Title: Dean Winchester is an Awesome Big Brother
Author: alakewood
Warnings: None.
Rating: PG
Word Count: ~2100
Summary: Dean doesn't think a thank-you is necessary because, after all, he's a big brother and that's what big brothers do and Dean Winchester is no exception. If anything, he thinks to himself, he's a standard to be measured against.
Disclaimer: As always, I own nothing.

oxoxo

For the first time in what feels like forever – but, in reality, is probably only since Sam became a moody, defiant teenager – Sam does exactly as Dean orders without argument or question. He doesn't say anything, really, when Dean tells him to get dressed.

Their father had called the night before to let Dean know that while he'd finished the job he'd set out to do, he'd caught wind of the possibility of another a couple counties away from where he was on the other side of Oklahoma. He'll be at least another week.

Money's already tight enough as it is, but paying for their motel room for another week is really going to set them back. But Dean just told his dad that everything's fine – because, really, it is – and that he'd see him in a week.

After talking to the clerk in the motel office to get him and Sam moved to a cheaper single room. Dean lays out Sam's oldest, rattiest – but, importantly, still warm – set of clothes for his younger brother to change into, then leads him off to the one diner on the other end of town they've yet to visit.

Sam effortlessly sells the street urchin look in a way Dean's never been able to and it garners them each extra bacon, toast, and a free piece of pie afterward. Their waitress is one of those bleeding heart types, probably has a couple kids of her own at home, and immediately takes to mothering them both. Dean's long past feeling guilty for conning people like this and it kind of catches him off guard that Sam doesn't complain about it once.

In fact, when the waitress comes back around with her pot off coffee to top off Dean's mug, she brings Sam another hot chocolate heaped with whipped cream and, after he turns his big, sad eyes up at her all grateful and thankful, she takes a quick glance around the nearly empty diner – it's shortly after ten on a Monday – and through the order window to the kitchen before boxing up two more pieces of pie and placing them into a paper to-go bag along with a couple of plastic-wrapped, pre-made sandwiches from the deli display case beneath the counter. She smiles down at Sam sympathetically when she sets the bag on their table and collects the money Dean's left on top of their ticket with hesitation.

Dean spent the couple of minutes it took her rounding up their free lunch to rumple and worry the bills even further in his hands. It's all part of the sell. "Thank you, again, ma'am," Dean says earnestly, making his eyes go big and fake-innocent as he slides from the booth and takes hold of the bag. She smiles fondly at them both and watches as they leave. Dean waits until they've turned the corner at the end of the block before stopping to look at his brother. "Are you okay, Sam?"

Sam's eyebrows quirk funnily as he shrugs. "'m fine," he says, watching Dean expectantly, like he's waiting for Dean to argue.

Dean doesn't exactly disappoint. "You sure? Because, normally, you gripe at me for trying to con a second piece of pie and this," he holds up the bag, "is all you, man."

Sam's gaze slips to the snow melting on the street before it slides back up to Dean's face. "I heard you talking to Dad last night. I know that the money he left us isn't gonna last 'til he gets back. 's why we changed rooms, isn't it?"

Something clenches in Dean's chest at the look on his fourteen-year-old brother's face. "That's nothing for you to be worrying about, Sammy."

Sam just shrugs again and stares at the battered pair of work boots that had at one time been Dean's – and were from a second-hand store before that – on his feet. "I just wanted to help."

"You did, Sammy. Thank you. But, just leave the money stuff to me."

Sam nods and resumes trudging down the sidewalk. The trip back is silent.

Once inside their room, Dean sets the pie on the table and puts the saran-wrapped sandwiches on the sill of the east-facing window to keep them somewhat cold. He and Sam – both now dressed in layers of sweatpants and hoodies because the radiator keeps clunking out – curl up beneath the blankets and watch reruns of Law & Order and The Simpsons, then an old Clint Eastwood western that Dean can't remember the name of. All he knows is that one minute, Eastwood is in the midst of a pretty epic gunfight, and the next, their room is dark save for the TV and he's wrapped around Sam.

Sam shivers against him so Dean pulls his little brother in tighter, fits Sam's head under his chin as he strokes a hand up and down Sam's back. Even through however many layers Sam's got piled on, Dean can feel each distinct bump of his spine and he's shocked to realize how thin Sam has become. Sure, it's the middle of January and they're constantly dressed in shirts upon shirts, but Sam is Dean's sole responsibility. Take care of Sam, look after Sam, keep Sam safe. That's all.

Sam's nothing but paper-thin skin over taut muscles and narrow bones. It makes Dean's heart ache.

No wonder Sam's been quiet and morose lately – his subdued attitude isn't some recent thing, Dean slowly realizes – he probably just doesn't have the energy to fight. He brings his hand up to Sam's face and pushes his hair away from his eyes. "Sammy?" he asks quietly.

Sam snuffles and gives this little jerk as he startles awake. His hands immediately come up to shove at Dean before he realizes he's in no danger. "Dean?" His rough, changing voice breaks a little on the question.

"Yeah."

"What're you..." He gives a halfhearted attempt at pulling away before allowing himself to settle back against Dean's chest.

"You hungry?"

