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Title: Runaways
Author: keerawa
Artist: reapertownusa
Genre: Gen, pre-series, outsider POV
Characters: Dean, Sam, OFC
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 10,200 words
Warnings: Nothing explicit, but this story contains references to past child abuse, substance abuse, rape, and triggers.
I'd like to thank the Academy: This story definitely took a village. This was my first time working on a (Mini)BigBang challenge, andreapertownusa, my artist, was truly incredible. She shared my vision for this story, sent me a dozen rough sketches for my approval, and asked me insightful questions about the characters and setting. I'd like to thank write_light, who encouraged me to write this on the Location Tour last summer. locknkey, who read an early version when I was lost in a slough of writing despair in early August. She kicked my ass and got me back on track. My betas, riyku, locknkey, and Stevie. The organizers of the Sam and Dean Mini-Bang for giving me the impetus to complete this story, two years after I started it. And all the people on my friends list who, every time I listed my WIPs, said, "Oh, I want to read the pre-series runaway shelter one!"
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW.
Summary: We lost seven teenage boys from the shelter in the summer of '97. The last were a pair of brothers so wrapped up in each other that I never had a chance to save them. Their names were Sam and Dean.

Feedback shall be cherished forever. 'Runaways' can also be downloaded at the AO3. Please be sure to let reapertownusa know how much you enjoyed her artwork at her Art Masterpost.

ETA: colls has recorded a wonderful podfic of this story! You can listen to or download it at her journal.




Chapter 1 – Saturday morning

The faded photograph showed a red-haired teenage boy sprawled out on broken concrete steps, his arm around a little girl with dark curls who was staring up at him like he hung the moon. A black eye suggested that the boy had been in a fight. The cocky grin he aimed at the camera declared him the victor. The photo was dog-eared, with thin white creases showing where it had once been folded into a wallet. Now it was protected behind the glass of a small picture frame.



I gently closed my desk drawer with the photo inside. It had already been a hell of a day, temperatures soaring into the upper 90’s, driving everyone a little crazy. And now Father Jacobs was sending up two new boys for me to interview – brothers. Families in trouble always stirred up old memories, but I had a job to do. So I blew a dark curl of hair out of my eyes, tugged my sweat-damp blouse straight, pasted on a professional smile, and called out, “Come in,” when I heard a knock on the door.

The older brother was wearing a flannel shirt, ridiculous in this heat, and was clearly hypervigilant. During the walk from the office door to my desk, he’d catalogued the two exits and every object that might be used as a weapon. The younger boy was scrawny in an over-sized wife-beater, and couldn’t have been more than thirteen. He stuck close to his brother’s left side, looking up at the world through long bangs.

“Welcome to St. Jerome’s. We offer shelter and referral services to young men between the ages of twelve and twenty. My name is Ms. Connor,” I introduced myself from behind my desk.

“Dean,” said the older brother, holding out his hand with a flirtatious smile. When I shook his hand, his thumb stroked over mine.

“Stop that,” I told him sharply. “It’s inappropriate.”

The grin fractured as he pulled his hand away. “Sorry,” he said.

“I’m Sam,” said the younger boy, grinning at the way I’d shot his brother down.

We all sat and I jotted their first names down on a client intake form. “Your last name?” I asked.

“Smith,” Dean drawled.

I traded my pen for a pencil to record the lie. I’d ask again when I’d built up some trust between us. “Now, boys, this is an intake interview. I realize it may be difficult, talking about your personal lives, but I need to know why you’re here.”

The two of them glanced at each other. Neither said a word.

“Tell me about your family,” I suggested.

“Our Mom died when Sammy was just a baby,” Dean said immediately. “Our Dad …” He trailed off and cleared his throat.

“He drinks,” Sam said.

Dean looked over at his younger brother as if this were a shocking breach of their code of silence.

“Well he does,” Sam insisted. “And he … take off your shirt, Dean.”

Dean looked uncomfortable. “I don’t think –”

“Just do it,” Sam said tiredly.

Dean stood up. He took off his flannel shirt carefully, laying it on his chair, while I flipped my initial read of the situation here on its head. Usually, an older sibling would leave an abusive or neglectful home when they saw the younger being threatened or hurt. But with these boys, it seemed like Sam was the one who had convinced his brother to leave home.

Dean turned his back as he peeled off his t-shirt. I gasped. The upper right of his back was one giant, livid bruise, fading to yellow around the edges.

“S’not that bad,” Dean muttered, turning around.

My eyes found scars from two burns, what looked like a dog bite, and … “Is that a knife wound on your arm?”

Dean hesitated, cheeks flushed and eyes on the floor, and then nodded. Sam inspected his brother's back and then looked at me, his mouth tight and furious.

I’d seen too many cases like this. I was sure that an X-ray of Dean would show evidence of a dozen old, healed fractures. “I can help you press charges,” I told them briskly, checking the box marked ‘Runaway’ on the intake form and crossing off the section for parental contact information.

“What? No!” Dean said, appalled, quickly pulling his flannel shirt back on. “Sammy and me just need somewhere safe to stay while we figure out what to do next. We can stay, right?”

“Of course,” I told him. “I’m required by law to report all suspected child abuse cases-” And I could see both of them tense up, ready to bolt. Damn it. “- but given that you and your brother aren’t in immediate danger, and how backed up the local office is, it’ll probably be several weeks before they open an investigation.”

Dean nodded jerkily as Sam settled back onto the edge of his seat. It was as if their father, their abusive asshole of a father was standing right in the room with us, whispering shit about how CPS would come, take them, split them up, put them into separate homes.

“This schedule lists our meal times, curfews, and the times for optional group activities, if either of you are interested,” I said, distracting Dean with the paper. “I need to speak to your brother for a minute to finish up the interview.”

Dean made a ‘get on with it’ gesture.

“Alone.”

His eyes flicked from his brother, to me, and back.

“It’s just procedure,” I told him.

“I’ll be right outside the door,” Dean said, clutching his sweat-soaked t-shirt in one hand, his duffle in the other. I wasn’t entirely sure if that was meant as a reassurance to his brother, or a threat to me. Father Jacobs always checked new intakes for weapons, and I suspected he’d found at least one on Dean. He wouldn’t be the first boy to feel the need to protect himself.

I waited until the door closed behind Dean before getting up and moving around the desk. I turned the empty chair and sat down next to Sam.

The boy eyed me warily. His legs were barely long enough to reach the floor, but he pressed his toes down, poised to move if he had to.

“Sam, I can see that you’re the one who encouraged your brother to come here, and that he identifies strongly with your father. I need to be sure that you’ll be safe. Sometimes, people can fall into patterns of abuse that repeat –”

Sam stood up suddenly. “Dean would never hurt me,” he snapped. “Are we done here?”

I nodded. The boy picked up his bag, strode to the door and opened it. Dean was standing there. Clearly he’d been listening in. Sam stepped in close to his brother as if as if seeking safety. As if, so long as he stuck tight to his brother, nothing bad could happen.

I could have told Sam that sense of safety was a lie.

Instead, I walked towards them, opened my mouth and said, “Supper’s at seven. You’re welcome, but not required, to attend. Curfew’s at eleven, lights-out at midnight. Any questions?”

Dean shook his head no.

“Okay, then. The dormitory’s downstairs,” I said, pointing the way. “Sheets and blankets are in the hall closet, last door on your right. Any bed with a bare mattress is unclaimed.”

The boys picked up their duffels and headed down the hall.

I walked back to my desk and sank into my own chair with a sigh. Then I opened my desk drawer and brushed a thumb over the photo. “I’ve got my work cut out for me with those two, eh, Liam?”


Chapter 2 – Saturday afternoon


I was still sitting in the stifling heat of my office an hour later, trying to get some work done on a grant application that was due Friday. There were never enough hours in the week and the tension crawled up my neck, head pounding as I worked over the required budget numbers. Sister Doris from the archdiocese had taught me to keep the books for the shelter. According to her, I could hire myself out to the mob to make sure that their books were so scrambled that no forensic accountant could ever make heads-or-tails of it. And, you know, fine. I’d never been any good at math, but there was no one else to do it, so I double and triple-checked every calculation to catch my mistakes.

