Before you read this, please note that it has the following warnings: Underage (Sam's 16), references to mental illness and suicide which may be triggery for some readers, (legal) use of drugs, angst, slash, OOC behaviour, doesn't shine John in the best of lights, pre-series, hurt!Sam, angst, protective/possessive!Gabriel, protective!Dean - If any of that puts you off, don't read it. Cheers.
He didn't feel worried at first. Sammy had come to him after he'd been playing in Bobby's scrap yard for a couple of hours, and had cheerfully told him about his new friend Lo. Sure, the hunter and father in him had combined and been worried about who 'Lo' was, but as soon as Sammy had told him that Lo was standing right next to him ("silly!"), he had relaxed and realised that Lo was an imaginary friend. Which all kids had at Sammy's age.
He was four, didn't really have any other kids his age around, besides Dean, who was more interested in making and cleaning guns than playing imaginary armies, so it was normal for Sammy to have made his own friend up. John certainly wasn't going to begrudge his youngest that.
He'd put it to the back of his mind, smiling fondly when Sammy excitedly whispered to his invisible friend in the back of the Impala, he'd send Dean warning looks whenever his eldest son look like he was going to pick on Sammy and he'd chuckle at whenever the poor 'Lo' was given the blame for anything that happened around Sammy.
However, he felt a stirring of unease when Sammy was nine and he actually listened to some of Sammy's ramblings. He knew things that children his age shouldn't and couldn't know. He had never had the conversation with Sammy about what it was he truly did, because Sammy had never asked. Now he knew why Sammy had never asked.
"No, you should tell dad about the ghost. I can't. I'm not s'posed to know, 'member?" Sam hissed to the invisible friend at his side, then he must have sensed John looking at him, because John was then pinned by a pair of wide, hazel eyes.
"Sammy? Something you need to tell me?" John asked, making sure that his voice gave none of his suspicion or anxiety away.
"Lo says that the ghost in't buried in the cemetery. Says you need to look in the rose garden behind the house," Sammy told him earnestly, nibbling at his bottom lip as he looked at John nervously.
"Hmm, and did he tell you how he knew that?" John asked, narrowing his eyes when Sam fidgeted and avoided meeting John's eyes.
"He asked her husband." John left it at that, put the information to the back of his mind, then decided to take Dean with him. It was a simple salt and burn, what could go wrong with that. Three hours later and a somewhat bruised son, John found out that Sammy's information was right. Sammy knew things. It was normal, but maybe Sammy had come across the information somewhere.
It wasn't the last time it happened though, and each time Sammy's information was right and every time, John's worry and suspicion grew a little about his son. He never once considered there was anything wrong with the imaginary friend however. It was normal, if not a little concerning when John would be told by Sam's teachers that Sam made no effort to make friends and would stay in the library or the classroom, reading quietly. They praised his intelligence though, going so far as to suggest that he should maybe be bumped up a grade. John had said he would think about it at the time, but then he had found out about a new hunt and they had left the town, and the state, and Sam had gone to a new school.
As Sam and Dean grew older, John noticed other things, they weren't as close as they had been as young children. John put it down to Dean going through the teenager stage, where he was more interested in girls and being cool, than he was in hanging around with his baby brother. But Sam was mature. Far more mature than other eleven year olds and almost surpassing Dean in maturity. Dean was still protective of Sam, but Sam never seemed to need it. Not that John wanted either of his son's to have trouble at school, but he had been worried Sam would be one of those children that was bullied wherever they went, because he was so small, quiet and studious. However, that wasn't true. Sam had no friends, true, but he had no bullies and was never bothered either.
When Sammy ("it's Sam") turned twelve, John felt the niggle of worry grow when he noticed that Sam still had an imaginary friend. Dean had pointed out that surely it wasn't normal for a twelve-year-old kid to have only one friend, and that friend was someone he'd created in his head. John saw what Dean was trying to say, but there wasn't really anything he could do about it, and he felt that there was possibly more things to worry about concerning Sam. He became more spaced out and distant from everyone, including John and Dean. He seemed to sit and watch things that no one else could see, and his eyes would glaze over at random moments, like he wasn't really there. It scared John, if he was being completely honest with himself, but he didn't know what to do.
Then came the time for Sam to start High School. John knew, just from looking at Dean's expression, that things were going to be difficult for them all. Sam in particular. Things had not changed at all since Dean had pulled him aside to mention Sam's peculiarities, if anything, they had gotten worse.
In the two years since John had noticed that Sam lost himself in his mind, it became more and more obvious, and he knew more and more information that really most people would have never even heard of. John would admit that it was useful given his job, but he needed to know where Sam was getting it all. He didn't understand how he knew it, but he had noticed that Sam preferred to almost hide behind his books than actually interact with anyone.
It was with great trepidation, therefore, when he was summoned into the principal's office of the High School Sam and Dean were at, to 'discuss' his son. He had an idea that that son was Sam. But it was normally a toss up between either one if he was honest. He never had liked November.
It was after a long discussion with both the teacher and the child behavioural psychologist, and then another long discussion with Dean and several days of sleepless nights worrying over it, that John finally agreed.
He saw some irony that Sam was taken to the Augusta Home for Mentally Disturbed Youth on the second of November. Fourteen years exactly since Mary was murdered.
John was never certain which would haunt him more, the look in Mary's eyes when she died, or the resigned look in Sam's when John signed him over in to Doctor Chaudhery's care and left him in the hospital.
Dean loved Sammy. He was his baby brother and he'd carried him out of the burning nursery the night their mother had been killed. He'd taken his dad's urgings to protect Sammy very seriously and had never really stopped. But he would willingly admit that sometimes he was scared for Sam. Not scared of him – even if Sam was a little creepy at times – but definitely for him.
Dean watched people, he was seen as being inattentive at school, not paying attention to his teachers or his studies, and not particularly caring either way. However, that wasn't entirely true. He followed the lessons, knew what was going on and passed by without really having to study too much. And he definitely paid attention.
Which was why he was scared for his baby brother. He knew people didn't accept those that they viewed as weird or different. And Sammy was most definitely different.
Dean had done a lot of shitty stuff in his life, but he'd accepted it all and tried to not really regret anything. He'd never forgive himself, however, for bringing his father's attention to Sam's differences. In his defence, he'd been worried for Sam, no twelve year old should still only have an imaginary friend as company. Dean knew Sam was withdrawn, a recluse really. He preferred to read and, one thing he had in common with his big brother, he liked to watch people. However, Dean just knew Sam should have grown out of the imaginary friend stage years before, and so he'd thought to bring it to their dad's attention just to see what the man thought.
Two years later, he regretted that decision. Almost as much as he regretted standing back and allowing his father to send Sam away to get help. Deep down, he'd known it was a bad idea. There was something different about Sam and Dean felt that their dad should have realised not all people were the same. Hell they hunted things that people thought only existed in stories and nightmares. So no, Dean didn't think Sam's problems were completely mental.
Dean had the vague idea that Sam saw things that other people didn't. He heard things that no one else could hear. Sure, the imaginary friend thing was worrying, but Dean felt that that might have been Sam's coping mechanism. He clearly hadn't felt he could talk to Dean.
Which was another regret Dean had. He'd vowed to protect Sammy. And ultimately, he'd failed. How was Sam to know he could always count on Dean to help him, when Dean had never made a concerted effort to have a close relationship with his brother? If anything, Dean had pushed Sam further away.
The major regret Dean carried with him, however, was not objecting when his father took them out of state. Away from Sam and seemingly forgot about his troublesome youngest son. Dean should never have allowed them to leave Sam behind.
He shouldn't have allowed them to take Sam away in the first place.