Summary: Pre-Series: Dean had seen Sam freak out in storms before, but this time, the kid was bordering on a meltdown.
Author's Notes: First let me assure anyone who has been reading "Fear and Shame", I have every intention of finishing that story. However, the muse decided to take an extended summer vacation. But stay tuned, it seems the break may be over. In fact, he sent me this postcard. Enjoy…
Hugs and thanks to Ericka Jane for the beta services.
Disclaimer: I do not own Supernatural or any of its characters.
The bolt of lightning illuminated the room giving way to the blast of thunder that jolted Dean out of his sleep. Once he got over being startled, the wily fourteen-year-old was mostly unfazed. Simple things like night-time thunderstorms didn't rattle him.
He'd said as much to Bobby Singer earlier that day when his adopted Uncle had told him a major storm was going to hit. Brimming with adolescent nonchalance, Dean had shrugged. Left up to him, he'd sleep through the whole thing, but he knew there was no chance of that with Sam around.
The unpredictable flares of threatening light coupled with the jarring sound of thunder always sent Sam running to Dean for comfort and protection, even in broad daylight. Worse, when the storms struck at night Sam would scramble into his big brother's bed and burrow into Dean like his sibling was a port of refuge.
In Dean's mind Sam's dread of storms bordered on phobia. So instinctively, whenever thunder woke Dean up, his first thought was always his little brother.
Tonight was no exception, but when Dean sat up and glanced sideways at Sam's bed, he was surprised to find it empty. The battered watch he retrieved from his cluttered bedside table told him it was 2:17 AM; so where the hell could Sam be?
Although it seemed he was alone in the ground-floor room he and Sam shared whenever their father stashed them at Bobby's, Dean was still careful to move quietly when he got out of bed. After ten years of sleeping in motel rooms with two other people it was second nature to make sure that his middle-of-the-night movements were undetected.
He quietly padded to the small interior bathroom and knocked softly.
"Sammy? Dean whispered. "You in there?"
Suddenly, the room was lit by a piercing flash of lightning quickly followed by deafening thunder. Wherever his little brother was, Dean figured Sam was probably close to passing out.
"Sammy?" this time the call was more urgent.
Hearing no response, Dean opened the door to find an empty bathroom. It didn't take much thought for him to solve the mystery. His brother wouldn't have gone far with the place feeling like they were under attack from heavy artillery.
In a couple of strides, Dean was in front of the room closet. When he pulled back the doors he saw his little brother huddling beneath a row of twisted wire hangers. Sam was rammed up against the back wall, his face cradled on his knees as he hugged his legs to his chest. From the rapid movement of the little boy's shoulders, Dean could tell he was crying.
"What the hell are you doing in here?" Dean asked dropping to his knees.
Sam didn't even acknowledge his brother.
"Sammy," Dean pressed, trying to lift his sibling's head. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Sam mumbled, not managing to mask the quake in his voice. "I'm OK."
"Dude, you're hiding in the closet in the middle of a thunderstorm and you expect me to believe you're OK?"
Sam's answer was cut off when thunder exploded in the room.
"O'god," Sam whimpered, grabbing his knees tighter.
The swift wave of protectiveness that erupted inside Dean had him reaching out. But when his hand came to rest gently on the back of his brother's neck, Sam jerked away.
"I'm OK," he insisted.
"Yeah right, and Madonna's a virgin."
"Just go back to bed," Sam begged.
But Dean wasn't about to comply when his little brother looked like the devil had come after him.
"I'm not leaving you like this," Dean said, his alarm increasing as he watched his sibling shaking and trembling.
"I said I'm OK," Sam shrilled, finally looking up.
Unfortunately, the red face and the bloodshot eyes betrayed him.
Dean had seen Sam freak out in storms before, but this time, the kid was bordering on a meltdown. And what was worse, he was usually as clingy as saran wrap when he was scared, but now he didn't want Dean anywhere near him.
What the hell was going on? Why was Sam pulling away?
Since Sam was falling apart, Dean knew the best approach was to reason with his brother. You got more out of Sam by convincing him instead of barking out orders, so Dean proceeded accordingly.
"OK," he began, keeping his tone light. "Listen up, Little Buddy…"
A sharp flash of light had Sam covering his head with his hands and retreating into the wall.