This grant would let us hire an actual, qualified substance abuse counselor. We needed one, desperately. My own struggles with addiction and an AA in Child Development didn’t prepare me to deal with what these boys were going through. Just this morning Chichi took off when I called him on missing curfew, a sneer on his face as he called me a nosy cunt and told me at least his pimp wasn't always hassling him. His pimp was probably the one responsible for both the finger-shaped bruises on the boy’s wrists and the track marks up his arms. I didn’t know if Chichi would be back tonight, but I hoped so.

Hakim was in the grips of withdrawal. He had been since he came in two days ago. He was passed out in the pantry when I found him after breakfast, candy bar wrappers littering the floor around his chubby little body, mouth smeared in chocolate and his fingers covered in bile from stuffing them down his throat and puking it all back up. I nearly joined him on the floor when I opened the door and smelled the stench. Alcoholism obviously wasn't his only problem.

I sighed and rolled my head, easing the shooting spark under my shoulder blade. I really needed to get this application done, but in my quiet office there was nothing to distract me from my own ghosts. All of my own fuck-ups coming to roost: today, back then, and this new boy, Dean, with a smart-ass grin so like that Liam’s it sent chills down my spine. And I just … I wanted a fucking drink.

I caught the word, “fight,” hushed and excited, from a pair of boys hustling down the hallway. Oh, hell. The application would have to wait.

I’d gone through restraint training with the school district, but most of the boys staying with us towered over me. I really, really hoped I could break it up before it got physical.

I rushed downstairs to the dormitory, the smooth soles of my dress shoes slipping on the steps. I caught myself on the metal railing and skidded through the doorway where a half-dozen boys were huddled. I couldn’t see over their heads.

“You got no right,” someone bellowed in a deep, Hispanic-accented voice.

Miguel? Not good. Not good at all. Miguel was a huge, tattooed eighteen year-old who had joined the Latin Kings street gang as a pee-wee banger at the age of twelve. He’d come to St. Jerome’s a month ago with his best friend, Carlos, in an attempt to get clean and out of the life.

“Let me through,” I hissed at the six-feet of gangly, jeans-jacketed teenager, who stank of cigarette smoke and was blocking my way. Al turned, blinked at me, and stepped aside.

Miguel had his hands clenched in the shirt of the new boy, Dean. They were standing so close together that, if they’d been a couple at a school dance I was chaperoning, I would have separated them.



“That’s Carlos’ bed,” Miguel shouted in Dean’s face. “It’s his! Nobody touches his fuckin’ bed!”

Carlos had gone out last Friday, and never came back. I’d stripped his bed yesterday, preparing for new arrivals, and Miguel hadn’t said a word to me about it. Then again, he didn’t really have a knack for expressing his feelings in a positive way.

Miguel shoved Dean, hard. Dean staggered backwards a couple of steps. I knew how this would go. Dean would rush back in, shove Miguel, and then the two of them would do their level best to kill each another.

Liam never, ever backed down from a fight.

“Hey!” I yelled, elbowing Eli in the kidney to get past him. “Cut it out, you two!” Eli yelped and moved. Everyone else ignored me.

Dean took a step back, hands up. “We didn’t know, man,” he said, voice soothing, and took another step away.

I noticed Dean’s brother, Sam. Sam had his back to the action. He was watching the other boys, and me. A lookout; as if his brother’s fight with Miguel was a foregone conclusion, and he needed to keep an eye out for whatever threat a crowd of teenage boys and one twenty-four year old woman in cheap heels might offer.

“I swear, we didn’t know,” Dean continued. “Ms. Connor said we could take any bed that wasn’t made.”

Miguel grunted. “She,” he accused me with a glare, “thinks Carlos just took off. But he’s my homie! He wouldn’t do that!”

Dean nodded. “Course he wouldn’t,” he agreed. “Hey, could you help me move this other bed over? Only reason we took Carlos’s bed was ‘cause these were the only two unmade ones next to each other. And I gotta be next to my little brother, right? Gotta look after him.”

Sam was suddenly plastered up against Dean. “Uh, hi,” he squeaked to Miguel from behind Dean’s legs, looking and sounding about ten years old in that moment.




Miguel looked down at him. “Hey, little man,” he rumbled protectively. “Yeah, don’t worry, we’ll get you set-up with your hermano in no time.”

Within moments, Dean and Miguel were dragging beds across the floor.

I hadn’t actually checked that Sam was old enough to qualify for shelter services. But he hadn’t seemed that young in the interview and, frankly, I’d rather not ask than have to exclude them on that basis. I shook my head and went looking for Father Jacobs. When I glanced back from the top of the stairs, I saw that Dean and Miguel had recruited the rest of the boys to help them rearrange the dormitory. Sam was watching me from the doorway.



Chapter 3 – Saturday afternoon


I found Father Jacobs in the kitchen, putting together a stew for the boys’ supper. He was ‘out of uniform’, as he would put it, wearing a faded Notre Dame t-shirt and jeans. He was chopping onions, tears in his eyes, when he noticed me standing in the doorway and nodded to a pile of potatoes sitting on the counter. I grabbed a peeler out of the drawer and got to work, watching Father out the corner of my eye.

St. Jerome’s operated on a shoestring budget from the diocese. Father Jacobs and I, along with Aaron, a grad student who worked the night-shift, were the only full-time employees. ‘Full-time’ meaning twelve to fourteen hours a day, seven days a week. There was a steady stream of volunteers, but they were never very reliable. Father Jacobs cared for each and every boy like they were his own. I’d often suggested to him that a little professional distance might let him sleep better at night. But it wasn’t in his nature.

Father Jacobs was a small man with weathered skin and a tidy salt-and-pepper beard. I missed his big, booming laugh, the one that could brighten a dark day. I hadn’t heard him laugh like that since May, when Dupree, a skin-and-bones fourteen-year-old boy with old cigar burn scars on both hands, collapsed on the shelter’s bathroom floor. He was sweating like a pig and gasping for air, pupils blown – meth over-dose.

I called 911 and rode in the ambulance with Dupree, letting him crush my hand in his frantic grip while I rambled on to him about my sister’s wedding, just to let him know he wasn’t alone. When the nurses tried to get me away from him in the emergency room, I told them I was his cousin, and if any of them doubted that a lily-white woman was related to the pitch-black teenager dying in their ER, one look at my face was enough to shut their mouths.

Dupree’s death was ugly, brutal, and over quickly. Just like his life.

Father Jacobs came rushing in and performed the Last Rites. I wish I’d had some time to clean Dupree up a bit before he saw the boy. Father was pale and shaking by the end. We caught a cab back to the rectory. I told the cabbie to wait while I made sure Father got to bed alright. Then I had him drive me home. We passed a liquor store, and I asked him to stop. I bought a bottle of Stoli. It was almost one in the morning when I finally paid the cab driver and fumbled my keys in the apartment door.

Ma was in bed. There was a pointed note on the fridge about how young ladies without the courtesy to call and let their mother know they would be late could make do with cold sausage pie for supper. I was starving, but when I opened the fridge the smell of the food made my stomach clench. The bottle of vodka was still clutched in my hand. One shot, maybe two, would relax me. Warm me up. Then I could eat something and get to bed.

The list of local AA meetings tacked up on the wall by the black plastic phone glared at me accusingly. I dialed my sponsor’s number from memory, waking Jimmy out of a sound sleep. I cried. He yelled. I yelled back. Two mugs of instant coffee later I poured the vodka down the sink. Talked out, cried out, I mumbled a good night to Jimmy and fell asleep slumped over the kitchen counter, the phone and empty bottle cradled in my arms.

I woke to the shatter of glass the next morning as my ass hit the floor. Ma was standing over me in her bathrobe and curlers, eyes wide and terrified. She’d shoved me off the chair, and was screeching about how I was better than this, and I was not going to start drinking again, not under her roof. Ma made me swear, swear on Liam’s grave, that I hadn’t had a drop before she let me help her clean up the broken glass from the bottle.

