Later, Sam will tell himself it's not like he meant to run off without telling Dean--it just sort of happens. He's splashing around with the other kids in the Rumlows' cow pond, scaring each other with the possibility of leeches, when Lena Rumlow runs up, out of breath and looking cross. "I'm supposed to take you all to the fair," she says, vaguely accusatory. "Everyone else has gone already, so unless you want to be stuck at home by yourselves, be in the van in five minutes. If you're not in it, I don't care, I'm leaving anyway."
So everyone frantically tries to dry off and locate their shoes and Sam winds up missing one of his own and clutching someone else's left sneaker--and in the rush of trying to find its owner he finds himself sandwiched in the back seat between Mary Beth Hart and Josh Blackner. There's a minute where he almost says sorry, but I need to get out, my brother's expecting me for dinner, but--
Well, he's been asking and asking and asking to go to the fair each summer for a couple of years now, ever since he first saw posters for it up at Lebanon's tiny library. He's pretty sure at this point that Dean's never going to say yes, even though he has his license now so they could just drive over, no problem. And everyone else in the van is talking about funnel cake and special displays and the moon bounce and all the different competitions their families are in--and the minute passes. Lena throws herself into the driver's seat, shouts, "Seatbelts! I'm not getting pulled over by Deputy Grassley again, and no, it's not funny, Kyle, I will honest-to-God murder you if you don't put your seatbelt on," and then they're off in a great clatter of gravel, and it's too late to change his mind.
(Dean would be appalled--ever since he started driving the Impala, he's taken to informing Sam about How to Treat Your Car Right whenever they encounter the rougher patches of road around town. After six months of it, Sam has practically every variation of the lecture memorized.)
The fair's in Smith Center, which is where Dad takes Sam and Dean twice a year for new clothes (but never burgers, no matter how respectfully Sam asks); it's also where all the other kids in town go to school, and Sam wonders whether this is kind of what it's like to ride the bus every day--everyone's talking over each other, Kyle Rumlow and David Hart keep getting into slap-fights, and every five minutes Lena hollers at them all to shut up, she's a nervous driver, and do they want to wind up in a ditch because she's distracted. It's so utterly unlike driving with Dad and Dean that Sam's completely fascinated by it all and almost forgets to locate his missing shoe--it's kind of a shock when they finally pull up in front of the First Christian Church and Lena turns the car off with a sigh of relief that's audible even from the back.
"You're all on your own to go find your parents," she tells them, which is when Sam realizes he has no idea what he's doing, and he should probably go find an adult and ask for a phone so he can call Dean and--
But then his chance to see the fair will be over, and he knows he's never going to get another. There's a smell of something delicious floating through the air, and more people than he's ever seen all laughing and talking and having fun. He can hear vague animal noises from somewhere, and slightly tinny country music that would ordinarily be annoying, but somehow it just sounds ... right. Almost festive.
It's easy enough to tag along through the food booths after Mary Beth, who thinks he's kind of cute and has five younger siblings that she's apparently supposed to be keeping an eye on. "They'll come find me when they want cash to buy something," she says, cheerfully nonchalant about it, and Sam can't help wishing a little that Dean were equally so casual. She loans him a dollar for cotton candy, and it's possibly the best thing Sam's ever had, though it's disconcerting to still feel empty once it's all gone--nothing to it but sweetness and air.
He loses track of her after that, distracted first by the model train exhibit and then by the moon bounce (though it's too full of little kids to be fun for more than a few minutes), the fancy chicken show and a real live juggler, and eventually he stops by the show ring just in time for barrel racing. Some of the contestants are so good that it seems like they must be melded somehow with their horses--the Kansas equivalent of Greco-Roman centaurs. Though that reminds him of the debate about what would centaurs eat if they were real, and that reminds him of how very hungry he's getting--Dean always makes them dinner at six, and it must be well past seven by now--so he gets up from where he's sitting by the fence and is about to go wandering back through the fair in hopes of talking his way into free food when someone grabs him by the shoulder.
