Watching my Boys
Disclaimer: They don't belong to me, see CW and Eric Kripke for that. I've just borrowed them.
Summary: John watches Dean and Sam over the years as they grow up.
Author's Note: This is kind of a companion piece to 'Watching' and 'Watching My Brother' although like them it will stand alone.
Warnings: some language but not much, some spoilers for/references from 'Devil's Trap'.
Thanks: Thanks to Rae Artemis for her beta. Thanks to you for reading. Reviews welcome. Hoping you like it. Morning Sunlight.
John stands watching his sons. It's something he's done for years. A lifetime – their lifetime. He's amazed even now at how much he has learnt over the years just by watching his sons.
Dean taught him about unconditional love and dedication. Funny he thinks how in all the things that change Dean never has. Dean has always showered the people who mattered most to him with love. It was masked as he grew older. Hidden under the guise of necessity, irritation, teasing, anything but what it really was. Dean would claim that he didn't do 'love', but John, when he remembered to watch carefully, knew that he did.
He remembered standing in a doorframe watching a young Dean, not long before Sam was born. He'd been curled up with Mary as she read a favourite story, his hand resting gently on her stomach, on the unborn baby. 'Can we have the story again when the baby comes? I think the baby will like it.'
Two years on, John had stood in another doorframe and watched as Dean had struggled alone to read the same story to his baby brother. Sammy had fallen asleep and Dean had closed the book with a sigh. As he'd turned to his brother, John had only just caught the whispered apology, 'I'm sorry Sammy. Mom was better at reading it than me but I'll keep practising, I promise.' John had stepped back, choked with emotion. He'd retreated to the kitchen but on the way he realised he could help.
As Dean had left the bedroom, he'd called to him. Dean came slowly, almost warily, into the kitchen, the book tucked under his arm, 'What have you got there, champ?'
'Nothing special, Dad. 'S just a book.'
'Nah, I'm just gonna put it in my bag for school tomorrow.'
'Dean, show me the book.' John's voice was calm but insistent as he wondered why Dean wouldn't just show him the book.
He'd watched surprised as guilt settled on his son's face as he lifted and held the book out. John had barely heard the whispered, 'I'm sorry.'
Realisation that his son was expecting him to be angry dawned painfully and he knew he needed to rectify that as well, 'It's one you and Mom used to read, isn't it?' He was watching carefully so he caught the slight nod. 'Why'd you pick this one?'
He watched and waited but no answer came. He watched as his son's head dropped further, guilt etched now in his body as well as his face.
John bent over and lifted his son onto his lap, holding him close. 'Dean, why'd you pick this one?' His voice was calm, gentle, trying to coax an answer from his son.
He felt the tremor in the small body held close as the tears began to flow, 'I'm sorry, Daddy. I didn't mean to make you mad.'
John saw how deeply he was failing his son, how the love he had learnt from his mother was shining through but how easy it would be to extinguish that light. 'I'm not mad, Dean. You used to read this story with Mom, didn't you?' There was no further answer. 'I think it was one of mom's favourites.'
He watched and held tight to his son as the deep sobs that had racked the small body gradually ceased but the tears still rolled from his eyes. 'Do you know, Dean, I remember you and Mom reading this story before Sammy was born. Do you remember?'
'I remember how much Mom loved to read books curled up with you. Do you remember that Dean?
This time, the nod was accompanied by a whispered 'Yes'.
'Dean, you miss Mom, don't you?'
'Yes.' A simple word, but John could hear the weight of loss from his small son's life that infused the word.
'Me too, son, me too,' he held his son tighter, expressing in terms the child in his arms would understand that it was right to miss Mary and that for that he need never apologise. 'How about you and me spend some time reading some of those books Mom used to enjoy?' John knew he could never replace his wife, wouldn't want to replace her and that life could never be as good as if she were still with them but Dean had shown him he owed it to his sons to treasure her memory and to do his best for his boys.
Over the next few years his sons grew. They adapted to a life on the road and rarely did John hear them complain. He sometimes wondered what they really thought, but figured it was probably safer not to ask. Over time his obsession with the hunt obscured the lessons he learnt from Dean and the intention to spend time with his sons who had already been denied a mother at times fell by the wayside.
When it came down to it, Sam's lessons had been harder to deal with, but well, looking back John figured they bore a certain resemblance to what Dean had taught really. It had all come down to love in the end.
He remembered fetching the boys after a stay at Jim's. He'd taken them home and sent Dean to start on his homework before turning to Sam. 'So Sam, you got some reading to do for school?'
