Willow got up and let Adam and Xander have the bed to themselves, sitting instead at the table and chairs in the room, flicking through a tourist pamphlet without much interest. She didn’t notice Sam until he sat down opposite her at the table.
“So, Xander tells us you’re scared of frogs,” he began. Willow smiled sheepishly.
“Yeah, please don’t tell me that you almost called me Frog or something like that?”
“Dean considered it but Xander and I talked him out of it. I threatened to tell you all about what he’s scared of.”
“Dean doesn’t strike me as the type to be scared of anything,” Willow smiled and leaned forward. Sam leaned forward too.
“Oh, you’ve never seen him near a plane. Dean’s petrified of flying,” he whispered. Willow bit her lip to stop herself from giggling.
“Flying? Really? Xander is scared of clowns. He won’t go anywhere near them.”
“Weird, I am too,” Sam admitted.
“You and Xander should get together, ‘Winchesters Against Clowns’ or something like that.” Willow smiled. Sam laughed.
“What are you two girls talking about?’ Dean asked from where he lay.
“Nothing,” Sam and Willow replied in unison. Dean and Xander exchanged looks.
“That was just a little creepy, you know that, right?” Xander told them.
“Yep,” Willow and Sam replied before turning their backs on the rest of the family and continuing their discussion.
“So, what else is there to know about Willow Rosenberg? Almost everything we know about you, we’ve learned from Dad or Xander, none from you. I know that this is kind of weird but I promise that you don’t need to go in depth,” Sam said. Willow smiled before looking over her shoulder where Dean, Adam and Xander were cheering, having found a channel showing some football game. Willow knew for a fact that Xander had little interest in football but he looked happy, so she said nothing.
“Do you want to head out for a bit?” Sam said as Dean turned up the volume on the TV. Willow nodded.
“Okay. Hey, Dean, Willow and I are going to get some fresh air for a bit,” Sam called.
“Look after her, stay close,” Dean replied. Sam rolled his eyes at Dean’s usual over-protectiveness before Sam and Willow slipped out of the room. Sam leaned against the front of the Impala and gestured that Willow should lean against the car beside him.
“So, what’s the first lesson of Willow Rosenberg 101?” he asked. Willow shrugged.
“I don’t know… I’m fifteen, I was born in LA, grew up in Sunnydale. I met Xander on the first day on kindergarten. I was crying because I broke my yellow crayon and he gave me his and the rest is, as they say, history,” Willow began. Sam was obviously fighting the urge to laugh at that little story.
“I wouldn’t tell Dean that,” he advised.
Willow nodded, “Thanks for the tip. Anyway, I went to Sunnydale elementary school with Xander and we met Jesse when we were in second grade. We were inseparable. The Three Musketeers. We weren’t the popular kids, we got picked on a lot, especially by the popular kids, but we were pretty happy. I spent most of my time with them, helping them get through school.”
“What about your parents? Dad said that Ira was an okay sort of guy, but that your mom wasn’t so nice.”
Willow flinched. “My mom values her career above most things in her life… me included. I was convenient and she valued that. It made her theories about children’s development more plausible if she talked about how the practices she used had made me more independent and a better student. My dad… well. He’s not like John. John is a strong kind of guy. My dad… Ira, well, he isn’t. He used to let mom walk all over him. He’s spent most of my life touring the world attending conferences and meetings. My mom is a world famous child psychologist, you see, and my dad is a rabbi, oh, that’s something I can tell you about me… I’m Jewish, well, but I’m not really practicing… I don’t do the whole kosher thing but at the same time Christmas is not a big deal for me. It never has been. Anyway, so my parents spend most of the time out of the country.”
“What happened to you when they were gone?” Sam frowned.
Willow sighed. “When I was little they stayed around more… one would stay home if the other was out of the country but by the time I was six, they were both gone for months on end and I had a live-in nanny staying with me. By the time I was eight, my mom decided that I was old enough and independent enough to look after myself, so they shortened their trips again, only a week or so at a time at first and when they were gone, I looked after myself. This last year I think they’ve been home for a total of about six weeks off and on over the entire year, so I kind of raised myself.”
Sam’s jaw was hanging open. He had thought that John had been an absent parent when he and Dean were growing up… but Willow had it much worse. Dean had told him that Willow’s parents had been absent for most of her life but he’d never realized it was so bad.
