Summary: Pre-series – Autistic, Slightly Injured Sam / Awesome Big Brother Dean / Frustrated John – Every single day had to be exactly the same...or there would be trouble.
Disclaimer: Not mine
Warnings: Potentially upsetting topic (self-harm) and usual language
A/N: Inspired by the kids I work with during the school year. And if you think I'm exaggerating these behaviors for dramatic effect, I assure you that I am not. This is indeed a lot of people's lives (including mine for portions of most days August through June), and I salute those parents, siblings, etc. who love these kids no matter what.
Every day is exactly the same. ~ Nine Inch Nails
There should be six fish sticks on the plate.
Always six – no more, no less...or there would be trouble.
And the fish sticks always had to be separated – with three on one side of the plate and three on the other side – and the ketchup had to be in the center; never on the edge and never touching any of the fish sticks...or there would be trouble.
The ketchup could not come from a glass jar or from a fast food restaurant packet but had to come from a squeezable container; six squeezes of ketchup in the center of the plate – no more, no less...or there would be trouble.
There also had to be applesauce; six spoonfuls from the large jar they kept in the fridge. But the applesauce had to be room temperature (slowly warmed naturally, which usually took about an hour) and had to have black pepper shaken on it six times. The applesauce had to sit in a separate bowl to the left of the plate; never on the right and never in the center...or there would be trouble.
To the right of the plate, there had to be chocolate milk; always chocolate milk but never chocolate milk straight from the carton. It had to begin as white milk – 1% with the blue cap – and then had to have six squeezes of chocolate syrup, stirred at least six times until it dissolved and made chocolate milk. The glass had to be clear, and there had to be a bendy straw sticking out of it...or there would be trouble.
The six fish sticks on the plate had to be baked, not fried; and if you thought Sam wouldn't know the difference between the ways they were prepared – wouldn't immediately notice the subtle variations in crunchiness and smell and texture – then you were setting yourself up for a potentially noisy and violent reminder of how picky he was about his food.
Which was the kind of reminder John was receiving right now as Sam literally threw his dinner across the room; the plate smashing on impact as the seven fried fish sticks hit the apartment's wall with a thud while the ketchup sluggishly slid down the peeling yellow wallpaper. The bowl of too-cold applesauce quickly followed along with the glass of chocolate milk that was missing its straw.
John stood in the middle of the kitchen; his expression a mixture of shock and anger as he stared at the resulting mess now coating the wall and floor; never ceasing to be amazed that Sam actually did shit like this; that while most people would only half-heartedly threaten to throw their food across the room if they didn't like it...Sam actually did it.
And that was usually just the beginning of Sam's meltdown...which Sam was about to demonstrate as well – phase two of How Dare You Fuck Up My Dinner.
John sighed and clenched his jaw as his youngest – nonverbal except for the six words he knew – began to scream his displeasure of not only being served one too many fish sticks but also having those fish sticks fried instead of baked...and don't even mention that two of them had been touching the ketchup, that the applesauce had not been warm enough, and that the chocolate milk had been strawless.
"Sam..." John called, trying to keep his tone even; reminding himself to stay calm; knowing this was Sam's only way of expressing himself – to scream...or to cry; and knowing that as much as he wanted to throw his own fit of frustration, doing so would not help this situation – it would only escalate Sam's behavior.
John sighed; because while he loved his son, some days – like today, like right now – were really fucking hard.
But John knew he was talking to himself.
Because Sam hardly ever responded to his own name; did not even seem to realize he had a name except when Dean called it.
And John desperately wished that Dean was at the apartment to call it now and to calm down his little brother in that almost magical way that he always did; like he was a Sammy Whisperer...or something.
But Dean wasn't there.
John's oldest had gone down the street to the pharmacy to sort out a mix up over one of Sam's daily medications; had not trusted John to do it, so had gone himself; had promised he would be back as soon as he could, depending on traffic and the line at the store, and had reminded John about the fish sticks, applesauce, and chocolate milk because it had almost been time for Sam's dinner.
Sam always ate dinner every day at 6:06...because Sam liked the number six.
Six fish sticks with six squeezes of ketchup...six spoonfuls of applesauce with six shakes of black pepper on top...chocolate milk with six squirts of syrup stirred six times...all served at 6:06.