Sam nods, presses his forehead against Dean's shoulder. "A little."

Dean strokes his fingers through Sam's soft hair – it's been so long since Sam's let him this close and that's a sure enough sign that something's off – before shifting towards the edge of the bed. The room's freezing when he climbs out from beneath the blankets. "Why don't you go take a hot shower and I'll go get us something to drink, then we can eat?"

Sam tugs the blankets tight around himself and mutters, "Sure," as Dean shoves his feet back into his boots and pulls on his jacket.

"I'll be back in a bit." He opens the door to their room and exits quickly to keep the bitter cold out. As he heads towards the gas station across the street, he catches sight of the Denny's sign down the road when he looks for a break in the traffic. Sam could use a hot, filling meal – something more than a soggy cold-cut sandwich. So Dean crosses the street and walks the couple of blocks to the Denny's and orders Sam a steak and chicken dinner with a bunch of the veggies that he likes and a couple of extra sides. He's a bit worried that Sam'll be upset that he's spending money that he doesn't necessarily have to buy, but Dean's a big brother and, just as importantly, Sam's protector.

The water in the bathroom is still running when Dean comes back into the room and sets the Denny's bag on the table as well as a couple bottles of cheap soda. He takes one seat at the table with both sandwiches from the diner and starts in on the first while he waits for Sam.

The bathroom door opens a few minutes later, Sam walking out in the same sweats as earlier, towel-drying his hair. He pauses mid-scrub and looks up at Dean. He crosses the room to stand before the table. His gaze falls to the Denny's bag. "What's that?"

"Your dinner," Dean says around a mouthful of bland lunch meat and bread.

"Where's yours?"

"I'm eating it."

"Dean-"

"Just sit down and eat, Sam."

"But, Dean-"

"Sam. Sit."

Sam huffs but sits. He stares at the bag a moment longer before he finally opens it up and pulls the styrofoam boxes out. Dean can hear Sam's stomach rumble when the smell of the food hits him and he holds back his smile as he pushes a bottle of soda towards Sam. "Thanks."

"You're welcome."

They eat in silence and Sam not only eats every bit of his dinner, but polishes off his piece of pie, too. "How could you afford this, Dean?" Sam asks as he puts all their garbage into the take-out bag and shoves it into the garbage can behind him.

"Don't worry about it, Sammy."

Sam looks like he's about to argue, but he doesn't.

"Wanna see what's on TV?"

"Sure," Sam says, standing from the table and rubbing at his full belly. He shuffles towards the bed and tosses back the blankets before climbing in beneath them.

Dean kicks out of his boots again and shucks his wet outer layer of sweatpants, then joins Sam. Sam hands him the remote wordlessly – another thank-you for dinner, Dean's certain – and shifts closer to Dean until he's pressed right up against his brother's side. Dean can't hold back his smile this time.

When their father returns five days later, Dean's got two dollars and seventeen cents left in his wallet. He doesn't tell Sam (who's had three square meals a day since Dean realized just how skinny his brother's become) or his dad (who's never really questioned how Dean manages to make what little cash he's left with last twice as long as what's logically possible) that he's broken in to three cars, picked two pockets, and swiped half of somebody's over-generous tip at the cafe down the road to make ends meet.

Sam's a bit more argumentative when their dad bursts through the door shortly after the streetlights come on Thursday night and tells them to get their things loaded into the car without so much as a 'hello.' But Dean's already talked to him this morning and knows there's another job waiting for them in Mississippi.

Even if Sam gives their dad attitude, once he's loaded into the Impala with Dean, they fall back into the easy camaraderie they've had all week. Sam turns a bright smile on Dean as they pull out of the motel's parking lot behind their father's truck. "Hey, Dean?"

"Yeah, Sammy?" Dean glances at his little brother out of the corner of his eye as he merges into traffic.

"Thanks."

"For what?"

"You know. This week."

"I didn't-"

"Dean." In a contradictory gradual yet short amount of time Sam has gained inches in height, lost baby-fat to whipcord muscle, and matured (complete with an adult temper and sharp words, and an intelligence that at times scares and impresses Dean at the same time), and the depth of his voice – when it's not falling victim to puberty and hormones – matches the image of the man Dean knows Sam will soon become. "There's no way the forty bucks you had left after switching motel rooms lasted us this long."

"I'm pretty thrifty, in case you haven't noticed."

Sam grins. "Even you couldn't make forty dollars last six days."

Dean shrugs. "Whatever." Sam punches his shoulder and Dean has to smile back.

"Thank you," Sam says again.

Dean doesn't think a thank-you is necessary because, after all, he's a big brother and that's what big brothers do and Dean Winchester is no exception. If anything, he thinks to himself, he's a standard to be measured against – he takes this big brother thing above and beyond because he's pretty sure a lot of other big brothers out there wouldn't put up with the drama his adolescent baby brother constantly subjects him to. In short, there's nothing Dean wouldn't do for Sam. Nothing he hasn't done for him. But Sam's expecting an answer so Dean fixes him with a weary look that's betrayed by the smirk he can't contain and the mocking rise of his eyebrow that he can't control. "You're welcome, Sammy."