Story - Sixes and Sevens

Summary - Trust: it can make or break a relationship. Gaining John Winchester's trust was a trying experience that few managed to feat.

Part of 'The Dark Horse' series

"Sixes and Sevens"

The first thing John noticed was a small hand poking and prodding his face. A tiny finger jabbed his cheek and then squeezed his nostils together. Quirking open an eye, fully prepared to see that it was his youngest finding entertainment, John looked around the unfamiliar room with a frown. As the other eye opened, a little girl's head with bouncing blonde curls appeared in front of him. She smiled, one of her two front teeth missing. Her cheeks were flushed a rosy pink as she reached a hand down and pried open his left eye as wide as it would go so she could look at it intently.

"Uh…" John started as he reached up a hand and gently grabbed the girl by the wrist. "Who are you?"

"Joanna Beth Harvelle," she said proudly. "I this many."

The girl held up one hand, indicating that she was only five years old. There was a wide smile on her face, one that reached ear to ear and lit up her whole face. She looked so innocent, so naïve, that it was painful. John looked at little Joanna and couldn't help but see Sammy - his seven year old son who was just as bubbly as the five year old girl hovering over him.

John struggled to sit up, his ribs protesting painfully. The small girl backed up a little but refused to get off the bed. Looking around the room, John wracked his brain trying to remember how he got there. It was fruitless. He rememebered being on a hunt with Bobby in Nebraska not exactly sure what they were hunting. Once they narrowed it down to one thing, it would change its pattern and the theory would be useless. Bobby and John went out late one night, trying to pick up the thing's trail when… hell, John couldn't remember what happened.

"You John Win'ester," the girl broke his thoughts.

"Yeah, I am."

"Daddy says you a famous hun'er."

"Your daddy… is he a hunter too?"

The girl nodded her head enthusiascially, her curls bouncing around her excited face. She crawled closer to John, her tiny hands grabbing his larger, callused hand. He looked down at the girl again, taking her in when he noticed the large white bandage wrapped around his torso for the first time. Brow furrowing, he carefully took his free hand and ran it along the wrap.

He rememebered being with Bobby… remembered a sharp pain exploding in his back, surging all the way to his abdomen. He could hear Bobby's muffled voice in his head. Whatever they were hunting got the drop on him, throwing him backwards into a tree or something. He wasn't quite certain on the details; however, he didn't understand why he was in some random bedroom with a little girl and not back at the motel. Hell, even a hospital would have been better than some strange back room.

"Joanna," a female voice called out sternly.

John looked up to see a woman standing in the doorway with her arms crossed comfortably over her chest. Her brown hair hung loosely around her weary face. A bottle of beer dangled from her fingertips as she looked at the scene in front of her. Her warm eyes did a quick once over of John before her gaze locked on the little girl once more with a frown etched in her forehead.

"I told you to leave him alone," the woman reprimanded gently.

"Mommy," the little one whined, "he John Win'ester. Daddy says he famous."

"I know exactly who that is, Jo, and I don't think Mister Winchester wants you bothering him while he's recovering. Go bug, Danny, okay?"

With a sigh, Jo hopped off the bed. Treading her feet, making noises of protests that was so reminiscent of Sammy, John felt his heart start to ache for his children. The woman in the doorway smiled softly at him before walking fully into the room. John watched her cross the room, uncertainty clouding his eyes. Since he had been in the business, he knew it was pointless to trust anyone. Ever since Mary's death, it was a trying experience to gain John's trust. Only one person had fully gained his trust, earned that honor. Pastor Jim Murphy was the only person he would even think about entrusting with the lives of his children.

"I'm Ellen Harvelle," the woman introduced herself. "My husband goes way back with Bobby. My husband, Bill, was hunting the same thing as you boys. He arrived a little bit after you were injured, helped Bobby bring you back here."

"Where is here exactly?"

"Harvelle's Roadhouse - a saloon in Nebraska. Hunters are known to come in once and again, to share information or just to have some down time."

