When Dean is eight and Sam is four, Sam catches a butterfly and brings it home. it's one of the big ones, a Monarch Dean thinks they're called, with the huge orange and black spotted wings. It's beautiful too, and Dean watches it flutter around in the tiny glass jar. The one that used to contain pickles but Sam threw those in the trash.
("What do we need pickles for anyway?" he asked, and Dean shrugged. "Beats me.")
Then Sam had run water in the jar and dried it with a rag, while Dean held the insect in his hands. It's feelers tickled the palms of his hands as it moved around in the dark. When the jar was dry enough for Sam's liking, they dropped the tiny creature inside and sealed it shut.
Now they both watch it beat it's wings and Sam looks at Dean questioningly. "What now?" he asks, and Dean frowns as the butterfly settles against the glass. He looks at the lid for a moment then gets up, moving across the room to retrieve Dad's pocket knife. He's on a hunt, so Dean's sure he won't mind him borrowing it for a couple of seconds.
"It needs air." he says, and Sam watches as he stabs a few quick slits into the flimsy tin lid. When he's done, he puts the knife back and sits back down next to Sam. They watch the butterfly in silence for a while, before Sam speaks again.
"He needs a name." he says, and Dean blinks.
"A name?" Sam nods. "...alright, but how do you know it's a 'he'?" Dean asks, and Sam shrugs.
"Monarch, that's a 'he' thing isn't it?" Dean blinks again, and nods.
"Yeah," he says, "that makes sense. so what do you wanna call him?" he asks, and Sam looks back at the glass. They fall into another silence, this one short and contemplative. Sam breaks it when he says, "Let's call him Herold."
"Herold Winchester?" Dean asks skeptically, not even thinking as he tacks on their own last name, attributing the butterfly as a part of the family.
"Sure!" Sam says, excitedly. "Why not?"
Dean thinks about that for a moment before shrugging. "Why not." he repeats, and they go back to watching the butterfly.
The boys keep Herold in the back bedroom, by the windowsill, and every hour or so they go to check on him. They take turns stuffing in tiny blades of grass that never seem to go anywhere, and Dean holds the jar under the faucet and lets water leak through the holes. Then they go back to playing some more. Before that, though, Sam tries to feed it a cheese toastie and Dean laughs at that.
"Butterflies don't eat sandwiches." he says, and Sam's chubby cheeks redden slightly.
"Well what do they eat, then?" he asks, and Dean shrugs coming to sit beside him by the window.
"I don't know." he says, honestly, trying to remember the stuff his science teacher had told them last year without success. "Grass and stuff, I guess." and he scratches lightly at the back of his head, when Sam looks at him curiously, then back at Herold.
"Let's go find some then," Sam says, so they do, and Sam even finds a stick which he manages to wedge inside the tiny jar. "it's so he feels more comfortable." he says, when Dean gives him a look, and Dean thinks that makes sense. In the morning, he brings Herold some dirt and gives him a bit more water, just for good measure.
Sam smiles at this, and Dean flushes red as he sits down again, beside Sam, at the window.
"I love you, Dean." Sam says into the silence and Dean rolls his eyes in mock-annoyance, giving his brother a playful push.
Sam turns back to the butterfly. "I love you, Herold." he says. Herold beats his wings, and rotates on top of the stick.
Three days later, Sam wakes Dean before four in the morning. There are deep circles under his eyes, like he hasn't slept in days and he is pale and shaking. Dean sits up right, panic washing over him at the sight. "Sammy, what's wrong? Are you okay?" He asks, and Sam makes a movement, like he isn't sure whether to nod or shake his head, no.
Finally, he looks at Dean with shining eyes and says, "I, I think Herold's sick Dean..." and his voice is so soft and frightened, that Dean instantly feels scared too. And sitting there on the bed, he can feel the bile rising in his throat, but he fights it down.
"Don't worry, Sammy." he lies, "It'll be alright." he reaches out to put a hand on his brothers shoulder, briefly, before sliding out of bed and following Sam into the kitchen.
Herold's jar is sitting on the small circular table, and Dean approaches it with a feeling of dread. Sam climbs instantly into the chair he's placed in front of it. "He's just sitting there, Dean. He won't move." he says, and Dean swallows thickly. He feels sick, looking at Herold's motionless form, lying on top of the stick.
A sudden chill passes through him, as he stands there, and he doesn't want to do it. Doesn't want to even think about doing it, but it's the only way to know. In the back of his mind, though, he thinks maybe he doesn't have to prod the glass and find out. Maybe he can just tell Sam that Herold's fine, he's just sleeping. Sam would probably believe that. Dean wants to believe it, but he knows that's not what's happened, and he can't stand to lie to the kid, not like this.
So with a shaky hand he reaches forward and thumbs the side of the glass with enough force to send it skidding across the table. It stops just before it reaches the other end, and Sam is instantly moving to the other side. Dean follows, and watches as his little brother peers into the glass. Sam's face goes white as a sheet, and thick globby tears spill from his eyes.
"D, Dean..." he chokes out and then he's crying. Sobbing so hard he's almost hyperventilating, and Dean just moves forward and wraps his arms around his little brother's body.
"Aw, Sammy..." he says, because he has no idea what else to say and there's a lump the size of a baseball forming in his throat as he gathers him up in his arms and carries him back to the bedroom. "I'm sorry." he says, and he rocks Sam until he falls asleep. Then Dean lies beside him and cries and cries, until he, too, falls asleep.
And when Dad comes home nearly an hour later, it's to find the boys lying curled up in bed together with puffy eyes and runny noses, and a dead butterfly floating in a glass jar, sitting alone on the table.