Rating: PG-13 for child abuse, language
Characters: Teen Sam and Dean, John
Genre: Angst, comfort
Word Count: 6,000
Disclaimer: Sam and Dean (and John) don't belong to me, sadly.
Spoilers: None--takes place pre-series, when Sam and Dean are teenagers
Summary: Things go from bad to worse in a small Wyoming town until Sam and Dean are stranded in the middle of nowhere in a blizzard, where there's nothing to do but talk about all the things they've never been able to before--things that may be better left unsaid. At least maybe now Dean can try to fix whatever's going so wrong inside Sam that's made him so cold and hostile all these past months, but talking about feelings has never been Dean's forte.
“Jeez, when did you start hating dad so much?” Dean asked, disturbed.
“Around the time I started hating you,” Sam said.
Another town, another boring school stint. A particularly shitty town, but still. Dad was chasing something here in Wyoming, which crossed state lines and kept moving east. He’d come get them when the hunt was done. Hopefully soon. This town really sucked.
At least Sam was in the same school with him, since it was such a podunk town that there weren’t even separate middle and high schools. Combined, there were only sixty students, and slim pickins among the girls Dean’s age, alas. The one benefit of a small school was that Dean could intimidate the assholes early on and expect no more trouble from them for him or Sam as long as he doled out the occasional reminder threat. Sam was bored, because the school was so far behind his previous school. It was so far behind, even Dean thought he already knew some of this stuff. Some towns were better and some towns were worse, and this was one of the very worst: nothing to do but go to the one movie theater, nowhere to go since there were no other towns within a hundred-mile radius. It wasn’t uncommon for them to be regarded with suspicion, but Sam usually brought them around with his studiousness and good attitude, and in this crappy town, even Sam couldn’t win them over. Nothing but a total suck-fest. Not even any decent, willing girls to fuck. Dean really hoped dad would come home soon.
It was only totally sucky until the day they accused Sam of vandalizing the gym; then it became something much worse.
“Why would you do that?” Dean asked Sam on their way home, with a “note for their father,” which Dean trashed on the way out of the principal’s office where he’d picked up Sam when the principal couldn’t reach dad. Even Dean usually didn’t stoop to vandalism; it just wasn’t that fun.
“I didn’t!” Sam shouldered his backpack higher, hunching, and hurried his step.
“Dude, there were four witnesses.”
“They’re all lying!”
Dean grabbed him by the backpack and turned him to face him. Sam tried to shake him off, but he was such a puny little runt, he couldn’t without a lot more effort. “Sam, seriously? You know I don’t care either way. I’ll cover for you with dad.”
He saw the hurt and outrage in Sam’s eyes as he answered the same as before and he knew instantly that those bastards had set up his kid brother. “Where do they live?” he asked flatly.
Sam finally managed to shake him off. “Just let it go, it doesn’t matter, we’re leaving soon, anyway.”
Sam had been suspended, and Dean knew he’d end up knocking heads if he went to school without him. Dad might be pissed if there was more trouble. The best thing now was to stay out of sight, so he stopped going to school, too, which was great, until the truant officer showed up. “Can I speak to your father?” he asked, not unkindly, eyes flickering to Sam as he crept into view behind Dean. A truant officer! After only a few days? That almost never happened. In big cities, no one gave a fuck about some drifter kids who might slip through the cracks. That was how Dean liked it.
“Uh ... uh, Sam’s suspended, so he’s not skipping.”
The officer consulted a folder. “Are you ‘Dean’?”
“Yeah, uh ... yeah.”
“Have you been suspended?”
“Uh, no, but, you know, someone has to stay home to watch Sam. Dad’s out of town working a job. Once he’s back, I can come to school again.” Once he was back, they would be so out of here.
“Your brother isn’t able to stay home by himself during the day? Isn’t he in middle school?”
“Um ....” Dean was going to have to put some effort into improving his prevarication skills.
“Wait a minute--you don’t have a mother?” Dean shook his head wordlessly. Helplessly. “And your dad leaves town and expects you kids to live on your own?”
“Yeah, but I’m eighteen, so--”
“Says here you’re sixteen.”