“I’m sorry, Willow. If dad had known, he would have done something… anything to get you out of there. No one should have to go through something like that.”
Willow shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll be eighteen in a few years… and then it won’t mean a thing. Please don’t tell John… If he does something, it’ll mean I’ll have to leave Sunnydale… and Xander and Buffy and my school and everything and I don’t want that,”
“Okay, okay, I won’t tell John, I promise. Can I tell Dean though? He and I are really close, like you and Xander are. I don’t want to keep something like this from him.”
Willow nodded. “But he’s not allowed to tell either.”
“Gotcha, so, tell me about your friends… is there any boyfriends that Dean and I need to talk to?”
Willow choked. “No, oh God no. I don’t talk to boys, well, except for Xander and you and the others and Jesse, well, not so much Jesse anymore, but, yes, no boys. I wasn’t allowed to have boys in my room after ten, it was my mom’s strictest rule. I was convinced the neighbors were spying on me when she was gone, so I never even tried it… except for that one time that Angel came over looking for that favor… never mind. So, yeah, no boyfriends,” Willow babbled. Sam nodded, satisfied that Willow was telling the truth. He hadn’t been joking about boyfriends. He pitied the first boy that Willow introduced to the family. Between John and Dean (and himself, if Sam was honest), whoever it was would be running in no time.
“Why do you say that you don’t talk to Jesse anymore?” Sam asked, changing the subject onto more even ground. Willow ducked her eyes.
“He died… about six months ago.”
So much for even ground, Sam though to himself as he mentally kicked himself in the arse. “I’m sorry, Willow. I didn’t know. What happened?”
“Well, he went missing one night from the local teen hangout… was last seen following a girl out. He was never seen again but I know that he’s gone. I can feel it,” Willow lied. It wasn’t all a lie… some of it was the truth but it wasn’t the whole truth.
“It must have been horrible,” Sam sympathized.
“It was. So, that’s it for Willow 101. What’s lesson one for Sam Winchester 101?” Willow asked. Sam chuckled, knowing that Willow would eventually turn the tables on him. She was obviously clever enough to tell him enough to make him feel satisfied that he’d achieved something but at the same time keeping enough to herself to make her feel secure. After asking her about her recently deceased friend, Sam decided that he owed Willow some facts about him.
“Um, my mom died in a house fire when I was six months old. Don’t mention that in front of Dad or Dean though, it’s a sensitive subject for them,” he told her. Willow nodded solemnly.
“I won’t mention it in front of them, I promise.”
“I pretty much grew up in the back of the impala. We traveled a lot when I was growing up, for dad’s work. He was away a bit… but not nearly as much as your parents and Dean was a bit like my surrogate dad, even though he’s only four years older than me. When I finished high school, I applied to lots of colleges because I wanted to experience a normal life. I got accepted at Stanford, full ride. Dad hit the roof. At the time, well, putting the family first meant staying together, no matter what, and Dad and I had been yelling at each other about that since I was about fifteen. In the end, he told me to leave and not come back, so I did. I went to Stanford and didn’t contact him or Dean for four years.” Sam faded off.
“Wow, Stanford…” Willow said, although her gut was churning. She’d always planned on attending a college, although she had no idea which one but if it meant not having contact with her family for the entirety of her college studies, she wasn’t so keen on the idea. Sam must have sensed what she was thinking because he quickly spoke again.
“Of course, it would be different for you guys,” he added. “I mean, you guys have all grown up away from us, so it’s different. He’d be really happy if any of you got into college. It was just the situation he was in with me at that point… I think that he was kind of scared that if I went off to college and left him and Dean, I’d get hurt and you know, after what happened with my mom and everything…” Sam shrugged. Willow nodded, relaxing.
“I’ve always planned on going to college but I have no idea which one though. I want to do something to do with computers. I’m good with computers… I’ve been writing programs and selling them online for the last year.”
“Impressive,” Sam grinned, genuinely pleased that his little sister had a talent like that. It was something that would always be useful; it wasn’t like the world was going to stop using computers at any point in the near future.
Willow shrugged. “It gives me something to do in my downtime when I’m not at school or hanging out with Xander and Buffy.”
Sam nodded understandingly and they fell into a comfortable silence, listening to the distant rumble of trucks on a not-so-distant highway and closer at hand, the chirping of crickets.
