Once again, avoiding revision.

Disclaimer: I don't own any of this.

Sam is seven, Dean is just turned 12.

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The cool winter sun beat down on the park, lighting the frozen wooden framework of the children's climbing frame in the center. The trees bristled in the icy wind, relishing their freedom before the night frost set in and coated them in a wintery armor.

Sam huffed impatiently as he waited on his brother for the third time in the same week, sitting on the same boring bench in the same boring park with the same boring view. He swung his legs off the bench, the cold pinching his skin through the threadbare pants he wore. He clutched his school bag tight to his chest, eyeing each passing child warily, as if they sought to swipe his homework from beneath his nose.

He'd sat on this same bench every day for the past week as he waited for Dean's school to finish; he was only seven, and Dean was in the next school up, and finished a half hour later than Sam's own school. The bench was the furthest from the play park so he didn't attract "unwanted attention" as Dad called it. The bench didn't sit too far back from the path though, so they didn't catch the attention of "nosy parents who prod into our lives like it's their business", or so Dean would sneer.

Sam always thought it was because the forest behind the park was too scary for Dean to come and get him from the special hidden bench in the trees. He was glad. It was quite dark.

Sam eyeballed the path as he searched again for Dean, glancing at the old watch on his wrist. Dean was meant to be here at three thirty, three thirty-five tops. It was twenty five gone four.

He sunk back into the bench, head burrowing into his shoulders, feet almost touching the floor, watching the other children swing on swings and slide down slides and be monkeys on monkey bars. Sam sighed sadly, picking at the threadbare strap of his school bag. He barely noticed as a man lowered himself quietly into the seat next to him.

"Hello."

Sam jumped at the unfamiliar voice, eyes widening as he looked up at the strange figure which now sat next to him. He was old, older than Dad, and the creepy motel owner, and even the headmaster at Sam's school. Grey wisps of hair peaked from under his cap, thin and greasy as it hung by his ears. Wrinkles framed his thin, bony face, drooping layers of skin that bunched on his cheeks and chin. His eyes, pale and watery, were rimmed with red, expressing what seemed to be fear; but his glittering smile told a different story.

"Hello," he said again, smiling wider again at Sam, his heavy breathing coming out in smoky snorts from his wind-reddened nose.

Sam smiled slightly, sliding further across the bench, as far as he could get to the edge, Dean's instructions echoing through his head. "Sammy, you must never, ever talk to strangers, even if they seem real nice."

"Why?"

"Because… just because, okay?"

"Okay."

"Promise?" Dean had pushed, lightly gripping Sam's arm to get his attention.

"Why?

"Promise me, Sammy." His voice left no room for argument.

"I promise."

Shaking his head slightly as he pulled himself from the memory, he looked back up at the man in front of him. "Uuhm…"

The man grinned, burying his nose into the red scarf that encircled his neck. "It's okay. Mommy and Daddy told you not to talk to strange people, did they?"

Sam said nothing. He pulled his gaze away, looking furiously down at the play park.

"Or was it the boy that's here with you sometimes?" the man asked, his muffled voice barely audible through the thick fabric of his scarf. He pulled his head out as Sam's head swiveled around in awe.

"How do you…"

"I'm here a lot of the time," he said, delving his hands deep into his pockets, "I get awful lonely at home without my family. It's nice to be around people. I see you and another boy here sometimes."

Sam cocked his head; never had he met such a friendly stranger. Usually people avoided both him and his bench at all costs. "Oh," he said.

They remained silent for a few moments. "Where is your brother?" the stranger asked.

"He's coming from his school," Sam said cautiously, Dean's words still ricocheting around his head.

The stranger checked his watch. "His school finishes at… half four? That's awful late."

Sam shook his head. "He finishes at three thirty, and he comes and gets me." He gasped as he spoke, realizing he'd broken his promise to Dean. He's gonna be so mad…

The stranger chuckled at Sam's expression. "Oh, don't you worry about me. I'm no stranger. Everyone around here knows who I am. Just Mr. Dawson, old Mr. Dawson, who likes to sit in the park. Your brother won't be mad you spoke to me."

Sam smiled up at the man. As long as Mr. Dawson explained all this to Dean, he wouldn't get angry.

Another few moments of silence passed, and Sam returned to picking at the loose threads on his backpack, his short legs swinging in the air.

"What's your name?" Mr. Dawson asked. Sam noticed he was closer now when he looked back up at the man, his eyes a little more red, his breathing a little heavier.

Sam froze. He inched further away from the man.

"Oh, go on. I told you my name. It's only fair," he smiled.

"S-Sam."

