a second. "Maybe he didn't know," he suggested. "Dana said the boys all went missing since Christmas. He's hardly been here since he dumped us just after New Years!"

Dean didn't respond to that, just stuffed his gloveless hands in his pockets and brought his shoulders further up toward his ears. "He didn't dump us, Sam," he said quietly.

Did too, Sam thought, but didn't say anything.

When Dad was done yelling at Dean for letting Sam get his hands on his journal and for spilling the beans about the Big Family Secret, he'd barely looked at either of his boys, only too happy to stash them in Craphole, Minnesota while he went off somewhere warm to look for Bigfoot or something.

Sometimes Sam hated his dad.

And sometimes he hated Dean for loving him so damn much.

Dean's footsteps stuttered and slowed as they reached the end of the block and turned the corner into their street.

Tomorrow when you get home from school.

Sam remembered Mr. Avery's ultimatum and shuddered, despite his thicker coat.

"What are you gonna do?" he asked carefully, his own pace slowing to match Dean's.

All the way home he'd been going on and on about Jodie and Dana's imaginary Monster while Dean was facing the prospect of dealing with a monster that was only too real.

Dean didn't reply, his lips thinning into a tight line.

Sam swallowed. "Maybe we could sneak up the fire escape?" he offered helpfully. "If he doesn't see us come home…?"

Dean glanced at him briefly before shrugging. "He'd hear us," he said, his voice once again completely flat and devoid of all emotion. "If we put on the TV or the heat. Or he'd see a light under the door."

He sounded defeated, like he'd already given up.

And Sam once again wanted to blow Mr. Avery's head off.

On a heavy sigh, Dean jammed his hands further into his pockets, set his shoulders, and headed for their apartment building.

Scotty's eldest sister Lila was loitering on the steps, batting her eyelashes at Dean as he passed her.

"Hey, Dean," she said, flicking her long auburn hair over her shoulders. "Happy birthday."

Dean glanced briefly at her, a tiny frown crinkling his forehead. "How did you…?"

Lila giggled. "My little brother told me," she explained sunnily. "So you're a teenager now, huh?"

Dean's frown deepened. "I guess," he said shortly.

"Mmm," Lila agreed. "Well maybe you and me should go see a movie sometime now you're one of us, huh?"

Dean blinked at her.

Sam had heard Lila's mom call her a "cradle snatcher" once, but he wasn't entirely sure what that meant.

He knew Lila was sixteen though, so she definitely didn't ought to be inviting Dean out to a movie as far as Sam was concerned.

"That's—uh—" Dean stammered, his usual cool with the fairer sex apparently having deserted him.

Just then the door to the building was yanked open and Sam nearly ran into Dean as his older brother stopped dead in his tracks.

"Dean," he heard Mr. Avery murmur before he actually saw the building super standing on the doorstep. "I believe you an' me had some business to conduct, didn't we?"

Dean didn't move, the epitome of the deer caught in the headlights.

Lila grunted disapprovingly, bending down to murmur in Dean's ear, "Watch out for him, sweetheart. You're just his type," before turning on her heel and shoving past Mr. Avery into the building. "Dirty old man," she muttered under her breath as she passed, just loud enough that if Sam heard her, the super sure as hell did.

He didn't say anything though, apparently far more interested in Dean than he was in Lila.

"So you boys comin' in, or are ya gonna stand out here and freeze your butts off the rest of the day?"

He held the door open, but not wide enough that Dean didn't have to squeeze past him to get inside.

Sam scowled up at the old guy, who smiled innocently at him as he opened the door a little wider, allowing him to pass by unmolested.

"Sammy, go upstairs," Dean said, handing Sam the key to the apartment. "I gotta—there's some stuff I gotta…" he trailed off, barely able to meet Sam's gaze.

"Dean." Sam took the key, but made no move toward the stairs.

Dean finally looked at him then. He looked kinda scared but resolute, and Sam reminded himself that his brother still had the razor blade hidden in his sneaker.

He nodded slightly, before reluctantly heading up the stairs, stopping when he reached the turn on the next landing and crouching down so he could look back into the lobby without Dean or Avery knowing they were being watched.

Sam didn't have a razor blade hidden in his shoe, but if that creep of a super tried anything with his brother, he knew exactly how to jab a key into someone's eye.

"So you got my money, kid?" Avery asked, opening his own apartment door before turning his gaze back to Dean, who hadn't moved.

"Uh," Dean stammered. "Not exactly. But you'll get it."

"You promised me I'd get it today after your dad got his paycheck."

Dean nodded. "Sure. That's. Yeah, sure."

Dean glanced briefly over his shoulder, his gaze drifting up the staircase as if to ensure Sam was safely out of the way before he made his move.

Problem was, Sam wasn't entirely sure Dean had a move.

"So?" Avery leaned casually against his doorjamb, pushing his door open a little wider. "Where is it?"

Dean blinked at him. "Huh?"

"The rent money."

"Oh." Dean shuffled his feet a little. "My dad didn't give it to me yet."

Avery sighed. "And where's your dad? He still 'working?'" The way he spat out the last word, Sam was pretty sure Avery knew Dad wasn't working.

Dean shrugged. "No, he's home," he lied smoothly. "But he's sleeping. I'm sorry, sir, but I can't wake him to ask him for the money." He batted his ridiculously long eyelashes up at the guy before casting his gaze downwards. "He'd beat me black and blue."

Dad had never beaten Dean in the history of ever, and for a second, Sam was rather unsettled to find himself indignant on his father's behalf.

But from the way Avery's expression shifted from predatory to something he couldn't quite identify, Sam suddenly understood Dean's play.

"He knocks you boys around?" the super asked, fidgeting from one foot to the other. His expression was fairly unreadable, but there was something dark glittering in his beady eyes that made Sam's skin crawl.

Dean hung his head a little. "Not Sammy," he said, his voice artfully subdued. "And he only hits me when I deserve it."

"I—" Avery stammered, apparently thrown a little off-kilter by Dean's apparent revelation. "I should call CPS—"

Dean's head shot up. "No, no, please don't do that," he said, his voice containing just a hint of pleading as his eyes widened considerably. "It's not so bad, and Dad and Sammy are the only family I got!"

Dean should get an Emmy, Sam decided right there and then. A freakin' Emmy.

But he wasn't done yet.

"If you can just give us a couple more days," he continued, biting his lower lip and coyly looking up at the super through lowered lashes. "I know I can get the money for you, sir. I just need to wait for my dad to be in a better mood is all."

Avery pursed his lips, his eyes narrowing a little. "You better not be playin' me, boy."

