Disclaimer: The characters in this story remain the property of Eric Kripke, Robert Singer and related production companies. The purpose of this story is purely for entertainment.
“This conversation ends, now,” John warned.
“John, I’m not asking you as a priest. I’m asking you as a friend, please…” Jim reached out; hand poised to offer comfort, a friendly touch and instantly regretted the move when he saw the way John’s shoulders stiffened. Body taut, skin pulled tight against unrestrained emotion. Anger tripping over into fury, raw and impenitent.
Another warning look, unapologetic. Neither man willing to deny or give voice to the unnameable truth that had slowly worked its way in between the cracks and fissures of family life.
But it was there, undeniable, a truth which mocked the silence, broken only by the creak--ever--so--slight. A door opening, hushed whispers amid heavy footfalls.
Pastor Jim turned his head, squinted against the flotilla of dust motes which drifted, unanchored in the unexpected burst of sunlight that crept up across the cold, concrete floor, seconds before the church door slammed shut. He watched as Sam approached the granite font, several feet away from where Dean lingered, still by the door as he unscrewed the cap from a silver hip flask before slowly stepping forward to stand beside Sam. Shoulders touching as he immersed the flask into the basin of Holy Water. Lips moving, words hushed but loud enough to cause Sam’s mouth to curve into a conspiratorial smile, cheeks stained blood red when he caught Pastor Jim’s stare and quickly looked away.
Dean watched as Sam fixed the lid tightly to his own flask, head bowed as he made his way quietly to the pew nearest the door, edged his tall frame in between the wooden benches and waited…
Dean glanced up seconds before following in Sam’s footsteps, wood creaking, revealing its age as Dean settled beside Sam, shoulder to shoulder. One arm stretched out behind Sam, fingers thrumming out a beat against the wood grain, only stopping when Sam leaned back into Dean’s touch.
Dean didn’t bow his head. Didn’t look down, refused to look away. He held Pastor Jim’s stare as one side of his mouth tilted, the barest hint of a smile as he settled, finally stilled. Shifting only once as his arm curled slightly, fingers ghosting along Sam’s jacket, before coming to rest out of sight of prying eyes.
Jim was the first to look away. Accepted as a hunter, trusted as a friend but when it came to family, Dean’s family, Jim knew he would always be an outsider. His thoughts, opinions rejected in favour of the only belief system Dean Winchester valued.
“They’re your boys John; you can’t possibly expect me to believe that you don’t know, can’t see…”
“You said it, Jim. They’re my boys. That makes them my business, not yours. Or anyone else’s,” John said. He came to his feet, turned his back to the altar and held out his hand, pulled Pastor Jim forward into a brief hug, seconds before slapping him on the back. “Thanks for the supplies, and the information. If there’s ever anything…”
“I’ll know how to reach you.” Jim returned the hug. Stepped back and watched as both John Winchester’s boys came to their feet in perfect unison and made their way toward the outer door, standing as always, shoulder to shoulder as they waited for their father. Sam never once looking their way as John made his way up the aisle, Dean glanced back only once, nodding his head in farewell as he followed his father and brother out of the church, leaving the door to swing shut behind them.
John jammed his keys into the truck’s ignition, glanced up into his rear-view mirror and waited until Sam climbed into the Impala beside Dean. Watched the familiar ease with which Dean slid his arm along the back of the passenger seat, behind Sam. The familiar shift of Sam’s shoulders as he eased back against the car seat--leaned in against Dean. The easy smile he cast in Dean’s direction as Dean gunned the engine and pulled out behind his father’s truck.
The feeling of pride which moments earlier had swelled in his chest at Jim’s words giving way to something else…
They’re your boys…
“My boys,” John repeated, glancing in the rear-view mirror once more, watching the sleek-black shape of the Impala cruise closer. Dean’s fingers once more thrumming a beat against the steering wheel, eyes forward, fixed on John’s truck, keeping speed. Turning left as John’s truck took the next turn, veering right at the intersection, speed increasing when a silver, 1992 Buick tried to cut in between. Dean’s frown as he steered the Impala closer, crowded in on John’s truck--Sam’s grin as Dean refused to give way, cutting off the driver of the Buick. Dean’s refusal to give an inch when it came to what he considered his territory as familiar to John as Dean’s arm casually draped across the back of Sam’s seat.
