How Did it Get So Late So Soon
A tiny hand cautiously touched the swollen belly. "Isn't it time yet, Mommy?"
"It's past time," Mary admitted with a tired sigh.
"Doesn't Sammy want to come out?"
One hand on her back to help ease her cumbersome body onto the couch, Mary said, "I guess he's happy where he is."
Dean climbed up to sit facing her, his legs crossed. "Doesn't he want to meet me?"
"Of course he does, honey." Mary gently stroked the small blond head. "You've been reading to him from your books."
"I'll still read to him when he's outside your belly."
"You know that and I know that, but maybe Sammy doesn't."
Dean pushed himself up to his knees. Leaning in close to his mother's stomach, he yelled, "I'll still read to you, Sammy." As he sat back on his heels, Dean asked, "Is he coming yet?"
"No, dear." Mary laughed lightly. "Sometimes, babies are just late."
* * *
Dean looked out the window, seeing the pink hues of dusk darkening the sky. He was getting a little nervous that his father wouldn't make it home in time. He had spent the last few months learning to understand a cookbook just so he could give his family a real Thanksgiving dinner.
A glance at the clock showed there was still another hour before the turkey would be done. Dean checked to make sure everything else was ready. The knife that usually resided under his pillow had been washed and sharpened, and was now sitting next to his father's plate in preparation for carving. A pumpkin pie sat on the counter, perfuming the room. Dean smiled as he remembered Sammy "helping" him by cracking the eggs. Dean had spent the next half-hour looking through the mix for eggshells.
"Dean, Dean, look what I got!" Sammy ran into the kitchen, wilting vegetation in his hand.
"What did you find?" asked Dean indulgently.
"Garnyshee, to make Daddy's plate look pretty. Just like in the restaurants."
Dean gently corrected his four-year-old brother. "You mean garnish."
"Yes." Sammy happily handed Dean the plant.
"This is a four-leaf clover, Sammy. Restaurants use parsley."
Sammy's face fell, making Dean regret the correction. "But you know, this is even better. Four-leaf clovers are supposed to bring luck. You've brought Daddy luck. There's not much more you can be thankful for than that."
"Daddy's going to be home soon, isn't he?"
Their lives were so full of lies that even at eight, Dean could tell one with no hint of deceit. But this was the kind of circumstance where he tried to tell the truth. He didn't want Sammy growing up believing he couldn't trust what Dean told him. "I don't know Sammy. I hope so."
"What if he doesn't come home?"
"We'll eat dinner without him."
"I don't wanna."
"Dad doesn't want us to go hungry." Dean put a hand on his brother's shoulder. "I'll make up a plate and put it the refrigerator for him."
"Don't forget my garnish."
"I won't. It'll be the best part of the meal."
* * *
Dean tried to push himself further into the small alcove to escape the biting wind. Sammy was late – again.
He knew he should wait inside the school, but he was afraid someone would see him going inside. They went to two different schools. Sam's had the kindergarten through fourth grade classes, while the one Dean attended had fifth through eighth. On his first day of school he had learned it just wasn't cool to be seen entering the little kids' school. Dean already had enough strikes against him being the new kid. He didn't need one more to show he wasn't cool.
"Hey, Dean," greeted Sammy, slamming the door open as he exited the school.
Dean relished the balmy air for the few seconds the door was open.
"Why didn't ya wait inside where it's warm?" demanded the younger boy.
"Why are you late?" Dean countered.
Sammy lifted the obviously heavy backpack. "Mrs. Reilly was getting me books from the library."
"Why couldn't you get them yourself?"
"I didn't know where the library was."
Stomping his feet to try to get feeling back in them, Dean frowned. "Now that you know, does it mean you won't be late again?"
"I don't know. This library has a lot of books and there's a lot to learn in the first grade."
Glad Sammy had found something about this move to make him happy, Dean took the backpack and threw it over his shoulder, staggering at the additional weight. "You don't have to read every book on your first day."
"I'm not." Sammy skipped down the sidewalk. "Those are just the ones I wanted to read most."
Knowing they could be in another school next week, Dean didn't reply. If it made Sammy happy, he would gladly stand in the cold for hours and carry books until his arms fell off.
