Title: "Rites of Passage"
Category: Gen, pre-series
Word Count: 2100
Characters: Sam, John, a guest appearance by Dean.
Summary: "Dean's eighteen years old, Dad, and he just killed a human being. Not a werewolf, not a shapeshifter, a real human being. Like hell you know how he feels."
Author's Notes: You need no familiarity with my story, "A Matter of Principle," to understand this one, but this fic is a sequel to a flashback in that story. If flashbacks can have sequels.
Dean marched straight past John when the boys returned from their hunt. Didn't pause, didn't even look him in the eye.
"Sammy'll tell you," he muttered, making a beeline for the bedroom he shared with his brother.
Another set of booted feet clomped up the stairs to their apartment. Sam—not Sammy, he insisted daily—stomped in, looked at the closed bedroom door, and threw his duffel on the couch sullenly. Two grocery-store clerks, the landlord, and three little old ladies in the retirement home across the street had marveled to John about his son's sunny disposition, but as far as John knew the kid had only two moods: sullen and hostile. Maybe forty-eight unbroken hours of it had worn out even Dean's patience.
"Report?" John demanded. Sam just glowered at him, so he started for the bedroom. "Dean, what happened?" he called.
In a heartbeat, Sam was between him and the door. "Leave him alone," he ordered in the low growl he'd been cultivating since his voice started to change over the past year. Sam had changed a lot over the past year. Mostly, not for the better.
"Sam," John cautioned.
His son stood his ground, and John read it in his face—something had gone wrong on the job. He backed down, tolerating the insubordination until he had the facts, and nodded toward the duffel bag. Sam rolled his eyes and hauled it over to the weapons trunk next to the television.
"Did Dean get hurt?" John asked. If he ordered Sam to talk he'd keep silent until Gabriel blew his horn, just on some obnoxious teenage principle, but some questions he wouldn't ignore.
"Those missing hikers?" Sam said as he crouched down and opened the box. "They were collecting mushrooms."
John flipped through his mental index cards for what would go after a couple of amateur mycologists. "You're kidding. Faeries?" he asked.
"The Sidhe." Sam began deftly putting away the gear. "Some loser with a book of Celtic folklore was summoning them through a hawthorn in a grove."
"Idiot," John grunted. Like they didn't have enough to hunt without bringing in beings from another continent. "Did Dean get hurt?" he repeated.
"This isn't 'Twenty Questions,'" John pointed out when Sam clammed up again.
"The faeries were on the Wild Hunt when we found the passage. We got the hikers out, and set up to torch the tree after the faeries went back through." Sam paused once more and concentrated on arranging the equipment just so. "The guy jumped Dean. They were fighting, and the hunters came back..."
John put the pieces together: a struggle, a man falling before the onrushing horses and their fierce riders. Lore said the Sidhe were beautiful and terrible; fools remembered only the first part.
"I get it, Sam," he interjected.
"Dad, he didn't mean to," Sam said, a little pleadingly.
"I know," John reassured him, studying the rigid set of his son's shoulders. Sam hadn't witnessed a violent death before—not a human's, at any rate—and this wasn't how John would have wanted him to pass that grim milestone. "Did you see it?"
Sam closed the trunk. "I was getting the hikers clear."
Well, that was something. "What did he do with the body?" John asked.
Sam snapped the latch shut. "What did he do with the body?" he repeated icily as he stood up. "Is that all you have to say?"
"Sam," John warned again.
Sam lifted his chin and glared. The kid was itching for a fight, not that that was anything new. John rubbed at his eyes and tried to defuse the ticking time bomb that was his fourteen-year-old son.
"Look, it's rough," he conceded, wondering when the hell he started justifying himself to his own kid, "but in our line of work, it had to happen sometime."
Sam's lip curled. "No, Dad, it didn't 'have to happen sometime,'" he sneered in a tone calculated to make John's palm itch. He'd never raised a hand against his boys; lately, he could swear that Sam was pushing to see what would change that.
"It didn't have to happen because Dean doesn't have to be in your line of work," Sam railed on. "He should be finishing school—"
"That's between your brother and me, Sam. Drop it." John ordered. He took a step forward when Sam jutted his chin further and opened his mouth again. "I said drop it, Samuel."
Sam didn't lower his chin—whatever else you could say about the boy, John hadn't raised any cowards—but he dropped it. "Leave him alone," he spat instead when John turned toward the bedroom. "He won't talk."
"He'll talk to me," John tossed over his shoulder. "I know what he's going through."
"The hell you do," Sam muttered.
John whirled on him. "You wanna repeat that to my face?"
"The hell you do," Sam enunciated deliberately. "Dean's eighteen years old, Dad, and he just killed a human being. Not a werewolf, not a shapeshifter, a real human being. Like hell you know how he feels."
Screw it. If the kid wanted to push, he could damn well get pushed back. John advanced until Sam had to retreat, slamming his hand against the wall to pin his son when he couldn't back away further.
"Sam, what the fuck do you think I was doing in the Mekong Delta?" John snarled.
Sam flinched, gaped—and stood down.
When John came out of the bedroom an hour later, Sam was sitting at the kitchen table, staring at a history book he'd propped up among the salt shells that John had been filling. John paused—Dean had said the kid was having nightmares—but when Sam didn't speak up, he pulled a beer from the refrigerator and went to sit on their little balcony overlooking the parking lot. He twisted the cap off and set the bottle down without drinking.