"No sir," Dean shook his head innocently. "It's just—I know you wouldn't want to see my dad put me in the hospital again, would you?" He took a step closer to Avery—and Avery's apartment door—his eyes wide and shining. "You said yesterday we could help each other out, right? You and me? I gotta keep on my dad's good side to get your money, and I know you can help me do that. If you could just give us a little more time, I'm sure we could—could figure something out…?" He took another step toward the super, tilting his head to the side and smiling hopefully. "You could do that, right?"

He was within touching distance now, and Sam tensed, running scenarios through his head, trying to figure out what the hell he'd do if the scuzzbucket tried to grab Dean and drag him into his apartment.

Instead, Avery just reached out a trembling hand and gingerly ran the pad of his thumb over Dean's lower lip.

Again, Dean didn't flinch, but Sam didn't fail to notice the way every muscle in his brother's body went suddenly taut.

"Y'know," Avery said breathily, rapt attention fixed on the motion of his thumb moving backwards and forwards over Dean's mouth. "My good lady wife, God rest her soul, would o' killed for lips like yours. She was pretty as a picture too."

Dean remained completely motionless, allowing Avery the contact for several more seconds before the super abruptly pulled away, shoving his hand into his trouser pocket. He inclined his head toward his apartment, opening the door a little wider.

"Maybe," he said slowly, "maybe you could come inside. We could, y'know, like you said. Figure something out."

"No, Dean, no…" Sam found himself whispering.

Dean was far from helpless, Sam knew that, and he knew his big brother could take care of himself, but...the lengths Dean would go to for his family? It scared Sam sometimes.

Dean seemed to hesitate for a second, glancing over his shoulder in the direction he'd last seen Sam.

"I shouldn't leave my brother," he said slowly, blinking up at the super, a picture of innocence. "My dad…he might not be in the best mood when he wakes up. Maybe we could—talk later?"

Avery's mouth tightened. "I'd rather 'talk' now."

His hand snaked out and wrapped itself around Dean's wrist, and Sam's fingers curled into a fist around the apartment key.

Right in the eye…

Dean bit his lip again, but didn't try to squirm out of the super's grip. "My dad'll kill me if I'm not there when he wakes up. Honest, he wakes up, I'll get the money and be straight back down here."

Avery hesitated. "You get straight back down here whether you've got the money or not, kid," he said, his voice suddenly hardening. "You owe me a favor, remember?" He gave a sharp tug on Dean's wrist, and for the first time, Sam realized, his big brother actually looked kinda scared.

Holding his ground, Dean merely nodded, twisting his wrist in an attempt to extricate himself from Avery's grasping fingers. "I will. I do. I'll—I'll come back later, I swear."

Avery held on to him a couple of seconds longer before finally letting him go. "You do that, Dean," he hissed. "I think I've been pretty damn patient so far, but you owe me. And I plan on collecting today, one way or another. We understand each other?"

Dean swallowed, retrieving his wrist before carefully backing away from the super and nodding just once. "Yes, sir."

Sam could barely hear his brother's meek response over the beating of his own heart, willing Avery to go back into his apartment and close the door, leave his brother alone.

While he wasn't entirely sure what the super's idea of a "favor" constituted, he was pretty damn sure he didn't want Dean owing the creep anything.

For a brief moment, Avery and Dean just stood there looking at each other.

And then Dean took a slow step backwards, and another, before finally spinning on his heel and literally bolting up the stairs, almost falling over Sam as he rounded the corner onto the landing.

He just stared at Sam for a second, as if he'd never seen his brother before, then swallowed, regained his composure, and held his hand out.


Sam stood, handing over the key wordlessly.

Dean took it, and Sam realized his brother's hand was shaking. "I told you to go to the apartment, Sam," he said quietly.

Sam glanced back down into the lobby, where Mr. Avery's door had, thankfully, closed.

"I was worried," he admitted sheepishly.

Dean didn't respond to that right away, pausing for a beat before finally wrapping an arm around Sam's shoulder and steering him toward the next flight of stairs. "You're such a girl, Sammy," he said, sniggering softly. "I can take care of myself, y'know."

Sam looked up at him sharply. "Dean, I thought that guy was gonna…well I don't know what I thought he was gonna do, but it didn't look good what he was thinking about doing as far as I could see."

Dean took a breath, mounting the last of the stairs before turning back to face Sam, the familiar cocky grin having finally returned to his face. Even if it seemed kinda fake to Sam.

"Sammy, I was just playing him," he said, shaking his head as he rammed the key into the apartment door's rusty lock and twisted viciously. "I totally knew what I was doing."

As Dean opened the door and waited for Sam to go in, the younger brother stopped to look up at him disbelievingly.

"Sure you did," he said, shoving past and into their freezing cold living room. "Bet you wouldn't be saying that if he'd pulled you into his apartment."

"I could o' taken him," Dean assured him breezily, shoving the door shut with his shoulder and throwing home the deadbolt. "If I can deal with a werewolf, I can sure as hell deal with a building super."

"Lila called him a dirty old man," Sam reminded him.

Dean shrugged. "So?" he said. "I wasn't gonna let him…" he trailed off, shrugging his shoulders like he wasn't sure what he wasn't gonna let him do. "The guy's a creep. I can totally deal."

"Uh-huh," Sam agreed drily. "Well how are you gonna 'deal' with not having the rent money and him wanting you to come downstairs and 'talk' to him about it later?"

Dean's jaw tightened a little, but he showed no other sign of the fear he'd shown earlier. "I'll figure something out," he said, repeating his words to Avery perhaps unconsciously. "Now go do your homework, Einstein. You get anything lower than an A and Dad will think you're sickening for somethin'."

Sam considered his brother before offering up his best eye roll and retreating to the single bedroom.

If Dean wanted to play hard-ass, then Sam would let him.

It was his birthday after all.

Sam had almost finished a lengthy and detailed paper on pollination and how important bees were to the planet's fragile ecosystem when the phone rang.

The phone had one of the most ominous rings Sam had ever heard, something like a church bell speeded up a hundred times and played backwards.

He glanced at his watch. Five-thirty p.m. Dad checking in.

As quietly as he was able, he crept over to the bedroom door and opened it just a crack.

There were some odd smells emanating from the direction of the tiny kitchen, and Sam figured Dean was once again attempting to rustle up dinner out of leftovers of leftovers of leftovers and the inevitable bulb of garlic in the back of the fridge.

He'd somehow managed macaroni and cheese last night, seemingly without using either macaroni or cheese as far as Sam could work out.

Dean let the phone ring twice before slowly lifting the receiver.

"Hey, Dad."

His finger started to twirl around the telephone cord as he listened to whatever it was Dad had to tell him.

"Okay, well that's good," he said, but from the expression on Dean's face, Sam would have thought the exact opposite to be true. "So…" Dean carried on hesitantly. "You're coming home soon?"