* * *
Dean leaned against the kitchen counter eating a bowl of cereal. When he heard the water in the shower finally stop hitting the tiled walls, he yelled, "Get a move on, Sammy, or you'll be late for school."
Slightly muted grumbling met his order. Dean frowned, dreading his younger brother's appearance. This was their third school in three months and Sam wouldn't let him forget it. The constant changes were fraying on both boys' nerves. The one advantage this time was that they were staying in a nice house. Real hot water, not lukewarm, and a table with a real tablecloth, not the plastic ones found in restaurants or the paper ones used for birthday parties. Which was why Dean was standing. The hand-embroidered roses in the middle of the cotton fabric reminded him of his mother. He wasn't sure why, they just did.
"Are you going to stand for every meal while we're here?" asked Sam
"Eat your cereal, or you'll be late for school."
If possible, Sam dragged his feet even more. Unwilling to watch his little brother's procrastination any longer, Dean said, "I'll get our coats."
Sam looked up sadly. "Do you think there'll be a bully at this school?"
"There's a bully at every school. Don't worry, you can take him."
"Yeah, but I just keep hoping things will be different."
Dean threw Sam his jacket. "Let's go."
When they left the house, Dean made sure the doors were locked and the protective sigils in place. A few long strides brought him into step with his brother.
Sam frowned. "Don't you gotta go the other way to catch your bus?"
"Yep." The worst thing about staying in such a small town was that Dean had to go to the next town for the high school, which meant he had to take a bus, which meant he wasn't close by to keep an eye on his brother.
"Aren't you going to miss it?"
"I'm not going to school today."
"I want to make sure you get settled in." While their father felt Sam was old enough at eleven to register himself into a new school, Dean didn't agree. Besides, he wanted the bullies to know Sam had an older brother. A very protective older brother.
Bumping his shoulder against Dean's arm, Sam whispered, "Thanks."
* * *
Sam cut the ham into thick slices-because that was the way Dean liked them- then put the meat into a container. He grinned fondly, placing the pineapple slices on top, knowing how his brother would grumble about the "sissy" fruit. After one last wistful glance out the window, he reluctantly put the rest of the meal he had prepared into the refrigerator.
Dean had promised they would all be together for Christmas. For the first time in years, Sam had allowed himself to hope. It had been a mistake.
Once Dean was old enough, Christmas vacation was set aside for hunting with their father. Each year, though, Dean had tried to make sure they were home for Christmas. Sam knew his brother would do his best this year, but apparently Dean's best wasn't good enough.
Year after year it was the same: iIf they had a TV that worked, Sam would spend the day alone, watching movie after movie, family after family celebrating the holiday together. No matter what troubles befell the mythical or sometimes real families, there was always a happy ending. Sam's happy ending only happened when his father and brother came home alive, usually late on the day before school started again.
This year, it was supposed to be different.
Anticipating a traditional family holiday, Sam had cooked a dinner with as many of Dean's favorites as he knew how to make and could afford to buy the ingredients for. Even with the money he had earned raking leaves, the meal wasn't as elaborate as Sam had wanted, but he knew Dean would appreciate the effort.
Sam told himself he didn't care what their father thought. Dad had made it clear a long time ago that holidays weren't special in the Winchester household.
If their father had made the promise, Sam wouldn't be surprised or disappointed when he spent another Christmas alone. But it had been Dean. And Dean never broke his promises.
It was hard not to be disappointed, even though Sam didn't really blame his brother. He just wished he hadn't allowed Dean to get his hopes up.
The familiar roar of a car engine penetrated the thin walls of the small house. Sam stood in the middle of the kitchen, a pie in his hands, staring in shock out the window. Even as the creak of the doors verified the identity of the vehicle, he was certain he had to be dreaming.
The front door swung open, slamming against the wall. Cold air blew through the opening, accompanying two men inside. Sam was frozen in shock until his father helped Dean over to the couch and eased him down onto the threadbare cushions.
"Sam," John Winchester ordered, "get the medical kit."
