In 1863, two years deep into a war that was anything but civil, the city Dean Winchester grew up in put itself on the map with The Lawrence, Kansas Massacre or Quantrill’s Raid, depending on whom you asked and where they were geographically situated in the United States of America.
Before the war had even begun, during Pierce’s term as President, when Kansas was bleeding for validation as either a free or slave state, Lawrence had established itself as a mecca for anti-slavery ideation.
With the war for an excuse, William Clarke Quantrill and a guerilla team of Johnny Reb bushwhackers raided the city, four hundred strong descending down upon the city with a mighty fury. Before the day was out Lawrence was a smoldering shade of its former self. One hundred sixty four civilians of the city were slaughtered.
The blood of one hundred and sixty four people with families, loves, and dreams stained the streets of the city Dean Winchester grew up in in 1863.
Time lays down distance between Dean and those people, but it doesn’t scrub them clean from the history books or the presentations over-excited high school teachers give on what they perceive to be a pretty neat connection between their students and a war that’s over a hundred years older than them.
The thought always leaves a funny taste in Dean’s mouth. Lawrence doesn’t look like a place where scores of people were cut down. Lawrence doesn’t feel like a place where screams and fire tinted the air.
Just because he can’t see it anymore doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, Dean knows. He’s not naïve. Bad things happen. Terrible things happen. The world fumbles, recovers, and moves on. The way of life readjusts around the scars that those terrible things leave. Gimp, maybe; crippled by the tragedy, but they carry on.
Maybe that’s why Dean’s here. Maybe he’s crippled by tragedy and needs some help learning how to limp.
Whatever the reason, there is a clock ticking on the wall that’s about to drive Dean completely insane, which he thinks is pretty ironic considering he’s sitting on a leather sofa across a pale green carpet from Dr. Zora Okoro, Therapist.
Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.
“Mr. Winchester,” Dr. Okoro interrupts, Nigerian accent clinging to her tongue thick and rich like honey, making it a ‘Mis-tah Ween-ches-tah’. Her long legs cross at the ankle and tuck underneath her chair, black pencil skirt drawn tight over her knees and up her thighs until a stark white blouse interferes with Dean’s view. The shirt is shocking in its effect of Zora’s coffee toned skin, bringing the beacon of the smile on her face into startling perspective. A pair of thickly rimmed glasses and large hoop earrings frame her high cheekbones and smooth skin and if Dean had been thirty two instead of twenty two he would have been at least partially tempted to fall at least half in love with her on sight.
As it is, though, he’s mostly just irritated and restless.
“Doc,” he responds as he slumps down low on the couch and plays with the idea of throwing his muddy boots up onto the cream colored leather.
Dr. Okoro smiles easily at him and the bangles on her wrist jangle slightly as she repositions the pad of paper in her lap, fiddles with her pen. “So,” she starts encouragingly. “What would you like to talk about with me today?”
“Look, lady,” Dean raises his hands, palms up in a universal ‘don’t ask me’ gesture. “You’re the one who asked me to come here.”
She cocks one well groomed eyebrow at him. “And you have no idea why?”
Dean leans back into the butter soft leather of the sofa and shoots her a shit-eating grin that’s all pomp and no circumstance. “I mean - shot in the dark here- it probably has something to do with you being Sammy’s therapist for four years or something.” A muscle in his jaw jumps as he clenches his teeth.
“Yes,” she smirks and rests her chin on her open palm. “That could have something to do with it.”
Tick tick tick tick tick.
“So, what’s up?” Dean does kick up his feet this time, props his Timberland’s up on the other arm of the love seat so that clumps of caked mud and dried grease flake off and he dares the good doctor to say something just to give him an excuse to leave. “If there’s something wrong with Sam you should probably talk to our folks instead of me.”
“There is nothing wrong with Sam,” Dr. Okoro assures gently, “and he has expressed many times over that he would prefer that I take any questions I have to you rather than your parents.” Dean has two seconds to try and hash out how he feels about that one before she’s plowing on with, “How are you, Dean?”
With her accent his name sounds like ‘Den’, with a small rollercoaster in the middle that could have been an ‘a’ at some point before it was caught and smothered in the back of her throat.
“Same old, same old.” Dean shrugs noncommittally. “Can’t really complain.”
Dr. Okoro leans back in her seat steadily, cool eyes trained on Dean’s expression. He fights the impulse to fidget and say something nasty to turn her off. The late morning sun streaming in through the window at her back catches in her short cropped hair as she considers the young man on her couch seriously. “Sam speaks of you often, you know.”
Dean’s shoulders stiffen to keep from perking up, muscle going so rigid so quickly that for a terrible moment Dean’s sure that he’s torn something that he’s going to need when he goes back to work. The curiosity that lead him to answer Dr. Okoro’s call in the first place, that lead him to the office that he’d only walked in once before to drop Sam off for his first appointment, worms underneath his skin like a restless eel.
