"How fucking far can a toddler get in five seconds? What the hell are you looking at?" Dean shot the last part at a middle-aged woman who had stopped and stared in shock, clearly not used to seeing a seven-year-old boy running alone through a mall and swearing under his breath. The woman's eyes widened and she backed away. Dean ignored her and ran on.

He'd only turned away for five seconds. Five goddamn seconds, to hand over the cash for the new coats Dad had sent them in to buy seeing as they'd both outgrown their jackets from last year. Dean had shot up half a foot and Sammy, still trundling around with chubby knees and baby fat, was getting bigger every day. Dad had to go to a special store across town, so he gave Dean the money.

"In and out, alright Dean? You know the kind of thing to look for. Hoods, linings and thick fabric."

"Yes, sir," Dean had nodded seriously, carefully folding the dollar bills and putting them safely in his pocket.

Dad had smiled and ruffled his hair. "I know you can handle it, Dean. And remember-"

"Take care of Sammy," Dean finished with him, rolling his eyes. "Dad, I always do!"

He'd bundled Sammy up in warm clothes, tucking his scarf down into his old too-small coat and hitching his gloves up under the elastic of his sleeves.

He'd tied Sammy's shoelaces securely, despite his brother stamping his little feet excitedly at the news of going outside.

He'd held Sammy's hand tightly all the way from the parking lot, where Dad dropped them off, to the children's store inside the mall.

He'd unzipped Sammy's jacket, draped his scarf loosely over his shoulders, and tucked his gloves into his pockets (before taking his hand again) so that he wouldn't get overheated inside the warm store.

He'd selected a number of jackets, let Sammy pick out the blue one with the paw-print-fleece lining and zoo animal patches on the chest and hip pockets, and helped him try several sizes on until they found one just big enough for the toddler to grow into without being swamped at first. He'd picked out a green coat with red plaid flannel lining for himself because it reminded him of one of Dad's.

He'd walked them up to the counter and heaved their new jackets up on top. The suspicious-looking lady rang them up and told him how much. He'd let go of Sammy's hand, reached into his pocket for the cash, and handed it to the lady with a big, disarming smile.

Then he'd taken the shopping bag, looked down to his left-

and Sam was gone.

So now he ran through the mall, shopping bag slung over his shoulder. "Sammy!" he called. "Sam? Sam!"

Several people turned around to look, but none of them were a floppy-haired three-year-old belonging to one Dean Winchester.

Dean growled and came to a stop in the middle of two intersecting halls, the main wing extending to more shops and the crossways leading to exits. He forced himself to calm down, take a deep breath, and think of what Dad might do.

Right. Okay. Track down Sammy. Where would Sam go? There was a reader board with a map of the mall in the middle of the intersection and Dean scanned it quickly, trying to spot something that would have caught his little brother's attention. Bookstore? Maybe. Dad would probably check there first, but Dean didn't think so. Sammy loved books, but he didn't usually go for them on his own. He'd pick them out from the library shelf, sure, but then he'd toddle straight back to Dean, heave his choices into his brother's lap, scramble up himself to plop on his bottom in the protective circle of Dean's arms, and wait expectantly to be read his stories.

Sam wouldn't be interested in any of the clothing or jewelry or electronics stores (unless they had tvs out front with cartoons playing, but Dean doubted that), and he wouldn't like any of the shops with strong-smelling lotions or perfumes. That cut out most of the directory board. There was another children's store at one end of the mall. That one might have toys, and Sammy might have gone there, but how would he have known about it? They didn't walk past any signs for it, Dean was sure. Anyway, it wasn't a logo he recognized, and Sammy couldn't read.

The food court was at the other end of the mall, too, but all Dean could smell from where he stood was french fries and fried food. Sammy definitely wouldn't have gone after that- he was getting weird and picky about his food and always wanted apple sauce or carrot sticks instead of fries anymore.

Dean peered at the sign. Maybe Sammy had gone to the bookstore after all, and he didn't know his little brother as well as he thought he did? Nah. There had to be something he'd missed….

Ahah!

Dean quickly found the right direction and sprinted off, the shopping bag flapping and banging his ankles. He skidded to a stop in front of the pet store and hurried in, looking around.

Sammy sat in the middle of an aisle, sticking his hands between the wire bars of the cages and giggling as a fluffy brown and black puppy licked at his fingers. In the aisles around him more puppies barked and cats meowed and birds chirped, the combined noise plenty loud for Sam to have heard from the children's store.

"Sammy," Dean groaned, and flopped down beside his little brother. "You know you're not supposed to run off like that!"

Sam looked up at him with a big, dimpled smile. "Dee, lookit the doggy!"

"I'm looking at the doggy, Sammy," Dean said dutifully. "It's getting slobber all over your hands."

The puppy barked excitedly as Sam waggled his wet fingers. "Woof, woof!" Sammy shouted happily.

Dean rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah. You think I should get a collar for you too, Sammy? Property of Dean Winchester, if found please call because he probably ran off again like he knows he's not supposed to?"

"Woof!" Sammy giggled.