“How are you going with everything, you know… finding out about us and everything?” Sam asked. Willow shrugged, her distress from earlier that evening still fresh in her mind.
“I’d be lying if I told you that I was fine with it. I mean, everything’s happened so suddenly. This time last week I was Ira Rosenberg’s daughter and I was an only child… now I’m John Winchester’s daughter and I have four older half-brothers… one of whom is the guy that has been my best friend from when we were little and I’m on a road trip with them all.”
“Sounds like it was a stupid question when you put it like that,” Sam admitted sheepishly. Willow shook her head.
“But it wasn’t. You don’t know me… and I don’t know you and it’s different for you.”
“True,” Sam conceded, “but still, you know what I mean.”
“I just need some time to get used to everything… to get used to John and you and Dean and Adam.”
“I suppose going from an only child to the youngest of five would be a big jump to make.” Sam smiled.
Willow nodded. “It’s not just that,” she said, deciding at that moment that she trusted Sam. She saw herself in the taller man and realized that he was like her, quiet and not the most social of people.
“What is it?” Sam asked, concern seeping into his voice.
“I have no idea what my place is in this family. I mean, I know I’m the youngest and that I’m the only girl… but what does that mean? Xander and Adam have become friends really fast… which is great... Xander hasn’t had a good guy friend since Jesse but…”
“But you’ve been left behind,” Sam finished, understanding where Willow came from. She hadn’t spent nearly enough time with him and Dean to feel close to them and she was right, Adam and Xander had already become good friends. Given the recent death of Xander’s only male friend, Willow hadn’t wanted to get involved and had therefore been stuck on her own.
Willow blinked and turned away in shame as a tear rolled down her cheek, hoping that Sam hadn’t seen the moisture in her eyes. The gentle but at the same time large hand on her back dashed her hopes.
“It’s okay, Willow.” Sam said softly. Willow let out a soft sob. She was so weak. How on earth was she related to tough guys like Dean and Sam and John? She was a blubbering mess… a crybaby.
“Come here,” Sam said softly, wrapping his long arms around her shoulders comfortingly, pulling her a little closer to him. Something in Willow snapped and she wanted to be close to him… to feel what it felt like to be comforted by one of her big brothers when she was upset. She turned on the car hood and buried her face in Sam’s chest as he held her tight, rubbing her back gently. She missed the look of pride on Sam’s face as he tried comforting her, just like Dean had comforted him when he’d been small. This was what being a big brother was all about. It made the whole twisted situation real for him. He had three younger siblings that he had to watch over and look out for, just like Dean had done for him ever since Sam could remember.
He looked up when he heard the familiar rumble of his father’s truck as it turned into the motel and parked beside the Impala and Willow pulled away a little, her eyes red and her cheeks tear-stained. She sniffed.
“I got your shirt wet,” she said apologetically. Sam honestly hadn’t noticed the wetness of his shirt, so he just shrugged.
“Doesn’t matter,” he told her as John got out of the truck, eying them curiously, especially when he saw that Willow had been crying. She was still tucked up close to Sam and John’s second eldest still had his arms around his baby sister. Something had obviously happened, although John was glad that Willow and Sam had bonded a little
“You two okay?”
“Yes, we’re fine,” Sam told his father, but at the same time giving his father a significant look. John nodded.
“Right, well, when you two are ready, I’ve got food and don’t take too long. Knowing your brothers, there won’t be anything left.”
“Thanks,” Sam smiled. John nodded and headed into the room. Willow sniffed and began to use her sleeve to wipe her eyes and her face.
“He’s right. If Xander’s anything like the others, there will be no food left. Can you tell that I’ve been crying?”
Sam had a good look at Willow’s face. He couldn’t see anything that indicated that the teenager had been crying.
“You’re good,” he told her
“Thanks… for everything, Sam.” Willow smiled up at him
“Anytime, Willow.” Sam replied. They both got off the Impala and headed inside to the rest of their family. As Sam closed the door, he saw the inquiring look Dean shot in his direction but shook his head. Dean nodded and went back to getting his food ready. Sam smiled and approached the table. He felt like a big brother now. He might have technically been one since he was seven years old and he’d known that he was one for a few weeks, but now, for the first time, he felt like it.