Author's Note: Italics indicate thoughts.

No Place That Far

Wednesday

"But you promised!" The blatant accusation in Sam's voice has Dean setting down the revolver he's just finished cleaning and heading over to the refrigerator. He grabs a Pepsi, wishing not for the first time today that it was something stronger. The argument between Sam and his father has been going off and on for hours now, and Sam shows no sign of letting the matter go.

"I know I did, and I'm sorry," John says to his youngest son, glancing up from where various weapons are spread across the kitchen table. He picks up his rifle and inspects it with a critical eye. "But this job can't wait. I told Jim I'd be there."

"You told me you'd be there," Sam says angrily, looking over at his brother for support. Dean pops open his Pepsi and leans against the counter, but doesn't say anything. Sam feels like kicking him. Traitor.

John grimaces, reminding himself to be patient. "You're a smart kid. There'll be other papers."

"That I get asked to read for Student Merit Night? No, there won't." Sam's hands curl into fists. Since being selected last month, he's been waiting for Friday's event, a chance for his father to see him do something he's good at, something normal. Something other than hunting. And John said he would go; Sam's had the tickets for two weeks. But then, as usual, the phone call came. I should have known.

"Lives are at stake here, Sam."

Sam scoffs. "What about our lives? Or don't they count?"

"Sam - "

"I bet if I'd been asked to kill something you'd be there."

"Sam!" John barks, then lowers his voice. "For the last time, I'm sorry. Now go get ready for bed before you say something you regret."

"It's not fair," Sam says hoarsely, trying to swallow his disappointment.

"Life isn't fair," John says, finally approving the rifle and placing it in the bag at his feet. "We work before we play, son. And as long as you're part of this family, you'd better get used to it."

"Then maybe I don't wanna be part of this family."

John looks up again and pins Sam with a hard stare. "You're dangerously close to crossing the line, young man."

Sam blinks back tears of frustration. "I hate you."

"Hey! Knock it off," Dean tells him, setting his Pepsi down on the counter. Sam shoots him a betrayed look before turning heel and disappearing. Seconds later, the sound of a door slamming rocks the small house. Dean glances over at his father, who's still gazing wearily after his youngest. "He didn't mean it."

After a moment, John looks at him. "Yeah?" He sighs, reaching over to add the revolver to the bag. "Sometimes I can't believe what I hear myself saying."

"Sometimes we can't believe what we hear you saying – sir," Dean adds, sobering as John raises his brows. "Come on, Dad. This is Sam we're talking about, remember? The kid who paid Eddie Horner a dollar to stop burning ants? He doesn't hate you."

John rubs at his face. "God, he was such a sweet kid." He leans back in his chair, regarding Dean with tired eyes. "You gonna be okay here?"

"Yep." Dean leans against the counter, picking up his Pepsi again. "Any trouble, I'll shoot first, ask questions later."

John smiles wryly. "I was thinking of your brother."

Dean grins back. "So was I."

*************************************************************

Thursday

Sam awakes to the shrill blaring of his alarm. He buries his head further into the darkness of his pillow and swings his arm in the general direction of the noise. His hand sweeps the nightstand, scattering objects in all directions, but the infernal beeping continues. Sam groans, and decides to ignore it. Then decides he can't. With a low growl he rolls and swings again, the momentum tumbling him from the mattress. He lands on the floor with an unceremonious thump.

"Son of a - " Sam doesn't finish the thought. He lifts his head, looking to see if Dean or his father are nearby. They aren't. "Bitch," he finishes triumphantly, reaching up to the nightstand and slapping off the alarm.

"I heard that," Dean calls, most likely from the living room. Sam sighs and climbs to his feet, tossing the tangle of blankets that came with him back onto the bed. Yawning, he wanders out of the bedroom and down the hallway. As expected, Dean's circling the living and kitchen areas, muttering to himself. "I'm gonna be late…"

Sam rubs his eyes. "Where's Dad?"

"Gone," Dean says, snatching his chemistry book from the coffee table.

"What do you mean, gone?" Sam asks, suddenly wide-awake.

Dean shakes his head, shoving the book into his bag. "Remember the little job that came up yesterday, the one you guys argued about for six or seven hours?"