Dean cursed under his breath. Why did dad have to tell them the truth? Because it’s easier to remember than a lie, dad would always say. Keep it simple wherever possible. The truth had gotten them into enough trouble; it was time to lie lie lie. “Well, I feel eighteen. Wish I was eighteen. I’m dying to vote.” He gave the truant officer a big, winning smile. “Dad’s gonna be back tonight. He’s never gone for long. You’re right; I just didn’t really feel like going to school, but, uh ... I’ll be back just as soon as dad’s back in town. Thanks for your concern, seriously--” When the truant officer merely looked at him measuringly, he shut the door on him, breathing a huge sigh of relief.
Short-lived, because then the cops came. He and Sam turned off all the lights, but the landlord let them in and they caught Sam and Dean, who claimed they’d been asleep the whole time and that’s why they hadn’t answered the door, even though it was only 8 at night. The cops were nice to them. There was a lady from social services whom Dean was more afraid of than all the rest of the cops put together, who was saying it wasn’t surprising Sam was engaging in criminal behavior, given his home life. Dean waited for Sam to defend himself and tell her he hadn’t done anything, that he’d been set up, but he just sat there silent, boring holes into the floor with furious eyes, like he did now any time Dean or dad gave him a hard time. Seemed like he looked like that a lot.
Seeing Sam sitting there--the good one, the studious one, the one who didn’t like that his dad and brother engaged in criminal activity all the time--looking like that, Dean could suddenly almost see what they were seeing. Sam, now adolescent, was starting to look a little ... hardened. It troubled Dean. He and dad must be rubbing off on him finally. He’d figured he and dad would always look like that, but not Sam. Sam should look as good and innocent on the outside as he was inside.
They were taken to the hospital where they were given a once-over by a doctor, which Sam also submitted to with his usual silent fury. “It’s okay, Sammy,” Dean murmured, “just let ’em have their fun and we’ll be on our way.”
Unfortunately, the doctor’s examination revealed all their old broken bones and scars from hunts--kinds of scars no kid should have by the time they’re thirteen, or sixteen, for that matter. It was all over then. Dad was branded a child-abuser and suddenly, they found themselves in the back of a cop car, headed for foster care. Sam met his eyes in the dim light, silently asking what they were going to do. Dean patted his knee, looked straight ahead, and tried to keep the terror out of his expression.
There weren’t a lot of people in town who accepted foster kids. The only one who seemed willing to take teenagers looked Dean and Sam up and down coldly and finally said, “I’ll take one of ’em, but not the criminal.”
“He didn’t do anything!” Dean burst out. He’d had enough and then some. “They set him up! He wouldn’t do something like that, even if I might. And if you think you’re splitting us up--”
The cop went and had a long talk with the guy by the side of the house, which looked more like a shady deal than anything. Finally the cop came back, smiling, and said they could stay together, which Dean was incredibly relieved about ... until their first night there. There were already five other kids in the house, all some degree of dirty and underfed, hostile and nasty. Before they’d even been there an hour, one of them accused Dean of stealing food, which earned a sullen threat from the foster father, who lazily sat around watching reality t.v. when he wasn’t lunging at one of the kids. Indeed, some of them were bruised.
At eleven, they were ordered to their room, which was more like a closet, with a single twin bed and only one sheet, no blankets. They’d been in situations where they had to find a way to stay warm before (it was November, and in Wyoming, freakin’ cold; apparently foster dad didn’t believe in turning up the heat), and though Dean was now realizing Sam avoided touching Dean whenever possible, he silently acquiesced to sharing their body heat, lying under the sheet still in their clothes, like dad had taught them to do when they were stuck in the woods or in the car all night.
It was the first time they’d been physically close in ... jeez, months? Years? Sam’s stand-offishness had happened gradually and Dean had hardly noticed, figuring it would go away on its own, but Sam lying there deliberately stiffly with his back to him indicated otherwise. They’d hardly even talked in quite a while, now that he thought about it. How had this happened? Sam had never been dad’s biggest fan, not at least not since he hit puberty and started getting a mind of his own, but Dean thought he’d always gotten along pretty well with his brother.
“Don’t worry, Sam,” he tried. “I’ll get us out of here soon.”