He wants to know what Sam says behind closed doors. Borderline obsessed with it, actually. For four years he’s bit his damn cheek and stifled his questions, because anything he wants that badly can’t be good for Sam.
This is it. The missing puzzle piece. Dr. Zora Okoro knows things that Dean would heavily consider murdering to be privy to. He barely understands why he needs to know so damn badly, but Dean’s like a dog chewing at stitches when it comes to Sam. It doesn’t matter that the way things are works, he has to gnaw until things are normal –natural- again.
It’s like a secret club that Dean used to have exclusive membership to before his admission was revoked, and now he’s just itching to get back in. Four years of teething at sutures and Dean’s sitting in Sam’s therapist’s office, starving.
“Yeah?” he croaks.
“Yes.” Dr. Okoro nods easily. “In fact, we could go for many days and he would speak only of you. He admires you very much.”
“Really?” he says, too quickly, but not in the ‘oh-that’s-super-fucking-weird’ way that he had intended, the awe creeping into his tone uninvited. The urge to bask in that information for a few warm moments is overwhelming, but Dean’s been to the school of hard knocks and he knows a few things about other shoes. “But that’s not why you asked me here.”
“I am afraid not.” She clears her throat pointedly, jiggles her pen again. “I admit from what Sam has told me I am very curious about you, Dean. I wish I knew what parts of you are real and what parts of you Sam just wishes were real. He thinks that you are a hero, Dean. I understand that is a lot of pressure for one man to have on him.”
“It’s really not.” His hands ball into fists at his sides.
Dr. Okoro simply waves away his protests, plowing on. “I simply hope to gain insight onto Sam through you, if you would allow it. You know him better than anyone, yes?”
“If you would permit me, then,” she smiles a brilliant smile, “to get your side of the story.”
Dean snorts and rolls his eyes sloppily. “The story?” Was that what the kids were calling it these days?
“Whatever you feel is important,” she clarifies quickly, sitting up straighter in her chair so that her spine doesn’t even touch the soft leather of the backrest. “It does not even have to do with Sam directly. Whatever it is you do, whoever it is you are, affects Sam. If it is important to you, it is important to him. Whatever you say will help, I promise.” She implores before catching herself. Visibly, she takes a deep breath and forces herself to lean back, to not crowd Dean in her anticipation. “However, the decision on whether to speak with me or not remains entirely with you. You have no obligations to me.”
He considers her words for a moment- the events in his life that he could share, the joint moments with Sam that he could pass over to her to help her gain more insight. He thinks about how he can be one degree of separation from helping Sam. One fucking degree. Practically a hero. He thinks about how much easier it would be to give blood or a kidney, but no - always the hard way with Sam.
“Why now?” he rasps after a few tense moments. “After four years, why come to me now?”
She glances down at her lap, dark cheeks flushing darker bashfully as she picks at the grip of her pen with clean fingernails.
“Honestly?” The ‘est’ syllable is tacky on the back of her tongue. “He goes to college soon. For four year I have been trying to treat Sam as if he were…” She pauses for a moment, a lost expression clouding her eyes as she hunts her secondary language for the appropriate vocabulary. “I have treated him as an individual soul,” she says slowly, listening intently to the word on the air for a few intense beats before nodding. Dean shifts uncomfortably in his seat. “I underestimated your relationship. You both are so tangled within one another; I have never seen anything like it before in my life. I cannot know you without knowing Sam, just as I cannot know Sam without knowing you. In a few months he is gone from me. This is my last opportunity. Perhaps a bit unorthodox, but I hope for positive results. Do you understand?”
God help him, he does.
“Just say whatever?” he asks hesitantly, settling more into the stiff leather of the sofa.
“Just say whatever.” She smiles amiably.
Dean exhales harshly and scrubs a calloused palm over his face. His hand smells like leather, motor oil, and Sam. “Jesus, where do I start?”
“At the beginning would be fine.” She uncaps her pen and hovers over the pad of paper in her lap.
Dean takes a shaky breath, smoothing his hands down over his thighs. “Okay. The beginning.”
Dean’s four years old when his mother and father bring home a blue blanket with a wrinkly, pink, vaguely humanoid shape inside it. Not that he hadn’t expected it. For the past nine months of his life he had watched his mother’s stomach swell until her belly was like the full moon. He’d sat on the floor with his parents many nights with his ear or his hand pressed against the swell, gasping in delight if something bumped or shifted.
He’d been sitting at the table, swinging his feet back and forth and singing a tuneless song aloud and waiting for his snack when his mother had dropped the bowl of sliced strawberries in the kitchen, clutching that lunar stomach and screaming “John!”
The bowl shattered, sending strawberries rolling across the tile.