At that moment, Dean sounded younger than Sam could ever remember him sounding, his finger now completely entwined in the telephone cord and his lips clamped together into a bloodless line as he listened to Dad's answer.

"Oh," he said, his face falling a little. "Well. Yeah. Okay." There was a slight pause, Dean nodding a couple of times even though he had to know Dad couldn't see him. "No, no we're fine, nothing's wrong," he lied. "It's just. Well. Mr. Avery's been bugging me for the rent." Sam was pretty sure he could hear his dad swearing down the phone line. "No, no, Dad, I can handle it," Dean said, and Sam wondered when his brother got so good at lying his ass off to their dad. "It's just he—he…" he trailed off, and Sam strained to hear their father's reaction.

Dean stiffened, back abruptly straightening like he was about to get inspected by the platoon commander. "No sir," he said smartly. "No. No I can—it's. No sir. You don't need to cut your hunt short, I can deal. I'll stall him. It's fine."

No, Dean, it's not fine, Sam wanted to yell at him.

"Uh," Dean continued, rubbing a hand across his face. "We'll manage. Couple more days? Sure." He opened one of the food cupboards, inspecting the contents—namely an almost empty bottle of ketchup – before closing it again dejectedly. "It's okay, Dad. I got it covered."

Meaning, Sure, Dad, I've gotten really good at shoplifting now, thanks.

Sam felt his hands ball into angry fists at his sides. Bad enough his dad lied to him and yelled at Dean and ditched them to run off hunting monsters with his buddies, but he expected his eldest son to become a petty criminal too?

Of course, Sam was pretty sure Dad didn't know about the shoplifting. He'd have kicked Dean's ass from here to Canada if he did. But how else did he think Dean kept them both fed while he was away? Pixie dust? Did the guy have any concept how much food actually cost these days?

Sam felt his face reddening as the anger slowly began to burn brighter and brighter inside of him.

That had been happening a lot since Christmas Eve.

Yeah, Dad, leave your kid to steal food and—and "work something out" with the skeevy building super why don't you?

Jeez. There really could be a child-killing monster in this town and Sam doubted his dad would have noticed.

And how about wishing Dean happy birthday?

"That's okay, Dad," Dean was saying, his face falling still further as Sam zoned back in to his side of the conversation. "We'll be okay."

Tell him about the Monster, Dean…

"No, no there's nothing going on here."

Mr. Avery practically dragging you into his apartment is nothing?

"Sammy's fine."

Happy birthday, son. I love you.

"No I got it. I'll make sure the weapons are cleaned by the time you get back."

Say "Happy birthday," dammit, Dad!

"Okay, Dad. Stay safe."

Say "Happy birthday," Dad! Please remember what day it is, please…

"Bye, Dad."

Dean hung up the phone, his hand lingering on the receiver.

And for the first time, Sam thought about shoving a key into his dad's eye.

Dean didn't move immediately, not until something started to boil over on the stove, then he was a blur of motion and intent, so focused on fixing his brother something to eat he probably hadn't even realized Sam was standing behind him and could see him wiping the sleeve of his shirt across his face.


Dean started, blinking shiny eyes at Sam before abruptly turning back to whatever it was he was burning on the stove. "You finish your homework?" he asked thickly, not turning back to look at Sam.

"More or less," Sam replied vaguely. "Dad wish you happy birthday?"



"He's busy, okay."

"Saving the world and being a superhero, I know."


"Would it kill him to be here, just this once?"


"Would it kill him to remember just this once?"


Dean slammed the ketchup bottle down on the counter in front of Sam so hard it was a minor miracle it didn't shatter into a million pieces.

The two of them just looked at each other, Dean's cheeks coloring as he breathed hard and clenched his jaw harder.

Sam took a breath.

"Happy birthday," he said at length, putting the little package he'd almost squashed as he'd become gradually more and more angry at their father on the counter next to the ketchup bottle.

Dean looked down at the badly wrapped lump, a tiny smile immediately illuminating his face.

"You didn't steal some poor chick's Barbie did you, Sammy?"

Sam snorted. "I'm not that lame or that stupid, Dean."

Dean grinned at him, before snatching up the package and ripping off the brown paper.

To a reveal a slightly squashed piece of apple pie in a clear plastic container.

Dean's grin widened. "You got me pie?"

Sam nodded. "Favorite thing, right?"

Dean looked at him for a long moment before nodding slightly. "Yeah," he said, his eyes never leaving his brother. "Favorite thing."

Sam wasn't sure whether it was the prospect of "working something out" with Mr. Avery or Sam's tales of the friendly neighborhood child killing monster roaming around the area that had Dean so jumpy.

Whichever it was, it had taken him a full ten minutes of intense little brother puppy-dog-eyed whining to convince Dean to allow him to go hang out with Scotty for a while.

The poor kid had spent that entire time waiting on the other side of their apartment door while Sam wheedled, pleaded and cajoled his big brother into finally saying "yes."

"Don't go outside of the building," he'd told Sam sternly, finally looking up from the same page of geometry homework he'd been staring at for the last thirty minutes. "And—and stay away from Mr. Avery's place."

Sam didn't need telling twice about the last part, but he nodded and assured Dean he and Scotty would be fine, they were just gonna sit on the stoop.

"What part of don't go outside did you not understand, Sammy?"

Dean could be such a mother hen sometimes.

"All right, all right!" Sam burst out. "We'll go hang out in the basement."

Scotty had a weird fascination with the basement. There was nothing much down there besides the laundry room, a couple of supply closets and the oldest electrical junction box Sam had ever seen in his life, but Scotty seemed to love the opportunity to get out of his cramped apartment and just be somewhere else. Somewhere where he wasn't constantly being teased or taunted by his older sisters or yelled at by his mom.

It was dark down there. It was quiet. A person could think.

Sam had to admit, he was pretty down with the basement too.

Tugging open the front door, Sam paused, caught between the look of thrilled excitement on Scotty's face, and the sudden horrible realization that Dean might go off and do something really stupid in his kid brother's absence.

"Dean?" he said, turning back to face his brother, who was once again staring sightlessly at the textbook laid open on his lap.

He looked up at Sam's hail, frowning. "What? D'you forget your lipstick or somethin'?"

Sam sighed dutifully. "I was just—I just wanted to—"

"Spit it out, Sam, this homework ain't gonna do itself."

"I just wanted to make sure you're not gonna do anything stupid while I'm gone."

Dean just looked at him. "Like what? Microwave my head?"

Sam rolled his eyes. "No. Like go try and 'work something out' with Mr. Avery."

Dean stiffened. "Sam."

"Please, Dean. Promise me you won't go down there."