Since that night, it seemed like everything that could go wrong did. Dupree’s death was the first in a row of dominoes. Four boys had disappeared in the past two months. Vinny, a mouthy Italian boy, constantly on the move, had headed out after breakfast one morning chattering about applying for a short order cook job, and never come back. Simon was slight and withdrawn; he’d ended up at the shelter after aging out of foster care. Aaron asked me on a Friday evening if he should strip Simon’s bed, and it turned out no one had seen him around for a few days. I couldn’t even tell the police which day he’d gone missing.

Malik dreamed of being a pilot. He was a lanky Muslim boy who desperately wanted to join the Air Force. I helped him enroll in a summer-school Trigonometry class so that he could graduate and enlist in the fall. He never showed up to the first class. Gone. Poof.

As the police explained each time we reported that a young man had disappeared, we were dealing with at-risk youth, by nature a very transient population. But Father Jacobs had become obsessed, spending his days-off searching for the missing boys. Last week Carlos, Miguel’s sweet-tempered and rather effeminate friend, went out to buy a pack of cigarettes after supper and disappeared. Father Jacobs lost it – he declared that ‘something evil’ was taking the boys.

I was really starting to worry about him. Alive or dead, I knew those boys weren’t coming back. But Father Jacobs kept pouring himself into looking for them, as if hope and prayer and constant searching would be enough to get them back. I didn’t know how to make him stop.

But today Father seemed better. There were still dark circles under his eyes, but as he sautéed the onions in a frying pan I saw the same calm, centered strength that had been the heart of St. Jerome’s since I’d walked in the door three years ago, hoping to earn some community service credits to finish my AA at Truman. I’d spent a full five minutes peeling and chopping potatoes beside him in comfortable silence without a single unhinged rant about missing boys or the forces of evil.

The sizzle and rich scent of frying beef filled the room.

“So, those two brothers, Dean and Sam?” I said.

“Mmmmhmm?” he said.

“Already got into it with Miguel.”

“What?” he said, pulling the stew pot off the burner and looking ready to go kick some ass.

“No, its fine, Dean de-escalated it like a pro,” I told him.

“Huh,” he said thoughtfully, putting the pot back on the burner and stirring it.

“Anything interesting turn up when you searched them?” I asked.

Talking about what he found on his intake searches was a little ritual for us. It was amazing what possessions teenage boys kicked out or on the run from desperate home situations considered vital. Father Jacobs had found guns, pornography, photo albums and CD collections, GI Joes and Pokémon cards, and on one memorable day, a boy had refused to part with three pairs of brand-new women’s Jordans. Security blankets came in all shapes and sizes. It was sweet, and sometimes heart-breaking. A good way to get to know who the boys were, at their core, under the hard front they put up for survival’s sake.

“Nothing worth mentioning,” Father Jacobs said softly, eyes on the stove.

Oh. That was a first.

“Well, I think they’ve had a hard time,” I told him. “The older brother shows clear signs of physical abuse.”

Father Jacobs shot me a startled glance.

“They’re used to only relying on each other, and trust me just as far as they can throw me,” I added. “But I think the older boy, Dean, might be responsive to a father-figure.”

He snorted softly.

“See if you can get him to open up to you?” I asked.

“Of course,” he said warmly. He added water to the stew pot and poured in the potatoes I’d been chopping. “And how about you, Maddy? You doing alright?” he asked.

And I … no. I was not alright. This grant application was driving me crazy. The summer heat and the air conditioning had pushed our electricity bills way over budget this month. The downstairs toilet was held together with duct tape and prayer, and there was no way could we afford to get a plumber in to fix it. Miguel was a ticking time bomb, Hakim was a mess, my sister Angie’s marriage was already on the rocks, Ma’s bronchitis had come back, I hadn’t been out on a date since New Year’s, and Father Jacobs, the one who was actually supposed to be running the place, was losing it.

I blinked fiercely, willing the tears that had welled up in my eyes to go the fuck away. Because I wasn’t crying. Not now. At home, tonight, maybe. Without a fifth of vodka, no matter how much I wanted it. “Yeah. Or, well, I will be, Father. It’s just been a rough few months. You know?”

“I know,” Father Jacobs said. He looked at me, said, “Oh, Maddy-girl, come here,” and pulled me into a rough hug. I held him tight, gasping in the kitchen’s heat. “The Lord never gives us a greater burden than we can bear,” he said softly, in my ear. “And He sends help in the strangest of packages. We’ll be fine. Just you wait and see.”


Chapter 4 – Tuesday Morning


Three days later I cornered Dean and made him agree to a follow-up interview.

“You wait right here for me, got it?” Dean ordered his brother when I made it clear that this was an individual interview.

Sam gave an eye roll and pulled a library book out of his duffle bag.

I crossed ‘get the brothers library cards’ off my mental To-Do List and sneaked a peek at the cover. “To Kill a Mockingbird?” I asked, surprised. “Is that from your summer reading list?”

Sam shrugged. “Maybe,” he answered. “Not sure what school I’ll be going to in the fall, but –”

“Sam,” Dean shut him down. “We doing this, Ms. C? Or you gonna start a book club with Sammy instead?”

“We’re doing this,” I said firmly. Dean stepped into my office. Sam sank down on the floor just outside the door with his book.

“It’s a good one,” I murmured to Sam.

“I know,” Sam replied, eyes already devouring the page. “I read it before.”

I closed the door for privacy. Dean had already taken possession of one of the chairs in front of my desk. He was leaning back in his chair with arms crossed over his chest. As clear a ‘I won’t talk, and you can’t make’ signal as I’d ever seen.

I sank into my chair and managed to keep the sigh internal. “So, Dean, have you made any plans yet?”

He shrugged.

I tried again. “During the intake interview, you said that you were going to stay here with Sam until the two of you decided what to do next. So I’m wondering if you’ve made any decisions or if you have any questions …” Dean was examining his fingernails. “Anything I might help with,” I finished weakly.

Dean sat there and didn’t say a word.

“Okay. Well, the first thing I need to know is your age. Are you over eighteen?” I leaned forward, staring Dean down, making it clear that I expected an answer.

Dean’s lips curved into a smirk. “Why? You wondering if I’m jail-bait?” he asked, purring the last word. I swallowed. Dean stood up, swaggered around the desk and sat down on the edge of it, inside my personal space. “Don’t you worry, sweetheart. I’m man enough for you.” He reached out and tilted my chin up, eyes dark with promises.



I froze, throat tight with panic. Coming round after a party face-down on a bed, a heavy body on top of me, my head shoved back down into the mattress when I tried to see who -

I slapped him, hard, across the face. Dean popped off my desk, too controlled to be called a fall. He stood out of reach and huffed a laugh, rubbing the back of his hand over his reddened cheek. His tongue flicked to a smear of red where my ring had caught the corner of his mouth.

“Not bad,” Dean said, grinning down at me.

No way was I going to sit there and chat with the little fucker after he touched me like that! I was about to kick him out of my office when it hit me like a bucket of cold water. He did that on purpose, to get a rise out of me. I wondered how many female teachers, principals, and social workers he had de-railed with that little stunt. And, with a queasy twist of my stomach, how many had taken him up on the offer.

I shook out my hand, still stinging from the impact with Dean’s face, and took a moment to rummage through the files on my desk and get a handle on myself. Misplaced fear and shame and fury roiled around inside me. I wasn’t going to let any of it keep me from doing my job. “You can drop the ‘Hot for Teacher’ act, Dean,” I told him in a shaky voice. I took a deep breath, trying to calm down. It shuddered out of me. I cleared my throat. “I just want to help.”

“Yeah?” Dean challenged me. “And why’s that? You out to save my soul?” he mocked.

“No,” I snarled, shoving my way out of my chair and getting into the prick’s face. “You wanna know why I do this? It’s because, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but the world is pretty much drowning in shit!”

Dean backed up a step. The small, detached part of me that was watching myself act like a maniac thought it was like a nature program where a badger chased a leopard away from its den.

“Believe me, I’ve swallowed my share. I’ve hit bottom. And then I somehow managed to get my head above water. I don’t know how – a Higher Power, dumb luck, strangers giving me chances that I never earned. And it seems to me, if I made it through all that and don’t do what I can to save everyone else I see drowning, that I might as well be six feet under.”

