Raised Like Warriors

Part XXVIII. Questions

Dean: You know, when we were little-- you couldn't been more than 5-- you just started asking questions. How come we didn't have a mom? Why do we always have to move around? Where'd Dad go when he'd take off for days at a time? I remember I begged you-- "Quit asking, Sammy. Man, you don't want to know." I just wanted you to be a kid...Just for a little while longer. I always tried to protect you...Keep you safe...Dad didn't even need to tell me. It was just always my responsibility, you know? It's like I had one job... I had one job...
December 10, 1984

Sometimes, John thought to himself, I can be such an ass.

He was sitting in the Impala, listening to his five-year-old son sniff manfully. Dean was trying hard to hold back tears. The kid was tough, not one sniffle at the nasty bump he got tumbling over the railing at the farmhouse in Texas, or when he had sprained his ankle dropping from the monkey bars in the schoolyard. But his mean ol' dad snapping like a wounded animal? that was too much, even for a resilient kid like Dean.

John's jaw clenched and he wished he could call it all back, the whole freakin' drive from Texas to Oregon, the cranked heat of the Impala and the wet squish of sneakers, the babble of voices and the impatient whines from the boys cooped-up in the back seat or tumbling restlessly around their seedy motel rooms. Things in Texas just hadn't worked out and so they were on the road again, checking out a haunting on the West Coast.

It was true that most of the profanity had been directed at the pouring rain, and the truck that had blocked the turn off, the holiday traffic starting too damn early, but he hadn't exactly been gentle when he told the boys to pipe down, taking his frustration out on Dean, who had merely asked if he had to go to school again once they found their new house.

"Yes, Dean. You have to go to school, you know that."

"I don't like school," Dean pouted, staring moodily out at the tall forests on the side of the winding highway.

"Dad? Can we get some ice cream?" catching sight of a Dairy Queen sign.

"It's the middle of freakin' winter, Dean! Who the hell wants ice cream when it's pouring rain outside?!"

His ill temper was met with two wide-eyed stares from the back. "Sorry, Dad," Dean whispered, making John feel like a first class jerk.

"So'ry, Daddy," Sam echoed, though he didn't know what he was apologizing for.

John rubbed a hand through his hair with one-hand, trying to figure out what to do.

This had been so much easier when Mary was around to buffer him and his big mouth. She would send him that glare, ushering Dean into the next room to explain things in a way the kid could understand. Bad Dad would stew in his own juices, feeling awful, but knowing his kid was being taken care of. Dean would go down for a nap, or be left to some project, and his beautiful girl would come back and dress him down, flashing him those eyes, and then forgive him with a wry smile, and a kiss if he was lucky…

Being a single parent sucked, in more ways than one.

"Dean," he said, trying for gentle. The boy's head snapped up and he quickly wiped away the few tears that had escaped.

"Yes, sir?" the voice said, wavering.

"Don't cry…"

"Sorry," Dean said, sniffing.

He hadn't meant it as an order. "Dean, I didn't…"

"It's O.K., Dad," Dean said sternly.

"We'll stop for food soon," John said, capitulating. Things were different now and he was just doing the best he could.

He could tell by the way Sam was kicking restlessly in his carseat that the boys couldn't take much more of this. Some place around Salem would be okay for today. They could jog up to Portland tomorrow.

"What do you want for supper, Dean-o?"

Dean shrugged, looking out the window again, watching the little drops of water creep down the glass.

"How about some pizza?" John suggested.

"'k," was the unenthusiastic response.

"Dean," John said, annoyance creeping into his voice despite his best intentions.

Dean met his eyes in the rear-view mirror, face solemn. "Sammy doesn't like pizza, Dad."

Right. Okay. For a one-year-old, Sam was pretty opinionated. They didn't go to Macdonald's because of Sam's tendency to burst into tears at the sight of their mascot and John was so sick of "Booger" King, as Sam dubbed it, tickling Dean's five-year-old sense of humor to no end, the thought of another "happy meal" made him physically ill. He was also absolutely positive that he ended up wiping more food from the baby's face, hands and shirt than had ever got into his little belly.

He gave the toddler a mock scowl through the mirror, and stuck out his tongue, which made Sam giggle. At least somebody understood him.

Okay, so. Food, he thinks. And they had to get some gas for the Impala, too.

He ended up picking a warm-looking family diner, holding Sam under his coat as the three of them ducked through the downpour.

"Dad, my socks are wet," Dean complained.

"Well, maybe you shouldn't have walked through that puddle."

Dean scowled, crossing his hands over his chest until John tapped him on the back of the head in warning. "We can change 'um when we get back to the car, but right now you are just going to have to deal, okay?"

Dean directed his angry glare at the floor, huffing.

"Dean Matthew, I am not kidding around," John said, but Dean was spared a further lecture when the waitress ushered them into a booth, lugging over a booster seat for Sam and pressing a cup full of broken crayons into Dean's hand and laying down some kids' menus which simple designs for the boys to draw on. Sam decided that the scene lacked color and drew enthusiastic scribbles on the smiling lumberjack. Dean studied his menu closely while John watched like hawk for the coffee he had ordered.

