When Dean was a little boy one of his first memories was of his father reading to him.
Believe it or not, John Winchester was quite the dramatic. He’d do the voices and mimic the actions happening in whatever tale he was weaving. And Dean remembered he was especially good at anything by Dr. Suess.
Mary always complained, with a wry grin, that by the end of the story Dean was more wound up than before she’d put him down for the night.
His mother would frown and shake her head as Dean would end up giggling so hard at his dad’s silliness that he’d have to get up to go to the bathroom, and then of course he’d have to have another glass of water and to check on Sammy just one more time…. and so on and on-until Dean would finally fall asleep safe and sound in his father’s arms.
Unfortunately, the man sitting in the big chair with a book spread out in front of him in the Salt Lake library wasn’t that same jovial mechanic who loved nothing more than to spend his spare time entertaining his oldest son.
No, this man was the skilled, determined hunter who had come to live with them eight years before. This man would not be amused or indulgent when Dean told his story.
His dad was going to be just as terrified and worried as Dean, and then he’d be angry. Angry that Dean had failed. It was Dean’s job to take care of Sam. A job his father had entrusted him with, and son or not, Dean was going to have to answer for that. But first, and most importantly, they had to find Sam.
“Dad?” Dean stepped into the small reading room, and cleared his throat when his dad didn’t look up at the sound of his voice.
John finally glanced in his direction with a distracted look. “Not now, Dean. I need to finish this.”
“Dad-it’s Sammy,” Dean’s voice was more urgent this time, and his father actually put the book down. “I can’t find him.”
“What do you mean you can’t find him?” John felt his heart quicken, as he took a good look at his oldest son. There was fear in Dean’s eyes-something that was rare in the boy , who could face down a demon with the best of them and not even break a sweat.
Dean glanced down at the floor and tried to control his breathing, but the explanation came tumbling out without much clarity. “I needed to go to the bathroom and he was being such a brat. He wouldn’t listen to anything I said-didn’t want to hold my hand- and then when I went… Anyway…I was just gone for a second, and when I came out…”
John crossed to where his son was and firmly took him by the shoulders. “Slow down, Ace.”
Dean looked up at him, tears brimming against his dark lashes. “I was just gone for a minute or two, Dad. I swear. Our table was in the back, right next to the restrooms.”
“You left him alone?” John gave the boy a slight shake when he didn’t answer. “Dean?”
“Damn it!” John let him go and turned to grab his coat and journal. He started towards the door. “Where?”
“At the diner across the street,” Dean stammered, as he followed after his father. “I took him to get something to eat-just like you said.”
“Was there anyone around-anyone suspicious looking?”
“No,” Dean shook his head. “I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.”
“Damn it, Dean,” John sighed, as they rushed down the stairs of the old library. “You know better than this.”
“I’m sorry,” Dean said as they made their way out of the stale stairway and into the cool spring sunshine. “I didn’t mean for this to happen.”
“But it did.” John didn’t even wait for the light at the crosswalk, he just barreled into the street, and Dean followed, not caring if the traffic stopped or not.
“We have to find him, Dad.”
John didn’t even look at him as he pulled open the door of the diner. The bells attached clanged loudly, but Dean didn’t miss the reply. “You better hope we do.”
Doris was waiting on a table when she heard the door and looked up in time to see a tall, fit man charge in the diner as if he were taking the frontline of an enemy encampment. Apparently, this Tuesday was going to be out of the ordinary.
The manlooked ex-military, and she should know, having been raised by career Green Beret and married to a marine for more than thirty years. In fact, she half expected this handsome stranger to start barking orders and to command everyone to attention at any second.
She would have been more alarmed if the teenager from before hadn’t been right behind him-looking just as fierce and determined.
This was undoubtedly the missing little boy’s daddy, and the way he was tearing around the place like a mama bear looking for her cub had her customers looking nervous and speaking in harsh whispers.
Even Terry peaked his head out from the kitchen. “What the hell is going on out here?”
“I’m looking for my son.” John Winchester strode behind the counter and up to the cook. “Are you the owner here?”
“I am.” Terry deflated somewhat in the other man’s glare, but held the dark gaze. “And I ain’t responsible for unattended children.”
John glanced over at Dean. “He wasn’t unattended. My oldest son was with him.”
Terry also looked at Dean. “Then maybe you should be yelling at him, instead of me. We offered to call the cops, but your oldest son wouldn’t hear of it.”
Doris, who had come to stand beside Dean, placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “It just happened a few minutes ago. Dean and I both searched this place over as soon as Sam disappeared.”
“Nobody saw him leave, Dad,” Dean pointed out, hoping his father would understand his meaning.
John looked at Doris. “Is there a back door to this place?”
“A fire exit.” She motioned towards the kitchen with the coffee pot she was holding. “It opens up to the back alley.”
With out waiting for her to explain that Terry would have seen Sam if he’d gone that way, the hunter barreled past the surprised cook and shoved his way into the small grease pit.
