Story 1 - The Bus

Words: ~ 2,700

A Change of Plans

The windows were dirty – a visible film of dust coating the glass. Dean's blood-shot eyes wandered to the sill. Grit and grime was permanently embedded in the rubber glue sealant along the frame. It smelled musty; the air stagnant and cloying.

Dean tapped the balls of his feet on the floor which was coated by a syrupy substance; someone probably spilled a drink earlier in the day. His boots made oddly gratifying, yet disgusting, sucking sounds as he tapped.

Pot hole. Dean felt the muted jolt and rearranged himself in the hard plastic seat. He felt a weak tug on his shoulder. Still staring at the window frame, he calmly rocked back and forth a couple of times. He had the stale taste of coffee in his mouth and a distinct pang of hunger in his stomach. He only ever forgot to eat when he was over-caffeinated.

Dean blinked a few times, widening his eyes as much as possible upon each reopening. He had to stay awake and alert.

After a few minutes, his red-rimmed lids hit half-mast again. Dilated pupils landed right back where they'd been before: the dirty window frame.

Dean drifted his gaze to the handle of the emergency door. The lever was recently painted a brilliant red. Exhausted, but still making an effort, Dean recalled the procedure of twisting and pushing the hatch out of the bus. His legs were starting to fall asleep.

His stare remained on the emergency hatch until his vision naturally refocused on the window's reflections. He could see all the people in the bus: one ruffled middle-aged man in a slate-grey suit in the back. Couple of exhausted cashiers or maids in the center-front. One homeless guy talking to the driver at the very front. Dean had ruled them all out as soon as he got Sam settled in his seat. It was late; rush hour had come and gone hours ago and a kid directing the word, 'Christo,' at strangers in a bus at one in the morning wasn't the weirdest thing that had ever happened.

Dean boosted Sam up in his arms and Sam responded with a stronger grip on Dean's shoulder as he resettled with him. Dean felt the bracelet's metal press against his shoulder blade and he swallowed his fears with a tight grimace.

The bus came to a slow, screeching halt. The wheels depressed and the doors gasped open. No one stepped on. Dean noticed the driver get up and peer out the window. He sullenly sat back down to pull a different lever, shaking his head with disdain.

The second set of doors, further in the back of the bus and directly in front of Dean, sprung open a few seconds later. Dean didn't blink.

It was a college student on his way home, trudging up the bus's steps. He glanced over at them. The bus's stark white light highlighted Dean's gaunt features and the guy put him at eighteen, maybe nineteen years of age.

Certainly not fifteen.

The college student didn't turn back around to get a better look at Dean, though. Rather, he gave a double-take to Sam.

Sam, the ten year old sprawled across Dean, one arm over Dean's shoulder, the other around his back. Dean held him tightly, protectively, against his chest. Sam's legs dangled limply on the seat he had originally been sitting in. He wore a pair of blue-grey plaid pajama pants, his old Converse sneakers and a plain light blue t-shirt that he was fast outgrowing.

Dean wouldn't have dressed Sam this way if he'd known. He had gotten off the payphone and realized he hadn't packed Sam's clothes to suit anywhere but the Impala.

They had wheeled Sam out – protocol – as he circled and pulled at the bracelet around his wrist, trying to get comfortable with the shackle.

Dean had opened the door to leave the building and noticed Sam shiver at the slight chill. Dean had taken off his black hoodie and pulled it over his weak, fatigued brother. Oversized as it was, Sam relaxed under its folds and right now he was keeping the hood up over his head and most of his face. He was as hidden as he could be under the circumstances.

Dean unconsciously spread his hand around the back of Sam's hooded head and gently pressed him closer possessively as he eyed the college student's dumb expression.

"Hey! Christo!" Dean snarled while feeling Sam's body tense slightly in surprise to Dean's harsh tone of voice. The guy startled, but hadn't flinched at the word. Still, he had been staring at them for far too long. Dean raised an eyebrow threateningly.

"You want to sit down?" Dean warned.

"Ah, yeah, sorry-" the guy replied, ashamed, and turned away. Dean narrowed his eyes slightly, watching the stranger move down the center aisle awkwardly. He wasn't a real danger, but Dean didn't appreciate the staring. It made him feel like Sam was a spectacle and that they were vulnerable. They were vulnerable.

