The sound of a fist meeting solid flesh was followed instantly by a groan. It was the groan that got Megan Ford's attention. She'd been working with a small group of students rehearsing scenes with Scott and Kellie, King Claudius and Queen Gertrude respectively, leaving Hamlet and Laertes free to work on fighting with Sam's brother Dean. Glancing over toward the stage, Mrs. Ford could see that Dean already had things in hand.
"What did I tell you?" Dean demanded as he approached the pair of boys standing on the stage.
Sam stood at ease knowing his brother's ire was not directed at him. David, the senior playing Hamlet, rolled his shoulder as he responded, "If you know what's coming you can get out of the way." He was trying to act bored and aloof, but the pain he was in made it difficult.
Dean continued his advance until he was eye to eye with the younger man. "You need to get this straight…you're not going to hurt Sam, but he's going to hurt you if you don't do what you're told."
David nodded half-heartedly, but didn't roll his eyes. Dean had already knocked that nasty habit out of him. Mrs. Ford could tell that David was not at all pleased to be taking direction from a guy who came out of nowhere; he was an ACT-tor in the complete sense of "I am a high school senior on stage and the world revolves around me" kind of way. Mrs. Ford understood that, but she also knew that stage fighting was not her forte. She was thrilled when Sam's brother offered to choreograph the fight in the graveyard. It was a small scene, but it was important. And after years of dealing with uppity, self-centered, obnoxious, high school "actors", Mrs. Ford was not at all sad to see this particular boy taken down a peg or two.
"Sam," Dean waved his brother slightly off to the side until they were standing center stage across from each other, both in a fighting stance. Though this was not the first time this had happened today, it caught Mrs. Ford's attention, just as it caught the attention of everyone in the theatre. Dean turned to look at David who was standing upstage. "If you know what's coming…"
Through some silent signal Dean indicated that Sam was to attack. Sam went from silent to deadly in half a second. There was a flurry of movement, far more complicated that what Dean had worked out for David and Sam. In a moment it was over, Sam was laid out on his back on the mats Dean had asked for; Dean, holding his brother's arm so he was pinned, never took his eyes off of David, "…you can get out of the way." he finished. Then Dean tapped Sam who jumped to his feet none the worse for wear.
Scott, who was playing King Claudius, breathed out a soft, "That was so cool."
Mrs. Ford hid a grin – that was so cool, and a welcome disruption for a lengthy Saturday rehearsal. As people got back to work after the short interruption, her thoughts turned toward the first time Dean came to rehearsal. On that first night, Dean had arrived about a half-hour before rehearsal was over; he'd come to give Sam a ride home and to talk to Mrs. Ford about what she wanted for the graveyard scene. They were running Act I Scene 2 where Hamlet returns home and is received by the Queen and King. Dean slid into a seat a row behind Mrs. Ford and slightly to her right. She couldn't see Dean's reaction to everything, but high school Shakespeare in the rehearsal stage is not for the casual observer and Dean was very much a causal observer. So Mrs. Ford was surprised when the scene was over and Dean leaned over the seat in front of him to ask her, "What are they supposed to be doing?"
"They who?" Mrs. Ford turned in her seat to get a better look at Dean.
"The guys in the back and along the sides - are they supposed to be soldiers?" Dean had an intense and slightly disgusted look on his face.
Mrs. Ford turned her attention back to the group gathered on stage. She'd been focusing so much on the lead actors that the background players had been somewhat ignored. The actors were milling around waiting for the next direction. The boys in question were slouching or leaning against the walls looking vaguely uninterested and bored; it was pretty much what they looked like all the time.
"Oh." Mrs. Ford couldn't help but feel slightly defensive. "Yes, those are the soldiers. Right now we're still working on lines and blocking…the background action will get more attention later." She didn't know what made her feel like she owed Dean an explanation – it wasn't as if he had asked for one.
Dean nodded, but his expression was nonjudgmental. He surprised her by asking, "Would you mind if I talked to them? Not tonight, but maybe when I come back to work on the fight with Sammy. Could I talk to them?"
Blinking, Mrs. Ford turned back toward Dean. It was clear to her that he had something in mind, but his expression was impossible to read. She nodded her assent as she answered, "Sure, we can work something out." Then, turning her attention back to the assembled actors, she asked them to run the scene again. But this time when they ran the scene she tried to see what Dean was seeing; it didn't seem any different to her than the first time.
When the scene was wrapped up, Mrs. Ford called the actors together. They took their seats in the first few rows of the theatre while she gave notes – most of which consisted of "speak out", "memorize your lines" and "stay in character". Some days she felt like she could just record herself and play it back day after day for all the difference it seemed to make. After the cast was dismissed, Mrs. Ford spent a few minutes talking with Dean arranging time for him to come in and work on the graveyard fight while Sam stood by silently.