Dean blinked at him. "Sam—"

"Promise me."

"And what do I do when he comes up here?"

"Don't open the door."

"He has a key, Sam."

"Throw the bolt."

"So he can throw us out on the streets if I don't keep him sweet?"

Sam shifted awkwardly. "Maybe he'll forget." Yeah, because that's so gonna happen.

Dean shrugged. "Maybe," he agreed, clearly not believing that for a second.

"Dean, please?" Sam hated using the Puppy-Dog Eyes of Doom on his brother for the second time in as many minutes, but the idea of Dean going anywhere near Mr. Avery without even Sam as backup made him sick to his stomach. "Please?" he repeated.

Dean rolled his eyes in disgust, throwing down his pencil and relinquishing all pretence that he was actually trying to get his homework done. "Alright, already! Now hurry up before your date pees himself."

Sam scowled, hoping Scotty hadn't heard that.

"So's your brother okay?" Scotty asked quietly, glancing briefly into the laundry room to make sure there was no one there before heading right on past toward the eminently more fascinating dankness of the supply closets.

Sam looked up at him sharply, not entirely sure what he meant. "Huh?"

Scotty didn't quite meet his gaze. "Lila said Mr. Avery was bugging him."

Sam turned the fact that Scotty knew that over in his head for a second. "Well. Yeah. I guess. Why would that make him not okay?"

Scotty shrugged. "Last family that lived in your apartment—Mrs. Brannigan and her son Cole. I think maybe he was older than Dean but…well. They left in a hurry." He blinked up at Sam guilelessly. "Lila says Dean is Mr. Avery's type."

Sam swallowed, not wanting to speculate on what Scotty was implying, and certainly not wanting to ruminate for the second time that day about Lila's thoughts on the subject. "Dean can take care of himself," he said staunchly, not sure whether he was trying to convince Scotty or himself.

Scotty nodded. "Oh. Okay. I just thought I'd check."

Sam followed him around a corner, down a long, poorly-lit corridor that looked like it hadn't seen human habitation in years.

Except, Sam noted, the floor was pretty clean, which meant someone had to come down here every once in a while.

He wasn't sure he'd been in this section of the basement before, but Scotty seemed to know where he was going.

"What's down here?" he asked, following Scotty around another corner which led to a dead end and another supply closet.

Scotty shrugged. "Dunno," he said softly, his voice fairly trembling with excitement. "Never been down here before."

If this was the most exciting thing Scotty had ever done…well Sam almost wished he could trade lives with the kid.

"Okay," Sam said, approaching the supply closet door. "What d'you reckon's in here?"

Scotty grinned at him, the muted light reflected oddly off the whites of his eyes and his teeth. "Maybe it's—" he whispered, grasping the door handle, "—the Monster!"

He threw open the door with a flourish, clearly expecting Sam to jump back in terrified alarm.

When Sam merely peered inside the closet and sighed, he kind of felt bad for disappointing the kid.

"Mm, can't see any monsters in here," Sam determined, feeling around the cracked plaster wall for a light switch.

Finally finding one, he squinted slightly before throwing on the light, expecting a flood of illumination only to be faced with a trickle of sickly gloominess.

The bulb guttered for a second, eerily illuminating the cobwebs dangling from the cage enclosing the light, before finally settling down to a steady ooze of dimness that barely lit the room.

Sam frowned as he warily entered.

The closet was maybe six feet by six, barely room to swing a cat.

There was an old wooden dining chair in the center of the room, which had one leg propped up on a couple of moldy Yellow Pages, and was completely surrounded by a sea of scrap paper which seemed to cover every inch of the little closet's floor.

"You think Avery uses this place?" Scotty asked quietly from the doorway, seemingly not yet having plucked up the courage to follow Sam inside.

Sam shrugged, stooping to examine the detritus littering the concrete floor.

It looked like someone had cut up a Sears catalog, crinkled pieces of glossy paper scattered all around the chair.

Sam picked a couple up, squinting at the pictures of teenage boys modeling pajamas and winter footwear, and vaguely recognizing some of the teen idols he'd seen in the magazines Jodie and Dana drooled over at recess.

He swallowed, dropping the pages back onto the floor in revulsion.

Mr. Avery had been here all right.


Scotty's voice sounded a little uncertain, and Sam turned to find the younger boy holding what looked like a Polaroid photograph clutched in his hand.

Sam frowned at him. "What is that?" he asked, approaching him cautiously.

Even in this crappy light, Sam could see the color had leeched completely out of Scotty's face.

He held the photo out to Sam in trembling fingers, and Sam took it, raising it to the light to get a better look.


It was a photograph of Dean.

He was standing on the sidewalk, leaning against the Impala, most likely talking engines with Dad, who was probably just off-camera someplace.

He was smiling, and he had a smear of engine grease on his cheekbone.

"Sam?" Scotty said again, retrieving another photograph from the pile of crap littering the floor.

Sam blinked, not managing to tear his gaze away from the photograph of his big brother still clutched in his hand.

"Sam, this is Cole," Scotty said shortly.

Sam blinked. Cole? Who the hell was Cole?

This creep has a picture of Dean in his basement…

"Cole Brannigan?" Scotty persevered. "Y'know, the kid who lived in your apartment before you?"

Sam blinked again, finally managing to tear his gaze from his brother's image to look at the one in Scotty's hand.

Another Polaroid of another boy, a little older, a little bigger than Dean, waiting on the sidewalk while his mom struggled to get off the bus with two brown bags of groceries clutched to her chest.

"Sam?" Scotty repeated his name like a mantra. "Sam, what does it mean?"

Sam didn't know what it meant. He just knew this sicko had a photograph of his brother in his basement and…and he barely dared look down.

Amongst the crumpled catalog pages, there were other Polaroids.

Lots of other Polaroids.

Of other boys.

And a sneaker.

A right sneaker.

With a hole in the sole.

I heard all they found of the last boy he took was his left sneaker.

Sam could hear Jodie's voice in his head as if she was standing next to him.

"Sam?" Scotty piped up, as if reading Sam's mind. "You think…you think this belongs to that kid? The one the Monster's supposed to have taken?"

Sam didn't know what to think.

All he did know was there was a photograph of his brother down here and the creep who had most likely taken it was upstairs waiting for Dean to come "visit."

"Sam?" Scotty whispered very, very slowly. "You think Mr. Avery's the Monster?"

The idea had been lingering in the back of Sam's head since he and Scotty had found this place. He just hadn't wanted to acknowledge he'd thought it.

"There's no such thing as monsters," he muttered absently, his eyes never leaving the single, solitary sneaker. He swallowed hard, knowing he was lying to Scotty just as surely as Dad and Dean had lied to him all those years.

Because there were monsters.

