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John had suddenly left on a hunt. After lots of swearing and hurriedly packing his bags and shouting orders at Dean he was out the door. He hadn’t even realized that Dean had ditched school for the day, was too wrapped up in whatever had caught his attention now. In fact, he was too wrapped up in it all to remember to give Dean some money. So Sammy was at school, and Dean was left all alone to sit there and question how he was going to feed his little brother.

He could get a job, he supposed. Who cared about his grades? He wasn’t doing well, anyway. He never did. There was one teacher at the school who saw how smart Dean really was, who had pulled him aside after class and told him that his grades weren’t a true reflection of his intelligence and that he had so much going on in his head. She had even offered to help tutor him after school, but knowing they’d be probably moving soon anyway, Dean had declined. Besides, after school was when he had to watch Sam and do his training. And Dean kept telling himself he didn’t really care anyway. Knowing his lifestyle he was bound to drop out soon, become a hunter like his dad. So it didn’t matter. He could get a job and just focus on that.

But Dean had to pull himself together first. It was never good when Dad left. It made him feel empty and alone and lost. Yet, there was this tension he felt all around him, like it was left over from his dad’s presence. And there wasn’t just that, there was telling Sammy. His little brother was always disappointed, but as he’d been getting older he was no longer surprised. He’d just heave a sigh, sometimes sniffle and turn his head to the side to hide the tears in his eyes, and then he’d throw his bag down by the table, take a seat, and start doing his homework. Dean was glad he did his homework since Sammy really did have what it took to get through school; he had always been smarter than him, but he figured Sam buried himself in it to keep himself distracted, to not deal with the fact that John left all the time. Dean didn’t see a problem with him doing that though - whatever got Sam through the day.

He went over to the bathroom and washed his face in the sink, hoping maybe the cold water would get rid of that awful emptiness he felt, the emptiness that was quickly being filled with the ugly weight of responsibility and worry. It helped somewhat, and then he grabbed his keys to the motel room, stuffed a pistol in the back of the waistband of his jeans like his dad had taught him to, in case something attacked him, and he left. Dean had never tried to get a job before, so he didn’t know what it entailed, but he was willing to what had to be done.

Luckily, when he got to the gas station a few blocks away he saw a paper sign taped to the window that said Now Hiring, ask for manager at front desk. A bell over the door dinged when he walked into the small, but well-kept store. The floor was white, the walls a drab steel grey that might have once been blue before it faded, and there were a few shelves holding the usual: snacks high in sugar and carbs, water bottles, milk, eggs, tubs of ice cream, some toiletries, and in the back behind the front desk there were a few packs of Marlboros. A man who looked to be in his 20s and was terribly thin with well-kept hair and oily skin stood behind the counter. His nametag read Jeff. Dean nodded at him and walked over.

“Can I talk to the manager?” he asked.

“This about the job?” Dean didn’t like Jeff’s voice. It was nasally.

He nodded.

Jeff looked him over, and then shook his head. “Sorry, kid, you’re too young.”

“But I’ll work hard,” Dean reasoned, placing his hands pleadingly on the counter as he stepped closer. “Please.”

There was a moment where Jeff looked into his eyes, probably saw his desperation in them, but he still shook his head.

“Like, I said. You’re too young. I’m sorry.”

“But I’m fifteen,” he reasoned, figuring that he had to be old enough to get a job. He had to be. Right? Especially since he really needed it.

“Gotta be eighteen to work here.”

Dean just sighed, and trudged off without saying thank you. There went his hopes of that. Now what was he going to do?

Had to feed Sam. He had to feed Sam.

John hadn’t even left him with a single dollar.

What the fuck am I supposed to do? he thought.

He made sure he was past the gas station before having his breakdown. There was a dumpster next to a rundown red-brick apartment complex nearby that he took his rage out on. He kicked it furiously, his vision blurring with unshed tears as his throat began to ache. He kicked till his toes started hurting and then he let out a wordless shout.

“Fuck,” he muttered under his breath, running his hands through his hair.

Gotta figure something else out. Gotta figure something else out. But what? What?!

Dean didn’t know, but he started walking back to the motel, knowing just wandering around would do him no good.

By the time Sam got home from school and Dean had explained where Dad had gone an idea had started forming. One he didn’t like. But it was one he knew he had to do. There was nothing else.

So once he made sure Sam was doing his homework, his hazel gaze downcast, he head out again, telling him he’d be back soon, just had to run an errand.

Dean returned to the gas station, but not to try again at getting the job.

Someone else was working there now, which was good. He was unreasonably mad at Jeff and wanted to punch him in the face. He knew it wasn’t his fault, but it was hard not to associate his oily face and too-thin features with that of his failure. It was a failure. To him, there was no other way to see it. He’d tried doing something that would take care of Sam and he’d failed. But there was more to it. There was anger, anger at the stupid rule that he had to be eighteen, anger at Jeff, anger at his dad. But… how could he be angry at Dad? He didn’t really know how to be. He was too scared to let himself feel that because if Dad gave an order that was that. Dean was a soldier, and Dad had messed up, but that didn’t mean he could sit around and sulk about it. He had to follow through with his mission, and his mission was the most important mission. It was to take care of Sam.