Over the next few nights, Dean came a little early to pick up Sam and spent his time prowling around the theater. He made friends with the stage crew and toured the catwalks and catacombs beneath the stage. Backstage, in the wings, around the theater, Dean was everywhere and Mrs. Ford could see that all of Dean's wandering was making Sam noticeably nervous. It wasn't until a few days later that Mrs. Ford understood what Dean was up to.
It was a Friday night rehearsal, which meant they got to run a little later than usual, and all cast members were in attendance; the plan was to run all of Acts One and Two, then do individual scenes giving Dean a chance to work on the fight scene with the boys. Mrs. Ford noticed the Winchesters when they arrived because they were having a heated, yet muted discussion. Sam was worked up about something, but Dean was determined and kept waving off whatever objections Sam was bringing up. The argument ended when Sam dropped his stuff and went over to join some of the other boys waiting for rehearsal to start; Dean approached Mrs. Ford.
Without preamble Dean asked, "Do you think I could talk to those boys before you start? The ones who are supposed to be soldiers?"
"Sure, Dean" she responded interested to hear what he had to say. "I'll just call them together."
Dean took the boys slightly off to the side, close to the theatre's side entrance. Mrs. Ford left her stage manager in charge of getting everyone else ready to start as she joined the group. She was very surprised to hear Dean speaking intently about staying in character; he had not struck her at all as a theatre type. "What you guys need to understand is that you're always on duty. It doesn't matter that you're in the back of the group or off to the side…you need to pay attention to everything. You never know when something's going to happen." Dean gave a meaningful glance to Chris and Greg who tended to lean on scenery…and close their eyes…and doze off.
"Being ready is not the same as standing at attention." This was directed at some of the younger boys who tended to try too hard. "Standing stiff as a board with your legs locked is not going to help you when shit starts to go down."
A few of the freshmen giggled nervously when Dean cursed in front of Mrs. Ford. "What it comes down to is this…" Dean effortlessly gathered the attention of the group; even Mrs. Ford wanted to know what he had to say next. "You've got to be ready to protect your king."
It was hard to tell how much effect Dean's words had on the group. They didn't seem to pay him any more mind than they paid her. It was kind of a shame, because Dean seemed to be in earnest. Mrs. Ford sent the boys back to the larger group, but stayed by Dean for a moment. He had a look on his face, a look she couldn't easily read. Then Dean looked at her trying to gauge her expression. "I want to shake things up later…to prove my point. It's going to be a pretty big disruption…" She couldn't help smiling a little at his gall. "…if that's okay with you," he added as an after thought. And, as difficult as it was to gather and maintain the attention of a large group of hormonal teenagers, Mrs. Ford found herself looking forward to a little disruption. She's been waiting for days to see what Dean was up to.
She found herself answering, "It's okay with me." then returned to the group and got rehearsal underway. They started running the show from the beginning, and Mrs. Ford didn't have long to wait. The first scene ran without incident – it was all exposition between two soldiers and Horatio. But the second scene, the one Dean had witnessed that first night, involved many more people, including the King, Queen and soldiers. Mrs. Ford watched the boys that Dean had pulled aside to speak with; only one of the boys had taken Dean's words to heart and looked more alert than usual. The rest of the soldiers were lax and disinterested. Everyone else on stage was focused on remembering lines and blocking; everyone except Sam.
Now that she was watching for it, it was obvious to Mrs. Ford that Sam knew something was afoot. He held himself differently than everybody else – he was expectant and tense, but at the same time relaxed and ready. He managed to stay focused on the scene and yet watch everywhere at once. Mrs. Ford would've liked to watch him more, but that was when Dean made his move.
From seemingly out of nowhere, water balloons were lobbed at the stage. This resulted in shrieking and general panic from the largely female cast. Mrs. Ford had to grab her stage manager by the arm to keep her in her seat. The students on stage were far more concerned about assessing whether or not they were wet than finding out where the assault was coming from. Sam knew better. Mrs. Ford watched as Sam grabbed Mike, who was playing Polonius, and bodily moved him offstage. She couldn't hear Sam's order over the din of noise on the stage, but he was plainly giving a "stay here" directive.
In the time it had taken Sam to get Mike to "safety", Dean had made his way down the side aisle of the theater on Mrs. Ford's left side and was nearly to the stage. He continued to throw water balloons creating confusion. From her vantage point, Mrs. Ford could see Dean's objective. He was clearly heading toward the King and Queen; Sam knew this too, but in his rush to protect Polonius, he'd been cut off by the shrieking, flailing crowd.
Over the noise of the group, Sam started yelling, "To the King! Defend the King!" as he physically worked his way through the screaming crowd. Almost everyone on stage looked around in confusion and milled around aimlessly. James, the one soldier who had taken Dean's words to heart, picked up Sam's cry of "To the King!" James ran forward dragging Chris and Greg with him from their positions. Together the three of them formed a ragged line before Scott and Kellie. Two of the freshmen joined the group looking startled and wary, but also excited, more alert and in the moment than Mrs. Ford had ever seen.
