The door to the motel room slammed open, making the two boys inside jump up from the couch, the oldest automatically reaching behind himself, going for the gun he'd started carrying at the small of his back.
The realization that the shadowy figure was their dad didn't do much to release the tension in the room.
The man was visibly vibrating with rage as he stalked towards his sons, limping slightly, favoring his left leg.
The oldest had stopped reaching for his gun, now he took a step forward, inching almost imperceptibly sideways as he did so, putting himself in front of his brother, squarely in the path of the oncoming thunderstorm.
"Dad? What's wrong?"
"Where is it?"
There it was, the famous John Winchester growl, designed to spike fear through the heart of every monster who ever preyed on a human – and of his sons too.
Dean glanced at Sam, but neither of the brothers found any clue in the other's eyes as to what their old man was talking about.
"Dammit. Where. Is. My. 586?"
As John leaned in closer, Dean's stomach sank.
He had no clue as to what exactly was going on, but it must have been a bad hunt for Dad to come home in this condition.
He wasn't sure, he'd ever seen the man this angry, and the sheer pressure of Dad's rage seemed to bring Dean's ability to think to a screeching halt.
"Your wha?" he asked, confused.
Behind him, Dean heard Sam's quick intake of breath. So did Dad. He unceremoniously shoved Dean out of the way and grabbed Sam's arm, yanking him closer.
"Did you take my Smith and Wesson, boy?"
Sam's face had gone pale, but his voice was firm: "No sir, it wasn't...
"I asked the two of you to ready my weapons while I got a couple of hours of shuteye. And on the hunt, when I needed my 586, it wasn't in the side-pocket. Where. It. Is. Supposed. To. Be."
He shook Sam by the arm for every word of that last sentence.
Dean looked as his little brother.
He could feel the waves of rage coming of his Dad, like the pressure in your ears before lightening strikes and he felt the waves of fear emanating from Sammy in response.
Dean shut his eyes for a moment, taking a deep, steadying breath.
Thunder was in the air, and lightening was about to strike.
It couldn't be stopped, but he might be able to redirect it.
He set his feet firmly, gathered the kind of desperate courage only a 17-year-old boy is capable of showing and put a hand on Dad's arm, feeling the muscles, solid as wood, strumming with tension.
"I'm sorry, Sir"
"You took my gun? After I gave you that 1911? I thought maybe Sam had been jealous of it and taken…"
"No sir," Sam piped up, pulling away quickly as his arm was finally released, "I didn't and not Dean either – it..."
Once again, he was interrupted:
"Dean, do you have it?"
"No sir, but I must have stowed it wrong, I'm sorry."
"Dammit Dean. That kind of mistake has consequences."
"But Dean…" Sam started up again, but stopped, when Dean shot him a "shut up glare."
"Yessir, I'm sorry."
"You cost me and Martin, boy. Cost us dearly in time and wounds. We almost didn't make it out, because I reached for a gun that wasn't where it was supposed to be."
"I'm so sorry, sir"
"Yes, well, sorry doesn't save lives or stitch up wounds, does it?"
"No sir. "
"You have anything to say for yourself, boy?"
"Dad, stop, listen… That gun wasn't…"
That was Sam again, tugging at his father's sleeve, only to be grabbed by an arm and firmly placed on the couch.
"Sam, sit, stay. You might learn a lesson here too. But unless you want a spanking right here and now, you better stop trying to interfere. This is between me and Dean. I promised Martin I'd take whichever one of you were responsible on a trip to the woodshed, and by golly, I will. So: sit!"
Turning back to Dean, John pointed at the rickety dinner table.
He did say anything, he didn't have to. Not with Dean. Ever obedient, Dean moved to the table, pushed down his jeans, and leaned over, folding his arms in front of him.
He heard the ominous jingle of the belt buckle and closed his eyes.
The first stroke always came as a surprise. For some reason, he never seemed to really remember how badly it hurt when leather danced over bare skin.
The thudding blow, like a punch where the tip landed, like fire where the line of the belt hit.
Dean was biting his lip, trying to stop the yelps of pain, focusing on the thought of Sammy sitting there watching this, when he heard his dad make a startled sound as a body suddenly landed next to him on the table.
