Wee!chesters. Little Sammy goes through a period where he loves to count everything -- cars on the road, french fries on his plate, Dean's sneezes when he gets sick...
Sammy von Count
At first, the counting had been cute. Sam counted the number of fries or fish sticks on his plate before eating them. Sam counted the number of songs on the radio between commercial breaks. Sam counted the number of motel room doors at the dive dad chose. Dean was proud, because Sam never made a mistake with his counting. Dad was proud because it meant Sam was observant, which was a great trait for a hunter. And Sam was proud because his family always gave him smiles and nods when he counted something correctly.
But after a while, the counting started to wear a little thin. Sam didn’t just count the bars of soap in the motel room bathroom or the number of channels the crappy television could get. He counted houses they drove past. He counted stairs both up and down. He counted holes in belts and IDs in the glove compartment and LEGO bricks in the toy bag.
At some point, Dean realized Sam was counting everything. It was tiring to put on a reassuring expression and tell Sam he had counted right. The counting was all Sam wanted to do now. The pages in a book. The seconds it took to refuel the car. The sticks of Big Red gum in a pack. Sam wouldn’t stop counting for an instant.
And it wasn’t as though you could avoid things to count. Even if you only ordered him a single burger for dinner or gave him one pillow to curl up with on his side of the bed, he would still find things to count, because there was always steps. Sam would count the steps from the car to the motel room or the number of steps from one wall to the other or the number of steps from the sink to the bathtub and back. If Dean carried Sam everywhere, Sam just counted Dean’s steps instead of his own.
There was no getting away from the counting without getting mad at Sammy. And that happy little smile Sam gave, the way his dark eyes lit up when he declared the final number, the way the excited way he bounced in place when he thought of something else to count… Dean couldn’t get mad at his little brother for all the counting, even if it was annoying as hell sometimes. So Dean gritted his teeth and clenched his fists and told himself this was just a phase. When it came to little kids, phases passed pretty quickly, didn’t they?
Dad reaches up and angles the rear view mirror so he can see into the back seat instead of out the back window. He makes eye contact with his eldest son, and Dean holds the gaze respectfully, even as he sniffles lightly into his shirt cuff, pulled far down over his hand. Dad looks back at the road without saying anything, but he turns the radio down a hair so he can listen better to what’s happening in his car.
Dean leans against the side of the car, pressing his aching forehead against the cool of the window. What he really wants to do is sleep. But Sammy’s counting out loud again. This time, he seems to be counting the number of cars that pass them on the highway.
“Eighty-five. Eighty-six. Eighty… seven.”
Dean sighs, which catches at the back of his throat and makes him cough a little. He could use another soda. Or something cool at least.
“You okay, Son?”
Dean scrubs his sleeve under his nose. “Yessir.” He clears his throat. “M’fine, Sir.”
Dean wishes Sammy would quit counting. Failing that, Dean wishes Dad would get into the left lane so fewer cars will pass them. And he wishes that he weren’t coming down with a little cold right now. Irritation crawled up his arms and down his spine.
“Ninety cars!” Sam loved nice, round numbers and always shouted out the multiples of ten when he got to them as if he expected a crack of thunder like the Count on Sesame Street. Dean regretted ever showing Sesame Street to Sammy now. “Dad, did you hear? Ninety cars have passed us since lunch.”
Lunch. Lunch had been heavy, greasy diner food. Dean’s head throbs and stomach turns a bit. He cracks the window and lets the cool air fly into his face. It only takes a few seconds for his stomach to settle. But in that time, the damage has been done. The air hits his nose, tickles what’s already pretty ticklish. He presses his sleeve to his nose as his breath hitches, but it’s already too late.
“hihItch! hihKsh! Kehshhh! Kihtshhh!”
Dean can feel Dad’s gaze on him again and doesn’t look up. He can’t. His eyes are watering from the sneezes and his nose is running into his sleeve. But he keeps his eyes closed because he already feels the need to sneeze again.
“hehpshh! Hehkrshh! Heeshih!”
“JUST SHUT UP!” Dean shouts, and the word echoes through his head, pounding with pain at his temples. He pressed a hand to his forehead even as he hears the sharpness in Dad’s voice.
Dean sniffs and turns his arm so he can drag his nose against a dry part of his sleeve. “Sorry, Sir.” He looks over at his younger brother, who is biting his lip, looking worried. Dean never yells at him unless it’s something important. Sammy about to cross the road at the wrong time. Sammy crawling onto a dangerous-looking see-saw at a motel playground. Sammy about to open his door in a parking lot when another car was pulling into the space beside them. Dean never yells at Sam over things like this, over counting. He can see tears welling in Sammy’s eyes already. So he sniffs and reaches over, ruffling his brother’s dark hair. “I’m sorry, Sammy.” He clears his throat. “Could you maybe count something else right now instead, kiddo?” Anything but cars on a busy highway.
Sam nods and looks out the window. “One barn.” And then, a minute later. “Two.”
Even out here in the Midwest, there had to be fewer barns by the highway than there were cars on it. Dean decides that’s an improvement.
“Dean, are you coming down sick again?”
It’s the ‘again’ that irritates Dean. Like he chose it this time? Or last time even? Like it was his fault he didn’t feel good? Like it was something he should have done? Dean knows he’s sick. And Dean knows that Dad knows he’s sick. He can’t lie to Dad. “I think I am, Sir.”
Dad grunts. Dean knows what that means. It means nasty, thick, purple liquid Dad’ll make him swallow every four hours. It means sitting up in bed all night, trying not to cough or sneeze too loudly and wake them up. It means a whole lot of sneezing that’s going to get a whole lot worse before it gets any better.
Dad tosses a Kleenex box over the front seat, and Dean dives for it, nose running and head throbbing. He couches his nose in tissues, closes his eyes, and rests his forehead against the window and just wants it over with already.
Dean opens his eyes. His view of the world is a rush of blurry color out of the bit of the window. But there can’t have been twenty-nine barns already, can there? So he lifts his head and looks over at his little brother.
Sam looks sympathetic. His eyes are big, irresistibly big and sad. “Sorry you’re sick, Dean.”
Dean nods at him. And he cups the Kleenex around his nose.
Dean scrubs his hand against his face. He has a feeling this is going to be the longest afternoon of his life. But at least Sam looks proud and happy again.