That was days ago, though. Dean has barely seen his mother since his father had ushered him to the Grossman’s house next door and asked them if they could look after him for a few hours, please.
His father leads him down to the couch in the family room, asks him if he’s ready to meet the baby as they round the corner and see his mother sitting there, bundle cradled lovingly in her arms. She practically glows as she leans forward so that Dean can see.
Really, Dean had just been expecting… more. It’s pink, fat, motionless, hairless, breathing heavily through wet, parted lips that look too big and too red for its face. Occasionally little twitchy tremors send fat little arms and legs dancing and Dean cringing.
Dean thinks that it’s distinctly ugly, and informs his mother so.
“No,” Mary chastises. “He’s beautiful and he’s your little brother, Dean.”
Dean scrunches up his nose and watches the baby sleep.
“What’s the matter, Dean?” John grins and nudges Dean lightly with his shoulder. “You’re not excited to meet Sammy?”
“Sammy?” Dean repeats. The baby twitches in his sleep and makes a small unconscious sound.
“Look,” Mary whispers as the baby makes more small meaningless sounds, wriggles more perceptibly. “He’s so excited to meet you.”
Dean almost jumps out of his skin when the baby’s eyes slot open into unfocused dark pools.
“Do you want to hold him?” His mother smiles serenely at him and for some unfathomable reason Dean nods his head and agrees to take the pink alien thing into his arms.
John kneels down to Dean’s level to help him position his arms to receive the baby, giving him strict instruction to always support Sammy’s head because he wasn’t strong enough to do it without Dean’s help yet.
“You’ve gotta make sure he’s safe, Dean.” John’s tone is brass and steel. “You’re a big brother now, okay? That’s a big responsibility and I’m trusting you with it. Sam needs you right now. And tomorrow. And the next day. When he starts to walk and talk. And he’ll need you when he starts preschool like you did, remember?”
“And he’ll need you to teach him how to play. He’ll need you to share your toys- even the trucks. He’ll need you to help him grow up as big and strong as you are. Can you do that for me, big man?”
Dean frowns. Even his trucks?
“Dean?” John intones and Dean nods quickly, promising. John looks him over seriously for a few more moments, causing Dean to wriggle uncomfortably in the face of the speculation, afraid he’s done something wrong and maybe his father was going to take the responsibility away after all before John’s features soften and he motions for Mary to ease the snuffling infant into her first son’s arms.
Dean looks down at the baby and the baby looks up at Dean. Neither is particularly impressed.
“Say hi, Dean,” Mary prompts. “Say hi to your little brother.”
“Hi, Sammy,” Dean whispers down to the bundle in his arms.
The baby blinks slowly at him, mouth twitching downwards at the corner as his brow puckers in the center. He observes the looming figure above him with a harsh, judgmental eye and Dean’s slightly stunned that the baby and his father have so much in common already. His hand twitches, little fingers flexing into a fist.
“He doesn’t like me.” He looks up at his mother, fretting at his lip. “Why doesn’t he like me?”
“He’s only a couple of days old, Dean,” John reminds him soothingly.
“Move a little closer,” Mary suggests. “He can’t see you that far back.”
Hesitantly, Dean ducks closer until his nose bumps against the baby’s, and his face is softer than anything Dean’s ever felt before in his life- even those plush animal books Mrs. Witherford has in the daycare. Dean gasps and the baby starts at the sound.
“Hey, hey, wait, sh,” Dean mumbles quickly as the baby begins to fuss and he starts to rock like he’s seen the moms on television and in the neighborhood do. Steadily, the baby settles and returns to passing his intense judgment on Dean, and Dean waits, wonders what’s going to happen if the infant comes to the conclusion that Dean is a remarkably untrustworthy individual and starts to bawl.
A tiny baby fist strikes Dean’s cheekbone, batting against his cheek lightly before settling on the side of his nose. His fingers uncurl and latch and for the first time Dean realizes that –holy crap- he’s holding a little person. Someday the hand on Dean’s nose is going to as big as Dean’s hands. Someday the hand on Dean’s nose is going to be as big as John’s hand. The dark whorls of hair on his head are going to thicken out. The pink of his skin will dull and tan. His teeth will grow in, his voice will talk and scream and shout and cry, his limbs will stretch out. His hands will get dirty, his shins will get scraped, his bones might even brake.
There is a person in Dean’s arms, and the sheer awe inspired by that notion makes his eyes go wide.
There is a person in Dean’s arms. A person with a future. A person with a personality. A person who is going to live and grieve and laugh and love and-and- one day, in a million, zillion years- maybe do what Mom’s dad did and go to Heaven.
And Dean is going to see it all happen.
“Hi there,” Dean whispers again, mouth rubbing along the perfect soft skin of Sam’s forearm. The thought strikes him that maybe he’s the first person who ever touched that skin. “Hi, Sammy.”
Sam squeals and tugs on Dean’s nose firmly.
