Pre-series. Pre-slash. Dean’s always taken care of Sam. Or is it the other way around? Inspired in part by the awesome askbabynatural’s tumblr. Go check it out.
The Storybook Comes to a Close
When Sam was four, he got lost in a used bookstore in Maine.
It was one of those places that was more barn than store, an old warehouse with row after row of tumbled-down shelves with books piled on them three deep. There were stacks of magazines and paperbacks and postcards and it was exactly the kind of place that their dad liked to hide in when his flask got a little too familiar. When he’d spent too many nights in a row on the couch, a blanket over his hips and a bottle curled in his hand. With Dean perched in the doorway, one eye on his father and the other on Sammy.
So it was good for him to be up and around and bullshitting with the owner, chatting up the locals who wandered through. Digging through the knowledge there in more ways than one. It was good. Dean knew that.
But it didn’t stop him from being bored of his mind.
He sat on the floor under the counter while Sammy leaned into Dad’s hip, his fingers dug into Dad’s knee. Every now and then, Dad would reach down and rustle Sam’s hair or squeeze his shoulder, Sam grinning like the happiest of clams.
Dean couldn’t follow what his dad was saying, couldn’t understand why anyone would want to talk to the old guy behind the counter about fishing or tackle or the nearest lake or whatever. And he couldn’t even play with Sam, or at least annoy him, because Sam was staring up at Dad like he was the greatest thing in the world and Dean wasn’t a big fan of that.
That was his look, Sammy’s eyes wide and happy like that. Those were his. Dad hadn’t done a damn thing to earn it and Dean didn’t know how Sam couldn’t see that. How he couldn’t know who it was who loved him. Took care of him.
It sure as hell wasn’t Dad.
So he pulled into himself, shoved his head into his knees and bit his lip, hard. So that if he did cry, if Dad saw his tears, he’d have an excuse.
Then Sam squawked and Dean was up, arms open before he could stand. Dad was holding Sam’s shoulders again, but this time he was leaning away, looking down and frowning and saying, “Son, this isn’t the time for that. You need to learn to be still.” Sam’s lip was twitching, a warning, and as soon as he saw Dean he dove, threw his arms around Dean’s waist and sobbed those baby sobs that he’d grown out of long ago.
“Shhh,” Dean said into his hair. “Shh, Sammy.”
Dad sighed, heavy. Frustrated. And suddenly Dean didn’t want to see how bad this could go.
So he said: “Can we look around, sir? I promise that I’ll keep Sam with me.”
His father frowned again, the deep one that cut all the way into his face.
“We’ll be quiet,” Dean said, Sam’s teary hiccups to the contrary.
“Fine,” Dad said. “But watch your brother. Make sure he doesn’t wander off.”
And in his head, Dean scowled, because he’d just said that, he knew that, but what he told his father was: “Yes. Yes, sir.”
As soon as they turned the corner, Sammy danced ahead of him down the nearest aisle, wet face lost in a happy grin.
“Books!” he sang. “Books books books, Dean!”
Which was silly, and Dean was way too grown-up to laugh at Sam being silly. But there was nobody around to hear him, and so he did.
They dug around for a while, taking things randomly from the shelves, digging around through all the crap on the floor, until Dean found a box of crumbling Popular Mechanics, because they weren’t gonna find anything cooler than that. He was sure.
He made Sam sit next to him and worked through the pages, trying to explain carburetors and transmission fluid and all the stuff that made the most sense to him in the world. Sam listened for a while, lured by the lull of Dean’s voice, his head drooping onto Dean’s shoulder. But then it was like the Twinkies from lunch kicked in, because the kid got jittery, just did not want to sit still, and Dean snapped at him, “Jesus, Sammy, quit acting like a baby!”
Which was sort of the lowest blow he could go for, he knew, because Sam had been adament lately that he was not a baby, and did not need Dean to brush his teeth, or cut his meat, or read him a bedtime story.
“I can read my own books!” he’d declared a few weeks before, yanking Frog and Toad Together out of Dean’s hands and pushing him out of bed. “Me!”
And Dean had said “Whatever, jeez,” and pretended like he was glad to give it up. Like he was happy that Sam didn’t need him for that anymore.
But it hurt, and it meant he was ok, right then, with hurting Sam back.
There, in the bookstore, tucked onto the concrete floor, Sam shouted “I’m not a baby!,” the words almost escaping before his tears. He shot up and scurried away, his sobs trailing back behind, and Dean? Just sat there. Didn’t go after him. Didn’t even watch to see where he’d gone. Just sat there, defiant, and buried his face in knowledge that was already outdated, fixes for cars that nobody made anymore, questions whose answers no longer mattered.
Don’t care, he told himself. Don’t care. No monsters in here. No bad things. Sam can take care of himself.
