Standing the Night Watch
By The Chronicler
John's eyes snapped open. For a moment, he held his breath, peering through the dark, listening intently.
Again he heard it.
A soft moan. So soft it could have been his imagination. But he knew it wasn't.
Instantly he rolled off the side of the lounge chair, coming to his feet with buck knife in hand. With barely a glance he recognized his eldest son through the darkness coming to his feet on the other side of the motel room. "Dean…?" he started, hoping his son had caught on to what had woken them. 'Cause he sure as hell didn't know…
Dean was already moving. Stepping up and over his bed, he dropped his own knife on the nightstand. Then sat on the edge of his brother's bed and leaned over him. "Hey, Sammy. Hey, man. Shhh… it's alright. Just a dream." he whispered.
Sam twisted and struggled under the covers. His eyes glanced about franticly behind their lids. His fingers dug into his pillow. He mumbled, crying out softly.
"Sammy." Dean brushed the bangs away from his eyes. "Come on, buddy. Just a dream. Just a nightmare."
"Dean?" John called again. He took the three steps to the foot of Sam's bed, glancing around the room. "What's wrong with him?"
"Nothin'!" Dean snapped at him over his shoulder, before quickly turning his attention back to his brother. "It's alright, Sammy. I'm here. I've got ya." he whispered, softly brushing back Sam dark hair. "I ain't gonna let nothin' bad happen to ya. Hear me? Nothin'."
Frowning, John watched as Dean whispered and coed to his brother until, finally, Sam settled back down into a deep sleep.
A few more whispers, just to make sure, then Dean leaned back with a heavy sigh. Running his fingers through his hair, he rolled his head, hearing his neck pop.
"Dean." This time John wasn't asking for his attention. He wanted to know, and wanted to know now!
Dean glanced at him. With a yawn and a scratch at his bare chest, he rose to his feet and started around the bed, heading for the little kitchenette off to the side of the room.
With one more look at his youngest, John turned and followed Dean. "What's wrong with him?" he demanded when he caught up with him.
"I told ya: nothin'." Dean grumbled. Yanking the fridge open, he grabbed a pair of long neck beers. Handing one to his father, he explained "He just has nightmares… sometimes."
"Nightmares?" John frowned. His sons hadn't had nightmares since they were babes in arms. Sam, even then, was a rarity.
Dean, on occasion after his mother had died. But he had known a normal life. Dean had four years of a normal, safe life to compare to.
Sam… all Sam had ever known was this, the hunting, the monsters, the dangerous… nightmares were reality for him. He didn't need to dream about them.
Then again, Sam was the one who always wanted a normal life. A life without hunting and monsters, and dangerous. A life where nightmares were only seen in ones sleep, where folks walked around in blissful ignorance of what goes bump in the night.
Dean leaned back against the counter, taking a swig of his beer. "It happens." he admitted. Closing his eyes, he rubbed the bridge of his nose. "He'll be alright."
John swooshed his beer as he watched his youngest son sleeping on the other side of the room. "What does he dream about?" he wondered.
Dean had to chuckle at that. "Lollipops and candy canes." he offered up.
John stiffened, his eyes narrowing.
Dean sighed. He didn't think it was funny either. Not way back when when Sammy used it on him and not now. With a shake of his head, Dean admitted "He won't tell me. Nag the hell out of him too, and all he'd give me is some vague crap like man, this life' or hell and damnation, what was in that burrito?!'" He looked at his father. "But, come on, how hard ya think it is to figure out? Kid watched Jess burning up on his ceiling." He raised his bottle and looked at his father over the rim. "And the only man that knew anything 'bout what he was goin' through was nowhere to be found."
John's head snapped about, his eyes striking Dean with an almost physical blow.
To his credit, Dean resisted the instinct to flinch.
For a moment, the elder Winchester glared at his son. But then his eyes dropped, locking on the liquid in his beer bottle. Feeling his gut wrench, John couldn't deny it: Dean was right.