'Go get it then, son and we'll do it now before we eat.'
'What do you mean why?'
'Why d'you want my book?'
'So we can practise your reading.'
'What d'you wanna do that for?'
'Jim and Dean tell me you're a good reader, figured you'd like to read to me.' In fact John had been slightly embarrassed when his friend had spoken about both boys' schooling and homework and he'd realised he had no idea how they were getting on in school but he'd decided he could try and fix it when they got home. That didn't seem to be quite as straightforward as he'd planned with Sam.
'I am. Don't need to hear me. 'S okay, I'll wait for Dean.'
'Dean's doing his homework.'
''S fine, I'll wait.'
'Sam, just bring the book.'
'Fine.' John was surprised out how vivid the memory was, how Sam had presented him with the book, climbed onto the seat next to him at the table with a bored expression and read the book; fluent and word-perfect, but above all else, disinterested.
He remembered being impressed with the fluency and accuracy and thinking he would win Sam over, 'Hey, that was great Sam. When did you get so good?'
It was supposed to have been a joke, a light-hearted bit of encouragement but Sam's response indicated he'd taken it literally, 'A long time ago. Why d'you really want to hear me read?'
'I thought it would be nice to share your book. I'd heard you were good. Anyway it's important for fathers and sons to do things together.'
'Hmmm.' John hadn't needed the sarcasm that Sam would learn as he got older. Even in innocence, Sam was able to express his thoughts on the subject in a way that cut John to the quick, 'If I'm so good and it's so important, why haven't you ever wanted to hear me read before now. Dean reads with me all the time.'
'It's easier for Dean to do it, he isn't as busy as I am,' John still cringed at the way he had tried to justify himself to the six year old.
'Dean does it even when we're on our own, as well as all the other stuff you leave for him to do.'
'Even so, I'm still busier than Dean,' he really had sounded like a six year old himself.
'Right. Whatever. Have we finished? Can I go now?'
'I finished the book, Dad. What do you want me to do now?' Sam had sighed melodramatically. If only John had recognised the signs, Sam's teenage moods might never have been such a shock.
'I thought maybe you'd like to…' Sam had looked with horror and John knew he'd backed off without finishing, 'Okay Sam, it doesn't matter… off you go, but don't disturb Dean.'
Released! He hadn't needed to say anything; the look on his face had given his thoughts away. Sam had set off at a run, heading straight for the bedroom he shared with Dean, only to skid to a halt outside the door when he heard John's shout, 'Sam!' He had turned to look back, 'I said don't disturb Dean. He's got homework to do.'
'I don't disturb Dean,' came the unforgiving response before Sam had simply turned back and entered the room.
John knew he had headed for the boys' room to retrieve Sam, but had paused outside to listen first, aware that Sam wasn't talking but that Dean was.
'Whatcha been doing now, Sammy?'
'Nothing,' Sam had sounded sulky.
'Why's Dad shouting after you then?'
'I didn't do anything.'
''Sides, not supposed to talk to you,' the bedsprings had creaked dramatically with the sound of a small body dropping bonelessly on to it.
'What? Why not?'
Dean's tone had been lighter, 'Oh, I get it. You're not supposed to stop me finishing this.'
'It won't take me too much longer okay. Then we could do yours if you like?'
John listened as silence settled over the room. He was just about to move away when he heard the bedsprings creak again and Sam's voice start speaking again, 'Dean?'
'Can I… you know?'
'Sure, here you go. Remember to be careful though.'
'Yeah, I will. Thanks Dean.' He heard bed springs again as someone sat down, although he suspected it was the other bed this time.
Quiet settled again, and John had risked a look round the door. He saw Dean working head down over his homework and Sam laid quietly on his front on the bed nearest to his brother, flicking through the pages of a book carefully. John recognised the book. It was one Dean had shared with Mary, the same one he had helped his eldest son learn to read alone so that he could read it to his brother.
John had stepped back and headed to the kitchen to start preparing something for the boys and him to eat that evening. The thought crossed his mind that it was bizarre that it was the same book again.
The three of them had sat down to eat together and the meal had been nothing special, the boys amusing themselves but John for once had put aside his research in favour of watching his sons. He had been aware of Dean's acknowledgement each time he'd tried to join the conversation as if he'd recognised the effort his father was making and was trying to be encouraging. He'd been even more aware of Sam's looks, as if the boy was saying what are you doing? Why this sudden interest in us?