The warm liquid tasted so good on the damp day, that John retrospectively got the boys some hot chocolate. Dean decided on the grilled cheese and John ordered the steak, planning to share a plate with Sam.

"Da Da?" Sam queried, "Whatz Dean doing?"

John resisted the urge to say "being a big meanie," realizing that would be immature. "Why don't you ask him?" he growled instead.

Sam obediently bobbed towards his brother, "Dean, what ar you doin'?" he asked, sucking on the sippy cup John had used to prevent utter mayhem with the whipped cream laden liquid and twirling a curl with his other hand.

Dean shot John a look that clearly said he was on to him. Using his little brother to soften him up usually worked, 'cause the two of them usually got along so well.

"I'm jus' drawing," Dean said, gentling as he turned to Sammy.

"Oh," Sam said, "Dean, why are dere trees inside?"

Dean glanced up to where Sam pointed, at the decorated Christmas trees which had sprung up way too early for John's comfort. At least here they were real, filling the room with a pine smell, rather than the aluminum monstrosities Mary had always insisted on, John thought, eyes going sad.

"Dean! How come?" Sam insisted, bringing John's attention back to his sons.

Dean shrugged, glancing at Dad and looking down. "'cuz it's Christmas."

"Oh," Sam said.

"Well, it's not Christmas yet," John interrupted hastily, glad that he had a few more weeks to figure out THAT whole problem. Practically a whole month, didn't he?

"Dean! What'z Christmas?"

Dean again looked pleadingly at John, but this time the man purposefully left his son out to dry, wondering if maybe he could get a few clues from Dean's answer.

"It's when people, most people, um… put up Christmas trees 'n there's, like, candy and presents and stuff."

"Pre-sents?" Sam said, leaning forward with interest.

"Yeah, like one time Santa brought me a truck and some army guys."

John remembered picking it out with Mary and how Dean's eyes had gone wide as saucers at the sight of the red fire engine under the tree.

"…'n Gramma got me clothes," Dean continued, wrinkling his nose as he slurped up some whipped cream from the top of his mug. "But Santa only brings you stuff if you're good," Dean warned seriously. "And I don't know if… he might not be able to…"

"He'll come," John said, with startling finality. Dean glanced up quickly.

"Well, last year, he…"

"This year, he'll come, Dean," John said, barely remembering the cold day last December when it had been hard enough to feel human, let alone jolly and wondering if he could manage it this year, for his kids.

"I'm GOOD!" Sam protested, sounding worried and Dean squirmed guiltily.

"You're both my good boys," John said placatingly, mopping up a spill with his napkin

Even fed and with the wet socks issue taken care of, Dean was in a quiet mood for the rest of the evening. Bath time, which was usually one of the boys' few opportunities to release a little pent-up energy, was more of a solemn affair which left only a few mini lakes on the floor of the bathroom.

The boys were hustled into warm pjs and quickly scrambled into bed, where they made a "fort," which mainly consisted of Dean holding the blankets over their heads and turning on a flashlight, with Sammy crawling on and around him.

John envied them the safe, warm cocoon, watching the light play against the ugly brown blanket and hearing their high chatter.

The dark nest provided the illusion of privacy. But while it was true that John couldn't see the expression on his son's face, he heard the quiet sob easily in the quiet room. His heart twinged painfully and he was about to invade their secret place, when he heard Sam's worried question.

"Dean, what'z wrong?" the baby asked earnestly, and John saw the lump of his son crawling over to lay himself comfortingly in Dean's lap.

Dean shook his head, shaking the fort. "Nothing, Sammy," he lied.

"Then why are you crying?" Sam asked, seeming a little frightened. He sat up and put his chubby arms comfortingly around Dean. Dean squeezed him back, but didn't lay his burden on those tiny little shoulders.

"Do you have an owie?"

Dean shook his head.

"Is it 'cuz of Santa, Dean?" Sam guessed. "Is he scary?" He did bear a suspicious resemblance to a clown.

"No, Sammy."

"Is it 'cuz of Momma?"

Dean hugged him tighter, but didn't say anything. Sam laid his heavy baby head on Dean's shoulder, patting Dean's back lightly like Daddy did when Sammy was sad. "It's O.K., Dean," he said.

John felt helpless, listening with tears in his eyes.

It seemed forever until the soft sobs quieted and the fort collapsed. When their breathing was steady with sleep, John gently extracted the flashlight and rearranged his boys, tucking the blankets around them. They were tangled together, like they had ever been.

He laid a soft kiss on each forehead, careful that none of his silent tears fell on their sleeping faces. Why did everything have to be so damn hard? he thought, feeling wholly inadequate to take care of the two little angels entrusted to his care.

A/N: Okay, so I am a slacker. Don't worry, I won't end the story before it's time and sorry if you've been impatient for more. This is, unfortunately, set in December. If that bugs you, you could hold off and just read it all in a few months!