"Where's Bobby?"

"He and Bill went out to finish what you two started. That was about two days ago. You've been out quite a while. You hit your head pretty hard. I tried to take you to the hospital but Bobby said you'd kill him if he did that. So you've been in and out of it for the past couple days."

John faltered. He had been gone for four days and been out for two more. Six days total since he checked in with Dean and Sammy. Were they all right? Did Dean call someone when he failed to check up on the two? Surely his oldest was responsible enough to call someone - he was eleven after all.

"I need a phone," he demanded, panic building up in the pit of his stomach.

"Bobby already called a Jim Murphy to pick up your boys."

"They're fine?"

"I reckon so."

"Do they know what happened?"

"Bobby told the oldest… Denny?"

"Dean," John snapped. "His name is Dean."

"Dean, right, that you were injured on a hunt but would be fine."

The next day, John put the Roadhouse in his rearview mirror. Irritated beyond all else that Bobby not only took him there but told those strangers about his boys. John met a lot of people while on his various hunting trips but rarely ever mentioned his sons to anyone. Ever since Elkins suggested he get rid of Sammy and Dean if he was serious about hunting, John tried to never allow other hunters to even know he had kids. He feared that if he pissed off the wrong person that his boys would be the first target of payback.

Bobby sat in the passenger seat next to him, obviously aggravated. John could care less if the older hunter was pissed at him. Being pissed was a two-way street. John called Jim as soon as the two were on the road. The good pastor said they'd meet at Bobby's place since it was almost in the middle of Lincoln, Nebraska and Blue Earth, Minnesota.

When John pulled into the salvage yard, Jim's yellow '72 GMC Sierra Custom Camper was already parked in the driveway. Cutting the engine, the younger hunter was out of the car before Bobby could say anything. As he slammed the door shut, the front door to the house swung open. Sammy came running out of the house with Dean not far behind him. Both boys' faces were relieved when they saw their father standing there looking relatively unharmed

"Dad!" Sam screamed as his arms wrapped themselves tightly around his waist.

John laid a hand on the top of his son's messy curls, running his fingers through the soft hair. Dean stopped directly behind his brother, his arms crossed over his chest as he stared up at his father. John smiled softly at his oldest, reaching out his free hand and resting it on Dean's shoulder.

"Dad, are you okay? Pastor Jim came and got us, told us you were hurt," Dean informed him. "It is all right that we came with him, right?"

"I'm fine, Dean. When I'm not around, you listen to Pastor Jim. No harm, no foul," he told him as he squeezed the boy's shoulder in reassurance. "You did good, Dude, looking out for Sammy until Jim got there."

Looking up from his sons, he saw Jim talking to Bobby in low tones. The pastor's eyes watched the small Winchester family, a frown crossing his features. John held back a noise of annoyance. Tugging Dean closer to him, he enveloped the kid in a one armed hug. His hand pressed Dean's head against his chest.

"John, can we speak to you for a moment?" Jim called.

"Go wait in the car. We'll be leaving soon," John told his boys as he released them.

He watched as Dean grabbed Sammy's hand and pulled him towards the Impala. Settling his brother in the backseat, the older boy raced into the house to most likely get their bags. John crossed his arms over his chest before walking over to his fellow hunters. He really wasn't in the mood for whatever talk they were about to have.

"I hear that you met a family of hunters," Jim started in his usual pleasant tone.

"You," John pointed to Bobby, "had no right telling them anything about Dean or Sammy. Do you understand me? Where the hell do you get off?"

"John…"

"I've known Bill a hell of a lot longer than you, Johnny," Bobby snapped.

"I don't care! They're not your children! You don't tell anyone about my kids! Got that, Singer?"

"I don't understand why you're so goddamn suspicious of everyone. No hunter is going to go after two little kids. Get off your high horse, John. Nobody cares."

"Don't you dare go near my boys again," John warned the older hunter.

