It's like a one two punch in the gut when Dean spots Sammy in the backseat through the window. First is the sinking disappointment as he realises he's got to go. He'd let hiself believe for just a split second that he could have this, that he could go to the dance with Robin, that he could live here and go to school consistently enough to maybe scrape through to graduation rather than take that G.E.D he and Dad had talked about. That he could be free from it all and only have himself to worry about.
Then comes the guilt.
Sammy needs him. How could he have even thought about leaving him behind? How could he have wanted that, even for a second? What kind of shitty human being must he be to want to leave his baby brother to fend for himself while he went to a stupid high school dance and played happy families in a goddamn boys home?
Sonny's still waiting on an answer and Dean opens his mouth to give it. Something must clue Sonny in to the battle that he's just lost, because he jumps in. "Why, Dean? I know what you told me about the bruises, about why your dad's away so much, and I know you believe it, but that doesn't explain the rest of it. If your old man is everything you say he is, why'd he leave you alone to take care of your brother with no money? Why'd he leave you here for two months if they need you so bad?"
"It was my fault, I lost-"
"Don't give me that crap," Sonny cuts him off. "A parent doesn't leave one child hungry because the other messed up. It was his responsibility to keep you both fed, not yours. You're sixteen, you shouldn't have been in that position in the first place."
There's not a lot he can say to that. Sonny won't understand, he wouldn't get why it's on Dean. Hell, Dean doesn't always get why it's on Dean. But it always has been, and he knows his Dad is a good guy. Not the easiest man, but a good one. He wouldn't have done any of that without good reason. So Dean goes with, "You don't get it."
"What don't I get? Explain it to me?"
John hits the horn again and Dean swallows down the mixed feelings of dread, longing and pain that tear their way up his throat. Sammy's still playing, dangled half out the car window and oblivious. God, he missed that kid.
"Sammy..." Dean means to finish the sentence, means to spit out the first phrase he ever accepted as gospel truth, 'he's my brother. My responsibility' but the look on Sonny's face puts him off. "He needs me."
Sonny answers him anyway. "You're not his Dad, Dean. You're just a kid, what are you going to do for him?"
"Protect him, look after him," Dean argues. Make sure he gets more out of life than a G.E.D and a leather jacket.
A car door slams and Dean looks back to the impala in time to see John thundering back up towards the house.
Sonny continues, unperturbed. "You're not doing Sammy any favours sticking around and adding to your rap sheet. What's the plan, huh? How are you gonna protect him and look after him when you can't even do those things for yourself? And what happens when little Sammy is all grown up? What do you do then?"
"Dean!" John's voice roars through the house as if the floors and doors between them don't exist.
"Dean," Sonny says, infinitely more gentle even in his solid, unrelenting tone. "It's not on you."
He's not the first to say it. Hell, it's not the first time Sonny himself has said it. It's not even the first time Dean's started to believe it; if he ever will then that first is still a long way off. But there's something in the way he says it. Not as a fact or a comfort or biting words against John's parenting. As an offer.
This is the line in the sand. It's not on Dean until it is. He can walk over that line and never look back, march out to the impala and keep his gaze straight ahead and his spine upright as Dad lays into him about making him wait, about stealing from the store, about talking to Sonny about the job. Or he can step back from it and let it sit there until and unless he's ready.
"Sammy'll never survive without me," Dean all but whispers his biggest fear. Sure, he fucked it up last time, but Dean at least was able to get food on the regular, to help Sammy with his homework (for another year or two maybe, before Sammy gets smart enough to overtake him), to hold him when he had nightmares. Who'll do that if Dean leaves? A treacherous thought asks who's been doing it for the last two months?
Sonny's gaze hardens. Dean thinks it's directed at him until Sonny spins to face the door in time for John to come striding through it.
"Dean, get your ass down to the car!" John snaps, not even sparing Sonny a glance, though it's obvious the snub is intended.
"We're not done," Sonny says, and it's the first time Dean's heard him angry.
