Author: Regala Electra
Spoilers: Reference to backstory revealed in S1 Shadows.
Summary: He bides his time watching his boys and wondering. Pre-Series Gen fic.
Word Count: 2,800
Author’s Note: An exploration of John, Dean, and Sam during the childhood and adolescence of the Winchester boys.
Cribs go the way of the dinosaur when John hits the road. He does get a baby car seat and it’s Dean who makes sure to sit right next to Sam while John drives. Dean doesn’t say much (if anything) but the few noises he does make are all for Sammy. Sometimes it feels like there’s nothing in the car but a dull ache, Mary clinging to them all. The only thing John can see when he thinks of Mary is a halo of fire, blood-soaked belly, and her gasping out words he still can’t figure out.
When he hits a sour patch of traffic, he looks at his boys in the rearview mirror, Dean’s head twisted awkwardly to rest on the plastic cushion of the car seat armrest. His eyes are half-closed and it’s clear he’s exhausted but he’s got too much of a determined streak in him and he refuses to fall asleep while Sam’s still awake, blabbering soft nonsense words.
“We’re stopping off,” John says flatly, too flatly and Dean’s eyes snap wide open, a cold flush of fear, like he’s done something wrong. John needs to reassure his boy, he knows that he should, but he doesn’t.
John piles pillows and blankets around the second bed in the dingy little motel room. Dean looks after Sammy, making sure he doesn’t fuss while he’s still stuck in the car seat. He brings in the few bags he can manage, nearly dragging them across the threadbare carpet, kicking up a smattering of dust. Dean stops moving them around before the dust rises too close to Sam.
Sam breaks out a half-hearted wail when John takes him out of the car seat but it’s Dean who’s there to put a hand on Sam’s chubby leg, calming him down. It’s not a question of where Dean’ll sleep when Sam’s secured in the middle of the impromptu crib of pillows and blankets. He clears enough of a space to settle in right alongside Sam. Dean hides a smile when Sam grabs at Dean’s fingers, burrowing his head under a blanket.
It takes a long time for John to fall asleep. Sleep hasn’t come easy to him since he saw Mary burn. Instead he bides his time watching his boys and wondering. He’s got his journal in hand but it’s no time to write, to flesh out his theories on this terrifying new world.
John keeps his eyes open longer than he should and he has to pay for an extra night’s stay when he sleeps past the checkout time.
It’s not that Dean’s a natural athlete and Sam’s the clumsy one. There’s no separation of talent, it’s only that from the start, Dean knows where these skills will be used and Sam continues to harbor this belief that this isn’t everything. He uses the word normal like it’s the very best thing in the world. That knowing how to catch something one-handed and out of the corner of his vision isn’t necessary just because he might have something thrown at him in the middle of dangerous hunt.
Sam’s shoddy dismantling of the guns has lead to several inventive punishments. John hates to admit it but he is sort of proud of the time that Sam had to detail the car until there wasn’t a speck of dust or dirt anywhere on the car, inside and out. Even though he suspects that Dean’s hands were involved in the final product, Sam had been annoyed enough that it was clear that Sam had undertaken a major part of the exhaustive work.
Today’s a good day because John’s uncovered a haunting close to where he and the boys currently reside so there’s no worry about spending more than three days (at the most) scoping out the place and getting rid of the ghost. It’ll give Sam and Dean a chance to finish out the rest of the school year. Just a few more weeks until summer and then they can make their way to Oregon where there’s been reports of an annual ritualistic pattern, likely some monster trying to break on through to the world and get itself a permanent body. John looks forward to sending that son of a bitch to hell.
His sons meanwhile are spending less time indoors and more time out at the nearby park. Dean’s good with checking in regularly and he makes sure to tail Sam when Sam’s in the mood to hang out with kids his own age and finds having an older brother looking after him to be “mortifying” in his words. Sam’s getting to be something of a hell cat when it comes to spending time with Dean and him. The boy actually paces as though he’s got any right to be impatient. It’s easier when he’s concentrating on his homework and studying, at least he’s got his mind engaged there.
Dean calls at 4:30 on the dot, letting John know Sam’s whereabouts. “He’s playing ball with some kids. It’s not a school team,” he adds hastily.
Good. John’s got no time to explain to Sam once again why joining sports team isn’t acceptable. They don’t have the luxury of ever being able to make regular practices and games. Hell, they can’t waste money on sporting equipment and uniforms when they need the money for hunts.
