A Little Less Demon Hunting

"A little more tequila, a little less demon hunting, and we could have had Max's childhood." – Sam "Nightmare" [E14-S1]

January 24th, 1993

Dean pulled open the condo's mini fridge and stared inside. A crusty container of two-day-old macaroni and cheese, a pint of milk, salad dressing. He pulled the mac-and-cheese out and scooped out cold, grainy globs of fake yellow noodles and plopped them in a plastic bowl.

"That's disgusting," Sam said dully.

"Eat it," Dean dropped the bowl in front of his little brother and handed him a plastic spoon, then set about making a second dish for himself.

He angled himself so that he was facing the wall and not the entry into the kitchen. He didn't like the feeling of having an open door behind him, where anything could come through and get the jump on him. Safer to have your back against a wall.

He sat down opposite Sam and stared at his brother. Sam's black eye was darkening, but the swelling had gone down a little, thank God.

Sam looked up at him. "Why are you staring at me? Stop it."

"You're not eating," Dean motioned to the bowl.

"It's cold. You didn't heat it up."

"Tough! Just stop complaining, would you?" Dean only realized he had raised his voice to just under shouting level when Sam flinched and almost dropped his spoon. Instantly, he lowered his tone again. "Sorry 'bout that."

Sam ducked his head and instantly began to eat, face gone blank.

"Sammy . . ."

The slam of a car door stopped Dean from saying anything else. His heart twisted sickly in his chest, then dropped like a dead thing into the pit of his stomach. Dad was home. He listened for the sound of the footsteps. If they were even, then it would be a good night. The swearing would be through the roof and all talking would be anathema, but at least the boys would get to bed without new bruises. If the footsteps were uneven . . .

Step. Step-step. Step . . . . . Step-step-step . . .

"Sam, go to the room now," Dean ordered, standing up and snatching the bowls of food. He ran to the counter, dumping the uneaten pasta back into the container. Everything had to be back in place before they left the kitchen – rule of the house. If it wasn't, something was going to get broken. If they were lucky, it would be the condo china.

Without protest, Sam scraped his chair back from the table and darted into the bedroom the boys shared, slamming the door behind him. Hands fumbling, Dean quickly rinsed out the bowls and put them back in the cabinet. As he drew his hand back, however, he knocked over a stack of glasses.

They seemed to fall through the air in slow motion, every cut facet glimmering in the stale kitchen lighting before – SMASH! – a million razor-sharp raindrops flew all over the floor as they shattered against the tile. Dean swallowed, allowing a curse through.

The front door was unlocked and opened. John Winchester came in, red-eyed and bedraggled. Dead drunk. One hand was in a bandage, probably due thanks to his latest job. Dean froze, leaning against the counter, waiting for the bomb to drop.

John staggered across the living area, making straight for his bedroom. For one bright moment, Dean thought that he might just get away with it. And then his dad turned his great shaggy head toward him and the eyes went even redder.

"Dean," he growled, staring at the floor. "What's this."

"I was cleaning up," Dean said, cursing how his voice squeaked. Changing vocal cords did nothing to make him sound less intimidated. "They fell."

"You realize I'm going to have to pay for these?" John roared, stepping closer. "What, you think money grows on trees, you piece of shit?"

"It was an accident," Dean shouted back, more angry than scared.

"You want to go up to the office and tell that to the manager? You want to do that?"

"I'm sorry, Dad."

"Start picking them up."
Dean started for the pantry where they kept the broom and dustpan.

"Where are you going? I said pick them up!" shouted John, spittle flying from his lips.

"I'm going to get the . . ."

"NOW! No excuses!"

Anger roiling in his stomach, Dean squatted, keeping his eyes on his father's. He raked his fingers along the tile, brushing the shards of glass into a pile, and leaving little trails of blood as the pieces cut into his fingers and embedded themselves there.

After several minutes, Dean let out a grunt as a particularly nasty sliver crammed itself under his skin. He lifted his hand to his face, tried to see through the thin film of blood covering it, started to attempt to yank it out.

"Why are you stopping?" John hadn't left. He was sitting in the living area, drinking a beer he had brought home from whatever bar he had been in.

"I have a piece in my finger," Dean rasped. "This one," he raised his middle finger toward his father. He couldn't help it.

John glowered. "Sam," he turned and shouted at the door to the boys' bedroom. "Come out here and help your brother."

"No, no!" Dean shouted. "I can do it by myself!"

"Then DO it!"

Dean bent over and double-timed it.

May 2nd, 1996

"What's wrong, Sam?"

Sam glanced up at his brother, unwilling to talk about it. Today at school, one of his classmates had said something about going away to college, getting out of the house as soon as they turned eighteen. The idea had seemed appealing to Sam, at first. Finally getting away from all the beatings? No longer having to worry about whether or not you were going to get through the day without another injury? Not having to worry about putting a chair in front of the bedroom door to keep him from coming in at night and . . .

But then he realized: Dean was seventeen. One more year and that could be him – Dean could be free. And while nothing in the world would make Sam happier than to have Dean finally get out of this life – of getting in between him and Dad and paying the price himself in bloody noses and black eyes – the thought of being left alone with his dad was making him feel like he wanted to throw up.

"Nothing," he said.

"Dude, you're practically turning green," Dean noted. "That ain't nothing."

The fact that his brother was even giving a crap about how he was feeling at the moment was unbelievable to Sam. Dean was currently nursing a bleeding ear, holding a stained washcloth against it. Bruises were beginning to swell purple along his cheekbone as well, and his upper lip was split and bloody. Sam himself had a bloody nose, but that was nothing in comparison to what it could have been had Dean not taken a swing at the old man and diverted his attention.

"Are you thinking about . . . going to college?" Sam blurted.

"What?"

"Because I wouldn't blame you if you did. Go to college, I mean. You should, man. You should get out of here as fast as you can."

Dean pursed his lips, trying to keep a calm façade, but Sam could see the shock and pain in his brother's eyes. "Yeah. Right," he scoffed.

"I'm serious, Dean," Sam pushed. "You should! I mean, look at you. You're . . ."

"Sam . . ."

"I can take care of myself, if that's what's stopping you," Sam urged.

"Stop it, Sam!"

Sam shut up. Dean's eyes were going glassy.

"I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I'm not going anywhere," Dean said firmly after a few moments of staring hard at the ceiling and getting his voice under control. "That's not what family does."