Then his little brother's young voice, with a calmness that belied his age, said:
"If you are going to be hitting someone, you might as well hit me too…. Sir."
The "sir" was added as an obvious afterthought, delayed long enough that it was almost an insult.
Dean lifted his head to stare at Sam, who had apparently walked up, and simply bend down over the table next to him, offering himself up to a completely unfair, undeserved punishment.
"Sammy, don't," Dean whispered. "Get up. Get out of this."
"No. Dean. This is... It's messed up, don't you see that?"
The whispered conversation was broken off by the growl of John's deep voice:
"What the hell, Sam? What do you think you're doing?"
Sam twisted a little to look at his dad.
"It's as much my fault as Dean's so you might as well beat us both, now you are at it."
"The hell? Kid, are you saying, you both lied to me, and you took the gun?"
"No… I'm saying neither of us did…. SIR."
"Hey, watch the attitude!"
"Why should I?"
Sam stood up and turned to his dad.
He should have been looking ridiculous, pants around his ankles, eyes already red rimmed, but he didn't. For a glowing moment Dean and John got a glimpse of the man inside the boy, the man that would grow out of the lanky, coltish frame to save the world.
But neither observer really noticed, wrapped up in the situation as they were.
"You come staggering inhere half out of your mind, start throwing accusations around and don't listen to anything we say, so why should I "watch my attitude"?"
The sneering sarcasm of that last bit threw John over the edge.
He grabbed his son by the neck, turned him and pushed him down over the table with a controlled shove. He kept a firm hand Sam's lower back as he started to paint the boy's backside with the belt, determined to see if a red ass could make a tongue be more civil. He didn't get more than a few strokes in before Dean suddenly grabbed his arm, begging him to stop.
Finally having mostly gone from anger to confused annoyance, John simply ran with the situation, which seemed to spin uncontrollably past the point of no return, skipping merrily away from any chance of mercy and waving jauntily as it jumped into the dark abyss that always lurks so alluringly when you are desperate to keep some semblance of control over the scattered leaves of authority caught in an inexplicable whirlwind of conflicting emotions and reactions.
Grinding his teeth, John pushed Dean back over the table next to Sam and let the belt fly, moving from one son to the other with each stroke, swinging hard enough to redden the skin, but even in his anger and annoyance holding back, trying not to bruise, careful not to hit anything but his intended target. Later, that was the only thing he found in the whole mess that he could give himself a little credit for.
He kept the leather dancing at a steady rhythm, ignoring the gasps and grunts, the quivering legs struggling to keep still, the involuntary wriggling.
He resolutely closed his ears to his eldest quietly whispering:
"Please stop, dad, please stop."
and to his stubborn youngest, who refused to beg, but couldn't fully stop the half strangled sobs.
Then he suddenly saw his boys, for the first time since he walked through the door, he really saw them: two boys, so very few years away from being men, trembling in front of him, trying to hide the pain of each line of agony he caused them. But it was the hands. His eyes had caught sight of their hands. As the belting had begun, they had reached out to each other, and there they were; pressed shoulder to shoulder, each with one hand gripping the edge of the table, the other grasping his brother's hand. Those intertwined hands simply and without any warning broke John's heart. He dropped the belt on the floor and stalked out to his car to get a hold of himself.
He threw himself into the front seat, then he twisted out of his coat and turned to dump it in the back. As he did so, he caught a glimpse of a white plastic bag behind the passenger seat.
Squirming even further around he got hold of the bag and pulled it into his lap.
The realization hit him as he was opening the bag, and he knew exactly, what he was going to find.
The damn Smith and Wesson 586, covered in mud, which he himself had thrown into this bag for later cleaning after the last trip trying to find the monster that had gone on a killing spree. He'd been so tired when he got back, he'd completely forgotten about that.
Sam's remembered voice rang in his head:
"Dad, stop, listen… That gun wasn't..."
That was what the kid had been trying to say. The gun hadn't been in it's side-pocket, when he asked them to ready the weapons…
But … Why the hell had Dean… scratch that. He knew… he knew exactly why... Shit.
He leaned back, letting his head hit the headrest and closed his eyes.
Dammit. Dammit. Dammit.