By: Ridley C. James
Nineteen year-old Dean Winchester rolled his eyes heavenward, sighed loudly, and turned up the volume on the movie he was watching. He was sure the voices booming from the other room would have woken any other people attempting to sleep in the lodge, that was if there had been any other people in the lodge, because they were sure as hell keeping him awake. So, it wasn’t like he was going to be disturbing anyone.
John Winchester was a big man, with an even bigger voice and Dean‘s younger brother, Sam, despite his quiet, aloof, manner at times, could hang in there with the old man like a pro. Dean figured it must have been hard-wired genetically.
The latest shouting match had started off like the others usually did. Sam and their dad had begun talking about the present hunt over dinner. Then, Sam had once again offered up his opinion on the research he’d been doing. John, of course shot him down, then picked apart every theory Sam had come up with. This resulted in Sam pouting and then John pointing out that Sam was pouting, and then the yelling ensued from there. It was a typical day in the Winchester world.
Dean could almost time the precise moment when Sam would burst out of the room and slam the door. The loud bang at the end of the hall had him grinning to himself. “Right on cue, little brother.”
“He is fucking impossible!” Sam entered the room the two brothers had been sharing for the last several days, and practically threw himself down onto the bed opposite Dean. “He won’t listen to anything I try to tell him.”
Dean raised an eyebrow and looked at his brother. “You could try not yelling it. That might work.”
The look his fifteen year-old brother shot him was not an unfamiliar one. “Don’t start with me, Dean. I don’t need it.”
Dean turned back to the movie. What his brother needed was an attitude adjustment, but at the moment, Dean wasn’t in the mood to offer one up. “I take it Dad is still not buying the idea of the vengeful spirit banshee thing you’ve come up with.”
Sam sat up and glared at his brother. “Banshees have been known to seek revenge on a certain group of people, Dean. They can hunt a particular area because of the residue of tragedy that might have occurred there. When have you known a werewolf to limit it’s kills to only men or to stake out such a small territory?”
Dean turned the TV off and faced his brother. “Sam, I trust your research.” And he did. Sam was sharp. He’d been doing the ground work for their hunts since he was old enough to get a library card. “But Dad’s been doing this longer. He has good instincts. Just let him do this thing his way, Sammie.”
He couldn’t understand why Sam still didn’t get the fact that their father liked to be in charge, needed it, craved it. Apparently, it was a Marine thing, and something they were never going to change about the man, and besides he was their dad. “We can kill it, and then get out of this God-forsaken place.”
Sam raised an eyebrow. “What’s wrong with this place? I kind of like it here.” At least they were out in the wilderness with fresh air and there wasn’t not one sign of a run down motel or greasy truck stop.
Dean shook his head. Leave it to his brother to like Grizzly Adam’s Inn. “For one, I’m tired of pork skins and beef jerky for dinner. For another, I’m tired of pork skins and beef jerky for breakfast.” Dean waved his hand around the room. “And finally, I really don’t like sleeping with all of Jack Hannah’s pals staring at me.”
Sam looked up at the stuffed and mounted animals adorning the walls around them. His brother did have a point. “This is a hunting lodge, Dean.”
“Well, this hunter, for one, is not feeling it.”
“That’s because we hunt out of necessity, not for pleasure or sport.”
Dean shot his brother an amused glance. “You sounded just like this guy I know. Yeah, John Winchester.”
Sam picked up the pillow from his bed and launched it at his brother. Dean barely ducked in time and before his kid brother could react, he found himself tackled and pinned by his amazingly quicker and stronger sibling. “You need to be working out more, Sammy, instead of reading all those books.”
“It’s Sam, and at least I know how to read.” Sam grunted, expertly flipping his brother off him and off the other side of the bed.
Dean landed hard on the rough wooden floor and grimaced as his foot collided with the nightstand, causing the contents of said nightstand to scatter across the floor. This included a lamp which didn’t fair too well from the fall.