"Sam. Sam, Sammy," the man repeated, pulling away slightly as he relished the name on his tongue. "I like that name. It suits you. Sam."

Sam smiled weakly, his nerves beginning to tingle. "Thank you."

Mr. Dawson nestled his face back into his scarf, his hands twitching in his pockets. Sam resorted to clutching his bag tightly.

"When's your brother going to be here, Sam?"

He shrugged in response. "In a minute."

They were quiet again. A cool breeze swept through the park.

"Do you like to read, Sam?"

He couldn't help but notice how often Mr. Dawson was saying his name. "Yeah. Dean always reads to me when we get back to the mote-" he stopped his sentence short.

Mr. Dawson looked down at him, his eyes now wide and unblinking. "You live in a motel?"

Sam stared ahead again, his heart beating.

"It's okay, Sam. I won't tell anyone. It'll be our secret," Mr. Dawson grinned, his teeth baring ferally.

Sam nodded, relaxing slightly. As long as Dean didn't get mad…

"Do you like to read, Sam?" He asked again.

"Yes."

"Me too. I read lots of books. I have one with me right now," he revealed, pulling a battered, thin book from his pocket. "Have you read Of Mice and Men, Sam?"

"No," Sam said, watching curiously from the corner of his eye.

"I think you'd like it. It's about two friends who travel from ranch to ranch… I bet you and your brother go out on your own sometimes too, from place to place around town." Sam was unconvinced, until the man cried, "There's even a dog in it!"

Sam looked up, eyes glittering in delight. "I like dogs. I always wanted a dog. But Dad said it would do no good for the upholstery in the car."

The man nodded, listening intently. He straightened as Sam babbled away, carefully eyeing his surroundings. Sam barely noticed as Mr. Dawson placed a gentle hand on his back, still holding up the novella in his other hand. "Yeah, there's a whole litter of puppies in there, too. Nine of 'em, I think."

Sam smiled. "I'd like to read that someday."

"Let's read it now," Mr. Dawson yelped, pushing Sam off the bench with a shove, "Come on, my house is just through those trees, just that way." He pointed to the forest.

Sam jumped as he came into contact with the ground. He looked around wearily at Mr. Dawson, who suddenly didn't seem so friendly: his eyes lit his darkened face with an eerie glow. "Mr. Dawson can't we read it here? Dean will be real mad if I ain't here to wait for him."

"No! No, I… It'll hurt my eyes. I can't see when it's this dark."

"But Dean-"

Mr. Dawson stood menacingly over him. "We'll be back in time for Dean," he said shortly.

"No, thank you, sir- ouch!" he cried as Mr. Dawson gripped his arm.

"Listen to me you stupid-"

"Hey!"

Sam fell to the floor as Mr. Dawson released his grip. He dropped his school bag, the contents scattering across the pathway. Sam watched as the not-so-friendly stranger backed off slowly, his hands held up in surrender.

Suddenly, a pair of arms were heaving him to his feet by his armpits, his coat riding up his chest. He was plopped unceremoniously behind his savior, who he immediately recognized as-

"Dean?" Sam whispered.

Dean stood tall in front of Sam, the large hands creating a wall for the younger boy to stay in.

Sam winced at the venom in Dean's words. "How dare you… How dare you touch my brother, you disgusting pervert!" Dean spat, almost growling at the tall man in front of him.

"I… I… " Mr. Dawson began, one hand still clutching the copy of the book.

"You better run, old man, or I'll call the God damn cops on you… Don't you look at him!" he seethed as Mr. Dawson peeked over Dean's shoulder as Sam cowered behind him. If I ever see your face here again, I will kill you with my bare hands," he promised, swiping the abandoned backpack from the ground and turning away from Mr. Dawson.

Sam was yanked down the pathway, away from his bench and the man and his school work which lay forgotten on the damp ground. Dean still kept a firm grip on Sam's wrist, and despite all his efforts, Sam couldn't suppress his involuntary crying.

"Dean," Sam whispered, tugging against his brother's painful hold, "Dean, you're hurting…"

But still Dean stormed on, his back still to his brother as Sam stumbled to keep up.

It wasn't until they reached the edge of the park and stumbled into a secluded sidewalk did Dean turn to look at his brother.

Sam's eyes widened in horror as Dean swung around on him, his own eyes glittering in pure rage as he gripped tightly onto Sam's upper arms, shaking him wildy. "What the hell did you think you were doing Sam? Huh?"

"I-"

"After you promised me, you promised me, you wouldn't talk to anyone!"

"Dean…" Sam's bottom lip quivered as he sniffed deeply, tears still trickling down his face.

"Do you know what could have happened? Do you know what he could have done to you?"