As the meal had finished, he recalled how Dean had collected the plates and taken them to the sink and how Sam had pulled up a chair alongside, climbed up on the counter top next to his brother and chatted to him as he washed the dishes. He'd watched as Dean had dried them and handed each one to his brother to pack away. He'd tried to stop them, fearful of plates being broken, but both boys had looked at him as if he didn't know what he was talking about.
'I do it all the time. I don't drop anything.' Sam's reply had been frustrated.
'Pastor Jim makes him wash up too sometimes, but he takes ages and half the stuff has to be washed again anyway 'cos he's so sloppy.' Dean had grinned at Sam, taking the bite out of his words. 'And he just likes making loads of bubbles.' Sam had grinned at that too.
John had watched the boys for the rest of the evening, hunting research put aside in favour of finding out more about his boys. He'd seen them watch TV, play rough and tumble games round the house, several times he'd almost stopped them afraid of the damage they might do but each time he'd caught himself just short of actually stopping them, only to see Dean re-direct their play to save the furniture and themselves from injury.
He was surprised when all of a sudden, Dean had called a halt and announced it was time for Sam to get ready for bed. He'd heard the cut off whine of complaint from Sam and the ultimatum 'You know the choice, Sammy,' at which Sam had vanished through to the bathroom. Dean had turned to his father with a smile, 'Pastor Jim taught me that one.'
'What's the choice?' he'd asked.
'Bed on time with a choice of story or bed with a fuss and no story. Do you want to read the story tonight, Dad?'
'Which story is it?' he'd asked, despite the feeling he already knew the answer to that one.
'One of Mom's favourites, I've been reading it to Sammy, he's getting the hang of it though, he won't need me to read it much longer. It's the one…'
'…the one we read together.' He'd finished for his eldest.
'Yeah,' Dean had smiled. 'Sammy loves it too. I told him Mom read it to us before he was born.'
In that moment, John knew that Dean had passed Mary's love to Sam and that Sam had accepted it and reciprocated, but that whereas Dean was still willing to accept intermittent attention and shows of affection from his father, Sam was going to need work. He clearly loved his brother, had shown respect and a surprising degree of affection to Jim, but was suspicious of John's intentions as if wondering why he was suddenly interested. John knew he needed to spend more time with his boys.
That night once both boys were asleep, he'd pulled out his research and tried to concentrate but his thoughts kept coming back to his boys, until he'd put the work aside and drawn a notebook up instead and began to make plans. He'd broken the day into chunks and worked out what each of them would be doing during each chunk. He found time when, for the most part, the three of them would be free at the same time. Then he'd started again planning a programme of activities for the boys over the course of the week, a programme of physical activities that would build their strength, their stamina, their speed: a programme of running, fighting and exercising. It would be a programme that would ultimately allow him to teach them to handle weapons to keep themselves safe. The boys had shown they were no longer babies, so now it was John's responsibility to bring them up to be strong men and that he knew how to do. He'd trained enough new recruits when he was in the marines to know how to go about it. Fair enough the boys were younger than those he was used to dealing with but they were his sons and they'd soon learn.
Years later with the boys grown, John wonders whether he had made the right decision that night or whether everything that had happened since had been his fault based on that rather than Mary's death or the demon's actions. If he had brought his children up with a real sense of what was normal, would they have blended unseen into society, safe and uninjured? Would their bodies carry scars, seen and unseen, as they do now? Would they have built themselves lives, jobs, futures with families of their own?
It's hard to watch them now. A cabin in the middle of nowhere, doors and windows salted and his boys thinking they are safe for the moment, John knows the truth but can't manage to tell them, he's been pushed to one side in his own body. Possessed.
John looks at them now, watches as his own body damages them, hears as his own voice betrays him as it carries not his but the demon's words. He's seen Sam's anger over the last few days, reminiscent of the teenage years before his departure for Stanford. Sam who had expected more than he'd ever got from his father, but not for the reasons he thought, Sam who wrongly thought that his father believed it all to be somehow his fault. It was Sam who hated this transient lifestyle, who believed he and his brother deserved better, and who never realised his father believed that too. Sam pinned against the wall as the demon moves John's own body right up close into that personal space the two are normally wary of breaching and all John wants is to breach that space and hold his son, tell him he loves him and always has, tell him he understands but couldn't risk it all. It wasn't just about revenge although it often looked that way; it was about love and wanting to keep his boys safe even though it hadn't worked out that way.