“See. He likes you,” Mary laughs softly in Dean’s ear.
“Yeah?” The little fingers continue to flex into the skin on Dean’s nose, tiny fingernails turning white as he yanks, jumping the border between irritation and outright pain. Dean finds that he doesn’t really mind.
“Look at you,” Mary coos down at Sam, wriggles a finger at him to try and catch his attention, but Sam realizes he has another hand that he can try and pry Dean’s nose off with and gives another delighted squeal, ignoring his mother.
Dean laughs and then, encouraged by Sam’s gummy smile, turns to walk away.
John runs a quick interception, laughing as he snags Sam out of Dean’s arms, barely sparing a moment to disentangle Sam’s hands from Dean’s nostrils. “Maybe someday, buddy. But for right now you can’t hold Sammy without me or your mom around or you could accidentally hurt him, understand?”
He’s singing a different tune six months later when he’s shoving Sam into Dean’s arms and shouting “Take your brother outside as fast as you can! Don’t look back! Now, Dean! Go!”
There’s a fire raging at his back, eating up Sam’s nursery inch by inch.
So Dean runs. He clutches Sam to his chest and tears down the stairs as the smell of smoke clings to his skin and clots his senses to everything but his baby brother’s screaming. He fumbles for one petrifying moment at the bottom of the stairs, bare feet tripping over each other and Sam nearly tips out of his arms before he regained his footing, curling tighter around Sam and whispering apologies as he scrambles out of the front door.
He runs and he runs and he doesn’t look back.
Sammy’s arms flail out as he wriggles restlessly in Dean’s tight grip, his high bawling the only thing that Dean can hear over the roar of the fire and the sound of his own feet slapping against the autumn-cold concrete of the front stoop, sprinting until he comes to a stumbling stop in the middle of the lawn.
That’s where his instructions end.
The orders were to get his brother outside as fast as he could, and he did. A screaming, crying Sam sits cradled in his arms, cloying soot coats his throat, and he has no idea what to do with himself next except to watch his house go up in flames, father and mother somewhere inside.
He scrunches up his little toes in the damp grass and trembles.
“It’s gonna be okay, Sammy,” he mumbles into his little brother’s hair, half reassuring himself. Sam’s chubby fists batter against his chest as he writhes and Dean hushes him, rocks him, remembers to support his head, turns him so that he won’t have to watch with Dean as everything they know goes up in hellfire. “It’s gonna be okay.” He leans down to press his lips to Sam’s forehead and feels them smear against his skin as he whispers, “I got you, everything’s gonna be okay.”
And for a few solid moments as Dean stands on the front lawn of his life he thinks about how this is it. For a few solid minutes, the two of them are orphans in his mind. Dean doesn’t cry. He thinks about how he will later, though. Thinks about how when a grown-up shows up Dean’s job is done and he’ll be allowed. He just holds Sam closer and waits.
He feels so small. So, so small in this great big world next to this great big fire. He’s lost and confused and he wants to scream and throw himself on the ground and beat his fists into the dirt until the earth shatters underneath of him.
But, if he’s small, then what’s Sam?
“I’m here,” Dean’s voice trembles as he leans down because his mom told him that Sam still couldn’t see very well and Dean wants him to see. “I’ll be big for you, Sam. Promise. Okay?
When Dean’s father bursts from the front door his robe flares out behind him like Batman’s cape in Dean’s favorite cartoons and fire seethes and hisses behind him as he swoops down the stoop, Mary clutched tight to his chest, coughing and spluttering in his arms.
Dean holds Sam even closer as his sweat and soot streaked father staggers across the lawn to stand by his son unsteadily, arms shaking with the effort of bodily supporting his wife.
Dean jumps slightly when John drops to his knees next to him, clutching Sam to his chest protectively as his father comes down to his level.
“You okay?” he rasps, voice rough.
There the Winchesters sit on their front lawn, John with Mary in his arms and Dean with Sam in his, and they watch their house burn until the fire engines round the corner and usher them to the side so they can douse the flames.
The neighbors stand passively on the street in groups of fours and fives by the time the ambulance comes to a screaming halt next to The Winchester’s, whispering and tittering about the latest tragedy to strike their community, no doubt organizing who was going to bake what casserole on which days to feed the Winchester family for the next few weeks as the four of them are lead towards the cabin of the truck by EMTs.
A tall man with a soft, round face tries to ease the baby out of Dean’s arms, assuring John and Mary that he needs to check the infant’s respiration.
Dean bites him hard enough to leave little half-moon bruises when they can pry him off and it takes John and Mary’s combined efforts and the blow by blow explanation of what procedures are necessary to make sure Sam’s really okay for him to calm down enough to get his own lungs checked.
