Title: Toy Soldiers
Standard Dis, no warnings
Notes: Young!Winchester fic. Thanks to Amy for Sammy's question and for naming this beauty.
With a long-suffering sigh, John Winchester let the duffle bag slide off his shoulder and land heavily upon the carpet, just inside the door. Finally. "Boys, go wash up and get ready for bed. Lights out in fifteen minutes, understand?"
Two 'Yes Sir's echoed him- Dean was always the first to reply- as his boys came in from the hallway and passed him, heading down the towards their small bedroom. John remained where he was and shut the door after them, watching them go with irritation coloring his gaze. It had not been a good day.
He'd been on a hunt for the past three days, so the boys had been left with 'Julie'- who was not, by Dean's definition, his babysitter. Because Dean was 9 years old now and he didn't need a babysitter. Sam was the baby, so Julie was Sam's babysitter. Not his.
And that had just been the start of it. When he'd arrived to pick up the kids, Julie had met him at the door and presented him with a note from Dean's principle, that was to be signed and returned on Monday. John had yet to open it, but he had a pretty good idea what the school board found wrong with his son.
Then Julie reported that Sam refused to eat anything but animal crackers during the entire three days John had been gone. She'd offered the five year-old free choice of anything in the kitchen, which included pizza, macaroni and cheese, chocolate cake… but Sammy simply shook his head and stayed in Dean's shadow, hardly uttering a word. That wasn't normal behavior for a five year-old, Julie told him. The boy needs to eat more. He's too thin.
John knows that.
He drew in a deep breath and pushed himself off the front door. His shoulders ached and his head was pounding. The haunting itself hadn't been bad- it was trying to locate the grave that proved almost impossible. In the end, John had dug five, six-foot deep holes before his shovel blade tapped upon a coffin lid. It was a lot wasted time and effort, but the victims were a sweet elderly couple and he'd earned a dozen homemade chocolate chip cookies as a reward. He thanked them and was on his way before they could pull out the photo album.
But cookies wouldn't take care of the pile of bills on the kitchen table, or the messages from icy-voiced bill collectors on his answering machine. John tossed the bag of cookies on the table next to the red-stamped envelopes and yanked open the refrigerator, clinking the condiment bottles together. White light illuminated the dismal food supply inside, and John grabbed a beer. He carried it into the living room, sat down in the old recliner he'd found on the side of the road, and turned on the 13-inch TV. Relief flooded through him at the simple luxury of being able to sit down in his own home. Tin foil capped rabbit ears struggled to pick up any reception, and white lines rolled through the screen as a weather forecaster pointed at a map behind him. John twisted the cap off his beer and downed half of it.
He heard the squeak of the pipes as one of the boys turned on the water in the bathroom. John glanced at the clock, noting how late it was. He'd have to get up early in order to take the boys to school tomorrow, and realizing that soured his mood even further. He was pretty sure they'd reached their limit of absences this year and missing any more would be inexcusable. Dean's grades were suffering and John had no one to blame but himself. Fake doctor's notes and imaginary family emergencies couldn't buy a good education. John hating robbing his boys of school, but sometimes it couldn't be helped. It's not like he could just ask the poltergeists and demons to stop hurting people. If it were that easy, his life would be a lot less complicated. No, school was important and more than that, it was cheap child care for Sammy.
He loved that little boy with all his entire being- he really did- but Sam didn't fully understand the hunting yet. He was well aware of what his father and big brother were doing and why, but it was all still a game to Sam. The five year-old was so frustrating at times. Why couldn't he be more like Dean? Why couldn't Sam take simple orders without asking questions, or kill a simple Black Dog without taking pity on it first? He'd raised his boys in the same manner- he'd been honest, he'd taught them the value of a strict and structured life, taught them about nearly every type of supernatural being there was, he'd shown them how to get information out of people… so where had he gone wrong with Sam? Dean was obedient to a fault. He'd earned the right to come along on hunts. Sam, on the other hand, was too emotional. He couldn't be trusted. If he came along on a hunt, he had standing orders to stay in the truck. Sam was rendered useless that way, but at least he would always there, safe and sound, when the hunt was over.
John took another drink and watched the newscasters laugh dramatically at one another. Doors opened and closed in the hallway behind him as his boys finished getting ready for bed. When he heard the toilet flush, he knew they'd soon be down for the night.
It was Sam. "You should be in bed," John said, turning his head towards the boy but keeping his eyes on the TV.
There was a pause as the bathroom door opened. "I have a question," Sam pressed, moving to stand somewhere behind John's recliner.
John rolled his eyes, his jaw clenching. Dean had never been so difficult when he was five. "Whatever it is can wait until morning," he said. Then he raised his hand and jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "Get to bed."
"Come on, Sammy," Dean said softly.
"Sam, go!" John ordered, raising his voice. "Tomorrow night, your bedtime will be half an hour earlier!"
He drained the bottle and listened as his boys retreated back the hallway, then the bedroom door closed. He shook his head to himself. He just couldn't figure it out- why was Sam so stubborn? How had he messed up in raising the boy? Sam could cry at the drop of a hat, he didn't eat regular meals, he shadowed Dean much too closely… he was the black sheep- an insubordinate soldier.