“You call me back before it gets dark, Dean,” John says. That’ll give Dean at least until eight o’clock, damn near four hours. Plenty of time for him to sneak off with that girl that Dean doesn’t think John knows about. Teenage boys, they think they can get away with anything so long as they make an effort to follow the ground rules.
John’s still amazed that Sam hasn’t gleaned that little nugget of wisdom, but then, he's still at that awkward age: twelve years old. In Sam's eyes, he's not a child because he's in that in-between time, so close to being a teenager he can taste it. He’s too stubborn by half, more like a damn mule than a boy half the time. Maybe some sense will knock into his head by next year and he’ll start acting more like Dean and less like Sam.
Too wired to catch some sleep and deciding that the pile of newspapers waiting on the battered kitchen table can be scoured through later, he heads off for the baseball field. There’s something nagging at him and he’s sure that it must’ve been something in Dean’s tone. It had been too casual. Those boys are up to something and maybe it’s not that girl that Dean’s been eyeing since they moved here.
He’s half-right. It’s not just about the girl, but she is there, sitting on the metal stands, her gaze firmly locked in on Dean. That’s not the surprise, once Dean got old enough to work a swagger, he’d gotten noticed and prides himself on the attention, but there’s something warmer in the girl’s eyes. It’s admiration and John wonders if it’s because Dean’s putting on a show while he and Sam play ball with a smattering of kids, most of them closer to Sam’s age.
Dean steps up to the plate and it’s a shock to John that Sam’s the one pitching. Sam, who always complains about John’s drill sergeant instructions about how to master the perfect fastball, slider, curveball and whatever else can be thrown during a ball game, legal and illegal, he’s the one up on the mound. His boy doesn’t even look nervous – hell, he’s wearing classic Winchester arrogance like a uniform. It’s easy to forget that he’s wearing torn jeans and a shirt that’s two spins in a washing machine away from falling apart.
It’s not quick at all but it feels so much quicker to John as he watches Dean strike out. Doesn’t make much sense because Dean’s been training with Sam for years, he should know his little brother’s signature moves a lot better. Only time he gets the bat to connect with the ball is a foul and a nasty one at that, it rattles the chain link fence hard as the ball skitters away.
But when Dean goes to sit by that pretty girl, he’s got a smile hidden under the shadow of his baseball cap.
“I’ll be damned,” John mutters under his breath. Before he leaves, he takes a look as Sam departing the field after he successfully strikes out the next batter. His smile is nearly blinding the sunlight.
Cellular phones are a godsend for the boys. John still relies on his walkie-talkies most times. There are still wide patches of country where a cell phone about as useful as a paper mache rock but communication with the boys has become much smoother now that he has a cell phone in hand.
Pay phones are slowly starting to disappear and it’s a little disconcerting. It’s worse than seeing the changeover of cars on the road from the big gas guzzlers to more gas friendly cars with rounded soft fiberglass bodies. The world’s changing and continuing to ignore the truth hiding in the dark and that part, oh, that’s not a surprise at all. Still, it leaves a bitter taste in John's mouth and he has no desire to drown it away in alcohol right now.
John can’t feel his wedding band until he specifically seeks it out, turning it round and round, wondering when the trail’s going to get hot again. It’s been too long between hunts and his ribs are almost healed. He's been restless to find something and these stretches of time mean that there's something out there right now cutting a bloody swath and he's not doing a damn thing to stop it.
Regardless of that, he’s got more important matters. His credit cards are on the verge of cancellation and it’s time to fill out new ones. Dean’s taken up the forgery a little too well but it’s another life where he would’ve had any pang of regret about that. This time, now, this is what they have to do to survive.
It’s hard work and John’s running out of new names and Dean’s only good for names of musicians. Sam once tried to convince John to use a couple of names but John had checked them out and found most of them were local historical figures. Someone traveling through the New York-New Jersey area using a credit card with a name like Gino Verrazzano is likely to be remembered.
John’s got to buy new phones for him and the boys and he’s ambling to get a credit card with a nine thousand limit for Dean. Change a few details and it’s not a problem for anyone to believe that Dean’s twenty-five years old (just like his fake license says). He might be twenty years old but if there’s anything a fake badge or license can do, it’s make a person believe the lie.
As they’re finishing off the forms, Dean’s phone, busted up from their last hunt, starts making its dying buzz noise. Dean flicks his eyes to John, unease in his expression before he flips the phone open, saying, “Yeah?”
“No, it’s not a problem, Sammy.” Dean listens for a minute before signing off. “Okay, make sure you’re home by six. ‘Bye.”
Dean shuts off the phone gingerly, mindful of the keypad that’s one hard look from completely falling apart. He dives back into his share of the paperwork, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.