Sam's stomach wrenches. He can't remember the last time his father left without saying goodbye, or at the very least, reminding him to be good. You never said you hated him before, either. Maybe he's finally had enough.

"Hey." Dean snaps his fingers under his nose. "I gotta go. See you after school?"

"Yeah. Sure," Sam says, a sullen look creeping across his face. Dean must notice because he rolls his eyes before heading for the front door. Sam waits for it to shut behind his brother before sinking down onto the couch. He thinks about going to Student Merit Night tomorrow evening, about the other kids that will be there, with their proud parents snapping pictures for their family photo albums. No way. Sam's jaw sets mutinously. No way in hell.


Sam slips in and out of sleep for most of the morning, until someone coming in the front door awakens him. Dean stops on his way to the kitchen, surprised to see his little brother lounging on the couch. "What are you doing here?"

"What are you doing here?"

"Forgot my lunch," Dean tells him, and frowns. "Are you sick?"

"Nope."

Okay…
"So why are you home? It's past noon."

"I decided I'm not going."

"Not going where? To school?"

"You got it."

Dean scoffs. "You're going to school."

"Why? It's not like it's important… At least not in this family," Sam adds bitterly.

"Quit feeling sorry for yourself and get up – half the day is gone."

"I don't have to listen to you; you're not my father."

Yeah? And who makes your macaroni and cheese, and drives you to the movies? Whose bed do you crawl into when you have a nightmare?
Dean resists the urge to reach out and shake him. Barely. Instead he says, "Well, in case you hadn't noticed, sunshine, Dad's not here."

"Like he'd care if he was." The words are meant to be sarcastic, but they make Sam's throat ache.

"How much you wanna bet he'd care?"

"If it's not hunting, he doesn't care."

"Mom would want you to go to school, Sam."

The lump in Sam's throat becomes impossible to swallow. "Mom's dead. I don't have to listen to her either."

Dean grabs his brother by the front of his t-shirt and pulls him up from the couch, giving him a small shake after all. "You're going to school," he growls. "Now get dressed and get your shit together. If you're not ready in five minutes, you go as you are. You got that?"

Sam stares at him, wide-eyed, and for a moment, Dean thinks he might have a fight on his hands. He's relieved when Sam finally looks away, then nods. Dean releases his hold on his brother and gives him a small push backwards. "Good. Then get going."

Dean grabs his lunch and waits at the kitchen table for Sam. His little brother's changed a lot in the last year. Sam's always had a mind of his own, even when he was two and wouldn't eat anything but bananas for an entire month. But he's never been this pissy, and he's certainly never skipped school. All because of some paper? Dean sighs. Whatever Sam's brooding about, he better get over it soon.


"Wanna get a pizza tonight?" Dean asks, glancing over at Sam, who's sulking in the truck's passenger seat.

"No thanks."

"Oh. Just gonna sit home and mope. That sounds like fun."

Sam glares at him. "What do you know about it?"

"Enough to know it won't help," Dean tells him, pulling up to the middle school. "I'm sorry Dad's not gonna be there tomorrow, but I will, and you'll still get to read your paper along with all the other geeks." He looks over at his little brother again, not surprised to see Sam staring moodily out the window. "You need a note?" he asks.

"I'm fine."

"Uh huh." Dean leans over and opens the door for him. "See you tonight."

Sam hops out of the truck and heads slowly up the sidewalk, glancing surreptitiously over his shoulder until Dean shuts the door and the vehicle disappears from sight. Tightening his grip on his backpack, Sam turns and heads the other way.

********************************************************

Friday

"Sam?" Dean calls, dropping his bag on the kitchen floor. They only have two hours before they need to be at the auditorium, and Dean still needs to feed them, shower, and dress. "Cinderella! We gotta step it up if you're going to the ball." Dean wonders if his little brother is pouting somewhere. Sam's mood wasn't improved this morning, and Dean's attempts at conversation were met with all but silence. Grumbling, Dean makes a circuit of the house. No Sam. "What the hell," he mutters, returning to stand in the kitchen. He glances at the phone and notices the light blinking on the answering machine. That better be you…

Dean punches the button, and waits. "Hello, this is Marian Lockwood from Franklin Middle School's front office; I'm calling regarding Samuel Winchester. We understand Sam is ill; his assignments for the last two days are here in the office, and they can be picked up when he's well enough to work on them. If you have any questions, please feel free to call me at - " Dean hits the stop button, trying to quell the urge to strangle Sam so that he can think clearly.