And not all of them were supernatural.

Scotty stood staring at him with bright, round eyes, as if absolutely convinced Sam would know just what to do.

"I need to go find my brother," Sam said decisively. "Right now."

Sam wasn't even out of breath by the time he'd raced up the stairs to the apartment door, although Scotty was positively gasping behind him.

He suspected that was more out of fear than exertion.

Jamming his key into the lock, Sam shouldered the door open without preamble, skidding to a stop in front of the couch where he'd last seen Dean failing spectacularly to finish his geometry homework.

The geometry book was there, laid open on the cushions.

But Dean, noticeably, was not.

"Dammit, Dean," Sam murmured, bolting into the bedroom and groping urgently beneath Dean's pillow.

His gun was gone.

But the Bowie knife was still there.

Snatching up the wicked-looking knife, Sam pirouetted rather inelegantly, nearly falling over Scotty who was inexplicably standing right behind him.

The younger kid's eyes widened at the sight of the knife. "Wow! Cool!" he burst out. "Your brother's badass!"

Sam considered that briefly. "Yeah, he is," he agreed, hoping to hell it was true. Dean had been scared earlier, when Avery had grabbed him outside his apartment. And if he was scared, he might do something really stupid. Well, more stupid than going downstairs to confront the skeevy super, which, Sam was fairly certain, was exactly what Dean had done. "C'mon, Scotty. We gotta go find him."

Scotty nodded sincerely, trailing along in Sam's wake like a docile puppy trying to prove it was ferocious. Rather unsuccessfully.

Sam nodded, gripping his brother's knife as he headed for the door.

Some backup was better than no backup at all.

Which Dean should have remembered, damn it!

Sam might have been new at this hunting business, but even he knew that.

He had little doubt where Dean had gone.

But getting in there was going to be a whole other story.

He stood on the landing outside the apartment door for a good few seconds, contemplating his surroundings and thinking.

"Sam?" Scotty asked from behind him. "Why did we stop?"

"I'm thinking," Sam told him, his gaze coming to rest on the window at the end of the hall. A tiny smile flickered across his lips. "Okay, this way," he said, charging down the hallway and throwing open the sash.

An icy blast of air made his teeth chatter as he contemplated the iced-over metal structure beyond the window.

"Fire escape?" Scotty asked uncertainly.

Sam nodded. "Only way to get into Avery's apartment," he pointed out.

"What if they're not in his apartment?" Scotty asked evenly. "What if they're in the basement?"

Sam shook his head. The basement, despite its remote location, didn't seem to Sam to be the sort of place the Monster—or whoever—would take his victims to kill them. Not enough space. Too much paper to soak up blood.


He shuddered at the thought, squeezing shut his eyes as an image of his brother with his throat cut came unbidden into his head.

He blinked.

"How does the Monster kill the kids he takes?" he asked suddenly.

Scotty frowned. "It just kills them."

"Yeah but how? Does he strangle them? Stab them? Suffocate them?"

Scotty shrugged. "Nobody ever said," he replied, a little crestfallen. "Because. Y'know. They never found no bodies."

Sam nodded. That made sense. Nobody ever said because nobody knew.

The Monster just takes kids nobody cares about.

And maybe nobody cared.

He suddenly found himself once again imagining his big brother in that creep's apartment and he wanted to break something. Preferably Avery's face.

"Come on, Scotty," he said decisively. "We've got a monster to catch."

The trip down the fire escape was a slippery one, and not an experience Sam would care to repeat any time soon. He could see now why Dean hadn't wanted to try and get into their apartment that way earlier.

Scotty had done his best to follow him, but had slipped and banged his knee trying to get out the window, and Sam had thought it better he keep an eye out in front of the Winchesters' apartment, just in case Dean came back.

Scotty had seemed happy enough with his assignment, and Sam had carried out his mission alone, slithering down the icy metal structure with Dean's knife pressed cold against the small of his back.

He wasn't sure what he'd actually do with it if he found Avery—Monster or not—doing anything to his brother, but since the Big Secret had been revealed at Christmas, Dean had been showing him some defensive moves their dad had taught him, and Sam was pretty sure he would at least be capable of leaping to his brother's defense should he be unable to do so himself.

He'd like to think he'd be able to kick the sleazy super's ass, but even after four weeks of big brother boot camp, Sam was more than aware he was only eight years old and didn't know everything about everything. As his dad was so fond of telling him.

And Mr. Avery, he was pretty sure, was just a regular monster, not a supernatural one.

Still, he thought, as he crouched down outside the window looking into the super's living room, that scumbag even touched his brother again, he'd have Sam and a very sharp knife to deal with.

A diffuse light fell coldly through the apartment window, icy patterns on the glass and his own breath making it difficult for Sam to see inside.

He rubbed his hand against the glass in an attempt to clear some of the frost and ice away, his heart rate picking up as he gradually made a hole big enough to see through.

The window was directly opposite the super's couch.

Which the super was currently sitting on.

With Dean.

Sam grit his teeth as he pulled the knife from its hiding place.

Despite having had all the "stranger danger" talks at school, Sam still wasn't entirely sure what monsters like Avery actually did to the kids they preyed on, however when the super's hand gingerly reached out to pat Dean's knee, Sam began searching for a way to get the window open. Quickly.

Thoughts of the single sneaker he'd found in the basement and Mr. Avery's stash of Polariods made Sam's hands shake, and, despite the dire urgency of the situation, the latch refused to cooperate, apparently as frozen as the rest of the fire escape. Even trying to jimmy it with Dean's wickedly sharp knife had absolutely zero effect.

This, Sam reasoned, had not been a part of the Big Brother Rescue Plan that had been taking shape in his imagination for the last ten minutes.

But then, neither had the idea of Dean just sitting there while Mr. Avery stroked his hair.

Sam's stomach lurched.

He'd always known Dean was capable of doing some crazy things if he thought he was protecting his family. But this? This was way beyond the call of duty. He should be hacking the creep's arm off by now. Why the hell was he just sitting there, letting him pet him like a poodle?

Sam had to do something. Now.

If Dean wasn't going to put up a fight, then Sam would have to do it for him.

"Dean!" he yelled, deciding distraction might be the best way to get his brother out of the super's slimy clutches.

Mr. Avery didn't appear to have heard him, however, his attention all on Dean.

Whose gaze flickered briefly in Sam's direction.

His expression was completely neutral, his mouth set into a tight line, the fingers of his left hand white where they were dug into the arm of the couch.

But he still didn't move, still didn't offer any resistance when Avery's fingers slid from his hair to his cheek to his jaw, tilting his face up toward him.

"Dean!" Sam yelled again, this time slamming the flat of his hand against the frozen glass.