It was a beautiful thing.
But John had been in a hurry; had needed to finish a few other tasks in preparation for the night's hunt and had not had time to bake the stupid fish sticks or to count them. So, he had grabbed a handful from the frozen foods bag and had fried them – because it was quicker.
And John had thought the applesauce was warm enough – it had seemed satisfactory when he had tested it himself; and had not been able to find the straws for the milk – so, he had just served it without one.
But those had all been mistakes; mistakes of a harried, tired parent who was frustrated and pissed at life and who just wanted one day of normal for their abnormal child; who kept secretly hoping that one day their son would outgrow these quirks and would wake up just like any other regular kid...but who knew with the cruelty of certainty that such a day would never come.
Because this wasn't a passing phase; this was their life.
And as a reminder, John was now reaping the consequences of an improperly prepared, improperly served dinner...which was the uncontrollable meltdown of a thoroughly pissed off 12-year old.
Because everything had to be exactly the same every day...or there would be trouble.
Only John wasn't there every day; was usually on the road distracting himself with a hunt and had only a vague idea of what Sam's routine was supposed to be...and even less of an idea about how to fix things once he had fucked them up.
John sighed as his youngest continued to scream – high-pitched and hysterical – and then watched as Sam abruptly stood from where he was sitting at the table; the kid kicking his chair across the scratched linoleum floor – battle scars left from previous meltdowns – and then proceeding to deliberately slam his forehead against the kitchen wall...over and over and over.
"Sam! Stop!" John yelled – because fuck trying to stay calm in a situation like this – and crossed to his youngest; thankful the kid was still small and scrawny as he wrapped one arm around Sam's chest to pull him away from the wall while using his other arm to block Sam's continued head banging; feeling the kid's forehead hit his forearm instead of the sheetrock beneath the wallpaper...and seeing Sam's blood smear across his own skin.
John sighed harshly. "Shit..." he hissed; hating it when Sam intentionally hit his head hard enough to make himself bleed...and knowing Dean was going to be pissed when he returned to the apartment and found that all hell had broken loose in the kitchen during his brief absence all because John had been careless about Sam's dinner.
Stupid fucking fish sticks.
Stupid fucking applesauce.
Stupid fucking chocolate milk.
And stupid fucking autism.
It wasn't enough that their lives already sucked? That Mary had died and that supernatural creatures were real? That their lives were spent wandering around the country in search of answers that never seemed to surface?
Was it really necessary to throw a diagnosis of "severe to profound autism" into the mix?
Was life not cruel enough without John having to witness his youngest develop normally...and then just abruptly regress after the kid's second birthday?
Was it some kind of cosmic joke to allow Sam to begin to develop language...and then to snatch it away; to leave the kid with only six words – yes, no, hurt, want, book, D?
Was there some higher purpose in making John watch his sweet, snuggly child become withdrawn and aggressive and physically resistive to touch?
John doubted it; he seriously did.
Because no one deserved this.
And yet, this was their life.
Every single day had to be exactly the same...or there would be trouble.
As soon as John touched him, Sam's meltdown immediately escalated to a whole new level; the kid hating to be touched or held...unless it was done by Dean.
John grunted as Sam's bony elbow jabbed him in the ribs and quickly readjusted his hold on his youngest; Sam still violently squirming in his grasp.
"Sam. Calm down..." John soothed; glimpsing Sam's blood on his arm again and not wanting his child to harm himself any further; pulling the kid away from the kitchen wall and noticing a faint smear of blood on the wallpaper as well.
The night just kept getting better.
"Sam..." John called as his youngest continued to struggle against him. "You need to calm down..." he once again tried to soothe; only wanting to get the kid seated so he could see the extent of damage Sam had done to his forehead...even though he knew Sam didn't care about his injuries; was usually oblivious to pain and would continue to harm himself if left alone during one of these meltdowns.
John tightened his hold around his son's small chest and bodily dragged Sam to the middle of the apartment's kitchen; beginning attempt #1 to make his youngest sit in the chair that the kid had previously kicked across the room.
"Let's sit, Sam..." John told his youngest; like father and son were going to sit and have a rational conversation about this – about why it was inappropriate to throw your dinner across the room and then lose your shit over it.