Dean put up his hands in surrender.

“So sit the fuck down and let me do my job!” I snapped at him.

Dean slipped into his chair with a, “Yes ma’am,” and a smile.

“Right,” I muttered, sitting down and taking a sip of water to pull my shit together. At least I’d lost it on possibly the only teenager in the Greater Chicago area who responded well to being screamed at. And I’d need to think about that later, about why an abused child would feel safer around an adult with a temper who had just hit him. Christ, I can’t believe I did that.

“You know,” Dean said, watching me. “You can’t save them all.” It might have been the first real thing he’d said to me since we’d met.

Sometimes it felt like I couldn’t save any of them. Not Liam, not Dupree, not a dozen other boys who’d deserved better.

I shrugged. “Doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying,” I told Dean roughly. “Now, if you’re under eighteen, legally your father is still your guardian, but it’s easy for homeless minors to file for emancipated status in Illinois.”

“I turned eighteen in January,” Dean said quietly.

“Yeah?” I said. “That’s good. That opens up some more options. We can file a petition with the court to make you Sam’s legal guardian.”

Dean leaned forward – that obviously caught his interest. “So if Sam got in trouble with the cops, or was in the hospital, I’d be the one they’d contact?”

“Right! We’d have to get a family court judge to sign off on it, though. Need to make you look good, on paper. Ummm, how’s your employment history?”

Dean shrugged nervously. “We’ve moved around a lot. I worked in a salvage yard one summer,” he offered.

“Okay, we can use that. Keep your eyes peeled for a job, though. Even something part-time, or minimum wage, will make you look more responsible. It’ll prove that, as Sam’s guardian, you’ll be able to provide for him.”

Dean made a soft scoffing noise and sat straighter in his chair, chin at a proud tilt indicating that he was perfectly capable of supporting his brother. I believed him. I was also certain that whatever he’d done to put food on the table wasn’t anything we wanted showing up on the court petition.

“Did you finish high school?” I asked.

Dean stood up. “Look, I appreciate the help,” he said, stone-faced, “but it’s not –”

“No problem – the GED’s not as hard as people think. We’ve got a study group that meets Sunday and Tuesday after supper,” I barreled over his objections. “The test is offered at Dawson Tech every other weekend. You’re a smart guy, Dean, I bet you could be ready by the end of the month.”

“Umm, well, maybe,” Dean said, making a break for the door.

I pulled a GED prep book out of my bookshelf. As Dean stepped out the door, I called out, “Heads-up,” and lobbed it to him. The pages flapped; it almost fell short before Dean caught the book. “Sam can help you study after supper,” I said.

“Study what?” I heard a chipper young voice ask.

Dean gave a frustrated grunt and hustled his brother away. I headed for the bathroom, tucked the loose, curly ends of my hair into my blouse, and washed my face in cold water, repeating the Serenity Prayer over and over until my heart stopped pounding and I fit back inside my own skin.

God, grant me the Serenity to accept
the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
and Wisdom to know the difference.


Dean and Sam joined the GED study group that evening. I baked some Toll House cookies for the group and smiled sweetly at Dean when he glared at me.

“How’s the studying going?” I asked the five boys.

“It’s going good, Ms. C,” Sam answered absently around of mouthful of melty chocolate-chip cookie while working his way through an explanation of the Doppler Effect.


Chapter 5 – Wednesday


The shelter was normally deserted in the afternoon, but the next day there was an unusual bustle of activity: boys checking in, holding quick conversations and then running out again, gathering up supplies and delivering them to the common room.

“We’re holding a prayer vigil,” Father Jacobs informed me. “For the lost boys.”

I winced. “Father, I know this is a Catholic charity, but it’s important that the boys don’t feel we’re pushing some religious agenda.”

“Oh, this wasn’t my idea,” he assured me. “Sam and Dean were talking to Miguel last night, and they cooked it up between them.”

“You should come,” Sam said, and I turned around to find the two brothers standing in the doorway behind me. Dean was holding a large cardboard box marked ‘X-mas’.

“Boys. I’m sure your hearts are in the right place. Miguel … he’s fragile right now.”

Dean looked at me as if I was riding the short bus. “Well, yeah. It’s not like me and Sammy are screwing with him, Ms. C. We’re trying to help.”

I sighed. If this went wrong, it would go wrong in a big way. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” I told them. “I just need to call Ma, let her know I’ll be working late again tonight.”

That night, after supper, the common room was transformed. Golden Christmas garlands were wound all around the battered old furniture. Someone had hung red fabric over the lamps, giving the room a soft, warm look. That was probably a fire hazard, but I’d let it slide for the evening. I saw that there were a dozen boxes of tissues scattered around the room. They’d probably come in handy.

At the front of the room, a large folding card table was covered with one of the spare altar cloths from the rectory. The table held four folded index cards bearing the names Vinny, Simon, Malik, and Carlos. There was an old school picture of Carlos, a gold crucifix, a green crescent moon cut out of construction paper, a votive candle, and several folded sheets of paper.

Only one photo. I’d have to check the penny jar at home, see if there was enough in there for a cheap camera. I should really start taking pictures of all the boys as part of the intake process. I could include the photos in their files. And that way, the next time the police asked – I shut that thought down. No one else was going missing.

Dean stood up in front of the room. He was looking a bit awkward in a white button-up shirt with the buttons done all the way up. “So, uh, everybody sit down?” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. Once all of the boys had found a seat, with considerably less squirming and squabbling than usual, Dean squared his shoulders. “For any of you who weren’t at breakfast this morning, this is kind of a tradition in my family. When someone’s gone, maybe in danger, like a soldier at war, we gather up pictures of them, some of their stuff, and then their friends and family get together. The idea is that we tell stories about the people who aren’t here with us – what they’re like, what they do for fun, places they like to go, food they like to eat. All the good stuff. And, wherever they are tonight, they’ll know that our thoughts and prayers are with them.”

He sat down. Sam whispered to him. “Father, could you lead us in a moment of silence?” Dean asked.

Father Jacobs bowed his head. We all copied him. The moment stretched, and then Father said a firm, “Amen.”

Miguel stood up. He was dressed in an honest-to-God black suit. I wondered where he’d gotten it. “I’ve known Carlos since we was three. I remember he got me in big trouble that very first day. I had some crayons, and he shaved them onto the radiator ‘cause he wanted to melt them into one big crayon with all the colors in it. But, you know, it smelled real bad, and when mi madre came in Carlos burned himself trying to scrape the crayon off so we wouldn’t get caught. It was a bad burn, but he didn’t cry, even though he was just a little kid.”

“See, Carlos, he’s tough. People don’t know that about him. They see how he’s nice to everybody, always has a smile on his face, and they think he’s soft. But Carlos – he’s the strongest person I know. So, wherever he is tonight, I know he’s gonna be okay.”

Miguel sat down hard on the sofa, as if that made it more true. There was an awkward silence. Father Jacobs stood up stiffly.

“Vinny liked cartoons,” Father Jacobs said. “He’d get up early on Saturday to watch them. Especially the roadrunner. Sometimes, when he had so much energy he couldn’t sit still, and he was bouncing off the walls? He’d be making that roadrunner noise the whole time, under his breath. ‘Meep-meep.’”

A few of the boys laughed. I saw that Sam was snuggled up next to Dean on one of the couches. He was scribbling in a notebook. I wondered if he was recording the stories as a part of this – prayer vigil? Wake? Memorial? There was a strange in-betweeness to the ceremony. It reminded me of the way that the military pussy-footed around, declaring soldiers M.I.A. when they were rotting in some unmarked grave. I wondered if the soldier in Dean’s family had made it home.

“You’re right, I forgot about that noise,” Al responded, standing up. “And Vinny was always coming up with these crazy schemes. Like the time he decided we could get rich by going around to the dumpsters behind the college dorms and frats and pulling out all the beer cans and bringing them to the recycling center.”

I found myself grinning. I could see Vinny trying something like that. “How’d that work out for you?” I asked Al.