So he wasn't at school; where the hell is he?
And that's when Dean sees the note on the table, scrawled in Sam's large, neat writing. He snatches it up and reads it. Twice. You little… Dean blinks in outrage. "I'm gonna kill him."


There are lots of ways Dean likes to spend his Friday nights. At seventeen, with his own wheels, there are places to go, baddies to hunt, girls to pick up. Those things are fun. Searching for his pain-in-the-ass little brother isn't. After an hour of driving around without success, Dean finally pulls over to the side of the road. He's checked all the likely locations, and there's no sign of Sam. And if something's happened to him, he can't afford to wait. He grips the steering wheel tightly, trying to collect himself before he makes the inevitable call.

Damn it, Sammy
. At thirteen, Sam's still a whole foot shorter than Dean's six feet, still has the baby face that reminds Dean of those angels people like on Christmas cards. That face is a magnet for predators, and Sam is trusting – too trusting. And it's Dean's job to protect him. No, Sam, that snarling Doberman with a thousand teeth isn't smiling at you. Yes, I'm sure this ghost isn't Casper... Christ. How could I have lost him? Dean takes a deep breath and pulls out his cell phone. Just as he's getting ready to dial John's cell, the phone rings. He snaps it open.

"Yeah."

"Dean?"

Sam.
The rush of relief is almost dizzying. "Sammy. Are you alright?"

"I'm fine, but - "

"Where are you?"

"The bus station in Magalia. I got - "

"Don't. Move."


It takes Dean two hours to get to Magalia, and another fifteen minutes to find the bus station. He pulls the truck into a loading zone and jumps out, knowing he'll only be able to relax when he sees Sam for himself. The bus station isn't exactly crowded at this point in the evening, but there's a whole lot of crazy. An elderly lady in a red sweater gives him a dirty look as he brushes past her. Dean turns to see her start an argument with a homeless guy over aluminum cans. He shakes his head, his eyes scanning the benches for Sam's dark head. Sam's not here, though, and he looks for the sign that will point him toward Security.

Any thoughts of fratricide disappear as Dean catches sight of Sam. His little brother is huddled in a chair outside the Security office, his knees drawn up to his chest. Slumped shoulders and a bowed head complete the picture of dejection.

"Sam?" In seconds, Dean's crossed the station and has him on his feet. "Are you hurt?" He quickly runs his hands over him in a cursory check, reassuring himself at the same time.

"I'm okay," Sam says, uncomfortable with the attention.

Dean pulls him into a quick hug. "Damn it, Sam," he growls into the top of his brother's head, surprised to feel his eyes begin to burn. He waits for the moment to pass, then taking Sam by the shoulders, moves him to arms length. "I'm so gonna kick your ass for this."

"A report has already been filed with the police; you can take him home anytime you want."

Dean turns to look at the balding security guard who's come out of the office. "The police? What'd he do?"

Sam grimaces and tries to ease from Dean's grasp, but his brother's fingers immediately hold fast. "Your brother didn't do anything, unless you count being in the wrong place at the wrong time." Dean glances down at Sam in a way that says Dean is definitely gonna count that, but the guard doesn't seem to notice. "The suspect assaulted him and stole his bag. Unfortunately, this kind of crime's more and more common around here. We might recover the bag, but I doubt you'll see the money again."

Dean nods, offering the older man a polite smile. "Thanks. Appreciate you looking after him till we could pick him up." He turns Sam in the direction of the truck. "Come on, Sam."

"Hey." Dean looks back over his shoulder. "If you don't mind me saying, a kid his age shouldn't be wandering around the station by himself; this isn't a good neighborhood."

"Not a problem," Dean tells him, pulling Sam in a little closer. "I'm pretty sure he won't be going anywhere by himself for a long time."


"What the hell, Sam?" Dean demands, his fingers clicking agitatedly against the steering wheel. "You're out of my sight for a few hours, and you get yourself mugged."