But Sam didn't want to sit – which was why he had kicked the chair across the room – and he didn't want to be touched or held or soothed by John, either; was vaguely aware of who John even was; had never expressed any interest in interacting with other people...unless the other person was Dean.
But Dean wasn't there.
And Sam was beginning to notice his big brother's absence; was frantically looking around the kitchen for his savior; for the only person who existed in his world.
"Sam..." John called; wondering how the hell Sam could make his body so rigid; the kid refusing to bend at the waist; his feet planted firmly on the floor and his back arched; refusing to sit in the chair John so desperately wanted him in. "Sit, Sam..."
As soon as he said the words, John inwardly cringed at how it sounded like he was talking to a fucking dog; hating how he had to use only short phrases to communicate with his youngest; a therapist once telling them that doing so would increase Sam's comprehension.
But Sam only seemed to comprehend what he wanted to comprehend – one of the few characteristics he shared with normally developing children – and at this moment, he was clearly not interested in comprehending John's directions.
"Sam!" John yelled out of frustration and barely resisted the urge to shake the physically aggressive child still squirming in his grasp. "Stop it! And sit the fuck down! Jesus..."
"No!" Sam yelled in return – unexpectedly saying one of the six words he knew – and lashed out at John; breaking his father's hold and running from the kitchen to the living room.
John instantly followed; grabbing his youngest before Sam could resume banging his head against a different wall. "Stop!"
"No!" Sam yelled again, pushing against John's chest, and then called for the one person who always made everything okay in Sam's world. "D!"
...which was Sam's version of Dean's name; the kid never even attempting to say more.
Not that Dean had ever asked him to; "D" had always been enough for Dean.
John sighed – always feeling a twinge of hurt and anger when Sam called for Dean instead of him – and then shook his head. "Dean's not here," he told his youngest; trying to stay in Sam's line of vision even though he knew the kid wouldn't look at him; would only give eye contact to Dean...and to no one else.
"Want D!" Sam insisted, not caring what John had said; having no true concept of what it meant for Dean to be gone; no concept of Dean not being at the apartment and not being available to help him.
"He'll be back soon," John assured his youngest; grasping both of Sam's narrow shoulders as he tried to visually assess the kid's forehead; seeing smears of blood but unable to see much more. "Hold still, Sam..."
"No!" Sam returned, seeming to remember how much he liked that word. "Want D!" he repeated...and repeated and repeated and repeated.
"I want him, too..." John muttered – because only Dean knew how to handle Sam...especially when the kid was this distraught – and then shook his head. "But he's not here, Sam. He's..."
John's voice trailed off as he heard the familiar rumble of the Impala approach as his oldest parked the classic Chevy outside their ground level apartment.
"Thank god..." John sighed; because he honestly didn't know how much more he could take of Sam in full-out meltdown mode.
At the sound of the Impala, Sam instantly stopped squirming; his eyes widening in recognition; knowing that sound was usually associated with his favorite person.
"D!" Sam yelled excitedly and once again pushed away from John; turning to face the front door as Dean opened it.
Dean smiled at the sight of his little brother and then frowned as he noticed the amount of blood covering Sam's forehead.
"What the hell?" Dean demanded as Sam approached; concern making his tone sharp even though he knew Sam had most likely banged his head against a wall because the kid had been upset over something.
"D!" Sam greeted and beamed up at his brother; his meltdown over just as quickly as it had started...and totally oblivious to the bloody mess now staining his skin and to the pain throbbing in his head.
"Hey, kiddo..." Dean returned and smiled at his brother before carefully tipping the kid's head back to further assess the damage; knowing head wounds often bled like a bitch and hoping that was the case with what he was currently looking at. "What did you do to yourself, huh?"
Expectedly, Sam did not answer; only continued to blink at Dean as he patiently waited for his brother to finish his inspection; not only tolerating Dean's touch and proximity but seeming soothed by it; seeming to crave it as he actually stepped closer to his big brother.
"Dad..." Dean prompted; pinning John with a hard, accusatory stare over the kid's shoulder...because Sam had been fine when he had left the apartment hardly half an hour ago. "What happened?"