Sam automatically obeyed the order. His stomach churning the meal he had eaten into an uncomfortable lump, he put the pie on the table and rushed to the bathroom. He had wanted Dean home for Christmas, but not like this, not bleeding and in pain. Sam retrieved the box they used to hold their medical supplies and carried it back to the living room.
"I'm fine, Dad," protested Dean.
John snorted. "The blood on your arm says differently."
Hearing his brother's griping settled Sam's nerves. A bitching Dean was a good thing. Placing the kit on the couch, Sam asked, "Is Dean hurt bad?"
"No, Dean isn't," his brother quickly answered for himself.
"It's a nasty gash," said John, frowning darkly at his oldest son. "It's going to need stitches, but he should be fine. He would be better if he had let me stop at a motel to sew it up."
Sam guiltily looked at the floor. He knew why Dean wouldn't stop. Keeping a promise had been more important than getting medical attention. Sam felt humbled and angry at the same time. Part of him wanted to hug his brother, while the other part wanted to beat him to a pulp, something that wouldn't have been possible even a year ago but now that they were near the same size had become a possibility.
"What smells so good?" asked Dean.
Lifting his gaze, Sam shrugged his shoulders. "I made dinner."
The hopeful note in Dean's voice made Sam grin. "Lots. I'll make you a plate and pop it in the microwave."
"Great. I'm starving."
Thrilled, Sam asked, "You want me to make a plate up for you, Dad?"
"Nah." John threaded a needle. "As soon as I'm done here, I'm heading for bed."
Though disappointed, Sam wasn't surprised. Sleep was always at the top of their father's to-do list after a hunt.
Sam heaped a plate with ham, mashed potatoes, breaded cauliflower, beans, and a roll, then covered it and put it in the microwave. Filling a glass with milk, he tried not to ignore the soft grunts coming from the living room. Knowing Dean would allow himself to vocalize his pain if he didn't have an audience, so Sam took his time preparing the meal. By the time he had a tray ready, a white bandage had been wrapped around Dean's right forearm and most of the medical supplies had been put away.
Sam quickly put the tray across Dean's lap, and crossed to the small tree he had set up in the corner of the room. He picked up one of the packages sitting underneath and returned to the couch to hand it to his father. "Merry Christmas, Dad."
Wiping the blood from his hands with a rag, John groaned as he took the package. "Did I miss Christmas again?"
"No," Sam said, "you made it just in time."
Despite what his father had said, Sam knew one day really didn't matter more than another to his father. Forcing a smile Sam urged, "Open your present."
"Yeah, all right."
John tore the colorful paper off to reveal a large plastic bag full of socks. Christmas wasn't a time for sentiment in the Winchester household. There wasn't room for trinkets. Everything had to be useful. The socks would not only fit John, but Sam and Dean as well.
"This is great, son. Thank you." John rose to his feet. "I'll see you boys in the morning."
"'Night, Dad," mumbled Dean around a mouthful of food.
Sam waited patiently for Dean to finish his meal before he retrieved the other present from under the tree. "Merry Christmas, Dean."
Obviously delighted, Dean took the package. "I thought the meal was my present."
"It was one of them. This is the other."
Careful of his injured arm, Dean tore the decorative paper off one-handed to reveal a green plaid woolen shirt. "This is great, Sammy. Thanks." His eyes dropping to the ragged, bloodstained shirt he was wearing, he ruefully noted, "It's just what I need."
Though he wished his brother hadn't "needed" it quite so much, Sam could tell Dean was really happy with his present. It had taken Sam a long time to find a shirt without any stains or worn spots in the right size at the local thrift store. The effort was well worth the reception it had received.
"Sammy, get my bag," ordered Dean.
Sam complied quickly, and was surprised when Dean took a newspaper-wrapped package out of the bag.
"Merry Christmas, bro," Dean said, handing it to Sam.
The satisfied look on his brother's face told Sam that Dean was enjoying Sam's reaction. Thrilled, but trying not to show it, Sam quickly tore off the paper to reveal a book. All pretense at detachment disappeared when his seeking gaze read the title: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Sam had been trying to read the book for months. As soon as they settled in a new town, he would run to the library and put his name on the waiting list to reserve the book. But each time they had moved before it was his turn.
