Lincoln, New Mexico. April 1991
Sammy was eight when he first noticed the change in his big brother.
It was early morning and as always, Dean held his hand firmly in his as they walked toward their new school in Lincoln, New Mexico. First day jitters was something the young boy would never ever get used to. But for some reason he never saw Dean getting jittered at all.
“So you see Sammy, it's not bad to be bad the way Michael says he’s bad okay? That bad is not the dad gone mad, yelling 'go find a corner' kinda bad, and it's not the salt-and-burn evil spirit kinda bad either so basically this bad is really not that bad! Only he calls it bad ‘cause, well, because he can and ‘cause he wants the bad guys to think he’s just as bad as them and so they’d better not mess with him. Get it?”
Of course he didn’t. He didn't even care who this Michael Jackson person was. But that wasn’t the point. Sammy knew Dean kept up a continuous chatter all the way only to make him deal with his nerves better, and he was glad it was working.
As they neared the ominous looking building (well not really, but right then Sammy was too nervous to appreciate the finer details of architecture), he saw other kids also walking toward the school. All shapes and sizes and elementary to middle school ages. Sam was afraid he’d be the youngest and smallest in his class, again. Gradually he realized Dean wasn’t yammering away by his side anymore. He looked up and saw his brother’s neck craned away towards his left, his eyes following something so intently he’d forgotten all about his charge.
Dean turned back to his whining, but only briefly before looking over Sam’s head at something else on his right.
“What are you looking at?”
Dean bit his lip and looked at his brother with mild annoyance, then smiled and lifted an eyebrow lightly.
“Heavenly bodies, Sammy.”
Sam squinted up at him, “In the day?”
Even he knew you couldn’t see any stars or planets without a telescope and unless it was night. Dean didn’t reply, he just halted mid-step and made Sam stop as well, then turned the kid’s body toward himself. Still staring at something in the background, he went down on one knee and started fiddling with the little boy’s shoelaces.
Sam huffed. “What are you doing?”
“Tying up your laces, if you’re not careful they’re gonna come undone and trip you right up.”
Sam crossed his arms and tapped a foot. “My laces are fine, Dean. You’re so weird today.”
Dean wasn’t even looking at the damn strings as he first untied then knotted and then double-knotted them in a way Sam could never undo himself. God how he hated double knots.
Frowning, Sammy twisted his upper torso to see what Dean was so intently gazing at and that’s when he spotted the group of girls standing right behind him. Older girls, in their short skirts and tight tops and bright ribbons decorating their shiny long hair. All gushing and giggling and watching him and his big brother so intently, like they were freaks displayed in a circus.
He lowered his mouth to Dean’s ear closest to him and whispered cautiously.
“Dean, they’re laughing at us…”
Dean had this sly look on his face and when he turned to look at his little brother it quickly graduated to greater mischief.
“They’re not laughing at you, Sammy. They think you’re cute!”
“Aargh! Gross. Let’s go.”
Sammy pulled away from Dean’s hold on his hips, leaving his brother no choice but to get himself up and follow after him. Dean still kept looking back and grinning at those stupid teenage girls and Sammy just grabbed his hand and started dragging him faster into the building that had until only five minutes ago completely intimidated him.
“You’re getting so weird Dean. I’m telling Dad.”
Telling Dad didn’t exactly work the way he’d expected it to.
John just smiled, a spitting mirror image of how Dean had earlier that morning, ruffled the eight year old’s hair and walked away, intent on cleaning his Remington. Sammy had a distinct suspicion he was missing something. It became slowly clear to him when he flicked the television on and ghastly images of boys kissing girls and boys doing other unmentionables to girls fired the necessary synapses and joined the dots in his head.
“Eww, gross gross gross!”
Sammy switched off the offensive programme and went to work on his thousand piece jigsaw puzzle.
Over the course of the next few weeks, Sammy observed the change grow and expand until his brother was a completely different person. Sure he was still Dean. And Dean still looked after him - still fixed his lunch and shampooed his hair and cut it when it got long to keep it from falling over his eyes. Still pushed him on the swing and helped him finish the puzzle of the Taj Mahal. Read Moby Dick to him at bedtime and reminded him when his favorite TV shows were on if Sammy forgot himself, which was often.
But still… somehow… Dean was different.
When he wasn’t training with dad, this Dean spent more time on the phone, and longer hours in the bathroom in front of the mirror. He’d go out without Sam more often these days, not to play pool or video games even though the arcade was right next door. In fact, Sam could hardly find him there anymore. Instead one afternoon, he saw Dean and some girl sitting together in the ice cream parlor. He caught sight of them through the window and his first instinct was to holler ‘Dean!’ as loud as he could and then run in to join him.