John sighed. "Dinner," he replied simply; feeling embarrassed by having to admit such a stupid, careless mistake.
Dean arched an eyebrow; not surprised by the explanation...but irritated and pissed.
Because after 12 years of periodically living with an autistic child, John should know Sam's quirks; should be able to avoid the kid's triggers and to handle Sam by himself; should know how to make the kid's dinner without it resulting in a fucking mess.
Dean sighed as he continued to stare at John – nonverbally expressing his disapproval and disappointment – and then glanced at Sam; some of his anger and irritation dissolving as the kid held his gaze and smiled; intentionally interacting and communicating.
Dean couldn't help but smile back – his kid brother always having that effect on him – and then glanced at the blood on Sam's forehead; knowing he needed to clean his brother up and then try to get the kid to eat so Sam could take his medicine.
"I got the meds sorted out," Dean announced to John; removing the small pharmacy bag from the pocket of his leather jacket and tossing it to his father. "The pharmacist is still a dumbass, though."
John chuckled and caught the bag. "I'm sure you told him so, too..."
"Damn right I did," Dean heartily confirmed. "Maybe he can fuck around with other people's meds but not with Sam's."
John nodded his agreement – because the last thing Sam needed was an adverse drug interaction – and freshly appreciated how protective Dean was of Sam; proud and strangely comforted by how Dean had always been Sam's biggest advocate...and knowing that he himself always fell short of Dean's expectations in taking care of their youngest.
"I'm sorry," John blurted; suddenly overwhelmed with guilt for causing the night's cluster fuck that had resulted in a messy kitchen along with a bloody and undoubtedly hungry kid. "I just..."
John let his voice fade; because being tired and frustrated and pissed at life was not an excuse for his carelessness.
Sam did not ask to be the way he was and could not help how he reacted to situations...which was why it was so important for Dean and John to be vigilant in maintaining routines and in keeping Sam safe from himself.
John sighed; knowing he had failed his youngest in those particular aspects tonight...and had lost a little more of Dean's trust and respect in the process.
"I'm sorry," John repeated; not knowing what else to say and always feeling startled by the urge to cry whenever he was reminded of how inadequate he was at being a father...especially the father of a special needs kid.
Because John wanted to be the kind of father Sam deserved – the kind of father both of his sons deserved – but it never seemed to work out that way.
...which was just one more reason why life sucked and why John was glad that Mary couldn't see the kind of man he had turned out to be.
Dean shook his head; his expression softening as he seemed to sense John's thoughts. "It's okay, Dad," he soothed – excused, reassured – but said nothing more.
John nodded – accepting Dean's gracious forgiveness – and wondered if his oldest knew how much he appreciated him.
Dean smiled at his father's expression. "I know. I'm awesome," he quipped – breaking the awkward tension that had filled the living room – and then refocused on his little brother still standing in front of him. "Right, Sammy? Am I awesome or what?"
Sam smiled – always basking in Dean's attention – but did not otherwise respond.
"See?" Dean asked, glancing at John. "He's speechless."
John scowled. "Dean..." he lightly admonished; knowing Dean was just being a teasing big brother and always strangely pleased that his oldest interacted with Sam just like Sam was a regular kid.
Dean chuckled but ignored his father. "Alright, Sammy..." he began, taking off his leather jacket and hanging it on one of the hooks by the door. "Let's clean up that noggin of yours and then see about some dinner, huh?"
"It's not 6:06 anymore," John needlessly pointed out.
Dean shrugged. "That's fine," he replied as though that was a minor detail. "Sam will eat for me." He winked at his little brother. "Won't 'cha, Sammy?"
Dean smiled as well and then held out his hand to his little brother.
Sam's smile widened. "D!" he responded and grasped Dean's hand; his small fingers intertwining with his brother's.
"Atta boy, Sammy..." Dean praised and then led his brother from the living room. "I think I'm gonna teach him to say 'Super D'," he remarked to John over his shoulder as he and Sam passed by their dad on their way down the hall; noticing the mess in the kitchen as he passed by that as well.
John chuckled. "You do that," he replied dryly – hoping Dean knew that to Sam, he truly was a superhero even without the official title – and motioned toward the kitchen. "I'm gonna start cleaning up."