“What the hell is going on in here?” John Winchester burst into the room at the sound of the crash, much like the way his youngest son had done moments earlier.
Dean looked up at his father from beside the bed, and tried to hide his amusement at the situation. “Sorry, Dad, I must have fallen asleep and fell out of bed.” Okay, that would have been lame, even if Sam had said it, but it was the first thing that popped into his mind.
Sam was still sitting on the bed, with a mixture of fear and surprise playing across his young face. Their father had never been a physically violent man, but his mere presence could be enough to strike terror in the faint of heart, especially if he was pissed.
“Right,” John looked skeptically at his oldest, who was gingerly pulling himself up from the floor, rubbing his right shoulder. He didn‘t miss the fact that Dean strategically placed himself in front of his younger brother. “You haven’t fallen out of bed since you were like two.”
“Must be the lumpy mattresses.” Dean shrugged, sitting back onto the bed beside Sam.
John continued to glare, but when neither one of them offered up another explanation he pointed at Sam. “I expect you two to clean up this mess, and then one of you will pay Mr. Hayes back for the lamp before we leave. Got it?”
Dean nodded. “Got it.”
“Now if it’s safe to leave you two idiots alone for a while, I need to run into town to lay my hands on some more silver, incase we need it tonight.” John couldn’t quite wrap his mind around the fact that his nearly grown sons could sometimes still act like five year-olds. At times, it was amusing, and then there were moments, like the present one, when he questioned his decision to ‘spare the rod’.
“It’ll be dark soon.” Sam stood. “Will you be back in time?”
“We still have a few hours of daylight left. I’ll be back before nightfall.”
“Then I want to come with you.” John looked surprised. “Why?” Hadn’t Sam just a few minutes earlier declared him the most intolerable, obstinate person to walk the planet.
“Because I have some more research to do at the library. There’s one more thing I want to check out.”
John sighed. The boy was worse than a dog with a bone. “Sam, you’re not going to find one damn thing about Werewolves on that microfiche.”
“But I might find something else about what happened here before the men started disappearing.” Sam knew there was a missing piece to the puzzle, whether his father wanted to admit it or not.
“You mean you’re going to go waste your time.” John rubbed at his tired eyes. “I‘m telling you, son, for the last time, this is not a poltergeist or banshee. There‘s no signs of a haunting here.”
“Yeah, well I hate to break it to you, Dad, but we haven’t found one thing that would lead us to believe that there’s a werewolf lurking about either. It hasn‘t stopped you from melting silver down left and right.”
If someone would have told him three years earlier that his sweet, kind, beautiful son would turn into such a smart mouthed, pain in the ass, adolescent, John Winchester would have laughed at them. Or shot them. Maybe both. But here he was, in all his glory, and John was suddenly hit with the now familiar pain of longing for the days when soft spoken Sammy was dissuaded by a cross look. “I think you should stay here and help your brother.”
“I got it covered on this end.”
Of course you do. He should have expected that. John had felt outnumbered for a very long time. “Are you sure you won’t fall asleep and accidentally shoot yourself or something while we’re gone, Ace?”
Dean grinned. “I think I’m safe.”
Sam shot his brother an appreciative glance and grabbed his backpack from the floor. Dean always came through for him. “I’ll meet you downstairs, John.”
John watched him go and then turned a heated gaze on Dean. “He’s not five anymore, Dean.”
Dean looked down at the floor for a moment, before crossing his arms over his chest and meeting his father’s challenging stare. “He’s not forty either.”
“You got a problem with how I handle your brother?” John knew the answer to the question before he asked it. He and Dean had done this dance before and he also knew it wasn’t Dean he was really angry at. Unfortunately, he was a perfect target.
“I just think you could cut him slack sometimes. He’s put a lot of work into this hunt.”
“I know that, but I’m still in charge of this hunt. Of all hunts. Is that clear?” John had to be in charge, it was the only way he was sure he could keep what was left of his family safe.
An unguarded moment registered a look of hurt in his son’s hazel eyes, and a familiar stab of guilt tore through John‘s heart. “Sorry, I kind of thought this whole hunting evil thing was a team effort.”