Later in the week, after the black’s been scraped from the walls and the broken windows are boarded up, Dean overhears his parents talking about the short in the half-moon night-light in Sammy’s nursery that sparked and ignited the drawn curtains. Dean lies still in his bed, pretending to be asleep and pretending that the entire upper floor doesn’t smell like soot and char.
When he does finally get to sleep that night the nightmares of Sam screaming and being eaten up by surging flames until nothing but ashes and black smears remain have him kicking himself out of his own bed to pad down the hall and sneak into his parent’s room. It takes him fifteen minutes to figure out how to flip the latch in the dark the first night.
Sam fusses slightly as Dean slides onto the thick mat of the crib beside him. The smell of baby powder and Sam all around him soothes the raw spot in the center of his chest where the nightmares come from.
“Sh,” Dean croons gently as he curls around Sam, resting his hand lightly over Sam’s little chest to feel his steady heartbeat. “I’m here, Sam.”
Sam curls his hand around Dean’s thumb and, after a few light huffs, falls back asleep pressed warm against Dean’s chest.
When the phone sitting on the wide dark wood desk tucked into the corner of the room rings, it rings loud and proud; shrill and destructive to the steady lilt of Dean’s voice on the air.
Zora’s up out of her chair before Dean can blink himself out of his memories, ditching her pad on the table as she scrambles to control the environment. “I am so sorry about this, please let me turn that off,” she apologizes quickly as she jolts across the room. “Nolan,” she hisses her secretary’s name into the receiver. “I am with a patient.”
Dean baulks at being called a patient, indignant hackles rising. He’s here because she had asked him to come. He’s here because of Sam. Not because there’s something wrong with him, not because he needs help- because Sam does.
The black smudges of slanted ink scrawl caught Dean’s eye, stark against the yellow of the legal pad. He hardly hesitates before reading it upside down.
‘Qualifies ‘beginning’ as being introduced to Sam. Review notes on Sam’s earlier memories being majorly related to his brother
‘Physical assault on an authority figure at age four— review notes on Gambol, potential mirroring
‘Shared a bed starting near infancy. Earlier than Sam had indicated. Review notes.’
He snatches up the legal pad, flips it and reads it over again.
“Reschedule,” Dr. Okora commands severely into the phone, rocking anxiously back and forth on her feet as she itches to apologize again for the interruption and get back to the matter at hand. “We spoke of this earlier, Nolan. I am busy through today.” She pauses, weighs the response. “Yes, even the afternoon appointments. This should have been done a week ago.”
The phone clatters loudly as she drops it back into the cradle and turns back towards the young man on her couch, who is sitting quietly, reclined and subdued save for the nervous bouncing of his knee. The legal pad sits on the table, askew.
“I apologize,” Zora clears her throat and takes her seat. Dean gives her a sour look as she plucks up her pen again and settles. “You were speaking of Sam’s infancy, yes?”
“Yeah.” Dean’s slow to relax back into the sofa. “He was a loud baby. I guess I spent a lot of time with him after the fire. The kids at school kept telling me that if I was gonna keep hanging out with a baby instead of them that they didn’t want to be my friends anymore.” A brief smile touches the corner of his lip, ghosting across his features.
“So?” Dr. Okoro prompts.
“So what?” Dean snorts, rolls his eyes again. “They were just kids I knew. Sam’s my brother.”
She subtly scribbles something down and Dean itches to snatch the pad away from her and read it.
“Is there anything else you can tell me?” she asks before he gives in to the impulse.
“Like what?” he chuffs.
“Anything.” She smiles again, wide and comforting. Like the way his mother used to smile. “Anything you can think of that sticks out.”
Dean chews on the inside of his lip. He can think of three off the top of his head.
“Sam! Stop!” Dean’s fourteen and he’s got one hand knotted in Sam’s short hair as he dodges his younger brother’s flailing elbows, knees him in the back of the thigh in retaliation. “Just lemme-” He jams his fingers into Sam’s mouth only to have teeth clamp down into his knuckles with bruising force. “Ow! God, Sam!”
“Get off!” Sam shouts, writhing underneath Dean on the bathroom floor. “Dean, stop! I’m gonna tell Dad, I swear I will!” He kicks out again with the one leg he’s not using to try and get under himself for leverage and misses Dean by a mile, catches the corner of the bathtub instead and sends the bottles of shampoo and body wash tumbling, clattering loudly in the enclosed space to mingle on the floor with the shattered bits of the porcelain soap holder that he already knocked off the sink. The pale blue bathmat carpet is rucked up underneath him from the struggle, bunched up to his ribs with his shirt to expose the bruises that Dean had already pinched into his sides at the beginning of this entire debacle.
“If you’d just quit being such a baby and hold still this wouldn’t be a problem!” Dean snaps back, dropping his full weight down on his younger brother to keep him from crawling to the door, effectively crushing Sam’s knee underneath their combined weight. He ducks Sam’s sloppy blind punch. “Just open up!”