Dean nodded that he had heard John and switched on the light as he and Sam entered the small bathroom; sitting his brother down on the closed toilet and preparing to do a little cleaning up as well.
Sam waited patiently; tracking Dean's movements as Dean dampened a washcloth, pulled their first aid kit from under the sink, and then crouched in front of him.
"Sammy. This might hurt, kiddo..." Dean warned, showing his brother the washcloth he intended to use to wipe the blood from the kid's forehead.
"Hurt," Sam repeated; the word being one of the six he knew and would sometimes say...but didn't really subscribe meaning to it.
Dean nodded as though Sam knew exactly what he was talking about. "That's right," he confirmed. "Hurt." He paused, pressing the cloth into Sam's hand; allowing his brother to feel the texture of the fabric.
Sam wrinkled his nose but didn't otherwise react.
Dean smiled; because no reaction was a good thing. "Okay, Sammy. Here we go..."
Sam sighed and then scrunched his face as the wet washcloth touched his forehead. "Hurt?"
Dean nodded at the question; knowing that Sam was asking that if what he was feeling across his forehead was labeled as "hurt" because the kid asked it every time he got injured...and then seemed to forget it almost immediately afterward.
"Yes. Hurt," Dean replied; gently cleaning the drying blood from his brother's forehead and wondering – not for the first time – if Sam had learned that word simply because of how frequently it was used in their lives...either from Sam hurting himself or from John returning home from a hunt often hurt as well.
Dean sighed; always feeling guilty and conflicted when reminded of how he could not hunt with John and watch his dad's back because he had to take care of Sam.
But Dean didn't trust anyone else to watch the kid – just barely trusted John as tonight's disaster could testify – and was unapologetic about his preference for John taking his chances in hunting solo than Dean taking the risk of joining him and something happening to Sam in his absence.
Dean sighed again; carefully rubbing the washcloth over Sam's forehead and frowning at the torn skin he could clearly see now that the blood was gone. "If you keep doing this shit, you're gonna have to start wearing a helmet, Sammy."
"I'm not joking," Dean told his brother; his tone hard because he hated seeing the kid hurt...especially when Sam had done the damage to himself.
Sam blinked again and watched as Dean tossed the bloodied washcloth to the sink and then reached for the first aid kit on the counter.
Dean grabbed a couple alcohol wipes; tearing them open and showing them to Sam. "Hurt."
"Hurt," Sam repeated and seemed to brace himself; wrinkling his nose at the sting of the antiseptic as Dean wiped it over his torn skin.
Dean smiled; thankful that Sam was always a good patient – at least when Dean tended to him – and tossed the used alcohol wipes to the trashcan before removing several butterfly bandages from the kit.
"You're lucky you don't need stitches," Dean commented to his brother as he carefully began to place the bandages over Sam's skin; gently pulling the edges of the torn flesh together. "Because if you did, I would have to kick your ass and Dad's..."
Sam blinked – having no idea what Dean was saying to him – and then flinched as Dean prepared to place the third bandage.
"Easy," Dean soothed; recognizing the signs of his brother beginning to reach his limit. "Almost done, kiddo..."
Sam made a sound of displeasure – half grunt, half whimper.
"I know," Dean replied. "It sucks. Which is why you shouldn't bang your head against walls..." he lightly reprimanded his brother and continued to gently pinch Sam's torn skin and then place the butterfly bandages over the kid's forehead.
Sam sighed and squirmed where he was sitting on the toilet's closed lid.
"Almost done..." Dean assured and started a countdown from six to distract his brother.
Sam smiled at the mention of his favorite number.
Dean winked at the kid and kept counting backwards; securing the last bandage – bringing the total to four in all – and then tossing the bandages' packaging into the trashcan and closing the first aid kit; everything finished and cleaned up by the time he reached one.
"Ta-da!" Dean announced; stashing the kit back under the sink and waving his hands in Sam's face.
Sam laughed and grabbed his brother's hands. "D!"
"Super D..." Dean corrected and then stood from where he had been crouched; pulling Sam to his feet as well and switching off the bathroom's light before leading the kid back down the apartment's hall.
Sam obediently followed – always happy to go anywhere Dean led him – and tightened his hold on Dean's hand. "D..."