So when he made sure the new employee - this one a middle-aged woman with scraggly dirty blonde hair - had her back turned, he grabbed as many bags of chips and bars of chocolate that he could fit into his bag without the bulk of it looking suspicious. On another walkthrough he found a jar of peanut butter, and crammed that in as well. He considered taking some milk, but the only cartons were gallon sized and that was just too large, so he snagged some 7UP, and even two bottles of water, figuring Sam would like having something to drink other than tap water for a change. Just taking things wasn’t all there was to his plan though. He knew it’d look suspicious if he walked in and didn’t buy anything. So he’d scrounged around outside the motel earlier for some coins. He would’ve looked in the motel room, but he didn’t want Sammy to know anything was up.

With a smile on his face, Dean went up to the counter, and grabbed a pack of gum before placing it on the worn gray plastic laminate.

The woman, Susan, he realized after a quick glance at her nametag, smiled back at him, took the pack of gum and scanned it. She told him the price, fifty cents. Luckily, Dean had managed to find just a little over that, so he handed the coins over.

“That all?” she asked, giving him the pack of gum, which he stuck in his pocket.

“Yeah,” he responded. “Just going to the library to study,” he lied, not wanting her to question why had his backpack with him. “Can’t focus without a piece of gum in my mouth.”

He waved as he was walking out the door, and she said, “Good luck with your studying.”

Clouds had drifted in to cover the sun now and it looked like it might start raining, so Dean picked up the pace. His dad would probably say he was being a sissy or something for not wanting to get wet, but rain was just annoying and why deal with it when he didn’t have to?
After walking a few minutes he heard a scrabbling noise coming from an alley nearby. He paused and pressed himself against the building, hoping he’d get a better listen. Silence except for a passing car. Then there it was again! Scrabbling and then a bang and then a thump.

His palms starting to sweat, he drew his hand back and gripped his gun.

It’s probably nothing, he told himself. Probably nothing.

Dean wasn’t even sure why he was getting so worked up about this, yet his mind was already playing over scenarios of what could be around the corner. It could be some monster that would drag him off and eat him. But that wasn’t what really made him hate this situation. It was the picture of Sam sitting in the motel room alone, doing his homework, hunger setting in, and Dean never coming back.

After taking in a deep breath he turned the corner to confront whatever was making all that racket.

An old woman in ratty clothes with knotted silvery hair, just drawing her hands from a trash bin, jumped upon seeing him, her eyes going wide, and Dean was looking at her with eyes that were just as big and startled.

So she’s not a monster. He could be sure of that. He didn’t know of any monsters that would go digging through trash. Except ghouls, maybe, maybe, but that was really stretching it.

Dean expected her to wave him away, to say something rude in an attempt to defend herself. She might think he was some sort of thug. But instead she smiled at him in a greeting, and Dean wasn’t sure why, but he smiled back, taking his hand off the grip of his gun.

“Where are you headed, young man?” she asked him in a scratchy, yet kind voice.

He tilted his head in the direction of the motel as he answered, “Home. Got my brother to take care of.”

She nodded, as if understanding the weight that had been placed on him, and for some reason it made Dean instantly like her. She then turned away, and waved her hand.

“Don’t mind me,” she told him. “I’ll just get back to my business.”

“Are you hungry?” Dean asked.

She faced him and stubbornly shook her head, but Dean understood the drawn expression on her face, the tightness around her eyes. He knew what hunger, real hunger felt like, the kind where you’d gone without food for days, and he saw it when he looked at her. And there was all that food in his bag.

But Sam…

It wasn’t fair to just think about Sam, was it? He knew he had his orders, but… He was supposed to do good, too, wasn’t he? And he’d just done a bad thing. So maybe he could try and get more good out of it.

“No.” Another one of her smiles that instantly made him feel warm and fuzzy. “Don’t you worry, my boy. I can take care of myself.”

Dean stepped forward, already drawing his bag off his back. He knew he didn’t have much, but he understood the hollowness, the pain, and he didn’t like that this woman was suffering from it.

“It’s okay,” he assured her. “I have food. Not much, but-”

“Is it for your brother?” she asked.

He nodded while he was already unzipping the bag.

“Then keep it.”

Dean didn’t listen and held out a bag Sun Chips to her.

“Please,” he said. “I want you to have this.”

The old woman slowly walked over to him and took the bag from him, and then gripped his hand more firmly than he’d expect from someone her age. At the moment, Dean didn’t even think about how that hand had been going through trash just a minute ago.

Another smile, this was one teary, and then she murmured, “Thank you. Thank you. Now, go to your brother. It can be lonely being left in a motel alone.”

“How did-”

“I’m old, dear. I’ve seen enough to know when someone else is going through a hard time. Take care of yourself.”

She squeezed his hand again and then turned from him, the bag of Sun Chips crackling as she opened them.

Dean zipped up his bag, and then he was on his way again, trying to ignore the tightening in his throat that he felt.

“Hey, Dean!” Sam greeted him when he got back, all smiles now, probably putting on a brave face. “I finished my homework.”

“Already?”

His brother nodded, his hair, which desperately needed to be cut, getting in his eyes as he did so, and then he went over and gave Dean a hug, and the sleeves of his hand-me-down shirt from John fell over his wrists to cover his hands when he pulled away.

Sam poked at Dean’s backpack curiously, asking, “What do you have in there?”

“I got some food. You hungry?”

“A little.”

Dean went over to put his bag on the table and unload what he’d stolen as he said, “We can eat soon, then. You’re gonna love it. I got all the good stuff.”