Still the super didn't show any sign of having noticed Sam's presence, his fingers gripping Dean's face and forcing open his mouth.

Sam sucked in a breath, his brain screeching to an abrupt halt just in the middle of trying to decide how hard he'd have to slam the hilt of Dean's knife against the window pane to shatter the glass.

It was horribly like watching a train wreck in slow motion, Sam completely frozen and unable to look away as Mr. Avery leaned in toward his brother…

…And Dean's mouth started to glow.

Sam blinked.

What the…?

Dean's mouth was glowing.

Well not glowing, exactly, but…there was this weird light coming out of it, and as the super leaned in closer to him, his mouth started to glow too, a channel of energy arcing between the two of them, almost as if the super was sucking something right out of Dean while his brother just sat there and let him do it.


Sam was hammering against the glass with his fists as his brother's skin started to turn an unsettling shade of blue, his fingers ground so hard into the couch Sam was pretty sure he could see the stuffing leaking out around them.

"Dean!" he yelled again, taking another shot at forcing open the latch with the knife as Mr. Avery pushed his brother further back against the couch, his fingertips glowing and sparking where they touched Dean's skin. "Dammit!"

Sam swore as the knife slipped, slicing open his finger.

Okay, this glass was going down.

Drawing back the knife, he smashed it hilt-first against the window as hard as he could.

But the pane refused to shatter, and Dean was—Dean was going to…

Sam swallowed.

Maybe Mr. Avery really was The Monster.

Maybe he really was the reason kids were disappearing from the neighborhood.

And maybe he really was both a dirty old man and a supernatural freak who was going to kill his big brother right there in front of him.

Although Dean, apparently, had other ideas.

Sam blinked as six shots rang out in quick succession, his brother's .45 jammed into Mr. Avery's wide-open mouth as the back of the super's head exploded all over a rickety-looking end table and a framed photograph of President Bush.

Sam blinked again.

And sucked in a breath.

And blinked again.

He couldn't quite believe what he was seeing.

Mr. Avery's body appeared to be melting into a congealed mass of goo, and for a good few seconds, Sam just stared at Dean, who in turn just stared at the super's remains as they liquefied on the couch cushions next to him.

Dean's complexion was still as white as the ice on the window, and Sam wasn't sure whether that was the result of whatever it was Mr. Avery had been doing to him or shock. The .45 was still clutched defensively in front of him, his hands, Sam noted, shaking visibly.

It was Dean's turn to blink, Sam's brother sucking in a deliberate but unsteady breath as he lowered the gun very, very slowly.

"Dean!" Sam yelled again, resuming hammering on the glass. "Let me in, damn it!"

Dean's attention snapped to the window as if he'd completely forgotten Sam was there. Or didn't remember seeing him there in the first place.

"Enough with the cursing, Sammy," he ground out eventually, pushing himself to his feet and cautiously stepping around the pile of gloop dripping off the couch and onto the hideous brown rug before making his way over to the window.

He just looked at Sam for a second, something in his eyes betraying the fact that he wasn't half as calm as he was trying to make out he was, before he turned his attention to the latch, wiggling it around a little before finally the ice on the outside cracked and he was able to throw open the sash.

And Sam pretty much fell on him.

Sam didn't say anything for a second, grabbing hold of his brother and hanging on for dear life as he tried not to throw up on Dean's shoes.

"I thought he was gonna kill you."

For once, Dean didn't push him away. Although he didn't say anything either as he tentatively put a hand on Sam's shoulder and squeezed.

"Those freaks got another thing comin' if they think I'm gonna let another one chow down on a Winchester," he said, his voice oddly subdued.

Sam pulled away slightly, blinking up at him. "You knew?" he burst out incredulously. "Dean, you knew?"

Dean took a step back, although his fingers remained twisted in the shoulder of Sam's jacket. He shrugged awkwardly. "Later, Sammy. We gotta get outta here before one of the neighbors calls the cops."

"Cops?" Sam repeated stupidly.

"Gunshots, Sam. Even in this neighborhood, people call the cops when they hear gunshots."

Sam nodded, allowing Dean to pull him back toward the window.

"You think you can make it back up?"

Sam looked out at the icy fire escape before his attention skittered to the pile of steaming goo that had been Mr. Avery and the still-smoking .45 clutched in Dean's hand.

"Uh-huh," he declared, pulling himself back out through the window. "I can make it back up. But you better be right behind me. And you better have a good explanation for all of this by the time we get to the top."

Dean grinned briefly at him, following him out onto the slippery fire escape. "Always, Sammy. Always."

Scotty grinned as big as the moon at the sight of Dean climbing in through the window.

By this time, Sam was relieved to note, Dean had stashed the .45 in the back of his jeans, Sam having quickly concealed Dean's knife in a similar fashion.

Scotty was agitated enough without having weapons to gawk at.

"Did you take care of him, Dean? Did you?" he asked excitedly.

Dean placated him with a shrug and a, "'Course I did," before swearing him to secrecy, even if the cops came asking.

Scotty, naturally, thought that was the coolest thing in the world, and ran off back to his apartment with his hand clamped over his mouth.

Once they were back in their own apartment, Sam didn't even give Dean time to wash the goo off his hands before bombarding him with questions.

"Why did you go down there by yourself?" he demanded, hands on hips, back to the apartment door in case Dean tried to make a run for it. "You promised me! Bad enough you thought he was a—a pervert, but you knew he was a monster? Dean? The Monster?"

"Sam, it's no big deal," Dean said tiredly, walking over to the window and glancing down into the street at the sound of police sirens.

"How long have you known?" Sam asked, moving a little closer to him. "Dean? Did Dad know? Did Dad leave us here so you could take care of this?"


Sam's eyes widened suddenly. "Dad left us here with a child-killing monster downstairs?"

"Sam." Dean turned back into the room, finally giving his brother his undivided attention. "Dad would not have left us alone here if he'd known there was a child-killing monster downstairs." He moved to run his fingers through his hair, before suddenly remembering the remains of Mr. Avery still congealing on them.

He headed for the bathroom, Sam following barely a step behind him.

"Especially that monster," Sam was fairly sure he heard his brother murmur through the door and the sound of running water.

Sam frowned. "Why 'that' monster?"

Dean emerged from the bathroom, a look of chagrined guilt for a moment apparent on his face before he carefully schooled his expression into something a little closer to his obligatory smirk. "No reason."

Sam frowned at him. "So you're saying Dad didn't know Mr. Avery was a child-killing monster?"

Dean sighed. "Sam, I told you, he wouldn't have left us here if he did."

Sam had to admit, Dad could be an asshole, but he was an asshole who would kill anything that even looked like it might make a move on his kids. "So how did you figure it out?"