Sam finally broke free of the larger crowd and skidded to a halt facing Dean who had finally gained the stage. The brothers faced off; Sam was expectant and Dean was determined – he still carried a water balloon in each hand. For a split second they were frozen, and then they both moved. Sam moved toward Dean's right, attempting to dislodge or break the balloon in his throwing hand. Dean, anticipating Sam's move, stepped to the left easily avoiding Sam.
But Sam wasn't silent as he stalked his brother, he'd begun calling out orders. "He can't protect himself from all of us. Go for the hands! Break the balloons!"
Sam hadn't addressed anyone in particular, so at first no one moved. James again took the initiative and joined Sam in his circular motion around Dean. Mrs. Ford could swear that was a smile of pride that floated across Dean's face for a moment. The younger boys took their lead from James, and soon Dean was surrounded. An impulsive freshman rushed Dean who saw him coming and used the boy's forward motion to make him collide with another one of the "soldiers". Sam took advantage of the moment of distraction and darted inside Dean's reach. Grabbing Dean's right wrist, Sam pulled Dean's right arm over his right shoulder, as if he was going to flip him. Standing up to his full height, Sam held onto Dean and pulled; he was able to lift Dean off balance, for just a moment. James darted in from Dean's left side; he didn't even bother to try and hold Dean, he just went after the balloon. With a resounding splash, James and Sam broke both balloons simultaneously.
There was a moment of confused silence.
Dean broke the tableau at center stage by giving Sam a quick double tap on his chest. Sam released his brother, shooting him a fleeting grin over his shoulder as he fruitlessly wiped at his soaking shirt and pants. Dean backed away, heading for the stairs he'd used to charge up to the stage. With a glance he took in all of the boys he'd spoken to earlier. "You never know when you'll have to protect the king." Dean turned on his heel and headed down the stairs. His movement broke the paralysis of those remaining on stage and the ensuing babble was deafening. Mike peeked out from the safety of the wings. The "courtiers" shifted their attention back to their soaked clothing. Most of the soldiers crowded around Sam asking a million questions that all boiled down to "What the fuck is up with your brother?"
No one saw Dean go for that last water balloon he'd stashed next to the front row of seats - no one except Mrs. Ford, Sam and James. Sam was encircled by the group of boys; he had no room to move and not enough time. But James saw the trajectory the balloon was headed on and dove to intercept it before it could hit the king. Shouldering Scott out of the way, James took a direct hit to the chest and the balloon popped with a snap.
Dean was openly grinning. "Captain of the Guard, dude! You're the Captain of the Guard! The only one paying attention! Nice job, man." James blushed deeply at Dean's praise, and the other boys gathered around him slapping him on the back and calling him "Captain". It took Mrs. Ford more than a little while to get everyone back on track, but in the end the disruption was well worth it. All of the boys, James in particular, were much more focused and tuned in to every scene they rehearsed. Their attentiveness brought a different energy to the stage and affected everyone.
After running the first two acts of the show, Mrs. Ford called for a short break. Those students who were not needed to run the individual scenes were dismissed, and everyone else went to grab a soda or a snack. Sam and Dean wrestled old gym mats to center stage in preparation for the fight they were going to rehearse. Mrs. Ford didn't mean to eavesdrop, but she was waiting to talk to Dean and the brothers didn't seem to realize that they weren't alone. She found their conversation fascinating.
"What were you doing, Sammy? Who was that kid you got offstage first?" Dean couldn't quite keep the disapproval out of his voice.
Sam didn't meet Dean's eye as they lifted one of the larger mats together. "That was Mike. He plays Polonius."
Dean raised an eyebrow. "Not the king, Sammy. Did you miss the memo?" He dropped his side of the mat.
Sam sighed as he dropped his end of the mat and kicked it into position. "He's the dad…Laertes' father." Sam's voice dropped so low, Mrs. Ford almost missed what he said. "Got to protect my own first."
There was a meaningful pause while Dean digested what Sam had said. Mrs. Ford couldn't begin to fathom what passed between the boys. Dean responded in a voice that was just as low, but filled with a sad sort of awe. "You'd protect the dad first?"
Sam did look up then and caught Dean's gaze. "It's what you would do."
There was silence again. Then Dean looked away and moved toward the pile of mats. "He'd kick my freakin' ass…" Mrs. Ford didn't understand, but Sam did, and chuckled as he joined Dean to move another mat.
Dean became an irregular regular at rehearsals after that. There were times, like this Saturday rehearsal when he was scheduled to show up. But other times he'd sneak in unannounced and make it his goal to get close enough to Scott or Kellie to, as he said, "deliver a killing blow". James took Dean's designation of "Captain of the Guard" very seriously, and kept the other boys on their toes – they were always on the lookout for Dean. It had somehow been arranged that Sam not participate in these games, but James was clever enough to keep an eye on Sam; Sam always knew when Dean was around and watching Sam gave James a little bit of an edge anticipating an attack.
The thud of a body hitting a mat got Mrs. Ford's attention, but there was no accompanying groan. That was a good sign and the rehearsal moved on.
The title "Vallo Rex!" translates to "Defend the King!"