But the horse had already left the gate. “Every team has a Captain, Dean, on this one, that would be me.”
Dean shook his head, and stood up, stepping closer to his father. The man could be a cold bastard when he wanted to be. “Just stop treating Sam like shit, Dad. Mom wouldn’t have liked it.” I don’t like it.
It took all he had not to slap the condescending look off his son’s face. How dare he talk to him about what Mary would or wouldn’t have liked. He could feel himself inching ever so closer to that edge, the one his own old man had fallen from time and time again. “I’ll take care of your brother how I see fit. He’s my responsibility. I’m his father, Dean.”
“When it suits you.” It was out of his mouth before he could stop it, and the stinging backhand that followed was honestly more shocking than painful. But Damn. The truth did hurt.
He looked up at his father, his hand coming up to wipe at a small trickle of blood that had blossomed on his bottom lip. The look on the man’s face would have been almost comical, if not so full of pain.
John was looking at his hand as if it weren’t actually connected to his own body. Maybe that was it. Hey, spirits had been known to control a person’s actions.
Dark eyes raised to meet Dean’s still half-stunned gaze. “Dean…I’m…”
“What are you doing?” Neither of them had heard Sam come back into the room, but he quickly made his presence known as he shoved his way between them and stepped toe to toe with their dad. “What the hell did you do?”
“Sam.” Dean grabbed the back of his brother’s shirt and pulled him away from John. He was certain their father wouldn’t hit Sam, but then, he’d never hit Dean either, except for a few spankings when he’d honestly really deserved it. “Drop it.”
Sam looked at his brother as if he were just seeing him, or a part of him, for the first time. “What are you talking about? He hit you.”
“Go to the truck, Sam.” John raised his voice, angry at himself for losing control. “Now!”
His youngest son was looking at his brother with such concern that he almost felt sick. What am I doing? When Sam turned his gaze on him all that quickly disappeared and was replaced with anger and loathing. “I hate you.”
Sam didn’t give his father time to reply as he picked up the book he’d come back for, and stalked out of the room.
“He didn’t mean that.” Dean watched his brother go, wanting to go after him, but knowing that he wouldn’t. He wasn’t sure if the desire was born more from the need to comfort Sam, or seek that comfort for himself, but now wasn’t a good time to deal with Sam’s emotions, when his were so close to the surface. He couldn’t exactly hold both of them together, now could he?
John shook his head and raked a hand through his dark hair. He could feel the coldness of his wedding band on his finger as it slid through the thick tangled waves. Why did Dean have to have eyes so much like Mary’s. “I think maybe he did.”
Dean let his tongue slide over the small cut on his lip. “Nah, I’m the one who has the lack of love right now, Dad. Trust me. Sam’s just on a hormone rage.”
The oldest Winchester laughed, despite himself. Dean could find the strangest, most inappropriate and perfect times to make a joke. God, he loved him for that. “You might want to work on that bob and weave thing I taught you when you were about six. Your reflexes are getting slow.”
Dean smiled, the pain of the motion sending little spikes into his heart. “Yeah, I’ll get Sam to give me some pointers.”
“Dean…” John lifted his hand to rest it on his son’s shoulder but then faltered when he caught the involuntary flinch.
“It’s okay, Dad.” Dean swallowed hard. “You better get going before Sam hotwires the truck and decides to take it on a joyride. You know how teenagers are these days.”
“Yeah,” John looked at him for a moment longer, memorizing every detail. He wanted it frozen in his mind, a snapshot he could berate himself with later. He filed it with all the other ones he had collected, Mary’s burning corpse being on the top of that stack.
“Take a picture, man. It’ll last longer.”
The words threatened to bring his dinner back up, and Dean‘s typical cocky-ass grin didn‘t help. John nodded and turned away from his son. He started for the door, but stopped suddenly and faced Dean again. “I didn’t forget that your birthday was yesterday, son. I promise we’ll celebrate it right, as soon as this hunt is done.”