“How?” Sam asked flatly. “There’s nowhere to go.”
“I’ll page dad as soon as I can get to the phone, and--”
“It’s a long-distance call; they’ll never let you.”
“Like I need permission?”
“They might not even have long-distance service, and you can’t make a collect call to a pager.”
Dean was getting irritated with Sam’s pessimistic hostility. “I’ll find a way, okay, Sam?”
Sam curled in on himself. “Whatever.”
“We have to share body heat!” Dean barked, getting cold inside and out. “Now give it up.”
With palpable reluctance, Sam uncurled enough that they could press their sides together. “Anyway, dad won’t come,” Sam mumbled hopelessly.
“Of course he will! I’ll send him the emergency page.”
“He wouldn’t give up a hunt unless he thought were were in a life or death situation, and he can’t call us and find out what’s really going on. Not like he would come even if he knew,” Sam said, so jaded he couldn’t possibly be thirteen. These were the most words he’d choked out in months. This was the kind of thing that was always going on in his head? All this hopelessness and resignation?
“Jeez, when did you start hating dad so much?” Dean asked, disturbed.
“Around the time I started hating you,” Sam said dispassionately, rolled away again, and went to sleep.
At least their stint as foster kids didn’t last long. At breakfast, the father informed them that Sam wasn’t welcome to a bowl of sugary cereal with the rest of the kids. Sam looked utterly unsurprised and went to sit down on the couch, but Dean wasn’t about to let this stand. “Why not?” he challenged.
“Teach ’im a lesson about what happens to criminals.”
“He’s not a criminal,” Dean hissed coldly. “Here, Sam. Have some cereal.”
The guy got up, which was what Dean was hoping for. When he just stood there, Dean poured Sam a big bowl of cereal. The guy lunged for him. Dean landed him neatly on the floor. The guy climbed to his feet, humiliated. “You do that again and I’ll kill you.” He sounded like he meant it. He went for his gun cabinet. Dean glanced at Sam. The other kids were watching soundlessly, terrified.
“Won’t that ... kind of get you in trouble with the cops?” Dean asked, bewildered. He seriously thought he could get away with killing a couple of kids? It’s not like Dean was worried--even with a gun in his hand, he was still no match for Sam and Dean, lumbering and ineffectual as he was--but he was kind of freaked out. That’s the kind of thing that went down in this town?
“I’ll just tell ’em it was self-defense,” the guy said with a grin, taking out his shotgun and making a big show of loading it. Out of the corner of his eye, Dean saw Sam slip down the hall.
When he reemerged with their meager pack of stuff, Dean grabbed the half-loaded gun out of his hands and knocked the guy out with it. He and Sam quickly rummaged in his gun cabinet for weapons and ammunition, then headed for the door. Sam paused to tell the other kids--staring huge-eyed at them--that they should get away from this house now while they had the chance, and then he and Sam were gone.
The manhunt didn’t start for a few hours (maybe because the police force was small and disorganized here, maybe because it took that long for their foster dad to come to)--plenty of time for them to get their stuff out of their apartment and steal supplies from the store. “Squatting or camping?” Dean asked Sam, pausing in the camping goods section.
Sam considered. He was smart and logical; it was always a good idea to run a plan by Sammy before implementing it. “In a town this small, if there even is any place to squat, they’d probably catch us eventually.”
“Camping it is, then,” Dean said, grabbing camping supplies. They also got some new clothes, though they didn’t have time to try them on, boots, and a nice warm coat for each of them, which they tried on by the rack. Then Dean distracted the clerk with details about the run-in they’d had with their foster father that morning, figuring it might help if they got caught, as Sam slipped out the back with everything they’d selected, and they were on their way to the nearby woods. Even Dean didn’t really like stealing, especially not so much from one place, but they’d been treated so meanly by this town, he couldn’t feel too bad about it.
The one stroke of luck was finding an abandoned shed out in the forest, which might have been a still at one time, and had lots of old, rusty tools in it. It was a blessing and a curse that by the time the manhunt must have really gotten going, it had started snowing heavily, so their tracks were covered. “This is way better than that foster home,” Dean said cheerily, covering up the walls with blankets to keep the snow from blowing in and to keep in the light before turning on the electric lantern. “It’s hardly any colder, and now we have coats and blankets.”