Dean glanced at his brother. "Yeah, Sammy..."
Dean smiled at the familiar request; knowing exactly which book Sam wanted because it was part of their nightly routine – to read Six-Dinner Sid before bedtime; the book featuring a black cat named Sid who apparently liked the number six as much as Sam did.
Dean knew the book by heart.
Sid lived in six houses so that he could have six dinners.
...and so it went.
Sam loved it.
And Dean was incredibly thankful to have found the book a few months ago for Sam's birthday; remembering even now his little brother's grin of pure joy the first time Dean had read it to him...which had given Dean the patience to read it every night since.
Because Sam liked it; it made the kid happy.
And if Sam was happy, Dean was happy.
It was truly as simple as that.
"Book," Sam said again; his tone more insistent as he shook Dean's hand.
Dean nodded. "I heard you the first time," he groused good-naturedly and then lightly slapped Sam's other hand away as the kid reached to touch the bandages on his forehead. "Leave those alone."
Sam blinked at the reprimand. "Hurt?"
"Yes. Hurt..." Dean confirmed. "So don't touch."
Sam sighed but did as he was told and then inhaled deeply; smiling at what he smelled – baked fish sticks.
Dean smiled as well. "Now we're talkin', huh?"
Sam didn't respond, but Dean knew his brother liked what he smelled...and was hungry to eat it as the kid walked faster down the hall.
John turned from the stove as his sons entered the apartment's kitchen; his gaze lingering on Sam and his patched up forehead before flickering to Dean. "Everything okay?"
"It's all good," Dean replied confidently; his own gaze surveying the kitchen; pleased that the mess from earlier had been cleaned up and that John was making an effort to prepare Sam's dinner the right way this time instead of the easy way.
John smiled self-consciously; aware that he was being judged by his oldest – by Sam's keeper – and hoping he met Dean's approval.
Dean nodded. "Smells good..." he commented; always struck by how strange it was to have his confident, badass father seem so unsure of himself when it came to taking care of Sam.
"They're almost ready," John informed, opening the oven's door to take a peek at the sizzling fish sticks covering the baking pan. "I made extra for you, if you want them..."
Dean smiled at the peace offering. "Thanks," he replied and then glanced at Sam before pointing to the chair that had been moved from the center of the kitchen back to the table. "Go sit," he told his brother and watched as Sam did so; the kid crawling into the chair and swinging his legs back and forth as he waited.
Satisfied that Sam was situated, Dean crossed to the fridge; grabbing the carton of white milk along with the chocolate syrup and a glass from the cabinet; setting everything on the counter by the kitchen's sink and beginning to mix Sam's drink.
"Don't forget the straw..." John remarked. "Or there will be trouble."
Dean laughed at the unneeded reminder. "Dude. Who do you think you're talking to?" he asked – his tone both incredulous and good-natured – and opened one of the drawers; pulling out a bendy straw and popping it into the glass; the stripped straw bobbing in the light brown liquid as Dean set the glass in front of his brother on the table.
Sam smiled and tapped the straw – watching it bob and seeming delighted by it – and then tapped it again...and again.
Dean chuckled. "Only you Sammy..." he commented fondly and ruffled the kid's floppy hair before returning to the counter and reaching for the jar of applesauce; testing its warmth before counting out six spoonfuls into a bowl and then shaking black pepper on it six times.
"I put Sam's medicine with the others," John informed and pointed toward the drawer where they kept the kid's medication.
Dean nodded and crossed to the drawer to collect his brother's nightly dosage of pills; medications used to treat aggression, anxiety, inattention...and the list went on.
The stove's timer dinged as Dean deposited the pills onto a napkin and then carried them over to the table.
John slipped on an oven mitt; looking quite domestic as he reached into the oven to pull out the fish sticks.
Dean watched as John counted them – six on Sam's plate and the rest on his – and then grabbed the ketchup from where it was already sitting on the counter; squeezing six red globs into the center of Sam's plate.
"Alright, Sammy..." Dean called as he crossed to the table with his brother's meal – the plate of fish sticks in one hand, the bowl of applesauce with a spoon in the other – and set the food in front of the kid; making sure everything was lined up appropriately. "Dinner #2 is served."