"Hey!" He starts to pull away, but--it's Dean.
A Dean who is nearly white-faced with some emotion Sam can't identify, and who's gripping Sam's shoulder so tightly it's starting to hurt.
They stare at each other for a minute before Dean lets go. "Are you okay?" he asks, and Sam can hear how tightly Dean's restraining himself from yelling, so he just nods once. Around them the sounds of the fair continue unabated, the announcer reading off the name and pedigree of the next contestant, eliciting a small cheer from across the ring. Dean glances around, quickly, like he's afraid someone might notice them, though they're half-hidden by a stack of hay bales, and takes a step closer to Sam. "How did you get here?"
"Lena Rumlow drove all the kids over," Sam says, defensive, because it's not like he's the unreasonable one here. Dean's the weirdo wearing ironed slacks and carefully shined shoes to a country fair, flinching whenever someone walks by too close. It makes Sam feel on edge, like something's going to jump out at them.
"Do any adults know you're here?"
Sam shakes his head 'no', offers, "I don't think anyone really noticed except Mary Beth, and she won't mention it to anyone," because maybe that'll get Dean to stop freaking out. He can't help wishing that Dean were normal--that they could go wander through the fair together, maybe repay Mary Beth her dollar, eat some more cotton candy. Dean would probably like it, if he'd just let himself try some.
But instead Dean closes his eyes for a moment and sort of just ... exhales. Then he opens them again and says, "Then we're going home. Now." And he simply walks away, forcing Sam to run a little to catch up with him, taking the long way around the edge of the fair where there's hardly any people. He doesn't say anything else until they're in the car, driving away. "I thought something might have taken you," he says once they hit the empty road outside town, tone bleak, and Sam flinches a little, because he hadn't thought about what it would've looked like from Dean's perspective. "Or that you'd been hurt or drowned in the pond."
"I didn't mean for you to worry--" he tries, and Dean finally looks over at him, expression still unreadable. "I'm sorry!"
"Sure you are. Not going to get you out of being grounded for at least a month." Sam opens his mouth to protest this harsh sentence, but Dean lets out another short of shuddery breath, shoulders dropping a little, and adds in a tired voice, "Never should've let you run around with the town kids so much in the first place," and that's just not fair, because what is Sam supposed to do? Live shut up in the bunker forever and never talk to anyone ever? Maybe that's enough for Dean, but it would drive Sam nuts.
"I'm sorry," he says again, and he's not going to cry, he's not, but his voice goes kind of wobbly and his eyes feel like they're burning. Everything had been wonderful and now it's awful and he has the sinking feeling that it's never going to get any better.
"Yeah, I know," Dean says, but he can't, or he wouldn't say such an awful thing in the first place. "You always are."
The only options for a response to that are shouting or punching Dean hard in the ribs, neither of which seems likely to improve things, so they drive in bitter silence the rest of the way, twenty minutes a seeming eternity. Sam keeps his face pressed against the window because he can't bear to even look at Dean, though the empty, darkening landscape offers no distraction, nothing except an endless reminder of how futile his life is.
Dean babies the Impala up the hill to the bunker garage, and under better circumstances Sam might smile at the thought of Dean's horror if he ever experienced Lena's driving. Right now, though, it just feels like he cares more about the car than about Sam.
He jumps a little when Dean shuts off the engine, startled by the sudden quiet, but Dean just sits still for a minute, hunched forward over the steering wheel. "You're lucky Dad's not home," he finally says, and gets out of the car, leaving Sam open-mouthed and frozen behind him. Dad. Sam hadn't even considered the possibility of him finding out. Surely Dean wouldn't--
He scrambles out of the car and rushes down the empty halls after Dean, catching up to him in the kitchen, where Dean's slumped down at the table, face hidden by his hands. His shoulders sort of shake once, but then he drops his hands to the table and looks up when Sam throws himself into the seat across from him. The kitchen lighting casts shadows like bruises beneath his eyes. After a minute of them staring at each other he asks, sounding distant, "Did you eat anything?" There's a plate of cold, congealed grilled sandwiches on the table between them. "I can probably just reheat these--they're tuna, but the ambient preservation spell should mean they're still okay."