John flicks a dismissive look his way then turns back to Dean. "I said-"
"He heard you," Sonny interrupts. "And I said we're not done. You left him here for two months, you'll manage another ten minutes, I'm sure."
"Keep your nose out of this," John replies. "This is between me and my son."
It's blatantly clear that Sonny's barely keeping a grip on the urge to lay John out. Dean's honestly not sure who'd win that fight, and the thought surprises him. He's used to seeing John as unconquerable, like John Wayne or Rambo, the best and most righteous and everything Dean both wants to be and fears becoming. But if John's Rambo then Sonny's Captain Kirk.
"Dean," John growls out a command, eyes now firmly fixed on Sonny, daring him to interfere again.
Dean goes to obey but his legs won't move. He's rooted to the spot behind that line in the sand that's now become the threshhold to this room. Once he crosses that line, he can never go back.
John snaps. He's done waiting, and he doesn't hesitate in brushing past Sonny to grab at Dean's arm.
"You lay one finger on that boy and I will break it," Sonny says, sounding calm in spite of it all. Cool, sure, collected where John's rage burns hot and chaotic.
John ignores him and drags Dean from the room, shoving him towards the stairs. "You get down those stairs and into that car right now, or so help me-"
"Is this really what you want your brother to see, Dean?" Sonny calls from behind them.
Dean freezes on the top step.
"Is this how you protect him? By letting him watch you get broken and used up?"
John turns and throws a punch.
Sonny has no chance at dodging, not when it's John attacking. A youth worker, no matter how checkered his past, has nothing on the creatures John fights and kills on the regular. He doesn't seem to try to, though, doesn't seem to care even as he falls on his ass and cups his broken nose. Instead, his focus remains on Dean. "Is this what you want your brother learning? That's it's okay to treat you like this? To be treated like this?"
"You don't know what you're talking about," Dean says, but it comes out sandpaper rough. There've been enough occassions where Sammy's been scared stiff to tell anyone about making a mistake, where Sammy's seen John stagger in drunk and bruised from a fight with something a lot more natural than super.
Another shove to the shoulder nearly sends him tripping down the stairs, and he lets his feet carry him out of the house on autopilot, a countdown clock measuring each step he takes towards the car, each breath between here and there, each heartbeat.
Sammy looks up and smiles at him as he steps out onto the porch.
He hurries the rest of the way and crouches by Sammy's window.
"Hey, Dean," Sammy says casually, as though he hasn't noticed any of the yelling, hasn't noticed the look on Dean's face or the stormy rage on John's. He has. He always does.
"Get in the goddamn car, Dean!" John orders. Dean doesn't think John's ever had to tell him twice before, let alone however many times it's been now.
Sonny, bleeding and gripping the railings on the porch, says nothing.
Sammy still doesn't comment, though he does look up and around, a flash of confusion and anxiety in his puppy-brown eyes. He locks eyes with Dean again. "Why aren't you getting in the car?"
Dean sees it all, then. Sees himself turn into a barely-functioning alcoholic, all the soft edges burnt away by gunpowder and fistfights. Sees Sammy watch him drop out of school and pick up a bottle, learning to hate him or to be him. Sees years, decades if they're lucky, of them trailing around the country, never all in one piece, collecting scars and trauma as they go, and Sammy never knowing any different. One of them dying. Probably Dean before any of them, more disposable than Sammy, less experienced than John. They'll live this miserable life until it kills them all, and through it all, Sammy won't remember their Mom, won't remember Dean singing him 'Hey Jude' as best he can from memory, won't know what it's like to have a proper Christmas or Birthday, or a home. And eventually Dean won't either.
"Dean?" Sammy repeats, darting a nervous look to where John has climbed back into the driver's seat.
"If you ever need me," Dean starts and has to force the words out past the concrete ball lodged in his throat. "Bobby will have my number."
"I have to go away for awhile, but it's not- It's not because I don't-" Dean thinks of the last time he said the words. Even now he can't spit them out. "You're my brother, okay? You'll always be my brother. No matter what."