"It wasn't my fault. I fought him off."

"You did." Dean frowns, but the truck's cab is too dark for Sam to notice.

"Well, it's not like I just gave it to him," Sam says defensively. "I would've had him, but the jerk cut the strap."

"He cut the strap?" Dean repeats, not quite believing his ears. Cut. As in sliced. With a knife. Or other sharp object...

"Yeah. And took off. Even Dad couldn't have caught him, Dean. He lost me before we even got out of the station." Sam finally looks over at his brother and pauses, squinting in the dim light. "Are you sick or something?"

"I'm fine," Dean grits, refusing to look up from the highway.

"Because you look funny."

"No more talking."


They drive in silence the rest of the way, and Sam's grateful when they pull up in their driveway. Usually Dean is impossible to shut up, even in the direst of circumstances, and the fact that his brother hasn't spoken in over two hours is actually starting to freak Sam out. He swallows as Dean puts the truck in park, his hand pausing on the seatbelt.

"Dean - "

"No." Sam isn't sure what Dean's saying no to, but he's pretty sure he means it. He catches the keys Dean tosses at him. "You go get ready for bed. I'll be in in a minute."

Dean watches as Sam disappears up the steps and into the house, then flings his head back against the headrest and breathes deeply. Two more days. He only has to keep Sam alive for two more days, and then his father will be home. Dean sits there for another minute or two, until his temper has reduced to a low simmer, then follows his little brother into the house.

Sam's already changed and waiting for him in their bedroom, wearing his pajama bottoms and their father's worn USMC t-shirt. John's never commented on Sam's habit of commandeering his shirts to sleep in, although Dean knows he's noticed. He nearly choked on his coffee one morning when Sam stumbled in wearing "Marines Do It Better – just ask a sailor's wife." Nothing was said, but the shirt went MIA the next day, and Sam had soon pilfered another one. Dean guesses it's something of a security blanket for his brother, because even now Sam's hands are nervously twisting the hem of the faded shirt into a knot.

"Sam, I am so pissed at you, I don't know where to start." Dean runs a hand over the short hair at the back of his head, struggling to find words. How does Dad do it?

"I left you a note."

"'Went for ice cream'?" Dean glares at him.

"What?" Sam quickly looks away. "I was gonna get ice cream," he mutters.

"What you were gonna get was yourself killed. Since when do you go after someone carrying a knife? We're hunters, Sam, not crime fighters."

"He had my homework."

"You were gonna keep handing in your homework?"

"I don't know – I didn't think that far ahead."

"Really?" Dean asks, folding his arms as he studies his brother. "Because it seems pretty well thought out to me. Or was this not some ploy to get Dad to come running?"

Sam flushes, uncertainty written all over his face. "No. What – . I didn't!" he sputters, taking a step backward; but Dean continues, exasperated.

"Didn't what? Didn't want to make Dad sorry for taking this job? Didn't hope that I would call him and he would drop everything and go crazy with worry over you? Because that's exactly what would've happened if you hadn't called me tonight. But don't worry; you're gonna get your wish, because Dad will be coming home when he's finished. And if I were you, I'd start working on your insanity plea now."

Sam gulps audibly, and Dean almost feels sorry for him. Almost. "You've had two days to sort this out, Sam, and you haven't done it. So I'm doing it for you; this is the end of it." Dean sits down on Sam's bed and crooks a finger at him. "You know the drill."

"What? No." Sam's eyes widen to Bambi-like proportions. "You can't."

"I damn well can." Dean gives him a hard look. "Do you have any idea what it would do to Dad if you just took off like that, up and left your family without a second thought? What it'd do to me? Do you hate us that much?"

Sam shakes his head, tears of shame welling in his eyes. He might not be sure of his father, but he's sure about Dean. If he were gone, Dean would miss him, and not because he'd miss having another gun on a hunt. Dean cares; cares about him. Even if it is in an overbearing, annoying, big brother kinda way. Sam looks up and Dean's a little blurry, but he senses his brother soften.

"Okay, then," Dean says gruffly. "Get your sorry little ass over here." He watches Sam glance longingly at the door. "You'll never make it, kiddo."

