"Dean, when I told Dad I was scared of the thing in my closet, he gave me a .45!" Sam Winchester said, giving his older brother an incredulous look.
Dean stared at him. "Well, what was he supposed to do?"
"I was nine years old!" Sam said. "He was supposed to say, 'Don't be afraid of the dark'!"
"'Don't be afraid of the dark'?" Dean snorted. "Are you kidding me? Of course you should be afraid of the dark! You know what's out there!"
Sometimes Sam thought he had the worst family in the world, no matter how much he loved his brother and father. They were dysfunctional and unaccepting of change, which is why when he had left for Harvard his father had slammed the door behind him and told him never to come back.
He tried to block that day out, along with all the Christmases his father had never shown up to and the hundreds of different schools he'd had to attend. Sam had a lot of memories with his family. But few were happy, and ones involving his father seldom were. Despite that, he remembered the day he had been nine and afraid of the dark quite well and quite clearly…
They had been staying in a run-down motel right off an old near-abandoned road. This in itself was not unusual. The Winchesters were on their way to Centralia, Washington, where Sam's father was going to be taking another one of his two-week jobs. Sam didn't know exactly what it was his dad did for a living, but he knew it was very important.
The motel room had two beds. John Winchester, being the adult, got his own. Sam and Dean were forced to share every time, something the twelve-year-old whined about often. But they were all used to the arrangement. It had been in existence as long as Sam could remember.
Normally, when his father turned out the lights, Sam turned over and went right to sleep, ignoring his annoying older brother's tugging at the covers. But this time was different. Sam glanced around the room and suddenly noticed a weird shadow on the closet door. He frowned at it, and then it moved. With a gasp, he shuddered and dropped his head under the covers, only to slowly raise it again. The shadow was gone, and Sam tried to convince himself it was just a windy tree branch. There was a bad storm going on outside.
But he couldn't. He kept watching as mysterious shadows disappeared and reappeared. Finally, after what seemed like hours but was really only a few minutes, he screamed, "Dad!"
John Winchester, who had just fallen asleep, leaped out of bed and flipped on the lights, having pulled the gun out from under his pillow somewhere along the way. He raised it, moving it around the room, and once he had determined there was no danger, gave Sam an angry look. Dean blinked open his sleepy eyes, having been awoken by Sam's cry and the sudden light, but didn't have the reflexes of his father.
"What's going on?" John demanded of Sam.
Sam flinched under his father's glare. "I…I thought…I thought I saw something…over there, on the closet door…"
John's facial expression suggested that he thought his son had either been dreaming or making things up to be irritating, but nevertheless, given his line of work, he wasn't about to just laugh it off. He slowly walked over to the closet, .45 aimed and cocked, and threw the door open.
Sam yanked the covers back over his head. Through them, he heard Dean laugh.
"Dude, there's nothing there. Don't be such a girl."
Sam shook his head, not moving the covers away. His father came over to him and gave his head a gentle tap. "Sammy, there's nothing there." His voice was surprisingly gentle, given that Sam had woken him up in the middle of the night for nothing.
"But I'm scared," Sam whimpered. He heard Dean laugh again and then suddenly fall silent. Sam was sure that his dad had given Dean one of his awful glares.
"Don't be," John said, redirecting his attention to his younger son. "Here." He pulled the covers back, causing Sam to squeeze his eyes shut and reopen them a second later when he realized that it was just his dad. Dean was giving them both a sulky preteen look, arms crossed and his mouth in a slight pout. Sam looked at the open closet: empty, but that didn't mean there wasn't something there. It could be hiding, whatever it was.
Sam gave his dad his best pitiful puppy dog look. "Can I sleep in your bed?" He would be safe with his dad, no matter what was out there. His dad could handle anything. He was like Superman.
John laughed. "No." Sam's face fell, but then lit up when his father quickly added, "I've got a better idea."
Sam's father handed him his gun (after uncocking it first), and Sam gave it an uncertain look. He knew how to use one from all the training his dad put him and his brother through, but his dad had never given him one to use without close supervision and broad daylight. "What's this for?"
John reached over and pulled up Sam's pillow. "Put it under here. If you see something, shoot it. But only if you actually see something and it's not just a shadow," he added.
"Thanks," Sam said, not knowing what else to say. He read a lot, and knew that normal kids didn't have guns. He'd even once read about a kid who was so afraid of the dark that his mom had to hug him and sing to him for him to fall asleep. The mom hadn't given her kid a gun, but maybe singing was a mom thing and guns were a dad thing.
John smiled at his son, taking the slightly confused 'thanks' at face value. "Now get some sleep." He watched as Sam tucked the gun under his pillow and the still-sullen Dean climbed into bed next to him, yanking more than his fair share of covers over him. Sam didn't make an effort to stop him, because at the moment, he didn't mind. He barely even noticed when his father turned the lights out, because his father had told him that there was nothing there and if his father had said it, it must be true. His thoughts were focused on the gun. Without realizing it, his hand snaked out and brushed against it. It was cold and metallic and its being there frightened him almost as much as the shadows on the closet door had.
Sam had had a hard time getting to sleep that night, and even as he gently fell into it, his thoughts had still been on the gun. Even as an adult, Sam's thoughts were sometimes still on the gun. Thinking back, he realized that that had been the first time he realized his father wasn't always right and maybe even the source of all future disagreements. Because if there had been nothing in the closet…why had his father given him the gun?