"Oh, yeah, like I'd hurt an eleven and seven year old!"

"Robert! Jonathan! Enough!" Jim hissed as his head inclined towards the small porch attached to the house.

Glancing over, John saw his oldest standing there with two bags dangling on either side of him. He was watching the small fight break out in front of him. The kid's green eyes were darting between his father and Bobby, uncertainty shining in his eyes. John sighed, rubbing his bearded chin as he glanced back at Bobby.

"Get in the car, Dean," he commanded harsher than he intended to.

The boy made his way down the couple of stairs before making a beeline to trunk. Setting the bags on top, he quickly got into the backseat of the car next to his brother. Jim was shaking his head as John and Bobby continued to fume at one another.

"You don't want my help, Johnny, fine. Get the hell out of here and don't come back. You wanna be a stubborn ass, go ahead. I don't care. That's what you're good at."

"You had no right telling those people about Dean and Sam! That's not me being a stubborn ass! It's me being a concerned father!"

"Yeah, because you were real concerned when you left those kids by themselves to go hunting with me."

"Don't try to turn this around on me!"

"The Harvelle's have a daughter of their own, Winchester. They know what it's like to hunt and have a kid."

"I don't care, Singer."

"Get the hell off my property before I shoot you full of buckshot!"

"Robert!" Jim shouted as he tried frantically to keep the peace.

John didn't budge, daring Bobby to take his shot at him. He was calling the older hunter's bluff. Shaking his head, Bobby dropped his weapons bag and pulled out a shotgun. Cocking it, Jim frantically stepped in-between the two hunters.

"That's enough! John, get in the car and go! Bobby, put the gun down!"

"Don't think I will, Winchester? You get on everybody's nerves like no one else. Nice way with words you got going on."

Letting out a puff of annoyance, John made his way to the Impala. Unlocking the trunk, he threw his boys' bags in before making his way to the driver's side. He hauled his body in the car, quickly starting the engine. Glancing up to check on his sons in the rearview mirror, he watched Dean glaring at Bobby with an arm around a frightened Sammy. John backed the car out of the driveway, swinging it around in the road to drive towards the motel they were staying at.

"Why'd Bobby threaten to shoot you?" asked Dean.

"Because Bobby's an ass. You stay away from him. You hear me?"

"Yes, Sir."

A week later, when John was packing up the boys to go to New England for a hunt, the phone in the motel room rang. Dean looked up from where he was packing the guns to look at his father. Sammy came barreling in the room, sprinting directly for the phone. His brother hissed his name to stop him, shaking his head before he could pick up the receiver.

"You know the rules about answering the phone, Sammy," John said.

"I thought it was all right if you were here?" Sam questioned, his brow furrowing in confusion.

Picking up the phone, he shoved the receiver between the side of his face and shoulder so that he could continue packing. Sam sighed loudly before treading over towards his brother, dragging his feet as he went.

"Yeah?" John answered.

"Hey, John, it's Ellen."

"Who?"

"Ellen. From the Roadhouse. You met my daughter Jo. Cute little thing who was bugging the hell outta you."

John stopped packing, his mind racing on how she could get the number. The only people who knew it were Jim and Bobby. Bobby, the stupid idiot. With his free hand, John snapped his fingers to get his sons' attention. He didn't want them in the room if he had to talk to the gal. Tilting the phone away from his mouth he whispered, "Get the stuff in the car." Digging into his pocket, he threw the keys at Dean who caught them easily.

"You still there?"

"Yeah, I'm here," he spoke as soon as the kids were out the door. "What the hell do you want?"

"Look, you can say a lot of things about us, but we're loyal. Bill and me, we don't gossip about our own. We serve beer and provide a safe haven for hunters. Nothing else. I never even dreamed of telling anyone you had kids, John. Your boys - never even crossed my mind to tell anyone about them. You got that?"

"That's a nice little speech you planned," he responded dryly. "Why do you care what I think about you and yours?"