He threw his gangly arms up in the air. “It worked out great, Ms. C! After a day of dumpster-diving, we pulled in enough cash to cover our laundry bills for the day and replace the pair of shoes I ruined, plus there was enough left over for us to split a pizza at Connie’s.”

This time the entire room broke into laughter. I noticed that Hakim had edged inside the door and was listening. It was the first time he’d joined any of the group activities at the shelter.

ChiChi stood up next, hands on his hips, and stared down Eli, who had tried to stand up at the same time. I tensed up a bit, worried that he would say something inappropriate. I hadn’t seen him since he’d stormed out of the shelter on Saturday, but I was glad that someone had gotten word to him about the vigil.

“I tried to fast with Malik during Ramadan,” ChiChi said. “I’m not religious, or anything, but he said it helped clear his head, and I told him I’d do it with him. I made it until two o’clock and got all woozy, like I was going to pass out. I figured he’d flip me shit over it, but Malik, he was totally cool. Just got me some juice to drink, and told me the same thing happened to him the first time he fasted. And he never judged me, not for that, not for nothing. So, you know … I miss him.” He sank down to the floor.

Eli stood back up and kicked Raul, who was sitting next to him. The two of them performed a rap about Malik and how he wanted to fly, so high, way up in the sky. It wasn’t exactly Shakespeare, but the boys all seemed to enjoy it. During the rap, I saw ChiChi pick up the pillow he’d been leaning on, pull it into his lap, and bury his face in it. I started to get up to look after him, but Miguel was already there, an arm around ChiChi’s shoulders, saying something just for his ears.

Sam stood up next. “What about Simon?” he asked. “We’ve heard stories about everybody else. Did anybody know Simon?”

Thirty seconds went by. I counted them off, hoping one of the boys would stand up. I wasn’t surprised, though, that none of them did, so I got to my feet. Sam smiled sweetly at me and settled back down on the couch with Dean.

I cleared my throat. “Simon had been in foster care. A lot of different homes, a lot of different schools. He never really learned how to make friends, and I think by the time he came here, he’d given up even trying.” I ran through my memory, looking for something more. Simon deserved more than that as an epitaph. “I remember he once asked me for some day-old bread, to feed the birds at Calumet Park. Oh! And I know he liked to draw. He didn’t show his pictures to anyone, but he was always drawing in his sketchbook. Sitting, standing, laying on the floor, leaning out a window – he’d draw in any position, to get a different angle on something that caught his eye.”

“Do you have his sketchbook?” Dean asked, suddenly intense. Sam elbowed him. “I mean, it’d be perfect, for the, uh, the memory table.”

I shook my head. “No, he always carried it with him, everywhere he went.”

Dean shook his head grimly, cursing under his breath. This family tradition must really mean a lot to him. And it was making a difference. I could feel the boys coming together, grieving our lost and celebrating their lives. Father Jacobs and I had been too caught up in our own worries to see how much the boys needed this. The party carried on until half past eleven, when I announced that it was time to clean up and get to bed.

The table was getting full – I saw Sam’s notes, some drawings, and a few poems. Father Jacobs had found some crayons for Carlos, and Eli had contributed a dry pasta shell for Vinny, explaining that it stood for his favorite of all Father Jacobs’ suppers.

The next morning, after breakfast, I caught Miguel sneaking past my office, every step proclaiming his guilt. I followed him down the hall to the common room, where he tipped a pile of little white votive candles out of his shirt out onto the ‘memory table’. I hoped he’d stolen them from a store, or the rectory, and not the actual church. Miguel was devout. Still, that’s the advantage of being Catholic – forgiveness is just a confession away.

“Hey,” I called softly from the door.

Miguel flinched and looked at me, shoulders hunched and head hanging down.

“Can I light one?” I asked him.

“You – sure, Ms. C,” he said. He pulled a lighter out of his pocket.

I walked across the room, plucked the lighter from his hand, and lit a candle. I placed it in front of the card with Simon’s name. The poor boy had no one else to remember him. Miguel lit a candle for Carlos. At least he felt like there was something he could do, and that might make all the difference.

Both of us looked up when Hakim plodded into the room. He was over his withdrawal symptoms, but still looked ill; pasty-skinned with messy, uncombed hair. He edged past us to place a little plastic toy airplane, the kind you might find in a kid’s meal, on the table for Malik.

“That’s kind of you,” I murmured. “Especially since you never got a chance to meet Malik.”

“I like planes, too,” he whispered.

“Want to light a candle for him?” Miguel offered, holding out the lighter.

Hakim took it, and a shy little smile blossomed on his face.



Chapter 6 – Thursday evening


The next night’s AA meeting was quieter than usual. I attend the shelter’s meeting every Monday and Thursday evening. After the last time I fell off the wagon, I’d asked Father for several evenings off during the week so that I could attend meetings at the community center. Father Jacobs gently suggested, since so many of the boys were struggling with addiction, that I could start a meeting on the premises instead.

It’s not easy. I’m supposed to be a role-model to these boys, and dragging my dirty laundry out twice a week, admitting that I’m an alcoholic, that I still want to drink, that I can’t even go out on a date and have a glass of wine with dinner … it’s hard. Talking about the way I went off the rails after Liam died is even harder. But Father Jacobs says that showing the boys that I’m a real human being, who has been through the same troubles they have, is the best thing I could do for them.

And I need it, too. The accountability to my boys. I could go to other meetings. I go to extra ones sometimes, when things are rough. But the night Dupree died, it didn’t matter what my sponsor said. The only thing that kept me from pouring that vodka down my throat instead of down the kitchen sink was knowing that I’d have to reset the counter. That I’d have to walk into that meeting on Tuesday and, instead of being sober for two years, it’d be only two days. I didn’t want to let them down that way. Or myself, for that matter. But sometimes myself just wasn’t enough.

I’ve always had been at my best when looking after someone else in crisis. This job gave me an all-you-can-eat buffet of other people’s problems.

I ended the AA meeting early. Carlos had been an active member; his gentle humor had made every meeting a bit brighter. His absence was hanging heavy over us the night after the party. Miguel’s silence was thoughtful, for once, rather than hostile. It still left a hole that ChiChi’s sarcasm, Hakim’s tearful confessions, and my own platitudes couldn’t plaster over.

When I reached the common room, Dean was at the center of a lively crowd. He was telling a story that, judging by the explicit hand gestures, I didn’t want to hear. Sam was …

Sam wasn’t there.

I checked again. Dean’s story seemed to have all the residents enthralled. They covered every piece of furniture and half the floor. But no Sam. For the five days I’d known them, those two had been joined at the hip – they even used the restroom together.

Maybe Sam wasn’t feeling well? No, if that were the case, his big brother would certainly be looking after him, not making a spectacle of himself in the common room. I suddenly recalled Liam yelling at a cashier about a dented can at the front of a store, distracting all eyes, while I stuffed cans of tuna under my coat in the back.

Those little bastards. And after last night, with the memory table sitting right there … I left the common room and walked down the hallway to my office, quick and quiet. The door was closed, but not locked. I always locked my office door. I opened it and found Sam kneeling down in front of the shelter’s safe, slowly turning the lock while his fingertips rested on the safe door next to the mechanism.



“I don’t approve of theft,” I said coldly, standing firm in the doorway so he couldn’t get away.

Sam stood up, dusting off his knees. “You probably won’t believe this, but neither do I.”

I pointed to one of the chairs in front of my desk. He collapsed into it with a rueful sigh.

I closed the door and sat down next to him. The knees of Sam’s jeans had been carefully patched with denim from another pair of jeans. He picked at the tiny, even stitches. I wondered who had mended them for him.

“Your brother put you up to this?” I asked.

“No,” he said quietly. “It was my idea.”

“Mmmm-hmmm,” I said, not bothering to keep the disbelief out of my voice.

Sam glared at me. “It was!”

I gave him a look.

Sam glared back at me. “I am so sick of everybody assuming Dean’s some kind of juvenile delinquent!”

“Well then, maybe you should tell him to stop acting like one. But I’ll be sure to pass your character reference along to the police,” I said tightly.

Sam froze, eyes searching my face.