That did it.
Dean disentangled his little brother from his self-preserving huddle and lifted him out of the closet.
"What's up with you, man?" he asked once he'd planted Sam on his bed and seated himself facing him. "Sammy?" he prodded, anchoring Sam's face with both hands so the frightened child had no choice but to look at him.
Eyes squeezed shut, Sam shook his head stubbornly; but Dean refused to allow the silence.
"Answer me." Dean's tone wasn't hard, but it was clearly an order.
Knowing better than to disobey, Sam looked up at his brother.
"It was like it was coming into the room," he whispered fitfully.
Eyes brimming with tears, Sam nodded then turned away. "And the thunder was so loud."
The obvious distress and the palpable fear sent Dean's big brother instincts into overdrive.
"Why didn't you wake me?" he asked, thumbing in vain to stem the tears flooding down Sam's face.
"Nothing," Sam mumbled, bowing his head.
Dean lifted Sam's chin with his index finger. "Dude, we got a deal remember? No secrets."
It was an understanding they'd established since Sam could talk. They didn't hide things from each other no matter how small or silly.
"Hey," Dean wasn't letting up. "Spill it."
"I heard what you said to Uncle Bobby," Sam sniffed softly.
Sam nodded. "You said you weren't scared of stupid things like that."
"You said you weren't scared of anything since you were four."
"Because I'm not," Dean shrugged. "What's that got to do with you?"
"I'm nine," Sam wailed.
"Oh," Dean chewed his lip as realization set in. "Oh."
With a deep sigh, Sam hung his head dejectedly as Dean scrambled to administer emotional damage control.
"Hey, come on now, Sammy. You know I didn't mean anything about you."
"I don't wanna be afraid anymore," Sam cried, wiping his eyes disgustedly as the tears kept flowing. "I wanna be like you."
The confession seemed to trigger a merciless crack of thunder. Sam gasped deeply but stood his ground instead of taking his usual line of defense and cowering against his brother. The self-imposed bravery hurt Dean's heart.
He doesn't want to look like a coward, Dean realized as he watched his little brother, eyes shut, chest heaving, struggling for calm. Sam was scared enough to wet his pants but he wouldn't reach out for comfort because he'd rather suffer than look like a wimp.
Dean had seen enough.
"Come here," he whispered gruffly, beckoning Sam with a curling index finger. "Just ... come here."
There was a brief hesitation but then the lightning struck again. The sudden, unfriendly illumination and the subsequent explosion proved to be the decider.
The hard slam against his chest almost winded Dean, but he didn't complain when his brother fell into his arms. He could literally smell the fear as Sam folded into him, clinging with trembling hands. The kid felt cold and clammy like he was freezing and sweating at the same time.
"Sick of being scared," Sam sobbed, his words muffled against Dean's ribcage. "Just wanna be like you."
Dean breathed out hard into Sam's hair, the light brown strands fluttering as he exhaled. The kid had it all wrong. Dean had never been afraid of thunderstorms because he'd never had the chance. Fear was not an emotion he'd had many opportunities to indulge during his short, colorful life. His enrollment in hunting had occurred shortly after his twelfth birthday and survival in that game didn't leave much room for fright. Soldiers had to be brave enough to take on every kind of evil; and what was out there was far worse than any force of nature. So no, he would never hide in a closet and cry because of some noisy rain.
But sometimes before he went with John "on a mission", he'd take a painfully hot shower to scald himself numb.
Then sometimes as they drove back from "an assignment," he'd blast the music at a maddening level, willing the blaring hard rock to drown out his unspoken screams.
And then sometimes when he'd had a particularly close save, he'd sneak a drink of his father's cheap scotch. It tasted pretty rough and damn near burned a hole in his throat, but once he got it down the mess in his head would give him a break. Yet, having seen how much his Dad could down in a single sitting, he knew it wouldn't be long before he'd need more than a few gulps to do the trick.
God help him, he didn't want Sam to have to deal with any of that crap but what the hell could he do to stop it? Their father had generally shielded Sam from the gruesome details of his job but judging from John's utterances and the timing of his own induction, Dean knew Sam's days of innocence were numbered.