If Sammy was ever to be trusted, things would have to change. John would tighten the reigns a little. No dessert till he ate his vegetables. No games till his homework was done. No more following Dean around- that just couldn't be healthy. John nodded to himself and rose to get another beer. Having a plan felt good. Maybe it wasn't too late to conform his son. Maybe Sam would be a good hunter after all, with better guidance and a firmer hand.
John tossed the empty bottle into the trash and retrieved a full one, popping the lid off and taking a long drink. It filled his stomach with a comforting coldness and he belched. John's eyes fell to the cookies and he grabbed one, knowing that once the boys found them tomorrow, there'd be nothing left. He was about to return to his chair when he eyed the sliver of light coming from underneath the boy's bedroom door. He growled to himself- what part of 'go to bed' didn't they understand?
His headache made itself known again as he stalked down the hall. It had been such a long day… his muscles ached and all he wanted is to sit in front of the TV in a little peace and quiet. Was that too much to ask? His hand was on the doorknob and his lungs were full of air- but the lights clicked off and Sammy's small voice could be heard through the door.
"He's not mad, Sammy," Dean replied softly, his voice just on the other side of the door. When he spoke next, it was from further away. "He's just tired. Aren't you tired?"
John snorted softly, then took a bite of the cookie. He waited to see how Dean would handle his brother.
"If you don't go to sleep now, you'll fall asleep in school tomorrow and Mrs. Lane will get mad at you."
"I like Mrs. Lane. She says I draw good."
John heard the bed covers rustle and he listened harder, trying to determine if the boys were sleeping in the same bed again. They had been warned before…
"You draw very good, Sammy. If you go to sleep now, you can wake up and draw tomorrow."
John's eyebrows raised in surprise. Somehow, Dean had gotten compliance without force. John was still trying to figure out what the trick was when Sam spoke up again.
"Yeah?" Dean sounded tired, but there was no irritation in his voice.
"I gotta question."
"Are all ghosts bad?"
'Good boy,' John thought, nodding his head once before taking a drink.
There was a pause, then, "So if Mommy came back, like a ghost… we would have to kill her?"
The fear in those words shot straight into John's heart and ripped it to shreds. He just barely caught the beer bottle as it slipped from his numb fingers.
He straightened and leaned against the door, trying to hear through the thunderous heartbeat in his ears.
Then, confidently, as if he'd thought about it many times, Dean replied, "Mom's not a ghost, Sammy. She's an angel. We don't kill angels."
John found himself sliding down the wall, landing hard on his ass and feeling like he had just been sucker-punched in the balls. He drew his knees up and planted his elbows on them, rubbing the heels of his hands hard against his wet eyes. His jaw was clenched and he breathed heavily though his nose.
Dean… when had his son become a better father than he was? His answer had been immediate, calculated, and John was sorry that Dean had even been thinking about it at all. God bless that boy, his perfect little soldier… John knew at that moment if anything ever happened to him, Dean would step up and raise Sammy himself. And probably do a better job of it.
And Sammy… John opened his eyes to reality and hated seeing what had been right in front of him all along. Sammy wasn't stubborn, wasn't a delinquent soldier- he was five. Five years old. Sammy was innocent, he was kind-hearted- he was Dean's shadow and his mother's child.
John had to protect that. He had to protect that tiny sliver of Mary that still walked the earth.
John swallowed hard against his constricted throat and rubbed away the tears. The problem didn't lie with Sam, it lay with himself. John's obsessive hatred for the thing he was hunting had grown large and thick, darkening the lives of his sons as well as his own. Sam didn't need a firmer hand, he needed a more loving one. A more patient one. Sam couldn't be molded into the kind of warrior Dean was. John knew that now, and he would no longer try. He'd teach Sammy to fight for a different reason- to protect what he carried in his heart.
He heard more murmurs through the wall but didn't try to listen in. He'd heard enough.
John took a deep breath, easing a little of the pain that filled him and he pushed himself up to stand on numb legs. He grabbed the cookie and the bottle, clearing away the evidence of his presence, and he headed towards the kitchen.
There'd be no sleep for him tonight. He had some thinking to do.
He had some changes to make.
John hated wasting time and effort, but tonight he realized that his youngest son had been bleeding him dry. Sam couldn't be controlled that way. His emotions were too pure.
The answer lie with Dean.
John really shouldn't be surprised; the boys spent a great deal of time together. Dean had always been protective of Sammy, but he also had a control over Sam that was much more effective than anything John could have hoped for.
And John had control over Dean.
It was simple, it was brilliant- it was taught in the military. Control over precious resources leads to control over the people. John began to see things in a new light, in a different light, and soon his head was pounding, demanding sleep and a chance to recharge. Tomorrow would be different in a subtle way- the boys would still go to school, they would still be trained in weapon handling and target practice, they would still learn Marine-level first aid… but the purpose behind the actions had changed. They were no longer just fighting evil. They were also fighting to protect the good.
And when he checked on the boys later that night, and found them sleeping side by side in the same bed, John smiled to himself and closed the door softly.