Sam’s breath wheezes out of his lungs in short, harsh pants as his hands scrabble against the tile floor, hunting for purchase. “No!” he grits out from between clenched teeth.
“Don’t make me hurt you,” Dean warns, tone on the bridge between threatening and sympathetic.
“Let me go!” Sam mule-kicks again and something else clatters to the floor.
“I warned you.” Dean sighs once dramatically before he’s face down in Sam’s back, biting hard into the meat of his shoulder.
“Ah!” Sam yowls, neck arching back and Dean takes advantage of the moment to reach up and wrench out the loose tooth Sam had been complaining about for over a week.
Dean laughs when he removes his jaws from Sam’s shoulder, and he keeps laughing even after Sam lands an elbow to his nose and bucks him off into the bathtub.
“That hurt, you big jerk!” Sam sniffs as he straightens himself out. His face is blotchy red from screaming and crying, his wide eyes pathetically big and wet and his bloody pink lips downturned in a frown.
“Yeah,” Dean concedes, readjusting himself so that his legs dangle out of the edge of the tub. “But does it still hurt now?”
Sam tongues at the gap in his smile, teeth stained orange and tongue candy-stripe red. “I guess not.”
“See.” Dean leans back against the tile wall. “What did I tell you?”
“What if it doesn’t grow back?” Sam frets.
“It’ll grow back,” Dean assures quickly. “It’s just a baby tooth, Sammy. I lost mine when I was your age, too, remember? Your big kid teeth are gonna grow in real soon, promise.”
Sam sniffs again and wrings his hands into the hem of his shirt. “Yeah?”
“Yeah.” Dean reaches out and snags Sam’s shoulder to tug him into the bathtub with him, tucking him close under his arm before he holds up the tooth for Sam to inspect. “Pretty cool, right? That was in your face a couple of minutes ago.”
“That’s gross.” Sam scrunches up his nose in disgust but still takes the tooth from Dean. He turns it over in his palm, weighs it.
“You think you’re gonna get a lot money from the tooth fairy?” Dean tugs teasingly on Sam’s earlobe.
“Stop.” Sam bats away his hand and laughs into his shoulder. “The tooth fairy’s not real, Dean.”
“What?” Dean gasps with mock affront. “The tooth fairy’s not real?” Sam giggles harder as Dean’s fingers dance along his ribs, pressing in the tender spots that have Sam wriggling and laughing all over again. “Why did no one tell me? Who leaves money under my pillow then, huh, Sammy?”
“Dad does, dummy.” Sam scoffs and digs his bony fingers into Dean’s ribs.
Dean pulls a face. “Are you trying to tell me that Dad’s the tooth fairy?”
Sam crushes himself into Dean’s side and laughs until he’s shaking with it and Dean laughs too because he’s pretty sure Sam’s laugh is the best sound in the whole world.
Sam’s laughter tapers off eventually but he stays curled up underneath the heavy weight of Dean’s arm, face half pressed into the place where the joint of his shoulder slopes into his chest, just breathing as he rolls the tooth around in his fingers. Dean’s hand is resting just underneath his ribs so he can feel the steady rise and fall of his breathing as his body-warm t-shirt rises to fill his palm and then sinks away in a steady rhythm. Sam sighs a warm puff against his collarbone and they sit together in the bathtub for a few silent moments, just breathing together with the edge of the bathtub digging painfully into Dean’s spine and his hand going numb as the press of Sam’s head cuts off his circulation.
He thinks about how weird this should be. He thinks about Matt who lives down the street and his younger brother, Colin. Matt and Dean are the same age, in the same grade, used to be in the same class. Colin’s a year younger than Sam but Sam still goes out of his way to be nice to him, but Sam goes out of his way to be nice to everyone. He thinks about how Matt probably never pulled Colin’s tooth. He thinks about how Matt wouldn’t be caught dead sitting in a bathtub with Colin tucked securely under his arm. Then again, Matt’s probably never pulled Colin out of a fire. He’s never slept curled around him because he was afraid his younger brother was going to stop breathing in the middle of the night if he wasn’t there to show him how. He’s never had anyone say, “Watch out for your little brother,” and taken that notion truly to heart.
Dean’s not sure who that makes more messed up: him or Matt.
“What are you two doing?” Dean and Sam both jump as the door swings inward, knocking against Sam’s suspended bare foot in the process, and their mother pokes her head in.
“Mom!” Sam’s up and out from underneath Dean’s arm before Mary can really register what’s happened to her bathroom. “Mom, look! Dean pulled my tooth for me! Isn’t that the coolest?”
Mary smiles and makes a ‘WOW’ face as she tries not to grimace noticeably at Sam’s bloody smile.
Dean stifles a laugh into the crook of his elbow and Sam shoots him a grin over his shoulder.
