Sam fidgeted where he was sitting on the couch, reading up on his homework. It was like this almost every night. He could hear muted yelling and splashing from above him, where Dean was giving Millie her evening bath. Ear-bleeding screams of “NO!” came through the clearest, shadowed every time by increasingly stressed variations of “YES!”followed by more splashing. Sam was sweating. He would rather battle a horde of demons than deal with Millie when she was like this.
He loved his niece, definitely, but there was nowhere Sam felt more out of place than with kids. Infants were fairly easy. There were books to read on what to feed them, when to change them and all that. This little human, though, only two years old and busy forming her own opinions of everything, Sam was just not equipped to deal with. If Dean had any similar apprehensions he didn't show them as much. It also probably helped that he'd half raised Sam on his own, so these situations were at least vaguely familiar to him.
“NOOO! MEAN DADDY, NO!”
“Yes, Millie! You have to have a bath! Look at this gunk in your hair! What is this stuff?”
“Sucks to be you, then!”
“Nu uh! Not until you're clean! And so help me, if you splash me again-”
There was the wet sound of a massive amount of water hitting something Sam guessed was mostly Dean, before there was some low cursing and a few more screams as he clearly reached the end of his patience, and simply scrubbed her down. Dean had achieved incredible new levels of patience when it came to Millie, but even he couldn't take a full-on tantrum for an entire evening.
“SAM!” Dean hollered, Sam bolted up the stairs, and peered nervously around the doorjamb to the bathroom. “Yeah?”
Dean was wrestling Millie into her pajamas with a face that spelled doom for anyone idiotic enough to comment on how soaked he was. “When we're done here, could you put her to bed, please?” The politeness was also a new addition to Dean's mannerisms, but it was useful when he needed to convey just how pissed off he was without teaching Millie any more interesting words. It hadn't been a picnic explaining to people at her daycare why she suddenly ran around going, “Crap!” with the voice and face of a little angel.
“Sure, Dean.” Sam cautiously reached out for Millie but for some unfathomable reason, she flung her arms around Dean's neck and sniffled.
“No! Want Daddy.”
Dean gently untangled himself to avoid his wet shirt soaking her, before sighing like a defeated man. “Really, Millie? You sure? Just a minute ago I was mean Daddy, remember?”
“Want Daddy,” she confirmed, still sniffling. Dean looked torn between frustration and affection for a second before he sent Sam to get him a dry shirt instead, and carried her off to her room.
Sam hated himself a little for how relieved he was to be stuck with mopping up the water in the bathroom. But as explosive as Dean and Millie could be, especially around each other, they could be just as fiercely loving the next second. And while Sam was certainly familiar with the feelings behind it, he was completely stuck when it came to translating it to normal down-to-Earth things like bedtimes or grocery shopping with a toddler. It was continuously baffling to him how Dean could express love with yelling and forcing Millie to eat her peas. And on that subject, he had only ever made fun of Dean's new responsible parent routine once.
Even more astonishing was Millie's complete and utter adoration for Dean. Sure, part of it was just natural parent-child bonding. But Dean and Millie's relationship was stormy, loud and gloriously beautiful in its chaos. Dean would manhandle her, tossing her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, or lock her flailing arms between his knees to wipe her nose. He would yell and scream just as loud as she did, and every two weeks or so he would come back from dropping her off at daycare and punch holes in the wall out of pure frustration. And still, Millie would copy everything Dean did, cling to him when she was afraid, and embarrass the hell out of him by kissing him in front of strangers.
When Sam was done in the bathroom, he peeked into Millie's room where Dean was tucking her in. She was already dropping off, the tantrum clearly having sapped her last strength of the day. And judging by Dean's drooping shoulders, his too. But just as he did after every single battle of wills, Dean kissed his little girl and stroked her hair, telling her in all but words that he loved her. Sam envied Dean's ability to put their fights behind him. Sam had never really been able to do that. Especially when it came to their dad. While he was still around, Dean had followed his every order like the child soldier he was, looking exclusively to him on how to raise Sam. With Millie, it was all his own. His own choices, his own efforts, and despite the tantrums and chaos, he could clearly live with it.
Not that he had chosen to have Millie in the first place. Her mother had been a one night stand who called him right after Millie was born to let him know that he had a daughter, and that he wasn't needed or wanted in their lives. He'd been upset - meaning he had gotten massively drunk - but had accepted her decision. A hunter's life was no place for a kid. Both Sam and Dean were acutely aware of this.
Then, bizarrely, Millie's mother had died. A brain tumor of all things. Dean had arrived to meet Millie for the first time, only hours before her mother collapsed and fell into a coma. There was no other family to take care of Millie, so Dean had done what he always did. He took the responsibility for yet another person onto his shoulders, and reshaped his life to fit his new family.
Not that he hadn't been wildly suspicious at first. He'd spent the first six months of his new life looking for anything shady behind the brain tumor. It wouldn't have surprised Sam if he'd been right. After all, there was a long line of people and creatures more than happy to fuck Dean over as much as possible. Dean hadn't felt like jerking Death's collar again and risking an immediate smack-down, but he did eventually get in touch with a reaper, who grudgingly informed them that there was no foul play. Millie's mother had died just when it was planned out, and how she was supposed to. Dean was still wary of the whole thing, but he accepted the explanation, and focused instead on the little new life suddenly in his hands.
Dean was still Dean. He still drank too much, still cursed like a sailor, and was still allergic to displays of emotion. But as it turned out, nothing could worm its way past Dean's defenses like a pint sized, sticky, brown-eyed baby girl. Sam had never called Dean on the hypocrisy of telling Sam where he could stuff his chick-flick moments, and then two seconds later hugging and kissing Millie, just because she happened to be stationary for longer than a minute.
But then again, with Millie, they'd have to take what they could get. She was so independent that Sam wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Dean's hair would turn gray before she hit her teens. Sam's too, for that matter. But while Sam's graying was mostly due to the sheer terror of perhaps doing something wrong and fucking Millie up for life, Dean's frustrations were more immediate, and he seemed to have accepted that he would never have a quiet moment again for the rest of his life. Sam half suspected that Dean was actually happy with that realization. The less time he had to think about things, the less chance he had of panicking.
Sam watched as Millie drifted off, and Dean rested his head on the edge of her bed, clearly needing a drink pretty badly after yet another rough day. Now that they weren't hunting regularly anymore, their lives were perhaps more structured, but certainly not easier. Going straight after a lifetime of skirting the edges of the law was a daily challenge, even though they were finally hidden well enough that most authorities would probably never find them. Sam often thanked whatever powers in the universe had given them friends like Bobby, and through him a huge network of people willing to help them disappear for good.
Dean was even fairly happy with his job. He worked at a scrapyard, and was allowed to haul home interesting or useful car parts occasionally, so in their back yard were three partly assembled cars Dean worked on when he had time, or needed to unwind. Sam fully expected to find Dean under one of them with a beer and a baby monitor when he returned from his evening classes at the community college later that night.
Gathering his things, Sam prepared to go, and Dean caught sight of him just as he passed Millie's half closed door with his backpack. “Bring back some pie!” he mouthed and Sam flipped him off with a grin. He felt lighter than he had all day when he set off down the street for the college. If Dean was able to joke, the day hadn't been a complete disaster. There was a toddler sleeping in her room, warm, safe and cared for, Sam was going to school, and Dean was doing okay. They were all doing okay.
Sam decided that he would bring home some pie after all.