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We are Both Afraid Before the Dawn

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Sam knew Dean's lame excuses to get them to try other blocks as they wound their way back to the school and the shelters was a ploy to protect him. And he really felt for his brother that, no matter which way Dean steered him, there were endless lines of destruction, the thirsty, the hungry, and the bleeding.

By the time they made it back to the school, it was clear at least fifteen were dead, and thirty "missing." AKA--lost in the rubble.

Dean talked his way up one street and down the other. He told Sam stories of people surviving without water and food for weeks at a time, and how awesome rescuers were.

Sam understood what he was doing. But honestly, he just wanted quiet, somewhere, to try to think through what had happened.

They were directed away from the high school and into the VFW, which had a tree across its walkway but, other than that, was in solid shape. The inside was a mess of cots and volunteers and crying/wailing/barking children, but Dean scored them more water and food and a few blankets, and settled them in on the floor in the back. He'd been trying every half-block since they'd left to get a signal on their cell, but it was clear that, not only were they not getting one, but the battery was dying. By night, they'd be back in the dark, relying on flashlights, and wondering about their Dad.

All his life, Sam had wanted normal. And now that he was surrounded by families who'd known it, he wanted nothing more than to be in some crappy motel with Dean and their Dad.

 It made Sam shaky and sick. When Dean finally stepped away to try and barter the use of a landline from a cop, he up and slipped out the door and wound his way to the back. There, he could hear sirens, and some odd voices here and there, but mostly, what he heard was the breeze: soft, warm, and gently teasing at the odds and ends of wreckage, the leaves and flowers not yet shredded by debris. For two months, they'd had an address and a neighborhood. For two months, Sam had had one bed to sleep in, one door to unlock.

He'd seen former almost-homes taken away abruptly--because of hunts gone awry, or new-hunts heard of, or social services circling a little too closely, or reasons no one bothered to give him. But this was...well...normal. Like some nasty spit in the face.

"Hey. What the hell, Sammy?"

And damnit, why could Dean never just leave him alone?

"I called Dad," Dean continued. Sam didn't answer. "Jesus, what is with this vow of silence? Sam?" Sam glared. Dean sighed and leaned against him, nudging him lightly with his shoulder. "Hey. I get it. It was freaky. But--"

"I'm not freaked, Dean."

"Then?" Sam ignored him. "Sammy," he said firmly.

"Our house is gone."

"Dude, you hated that house. All you've done since day one is bitch about it."

"I know!" Sam snapped. "I know, alright! It doesn't make any sense!"

"Good, we agree. Now c'mon. Let's go back inside and--"

"No--Dean, you don't get it."

Dean sighed. "Well you're not making it easy for me here, kiddo."

"I hated that house. It smelled weird and the lights didn't work unless you flicked the switches a bunch of times and the porch was falling apart and the shower took forever to heat up and we weren't near anything fun. But--it was the only one I ever had, Dean. It was the longest I was ever in one place. And...when I saw it..." his throat ached. He swallowed hard, keeping the tears down. Dean gave him a reassuring nod. " You didn't believe me when I said that storm was coming and no one ever listens when I just want to stay in one place long enough to finish a grade. You and Dad think it's some kind of... freak thing  that I just want us to be safe and normal. And then we finally get a little bit of what I want and it's...it’s…gone Dean. It's like we'll never be safe."

And God he didn't want to cry. Not when they'd made it through this and he should just be grateful they're alive and haven't lost everything like so many surrounding them. But it hurt, damnit, and he couldn’t pretend it didn't hurt, not when Dean stared at him in that I'm listening way of his that always got Sam babbling.

"Hey," his big brother said. Sam turned, but Dean didn't say anything else, just opened his arms, palms out, a pillar of unconditional understanding. One that no storm could ever touch. Sam vaulted forward and burrowed into his brother's chest, letting a few small sobs out into the muscles beneath Dean's heart, feeling the amulet bump his forehead as encouraging arms came around and held him tight.

"Whatever we are," Dean murmured, "and wherever we'll be, I'll be right there with you all the way."

And, okay—maybe it wasn't fair to say he never felt safe. And maybe Sam should try and find the words to tell that to his brother. But from the way Dean stroked Sam's hair and rubbed his thumb along his shoulder, it seemed like he understood just fine.

***

Dean woke, highly unwillingly, because his brother's razor-sharp elbow dug into his stomach. He huffed and pulled away, only to get a kick in the shins and a brother who didn't seem to realize the room was stifling hot. No, Sammy’s determined to roll over and burrow into Dean like it's twenty-one degrees and he's some kind of human heater.

So Dean let him. Because he's the best big brother ever.

He rubbed at his eyes. He liked to think he could sleep anywhere, but the floor was getting old. He stretched out an arm for his phone and checks for missed calls or messages, but there's nothing. The old excuses run through his mind—he's on a job, he can't get service, he trusts Dean to handle it--but damnit, he wants a bed and a hot meal and a tiny bit of reassurance himself, thank you.

Sammy sighed and stretched an arm out over Dean's stomach, wedging himself even tighter against him, and Dean reached down to scratch his brother's head. Sam could have an eerie sixth sense about his big brother’s needs sometimes. Dean liked to think it was because he was so awesome.

"Dean!" someone bellowed. Dean jumped, instantly assuming soldier mode, sitting up so fast he knocks Sammy with his arm and gets the kid whining something incoherent. "Sam!" the same voice followed, and just like that, his brother is upright at his side, looking around a bit bewildered.

"Dad?" Dean called. The boys got to their feet, and Dean didn't even feel completely balanced before John wrapped both his boys in arms and hugged them fiercely.

"Oh, thank God," their father whispered. He thumped Dean hard on the back, then pulled away to cup Sammy's chin. "You boys okay?"

"We're fine, Dad, are you?" Dean asked. John nodded.

“I set out as soon as I heard, but everything was down. Your phone said it was out of service. I had to hit it on foot the last ten miles, and they weren't even letting anyone down the street." His thick, heavy hand landed on Dean's shoulder. Dean's seen his father after dozens of hunts, good and bad, and through flus and benders, but he can't ever remember seeing him this drawn and stressed and downright thankful. "Sammy. Your brother take care of you?"

"You know he did, Dad. We...I was worried about you."

"Spook go down easy?" Dean asked, trying to avoid an overemotional moment from his brother. John nodded.

"Was in the car on my way back when I heard. They're calling an F4. When I saw the house..." he stopped himself, rested his hand briefly on each of his son's cheeks, looking from one to the other. "You got here in time," he said, as if it's not obvious.   

"Yes, sir," they said. John nodded and stayed silent for a long moment, then clapped both their shoulders, and squeezed.

"You feel up to a walk back to the car?"

Dean glanced at Sam. Sammy looked up at him with that look he gets, the Julia Roberts one, full of gratitude and affection and hero-worship that makes Dean feel ten times his own size and willing to take on anything just to keep that smile on his brother's face.

"Yeah Dad," Sam said, leaning into Dean's side, "we're ready."