When Sam needed him the most, John was somewhere else. It had always been that way with Sam. John had never known what to say or do with the boy. When he was knee high and asked why he didn't have a mother. Or when he was afraid of the dark. When he wanted to play baseball. When he didn't want to move again. When he got a full ride to college. Hell, a discussion on the weather could have landed father and son in the middle of a rip roaring fight.
All John ever wanted was for his boys to live a long, safe life. But with every shadow, every bump in the night a threat…
John made some choices for the boys, some sacrifices. Baseball went out the window to make room for something more reasonable like archery.
But hundreds of thousands of kids grew up and lived long, safe lives without knowing that evil was everywhere. And their lives were happy, blissful in their ignorance. Innocence was sweet and no child should grow up without it.
The demon had taken that innocence from John. Had taken it from Dean. But Sam… that was John's doing. Sam could have grown up never knowing what had happened to his mother, never hunting nor fearing the shadows. Never knowing the truth.
Hell, his brother-in-law had offered to take Sam and raise him in a good safe home after Mary had died. Even tried to take Sam with the help of the courts. He would have succeeded too if it wasn't for the fact they couldn't find John and his sons.
Apparently they figured John wasn't a fit father… with his disappearing, apparent living out of the car and various, grungy hotel rooms, talking to psychics, yadda, yadda, yadda…
Oh, but dear ol' uncle didn't want Dean. Said young Dean was too aggressive, too angry. Like a boy who witnessed his mother burning on the ceiling was supposed to be anything different.
Maybe if John had let him take Sammy, at least one of his sons would have had a chance at a happy life. Maybe he would have played baseball. Maybe he would have gone to school with buddies he had known all his life. Maybe he would have been a Boy Scout, gone to his Senior Prom, celebrated his full scholarship to the college of his choice. Maybe he wouldn't have had to watch Jess die in that horrible way. And maybe he wouldn't be suffering from nightmares. Maybe he wouldn't have hated his father so much.
John blinked. Licking his lips, he glanced up at Dean.
Dean shook his head. "Wasn't your fault." He shrugged. "Shit happens. We deal with it the best we can. And then we get on with life."
The father sighed. "I never wanted this life for you boys." he admitted. Again he focused on his beer. "When you were born, when Sammy was born, Mary and I… we talked about the future… what we wanted for you boys." He smiled. "I was gonna teach you to play ball."
Dean chuckled. "Yea, I remember. I loved that football." He took a swig of his beer. "Whatever happened to that thing?"
John's smile faded. "Burned." His head snapped about sharply, hearing his youngest mumbling.
For a silent moment, both John and Dean held their breaths, listening, watching, waiting to see if it was just an uncomfortable glimpse or a raging nightmare. But then Sam sighed heavily, settling back in his pillow, drifting off again.
With a tired sigh, Dean leaned back against the counter again. "Least he's finally gettin' some sleep." He took a sip of his beer.
John glanced at him. "They've been bad?" he asked. He had to wonder just how bad bad has to get to make these days look good.
Dean huffed. "They've always been bad." But he paused to shrug. "For awhile after Jess died, it was real bad. Messed the kid up good. He might get a few minutes shut eye, but, just as soon as he'd relax, he'd start calling out and fighting. He developed, what you might call, an unhealthy addiction to late night infomercials." He chuckled. "Trunk was filled with George Foreman grills in every size and color 'fore he got a good night's sleep." he added before taking another sip.
John smiled at that, taking a swig of his own beer. He would almost like to have seen a preppy grill tossed in amongst the guns, swords, salt, crosses, and whatnots. But then another thought came to mind. Looking his eldest over, he wondered "And how much sleep do you get?"
Dean didn't bother looking at him as he shrugged. "I get enough. Sleep never came hard to me."
"Enough, huh?" John wasn't buying it.
The boy smiled slightly. "You know how the job is. You snooze when and where you can. Hell, get half my sleep while Sammy's behind the wheel." He tilted his head to one side. "Always thought that's why you taught me to drive… so you could finally get some sleep." He took another swig of his beer as he watched his brother sleep.