Unable to speak, Sam could only stare at the heavy tome in his hand. He hadn't realized Dean knew about his quest. Once again, he had underestimated his brother. "Dean."
"That's the one you wanted, right?"
"I wasn't sure. I couldn't imagine anyone would want to read a book that big for pleasure."
Sam continued to stare down at his present afraid to look away, afraid Dean would see the tears in his eyes. The words didn't seem adequate, but Sam had to say them. He just hoped Dean understood he appreciated more than just the book. "Thanks, Dean."
* * *
"Where is he?" demanded John Winchester, pushing aside a book detailing sigils.
Dean flinched, but knew better than to lie. It would only get his brother into more trouble. "He isn't home from school yet."
"He's been late every night this week," John complained, opening another book. "He graduates next week. What's keeping him so late?"
Though he wanted to come clean and tell his father Sam was preparing to leave for college, Dean didn't say a word. First, it was Sam's news to tell. Second, he knew the fights the two men had engaged in these last few years wouldn't hold a candle to what was to come. Dean had lived with his father and brother long enough to know the impending fight would mean the end of their family. He wasn't going to do anything to hasten its demise.
Grabbing the car keys, Dean said, "I'll go see if I can find him."
"You do that and tell him it's the last time he better be late."
It was one order Dean had no intention of obeying. As much as it hurt, he wasn't deluding himself. He knew Sam wanted nothing to do with the family business and as soon as he left for college he would get his wish.
And Dean couldn't be the protective big brother any longer.
* * *
Sam parked the car in front of their motel room. He was so tired he wasn't sure he trusted what he was seeing. To make certain he had the right room, he compared the number on the key with the number on the door. Once he had confirmed they matched, he reached over and shook his brother's shoulder. "Dean, wake up."
"W-what?" Dean grumbled. He moved away, and curled up against the door.
That single word was enough to confirm for Sam that his brother was congested. It didn't come as a surprise. It would be a miracle if they both didn't end up with pneumonia. They had spent the last few nights, crouching in a forest, in the cold spring air, waiting for the Batsquatch that had killed three locals, to appear. After they dispatched it, they had been forced to drive hours from the scene to insure they wouldn't be arrested for the creature's murder. Even though it looked like someone's grandmother, the brothers knew the Batsquatch wasn't human, but there was a chance the local law wouldn't agree.
Shaking Dean's arm again, Sam said, "Dean, come on, you'll be more comfortable in a bed."
"Doubt it," growled Dean, opening his door and almost falling to the ground.
Sam quickly exited the car and went around to help his brother.
As he was pulled onto his feet, Dean asked, "Is that really the date?"
Puzzled, Sam followed his brother's gaze and saw an LED display below a bank sign that told the time, day, and temperature. He waited for the date to reappear before he confirmed, "In another three minutes, it'll be March 24. Is that what you're asking?"
"Damn," Dean swore, "we missed it."
Sam looked around as if hoping someone or something would tell him what his brother was talking about. "What did we miss?"
"St. Patrick's Day."
"I thought your favorite holiday was Valentine's Day." Sam wrapped one arm around Dean's waist and led him to the motel room door.
"Not when we're this close to Chicago. Who wouldn't love green beer and corned beef and cabbage with boiled potatoes?"
Sam knew better than to answer that question honestly. Nor would he consider halfway across the country close.
"And Shamrock Shakes," continued Dean with a disappointed sigh.
While Dean continued to extol the virtues of St. Patrick's Day, Sam got him out of his damp clothes and into bed. Retrieving their bags, he saw they were out of cold medicine. Eyeing the other bed with longing, he salted the windows and door, placed protective sigils, and reluctantly went back out to the car.
As tired as he was, he knew he had no business driving, but he also didn't want Dean to end up with pneumonia. He slid behind the wheel, turned on the engine, and carefully backed out of the parking spot. This job was the first time he had been allowed to drive the Impala since Dean rebuilt it; if he put so much as a dent in it Sam knew he would never hear the end of it.
A short drive took him to a Walgreen's. Cold medicine in hand, he saw a McDonald's across the street. He drove over, only to find they no longer served Shamrock Shakes. He fought down the urge to return to the motel and a nice warm bed and got directions for the next closest McDonald's.