But he stopped himself because… somehow… this Dean was... different.
This Dean smiled at the girl like… like she was the most important person in the world to him. Like… he really cared about her and he kept touching her hair and her hands, and they drank their butterscotch shake from the same glass like he and Sammy did and…
No, Sam lowered his head into his chest and turned away. This Dean was not gonna want him there. Shoulders drooping, he adjusted the straps of his backpack and slowly walked away, back to their rented apartment.
An hour later, Dean walked in with a giant carton of Cookie Dough and Sammy forgave him. Two helpings later Dean batted his hands away and shoved the rest of the ice cream in the freezer. Sam pouted and sulked but Dean wouldn’t listen as he went about washing their bowls and spoons and setting them in their right places.
“C’mon Dean, pleaaaaase?”
“You’ll get a tummy ache and I ain’t listening to you moanin’ and groanin’ all night, Sammy.”
The pout worsened. And the resentment from before surfaced again.
“Who was that girl? At Wally's with you?”
Dean turned to him surprised. “You came by the ice cream parlor from softball practice?”
Sam mutely nodded, afraid Dean might be pissed but he wasn’t. He just nodded and went back to work.
“Esmeralda. She’s in my class. Beautiful name, ain’t it?”
“Sounds like asthma,” Sam quietly mumbled.
Dean snorted and pretended to whack the top of Sammy’s head. Sam ducked anyway.
Sammy was used to being called all sorts of names by now; he didn't mind. But there was something else that was bothering him, almost like the beginnings of a tummy ache, but he didn't quite know why. Two small scoops of ice creams couldn't do that, could it?
“You like her?”
Dean smiled, getting a glossy far away look in his eyes. “Hell yeah Sammy, I like her very much.”
“More than you like me?”
That brought him back. Dean looked at his little brother with a confused frown that lasted a few seconds. And then...
He put his big hands in the younger kid’s armpits and lifted him clear off his chair. He held him close as Sam easily wrapped his arms and legs around the older boy, clinging with a ferocity Dean had never felt from him before.
“I’ll always like you more than any girl, kid. You’re family. And family always comes first, you hear me?”
“I hear you.”
Dean rubbed his back in slow rhythmic strokes for awhile, letting Sammy rest his head on the broader shoulder. Then a few seconds later, he set the boy down on his feet. Sam felt disappointed… now that he was eight, Dean hardly ever carried him around anymore and he missed it, even if he'd never, ever, ever admit to it.
Dean bent down, putting his hands on his knees as he descended to eye level with Sam.
“In four years Sammy, you’ll know what I’m talkin’ about. Girls aren’t evil you know.”
Sam crossed his arms in indignation. “Oh yeah? What about Portland?”
“What about Portland…?”
Sam sighed in dismay, couldn't believe Dean forgot. “Rachel Wells?”
Dean chuckled, trying really hard to bite it back. Yeah, Rachel he remembered. The five-year old girl at Sam’s preschool who'd grabbed his face and kissed him on the lips. It was a traumatic experience the kid never really got over.
“Okay well, not all of them are evil. I kinda like them now and so will you.”
Sam just rolled his eyes then looked away. He did not believe his brother for a second, and was too young to comprehend, let alone articulate this strange feeling of rejection and… and displacement he felt right then. Like he’d lost something valuable but he wasn’t quite sure what.
So Sammy did what Winchesters do best when things got uncomfortable: he changed the subject.
“So are we gonna play ball or what?”
Dean looked like he’d forgotten all about their play date, fidgeted because he obviously didn’t want to keep it anymore. Sam recognized that gesture, and felt something breaking inside.
“It's okay, I’m too tired anyway.”
“Are you sure?”
Sam shrugged, walked over to the couch and picked up the remote. “Yeah.”
He noticed Dean swallowing hard, like when he was trying to make up his mind about something. Then came over to where Sam sat and knelt beside him.
“Sammy, if you want we can play ball tomorrow, okay?”
He shrugged again, like it didn’t matter, kept staring numbly at the screen. “Yeah, okay.”
“Thanks buddy. You’re the best kid brother in the world!”
Dean kissed him on the forehead just before Sam could shove him off, then rushed to the bathroom to grab a shower and spend his mandatory hour in front of the mirror.
Sam flipped through the channels, biting his lip to stop it from trembling so hard. Maybe it was just a phase every teenager went through, he mused. Sooner or later… he will get over his new obsession with them chicks, heck he is bound to. It's Dean after all… and Dean always got bored of stuff so easily. Always. Yeah, that’s right.
Sam found a cartoon show he liked, pulled a duvet over himself and settled in more comfortably.
//Give it time Sammy. He’ll come around.//