Dean’s fifteen and he’s crouched over a small fire pit in the middle of East Jesus, Nowhere, grumbling under his breath about having to be on fire starting duty for another one of his Dad’s camping trips. Normally Dean’s all for the spontaneous trips, even if they sometimes include John kicking open the door to his and Sam’s rooms at four in the morning and flipping their mattresses so that they sprawl across the floor in a heap of limbs and half-garbled complaints before he tells them he wants them up, dressed, fed, and packed before the sun hits the horizon or there’s going to be a reckoning.
Dean figures it has something to do with John’s stint in the Marines, so he doesn’t begrudge his father these quirks the way Sam does. Dean genuinely enjoys camping.
He likes the freedom. He likes that there’s no walls and no people watching him. He likes the sun on his back and the leaves in his hair. He likes the lack of rules. He likes that he has Sam a tent’s worth of space away at all times.
Or he would have liked to have Sam a tent’s worth of space away at all times if his father hadn’t insisted that his youngest child learn how to fly fish today.
“Because, y’know, that’s a valuable fucking skill to have,” Dean grouses petulantly as he piles wood high, foul teenage mouth working overtime. “I don’t see why he couldn’t take me along, too.” He pats down his pockets before remembering that John swiped his lighter before they left.
Rolling his eyes, he turns to root through the duffle at his back for a glass bottle empty enough for him to drain the contents and then smash to use the base as a make-shift magnifying glass to channel sunlight. For a moment he thinks of the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey, only instead of a caveman gripping a femur and striking at a pile of bones as triumphant music plays, he pictures himself wielding an empty Coke bottle up to the sky and crowing victory as a small tuft of grass and sticks catch aflame.
“When the hell in my life am I going to have to use these survival skills?” he continues to grumble as he skips over a few plastic bottles he’ll have to resort to if absolutely necessary. “I don’t plan on getting stranded in the woods any time soon. Ever, actually. I don’t plan on ever getting stranded in the woods. And if I did I’d sure as hell have my lighter on me.” He gives the bag a rough kick and irritably wonders when Dad and Sam are going to be back.
Later on, when he’s sitting in a stiff plastic chair in the emergency room with blood all over his hands, he’ll wonder if he would have heard John shouting his name earlier if he hadn’t been complaining to himself.
“Dean!” John’s voice is thunder and rain, just like it’s always been as far as Dean can remember. When he used to consider such things, he’d always imagined that God had his father’s voice. Deep and commanding and demanding respect while still holding the capacity for tenderness. It’s the voice that told Dean fantastical stories when he couldn’t sleep, that reprimanded him when he broke the rules of the household, soothed him when he threw tantrums, complimented and critiqued him all of his life. He thought he’d heard every tone and lilt his father had.
He’d never heard his father frantic. Honestly, he didn’t think he was capable.
“Dean!” John barks again, anxious and harsh as he jostles Sam forward, half carrying and half dragging his youngest with the one hand he isn’t using to press his own wadded up flannel shirt against the back of Sam’s neck.
“What happened?” Dean knocks over his carefully stacked wood in his scramble to get to Sam’s side.
“Fly fishing is stupid!” Sam shouts out louder than necessary, hands trembling as he grips his father’s arm.
“He caught the back of his head with the hook on the back stroke,” John explains quickly. “He’s gonna need some stitches.”
“I don’t want stitches!” Sam shouts again, but his eyelids are drooping and Dean’s not sure if Sam really knows what he’s saying anymore or if he’s just automatically disagreeing with anything their father says.
“Yeah, Sammy, I know,” John soothes as he walks him towards the barely cleared trail that they followed up to the campsite, gesturing at Dean to take over staunching the blood flow for him. Leaves and sticks crunch under his massive boots as he leads the way. “They’re gonna give you some great painkillers at the hospital and then you won’t mind so much, okay?”
“Don’t want to go to the hospital!” Sam kneads at his eyes. Dean slips his hand under his father’s and feels the fabrics squish and run rivulets his brother’s blood down his wrist as he presses hard. Sam’s hair is plastered to the back of his neck with it and his t-shirt is sticky and stained all the way down to the small of his back. Dean’s not sure if it’s Sam’s shoulders that are shaking or his hand when he grips hard into the bone there to help guide Sam down the uneven path. Sam’s breathing is harsh and uneven as he tightens his fingers into John’s palms as he guides him forwards.
It takes fifteen minutes to walk Sam, stumbling and crying, down to the Impala.
“We’ll come back for the equipment,” John grunts as he hassles his sons into the backseat. “Get him face down. Keep him talking.”
The leather of the backseat is warm and accepting as Dean sinks down into it, sun baked and smelling like everything he thinks of as home. He pulls Sam into his chest, presses his face into his shoulder so he can keep one hand on the tacky red stained over-shirt to the back of his head.
The engine jumps to life and rattles the air out of Dean’s lungs.