“I’ll save a place in my busy social calendar.” Dean wouldn’t have remembered it was his own birthday if Sam hadn’t given him that stupid card and the necklace. He could feel the warmth of the silver pendant, that his brother had earnestly explained was for protection, beneath his shirt. “I wouldn’t mind having that car we talked about, you know, if you’re still looking for just the right gift.” He grinned. “Nothing says love like four wheels, Dad.”
“Right,” John shook his head. “Chevy Impala, 67, I believe. I’ll get right on it after I receive the substantial bounty on this werewolf we’re going to take down tonight.”
Dean could feel the familiar balance slowly start to return. “Hey, that’s why we went into hunting. The gigs pay out the ass.” If he could take the miserable look off his father’s face then things would be alright.
John grinned, his first real smile of the night. “And here I thought it was for the pleasure and sport of it.”
“Don’t let Sam here you say that. He’s gone all Wild Kingdom on us.”
“I’ll keep that in mind when he tries to sedate and tag me.” John shook his head and listened to the sound of Dean’s laughter as he closed the door behind him.
He leaned up against the wall and willed his heart to slow down. Okay, one son was squared away, although it had nothing to do with his parenting skills.
Lucky for him that Dean fought just as hard to keep his emotions under control, as his brother did to make his feelings known. That fact alone made him quite certain that the drive into town would unfortunately not be full of humorous quips and small talk.
“His birthday was yesterday.”
“Was that little display your idea of one to grow on?”
Okay, so dark humor couldn’t be ruled out. “Your brother and I had a disagreement, and we resolved it.”
Sam glared at the oldest Winchester out of the corner of his eye. Dean should have decked his ass. If it had been anyone else, his brother would have. So what if their dad had been special ops, Dean was the best fighter Sam had seen, and he had youth on his side. “A disagreement about the hunt?”
Of course not. Dean followed orders. There wasn‘t anything to disagree about. John was in charge. “Then what? Was he breathing too loud? Walking the wrong way? Maybe, he wasn’t falling at your feet correctly?”
John had a pounding ache blossoming behind his eyes. His blood pressure had to be out the roof, and the little vein on the side of head was throbbing like it use to when he and his old man would argue. How exactly could he put an end to this without beating Sam unconscious. “He was pissed about how I was treating you.” Guilt should suffice.
Sam looked at his father this time. Dean had sided with him, against his hero. Dean had gotten hurt trying to take up for him. Damn John Winchester. “You should have remembered his birthday.”
Okay, guilt worked both ways. “I know.” John reached out and turned the radio up, some hard rock, head banging song blaring out of the system. He and Sam needed Dean as a buffer, even if the music was only a reminder of him.
It must have worked because the youngest Winchester didn’t speak another word until they were parked in front of the drug store in Keller’s Bluff and Sam was out of the truck.
“Meet me back here in forty-five minutes. I’m going to the jewelers and then to see an old friend.”
Sam rolled his eyes. For such a prick, John Winchester had countless friends scattered through out the United States. It was a running joke between he and his brother that if they ever did arrive in a town with a population of one, then they’d be guaranteed that John would have known the guy. Probably even have saved his life too. “I’ll be at the library.”
“Forty-five minutes, Sammy.” John tapped his watch. “Don’t make me come looking for you.”
“Or what? You’re going to hit me?” Sam sneered. “No wait, that was Dean.”
John took a deep breath and tried to count to ten as he watched the alien form walk away. He really hadn’t remembered Dean being such a punk at Sam’s age, but then again, Sam was just a little more like his old man than his brother was.
Mary would have laughed her ass off at that ironic twist of fate. He could almost hear her sweet voice. “Your mother tried to warn me when I told her we wanted as many kids as possible. She said the more we had, the more likely that one of them would turn out to be just like you, Johnnie.”
John stuffed his hands in his jacket pockets and raised his eyes heavenward. “Laugh it up, baby. Mom was right on the money."