Sam made them bologna sandwiches, saying nothing.
“Sure is nice to be away from Shitville, too.” He laughed. “Can you believe that dickhead threatened us with a gun? I wonder if those kids did like you said and took off.”
Sam finished the sandwiches and started eating his, still saying nothing. He didn’t even tell Dean they were ready or hand him his or anything.
“I’ll sneak into town tomorrow and get my hands on a phone and page dad.”
Sam snorted. “Why bother.”
“Well, so he knows to come and get us.”
“How will he know to come and get us? What number do you page him with for that?”
“I’ll just say 9-1-1.”
“That’ll tell him a lot. We aren’t even in town anymore.”
“He knows where we’d go. He’ll come straight for the woods, you watch.”
“He’ll come and then tell us why the woods were exactly the wrong place to go,” said Sam, but he did seem a little relieved, like he believed Dean that their dad would find them. If they were anywhere but Wyoming, they could walk or hitchhike or something to another town where no one knew anything about them, but here, either dad came to get them or they were screwed.
“Don’t worry, Sammy; this place’ll be nothing but a bad dream by tomorrow night.”
Dean slept uncommonly well, even against Sam’s unfriendly back. It took him a while to figure out why, as he looked around the shed the next morning. He finally realized it was still dark, though his watch said it was around ten, and it was silent--eerily silent. A few snowflakes still drifted in where the roof didn’t quite meet the walls, but there weren’t any blowing in through the sides of the shed anymore, and when Dean peeled aside a wall blanket to see what could be seen, he knew why. “Fuck,” he groaned.
Sam rolled over. “What?” he said shortly, and looked at what Dean was looking at: a wall of snow. They were snowed in.
Sam looked just as unsurprised and resigned as always, and went to check their food supplies. Dean knew exactly what was in there. “As soon as I can get out, I’ll set some traps and catch us a rabbit or two,” he said, trying to sound untroubled, and secretly panicking. “Or maybe we can shoot a deer.” They had enough food to last them until then if they had a little luck ... unless it snowed again.
“So glad dad chose such a practical car,” Sam said with a truly impressive depth of sarcasm for a kid his age. “The Impala’s great on snow, right?”
It did snow again. And again. Dean tried to get out, but he’d only end up breaking the door and causing their shelter to crumble if he tried any harder. They tried to be sparing, but they were fast running out of food. Dad was right--teenage boys did eat a lot.
It bothered him the most that Sam often demurred, refusing to eat. If he was really not hungry, that was one thing, but if he was hungry and just not eating, what did you do about that? Dean got mad when Sam said he wasn’t hungry for dinner again and said Dean could have it for his breakfast instead. “Eat your dinner, Sammy!” he said dangerously.
“Not hungry,” Sam said, staring at the wall, like he’d been doing for days. Sometimes he read one of his books, but he said he’d read them all three times already.
Dean stood up, throwing down the dirty newspaper he’d made dinner on. “You’re gonna eat it if I have to force-feed you!”
Sam’s eyes gradually traveled over to Dean’s. “Go ahead.”
They stared at each other long moment there in the dim light as Dean ran through every option he had and knew Sam knew them already, had already calculated them. He knew Dean was out. “Goddammit, Sam,” he whispered, then at regular volume, he spat, “Because you hate me, is that why?”
“No, I hate you because you’re a dick all the time.”
“I just made you your fuckin’ dinner!”
“Yeah,” Sam said scathingly, rolling his eyes, “you’re the best brother on earth when my life’s in danger, and the rest of the time, you’re a complete prick.”
“I’m just kidding around.”
Sam’s eyes darted around the little shed, as if trying to fathom how Dean could actually utter those words believing they were true. When he spoke again, it was like he was talking to a particularly idiotic child--a tone of voice guaranteed to make Dean start in on him. “How does kidding around change the fact that you’re a dick?”
“Brothers give their younger brothers a hard time; that’s the way it is.”
“... Which is why younger brothers hate their older brothers so much of the time, I guess.”