“Unless you have some reason why I shouldn’t call them?” I was actually hoping he would come up with one. With no parents to look after him, the cops would stick Sam in the Temporary Juvenile Detention Center until his trial. I’d heard plenty of stories about the place from my boys; none of them good.

“We’re just trying to help.” Sam said quickly.

“Help?” I said, my voice breaking incredulously. Did I look like that much of a soft-touch?

“Yeah, help. A couple of the guys who disappeared – their stuff is in there, right?”

I nodded. The boys here had no safe place for their valuables; sometimes they asked me to hold onto things for them.

“Well, could you open it up, show me what they left with you?”

“And why, exactly, would I do that?”

“Because,” Sam said, “they’re dead. And I think maybe you know that.”

A dozen other possibilities sprang to mind, but I didn’t believe any of them. Last night they had called it a memory table – but I’d lit a candle at a shrine in their memory, same as Ma did every Sunday for Liam.

“And if there is any chance,” Sam continued, “any chance at all that showing me the stuff in that safe might make it not happen again, you have got to do it.”

Sam looked up at me, practically vibrating with sincerity. I wanted to trust him. And it’s not as if Sam could knock me over and make off with the contents of the safe even if I did open it – I had fifty pounds on the kid.

“Fine,” I said, getting up to lock the office door. Then I knelt down in front of the safe and spun the lock, careful to block Sam’s view. The combination was Liam’s birthday. “Could you really have cracked this safe?” I asked Sam.

Sam shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe? I read a book about it once, but it’s not as easy as I thought.”

I snorted, opened the safe door, and sorted carefully through the contents. Sam joined me on the floor. I pulled out a manila envelope with Carlos’s name printed on the front and handed it to him.

He took it carefully from my hands and opened the envelope. Sam hmmed quietly, pulled out the thin stack of bills inside and counted them.

“Seventy-two dollars,” he concluded.

“Carlos was saving up for bus fare so that he and Miguel could go live with his auntie in Miami,” I told him.

Sam nodded, returned the money to the envelope, and handed it back to me. I put it back into the safe and took out an envelope with Vinny’s name on the front. This one was chunkier, with a solid object in the bottom.

Sam opened it up and reached inside, pulling out an old-fashioned gold pocket watch. It was silent, the hands still.

“It was his grandfather’s,” I said quietly. “He was afraid that if people knew he had such a fancy watch, they’d beat him up and take it, so he asked me to hold on to it for him.

Sam turned the watch over, examining the worn inscription on the back. Then he glanced at the clock in the room, set the time on the watch, and wound it up. The soft tick of the watch filled the room; it muffled when he reverently slid the watch back into the envelope.

I reached out to take it from him. Sam didn’t let go. I looked at him.

“They wouldn’t leave this stuff behind,” Sam said.

“I know,” I said hoarsely through a throat sore with feelings I couldn’t deal with right now. I jerked the envelope away from Sam, put it back in the safe where it belonged and slammed the safe’s door closed.

“Nothing else?” he asked, as if hoping I could produce something out of thin air.

I shook my head no.

“Oh,” he said quietly. He slumped, bony shoulders pulling forward. Sam was wearing a thin, sweat-stained grey t-shirt. Warm enough for a summer day, but it could get cold in here at night.

I stood up, sniffing hard, and sorted through the spare clothes bin in the closet. “Here,” I said, once I found a worn Chicago Bulls hoodie. I held it out to Sam. He shook his head, embarrassed, just the way Liam had been when Mrs. Lancaster tried to give him the good warm coat her son had out-grown. The boys born with a silver spoon in their mouths would take what they needed without a moment’s hesitation. It’s the ones who grew-up hungry that are too proud for charity.

“Oh, just take it,” I told Sam, exasperated. “Simon was a little fella,” I told him. In my mind’s eye I saw the way he had huddled deep into the hoodie, as if trying to disappear altogether. “It’s too small to fit any of the other boys.”

Sam snatched the hoodie out of my out-stretched hands. “This was Simon’s?” he asked eagerly. He checked inside the hood. “He had black hair?”

“That’s right,” I said, perplexed.

“Thanks, Ms. C!” Sam said, bouncing towards the door. He unlocked it and ran down the hallway.

I locked up quickly, and then followed him. By the time I reached the common room Sam was grinning up at Dean, who was smiling down at him proudly and ruffling Sam’s hair like his kid brother had just hit a homerun.

The two of them looked … they looked happy. I would need to have a conversation with Sam and his brother about respecting shelter property. But it could wait. When Aaron tapped me on the shoulder to ask if anything interesting had happened during the day shift, I decided not to mention Sam’s B&E attempt.


Chapter 7 – Friday morning


I walked past the door to the boys’ dorm at about half past ten the next morning and heard a boy’s voice, excited and a bit incoherent.

“- not bad for a first hunt, lil brother. Didja see the way it went up? Whoosh! Heh. Some day, I swear, I’m gonna get a flamethrower.”

“I was too slow,” Sam said, and I could hear the tears in his voice.

“Nah. Nah! You had it. Just need to practice a lil more with the Zippo, so you can light it faster. ”

I peered in through the door. Dean was stretched out on his bed, bare-chested, hands behind his head as if he were sunbathing. There was a hectic flush to his face and a long, curving cut stretching from his sternum to his left hip, still seeping blood. Sam murmured something in reply. He was kneeling next to his brother on the bed. He was sewing up Dean’s wound with what I suddenly recognized as the personal sewing kit from my desk, the one that I used for lost buttons, and … was that dental floss?



Dean caught sight of me as I stepped into the room. He reached for his shirt on the pillow next to him, winced, then lay still and leered up at me.

“See something you like, Ms. C?”

Sam didn’t even look up, intent on his first aid. The stitches across Dean’s stomach were just as tiny, just as neat, as the ones anchoring the patches on Sam’s jeans. I swallowed hard. There were tear-tracks on Sam’s face. His hands should have been shaking; they weren’t.

“What happened?” I demanded.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” Dean slurred proudly. I wondered if he was drunk, or if he had a mild concussion. The sweet, coppery scent of fresh blood hung in the air, stirring up memories.

Sam tied a precise knot and snipped at the floss with my sewing scissors. He pulled some gauze out of the first aid kit from the shelter kitchen, covered the wound, and taped it down. “Done,” he said softly.

Dean sat up carefully, using his arms rather than the muscles in his stomach.

“I have no idea what to say to you right now,” I told him shakily, trying to keep it together as Dean started rummaging through his duffle bag.

He pulled out a plaid button-up shirt and slowly shrugged into it. “A ‘thank you’ might be nice,” he muttered, buttoning up his shirt.

“Thank you?” I snapped at him, voice hoarse with anger. “I don’t know what kind of stupid, illegal shit you’re into. And I don’t have to know. This is your life! You need to stop, please,” I begged him.

Dean smirked, just like Liam. ‘Don’t be stupid, Maddy, we need the money. The big-time dealers won’t even notice me.’ This wasn’t working. Of course it wasn’t. Liam never gave a shit about himself. He was always looking out for everybody else.

“Stop before you drag Sam down with you,” I urged him. “Before you end up watching him bleed out in the middle of the fucking street.”

That hit home. I could see it, see it in the way Dean stepped towards me, jaw tight, hands clenched into fists. I stood my ground, daring him to make a move. If he hit me, I’d call the cops; get him into a holding cell. Get him safe.

Liam, propped up against a car, shirt wet with blood. ‘Don’t cry, Maddy,’ he said in a thick, wet voice. A rattling breath. ‘I’m fine.’ Another gasp for air. ‘It’ll be fine.’ He lied. Liam lied, and it wasn’t fine, nothing was ever fine ever again.

Dean stopped, face twisted up. He went to speak, stopped, and made a short, sharp gesture with his right hand, as if he were pushing something away. I felt a guilty lurch in my stomach, as if I had somehow disappointed him, instead of the other way around.

“Lady, you’ve got no freakin’ clue what you’re talking about,” Dean said tiredly, before turning his back and dismissing me completely. He checked his watch. “Dad’ll be outside to pick us up in ten,” he told Sam. “You do a final sweep while I check in with Father Jacobs.”