Sam sniffles and slowly makes his way to his brother's side. He peers up at Dean from beneath his lashes, hoping that the next few minutes won't be as painful as he thinks they're going to.

Dean braces himself against Sam' s pleading look and pulls him over his lap, securing him with an arm wound around his waist. He rests his right hand on Sam's pajama-covered backside, causing his little brother to squirm in apprehension. Sam's never made any secret of how much he loathes this position. Not wanting to drag it out any longer than necessary, Dean raises his hand and starts spanking, making sure each swat lands with a resounding smack.

"Ow! Dean, I'm sorry!" Sam's response is immediate and vocal and sincere, something Dean finds oddly endearing. Sam never tries to hold anything back during a spanking, never lets on to Dean that he's doing anything less than killing him. Dean tightens his arm as Sam starts to twist, aiming some particularly sharp swats to the seat of Sam's pants.

"Settle down, Sammy."

"Please - oww! I won't do it again!"

"Oh, you better not." Sam's already started to cry, but Dean isn't particularly concerned. Sam's a tough enough kid, and he suspects the spankings hurt Sam's feelings more than anything else.

"I won't!" Sam swears, trying to reach a hand behind him. Dean grabs the hand in his and holds it to Sam's side, and Sam releases a sob as Dean's free hand tugs down his bottoms. "Noooo…" Sam jumps as the first smack brands his bare skin. The rest come the same way, hard and fast and with a wicked sting. Dean isn't messing around. Neither Dean nor his father respond well to being frightened, and from the heat raging in his backside, Sam guesses he's scared the hell out of his brother.

Sam's backside is already pink and warm to the touch, and Dean proceeds to spank him until he glows. "Don't ever run off like that again. You hear me?"

Sam's crying too hard to get words out, but he nods vigorously, and that's enough. Dean eases up Sam's pants, turns him over and situates him in his lap, careful to lean Sam in a way that won't put pressure on his behind. His little brother doesn't seem to notice, though; just burrows into his warmth like a small animal seeks shelter from the cold. Dean wraps his arms around him, trying to soothe Sam's trembling with his own solid strength.

"He didn't even say goodbye," Sam sobs into his shirt.

"Who didn't – Dad?" Dean frowns in sudden comprehension. "Sam." Dean hates the helpless feeling. "Man, it was early, he didn't want to wake you." He feels Sam shake his head against his shoulder, his tears hot and wet on Dean's neck. Dean sighs and rubs a hand up and down Sam's back. He doesn't know how to stop Sam from taking everything to heart, doesn't know if he really wants to try. So he just rocks him a little, murmuring soft nonsensical words, words that Sam must hear and understand because he quiets and listens.

Sam hiccups against Dean's shoulder, the familiar scent and warmth of his brother like a balm to his jagged edges. He's drained and weary and strangely content; even if he is way too old to be sitting on his brother's lap. You're also too old to be spanked. Sam shifts slightly and winces at the blaze in his backside. Or not. Apparently Dean's read as much on progressive parenting as his father. Sam lingers for several minutes, savors as much comfort as his thirteen year-old dignity will allow before stiffly climbing from Dean's thigh.

"Okay?" Dean asks, as Sam wipes at his eyes with the backs of his hands.

"Ever hear of a time-out?" Sam mutters.

"Sit down here. I wanna talk to you."

Sam pouts. "I can't. You spanked me too hard," he says, his hands reaching behind him to try to rub away some of the sting. He glares as Dean bites back a smile and looks the other way. Not because Dean's mean or anything, but because he thinks it's cute. Cute in the same way he and his dad think it's cute that Sam used to run through the house naked after his baths, or shaved off both his eyebrows at seven. The same way Dean thinks it's cute now that Sam's voice has started to break and that he sometimes wakes with a tent in his shorts. Sam huffs and turns to walk away, only to have Dean catch his wrist and tug him back.

"Come on, Sammy - don't go getting your panties in a bunch. Forget sitting," Dean tells him, letting go of his wrist and standing up. He pulls the covers back on Sam's bed in invitation. "Go on; get in."

"But - "

"Lie or sit, your choice."

Sam scowls at him, but goes ahead and complies, lying down on his stomach with his head turned toward his brother. He tries not to sniffle as Dean pulls the blankets up around him and takes a seat.