John brought Dean's plate of fish sticks to the table – along with the ketchup and a can of soda from the fridge – and placed them in front of his oldest. "I'm heading out..."
Dean glanced at his father; not surprised that John was leaving so quickly; realizing that John had reached his limit in dealing with Sam for the night and knowing that John felt like he had to take care of a hunt...the same as Dean felt like he had to take care of Sam.
"Yeah, okay..." Dean replied, sitting next to Sam at the kitchen table. "Be safe...and all that crap."
John chuckled; hearing the concern under Dean's seemingly blasé response. "I will," he promised and then glanced at Sam as his youngest stared at the food on the table. "Good luck..."
Dean pulled a face and made a dismissive sound. "I got this," he told John and vaguely waved toward the door. "Go."
John arched an eyebrow but smiled; turning off the oven before crossing to the door; putting on his coat, gathering the weapons duffel along with his truck keys, and then exiting the apartment.
"Be back later..."
Dean nodded; knowing "later" could mean a few hours or a few days, depending on the hunt and on how soon John wanted to come home to face his other reality – Sam.
Dean sighed; listening to the rumble of John's truck as it left the parking lot and then turning his attention back to Sam as his little brother continued to sit beside him at the table. "Sammy..."
Dean chuckled; always amused when Sam returned his name in the same tone Dean had called his. "Time to eat, kiddo..."
Sam narrowed his eyes; seeming to sense something was afoot and glanced at the clock on the kitchen's wall; the kid having long ago memorized what 6:06 looked like – both in digital form and on the face of a clock – and knowing it was not 6:06 now.
Sam glanced back at Dean. "No."
"Yes," Dean countered and picked up one of the fish sticks; dipping it in the ketchup and holding it up to Sam's face. "Either you eat it yourself, or I feed you like a baby...but it's time to eat."
Sam frowned. "D..."
Dean shook his head; not interested in hearing Sam's version of an excuse. "Now."
Sam's frown deepened.
"Six..." Dean began; knowing this trick would work...because it always did. "Five...four...three...two...one..."
And like clockwork, Sam opened his mouth at the end of the countdown; biting the fish stick Dean held and then smiling as he chewed; his eyes lighting up as he remembered how hungry he was; his usual dinnertime having been well over an hour ago.
"Good, huh?" Dean asked knowingly and smiled when Sam took the rest of the fish stick from his grasp; the kid cramming it in his mouth and then reaching for another on his plate.
But Dean moved the plate away.
Sam scowled. "Want."
"I know you do," Dean replied; having no doubts that the kid was starving. "But not too fast. Slow."
Sam sighed and swallowed.
"Slow..." Dean repeated and slid the plate back to his brother; watching as the kid seemed to follow directions and ate slower than before; methodically eating a fish stick...then a spoonful of applesauce...then a sip of chocolate milk...and then starting the pattern all over again.
Because patterns and routines were beautiful things.
"Here..." Dean reminded, handing the pills on the napkin to Sam one-by-one.
Sam obediently took them without further instruction and then resumed his meal; fish stick...then applesauce...then chocolate milk.
Dean smiled – allowing his brother to eat the way he wanted – and then ate his own dinner as well; wondering how many fish sticks he had consumed in his 16 years of life...and deciding he didn't want to think about it.
A few minutes later, Sam's plate, bowl, and glass were empty; the kid fed...and happy...and smiling at Dean.
Dean chuckled; having expected the request. "Hang on..." he told his brother and wiped the kid's mouth with the napkin; brushing away fish stick crumbs and remnants of ketchup and then doing the same with Sam's hands.
Sam sat patiently as Dean cleaned him up and then watched as his brother cleared the table; dumping everything into the sink to take care of later.
"Alright, dude..." Dean called, holding out his hand to Sam. "Let's go."
Sam beamed. "Book?" he asked as he crossed to his brother and grabbed Dean's hand.
"What do you think?" Dean returned and led the kid back down the hall to the bathroom. "But first you brush your teeth," he informed and prepared his brother's toothbrush.
Sam didn't respond but also didn't resist Dean pushing the toothbrush into his hand; sloppily moving it around his mouth and smearing foaming toothpaste across his face in the process.