So as he sat holding his shaking little brother, Dean was suddenly terrified and it had nothing to do with the raging storm. When he thought about the terrifying initiations that awaited his brother, Dean knew that thunder was the least of Sam's problems.
Sam had cried himself out in Dean's arms, finally drifting off when the worst of the lightning and thunder had passed. Unable to sleep, Dean had tucked Sam in and then sat on a tattered love-seat by the window, watching the storm while keeping an eye on Sam. At some point he must have drifted off because he was awakened by the sense of someone hovering over him. He opened his eyes to find his little brother draping a blanket over him.
"Hey," Dean whispered rubbing his face and sitting up. "How're you feeling?"
"OK," Sam said calmly, seating himself on the small sofa beside Dean. "Storm's over."
A quick look out the window confirmed the weather report. The rain was still falling heavily but the fury of the elements had abated. Sam also seemed to have recovered reasonably from his meltdown. He slipped under the blanket and moved right up against Dean so he could rest his head on his brother's chest. Savoring the moment, Dean squeezed him tight. This was another thing that saddened him about Sam's fast-approaching adolescence. His little brother was sure to outgrow his affectionate streak and then times like this would be a thing of the past.
For so many reasons, Dean wished he could stop time.
Yet the cold realist he was becoming knew there was no sense in dreaming. Hunting would dictate Sam's life, every bit as much as it had taken over Dean's. Whether Dean liked it or not, his brother's future had already been decided.
But if he couldn't turn back the tide, Dean decided, he could at least give Sam something to make the journey at little easier.
"I wanna talk to you," Dean began, ruffling Sam's hair.
"'Bout what?" Sam yawned, lulled by the rain.
Dean gently eased Sam up to face him.
"About what I said to Uncle Bobby. I don't want you to ever feel bad if you feel afraid, Sammy. It's only natural to be scared sometimes."
"No," Sam shook his head. "Dad never gets scared; neither do you."
"That's not totally true."
"But that's what you said to Uncle Bobby."
"No, I said I'm not afraid of stuff like thunderstorms but that doesn't mean I don't get scared. Everyone feels scared of something at some point, so you don't need to beat yourself up over it. O.K?"
Sam considered before answering like he always did when they talked about deep stuff like this. Dean could literally hear the thoughts turning over in his head.
"OK," Sam conceded sinking back down against his brother.
Dean rubbed Sam's back, content to let the issue rest but Sam wasn't satisfied yet.
"Can I ask you something?"
"What are you afraid of?"
Finding himself at a pivotal crossroads, Dean contemplated his options. Admitting to fear could mean losing the lofty superhero status that was his favorite perk of being a big brother. Yet shrugging off the question would leave Sam open to all kinds of insecurities.
In the end, it was a no brainer.
"You want the truth, Sammy?" he asked, voice soft with apprehension.
"Yeah," Sam nodded against Dean's chest.
"It's gonna sound kinda weird but I guess what I'm really scared of is losing you or losing Dad. You guys are really all I've got, and I don't want anything to take either of you away from me."
Sam was silent for several moments, but Dean felt his little hands gripping him tighter.
"I'm not going anywhere," Sam promised.
Dean smiled, wishing it was that simple. But neither of them had any real control over anything. Not over destiny and certainly not over the things that hid in the dark. Sadly, Sam would find that out soon enough; Dean couldn't protect him from reality for ever. But maybe he could help him shoulder the burden.
Sitting up again, Dean shifted his brother so they sat eye to eye once more.
"I want to tell you something; from now, until the day you die, if you're ever scared of anything you can tell me. I don't care how old you are, if you feel afraid, and I mean even a little bit, you can always come to me."
"Really?" Sam asked, eyes wide with wonder.
Dean swallowed back the lump rising in his throat at the sight of such unbridled affection.
"Even though I'm nine?" Sam tested.
Dean pulled him into a hug and then whispered; "Even when you're ninety-nine."
Overwhelmed with sweet relief, Sam relaxed in his brother's arms, content and secure in Dean's affirmation. But as Dean held his brother, he glanced out of the nearby window and felt weak and small.
The rain may have stopped and the early morning sky seemed to be clearing, but Sam had it all wrong.
The storm was far from over.