Once upon a time, John would have believed they were his boys, Dean at least. Dean had always been his. There beside John on every hunt, shoulder to shoulder with his father, gun cocked, arm steady, aim true.
His second in command.
Dean always had his father’s back.
Sam had everything else.
Vinyl creaked in protest as John gripped the steering wheel of the truck, almost missing the exit for the motel they’d checked into earlier, gravel crunched beneath the weight of the truck’s tyres. He switched off the engine, removed his keys from the ignition; the loud strains of Metallica coming to an abrupt stop behind him, followed by the slam of both the Impala’s passenger and driver door. Dean’s low rumbling voice interrupted by a bark of laughter from Sam.
John didn’t fool himself into believing that Sam was ever his. He belonged to Dean, had always belonged to Dean.
Duty ended where loyalty began.
John could always command the first but the other belonged to Sam. Along with everything else Dean was able to give. Both his heart and his soul, even Dean’s life should the situation call for it. Because Dean belonged to Sam and Sam, he was never John’s.
He was always Dean’s. Dean had a way of crowding in when something, someone tried to come between anyone or anything that Dean believed to be his.
John dropped the supplies he’d picked up from Pastor Jim on the bed nearest the door. Sam’s bag landed with a loud thud on the floor beside the only other bed in the room, closely followed by Dean’s.
“Get some rest boys, we’re heading out at first light,” John ordered. They’d been on the road for several days, stopping only for refuelling, bathroom breaks and supplies. They were all tired, cranky and in need of some sleep.
John eased himself down onto the mattress and tugged off his boots, muscles protesting as he reached behind him to pull his gun from the waistband of his jeans. Tossing it on the bed as he made for the bathroom, closing the door against the teasing excuse for bickering which he knew was about to follow. Turning on the shower as it began…
“You move over.”
“Jesus Dean, how much room do you need?”
“Yeah, well if you didn’t have such freakishly long legs…”
“If you weren’t all elbows…”
“If you didn’t insist on cuddling…”
“Me? You started it…”
“Ow. Fuck Dean that hurt.”
John stepped under the shower spray effectively cutting off any further noise from the other room. It had always been the same with his boys, the constant chatter, heated words that held no anger. Mirth bubbled beneath the surface, laughter hid among taunts never meant to sting. A game carried through from childhood, the need to see who would give in to the other first.
Usually it was Dean.
Had been Dean from the first night John had driven them away from Lawrence, lost in his own grief, unable to comfort a crying baby, desperate for his mother. Just grateful when the crying had eventually stopped. John hadn’t realised then, had thought Sam had simply cried himself to sleep until the next morning when he found Dean inside Sam’s crib, arms wrapped around his baby brother. Like he was trying to protect him from whatever was out there. Offer solace the only way a five year old knew how.
John had been too blinded by his own pain to see how quickly Dean had learned to comfort Sam, to see to his needs. How quickly Sam had come to rely on Dean. Falling asleep against his big brother’s shoulder as they made their way across another state line, stifling a yawn, face a mask of contentment as he shuffled in closer to the shelter of his brother’s embrace. Childish tantrums turned to hiccupping laughter as Dean played aeroplanes with Sammy’s spoon when he refused to eat his food. Shrieks of outrage becoming fits of giggles as Dean chased Sammy around one motel room after another when Sammy refused to take a bath. The pounding of tiny feet and the rough and tumble toward the bathroom just another game to them as Dean tickled Sam into submission and eventually the bathtub.
There was nothing Dean couldn’t protect Sam from, even the nightmares. John had tried but how do you tell a small child what they see in their dreams isn’t real?
How do convince a child nightmares aren’t true when you don’t believe it yourself?
John didn’t know how.
Dean had known.
Dean could always turn Sam’s tears to laughter. Climbing in bed beside his little brother, arms wrapped tight around Sammy, chest to back keeping him close. Words pitched low, hushed whispers which banished all trace of the wracking sobs, replaced them with muffled amusement which eventually evened into peaceful sleep.
John never knew what it was they whispered to each other in the night, only that it always ended in Sam’s laughter, vanquishing the fear more effectively than a Colt 45 ever could.