Dean shrugged. "I didn't realize there was a hunt here until you told me what your little friends were sayin' at school," he admitted.

"About the Monster?" Sam hazarded.

Dean shrugged again. "I figured there was somethin' hinky goin' on around here," he said, "but I just figured Avery was your everyday, all-purpose pervert at first. But I started to rethink, after…" He trailed off, jamming his hands into his pockets.

"After what?"

Dean shuffled from foot to foot uncomfortably. "After what Lila told me."

"About you being his type?" Sam asked.

Dean squirmed. "No, not—well, yeah, but, no, about the kid who lived in our apartment before we did."

"Cole," Sam nodded. "He had pictures of him in the basement."

Dean frowned. "He what?"

Sam averted his gaze. "He had pictures of you too."

Dean swallowed. "Okay," he said quietly. "And you saw these when?"

Sam looked up at him. "Just now," he explained. "That's why I knew I had to find you! Me and Scotty were playing downstairs, and we saw this room and there was a chair and pictures, lots of pictures, of boys, like out of magazines and catalogues and then there were Polaroids, a whole bunch of Polaroids, of Cole, and maybe those other boys that went missing, and a shoe, and—and you, and—and…"

"Sam, take a breath," Dean instructed him. "Your ears are turning blue."

Sam instinctively grabbed at his ears, before rolling his eyes at his brother. "Dean, I'm serious."

"Always, Sammy," Dean agreed.

Sam frowned at him. "You could have died!"

Dean smirked. "Yeah, but I didn't."

"But you could have."

"Nah. Not with my little brother there to save me."

Sam narrowed his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, laugh all you want," he huffed, stuffing his hands into his pockets sullenly. "I was worried about you. Sue me."

Dean grinned at him, the fear that had been haunting him for what Sam now realized had been the last couple of days seeming to fall away, leaving only a barely thirteen-year-old kid standing there, instead of Dad's right hand man, Sam's babysitter, or a would-be hunter of the weird and the evil.

"I'm not laughing, Sammy," he said earnestly, ruffling his little brother's hair fondly. "I'm serious. That was pretty cool, you charging in to rescue me."

Sam squinted up at him. "Really?" he hardly dared ask.

Dean laughed again. "Really, Sam." He shook his head, shrugging slightly as his gaze turned downwards to examine his shoes. "When Dad's gone, I don't usually have any backup," he admitted slowly. "Today I did. And you were pretty damn awesome."

Sam blinked at him. "I couldn't get the window open," he pointed out.

"No," Dean agreed. "But you tried. And you were right there with me. With a big-ass knife tucked into your jeans." He put a tentative hand on his brother's shoulder, giving it an experimental squeeze. "I appreciate that, man. More than you know."

Sam was grinning so hard he suddenly realized it was hurting his face.

"Hey, this could be a thing," Dean observed. "You n' me. Getting each other's back. Y'know, hunting together. Saving people. When you're old enough. And, y'know, bigger than a Smurf."

Sam snorted. "Yeah, just you wait till I'm bigger 'n you are, Dean. Then we'll talk Smurfs."

"Like that's gonna happen!" Dean burst out. "Once a midget, always a midget, Sammy."

Sam folded his arms across his chest sullenly. "Dad says I'm due for a growth spurt."

"Dad says a lot o' crap that ain't true," Dean pointed out.

Sam paused at that. "Yeah, I guess he does."

Dean sobered immediately, turning away from Sam and heading for the bedroom.

"Dean?" Sam hesitantly made to follow him. "What are you doing?"

He watched the back of Dean's shoulders hitch up into a shrug.

"Promised Dad I'd clean the weapons."

"You just ganked a child-killing monster!" Sam said. "I think you deserve the evening off!"

Two hours later, Sam was sat on the living room floor, an old sheet laid out between himself and his brother, as the two of them finally finished cleaning Dad's stash of weaponry.

Dean leaned back with a satisfied sigh, his back pressed against the couch, as his eye roved across the neat lines of guns and knives. "We'll make a grunt out of you yet, Sammy," he said approvingly.

Sam couldn't help the smile that burst onto his face. "Yeah, well," he said. "I guess I'm learning from the best. How come I never saw you cleaning all this stuff—y'know—before?"

Dean treated him to one of his most brilliant grins. "Because I'm just that stealthy, Sammy."

Sam raised an eyebrow. "And how often do we have to clean all this stuff?"

"Depends what mood Dad's in," Dean replied shortly. "Keep him sweet, and it might only be once a week."

Sam frowned. "Once a week?"

"Cleanliness is next to Godliness, Sam," Dean reminded him. "And God knows, you don't want your .45 jamming up when you've got a monster trying to eat your face."

Sam was about to make some suitable retort when the sound of a key rattling in the front door caused Dean to jump to his feet like he'd been electrocuted, his back so straight Sam thought he might actually try and salute as their father entered the apartment.

Dad looked tired, and, truth be told, smelled kinda funky, even from that distance. His chin was covered in a good couple of days worth of stubble, while dark circles lurked beneath his even darker eyes.

He paused by the door, looking his boys up and down for a second, Dean standing rigidly to attention while Sam slouched on the floor, barely acknowledging his existence.

Dad hadn't earned Sam's forgiveness yet.

Not yet.

"What did you do?" were the first words out of his mouth, and Sam barely smothered a snigger as Dean's expression skittered somewhere between guiltily mortified and completely affronted.

"Why would you think we'd done anything?" he demanded defensively.

Dad actually sniggered. "'Cause you always look like you've been up to no good, kiddo," he told his eldest, dumping his duffle bag by the door and lumbering into the living room before ruffling Dean's hair much as Dean had ruffled Sam's earlier. "I guess you've just got one o' those faces, son. Gonna get you into a whole heap o' trouble when you're older if you're not careful."

Dean appeared to swallow whatever retort was poised on the tip of his tongue, his attention instead sliding to his feet. "So how was the hunt?" he asked instead.

Dad sighed and ran dirty fingers through even dirtier hair. "I need a shower," he declared by way of answer. "Got monster goo all over me."

"A lot of that going around," Sam commented, pulling himself to his feet as Dean shot him a warning look.

Dad's eyes narrowed. "Meaning?"

Dean swallowed. "Nothing," he assured their father. "Sam's just messing around."

Sam gaped at him. He didn't want Dad to know? Why would Dean not want Dad to know he just wasted a child-killing monster single-handed? A child-killing monster Dad had just left them alone in the same building with. A child-killing monster that had photographs of Dean in his basement.

Not that Dean was usually desperate for Dad's approval or anything, but Sam was kind of surprised he would miss any opportunity to try and make John Winchester proud of him.

But the moment was already gone, Dad having turned his attention to Sam as he tilted his head to one side playfully. "I get a hug from my youngest?"

