When Sam was six, he was in first grade. While he struggled to keep up while moving everywhere, he was learning everyday.
Ever since he had turned six, he started asking harder and harder questions, and he always asked Dean. Dean would have rather him asked his dad, since he didn't know what to say, but even at his age, especially at his age, Sam had picked up on John's aloofness.
He wanted to know about their mom. What did she look like? What was she like? Was she nice? Was she loud? Why isn't she here? What happened to her?
Dean didn't know how to answer these questions, but more importantly, he didn't want to. He didn't think about his mom very often. Not because he didn't want to, but because it hurt. It hurt more than any physical injury he had ever gotten on a hunt. It hurt worse than anything else, because nothing could make it go away.
He also started asking about their dad, and that he especially didn't want to answer.
He tried to make up excuses for him. He told him that his work had him travel a lot, which is why they moved so often. And that his job was real important, which was why he was never here. It broke his heart to see Sammy thinking John thought his job was more important than him but, honestly, Dean didn't know if that was entirely untrue. But he wouldn't say anything. He understood.
But he still wished that his dad would be around more often. Most of the time they spent with him was in the car, driving to the next town or the next state. It wasn't that he minded taking care of Sam- he would never mind doing that- but it was hard to do it all by himself, when he had other things to worry about for himself.
Dean loved learning, and he loved reading. He was decent at math and science, and history was kind of interesting. Yet Dean was still flunking out of most of his classes. Partly because they moved around so much, and partly because he was always busy helping Sam with his classes and his homework.
Sam, Dean knew, was a genius. He had to be. He was doing so well in school given how many schools he had been to. He was reading chapter books all by himself now, and he was able to write real well. He could even do basic math stuff in his head, and Dean was in the process of teaching him the times tables. He figured there was no point in putting the extra effort in his own school work, since he was never going to need any of that anyway. But Sam... Sammy could do a lot with his mind. He deserved a chance, and Dean was going to do what he could to make sure he got it.
Even when their dad managed to spend a week or so with them at the apartment, or the motel, or wherever they were staying, he wasn't much help.
"Daddy, I'm hungry."
"Dean's making you food right now, Sammy. Just wait at the table."
"Oh, yeah, okay, but I need help."
"My homework. Ms. Greene gave us some math sheets to do, and I need help."
"I can't do math right now, Sammy. I'm working."
"But how am I gunna do my math?"
"DEAN! Hurry up in there! Sam needs help on some stupid worksheet!"
Dean was constantly feeling overwhelmed, whether or not their dad was there. He felt like too much was expected of him, and it was a constant need. There were no breaks, and he desperately needed a break.
And to top it all off, he was getting more and more into hunting.
Dean loved hunting. Well, he didn't love every part of it. But he loved being able to save people, and being able to know that someone is alive because of you. For his eleventh birthday, his dad got him a gun, as he asked for. It was a Seecamp LWS .32 automatic. It was pretty small, but it was big enough for Dean. He felt safer with it, knowing that it was his. He could practice with it whenever he wanted to make sure he was ready. The Shtriga incident still replayed in his mind every once in a while, reminding him that next time, he'd be ready.
Once, when his dad wasn't home, he took Sam shooting out at the woods near the motel. He lined up some cans, just like his dad had done for him the first time he went shooting. Dean had taken to it right away, but Sam, not so much. Not that Sam was a particularly bad shot. He was still young, of course. But he got bored easily, and didn't like the loud noises.
It also might have helped that when Dean went shooting for the first time, he knew about monsters, and what was out there. He had known about them for 6 years. Sam, on the other hand, was kept in the dark. John didn't want to tell him because he didn't need him yet. He was too little to be of any real help. Dean didn't want to tell him because he never wanted to tell him. If he could make sure Sam lived the rest of his life without knowing the things that he knew now, he would in a heart beat. But he knew that eventually, he would have to tell his brother, if John didn't tell him first.
"Dean, when is daddy gunna be home?" Sam asked, looking up from a science worksheet.
Dean frowned. "I don't know, kiddo. Do you need help with that?" He asked, trying to change the subject.
It didn't work. "Nope. Where is he?"
"He's working, Sammy. You know that."
Sam set down his pencil, and put on that business-like persona. "Yesterday at school we had a presentation with a policeman and he was talking about guns and how if you're real little like us, you shouldn't be handling one without an adult. And even then only at a gun range or something." He spoke very matter-of-factly, and Dean thought he could probably make a good lawyer some day.
"So?" Dean played dumb.
"So, I know you have a gun, and you use it when dad isn't here."
Dean pursed his lips. "Don't worry about it, Sammy. It's grown-up stuff. Do your worksheet."
"But you're not a grown-up!" Sam protested. "You're a kid!"
"I might as well be a grown-up!" Dean yelled back. He paused as if he was already regretting what he was about to say. "I do all the stuff other grown-ups do, don't I? Think about all the stuff that your friends parents do for them. I do all of that stuff for you! So if I wanna have my own gun, just in case something happens, I think I'm entitled to that!"
When he finished yelling, he had to take deep breaths to calm himself down again. He shouldn't have yelled at Sam, he knew that. The kid was just asking him some very legitimate questions. He shouldn't be getting upset over that. But at this point, he was so done with having to be the grown-up, and getting absolutely no recognition for it! Adults just see him as some brat kid who can't even bother to do his homework.
"I'm sorry, Sammy. I shouldn't have yelled at you. I'll be right back..."
He excused himself from the table and went into the bathroom. He felt like he was about to cry, like he was about to burst into a million different pieces, right here in the middle of a crappy motel bathroom with Sammy right outside, and his dad off God knows where.
He just couldn't take it anymore, and he didn't know what to do about it.
A tiny knock on the door brought his attention away from his thoughts. He spun around and saw Sammy, standing in the doorway with bright round eyes. He seemed to be waiting for permission to enter, so Dean nodded slightly. Sam ran up to him, wrapping his arms around Dean's waist. Dean was startled, but hugged him back with little hesitation. "You're a great grown-up, Dean." He whispered, squeezing him tighter.
If Dean wasn't scared he was going to cry before, he certainly was now. "Thanks, kiddo."