"Tell me what's going on in that freaky head of yours." Dean shifts slightly, his hand starting to move in slow circles over Sam's back. Sam's not even sure Dean knows he's doing it, but it's comforting all the same. "Sam? We're gonna talk about this."

"You can't make me." The words sound half-hearted, even to Sam's ears.

"Wanna rethink that?"

Not particularly
. "I don't belong here."

That gets Sam a look. "What do you mean, you don't belong here? Where else would you be?"

"I'm not like you, Dean."

Dean shrugs. "Yeah, well. No one's this handsome. Why should it matter?"

"It matters to Dad."

"Sam. You know it's not like that, man."

"Yeah?"

"Dad's real proud of you. He's always telling people how smart you are, and how good you do in school. All the training is just his way of looking out for you; trying to keep you safe…"

"It's not just that," Sam tells him. "I don't fit; not anywhere. The kids at school – they all have these perfect, normal lives, a Mom and a Dad…" He brushes at another tear. "I'm never gonna be the hunter Dad wants me to be; he's already got a perfect son. There's just me, and that's never gonna be good enough."

"Don't say that," Dean snaps, though the hand on Sam's back continues its soothing course. Then, softer, "Is that what's got you bent?" He waits, but Sam doesn't answer. "Where'd you think you were going, anyway? After you went for ice cream," Dean adds.

Sam sighs. "I don't know. I just thought – maybe, if I could get far enough away- "

"There's no place that far," Dean tells him. "Nowhere you wouldn't be part of this family. We'll always find you." Dean reaches out and thumbs another tear from beneath Sam's eye. "Dad can track demons with one hand tied behind his back – you don't think he can track one geeky thirteen year-old?"

"I wasn't sure - "

"That Dad could track you?"

"Wasn't sure he would."

Dean hmmms, contemplates. "Wanna test that when he gets home?"

"Not so much," Sam admits.

"Cool. Then my work here is done."

**********************************************************

Saturday

Sam wakes to the darkness, to a large hand smoothing the hair from his face. "Dad?"

"Yeah, Sammy," John says softly from his seat on the side of the bed. "Just checking in; go back to sleep."

Instead of closing his eyes, Sam sits up and buries himself against the hard shape of his father, relieved when John's arms immediately close around him.

"Hey, now." John's voice is thick with surprise. "What's this?" He glances over at Dean's sleeping form. His eldest doesn't stir, though, and he turns back to the son in his arms. "Sam?"

"Did you get the bad guys?" Sam mumbles against his chest.

John's smile glints briefly in the darkness. "Yeah; we got 'em."

"Good." Sam's cheek presses against his father's wool shirt, the steady thump of John's heart a familiar constant. His dad shoots guns, not cameras; lights bones instead of campfires. Yet Sam can't dismiss the feeling of utter safety his father's presence inspires. "I'm sorry."

"About what?"

"Before – what I said - " Sam takes a shaky breath. "I understand if you don't – I shouldn't have - "

John gently moves his son from his chest, needing to see his face. "It's okay, Sam."

"No, it's not," Sam says softly, averting his gaze.

"Yeah. It is." John turns Sam's chin toward him, making sure Sam can see his expression. "What? You think you're the first kid who ever hated his father? Why do you think I joined the Marines?"

"You're saying I'm like you." Sam doesn't know whether to be horrified or proud as hell.

John smiles ruefully, giving Sam's chin a gentle squeeze before releasing it. "'Fraid so, kiddo."

"I don't hate you." Sam looks at him with earnest eyes. "I never did." He pauses, making a face. "And I really don't want to join the Marines."

"Maybe next year," John agrees, and smiles again as Sam rolls his eyes. "Huh," he murmurs, glancing once more at Dean. "I'm surprised he hasn't woken up already."

"He kinda had a rough couple of days," Sam says.

"That right?" John asks, now on alert as Sam suddenly finds his comforter fascinating. "These rough couple of days; they wouldn't have anything to do with you and a certain Student Merit Night, would they?"

"Can we talk about it in the morning?" Sam asks, peeking up at him hopefully.

John tilts his head. "That bad, huh?"

"Worse."