Sam nodded jerkily. Dean pulled his duffle onto his shoulder and shoved past me out the door.

Sam carefully re-packed the first aid supplies and my sewing kit.

“You know, thirteen year-old boys shouldn’t have to stitch up their brother’s wounds,” I tried.

“Somebody’s got to,” Sam mumbled without making eye contact. He efficiently stripped his brother’s bed, then his own. He folded the bed linens and checked under the beds before scooping up his duffle bag. I felt like I was on the shore, calling out to two ship-wrecked sailors clinging desperately to each other and swimming further out to sea.

I caught Sam’s sleeve as he brushed by me to get to the door. Last chance. “Sam. Just because your brother is going back to your father, doesn’t mean that you have to.”

He looked up at me with a truly wretched excuse for a smile, and answered, “Actually, Ms. C., that’s pretty much exactly what it means. Here, this is yours,” he said, offering me the GED prep book.

I shook my head. “Keep it. Make sure Dean takes the test for me, okay?” I asked Sam, voice cracking.

He nodded, tucked the bag in his duffle, and walked away.

We lost seven boys that summer. Sam and Dean were the last to go.

Comments

( 70 comments — Leave a comment )
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locknkey
Sep. 27th, 2011 03:17 pm (UTC)
I will return with a more in depth comment, but I am so excited for you, bb! This is a lovely story and you should be very proud of yourself! :)
keerawa
Sep. 28th, 2011 05:31 am (UTC)
Thank you SO much for all the help with this one, locknkey, I never could have done it without you!
killabeez
Sep. 27th, 2011 03:38 pm (UTC)
Ohhh, boys. That scene of Sam stitching Dean up! I'm so glad your artist decided to illustrate that.

You did such a good job of capturing their voices for this time period. Dean before he built up so much armor breaks my heart. And Sam, who had his already at thirteen, just as much.

(The day Show cast Colin Ford as young Sam was a fine, fine day, man. I love stories that capture him so completely like this.)
keerawa
Sep. 28th, 2011 05:36 am (UTC)
*joins your Colin Ford fanclub* Thank you so much! I absolutely had him in mind while writing this, and I'm glad it came through.

Dean letting Maddy in through his armor, just a bit, and getting hurt in return, kind of breaks my heart. I have a feeling that Sam never really let any outsider close enough to truly hurt him. He never needed to - Dean was right there for him, the whole time.

And that stitching illustration is just gorgeous, isn't it? It wasn't on the initial list of suggested scenes I sent to my artist, but in her first email back to me she immediately said, "And I'll do Sam stitching Dean up. I know it's not plot critical, but I want to draw it!"

Thanks for dropping by to read this one, Killa!
riyku
Sep. 27th, 2011 03:40 pm (UTC)
So very glad to see this posted, keerawa, and thanks so much for the nod. You've already heard plenty out of me about this story, but again, such a great read, a fanstastic outsider POV which really makes us feel like we're sharing some kind of secret with the boys.

Congrats!

keerawa
Sep. 28th, 2011 05:37 am (UTC)
I really appreciate your help on this one, riyku! *hugs*
gypsy_atavari
Sep. 27th, 2011 04:27 pm (UTC)
This was beautifully written and extremely moving. :-) Thanks soooo much for sharing! :-)
keerawa
Sep. 28th, 2011 05:39 am (UTC)
Thank you for letting me know you enjoyed it, gypsy_atavari!
katsheswims
Sep. 27th, 2011 05:18 pm (UTC)
This was great! So I guess Simon was the first to disappear? And then he died and became a ghost and for some reason decided to go after other boys at the home.

You did a very nice job seeing the boys from an outsider pov.

Keep up the good work!
keerawa
Sep. 28th, 2011 05:39 am (UTC)
No, Simon was the second boy to disappear. I know, it surprised me too! Thanks for the comment, katsheswims!
harrigan
Sep. 27th, 2011 06:36 pm (UTC)
I love a carefully constructed outsider POV! Thanks for sharing!
keerawa
Sep. 28th, 2011 05:39 am (UTC)
Thanks, harrigan, I appreciate the comment!
galwithglasses
Sep. 27th, 2011 07:32 pm (UTC)
Oh glory, that's a story that won't let go for a while. I loved the outsider pov. She had a story all her own. It was interesting to be in the position of knowing more than the narrator and having this whole other case fic going on in addition to the shelter story. Awesome piece of work.
keerawa
Sep. 28th, 2011 05:44 am (UTC)
Thank you, galwithglasses! It's always a bit of a risk, making an OC a major character. My alpha reader, locknkey, pointed out that I needed to let my readers get to know and love Maddy the way I did for 'Runaways' to work. I'm so pleased that you cared about her and her story.

Making sure that my readers had enough clues to figure out what was going on, while leaving Maddy in the dark, was a fun challenge for me in this fic.
mizface
Sep. 27th, 2011 07:46 pm (UTC)
This was just terrific, keerawa. Using an outsider's POV was brilliant, giving us a lot of interesting insights on how the boys are perceived. And it made me all thinky, realizing that some of it really really isn't that far off.

For me it was very different than reading an outsider POV when they're adults, where I tend to think, "Oh, you silly civilian, you just don't know what's really going on here." Yes, there was still some of that, especially in regards to the way they gathered information for the hunt, but the rest of the time... Maybe it's the mom in me, wanting to shield them and wishing they didn't have to live that hard life, go through everything that I know is coming. I was rooting for Maddy to get through to them, I guess.

I loved how they used just enough truth to get into the shelter, and that Sam pushed it, knew what to say. Loved how Dean talked Miguel down rather than fight him. Loved how Sam got caught at the safe because Maddy recognized the ploy from her own experience. Loved how Dean let her in just a tiny bit, listened to her and let her try to help, expecially when it came to getting guardianship of Sam. And the last bit between Maddy and Sam just broke my heart.

Just gorgeous and insightful and lovely.
keerawa
Sep. 28th, 2011 05:48 am (UTC)
I was rooting for Maddy to get through to them, I guess.
Oh, me too! Your feedback made me really happy, mizface. Because Maddy interprets the brothers' lives, and their relationship with each other, in light of her own experience with Liam. And ... she's not that far off, in many ways. Growing up to be a hunter isn't safe, or sane, or nice, or any of the things that a parent would want for their child. Dean letting her in, and his bitter lesson at the end about how you should never let a civilian in, hurt me, writing it. And the ending, when you see it through Maddy's eyes, is a fucking tragedy.

*hugs you tight*
legion11
Sep. 27th, 2011 08:05 pm (UTC)
This story was SOOOO good! I love outsiders POV and this story was great!
keerawa
Sep. 28th, 2011 05:49 am (UTC)
Thank you, legion11! I like them, too, and I really enjoyed getting to know Maddy.
rince1wind
Sep. 27th, 2011 11:42 pm (UTC)
Ah, this is fantastic. I wish you guys could publish it. The illos and the story fit together organically. Absolutely absorbing! And you got how Sam has that strange self-confidence and Dean pushes up the hitting on the social worker (?) right to the edge -- to where, even though she knows what he's doing, she responds (negatively, in this case). I love the narrator, that she has her own story that makes her do what she does as committedly as hunters do what they do. And I didn't even know that the boys' appearance at the shelter was planned until you clarified it in the story. Thanks, really great!
keerawa
Sep. 28th, 2011 05:58 am (UTC)
*points to her Livejournal* Look, we did publish it! ;-) THank you for the compliment. reapertownusa's artwork is perfect for the story, I agree.

Sam's smart as a whip, and he knows exactly how to work his way around adults. Dean's sexual coping mechanism for dealing with women in authority in this piece is ... well, it made ME pretty damn uncomfortable.

I'm really glad that came through, about Maddy. She's devoted her life to saving people, just like the Winchesters have. Dean sees that, and responds to it.

