John had pulled some extra money out of somewhere, this time the boys didn't care because Sam was 8 and Dean was 12 and they were just glad John remembered milk and cereal and oh my god are those Stouffer's Hungry Man dinners?

Dean eating a piece of meat the exact shape of a trapezoid, Sam eating corn that smelled vaguely of plastic, John smoking a cigarette and reading obituaries. And the apartment was content, not something the family had much of, and they looked at each surreptitiously, not trusting the peace but willing to go with it.

John folded the newspaper, stubbed out his cigarette, brought out his wallet and laid the money down on the table, $100 bills in a fan, green and crisp, the smell in the room creating a buzz like left-over marijuana smoke. He looked at his boys, reminders of Mary, reminders of his own father, gazing back at him with expressions akin to anticipation. "So," he says, trying to keep the excitement out of his voice, "what do you want to do?"

The boys look at each other, sending private Sam/Dean signals, John so thoroughly out of the loop he should send in a change of address card. Some sort of consensus was reached, and as one they turned to their father and said, "Fun City."

Which John eventually understood as being go-carts and miniature golf and video games and everything else which someone over 30 would see as a day spent in hell. But his boys had upped the ante, Sam's eyes so puppy dog John was looking for a tail, Dean vibrating and swinging like a piƱata on crack.

And the day wasn't that bad, though John couldn't get the music from Ms. PacMan out of his head for days, because Sam aced them all at miniature gold, grinning like a goof ball. And John actually folded his lanky frame into a go-cart, circling the track endlessly, the smell of rubber and asphalt perfuming the air. Dean bright like a copper penny, Sam's smile big enough to light Las Vegas.

After the last token had been used, the three of them stood in the parking lot, Sam's smile slipping, Dean tarnished, until John said, "What next?"

Private conference. Sam and Dean only, please. Whispers, guffaws, knocks on the shoulder. Sam looking up at his father, the slight tilt of his eyes all Mary. "Dad. What do you want to do?"

And the boys were actually generous enough not to groan when John turned into the parking lot of an Army/Navy store. But John had upped the ante with his grin and his eyes, stunned by the boys' offer, and an hour spent in the place was not the hell either had expected. Dean and Sam fiddled with disabled grenades and spent shell casings, the musty smell of old fatigues and camo netting perfuming the air. John talking shop with the one-armed man behind the counter, actually loose and open, smiling at strangers.

After the last did you know so n so in A company had been swapped, the three of them stood in the parking lot, John's grin gone, until Dean said, "What next?"

John and Sam, surprisingly, on the same wavelength, and Dean so not left out, watching the two of them with something akin to pride. "Wal-Mart."

New jeans, new shirts, a new jacket for John, a new hoodie for Sam. More Stouffer's Hungry Man dinners.

John noticing the worn edges of the boys' sneakers, leading them into the maze that was Wal-Mart's shoe department. "Boots this time, guys," instructed John. "Winter's coming."

The boys scattered, search and destroy mode, regrouping with John in about ten minutes, bearing treasure. Sam, his face suddenly red, eyes shy, presenting John with a pair of honest-to-God, made to shit kick cowboy boots.

John biting hard on his lower lip, killing the smile that so wanted to show, clearing his throat and asking, "Why those, Sam?"

Mumbling. Ducked head. Shaggy hair its own kind of camo netting.


A quick surge of courage, Sam meeting his father's gaze and saying "'Cause they're like Anakin's boots."

More ruthless lip chewing. Dean still and serious, his green eyes so bright John couldn't look at him and maintain his composure. "I see."

The way of the Jedi was big with Sam, Jedi knights fighting their own sort of evil, the pull of the darkside, the glory of the Force. Anakin's struggle consuming to Sam, who wasn't sure what path Anakin should take. The boots perhaps a way to puzzle out the knife-edge choice between good and bad.

Dean, green eyes quieter, looking up at his father, holding out the pair of biker boots like an offering to a god. John, so not speaking, shuffling his feet clad in a pair of biker boots twin to the ones Dean was holding.

Biker boots, Jedi boots, next to the Stouffer's Hungry Man dinners.