Walking over towards the window of the motel room, he pealed back the curtains to check on Dean and Sammy. The two were talking to one another, the younger one's face twisted in defiance as he watched Dean loading the bags into the trunk of the Impala. He continued to watch them to ensure that they didn't disappear.

"We help people like you, John. Now, we might not always agree, but we're here if you need us. Hunting is a dangerous gig, and you want to know the right people."

"And you're the right people? How convenient."

"There're a lot of hunters who aren't trustworthy. You place your trust in the wrong person, the wrong hunter, your boys could get caught in the crossfire. Bill and I have a daughter, John; we know what it's like to not want the wrong sorts of people hanging around her. You need people you can trust though or else you aren't going to make it long in this business."

"All right. Thanks for the concern for my family seeing as you know us so well," John laid the sarcasm on thick as he watched the boys making their way back to the motel room. "I got to go. I have business that I need to attend to. I don't have the pleasure of sitting around in a saloon all day serving beer and peanuts to a bunch of hunters."

Slamming the phone down, Sammy and Dean wandered into the motel room merely seconds later. Grabbing the last of the bags, John pushed pass his sons to the car. The hunt in New England didn't last long, only two days. A simple salt and burn. It was the summer, so it was easier for the Winchesters to travel without having to worry about school and when semesters end. So as soon as the job was finished, John packed up his kids again and drove across the county to a small city several miles west of Des Moines, Iowa for the latest hunt.

Renting a two-bedroom backwoods cabin, he situated the boys in their new home for the duration of the hunt. Setting his kids up with enough provisions for a good two weeks, just in case, John packed up what he would need into the trunk of the Impala. Dean leaned against the car, his gaze resting on where Sammy played with a small farm of ants and worms. Closing the hood, John let out a sigh as he looked onto his oldest.

"You know the drill, Dude," he said softly. "If anybody calls, don't pick up. If it's me, I'll ring once and then call back. Lock the doors and windows, close the shades, and most important watch out for Sammy."

"I know, Dad." Dean forced a smile. "I got it all covered. Don't worry."

Reaching out, John placed a hand on Dean's shoulder. He squeezed it and offered a small smile before he turned his attention to the smaller boy who was busy talking to a worm in his hand. Shaking his head, John called out for his son. Dropping his newfound friend on the ground, Sammy bolted over towards his father and brother.

"You listen to Dean, okay, Sammy?"

"How long you going to be gone?" the kid replied as though the thought of not listening to Dean would ever cross his mind.

"Hopefully not longer than a week. Pastor Jim is going to be checking up on you for me given what happened last time." He turned his attention to Dean. "I told him to ring once and then call back - just like I do. So don't be alarmed if you don't hear me on the phone."

The hunt was a relatively short one, lasting only a period of two days. There was a werewolf who was wrecking havoc for the past five months. Mostly due to dumb luck, John happened to stumble upon the werewolf feeding outside of a shady nightclub. After the deed was done, John couldn't help but feel like someone was watching him… following him all the way back to the cabin. His heart pounded wildly in his chest, concluding that he was packing up the boys and leaving as soon as possible.

It was three in the morning when he returned. Darting to the back of the cabin, he saw Dean and Sammy sleeping soundly in the master bedroom. Closing the distance between him and his boys, John reached out and gently shook Dean's shoulder. The boy jerked, his body instantly covering his little brother as though he were a shield.

"Dean, it's okay," John's voice said soothingly.

"Dad?"

Dean rolled onto his back, one arm still tucked securely under Sammy's tiny body. The kid blinked up at his father, his face scrunched up in confusion. Reaching a hand down, John brushed back his son's hair. He hated to panic the kid, but John knew he was followed back to the cabin. There was simply no doubt in his mind. After being in Vietnam, one became attuned to followers.

"We're leaving."

"Now?" Dean questioned as his brows furrowed.

"Yeah, Dude. Come on. Grab yours and Sammy's stuff."

