Sammy’s first hunt comes when she’s ten and a half, nearly eleven. It’s a year later than Dean’s, and if Dean had her way, it’d be a hell of a lot later than that. But it’s not up to Dean. It’s up to their father, who, Dean reminds herself, knows best about these sorts of things.
Up in the Kentucky mountains, invisible dogs have been taking out people for weeks, catching everyone from a woman taking out her trash to a hitchhiker waiting for a ride at a truck stop. The locals think it’s coyotes (pronounced kie-oats, according to Sammy, which Dean thinks is dumb as hell. Everyone knows it has to rhyme with Wile E), but they’ve heard from half a dozen witnesses who saw claw marks burst into existence with nothing around. Dad called up his friend Caleb, who came down from the Adirondacks to look over the evidence and declare it black dogs.
The lore is simple, apparently. Someone’s got to recite some spell thingy, and that’ll make them visible. After that, a silver bullet to the heart should do it. “Like werewolves,” Sammy pipes up with Dad mentions this, and Dad smiles and gives her a pat on the shoulder. “Like werewolves,” he agrees, and Sammy smiles. Dean, who remembers the nearly-deadly scars on her dad’s lower back from werewolves, doesn’t.
They’re getting ready in the motel room now. Sammy’s sitting in the vee of Dean’s legs, chatting excitedly as Dean braids her hair tight for her. On the night before her own first hunt, scared that the ghost might get her by her ponytail and toss her like a ragdoll, she took Dad’s electric razor to her head and cropped it close. She’s never once regretted it, and never lets it get longer than a few inches. (And if her short hair cuts down on the amount of comments Dad makes comparing her to Mom, well—that’s just a side benefit.)
But still, she’s glad Sammy’s keeping hers long. Dean’s always liked to work with her hands, ever since she was small and Dad got her a model car for her fourth birthday. And there’s something especially calming about working with Sammy’s soft, long hair, about learning intricate braids and pretty up-dos for picture day. Her sister doesn’t have the patience for it, so most mornings before school, Dean brushes it out for her and does it up. Dad thinks she’s babying her, but it’s not like that. If anything, Dean likes it as much as her sister does.
“Dean!” Sammy snaps, slapping her sister’s knee. “Are you even listening to me? Deeee-annn-uhhh!”
“You call me Deanna again,” Dean says, and gives the braid a sharp tug, “and I swear I’ll start calling you Samantha, short-stop.”
“You will not! You’re the one who said Samantha sounds like an old lady!”
“Yeah,” she says, and leans back on her hands, smirking as Sammy turns around to glare at her. “But you kinda are an old lady, you know? I mean, don’t think I forgot about you doin’ those crosswords at Bobby’s.”
“Just ‘cause you’re too dumb for crosswords,” Sammy sulks.
“Uh-huh,” Dean says. She gets to her feet, glances around. “Hey, where’d you put your Taurus, anyway? I wanna check it again before we leave.”
Sammy rolls her eyes. Dean made the catastrophic mistake of teaching an earnest Sammy how to roll her eyes when the kid was eight, and man, it’s been downhill ever since. “That’s stupid. You checked it last night, and ‘s not like I’ve touched it since.”
“Not asking. Where?”
“Duffle by the door,” she says with a deep sigh. Dean moves over to the motel counter, grabs her sister’s gun out and starts stripping it, keeping her back to her sister so she can relax her expression a little.
The truth is, Dean’s worried. Sammy’s a good kid, quick on her feet and her aim’s nearly as good as Dean’s, but she’s also distractible, moody, always in her head. Dean’s lost track of the number of times she’s had to throw a hand over her sister’s chest before the stupid kid almost walked in front of traffic. And Dad thinks she’s ready for a hunt? For a monster not even Dad’s fought before? Dean doesn’t like to question her dad, really she doesn’t, but she wishes they could just leave the kid at home with her Nancy Drew books. They’d all be safer that way, ‘cause god knows Dean’s not gonna be able to focus totally on the black dog with her little sister beside her.
“Dean?” Sammy asks again.
Dean sighs, wiping down the Taurus’s trigger bar with the old purple t-shirt they use for the guns. “What?”
“Seriously, were you not listening before? When I was talking about the hunt?”
“I said, what’m I supposed to do if we get separated? I know Dad says normally to stay still unless I’m totally sure where home base is, but-”
“You’re not getting separated,” she says firmly, shoving the slide bar firmly as she pieces the gun back together. “You’re gonna be between me and Dad the whole time.”
“Yeah, but what if?” Sammy presses.
“No what if. Ain’t happening, kiddo,” Dean says, finally turning back around and walking over, offering the Taurus to Sammy pistol grip first.
“You can’t control everything, Dean,” she says, making a face as she takes the gun and tosses it next to her on the motel bed like she’s never even heard of gun safety. Jesus, maybe Dad’s right to make the kid run more drills. “And don’t call me kiddo, seriously, I’m almost eleven.”
Dean makes to reply—because Sammy’s dumber than she looks if she thinks eleven isn’t a kid, no matter what Dad says—when the door cracks open. “Girls,” their father says sharply, and Dean snaps to attention.
“Sir?” they say in unison.
“We’re ready. Get out here.”
Sammy swallows, all fidgety, all nervous energy. She glances up at Dean through her bangs, and Dean thinks I really should trim that before the hunt, but there’s no time now.
“Yessir,” Dean says, and the door closes. She grabs her Colt, Dad’s hand-me-down leather jacket, and Sammy’s puffy winter coat. She’ll make the kid put it on in the car. “Grab your gun,” she says quietly, and Sammy nods, standing up as she checks the safety’s on, just like Dean taught her. Sassy, bitchy Sammy—don’t call me kiddo, Dean—is gone, and back is John Winchester’s youngest daughter, ready for her first hunt.
You sure you're ready? Dean wants to ask. But she already knows the answer to that, and it's not one she likes. Instead, she just says, “Come on,” and leads her sister out front where their father is waiting.