Dean could only either hold Sam hidden or protect him on offense. He couldn't do both. He'd chosen the former after Sam had made himself clear.

Dean closed his eyes with grief and used his chin to push the back of Sam's neck further against his own. Sam complied with hitched breaths. Dean grimaced at the sound and held still, waiting for his brother to relax his breaths. After a few seconds, Dean pushed the oversized hood back from the side of Sam's face and let his cheek rest along the side of Sam's head.

"You okay?" Dean whispered delicately into Sam's ear. Sam gave a small shiver and Dean boosted him up on his lap again and Sam regripped his hold around Dean.

"Okay. It's okay," Dean lulled Sam with a couple more rocking motions. A tear slipped from Dean's eye. "Just don't think about it. C'mon," he instructed gently. Sam's muscles tensed and relaxed against him, squeezing his big brother into a tighter hug for a few moments. Dean kissed Sam on the temple in response and resumed his steady, quiet hold on the kid.

Things had gone to hell once they had sat down. Sam, still slightly numb from his diagnosis, let Dean move him down the aisle of the bus after waiting, staring at nothing, as Dean paid their fare. Dean sat Sam down, told him to stay there, and made his rounds to each occupant of the bus, genially saying, 'Christo,' to each one of them.

Sam, his hood still up, hunched over in his chair and played with the bracelet Dean had bought him. The small metal plate read, "Seizure Disorder," with the dark red medical alert symbol next to it. It had a clasp, but it fit Sam's wrist perfectly.

Dean sat down next to him, letting out a brief sigh, and casually laid his arm on the back of Sam's seat as he looked down at what Sam was studying. Dean noticed Sam's fidgeting and felt slightly ashamed: there had been no real need to get the bracelet. Sam would be around Dean and their father consistently in the next few weeks. The bracelet could've waited.

But Dean had been scared for Sam and both of them were alone in the hospital, reeling from the diagnosis. Their father was unable to get to them, wherever he was, and so when Dean visited the gift shop, he had spotted the bracelet and picked it up. He was worried about Sam; about what would happen to Sam if he wasn't around all the time for him, now. So he thought maybe the bracelet would relieve that fear a little bit.

Sam, however, accidentally took it as a message from Dean that he might very well have a seizure without Dean around quite soon. Not just that, but Sam wasn't in the right state of mind to accept a gift that served as a constant reminder. The doctors said they didn't know, but possibly for the rest of his life, Sam would suffer unpredictable seizures which rendered him at the mercy of the strangers around him. Hence, the bracelet. Sam understood the logic, but he was scared, too. He knew he was now a liability for hunts; would their father start ignoring him more, now?

"Dad should've been here," Sam murmured, then felt Dean's hand on his head, pulling the hoodie back a little bit to reveal his face.

"What, Sammy?"

Sam turned and looked up at Dean, biting his lip slightly.

"Dad should've been here," he repeated, this time a little loudly. He watched Dean's reaction carefully when they started to deviate from his expectations. Dean gave a long sigh and pinned Sam with sad, genuine eyes.

"Yeah. Yes, Sam, he should've," Dean agreed, speaking slowly and gently. Dean knew how serious this was. Their father had no excuse and, for once, Dean sided with Sam on this.

Sam nodded and looked back down at the bracelet, trying to hide tears. Even though he'd been looking for Dean to agree with him about Dad, he hadn't expected it. Now that he had gotten what he'd wanted from Dean, he felt worse. Dean nearly always came to their father's defense. Dean kept alive in Sam the idea that John still loved and took care of them despite his absence.

But not tonight. Tonight, Dean acknowledged that John had let them both down. There was nothing more to say; John would never be able to take this back. They knew he was going to get into town that day and he told them he was going to pick them up that night.

That was the plan made that morning. The doctor came in at noon to talk about seizure disorders. Dean had been given an unsettling crash course in how to take care of Sam for a couple of hours. Then, Dean had called John to tell him. By then, John had stopped answering his phone.

When Sam was given his dinner tray in his room, Dean had gone to the payphone to call Bobby. That's when he discovered John, on an, 'emergency,' had to change plans. He thought he had successfully left a message at the hospital's nurse's station.

Dean found himself frowning in anger, thinking, until he heard a small sound of frustrated pain next to him. Dean snapped out of it and looked at his brother.

