A/N: Soul Slip Continues!
I'm now making this a WIP because I wanted to write more in this universe . This chapter carries pretty fast after last chapter's events so I decided to keep things inside this story for now 👍
Neither John nor Dean had ever watched an android for very long. They didn't know how they developed or learned, what helped or what didn't. So the next week having Sam by Dean's side all the time was unexpected. A completely new and confusing experience for them both, frustrating and exhilarating in equal measure. John, for his part, was both entertained and fascinated observing them.
This particular afternoon it was their first full day in Lubbock, Texas after driving nonstop yesterday. John was hunched over a tome on Aztec history in the main area of their newest motel when he heard Dean in the kitchen.
"Gosh, Sam! Please get out of my way!" quickly followed by the sight of Sam tripping out of the kitchenette. John smiled kindly, pity for Sam but also pleased to hear Dean using mild language. John's gaze fixed on an apron Sam was holding. Where had the kid - robot, he corrected himself - even found an apron?
"Dean giving you a hard time, Sammy?" John asked, amused by the android's pout. Sam had added so many facial expressions to his arsenal. Every day John was pretty sure he saw a new one. It was wondrous, really, the technology at work here. Magical, John had to admit. He joked to himself he might hunt it if he didn't know better.
"He said he wanted to put this apron on." Sam held it up. It was a cranberry red color, yellow frills at the edges thready and ripped from so many trips through the washer.
"I did not!" Dean stepped into view with a spatula.
"Yes you did!" Sam shot back with the same irritated tone. John raised an eyebrow. This wasn't the first time he'd seen such starkly obvious parallels between an artificial intelligence and a human child learning and mimicking. "I could even play it back!" and John had to bite his bottom lip from smiling.
It was only a couple days ago they'd discovered Sam kept records of everything he 'heard' going back twenty-four hours. It'd been a hilarious shock to them during an argument when they all heard Dean's voice coming out of Sam's mouth telling Sam that he could in fact look through Dean's Classics Illustrated Knights of the Roundtable.
"I'd never say I wanted that kinda apron though, Sam."
"You didn't specify." Sam's small voice lisped when words had too many sibilants and John, damn him, thought it was pretty cute. "This will protect you for when you cook."
"It's for girls though."
Sam examined the apron, bewildered. "How do you know?"
"It's frilly," Dean pointed out. Sam shrugged, fingered the edges.
"I like it."
Instead of taking note that Sam just said it liked something, Dean turned to his father in exasperation.
"Dad, he won't leave me alone. I'm in the kitchen," he whined. John didn't understand the importance of the kitchen but he didn't press it. He closed the Aztec history and his journal. He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.
"You gotta phrase your words perfectly, Dean. Otherwise he won't get it. He'll keep trying to put an apron on you if you said you wanted it."
"But I didn't," Dean insisted.
"Yes, you did!" Sam interrupted. John tilted his head to gauge Sam. The ramifications of letting the little android stay active all the time came out in these instances the most: Sam could interrupt a conversation between John and Dean. John didn't know exactly what to think about that. He suspected most android owners would find it an unforgivable step out of line, but John never liked doormats and somehow Sam was fitting himself - itself - nicely into his and Dean's dynamic.
Fitting itself in so well that John was pretty sure he was going to start letting his perception of Sam as a small boy pass without any mental objections soon. Pinocchio came to mind and he rolled his eyes over his thoughts before focusing back on the conversation.
Dean had been on a roll, his diatribe ending with, "Ugh! It's like we're Siamese twins!"
"It's conjoined twins," Sam corrected smugly.
John and Dean both stared at Sam. Dean let out an incoherent yell of frustration and spun on his heels back into the kitchenette. John shook his head, chuckling. He'd brew some more coffee and go back to work.
An hours' arduous work later, John took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He'd made a lot of progress. The most likely farm that was going to get hit by the chupacabra next was a half hour away. He wanted to set out early, meet the rancher and hopefully get his permission to find a solid stakeout sniping point on his land.
John got up and walked into the kitchen to talk about it with Dean. Sam had finagled his way back into Dean's good graces somehow, the apron out of sight, and now sat at the small table with him while he ate a sloppy joe.
"Hey Sammy, can you put your earmuffs on?" John asked as he walked into the kitchen. Sam nodded and happily placed his hands over his ears to signal he'd turned off his audio input processor like they'd practiced.
John hadn't fully examined his motivations to keep hunting a secret from the little robot. It didn't feel things, it wouldn't be burdened. After a week watching Sam follow Dean around asking questions, John thought maybe that was why he wanted it a secret: he didn't want Sam asking questions, offering help, or interrupting his plans. He needed to be focused. Sam wasn't conducive to that. Something along those lines, at any rate.
Dean wiped his mouth, moved his gaze from a blithe Sam to his rugged father, and looked up, open and relaxed.
"So I'll probably be out all night tonight. Chupacabras are elusive. I'll probably have to sit at the stakeout for hours, won't get back till dawn, hopefully earlier." John sighed, waiting for the thinly-veiled fear and anxiety to creep into Dean that always followed his assessments of his hunts.
No matter how he delivered a hunt's details to assuage his son's fears, it never really worked. But this time was different. This time, that desperate dread he always saw in his son didn't come. Instead, Dean sighed and nodded. The weight of his son's familiar lonely responsibility was there, but he wasn't scared***.