Dean rolled his eyes but allowed Sam to complete the task himself; patiently waiting and then helping his brother clean his face afterwards. "Good job, Sammy..." he praised; pausing long enough to check the bandages on the kid's forehead; pleased there was no fresh bleeding. "Alright...potty..." he instructed and pointed to the toilet.
"Book," Sam responded.
"After you potty..." Dean countered – thinking that he should probably consider it odd that he still used that term with his 12-year old brother...but he didn't – and then opened the toilet's lid. "The sooner you pee, the sooner we read."
Sam smiled. "Book," he repeated – having enough comprehension to associate "read" with what he currently wanted – and crossed to the toilet.
Dean nodded his approval and turned his head.
Seconds later, he was waiting for Sam to wash his hands and then leading the kid down the hall to their room.
"Book?" Sam pleaded; his voice muffled as Dean pulled his t-shirt over his head.
"In a minute..." Dean responded and motioned toward his brother's jeans. "Take those off. You know the drill..."
Sam sighed but did as he was told; watching as Dean crossed to their dresser and removed his sleep clothes; allowing his brother to help him get ready for bed – just like Dean always did – and then launching himself onto the mattress in the far corner of the room.
Dean chuckled. "Which book?" he asked and looked around their room like he was clueless even as he grabbed the one Sam wanted from the small bookshelf. "This one?"
Sam clapped excitedly. "Book!" he confirmed and bounced on the bed.
Dean chuckled again. "Settle down, kiddo..." he commented and sat beside his brother on the mattress; propping one of the pillows against the headboard and leaning back as Sam crawled over the blankets to get closer; snuggling into Dean's side; his eyes wide with anticipation like he had never heard the book read to him before.
"D..." Sam called and tapped the front of the book.
Dean nodded – knowing Sam was tired of waiting – and opened the worn cover. "Sid lived at number one Aristotle Street," he read, pointing to the black cat at the bottom of the page.
Sam did the same; copying his brother's action; his finger right beside Dean's.
Dean smiled and turned the page. "He also lived at number two, number three, number four, number five, and number six."
Sam grinned at the mention of his favorite number...which he knew he was about to hear a lot of in this book.
Dean chuckled at his brother's enthusiasm; sometimes wishing he could get so excited over something as simple as the number six.
"Sid lived in six houses so that he could have six dinners..." Dean continued and then kept reading and pointing at the pictures to make sure Sam was paying attention as Sid the cat traveled around the neighborhood eating all of the food people left out for him.
Sam was motionless and content as Dean read; happily leaning against his big brother – communicating love and trust with no words needed – and smiling every time Dean said "six"; then clapping when they had finally finished the book.
Dean felt like clapping for an entirely different reason than Sam – because thank god that was over for another night – but returned Sam's smile as the kid sighed and snuggled closer to him.
"Sleepy, Sammy?" Dean asked knowingly and rubbed his brother's back to encourage the kid to indeed sleep; because he still had the kitchen to clean and a few other things to do around the apartment before turning in himself.
"D..." Sam said drowsily and ran his finger over the amulet resting on Dean's chest; tracing the gold charm over and over.
"Sammy..." Dean returned; watching his brother trace the pattern of the amulet; remembering when the kid had given it to him a few Christmases ago; having no idea where Bobby had found the ugly thing or why he had given it to Sam...but glad nonetheless that the kid had chosen to give it to him instead of keeping it for himself.
Because every time Dean looked at the amulet, he thought of his little brother; a piece of the kid he loved so much carried with him everywhere he went.
"D..." Sam called again and then closed his eyes; "good night" and "I love you" in one letter.
Dean smiled – receiving the message loud and clear – and continued to rub his brother's back as Sam fell asleep against him; knowing he would have to ease out from under the kid in a few minutes to finish a couple things around the apartment...but enjoying this special time with his little brother right now.
Because even though this life was hard, it was still worth living.
Sam made it worth living...and Dean loved the kid just the way he was.
Six-Dinner Sid is a book by Inga Moore. The words Dean read from the book are hers, not mine.
A/N: Time to hibernate and focus on my works in progress. Hopefully the next time you hear from me, it will be in the form of an update to one of those...