Once Dean started to get out of bed, careful not to disturb his brother, John darted around the master bedroom grabbing his things. Dean walked towards the closet of the bedroom, grabbing two bags and rushing sleepily out of the room to pack up the things they discarded. When John finished packing what few items he took out of his duffle, he slung the bag over his shoulder. He then grabbed the boy in the bed, hoisting him up by the armpits, and securely into his arms.

"Dean?" the boy questioned as he rubbed a fist into his eye.

"We're leaving, Sammy," John told him. "Go back to sleep."

Sam was heavy in his arms, no longer the toddler who could be carried around with ease. The boy buried his head on his father's shoulder, wrapping his arms around his neck. John hurried into the living room to see his oldest tying his shoes with the bags by the door. He briefly looked up at his father while slipping on a light jacket.

"Dad, what's the hurry?"

"I just want to get out the hell of dodge," John replied. "Grab Sam's shoes and put them on in the car."

"Yes, Sir."

Walking out of the cabin, John locked the door on the way out. Resting a hand on Dean's shoulder, he steered the kid towards the Impala. His gaze snapped around the place, looking for any sign that they were being watched. Part of John wanted to believe he was getting paranoid in his old age, that nothing had followed him back to the cabin. Unlocking the back door, John placed Sam down on the seat and gestured Dean to get in.

"Dad…?" Dean whispered.

"What? Dean, get in the car. Come on, we need to go."

"There's something over there."

John followed Dean's gaze down the dirt road but didn't see anything. His heart pounded in his chest as grabbed the bags from his son before pushing him into the backseat. Quickly, he threw the bags in the trunk. Reaching behind him, he grabbed the gun situated between his back and his pants. He clicked off the safety, ready to shoot anything if need be. Closing the lid of the trunk, he saw Dean's face in the back window. Instantly the kid's eyes went wide, his face turning white. John then felt something grab him by the ankle, dragging him down to the ground.

"DAD!" Dean's muffled voice shouted as he pounded on the window.

"Sonofabitch!"

The last thing John expected to see was a werewolf hovering over him, knocking the gun out of his hand. After the fight with Bobby about the Harvelle family, John was sure that some hunters were following him to knock him down a peg or two - regulars at the Roadhouse who wouldn't be too happy at John's less than appreciative behavior towards them. He wasn't quite prepared for another werewolf to be out there. Teeth bearing down on him, a deep growling in the back of the thing's throat, John reached frantically for the gun that was just out of reach.

"Get away from him!" Dean's voice shouted.

"Get in the car!" John screamed as a shoe hit the wolf in the head causing it to let out a howl. "Dammit, Dean!"

The werewolf's weight left John's chest as he prowl towards Dean. Twisting his body, John made a desperate grab for the gun hoping that Dean had enough sense to get in the car or at least run. Gun in hand, John made to turn around when a succession of BANG! BANG! BANG! filled the air. The werewolf fell to the ground, and John could see his son standing there with wide eyes at the monster in front of him.

"Dean!"

John didn't care who shot the wolf - in fact, the thought never really crossed his mind. Scrambling up, he ran towards Dean and pulled him close to his chest. He could vaguely hear footfalls coming towards them, but John didn't acknowledge them. Pulling his son away from him, he stared at the kid through tears.

"When I tell you to do something, you fucking do it!" He shook Dean by the shoulders. "You could have died doing something as stupid as that!"

"It was going to kill you," he whispered. "I had to do something."

Shaking his head, John pulled the kid close to him again. Glancing over at the car, he saw Sammy's palms and face plastered against the window. His eyes were wide with fear, his face ghastly pale, and tears pouring down his face.

"John, are you and your boys all right?"

Turning around, Dean still clenched to his chest, he saw a brawny man with light brown hair only inches away. The guy looked familiar, but John couldn't place him. He must have seen the uncertainty in John's eyes, so he offered his hand.

"Bill… from Lincoln," he introduced himself.