“Dean,” Sam murmurs as he clutches at Dean’s shirt, clings to anything he can twist his fingers into in his hunt for comfort and safety.
“I’m here, Sammy,” Dean assures him gently. “You really did a number on yourself there, huh?” He laughs roughly and Sam curls up tighter and whimpers, practically in Dean’s lap. He twines his arms awkwardly around Dean’s neck, clutching and sniffling pathetically into the sweaty slope of his neck, forehead slipping as he presses forward as hard as he can. For a moment Dean entertains the crazy thought that Sam’s trying to crawl inside of him. Sam’s trying to phase through his skin and curl up under his ribs where he’d be free from blood and pain.
He scoffs and cradles Sam closer.
If he thought it would work, he’d be tempted to try.
Following some impulse he can’t trace, Dean pries up a corner of the soaked-through cloth that stains his fingers and glances at the damage.
The gouge is jagged and long, curving along from the base of Sam’s skull to behind his ear. It’s wide and dark and wet like a canyon at midnight and Dean wants to throw up looking at it.
Twenty six stitches and a prescription of Lorcet later they’re back in the backseat of the Impala and Sam’s head is pillowed on Dean’s thigh, gauze-side up. Dean feels like he’s run a marathon when he hasn’t done anything but sit in the waiting room and glare subtly at the back of his pacing father’s head.
Sam grows out his hair, starts wearing it long.
Dean’s seventeen and he should be sitting in the back of the Impala that his father gave him with Jackie Reid straddling his hips as he palms her through her shirt and asks her if she’s sure she wants to be seen with leather jacket wearing, motorcycle boot stomping, womanizing Dean Winchester. Instead he’s standing in the center of a field in the exact center of Bumfuck with a box of fireworks under one arm and Sam under the other.
Sam’s beaming up at him, practically glowing as adoration seeps from his every pore and Dean finds that he doesn’t miss Jackie Reid all that much.
“C’mon, Dean!” Sam grins and tugs on his hand. Dean stumbles after him, laughing as he fishes his lighter out of his pocket.
The sky lights up brighter than a carnival, brighter than what heaven’s supposed to be when Sam sparks the fuse and lights the world on fire.
They whoop and holler and dance in the sparks and thundering booms and Dean wonders if they could start their own world like this, each explosion scattering stars across the universe and birthing constellations and worlds that no one but them can see.
Dean falls back into the dry tall grass that crinkles and breaks underneath him, laughing so hard he can’t breathe. Tears of mirth glitter on his face in the starbursts of light high above him. Sam falls into the grass next to him, howling with delighted laughter.
They settle eventually, long after they could tell the difference between sparks and stars in the night sky. They lay there, panting and smiling in the grass, arms outstretched so that, if either of them felt inclined to reach the last few inches, they could tangle fingers and hold on forever.
It’s almost dawn when they pack up and go home.
The clock continues to tick, tick, tick in the silence and Dean wrings his hands together uncomfortably.
Dr. Okoro waits a full few moments to make sure that he’s finished his thought before asking gently, “Why do you think you picked those memories?”
“I don’t know,” Dean scoffs as he leans back against the sofa, one hand scrubbing through his short hair irritably. “I mean the fish hook story’s a doozy. I used to tell it to Sammy’s dates when he brought them home, try and make them rethink dating a doofus.”
“Did you ever tell that story to Charlie?” Dr. Okoro asks, unintentionally stubbing out the ‘th’ in ‘that’ with her tongue.
Dean tenses. “I don’t want to talk about Charlie.”
“Fair enough,” she relents, holding her hands. “We do not have to speak about Charlie if you do not wish.”
“I do not wish,” Dean snorts back, pronouncing it ‘Ah dew naht weesh’, dragging his vowels through the mud and around corners to mock her accent.
For a split second that Dean can see her eyes darken and a short flash of hurt twitches in her brow, and for that moment Dean’s sure that he’s finally done it; he’s pushed her too far by finding the chink in her armor where her insecurities about her second language lay and she’s going to chuck him out and he’ll have lost the chance to get back everything he’s lost and broken. She collects herself, takes a deep breath, and scribbles something down on her yellow legal pad.
Dean clenches his teeth.
“Is there something you would like to say to me, Dean?” she asks without looking up from what she’s writing.
He opens his mouth and, “I knew it was coming,” falls out.
She almost flinches and looks up at him through her glasses, eyes wide as she meddles out what he means. The clouds are rolling in on the horizon. The sunlight doesn’t catch in her hair anymore.
“I knew it was coming,” he repeats. The words taste like spoiled milk. ‘It’ is a big, big word on his tongue and neither of them has any illusion about what he’s talking about. “I knew he was going to do something.” He figures if Dr. Okoro knows them as well as she thinks she knows them she would have guessed that Dean had at least an inkling. “The night before.”