Sam considered the offer thoughtfully. "Covered in monster goo? Dad, you smell like you crawled out of the sewer."

But before Sam knew what was happening, his dad, monster goo and all, had scooped him up off the floor and pulled him into a bear hug that resulted in Sam's feet dangling a good foot off the ground.

"I'm happy to see you too, Sammy," Dad said, finally depositing him back onto his feet, but keeping one arm clamped protectively about his shoulders as a myriad of emotions scrolled visibly across his face.

Sam blinked.

Wow. Dad really did seem to have missed him.

"We—we missed you, Dad," he managed, feeling the icy chill that had enveloped his heart on Christmas Eve start to thaw just a little bit.

"Yeah, especially when we ran out of chocolate milk, huh, Sammy?" Dean chimed in, before addressing his next query to their dad. "So what were you hunting anyways?"

Dad considered him briefly, before shrugging. "Nasty sonofabitch," he said softly, glancing down at Sam as if still uncomfortable discussing the finer points of the hunt in front of his youngest. He stroked Sam's hair, and Sam fought the urge to pull away, despite the stench and the uncomfortable reminder of Mr. Avery congealing on the couch downstairs. Dad looked up at Dean then, his face hardening. "Had a thing for kids. That's why I didn't want to take you guys with me on this one."

Dean nodded, his complexion paling just a little. "But you killed it?"

"Sure did," Dad confirmed, taking a breath. "But Bobby's already got a whiff of somethin' even worse in Alabama. I'm gonna get a quick shower, then I want you boys packed and ready to go in thirty."

Sam sucked in a surprised breath. "We're leaving?" he burst out. "Already?"

They'd been here exactly one month. One month. How the hell was he supposed to make friends, get ahead in school, when they never stayed anywhere longer than a month?

Scotty would be devastated.

Dad shrugged. "Sorry, kiddo. I promise, next place we wind up, I'll make sure you get at least a semester there, okay?"

Sam didn't reply, just stared at his father a little dumbfounded.

"C'mon, Sammy," Dean interceded, when all Sam could do was look up at his dad with disbelieving eyes. "This stuff ain't gonna pack itself."

Dad took that as his cue to hit the shower, and Dean began to methodically pack the weapons back into the big canvas bag he'd gotten them out of.

Sam still hadn't moved.

Dean hesitated, looking up at his brother with an apology in his eyes if not on his tongue. "It's better this way, Sammy," he said softly, continuing to rhythmically pack the duffle. "'Cause, y'know, sooner or later the cops are gonna be up here asking what we know about those gunshots and Mr. Avery disappearing."

"And us leaving right after those gunshots and Mr. Avery disappearing? That's not gonna look suspicious at all?"

Dean shrugged dismissively. "Who cares? We'll be three states away by then."

Sam bit his lower lip angrily. "Why didn't you tell Dad about him?"

Dean didn't look up. "About who?"

"Frosty the Snowman. Who do you think, dumbass?"

Dean actually sniggered at that. "Frosty the Snowman?"


"Look, I just…I just don't want Dad to—to feel bad, okay?"

Sam's brow crinkled into a frown. "Feel bad about what?"

Dean fidgeted from foot to foot. "About, y'know. Leaving us here. With no rent money. And—and a perv for a building super."

"Who also turned out to be a child-killing monster."

"Yeah. That too."

"But don't you think he'd be proud of you, Dean? The way you handled him?"

A dark cloud seemed to flit momentarily across Dean's face. "Only did what I should have done last time."

"Last time? What last time?"

"Doesn't matter," Dean informed him dismissively. "He just…he just doesn't need to know is all. If he thinks he can't leave us to take care of ourselves, then he might—"

"Dump us someplace a little more permanent?"

"He doesn't dump us, Sam. How many times I gotta tell you that?"

"Would it be so bad if he did—leave us—someplace? Someplace we can go to the same school for more than a month? Where people remembered our names? And our birthdays?"

"Sammy, don't start with that again."

"I'm just saying, Dean."

"Well don't, Sam. Dad does the best he can. And that's good enough for me."

Dean spun on his heel and headed for the bedroom, and Sam almost expected him to slam the door behind him. Except he and Sam would be sharing the same car for the next few hours, so his big brother had to know privacy wasn't an option right now.

"What if it's not good enough for me?" he said quietly, standing on the threshold of the room he and Dean had shared for only four weeks.

Dean looked up at him from the bag he was pretending to pack, opening his mouth to reply, but closing it again when Dad emerged from the bathroom behind Sam's shoulder.

He still didn't smell any better, and still didn't have any excuse for dragging them back on the road again, Sam thought.

"Hey, Dean," Dad said amiably, throwing a package wrapped in brown paper in Dean's direction. "Almost forgot."

Dean caught the package reflexively, turning it over in his hands before looking up as his father, his face a question mark.

"Sorry I missed your birthday, kiddo," Dad said. "Better late than never, right?"

Dean grinned, first at his dad, and then at Sam, before ripping into the paper to reveal a shiny silver handgun with an ivory grip. His face set into a look of disbelief as his eyes widened and his mouth fell silently open. "Colt 1911?"

"You like it?"

"It—" Dean looked up at him as if he thought this might just be a very intense dream. "This is for me?"

Dad positively beamed at him. "Sure it is, kiddo! 'Bout time you had a decent sidearm." He glanced at Sam uncertainly, before adding, "And Sam can have your old one to practice with."

Sam wasn't entirely sure he liked the sound of that. While, like most boys his age, firearms held a certain fascination, the thought of actually firing one of the things—firing one of the things at something—most definitely did not.

"So enough with the pajama party," Dad added, pushing Sam further into the bedroom. "Go. Pack. Now. Twenty-five minutes. I'm serious, boys."

Sam just looked at his brother as their dad once again disappeared into the bathroom, the sound of running water convincing him that this time he really was taking a shower.

He took a step toward Dean as his brother held the gun up in front of him, wide eyes reflecting in the shiny metal.

"See, Sammy?" he murmured distractedly. "Told you he wouldn't forget."

Sam huffed. "No you didn't. You thought he'd forgotten just as much as I did."

Dean didn't even dignify that with a reply, just reverently wrapped the gun in one of his old t-shirts before situating it at the bottom of his duffle bag and randomly shoving the rest of his stuff in on top.

Sam paused, considering. "You should tell him about Mr. Avery," he said quietly, before slowly pulling his still half-packed duffle from under his bed.

Dean didn't reply for the longest time. "I will," he said, still not looking up at Sam. "Someday."

"Just not today?" Sam hazarded.

Dean smiled softly at him. "Not today."

The End

That's all folks! Hope it wasn't too horrendous!