“C’mon, you can’t hate me!” Dean said, and it came out sounding pleading. “We’re blood. You can’t help but love me.”
“You’d be surprised,” Sam said coolly.
Dean was starting to get mad. “What do you expect?! You need me to hold little Sammy’s hand anytime he has to take a leak?”
“If you can’t help being a dick, maybe you could at least keep your mouth shut. I’m not a jerk to you.”
Dean was about to protest the obvious falsehood of this statement, until he realized with bewilderment that it was true: as little as he evidently liked Dean, he was always civil to him. Superior and condescending, but never mean. It took Dean a few seconds to come up with anything, and then it wasn’t anything good; he was fast running out of rationales for his behavior. “It’s not natural, Sammy,” he blustered.
“You being nice isn’t natural to you? I believe you, Dean. You seriously can’t hold it in? Your dickishness is out of your control?” Sam shook his head, utterly disgusted, and Dean realized this was really, truly, what Sam had been thinking of him all this time, and he couldn’t stand it. His own brother--his only living family member besides dad and the only one who’d ever had the chance of loving Dean the best--had not a shred of respect left for him.
It took everything Dean had to swallow his pride and bite back all the bitter words that were lunging to get out of his throat, but he leaned back against the wall of the shed and said, stone serious, “I can be nice.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it.”
“You sure are cynical for a thirteen-year-old kid.”
“Really, ya think? Yeah, I don’t know what about our lives could possibly make me cynical,” and there, Dean saw it again, that resignation so far beyond what a kid his age should have any inkling of. It wasn’t just upsetting, it was downright disturbing. It was wrong. There was something really, really wrong inside Sam. Dad wouldn’t have known; they couldn’t have had this conversation in front of him, all raw and lowdown and full of cursing. They sure weren’t allowed to complain about the way they had to live in front of him. It was up to Dean to fix this, because he was the only one who might be able to. Too bad he always seemed to fail at anything important.
“Yeah? I mean, yeah, I guess. It sucks. Right?” Dean tried, feeling about as useless as he usually did when it came to Sam, or most anything except picking up chicks and being a meat shield.
Sam fixed him with a look of ridicule Dean couldn’t even feel insulted by, because he saw all too clearly what was behind it: Oh, you think it ‘sucks’? This is so far beyond suck. So far beyond, it was like looking into the eyes of someone who was living his personal hell. Dean blinked. “Sammy?” he whispered.
Sam looked around the little shed that might become their tomb, which they both knew all too well. “This was bound to happen,” Sam said with a shrug. “It’s my life: moving around and always dealing with strangers, living with dad, hunted by monsters. I finally figured out after the last time you were put in the hospital by that flying monster with the ten-inch claws that we weren’t--uh, that I wasn’t gonna survive this. I’m just waiting around to die.”
Dean felt something twist in his chest with a sharp pain. There was no doubt Sam meant every word he said. He only said it now because he thought the end was finally near. Dean couldn’t stand it, couldn’t bear to hear this, most of all because sometimes, late at night after a really bad day, he’d had an echo of the same thought. So he said what dad would say. “Quit being so melodramatic. You’re gonna be fine.”
Sam was unmoved by Dean’s crappy platitude. It was like nothing could move him anymore. “Doesn’t matter. You should be the one to eat, Dean, because ... you’re the one who really wants to be here.”
Dean felt cold spill through his body from the top down. “What are you saying, Sammy?” he barely choked out.
“Just ... that ... I’ve seen the way dad looks at me sometimes, like ... like I’m the monster. Like he’s ....” There was something he was afraid to say. If he could say to Dean that he didn’t even want to live, what couldn’t he say?
“What?” Dean managed to force out.