John took his hand, remembering seeing the guy from the saloon. He'd walked in with Bobby, but John didn't take much notice of the guy. He grabbed Bobby and left the Roadhouse as quickly as possible, not staying around to make small chitchat with those people.

"Last month, I killed a werewolf here, but the killings were still going on. So I figured they had a nice little pack or something. I recognized your car, so I thought I'd offer you some backup. I know we didn't exactly get off on the right foot, so I thought I'd follow you until you stopped. Lucky I did."

"Thanks," was all John could manage to say.

"I reckon there might still be a few out there, maybe have a little den somewhere." His eyes flickered towards Sammy before resting back on John and Dean. "If you wanna check out a few leads I have, I'd be more than happy to have your company."

John felt Dean breathing hard against his chest. Looking down, he brushed the hair away from his face to see him staring with caution at the man in front of them. Licking his lips, John shook his head in the negative.

"It's your hunt," he started, "and I don't steal other hunter's hunts if I can help it."

"Nice seeing you again, John. You keep those boys of yours safe, and I'll just make sure all the wolves are as good as dead."

Turning towards the Impala, John opened the back door. Sammy came spilling out, immediately his arms latched onto his older brother as he started to babble incoherently. John gently nudged his sons into the backseat before closing the door. John turned to Bill Harvelle who was eyeing the boys with a soft smile.

"I might have said some… things to your wife that I wish to take back."

"She's as much as a stubborn ass as you, John, so she understands you more than you think. Just don't tell her I said that."

"Maybe the next time I'm near Lincoln I'll stop in."

"Bring your boys around too. I'm sure Joey would love them."

"Yeah… maybe. I owe you for saving my boy's life."

"Don't mention it."

"No, I pay my dues. You ever need something, call me."

Hauling his frame into the car, John knew he'd be stopping by the Roadhouse from time to time. He, however, already decided that his boys would never step foot in the place. Bill Harvelle may be on his way to gaining John's trust, but there was no way that he was going to expose Dean and Sammy to the hundreds of hunters that passed through there.

Starting the engine, he looked in the back seat at the boys. Sammy clung to his brother, tears caked on his red nose and cheeks. Dean, just like his brother, looked rather miserable as he rested his chin on top of the curly mess of Sam's head. John knew he was too hard on his oldest back there.

"Hey, Dude," John addressed his oldest as he drove down the driveway.

"Yeah?"

"Thanks for saving my butt back there. You were really brave, Dean." John watched in the rearview mirror as the boy cracked a smile. "I mean, throwing a shoe at a werewolf? That's gotta be a move that no hunter has ever tried before."

"It was stupid though," he admitted. "Good thing that other hunter was there."

"Lucky us. Hey, Dean?"

"Hmm?"

"I never want to see you put your life on the line for me again. You got that? My life for yours? No contest, Dude."

"But we're a family. We gotta look out for each other. That's what you always say, Dad."

"You and Sammy look out for each other, and I look out for the both of you."

"Who's going to look out for you then?"

"Dude, I'm thirty-six. I don't need looking out for."

John watched as Dean opened his mouth to retort but thought better of it. Instead the kid looked out the window at the passing scenery. Sammy's eyes were drooping against his brother's side. The boy shifted so that he was lying down on the seat with his head comfortably in Dean's lap. The older boy shrugged off his jacket and placed it on top of his little brother as a blanket. He lightly brushed the kid's hair. It was always something that helped Sammy fall asleep, when someone would idly play with his hair. The twisting in John's chest loosened ever so slightly. For now, his boys were safe.

-

So, this story just took a life of its own. It was only meant to be a filler one-shot to explain how John met the Harvelles' for the chaptered story 'The Dark Horse' I'm writing for the Dark Horse series. I'm glad with the way it turned out though. It feels like a mini-story and shows John having depth. I usually write John being nothing but nice to his children, but there were bound to be times he'd flip out on them, chastise in serious situations. So I really love the balance I struck here.

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