John tried to underplay his surprised delight. There was nothing more terrible than seeing his son afraid, especially when he knew the only thing Dean really feared was losing him. Dean wouldn't even blink, wouldn't even so much as hesitate to go on every hunt and face down every monster with his father. Leaving Dean behind always gutted Dean more than if John took him with.
The problem John had with Dean coming with him was how Dean could get literally gutted if he did. He was still much too young. But something had changed and Dean wasn't looking at John with those eyes that begged to be taken along or for John to stay. Now it was suddenly more acceptance - a heavy acceptance, but acceptance nonetheless.
"I know, Dad. You need anything? I know we can't come with but…"
John was already shaking his head. "No, kiddo. I got this. You and Sam gonna be okay on your own?"
Dean swallowed a bite and shrugged, nodded. "We'll be okay."
Sam's eyes were a little less dull but still cheerful. John had the unerring impression he knew what they were talking about and restraining himself from agreeing with Dean to reassure him. He cast another furtive look at Sam.
He had briefly contemplated bringing the bot along on hunts, if only as the equivalent of pack mule and strictly not to be placed in harm's way. He'd quickly dashed the idea though. He told himself it was because it was Dean's robot, not his, but underneath that rationale he knew it was because he wouldn't be able to handle the sight of such a small boy on a hunt carrying his things. The optics rankled. So he didn't overthink it and he never suggested it to either of them. Thank goodness too because this new resigned acceptance in Dean was a great development. However sad it was to admit, John couldn't help but appreciate Sam's presence for it.
John must have been staring at Sam fondly because Dean grinned and shared a conspiratorial look with Sam. Sam's eyes tracked between them, the smallest slip of a smile flickering through his expression as he dangled his feet (Dean had taught him to do that when he noticed how stiffly the small robot sat, told him it was fun and now Sam always did it). Androids couldn't disobey direct orders like shutting off their audio but John wondered again if Sam was following along some other way. Could the sneaky robot lip-read?
"This'll be the first time it'll just be you and me, Sammy. We're gonna have a sleepover!" Sam still had his hands on his ears but he perked up, eyes alight, and damn it, the kid had definitely been lip-reading.
"What do you do during sleepovers?" Sam asked excitedly, his volume higher than normal and John concluded the bot's audio input was still disabled, so at least there was that. John snapped at the robot to get his attention. When Sam looked up, John tapped his ear.
"You can listen again, Sammy," John sighed.
"Okay, Dad," Sam replied.
John ruffled a hand through Sam's biosynthetic hair. Dean had decided Sam should call his father "Dad" instead of "John" after a couple days having him. At first John wasn't sure about it but it didn't take too long to get used to it and now he was edging dangerously into 'liking it' territory.
As Dean proceeded to tell Sam what sleepovers entailed, it occurred to John with a pang of regret that his son had only ever been to maybe one or two. He had the right idea though, as far as John could tell. Dean mentioned popcorn, pizza, soda. Even though Sam didn't eat, two pairs of wide and hopeful eyes fixed on him. John feigned exasperation, sighing and rubbing his eyes. Secretly he couldn't be happier. Anything to stave off Dean's haunted gaze when he'd leave him to hunt.
The boys continued to talk. While John would be gone setting Dean up with an indulgent smorgasbord, Dean would take Sam to the front desk and get the TV Guide, see what movies they could watch tonight.
"We can see what games they have too. They usually have at least Trivial Pursuit but if we're lucky there might be better games."
"Like what?" And Dean went into his favorite board games. Who knew artificial intelligences could be this inquiring? And who knew Dean was so talkative? But Sam's curiosity fit him and it worked for them. Especially when John saw Dean, how patient and ready he was to provide the android's questions with answers, to guide him as the nascent A.I. it was. It was kind of a new side to Dean that John hadn't seen before and it warmed his heart.
John listed out of the kitchen. If Sam's curiosity got around to hunting, John hoped he could dodge it, that Sam would just ask Dean about things... and that Dean would be able to answer in a way that satisfied Sam's curiosity. In the meantime, he'd go get Dean's food.
John lucked out on a quick trip, finding a mom 'n pop grocery store with Dean's requests. He added an energy drink and some jerky for himself. When he got back the kids were still in the kitchen chatting, Sam's legs swinging with a calm but precise rhythm under the table. Everything got squared away in the fridge or on the counters. It was time for John to go then, so he packed up his weapons duffel (always thanking Dean for cleaning them well, trying to impart manners in as weird a way as possible), reminded Dean to check the salt lines and wards before bed, shrugged his jacket on, and pulled his keys from his pocket.
He stopped halfway out the door and turned back to look at his son… and Sam standing right beside Dean reaching his hand out to be held and Dean unconsciously accepting it.
"Take care 'a Sammy, Dean," he advised, interested to know how Dean would take it. His son stood up straighter, gave a confident grin, and nodded.
John smiled back, returned the nod, and closed the door behind him. He had all night to think about how androids were typically purchased to take care of one or more family members or households and how instead their little family seemed to prefer taking care of it.
A/N: I'll post the next chapter next Sunday, I think (lots of sweet cuddles during the sleepover coming up 😊). Thank you so much for reading. If you can spare the time please leave a kudos or comment (even a single happy emoji as a comment grants me a lovely spark of happiness!)