He hears as Dean draws the demon's attention away from his brother again and he feels his body move, breaching personal space again. This space, Dean's space, he's more familiar with, although it's been a while, more accustomed to a pat on the shoulder, a friendly shove, even the occasional manly hug, things he'd never really managed with Sam. His mind wanders to wonder why that was, why Sam never let him get that close when he accepts Dean in. Is it just that Dean remembers before or is it that Sam doesn't remember ever? Did he ever show Sam anything other than the aftermath? Did he rely on Dean to show Sam the alternative? He realises that maybe there's some truth in that, he showed Sam what happens after your mother dies and left Dean to hint as best he could at what life would have been like if she hadn't. No wonder Sam had always loved Dean more. Dean showed him why there's a point to staying alive.
He looks at them now. Strong, intransigent, unyielding. He's proud. He wonders if he's ever told them that enough. Does any parent ever tell their children enough? Even worse, he wonders has he ever told them? Do they know he's proud? He's worried now, if the demon ruins his family now, he'll never get the chance to tell them. His boys don't know how proud he is, Dean's words echo and re-echo through the inside of his body – he knew it was the demon because he said he was proud, Dean was waiting to be castigated not praised, 'He wouldn't be proud of me, he'd tear me into one', he expected to be rebuked for saving his brother. What kind of father would be willing to surrender a child so easily or to criticise someone else for trying?
'They don't need you, not like you need them.' He hears his voice throw it at Dean. Shame on you, John, for don't you just know that it's true and that you let it happen. He proved it today, willing to sacrifice one child for the hunt; he'd have done the same with the other. How can a man call himself a father when he is willing to see his children die, willing to let them go? He doesn't want them to die, he wants them to live and be free but he realises he's wanted the demon finished for so long that somewhere it's twisted inside and he's almost forgotten that the whole point of getting rid of the demon was to keep his family safe. Sam would leave Dean too, has done already. Following his father's example, John had come in and out of their lives, leaving Dean to fend for both of them, sometimes leaving them with friends, more often leaving them alone. He had taught his youngest that it was okay to walk out and leave your family so long as you come back and check on them and then he'd forbidden him the return. Why did Sam who'd ignored so much that he had tried to teach him, why did he learn that? Why did he follow through so wholeheartedly? Why did he turn his back on Dean as well? He wondered who he'd hurt most with that, probably Dean in the long run because Sam had been lucky enough to find Jessica. Would Jessica have survived if he hadn't been hunting the demon?
John feels the power the demon radiates and watches as the damage appears on his son's body and the blood begins to fall. 'Dad, don't you let it kill me.' He stands up within his own body, fighting for his place, his own space back. Sheer will, because he remembers now what the fight was about, it was to keep what was left of his family safe, and god hasn't he fucked that up over the years, right up to this point in fact, but he has to put it right. This is his moment. He regains some control and hears Sam fall back to the ground and reach for the gun, the demon's attention is drawn also and that is when Sam shoots. Even through the pain and his own fall to the floor, he hears Dean's body fall gracelessly to the ground. He can't remember the last time Dean was graceless; he'd always been smoothly in control of his body, never gone through the lanky, awkward stage that Sam had struggled through. Dean was all about graceful control, efficient movement, concise effectiveness, he had always buzzed with barely concealed energy and now a half glance reveals his eldest fallen to the floor, dying but not dead. Persistent beggar isn't he? John wonders whether that thought is his own or the demon's.
He can hear his boys, but he's not quite in control, fighting with the demon inside. He can hear the concern and underlying love in Sam's voice as he goes to his brother, not sure what he hears in Dean's as he sends him away. Is it love or just pain? Is it resignation? Is he giving up? John knows he's got to win this fight back because this can't be the end for his boys; otherwise there was no point carrying on after Mary. He can't rely on Dean now and he doesn't know Sam like he should. He's got a feeling Sam isn't as unpredictable as he thinks, that Dean would know what Sam will do, but John can't be sure.
It's something he'll never understand. Why is it that when Dean barely whispers 'Sam, no.' that he listens and obeys his brother? Yet John's own desperate plea is ignored. He'll never understand why his boys don't let him go like that. He'd have been fine with it. In fact, with the demon gone, he'd have died a happy man, well content anyway. His boys have denied him that. There's something wrong with the way he brought them up, they've missed something he wanted them to know. He wonders if maybe Mary taught Dean something that he missed. Maybe it's just the love. He knows his boys have got that. He's been watching them for so long after all. He forgot about it when Mary died, but thank god Dean didn't.