“Like he’s thinking about killing me.” He couldn’t meet Dean’s eyes as he said it. He set his expression, waiting for Dean to deny it. Dean was too stunned to say a word. “I know it sounds crazy, Dean, but I swear--”
“Come on, Sam, you were always the favorite,” Dean said, but it wasn’t with a dismissive tone, it was desperate. “Why do you think I’m so hard on you all the time? Dad loves you, you can’t deny that--”
“I don’t,” Sam said hauntedly. “But still. I don’t know why, but ... it’s true.” When Dean still couldn’t talk, Sam looked him in the eye intensely and said, “It’s okay. This is better. I’d totally rather die here with you like this than ... than if dad ever .... I mean, this is pretty good, all things considered. When I pictured the way I would die, I always pictured something way worse. It’ll actually kind of be a relief for it to ... you know, finally be over and I don’t have to wonder how or when anymore.” Dean was staring at him in horror, but Sam didn’t know that, eyes fixed on the floor, the picture of sorrow with no expectation of resolution or reprieve. Sam had a thought. “Hey, Dean, uh ... I know he’ll give you a hard time about it if he gets here in time to save you and he thinks you let me starve to death, so you should carve up my body and say something got me, like there was a bear or something--”
Dean jumped up, aghast. “Are you freakin’ kidding me?! No, Sam.” Dean got down on his knees right in front of him and handed Sam the meager dinner Dean had prepared. He’d wanted to get down on his knees and beg him to love him again before, but he couldn’t. He could beg him for this, though. “If we’re dying, we die together.”
For the first time in all these months, the hard expression on Sam’s face gave way to emotion, as he looked Dean in the eye with something other than loathing. “But-- Dean--” Sam wanted it; Dean could tell by the way he looked at the paper plate. He finally took it and ate, and Dean ate his, leaning back against the wall of the shed next to Sam, arms brushing, more brotherly than things had felt in months. It was only that night, after they’d turned off the lantern and they were under the warm blankets together, that Sam said softly, “I meant what I said. I’m not gonna make it, because if dad wants--if he plans to--” he stuttered, then, figuring Dean knew what he was trying to say, he went on, “but, you know--you have a chance. You can have my food if you want it. I don’t mind.”
Dean forced his voice to sound as even as he could, and succeeded not at all. “Did you mean it when you said you didn’t want to live?”
“No,” said Sam, soft as a breath. “I do. But if your own dad doesn’t think you should ....”
He hadn’t done this since he was ten, but Dean rolled over and hugged Sam tight. Dad would think it showed weakness, but they were out in the middle of nowhere; he would never know. Sam would never tell. They’d already said things here, in the middle of this empty wilderness, that neither of them ever thought could be uttered aloud, because dad wouldn’t have allowed them to be. They’d come this far; no sense leaving it all only half-expressed.
He hoped Sam wouldn’t feel the hot wetness leaking from his eyes and know he was crying. He tried several times to say Sam was wrong, that dad had never thought such a thing, but he couldn’t, because he’d seen the same look in their dad’s eyes: wary, like he was waiting for Sam to attack or turn into something else. Dean remembered being eight years old and waking in the middle of the night to find their dad sitting on the edge of his bed, hand on his gun, flexing his hand slowly again and again around the handle, staring intently at Sam sleeping innocently next to him.
Dean had to say, Sam seemed glad for the hug, less stiff and hostile than he used to be. Even dad hardly ever hugged Sam anymore. “Dad hunts monsters,” Sam murmured. “That’s what he does. He kills them. He never leaves one alive, no matter what it takes. If he wants me dead ... what does that say about me?”
“You know what? Fuck dad,” Dean said suddenly, loudly. “I don’t give a shit what he thinks. If he ever tried anything, I would stop him. That’s what I’m here for, Sammy: to protect you.”
Dean’s stomach twisted when Sam scoffed. “And why? Because dad told you to. If dad told you to kill me ....” Dean’s hands clenched so hard around Sam’s small shoulders that even stoic Sam finally said, “Ow.”
Dean eased up. “Sam--”
“It’s okay. I know how it is. Dad’s word is sovereign. You have to follow orders.”
“No,” said Dean, and it felt like a piece of his heart was ripped out of him when he did. Ever since that night when he was eight and he saw their dad looking at Sam like that, deep down he knew there would come a reckoning someday. Someday, he would have to make a choice, between Sam and their dad. He just hadn’t expected it to come so soon. “If it came down to it ... I would choose you.”
“Why?” Logical Sam. He even faced death with logic, even at thirteen.