Oooh, please tell me, WHEN did you realize that the boys were at the shelter to work a case? One of my betas thought so right from the start, one realized it in the kitchen scene with Father Jacobs, and reapertownusa bought Sam's line about their drunken, abusive father right up until the memory table scene! How about you?
(no subject) - whithertits - Sep. 27th, 2011 11:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
keerawa
Sep. 28th, 2011 05:59 am (UTC)
Thanks, whithertits, I'm glad you liked it!
maypoles
Sep. 28th, 2011 02:19 am (UTC)
This was a fantastic read. <3 Great outsider POV, and characterizations.
keerawa
Sep. 28th, 2011 06:05 am (UTC)
Thank you, Maypoles! I really enjoyed getting to know Maddy, and seeing Sam and Dean through her eyes.
rince1wind
Sep. 28th, 2011 06:34 am (UTC)
I noticed something a little different from their earlier behaviour when Dean and Sam set up the Remembering Ceremony thing.I wasn't sure they were doing as part of a hunt with John, though, until the end. I thought they might have been at the shelter legitimately and had found a hunt there coincidentally.

(I also wanted to mention, about Dean flirting with Maddy, that I appreciated too the way you showed Dean being unpleasantly forward, not just cute or impertinent. He's really being an asshole there to her, and she treats him as he deserves. (I love Dean, but he can be a real jackass.)
keerawa
Sep. 28th, 2011 02:39 pm (UTC)
Thank you for letting me know how that reveal happened for you!

Dean can be - but we love him still.
monicawoe
Sep. 28th, 2011 05:32 pm (UTC)
Very sad and very believable. A very good read! Poor boys!
keerawa
Sep. 29th, 2011 02:12 am (UTC)
Thank you, monicawoe! The more you identify with the narrator, the sadder the story becomes, I think.
liliaeth
Sep. 28th, 2011 07:14 pm (UTC)
This was utterly amazing. I love stories like this, that show outsider's perspective on the Winchesters and how wrong and yet right at the same time that they can be.

I love how you developped your oc, and how she becomes a full fledged character, this was great.

Thank you so much for writing it.
keerawa
Sep. 29th, 2011 02:14 am (UTC)
Thank you, lilaeth! Maddy doesn't live in the same world that Sam and Dean do - but she still has some true insights into them and their lives.

locknkey encouraged me to really flesh out Maddy, and I think it made the story 10 times better.
jennytork
Sep. 28th, 2011 08:48 pm (UTC)
Oh. My. GOODNESS.

That is amazing.
keerawa
Sep. 29th, 2011 02:15 am (UTC)
*beams* Thank you, jennytork!
donutsweeper
Sep. 28th, 2011 09:41 pm (UTC)
oh wow, fascinating story and great outsider POV
keerawa
Sep. 29th, 2011 03:51 am (UTC)
Thank you for reading and letting me know that you enjoyed it, donutsweeper!
zara_zee
Sep. 29th, 2011 01:33 pm (UTC)
I loved this; it was all kinds of awesome.

You created a believable, sympathetic OC, and gave us bamf, capable teen!chesters. I loved seeing everything from Maddy's POV, I always enjoy seeing the way other people perceive the Winchesters, seeing them trying to add things up and just not quite getting there. It did come across that the boys were there from the word go to do a job, but with just enough held back at the very start to make you wonder a little...and a nice link in to canon - perhaps Dean did his GED because of your OC...?

Congrats on your first mini big bang! Definitely a success! :)
keerawa
Sep. 29th, 2011 02:48 pm (UTC)
I fell for Maddy in a big way while writing this, so I'm really happy that you found her believable and sympathetic. So you suspected from teh start that the boys were there for a case, but weren't sure? That's good to know.

Dean getting a GED doesn't make much sense to me without someone like Maddy who pushed him to go for it. I can't imagine John insisting that he get his GED, and why would Dean do it himself when he could whip out a forgery of any credential he might need?

Thank you for reading and commenting, zara!
mre_quecky
Sep. 30th, 2011 09:46 pm (UTC)
Oh, loved this story!
keerawa
Oct. 1st, 2011 02:24 am (UTC)
Thanks for letting me know!
withdiamonds
Oct. 3rd, 2011 12:21 am (UTC)
I love outsider POVs and this one is so, so good. I also love the boys at this age, and you've done a beautiful job with them. And Maddy was such an interesting character. Great story!
keerawa
Oct. 3rd, 2011 04:53 am (UTC)
Thank you, withdiamonds! I enjoyed writing Maddy, and I'm glad the boys felt true to you.
catsintheattic
Oct. 3rd, 2011 09:08 pm (UTC)
Runaways
I enjoyed your story a lot. The outside POV was great and worked well to hide that the boys were working a case - though I was suspicious very early on, when Dean's injuries included a dog bite, and then even more when he solved the situation with Miguel so smoothly. Both Dean and Sam were just a little too competent to be neglected children. And Father Jacobs gave it away, too. But I liked to know more than Maddy, seeing what she thought she was seeing and at the same time knowing that there was more going on.

The boy who died in the hospital, Dupree - he was the ghost, right? Violent death and all that ...
keerawa
Oct. 4th, 2011 03:29 am (UTC)
Re: Runaways
Thank you catsintheattic!

I had fun in this fic, leaving a trail of bread crumbs for my readers while leaving my narrator in the dark. Dean and Sam have very good reasons for avoiding Child Protective Services. The wounds you get from hunting defy explanation in a world without the supernatural. I actually asked my betas if the boys were TOO competent here, unrealistically so, but they both reassured my that it's perfectly in line with canon. And I'm glad you picked up on Father Jacobs being in the know!

Dupree as the vengeful spirit killing the lost boys is certainly plausible, and Maddy seems to think his death was what sent things spinning the wrong way. But since it's not in the text, I really can't say.
arliss
Oct. 4th, 2011 07:25 am (UTC)
I absolutely love this. I love the OCs as much as the boys, and the sneaky way they go about getting this hunt done right under everybody's nose. There's an awful lot between the lines--that takes some craft. Nicely done.
keerawa
Oct. 4th, 2011 02:46 pm (UTC)
Thank you arliss! Making things clear to the reader, even when the narrator didn't know or was flat-out wrong in her assumptions, was a fun challenge for this story.

Maddy is love, and in case it didn't come across in the text (I'm pretty sure it didn't) I slash Miguel and Carlos, big time. Poor Miguel. Dean treats him with all the respect you give the grieving. *hugs*
(no subject) - arliss - Oct. 4th, 2011 05:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
tifaching
Oct. 15th, 2011 09:37 pm (UTC)
Ohhhh, I'm so glad you finished this. Your outside POV was amazing and Maddy's heartbreak with Liam just made this story sing.

I loved the shelter boys and I loved our boys. You had them both down pat.

Beautiful and beautifully done, keerawa! Kudos!
keerawa
Oct. 16th, 2011 06:39 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much, Ti! Writing OCs is always a risk, in fanfiction, so I'm glad you felt for Maddy and the other boys at teh shelter. I was afraid that Maddy's having lost her big brother to violence was a little too After School Special, but it wasn't until I found that out about her that she really clicked for me as a character. (My writing process, it is a thing of Mystery and Wonder.)
(no subject) - tifaching - Oct. 16th, 2011 07:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
embroiderama
Oct. 17th, 2011 10:43 pm (UTC)
This is a really unique story, and I loved seeing the boys through the lens of your OC. I was so, so hoping that it was a hunt, that John hadn't really done that, so the ending was a relief. :)
keerawa
Oct. 18th, 2011 03:21 am (UTC)
Thank you, embroiderama! Maddy understands the boys through the lens of her own experience, and understands them quite well, in some ways. Sam flashes her just enough truth to make her see what she does about them, and maybe to worry the rest of us. Of course, I think that Sam is honestly, legitimately pissed at his Dad for putting Dean in a position to get hurt on hunts.
reading_is_in
Oct. 30th, 2011 08:29 am (UTC)
God, that was amazing. You're a fabulous writer. I twigged halfway through that S and D were there on a hunt, but I had a tear in my eye for the whole shelter situation...I've had experience of a facility with a lot of troubled teenagers and I loved the way you made it real without melodrama. looking forward to reading more of your stuff.
keerawa
Nov. 6th, 2011 07:08 am (UTC)
Thank you, reading_is_in! It's especially gratifying to hear that, as someone who has RL experience with a similar facility, this felt true to life. That means a lot to me!
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