"Are you going to tell Dad?" Sam demands, a mix of fear and anger threatening to clog his throat. The thought of eating anything, even something that hadn't been sitting out on the counter for hours, makes him feel vaguely sick.
Dean takes so long to react that Sam starts to wonder if he'd only imagined speaking. "I don't know," he says at last. "I should." His expression is one Sam's never seen before. It might be anguish. "He trusts me to keep you safe, Sammy, and if I can't do that--"
"I was fine, Dean," Sam says, not sure whether he's defending himself or Dean's competency. "I would've just gotten a ride back with someone, no big deal." Though it would've been a little awkward having to convince one of his friend's parents to drop him off in front of a seemingly-abandoned power plant in the middle of a bunch of cornfields.
"That's not--" Dean starts, breaks off, runs a hand distractedly through his hair so it fluffs up a little. They haven't been to the barber in a while and it's getting kind of long; their dad probably wouldn't approve. "It wasn't safe, Sam," he says after a long moment of them staring at each other. "Crowds are the perfect way for monsters and demons to hide themselves. You know this. Anything might have grabbed you."
"We're in the middle of nowhere!" Sam flings his arms out in an expansive gesture of frustration because they've had this argument before and it's always the same stupid talking points taken directly from their dad. "Why on earth would any monster or demon or, or, whatever come here, to some podunk county fair? There wouldn't be any point!"
"You can't know that." Dean sounds very tired. "There were too many people there for you to be able to properly assess--if even just a couple of them were possessed, you'd have been in big trouble."
"Yeah, sure, because they'd be interested in some random scrawny twelve-year-old." And it probably makes him look like a sulking child, but Sam finds himself scowling down resentfully at the immaculately-scrubbed kitchen table.
"Hey," Dean says, and there's enough edge to it that Sam looks back up at him involuntarily. "You're not just 'some random scrawny twelve-year-old'. You're a Legacy, and you know the location of the largest storehouse of magical and supernatural knowledge on this continent. Not to mention that you're the son of a very powerful Warder. There are plenty of reasons for something to target you."
Sam can't help shivering a little, because he's read through parts of the historical archives that Dean and their dad would probably tell him were off-limits, and he knows Dean's not making this up out of nothing. There have been a few very unpleasant precedents. "We're in the middle of nowhere," he says again, but it sounds weak even to his own ears. "And anyway, I had my spelled knife and my charmed protection bracelets on." He displays his wrists as proof, though the scarlet threads have been stained brown by the muddy water of the pond.
Dean laughs at that, though he sounds anything but amused. "Like that would do you any good against a vetala or a demon or a witch." He doesn't mean it as an insult, Sam knows he doesn't, but it still stings. "It was just a lucky guess that let me find you. If something had actually gone wrong--"
"But it didn't!" It sounds thin and childish even to Sam's ears, though, and Dean keeps on talking over the interruption.
"--If it had, I wouldn't have had any way of finding you, and Dad's at least a day and half away, if he drove straight through without sleeping. And by that point, it would probably be too late. We'd lose you, Sam. You'd be gone. I--" He breaks off and scrubs a hand across his face, holds it there for a minute before placing it on the table again, face stiff and blank again. His eyes look kind of pink and watery. "Please don't run off like that again, Sam."
And part of Sam desperately wants to promise that he won't; part of Sam simply ... can't. "I'm sorry, Dean," he says again, and really, truly means it, and perhaps Dean can tell, because his expression softens a little. "Don't--don't worry about the sandwiches, I can just eat some cereal. It's fine."
"You sure?" Dean asks, doubtful, and Sam puts on his most earnest expression. He'll just have to figure out how to convince Dean that the sky won't fall down if they go off to have a little fun. If he's stuck in the bunker for the next month, he'll have plenty of time to plan it all out.
"Yeah, I promise," he says, and stands up to get them a pair of bowls.