He was sure it was working, sure that he’d toughened himself up right, but then a tear slid down his nose and bellyflopped into the Corolla in his lap and he realized how scared he was. Not for himself, being alone in a weird place like this. But for Sam.
He scrambled up and started moving, winding his way through the maze of books and dust and not crying. Not crying. Listening for Sam and half afraid he’d hear his father at his heels, saying “I told you” and “Where’s Sammy?” and “Why don’t you listen to me, Dean?”
I do, Dean thought desperately, I do. I just got tired of it for one minute. I was just frustrated and tired and I—
He turned a corner and there was Sam.
Bam. Just like that.
The kid had wormed his way into a corner, his back pushing into the wall where two shelves met. He was surrounded by books, all thin and bright colors and Dean realized Sam had found the kids’ section. Had managed to find all the books that were just right for him.
“How’d you do that?” he said, and Sam looked up, startled, his fingers tangled in the book on his lap.
“Dean!” Sam chirped, holding up his prize. “Book!”
Dean snorted, reached back for some of his big brother cool.
“No kidding,” he said, dropping down next to Sam.
Sam looked up at him and grinned.
“Read,” he said, shoving the book into Dean’s hands.
“Yeah, I know you can,” Dean said, handing it back. “Go ahead. I won’t bother you. I’ll just sit here with you.”
Sam frowned and smacked Dean’s knee.
“No!” he said, crawling into Dean’s lap. “Dean. Read.” He pushed the book into Dean’s fingers and made sure Dean held it. “Read.”
Dean looked down, the book half hidden by all of Sammy’s freaking hair. Hid his smile there.
“Fine,” he said, scootching around. “But you gotta–oof! You’re getting heavy, Sammy.”
Sam let himself be folded and rearranged and then leaned back, his head hot against Dean’s shoulder.
The book was called Owl at Home.
“He makes tea,” Sam said helpfully, as Dean turned to the first page. “And toast.”
“Why do you want me to read it if you’ve already finished it?” Dean grumbled, but Sam gave a little sigh and Dean knew it wasn’t the story that mattered. Not really. So he read to Sam about Owl making tea out of his own tears, drinking it with hot buttered toast, and rattling around his house alone in his favorite pajamas.
When he woke up, Dad was prying Sammy out of his arms and leading them back to the car. Back home.
And somehow, the book came too.
Over twenty years and thousands of miles later, Sammy was sick.
He had a fever and a bad cold, and it was nothing supernatural, but it was serious enough to have Dean worried. He’d pulled them off the road and checked them into a halfway decent motel. Ordered Sam under the covers.
He was better now. Dean could see that. He was in the heavy sweating phase, where inside he was freezing, his teeth chattering, but his body was a freaking hot plate to the touch. He had on a sweatshirt that Dean had never seen and sleep pants and he was wrapped up in the blankets like a big, gangly taco.
Dean knew he was ok, was on the mend at least, but something in him was afraid. Afraid to let Sam out of his sight, maybe.
Hell, he’d only gotten the kid back a few months before, pulled him out of Palo Alto and dumped him back into the life with no warning, practically, and yet they’d made it through all kind of evil nasty and this is what lays him up? A freaking cold? Why’d he hafta go and get sick like a preschooler and why the hell was Dean so worried about it, anyway?
He turned off the lights and reached for the comforter on his bed.
“Dean,” Sam croaked.
Dean did his Sam’s-in-trouble Road Runner routine and said: “What? What is it?”
“‘m cold,” Sam mumbled.
Dean reached for exasperated. “If I turn the heat up any higher, I’m gonna roast, dude.”
He felt something fumbling at his wrist. Sam’s fingers. Tugging.
“Dean, please,” he muttered. “Cold. Come on.”
Dean closed his eyes and let himself be pulled. Wrapped himself around the human taco and held on tight.
Sam sighed and wriggled and generally flopped around like a hot heavy fish until he settled on his side, his face pushed into Dean’s throat. He was wheezy and sweaty and smelled like NyQuil but Dean didn’t give a shit, right then. He stroked Sam’s ear, the slick curls of his hair, and whispered: “Ok. It’s ok, Sam. Go to sleep.”
Sam hummed into his skin. “You should make me some teardrop tea, Dean. ‘Member that? You used to read that to me when I was sick, that book.”
“And toast,” Dean whispered. “You always liked the part about the toast.”
“Mmmm,” Sam rumbled, and Dean could feel his lips curve. “Love you, Dean.”
“Shhh,” Dean said, squeezing his eyes shut. “Shhh, Sammy.”
He waited until Sam’s head fell back, tipped heavy with sleep over Dean’s arm, before he said: “Love you, Sam.”
Because he was pretty sure that they weren’t talking about the same thing.