John's clearly heard all that's been said, and for whatever reason he's not inclined to argue. Or to acknowledge Dean's decision or hang around a moment longer. The impala pulls off and Dean has to take a step back to avoid a crushed foot.
"Sammy!" Dean calls out, panicked and already regretting his choice. He chases after the car a few steps, but John's always had the makings of a getaway driver and they're too far ahead before Dean can properly get his feet back under him. He stands there, staring dazedly after the fast-disappearing speck containing his whole world until a heavy hand lands on his shoulder.
He doesn't go to the Homecoming dance with Robin. All that and he doesn't go to the stupid dance. Instead he sits nursing a cup of tea he knows he isn't going to drink and doesn't know why Sonny has given him, and tries not to listen as Sonny makes a report to god-only-knows who about John and about Dean and about Sam. He knows Sonny's going to try to get Sammy out, too, but there's not a chance in hell anyone'll be able to catch up to John before he's out of the state, let alone take his kid off him.
Robin calls by.
She doesn't stay long, upset and worried and trying to peek over Sonny's shoulder to meet Dean's averted gaze as Sonny reassures her and makes apologies for Dean. She takes it better than Dean thought she would. He wonders how she would have taken it if Dean had left with John.
There are others in the house, of course, but they've all had their own issues they didn't want others prying into, and Sonny's a good enough guy to have successfully instilled ground rules about that sort of thing. Dean'll no doubt get grilled later, but for now it's just him and Sonny and two cooling cups of leaf water.
"How's the nose?" Dean asks blandly.
Sonny pulls a face and doesn't even look like he regrets it. "Eh. Had worse. It'll sure be pretty in the morning, though."
"You should probably get that checked out," Dean suggests, then eyes it critically. "Or I can set it for you, if you want."
Sonny doesn't look alarmed. He never does by the things Dean says. Makes Dean all the more curious about that 'family' Sonny's told him about before and just how deep Sonny was in it. "It'll wait."
Dean nods and goes back to staring into space and wondering just what the hell he's going to do now. It'd been one thing when it was Homecoming and a fantasy he never fully believed he could have, but now...
As if he can hear Dean's thoughts spiralling, Sonny puts his cup down and leans back in his chair, waiting for Dean's gaze to slowly drift in his direction. "You don't have to make any big decisions right now. Today was a lot."
Dean huffs an empty laugh at the understatement.
"I mean it," Sonny pushes. "That was a hard thing you did. Took a lot of strength. It's okay to go easy on yourself for a little while. Right now all you need to decide on is what we're making for dinner because if we leave it much later those boys are gonna riot."
"Oh, so now you're putting me to work? I thought I was supposed to be taking it easy?" Dean jokes halfheartedly.
It earns a small smile in return and Sonny gets up, retrieving the kitchen aprons and throwing one Dean's way. "We've all still gotta eat."
He doesn't mean the protest anyway. Cooking with Sonny is... theraputic. He doesn't have to worry about using up ingredients or not having the right equipment or space to actually be able to cook. Nothing about the experience is stressful or worried and it actually feels a little like when he's working on cars, the same feeling of solving a puzzle as he gets then, but with faint echoes of his Mom's laughter when he makes mistakes or accidentally paints his cheek in ingredients.
And Sonny genuinely seems to enjoy it, too. He's not here just to teach or to do a job, he's fully in it with Dean as they work together and make idle chit chat, laughing at Dean's dumb jokes and asking his opinion on seasonings. It's clear Sonny's passion is in the value of it and in providing for the boys he's taken in rather than the cooking itself, but it's no less enjoyable for that.
There are moments in between heated debates over amounts of salt where the throbbing ache in Dean's chest is almost bearable. And when Dean offers to set the table himself rather than calling one of the boys to do their part, he tentatively starts to wonder if maybe he can somehow be useful without hunting.
Robin's trying hard to act tough and unaffected and pissed off rather than hurt and worried, and if Dean wasn't used to doing the same he might even have fallen for it. He knows he let her down. A venomous voice in his head insists that he always lets people down. He's not proud of it.