"Then I suppose it better wait till we get some sleep. Lie back down now," John tells him, waiting for Sam to ease back beneath the blankets before smoothing the covers around him. He leans over and presses a kiss to Sam's forehead. "Sammy… What am I gonna do with you?"

Unfortunately, Sam thinks he has a pretty good idea.

**********************************************************

Sunday

"Rise and shine, kiddo," John says, switching the blinds open.

Sam blinks, raising up on his elbows as sunlight floods the bedroom. He wonders what time it is. "Dad?" Sam looks from Dean's empty bed to his father's determined features, and realizes his brother has already reported to the commander in chief. "Oh, no."

"Oh, yes," John assures him. "I think it's time you and I had that little talk."


"Shit!" Dean exclaims, as the glop of peanut butter he's trying to fling from spoon to bowl hurtles upward and sticks to the ceiling. He stares up in disbelief. "You have got to be kidding me." Deciding to ignore it for the moment, Dean stirs up what ingredients actually made it into the bowl and then begins pouring portions of the mixture into the frying pan. Big chunks of banana and peanut butter slop along with the batter onto the heat, making Dean's stomach rumble.

He grabs a spatula and waits, half-listening to what he can hear of the talk Sam and his father are having in the bedroom. His father's been in there at least half an hour, leaving Dean to his culinary devices. The batter begins to brown around the edges, and Dean tries to slip the spatula beneath his creation, pausing when the sound of the nearby conversation once again drifts from the hallway. Dean hears the stern tones of his father, and some rather muted responses from Sam, and then the smacking begins. Dean winces, scraping the now mangled pancake from the pan and onto a plate, then pours another round of batter. Fortunately, the smacks only last for a few minutes, and then the house is quiet again.

Dean makes several more pancakes before shoveling the last from the pan. He drops it onto the lopsided stack he's assembled, then moves the plate to the table. Wiping his hands on the dishtowel, he goes in search of his family.

Not wanting to interrupt, Dean approaches the room slowly. His father's voice is softer now, and he just makes out a sniffle from Sam. "Now. There were five things to remember here, and I want you to repeat them for me."

"Dad…"

"Sammy."

"Mind Dean. Don't skip school." Dean smiles. No telling what kind of mileage he'll get from that first item. "Don't run away – what? I won't."

"Uh, huh. Go on."

"Don't fight or chase armed criminals."

Dean leans in the doorway and waits for them to finish. Then, "Aren't you forgetting something?" John asks Sam, who squirms on his lap but looks pretty content, all things considered.

"What? Oh. That." Sam blushes. "You love me."

John gives him a quick squeeze. "Yeah, that," he mocks gently. He looks up and smiles at seeing Dean in the doorway. "Breakfast ready?"

Dean nods, amused to see Sam scramble from his father's lap at his appearance; as if he hadn't been sitting in Dean's own lap just forty-eight hours ago. "You let Dean cook?"

"What?" Dean says, moving closer to grab his watch from the dresser. "Suddenly you don't like my cooking?"

"Nothing sudden about it," Sam replies, and ducks quickly to avoid the slap to the back of his head.

"Sammy."

"Yeah, Dad?"

"That paper you wrote; was it in your backpack?"

"Yeah, but I gotta copy somewhere. Why?"

"I thought you might want to read it."

"I've kinda read it already."

"I meant to us."

"What?" Sam looks both hopeful and suspicious. "Really?"

"Yeah, really," John says, getting to his feet. "It might not be Student Merit Night, but I'd still like to hear it. You wanna find it while we're setting the table?"

"Okay." The smile Sam flashes belongs to a woman John loves, and it warms him even as he and Dean head for the kitchen, leaving Sam to rummage through his desk.

"Dad," Dean says. "You do realize that paper's like, twenty-five pages?"

"What?"

"With footnotes and bibliography. There might even be a slide show."

John groans. "I'll make the coffee."

Dean grins and reaches for the plates. It's been a rough couple of days, but things seem to have ended well enough. Dad's back, Sammy's safe. Both seem happy. And Dean can look forward to more pleasurable pursuits. He figures it'll be a good month before his father lets Sam out of his sight again. And if he's watching Sam, he ain't watching me...

"Dean. Is that peanut butter on the ceiling?"

Then again, he might just be wrong…

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