John would have smiled if it wasn't the truth. Dean was twelve, barely able to see over the steering wheel, when John first put him in the driver's seat all on his own. Falling asleep at the wheel and all John could think of was getting to the next job in time. Wasn't even a concern that driving so tired might endanger his sons. Or that putting his twelve year old son behind the wheel might be more of a danger than being late.
Dean always did a grown up job. Even knee high he was doing man's work. Hell, John had put a shot gun in Dean's hands before he was even big enough to hold it steady.
Shoot first, ask questions later. Make your own dinner. Sleep with one eye open. Always carry holy water. Rock salt the windows and doors before settling in. And always, always, always look after Sammy!
It had always been like that. From the day John had put Sam in Dean's arms, telling him run, save his brother… Dean had never stopped saving his brother. He wouldn't hesitate to take a bullet for the kid, die for him. Give up his childhood, his life for him.
Lose sleep for Sammy?
Hell, that was nothing.
John gave a long, tired sigh. "I've put a lot on your shoulders." he mumbled, more to himself than anyone else. Reaching up he rubbed the bridge of his nose. "More than I should have."
Dean shrugged. "Nothin' I can't handle." He raised his long neck over his head and squinted at the last drop rolling around the bottom of the bottle as if wondering if it was really worth the effort it would take to suck it out. But his eyes shifted just enough to see his father beyond the bottle.
John looked at Dean with a raised eyebrow, not in the least bit convinced that "handle" was what life was supposed to be. Life should be more than just handling it. More than just surviving. More than just fighting.
Dean sighed. Setting his bottle down on the counter, he shrugged again. "Dad, things need to be done. Folks, like us, need to do them so folks like everyone else can live their happy, little lives with their two point whatever kids, white picket fences, Sunday lawn mowing, boring, innocent lives." Again he shrugged. "'Sides, we'd be bored out of our skulls if we lived lives like that."
His father chuckled at that. "Yea, well, there was a time…" He swallowed down the last of his beer.
Dean smiled slightly. "That was a long time ago." he reminded him.
John tilted his head to one side. Looking at his sleeping son again, he told Dean "Not all that long ago." He looked at Dean again, letting his eyes drift down then back up.
Seemed only yesterday that he could carry both his sons. Only yesterday when Dean would greet him with an excited "Daddy!" and come jumping up into his arms. John remembered little fingers wrapped tightly around his big fingers, or gazing in amazement at tiny Spiderman shoes with Velcro. Snatching Dean up from behind and swinging him through the air.
He also remembered showing him how to brace the shotgun against the wall so the recoil wouldn't knock the kid on his butt. And that wide eyed wonderment he felt watching little Dean use his little fingers to get all the creases out of their fake I.D.s.
"What?" Dean suddenly asked.
John blinked. "What what?"
"What you lookin' at me like that for?"
His father shrugged. "I'm not lookin' at you like anything."
Dean's eye brows rose. "huh."
John smiled again. With a shake of his head, he wondered "When the hell did you grow up?"
Dean suddenly grinned. "Who the hell said I did?"
For a moment, father and son stole away to share a chuckle. For a moment the outside world was forgotten, shadows were just shadows, the glowing dots in the sky were just stars, and all was right.
But then Dean's head snapped about. His head tilted slightly, listening.
John froze, waiting.
After a long moment, Dean sighed. "He's sleeping now. Really sleeping." Yawning, arching his back, he admitted "I'm beat to hell." Scratching his bare chest, he stepped around his father and started back across the room. "I'm goin' back to bed." He paused to glance back. "Hey, you want the bed? I can take the lounge…."
But John shook his head. "I'm fine. Get some sleep."
Dean shrugged, then started back.
Again he paused to look back. "Yea?" he managed around a yawn.
John licked his lips, feeling more than a little uncomfortable with what he was going to say, yet needing, suddenly, to say it. "Dean… I am proud of you… of the man you grew up to be."
Dean hesitated, but then he smirked. "Yea, well… you should see me skip rope while whistlin' Dixie." That said, he stepped up and over Sam's bed. Giving his brother one more glance, he climbed into bed.
John smiled. "Sweet dreams, son." he whispered, before setting his beer bottle on the counter and heading off to his own bed.
Standing the Night Watch