It was cramped, with a large grill and toaster oven and several coolers. The exit was along the back wall, and illegally barred with a large metal plate. Apparently, fire code was not a priority in Terry‘s managerial duties. “Dad?”
Dean was also in the kitchen now and John heard the cook let out a muffled curse about health violations. “Check the coolers, and the cabinets.”
Coolers? Dean’s heart stopped. Could Sammy have gotten into one of the oversized freezers?
The thought of his little brother trapped in a cold, oxygen-deprived tomb had him rushing to the silver door in the far corner and practically tearing it from it’s hinges.
His green eyes searched the icy expanse, as he pushed boxes of frozen fries and beef patties out of his way. Metal shelves held other items and in his hurry Dean knocked over one of the plastic gallons of tomato sauce. It crashed to the floor and splattered thick red streaks over the concrete and onto Dean’s clothes.
It wasn’t the mess so much as it was the feeling it conjured for Dean, who’d seen blood explode from a body in a very similar way. His mind flash to Sammy and he was relieved that he hadn’t eaten anything, because it would most assuredly made an interesting addition to the mess already on the floor.
“Watch what you’re doing, kid,” Terry yelled, grabbing hold of the startled teen, and jerking him from the cooler. “That stuff costs money.”
“Get your fucking hands off my son.” John didn’t give the man time to release Dean, before he grabbed the cook by the scruff of the neck and pulled him off of the teen.
The shell shocked look on his son’s face and the complete horror in his deep green eyes had every protective instinct firing, and John had to contain himself not to throw a punch at the hash slinger-who was the easiest target for his aggression.
“Will you all please just calm down?” Doris had her hands on her hips and was frowning at all of them. “This isn’t helping that little boy one bit.”
“Tearing my place apart isn’t helping either,” Terry snarled. “Neither is assaulting me. Call the police, Doris.”
“I will do no such thing, Terry Pearson. Not unless it’s about the little boy.”
“Fine. I’ll do it myself.” He pointed a finger at the waitress. “And you need to get back to work, before you find yourself looking for a new job.”
“Listen,” John sighed, raking a hand through his hair. “I’m sorry about the damages. I’ll pay you. Just give me a minute to look for my son-without the cops.”
“You in trouble with the law?” Terry snorted.
John gritted his teeth. “Let’s just say that I haven’t had the best record with them.”
“You should understand that, Terry,” Doris pointed out, as she picked up a plate and started back for the dining area. “Considering the amount of vacations you’ve spent at the State’s expense.”
“Smart ass,” Terry tossed at the retreating woman’s back and then turned to the Winchesters. “Knock yourself out, but try to keep from eating up my monstrous profits.”
John nodded, and glanced at Dean. “You okay?”
“No,” Dean said wearily. “I want Sam.” He knew he sounded more like his little brother than he would ever care to admit to, but at the moment he wanted nothing more than to have his daddy hug him and take away all the bad stuff in their lives.
“Let’s go find him then.” John squeezed his shoulder. “I’m going into the alley to check for our regular cast of characters, and you go out and look in the diner once more. Check everywhere.”
“Dad-what if we don’t find him?”
“We’ll find him, son.” John would be damned if he’d lose another member of his family.
The confident ring to those words only bolstered Dean’s confidence for the first hour, then they began to ring hollow with each passing minute that Sam didn‘t turn up.
He and his father had searched every inch of the place, including every car and building in a half-mile radius.
They’d retraced their tracks to the library and into the children’s section, even though no one reported Sam leaving the diner, it was still a possibility that he had left unnoticed.
The EMF and Infrared scanners they had used very discreetly had garnered zip also. It was as if Sam had simply vanished into thin air.
Two hours later, John was ready to call the police. In fact, he was berating himself for not doing it sooner. Child protective services be damned, he needed help to find his son-even if it meant risking losing custody.
He had just sat down on a bench outside the diner, when Dean reappeared beside him.
The teen looked exhausted and frazzled, and unnerved in a way John had never witnessed. “Did you check the park?”
His son nodded. “I even went back to the pond where I took him to feed the ducks yesterday.”
“God-Sammy,” John sighed, dropping his head into both hands. “Where the hell are you?”
Dean sat beside him on the bench. “What are we going to do, Dad?” Please say you know what to do.
John lifted his head and started to reply when a shrill scream came from inside the diner.
Both Winchesters reacted, leaping to their feet and barreling into the now relatively empty restaurant.
Doris was still at the counter and Terry had just come from the kitchen when another yell pierced the air. This time it was recognizable as a woman’s voice.
“That’s Kelly,” Doris said as she made a move towards the lady’s room. “She just started her shift,” the waitress explained to John who passed her up, and pushed his way through the door with the stick figure girl on it.
All hunter instincts were in full drive as John eyed the scene around him, consciously aware of the gun hidden in the back of his jeans.
A young red head was peering into what looked like a small utility closet and although her back was to him, John easily read the fear in her body language.