"Sam? What is it?" Dean asked, looking at the little hunched-over, hooded figure next to him.

"Dean, I want it off, I think," Sam said, his voice unusually high-pitched. Dean winced in confusion at the sound and leaned in to Sam's space on his seat.

"Hey… Hey are you okay?" Dean asked solicitously, pulling Sam's hood back a little bit to see his face. "Are you crying?" Dean said in the same breath.

"No!" Sam's voice broke with emotion. A few moments of silence passed; Dean waited for Sam, resting his palm tentatively against Sam's back. Dean looked around the bus for a few seconds, wishing they could be in the back of the Impala or in their motel room – anywhere more private than a public bus. Dean felt Sam's body start to tremble and his world narrowed back to Sam.

"Sammy-?" Dean whispered as he moved his arm around Sam's back.

"Dean, I'm not crying!" Sam cried, hunching over in his seat and covering his face, shaking.

"C'mere Sam," Dean coaxed, reaching around Sam further and lightly pulling Sam sideways towards him for a hug. Sam didn't budge, though.

"No, Dean! I just want the damn thing off!" Sam whispered his plea to Dean while trying to undo the metal clasp.

"Sam, why? No, come on, leave it on," Dean replied reasonably, reaching over and grasping Sam's wrist; covering it entirely with his own hand. Sam stilled for a second. Dean's hands and arms were all around him, now, restraining him with such delicate strength, Sam knew he neither could nor wanted to break away. Breathing heavily, he started to list against Dean's side and tried to calm himself down.

"You want the bracelet on me because you're not gonna be there when I have another seizure," Sam said softly, carefully keeping his voice level. Dean's brows furrowed with confusion.

"What? No, Sam, that's not what it means-"

"It is. You're the only one that knows how-" Sam's voice broke again, and he stopped speaking in an effort to stifle his sob. Dean grasped Sam tighter.

"Dad wasn't there for the doctors to talk to! And now you're the only one that knows how to deal with me and the bracelet is for when you're not gonna be there! Dean, you're not gonna be there and I-"

Sam's shaky outburst, riddled with insecurity and fear, was cut short as Dean had heard enough.

Sam was small for his age, and Dean generally bigger for his. The two of them were used to the discrepancy, though, and it wasn't uncomfortable or completely outlandish when Dean hunched down to Sam's level, embraced the kid in a hug, and simply lifted him out of his seat and over onto his lap in the process.

He didn't know exactly what it was about stuff like this, but while Dean's goal was always to get Sam to stop crying, it always ended up fueling the kid's tears instead. And, just like a few other occasions Dean could recall from the past, Sam's silent cries turned into full-blown sobs under Dean.

"I'm always gonna be there, Sam, always," Dean said what Sam needed to hear as the kid's fears and anxieties ricocheted around his mind and shook his body. "I've got you, I've always got you," he continued sincerely, feeling Sam's desperate arms grip and regrip around him: gravity dropping him lower into Dean's lap.

Dean hunched down so Sam's head could land on his shoulder and boosted him up again. For a second he thought he saw the kid's feet struggle for purchase on the seat next to them, but it stopped a millisecond later as Dean settled.

"Okay," Dean murmured, trying to get comfortable as he knew Sam would stay here, like this, with him for awhile. He wouldn't have told anyone, but secretly Dean needed this too. Learning about seizures, and that he may have to witness his brother having another grande mal that had landed them in the hospital to begin with – had really frightened Dean. All he wanted was to feel in control again; to feel like he could take care of his little brother again.

"It's going to be okay, Sammy. Don't worry I'll always be around for you. We're in this together, okay? I've got you."

Slowly, Dean began to believe it just as much as he knew Sam did. Sam had melted under Dean's words, gradually relaxing under his brother's hold. Dean kept up the litany of comforting promises and even found himself wishing he could fall asleep. Eventually, he stopped, and began to stare at the windows of the bus.

They were dirty – a visible film of dust coating the glass. His blood-shot eyes wandered to the sill. Grit and grime was permanently embedded in the rubber glue sealant along the frame. It smelled musty; the air stagnant and cloying.

Writer's Note: So, this was surprisingly unconventional. I didn't know I'd end where I started, but it seemed to take itself there, so here it is. Please let me know what you thought of it! Also, I promise I'm still working on Clean Slate and Better Start Swimming. Cheers! ~ Alex