"I d-di-didn't-"

"Do you have any idea how scared I was? Huh? To see you getting dragged across the park by a God damn pervert…" he paused in his rant, breathing heavily, eyes red-rimmed and puffy.

"I'm s-s-sorry, D-Dean… Pl-P-Please don't be m-ma-ad," Sam shuddered, his whole body shaking as the weight of the afternoon fell on him.

Dean slowly released his grip, carefully eyeing his brother before pulling him into a tight hug, right there in the street. "God dammit, Sammy, you scared me," his voice raised a little. "You stupid, stupid little boy… Jesus Christ…"

The stood like that for a few moments, Sam still sobbing into his brother's jacket, Dean clutching his head with one hand, the other rubbing circles in the Sam's quaking back.

"Sam… Sammy… did he- did he hurt you?" Dean asked quietly.

Sam thought of his arm, the one Mr. Dawson had held onto… But Dean's marks hurt more.

He shook his head. "M'okay."

"C'mon, Sammy. Let's get home," Dean muttered into Sam's hair, rolling Sam's empty bag up and tucking it under his arm, his own bag heavy on his back as he led Sam back to the motel.

oOoOoOoOo

It was dark by the time they'd gotten home.

All Sam wanted to do was collapse into bed, pull the covers over his head and tuck himself into Dean's side.

But Dean wanted to talk.

Sam watched from the end of the bed as Dean bolted the door shut, then proceeded to push a chair from beneath the table under the handle. He pulled the thin curtains closed, pretending not to scan the streets before turning back to Sam.

"Sammy…"

"What about the salt?" Sam asked quickly. He didn't really want to recount the afternoon to Dean.

Dean looked blankly at him. "Huh?"

"You always say salt keeps out the bad men."

Dean smiled sadly. "Salt won't keep out this bad man."

Sam ducked his head.

"Sam? Want some cocoa?"

Sam could hear the desperation in Dean's voice; the need to talk, and the need to know. The desperation to know his little brother was okay. "Yeah. Thanks," he smiled.

Dean grinned in relief. "Get changed. You're soaked."

Sam hadn't realized the dampness of his jeans after falling onto the grass, but he could sure feel the cold now. He quickly stripped of his clothes, slipping into his pajamas and jumping onto one of the three remaining chairs on the table. He began swinging his legs in the air as Dean placed the mug in front of him, and Sam watched as his brother took the chair opposite, locking his eyes with him.

"Thanks," Sam said again, sipping at the warm liquid.

"Sammy…" began Dean, looking much older than seventh grade. "Do you know… That man, do you think…"

"He said he wanted to read to me," said Sam quietly.

Dean paled. "Wh-what?"

"He said he wanted to read to me. A book about mice and men and ranches and dogs-"

"What? He wanted- wait, you mean 'Of Mice and Men?'"

"Yeah. He said there was dogs in it."

"What else did he say?"

Sam squirmed in his seat. "That he liked my name. That he'd seen us before, in the park. That he'd seen me waiting… He seemed nice."

Sam couldn't help the shudder that racked his body.

"Sam?"

Sam looked up, tears in his eyes. "Why did he try to hurt me, Dean? What did I do wrong?"

Dean snapped up from his seat and crouched in front of Sam, his eyes wide his grip strong. "You listen to me, Sam. You did nothing wrong. Nothing. I'm so proud of you for fighting back, for not giving in. But you have to understand me… That man, and some other men, they… they want to hurt little kids. I shouldn't have left you… You're only seven, for God's sake!"

"Dean, s'all my fault… I shouldn't have spoke to him… He asked my name and I told him we were staying in a motel…"

"You're right, you shouldn't have spoken to him, and you definitely shouldn't have told him where we are- But this is not your fault. Don't ever blame yourself for something like this. Promise?"

Sam sniveled. "Promise."

"Promise to keep your promise this time?" Dean smiled.

"Promise."

Dean hugged him tight.

But despite Sam's efforts, he couldn't suppress his wince as Dean squeezed his arms.

And of course, big brother noticed.

Sam's sleeves were promptly rolled up, and he was given another reprimand for hiding injuries, before a tearful apology as Dean realized who had caused the worst of it – before Sam was allowed to jump into bed, his lukewarm cocoa replaced with a bowl of 'Forgive Me' Lucky Charms, the TV blaring some crappy movie as the boys huddled on the bed.

And as Sam slipped into sleep, tucked tightly into Dean's side, he barely noticed the unfamiliar shape of a gun raise up in Dean's hand as the older brother leaned against the headboard, aiming the silver weapon at the door, feeling even more protected as he wondered whether he was dreaming or not.

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