The luck of the Irish was apparently not with him; this one's machine was broken.
Silently cursing his luck, Sam once again asked for directions to yet another McDonald's, even as he wondered how many one small town could support. Hoping this time his excursion wouldn't be in vain, he drove to the edge of town.
Third time was the charm.
Better late than never, he returned to their motel. He got a glass of water before gently shaking Dean awake. "Dean, you have to take some medicine."
"Hurts to swallow." Dean pulled away and buried himself deeper under the blankets.
Sam encouraged, "This medicine will make you feel better."
"No it won't." A cough was muffled by the blankets.
Frustrated by his brother's stubbornness, Sam wheedled, "I got you a Shamrock Shake."
There was a long pause before Dean's head emerged from his cocoon. "Give me the pills."
* * *
Blood dripping from the knife in his hand, Dean's eyes checked the bodies sprawled on the floor in front of him. When he detected no movement, he grinned in satisfaction. He had killed two demons without Sam's assistance. It was the first time he felt he deserved to be called a hunter since he had been pulled out of Hell.
While Sam's method might have left the human vessels alive, Dean still didn't trust the results either for the hosts or Sam.
Sam burst into the room the Colt at the ready.
"It's about time you showed up," grumbled Dean, though there wasn't any heat in his voice.
"If you had left your note where I could find it, I would've been here sooner," snapped Sam.
"What are you talking about? It was in plain sight."
Resting the barrel of the gun against his shoulder, Sam protested, "Only when I took a piss."
"Who would've guessed you had such a strong bladder?" Dean shrugged. "I knew you'd see it eventually."
"Eventually could've been too late," Sam pointed out.
Dean slapped his brother on the shoulder. "But it wasn't, was it?"
"You got lucky."
"No," Dean grinned, "you've got an awesome big brother."
Shaking his head, a small smirk curving his lips, Sam amended, "Sometimes."
Less than five minutes after turning it on, Sam turned the TV off. The death toll in Haiti had risen to an almost unimaginable number. He knew this was his fault. He had brought on the Apocalypse, but others were paying the price. It was times like this when he almost wanted to give up and say yes to Lucifer. But he knew the only person it would help was himself.
Barely able to keep from putting a fist through the flimsy motel wall, he forced himself to bury his guilt and pull out his laptop to give himself something to do. He wished Dean wasn't so late in returning with their dinner. In his heart, Sam knew he wasn't solely responsible for the Apocalypse. If he hadn't killed Lilith Ruby would've found another way to get the deed done. Ruby had been nothing if not resourceful.
The one person he could never hold responsible for all that had happened was Dean, even though his brother had been the one to break the first seal. How could he blame Dean for Hell living up to its name?
The unmistakable sound of a boot hitting the bottom of the door made Sam jump in surprise. Grateful for the interruption, he rose, crossed the room and opened the door, allowing Dean to enter, arms laden with bags filled with food and drinks. Dean put them on the table near the door and started distributing the contents.
Listlessly accepting a BLT, fries, and a milk shake, Sam pulled out a chair at the table and sat down.
As he took out a container of fries and a large hamburger, Dean apologized, "Sorry it took me so long, Sammy, there are a lot of beautiful women in this town. I can't believe we've never been here before. Hopefully, you've found a job that'll take a while."
Sam took a bite of his sandwich, hiding a reluctant smile. It never ceased to amaze him that a person could be so predictable and so unique at the same time. And always able to lift Sam's spirits, even when it wasn't obvious they needed lifting. After swallowing his food, Sam revealed, "Cas called. He said he may have a lead on God."
"About freakin' time. Maybe now I'll get my amulet back."
If Sam told most people Dean was sentimental, they would laugh in his face. Yet, after some twenty-two years of practically living in each others' pockets there was still so much they didn't know about each other. One thing was certain, life with Dean was never boring. Strangely, if it wasn't for the threat of becoming Lucifer's vessel hanging over his head, there were few things in his life Sam would choose to change.
However, near the top of the list would be driving more often so he could choose the music. He was sick of Metallica.