It wasn’t until Sam’s first day of school that John realised he’d been replaced in Sam’s life. Not until Sam had pulled himself up into the Impala, face plastered to the back window watching, waiting, clutching a crumpled piece of paper.
What you got there son?
Nothin’ huh? Sure looks like something…
Look daddy, there’s Dean…
Sammy bounced excitedly on the back seat of the car, waiting for Dean to reach them, smoothing out the creases on the paper still held tight between his paint-stained fingers. A small wave that gave way to a huge smile as Dean pulled open the door and climbed in beside Sam, ruffled his hair and smiled back.
Look Dean. Look what I did…
What’s that squirt? What did you do?
See? That’s me and that’s you. And that’s the closet monster running away after you kicked its ass.
John had swallowed past the temptation to caution Sam against his language the instant he’d glanced in the rear-view mirror and seen the look of pride on Sammy’s face as he’d handed over his first painting to his big brother.
Something he’d been doing ever since. Watching his boys become each other’s everything through the medium of a rear-view mirror.
It wasn’t even that he hadn’t tried. After that he’d made a point of always returning to his boys each night, no matter how hard the hunt. Only leaving them alone when absolutely necessary, with Pastor Jim even less. Listening to Jim’s complaints with a sympathetic ear when hearing how Sammy refused to sleep in his own bed. Fighting Sam’s howls of protest as he bathed him, never once giving in to the urge to shout for Dean when Sam kicked and screamed and refused to brush his teeth, arms folded, bottom lip trembling.
I want Dean to do it.
Ignoring the sullen looks and complaints that John’s bedtime stories were stupid and sometimes scary, refusing to settle down and go to sleep.
I want Dean…
It wasn’t even that he’d given in. But no matter how much he’d tried to persuade Sam, battled with Sam, come the morning he would always find him sound asleep, tucked in safe to Dean’s shoulder, Dean’s arm wrapped tight around his little brother.
John was never sure which was worse. Accepting that Sam needed Dean more than he needed his own father, or the poorly disguised looks of disapproval Dean would send his way as he forced Sam into his own bed. Dean climbing in beside Sam anyway, drying his tears, his back turned to John as he pulled Sam tight to his chest, whispering beneath his breath, words only Sam could hear.
Now the hands that reached for each other were calloused and as familiar holding a gun as each other. Voices deeper, words of comfort mingling with hushed groans, pillows no longer stained with tears but used to muffle the need each had for the other.
They were John Winchester’s boys. Given over to a world of fighting unspeakable evil, his sons, once brothers in childhood and now… brothers in arms. Weapons in a war that was unwanted as it was necessary. Some things just are and can never be any other no matter how much he may wish it.
Some things are just necessary.
John listened as he dried himself off, wrapping the damp towel around his waist. Stepping back into the other room after hearing nothing but unbroken silence, quiet enough to reassure himself that it was safe, that his boys were merely sleeping.
He grabbed a pair of shorts from his bag, shrugged them over his hips and reached for the rock salt, glancing across at his boys, pride returning tenfold. John couldn’t remember when Dean had stopped sleeping on his side, curled protectively around Sam. Although he seemed to recall it wasn’t long after John had stopped trying to force them apart, stopped insisting Sam sleep alone.
Now they slept as they always slept, Dean on his stomach, face turned toward Sam; one hand curled beneath his pillow, close to the knife John knew Dean always kept hidden there. The other arm draped across Sam’s shirtless stomach, as Sam lay on his back, sleeping soundly alongside his brother. Shoulders touching, Dean’s fingers splayed just beneath Sam’s navel, the tip of ring and baby finger disappearing beneath the waistband of Sam’s shorts.
John turned away as Dean grunted in his sleep, hand edging closer to the knife beneath his pillow as the other reached for the sheet. Pulling it up to cover Sam before settling again, hand sliding down beneath thin cotton to rest against Sam’s stomach once more.
John shook his head, a small smile tugging at his lips. Dean always had a way of crowding in when something, someone tried to come between or edged too close to what Dean believed to be his.
“Go back to sleep Dean,” John ordered. Double checking the locks and securing the door and windows with salt before slipping beneath the covers and turning out the light, fingers brushing lightly against the gun he kept beneath the covers.
Dean would keep Sam safe, protect him no matter what and John would protect them both.
Because when all said and done, no matter what he knew or others thought they knew…