Licking an envelope shut, John says, keeping it as conversational as possible, “Sam keeps on forgetting that your phone is the one that should be called in emergencies when we're split up until we get you a replacement.”
He lets those words sit between them. Dean’s good at a lot of things but the only time he sweats things out is when disappointment is lacing through words and actions.
Before Dean can say the excuses he’s got lined up to protect Sam, John continues, “I don’t want to hear it, Dean. You tell me what Sam’s really doing right now.”
“Rehearsal.” It comes out clipped and embarrassed. Dean scratches the side of his nose like that’ll hide the fact that Dean’s just revealed that he’s known about this for a long time.
“That ain’t everything.”
“He’s in this play. About a town.” Dean says it as if by saying it quickly, stumbling over the words in a hurry, maybe John won't notice. It's like how he'd say that Sam’s run off to join a circus. Which, given Sam’s temperament, could actually happen and would only happen to spite John.
“A play about this town? Stoddard?” John doesn’t know what the hell you could say about this town except that rent was dirt cheap and the local bars closed way too early.
“No, it’s called Our Town. I don’t know what it’s about.”
John studies Dean. Lets the heat of his glare get to Dean but good before he continues. “You’re gonna find out, aren’t you, son?”
“Yes, sir.” An automatic answer, but with Dean, it’s sincere.
“Dad,” Dean begins, a slight whine of that’s not cool creeping in, “I don’t think Sam would want me there.”
“And why’s that?” John knows the answer. Sam likes his own space, needs it the way plants need sunshine.
The argument dies in Dean’s throat. Swallowing, he says, “I’ll go.”
“Damn straight. On your way, you better drop these off at the mailbox outside of the local town limits.”
Dean’s Yessir is mumbled under his breath and he heads out.
Waiting until the Impala pulls out of the parking spot across the street, John calls up Sam. It rings a long time and right before it goes to voicemail, Sam picks up, all in a rush, saying, “Dad-I-told-Dean-I-had-to-study-I’m-at-s
John’s not positive that Sam broke that up beyond one long, long word, but he ignores it in favor of saying, “Dean lied for you. When you get home, we’re going to have a discussion about that.”
“Dad,” Sam says, because he’s so damn sure of himself, thinks he can take that kind of tone when it’s over this distance, just a phone line. “It’s...not even a major part. I’m doing good in all my classes. We don’t have any other stuff. Can’t I...”
“Make up stories about where you are? Dammit, Sam, you think this is how it works?”
“Whatever,” Sam hisses and the anger doesn’t help John at all. They both start arguing over the phone not even bothering to pause to hear the other side. It lasts so long that Dean eventually shows up at Sam’s school and gets on the phone, briefly, with John, promising he’ll take Sam home now.
“You better,” John says, turning off the phone before either Dean or Sam could interject.
The yelling starts up the moment Sam comes stomping through the door, tossing his backpack on the ground, despite house rules that any of the boys’ bags go in their room, no matter what. Sam’s voice has gotten deeper as he’s grown up and he’s almost as tall as John, but he’s still a boy and the argument eventually ends with a whimper. The play’s going to be performed in a week-and-a-half’s time and by then John can find himself a real hunt.
“Don’t expect me there,” John grumbles, sinking down into the couch and Sam continues to pace the miniscule kitchen, tearing into food like a man who hasn’t eaten in years.
“I didn’t,” he mumbles around a mouthful of crackers.
“Dad,” Dean says. “This shouldn’t–”
“You’re sticking here,” John says, feeling a stab of petty victory deep in his gut. He can’t stop this. “Keep an eye on Sam when I’m out.”
“I will,” Dean promises.
“Yeah, I might accidentally pour salt in my eyes or something,” Sam grouches, moving on to a dented can of pitted black olives.
“Sam,” Dean says warily and Sam beats off a hasty retreat, telling John he shouldn’t have lied.
They both look at John, waiting for him to make a final decision. Sam’s waiting, Sam’s actually patient, because he’s following Dean’s lead. Maybe he won’t be quite a terror after all, just needs a few more years to grow up.
“Don’t call Dean’s cell phone until we get new ones.” John scratches at his almost-beard, distractedly making a note that he’ll need to shave tonight. There’s grey coming in and he feels every last one of those old-man whiskers. “You know better than that. And when you need to check in, you damn well better call me.”
He doesn’t get a Yessir from Sam, only a head nod (and after Sam sneaks a quick glance at Dean’s reaction), but for now, he’ll take what he can get.