She screamed again and this time another wailing joined hers. “Sammy!” Dean was barreling past his father in a heartbeat and would have made it too, if John’s quick reflexes hadn’t kicked in and he hadn’t caught hold of the boy’s arm, effectively holding him back.
“Easy!” John warned, and edged his way towards the woman. He put a hand on her arm and she screamed again, jumping out of his way, one hand over her heart, the other clutched to her throat.
“Holy shit!” she exclaimed, “I thought he was dead. Jesus! He scared the hell out of me!”
There, amidst the toiletries and cleaning supplies, was one very scared looking seven year old.
“Sam!” John reached for the boy, who practically jumped into his arms. “Are you okay?”
Sam wrapped his arms around his father’s neck and buried his face in his shirt, nodding, but not speaking. John hugged him hard, sending up a quick thank you that his little boy was safe.
Dean moved in closer to the two and ran his hand over the little boy’s head. “Sammy, are you hurt?”
Sam lifted his head. “Where were you?”
“Where was I?” Dean took a step back, as if someone had hit him.
Sam frowned, accusingly. “You were suppose to come find me. I waited forever,” he proclaimed with exaggerated exasperation. “And then that lady woke me up with all her screaming. I thought she was a banshee.”
John glanced at his oldest son and then to the small utility closet. “Sam-you were hiding?”
“I didn’t even think to look in there,” Doris, who had her arm around the younger girl nodded to the closet. “We rarely use it.”
“Hairspray,” Kelly confessed, with an embarrassed giggle. “I keep an extra stash in there.”
John eyed the small storage space, noting how Dean could have easily missed it when he rechecked the lady’s room. It was the type of door that blended in with the wall and no knob was visible.
God only knew how Sam had found it, but nothing surprised John when it came to his youngest son’s uncanny ability to land himself in the middle of trouble. “Sammy, what the hell were you thinking?” He set the little boy back on his feet, but kept his hands on his shoulders.
“That Dean would come find me.” He looked again at Dean, as if the whole thing was his fault. “It’s what you do!”
Dean shook his head, and his weak knees threatened to betray him. He felt the same way he did in school when he just knew he’d flunked an important test. “Jesus, Sammy.”
“Why? Why would you hide from your brother?” John’s anger was back and his deep voice rose as he gave his youngest son a shake. “We’ve been searching for you for hours. We thought something had taken you!”
“I’m sorry, Daddy,” Sam stammered, his brown eyes going to his big brother. “I was tired, and my head was hurting. I must’a fell asleep while I was waiting.”
“That’s not an excuse, young man!” John yelled again, and Sam’s eyes filled with tears. “You know better than this. You know the rules.”
Dean stepped forward when fear raced across his little brother’s face, “Dad, he…” but his father’s angry gaze turned on him and he faltered. “He was mad at me. It’s my fault.”
John could feel the women’s eyes on him and decided it was time to take their family business somewhere private. He let go of Sam and glared at Dean. “See if you can manage to get your brother back to the apartment.”
The oldest Winchester then turned to Doris. “I’m sorry for the trouble my sons caused.” He pulled his wallet from his pocket and handed Doris two twenties. “I hope that covers what we destroyed.”
The waitress shook her head, but accepted the money. “You don’t have to do this. We’re just glad your little boy is safe.”
John sighed, and cast a glance over his shoulder. “Me too.”
With that, he turned and stalked out. The two women both gave Sam sympathetic smiles and then followed in the oldest Winchester's wake.
“I’m sorry,” Sam said miserably, once they were gone.
Dean knelt beside him, too relieved that he was alive and in one piece to find any real anger. “You okay?” he asked, reaching up and rubbing away a tear with his thumb. His little brother not only looked miserable, but tired, and his cheeks were still flushed.
Sam nodded. “Daddy’s really mad.”
“Yeah.” Dean nodded. “He was worried about you.”
“Am I going to get punished?” Sam’s eyelashes were a stark contrast against his pale skin as he looked down at the floor where he was scuffing his shoe.
Dean swallowed hard and pulled the little boy into his arms. “Not if I can help it,” he whispered into Sam’s hair as his little brother clung to him.
“I didn’t mean it when I said that I didn’t like you,” Sam told him, his arms tightening around Dean’s neck. “I like you a lot.”
Dean smiled and pulled back, ruffling his brother’s hair. “I like you a lot, too, brat.” More than anything. “Now, let’s go home.”
The teen stood and started for the door when Sam grabbed hold of him, sliding his small fingers around Dean’s much larger hand.
Dean raised a brow, and glanced down at their entwined fingers. “I thought you were too old for this, kiddo?”
Sam shrugged. “I decided that it was okay-at least until I’m ten.”
Dean laughed. “And you couldn’t have decided that earlier-like before you gave me a heart attack.”
“You said it was my job to drive you crazy.”
When will I learn to watch what I say? “Well, from now on it’s your job to do everything I tell you to. Got it?”
The puppy dog eyes were out in full force. “Okay, Dean.” Dean shook
his head and sighed. Yeah, right. If only it were that easy,
then his job as big brother would have been so much simpler.