"I'm sorry about the dance," Dean says when it becomes clear she won't be the first one to mention it.
She stiffens and shrugs as if she couldn't care less, staring intently at the farmland surrounding them. "Whatever."
Dean's used to this kind of dynamic with girls. It's why, despite his insistence to the contrary, he really hasn't got much experience kissing. He pisses them off, disappoints them. He's used to brushing it off and blaming them for 'playing mind games' or reading too much into things, used to justifying it with all the bigger priorities he has to deal with. But Robin's never played games, and when he's really honest with himself that's probably true for a lot of the girls he started something with.
He clears his throat uncomfortably. "I'll make it up to you. We could... we could go to the movies, or I dunno-"
"How do I know you won't just ditch me again?" Robin cuts him off, fingers picking at the fabric of her guitar case as she hunches protectively around the instrument, avoiding looking at him or touching him but keeping the gap between them small enough that her sleeve brushes Dean's every now and then. "You could just run off into the night and I'd never even know where you went or why you left."
It takes a moment for Dean to realise that she's worried about him. He'd thought it was hurt and worry over him ditching her, like she says, but she's sat right next to him and she checked him over the second he stepped through the front door. She's acting like Bobby does when Dean shows up with a busted lip or a row of stitches; that same brand of annoyed concern as they try to avoid asking questions they aren't sure they want an answer to. He takes the risk and reaches for her hand, fingers covering hers and stilling them. She doesn't pull away, so he pulls her hand towards him, thumb running over her knuckles. "Ask me."
"Ask me what happened."
It takes a moment, but she finally looks at him. "What happened?"
And Dean explains, looking down at their now entwined fingers as he tells her about Sam, about his Dad, about how he still isn't sure he made the right choice. How, actually, he's pretty sure he made the wrong one.
He skips the uglier details and the background of the Job, but he keeps in the fears that made him stay. The drinking he already knows he does too much of at sixteen, and the gambling and the G.E.D and the girls that he's pretty sure would have soon ended up as far more and far less that what he has with Robin. About how sometimes he doesn't even know if their dad loves them, and he thinks one day Sam won't know if Dean- He talks far too much and every word out of his mouth sounds pathetic.
She's quiet when he finishes and with every second that passes he's more and more sure he's fucked this up completely. But she still doesn't pull away.
"Sorry, I'm not..." He shakes his head. "I'm not used to talking about this stuff."
Robin jolts as if startled. "No, it's fine, it's just... Well, you're one of Sonny's, I knew it wasn't all going to be rosey and everything." She squeezes his fingers in reassurance. "My mom never tells me the details, but a few of the boys have told her stuff. Bad stuff. About their families, usually, and how they ended up at the farm. No one ever told me before, though. It never really seemed real, you know?"
"It's not like that. My Dad- It's complicated, alright? He never lays a finger on me," Dean says. "Or, well, nothing I can't handle. And never when I was a kid."
"You are still a kid, Dean," Robin tells him.
He swallows. If he were a civillian... But he's not, he's a hunter, he doesn't get to be a kid and to be honest that's never really bothered him before. He was always kinda proud that Dad treated him like a grown man.
"It's always complicated," Robin continues. "And there's always some reason why it isn't like the others. Mom says-"
"Robin, I mean it, he doesn't hit me or anything," Most of the time. Only when he's made a stupid mistake that could get them killed or get Sammy hurt. "Not even when he's drunk." That much is true. John's drunken rages rarely happen around his kids, and never get physical with either of them. Just other drunken idiots.
Robin hesitates, clearly wanting to say more, but she doesn't. Instead she extracts her hand from his and winds her arm around his waist, leaning into him. "Okay."
"Okay," Dean repeats, not sure what else to say after all of that.
"Are you staying for good?"
Dean thinks about it. He hasn't let himself get that far yet. "Maybe. At least until I finish school, I think."
Robin burrows closer and tucks her head under his chin. "Good." She pauses. "Maybe you can take me to Prom instead."