After a few minutes, the glass door behind him slid open. John looked up. "Come on out, Sam," he invited.
Sam bit his lip, hovering in the doorway. "You enlisted," he said. "Sir." The epithet was more a peace offering than a sign of genuine respect, but him and Sam had to take what they could get these days.
"I did, and I was proud to be serving my country. A lot of men didn't, and weren't." John ran his fingers over the condensation on the bottle's neck. Sooner or later, Sam was going to have to make his peace with the cold, hard facts. "But thing of it is, son, willing or not, soldiers all fight the same war."
That too-familiar resentment sparked in Sam's eyes. "Dean and me aren't soldiers, Dad."
Later, then. "Don't speak for your brother, Sam," he rebuked.
Sam glanced over his shoulder at some sound inside the apartment; a moment later, Dean appeared.
"I'm going out," he said to John, running a hand through his damp, newly-spiky hair. Sam had glared daggers at his father when Dean had come home a week before school was to start with that goddamned ponytail chopped off, but for once, Dean wasn't acting on orders. Sometimes a man needs to choose his own rite of passage.
"You going to be drinking?" John asked. They were living within walking distance of a bar that season. More often than not, they were living within walking distance of a bar. John always told himself it was a coincidental effect of staying in the residence hotels they could afford.
Dean blinked at the violation of the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy on what he did with his fake ID when he wasn't on the job. "Yeah," he mumbled.
John looked somewhere to the left of his son's shoulder and delivered the truncated version of the 'first R&R' speech. "Don't bet more than what's in your wallet, don't start any fights, and I don't care how drunk you get, don't forget to use a condom."
Dean blinked again. "Yes, sir," he answered. He thumped Sam on the upper arm without meeting his eyes, and turned to leave. "See ya later, Sammy."
Sam watched his brother go a little wistfully, an almost-hidden longing for comfort in his expression, and Christ. If the kid would just trust John for once instead of nursing that meaningless teenaged anger, he wouldn't have to deal with this alone.
"C'mere, son," John told him. When Sam shuffled over to his chair he asked, "What did you really see?"
Sam shrugged, but his eyes reddened.
John threw an arm around his son's waist. "Sammy," he nudged.
Sam's expression crumbed. "Everything."
John let go of his waist and shifted his hand up to rub Sam's back. "It's okay," he said, and Sam just broke down, sinking to a crouch, shoulders shaking. "It's okay, Sammy. Nothing to be ashamed of," John soothed.
"Dad, he…they..." Sam choked out incoherently, but John had a pretty good idea of who he meant. "I'm never gonna forget it, am I?"
"No, son," John answered, blunt but honest. God damn the day he had learned the truth that set him back on the warrior's path with a little boy at his knee and a baby in his arms. "But it'll get better."
Sam nodded jerkily and snuffled into his shirtsleeve. "Don't tell Dean?"
"Sure," John promised, not that it would take Dean long to figure out that his brother's nightmares weren't fueled by imagination, once he got over his own shock. Sam would get over his too, but John had no clue how to help him get there.
Sam lowered his head and wiped at his nose with the back of his sleeve. "I've got studying to do," he mumbled after another minute.
"Okay," John answered, guiltily relieved.
Sam clambered up, stumbling a little with the clumsiness he'd been showing since he hit his growth spurt. "Dad?" he asked as he slid open the door.
Sam chewed his lip like he had before coming onto the porch. "Can we stay here until June?"
"June?" John asked before it clicked: June was the end of the school year. "Aw, kiddo, you know I can't promise that."
"I can't get good grades if we move around all the time," Sam protested, and John felt a flash of acid envy for the men who could be proud when their sons put school first. "I'm old enough to stay on my own now," Sam continued. "No one's going to notice."
John mulled it over. Even if any of their neighbors were around long enough to realize Sam was alone, they weren't the type of people to call Social Services. And the principal at Sam's last school—no, that was Michigan, so it was the school before last—had said something pretty pointed about the gypsy lifestyle revealed in Sam's file. She was sharper than most, but if moving around attracted attention instead of keeping them under the radar, he should rethink how much the boys needed to follow him as he chased new jobs. Plus, Sam was right: he was plenty old enough to be left alone if John and Dean were both gone.
"We'll stay the whole semester," John decided. "See what happens then."
Sam's face lit up, and that was the grin that elderly women cooed over. John made a mental note to make sure Sam was using it in the field.
"Thanks, sir," Sam said, and ducked back inside.
Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Sam hunch over the book and his notes. Studying was a better escape than alcohol; if they were lucky, Sam wouldn't have to make the same decision about his schooling that Dean just had. John wasn't optimistic. Luck had been escaping the shells and bullets that had claimed too many of his friends; luck had been meeting Mary; luck had been landing a job that would provide well for the children they'd been blessed with. He wasn't owed any more good luck in this lifetime. Still, maybe his sons would catch a break.
John took a pull from his beer as he looked over the asphalt, remembering the acrid smell of gunpowder mingled with humid jungle scents, recalling the mad eyes of the vengeful spirit he'd wasted in this morning's pre-dawn hours, imagining razor-sharp hooves pummeling the forest floor, flashing swords and merciless spears and a man who believed only half of what he knew. He put the bottle back down.
He didn't need to see more ghosts tonight.
Further author's notes: If you enjoyed this story, you can check out the rest of my fic here or on my lj, linked through my profile page. Feedback and concrit are always welcome.