Because dad’s revenge trip had rendered him half crazy. Because the rules their dad lived by made no sense. Because Sam was the flipside of Dean, the other side of his coin. Because in all the crap he’d been through in his life, Sam was always there. Because Sam was a steady, bright, sensible presence in a sea of insanity. Because Dean knew Sam all the way down, had known him since he was born, and he knew--he knew--he wasn’t a monster. He was good. Dean held him closer. “Because you’re my brother.”
Dean was scared the townspeople might have finally found them, but it was dad who broke through the wall of snow into the shed early the next morning after they’d eaten breakfast, letting in bright sunlight, against which Dean and Sam both squinted. Dad took in the sight of them quickly, and seeing them both still alive and well, burst out, “Oh, thank God!” He clutched them both in a painfully tight hug, and kissed Sam on the head.
It didn’t take long before he looked around their little shelter, calculating what they had, what they’d brought, how they’d fared, nodding. “Good. You did good. If you’d gotten a break in the weather, you could’ve done some hunting.” He fixed shrewd eyes on them, on Sam. “What happened back there? I got the third degree from the cops before they let me go and I could come looking for you. On the plus side, they think you must’ve froze to death out here, so they won’t put out a warrant, even though you attacked your foster parent, did I hear right?”
“Yes, sir,” said Dean.
“Because he pulled a gun on us. He was really gonna do it, too. Pretty sure.”
Dad looked from one to the other, shaking his head slightly. He looked ... guilty, but he managed to find some disappointment to cover over it soon enough, like he usually did. “Why didn’t you call?”
“Foster guy didn’t have long-distance service, and then we had to leave town before I could find a phone that wasn’t a pay phone. Then we were stuck,” said Dean.
Their dad nodded. “Well,” he said at last, “you boys are all right; that’s what’s important.”
Dean saw the way Sam regarded their dad, with less hate now and more indifference. He seemed better than he had in all these months as they packed up their stuff and trekked out to the SUV dad had had to borrow from Bobby to be able to drive out here and get them. Sam even laughed at a couple of Dean’s stupid jokes.
Then, of course, dad had to start in on him as soon as they were on their way back to the Impala, which was back at Bobby’s. Dean thought it was relief that made dad do it. Like he’d told Sam, Sam had always been the favorite. Dean had been watching this dynamic play out since Sam was six: Sam in danger, dad overcome with relief when he came out alive, dad following up by giving him a hard time, just because he was still alive to do it, Dean figured. It didn’t make a lot of sense, but most of how dad acted didn’t make a lot of sense. The thing was, dad didn’t do this with Dean, which was one of a thousand tiny things that added up to proof that he just didn’t love Dean like he loved Sam.
Sam didn’t take it as love, though; he took it as persecution. Dean saw Sam’s eyes narrow as dad started grilling him about getting suspended. Dean used to relish these times himself, because even if Sam was the favorite, at least he had to pay for it, but last night, Dean had made a promise, a choice. “He didn’t do anything,” Dean interjected, earning a bewildered look from Sam and shocked silence from their dad for interrupting.
“I didn’t ask you, Dean,” their dad snapped when he could find his tongue again. “Sam can speak for himself.”
“Yeah, well, I was there, and he didn’t do anything, so lay off ’im. Sir.”
Sam stared at Dean, wide-eyed. There was really gonna be a shitstorm now. Dean grinned at Sam and winked, and he saw an answering smile bloom on Sam’s face, so big Sam couldn’t hide it, even looking down hard so dad could only see the top of his head--a normal smile, a kid smile. A Sam smile. They were gonna pay for this, but Dean could only feel joy as Sam scooted closer to him and snickered oh so softly with Dean at the sight of dad blowing a gasket, and Dean knew he’d chosen right.
~ The End ~
Notes on this story:
-I was actually stranded once in the desert for three days due to snow, and I drew from that experience for this story.
-I realized that in 1996, their dad would likely have a pager, and it was fun to put those details in the story about the ways people communicated by pager back then and the limitations of the technology.
-I liked that in Plucky Pennywhistle's Magical Menagerie they went into what a crappy brother teenaged Dean would surely have been, because that's just what's realistic, even if he was also dedicated to keeping Sam safe. That's also partly what inspired this story: I wanted to envision a situation where they could move from that to the total mutual dedication I love to see in the series.