Rating changed for f- bombs.
John Winchester was kneeling next to a coffee table, two large plastic boxes open in front of him, entirely engrossed in doing something with their contents. Dean stood still in the doorway, blinking and resolutely denying the fact that his heart was hammering, just a little bit. No, of course Dad hadn't left. He'd said he was going fishing, and he was.
"Hey, son." John looked up from his work, pausing to give Dean a smile, then bent back to the stuff in front of him. He seemed utterly content, and…was that humming?
"What're you doing?" Dean asked, slowly shuffling his way over to the table. He didn't want to intrude on what was evidently his dad's happy place, but this was just too friggin' weird. He circled around to stand at the man's side, and stared down at a bewildering array of shiny, colorful objects in a plethora of little slots and trays.
"Yeah, what are you doing?" Jack echoed suspiciously, suddenly appearing right next to them like the Air Force ninja he was. Dean startled a bit and tossed him a wild glance, then went back to staring down at John's handiwork. Jack gasped. "Hey, those are my tackle boxes!"
John looked up at this outraged exclamation, completely unperturbed. "Yeah, I know. They were a total mess. I just sorted everything out for you. Can hardly believe you let it get that bad, though."
"What? But…but those… You organized my tackle boxes?" Jack was fairly sputtering, now, and looked ready to tear out his hair. He dropped into a crouch beside the table and reached over to grab the boxes and wrench them toward himself. "But…but they're mine! I had them exactly the way I wanted them! You never touch another man's tackle boxes!"
He gave John a deadly glare, all narrowed dark eyes and hard mouth. Dean took a step back.
"Well, 'the way you wanted them' was a complete jumble," John said calmly. "Very inefficient. I don't understand how you expected to find anything with no system like that."
"I like having no system!"
Dean felt a little breathless at the hypocrisy of this, coming from a man who had such an elaborate, complex, and detailed procedure for making peanut butter sandwiches, of all things. He was aware that discretion was the better part of valor in this situation, though, and held his silence.
Jack walked his fingers through the strange collection of rubber worms and plastic fish, all festooned with shiny little hooks. "I knew exactly where everything was! How'm supposed to find what I want now? My lures and spinners and jigs…" His tone was equal parts enraged and mournful, which just added up to a whole lot of whine. "I don't even understand what you did…."
The retired Major General suddenly went very, very silent, and very, very still. He held himself in eerie quiet for a long moment that seemed to stretch into forever. Dean realized that he was holding his breath and forced himself to exhale right before he started to get dizzy.
"Oh my God." Jack's voice was utterly emotionless, the calm in the center of the storm. Dean took another step back. "You alphabetized my tackle boxes."
John shrugged, still smiling, loose and relaxed, still practically vibrating with pleasure. The fiddly little task had given him genuine happiness. "Took me a while, too, but definitely worth it."
Dean retreated to the kitchen and listened to the fury from a distance, like a storm beating at the windows, powerful but outside. This was one argument he was not going to try to referee.
They were going to drive him completely insane before the day was over, Dean was sure of it. Bonkers. Nutty. Bonzo. Three fries short of a Happy Meal. Stark raving mad.
After listening to the two OCD Old Men argue pointlessly for about fifteen minutes, Dean had admitted defeat and sallied forth from the kitchen, gesticulating and speaking loudly, the way you would wave your arms and make a lot of noise to scare a wild animal, make it think you were bigger than you were. "Come on, you guys! We're burning daylight! We should have left ten minutes ago! Does it really matter that much? Dad, you shouldn't have touched Jack's stuff. Jack, when the trip is over you can dump everything out and disarrange it to your heart's content. Okay? Is that okay? Can we go now?"
The two men had given him comically similar sheepish glances and agreed. Dean should have known then that something was going on. It wasn't like either man to give up so easily, but they had seemed to capitulate willingly. He should have known that that wasn't even close to the end of it.
The next argument was about whose truck they should take, but Jack won that one pretty easily, since he was the one who knew where they were going. Thankfully, they didn't fight about music, because "driver picks, shotgun shuts" still applied. Swing into town for coffee and donuts—no need to argue there because Jack got the big variety box—and then finally down to the creek for some quality fishing.
That was where it really started.
"Hey, kid, let me show you the perfect cast."
"Dude, that is so far away from the perfect cast, it isn't even in the same time zone. Watch this, Dean."
"Mine went farther."
"Distance is not the only measure of perfection. It's all about the accuracy, keeping your bait bobbing along near the surface. See what I mean, son?"
"When was the last time you went fishing, Winchester? You're so rusty, you're more rust than anything else."
"Just watch me, O'Neill. I ran a crick completely out of crawdads when I was eight, and I'll do the same today."
And it just went on and on and on. The only thing that kept Dean from being certain that Jack and John would end up murdering each other was the fact that they were wearing matching boonie hats, both stuck through with various fishing thing-a-ma-bobs, and he just couldn't take them seriously when they looked that ridiculous.
They kept track of how many casts it took each other to catch a fish, how many they caught, the size and variety. They competed on who could play a fish the longest, and who could reel one in the most quickly. They trash-talked in a hundred different ways both verbal and non, deliberately splashed water at each other, tried to beat each other at eating sandwiches when noon came around, and kept looking at Dean as if he was some sort of judge for their insane competition.
"When we're done, I'll show you the right way to gut 'em," John said to Dean, smiling proudly at his damp fish basket. He was currently ahead of Jack by one fish, though Jack insisted that his were bigger. And shinier.
"Dad, you showed me how to do that when I was nine, remember?" Dean said patiently. "Survival training? In case I had to live on what I caught someday? The same day you taught me how to make fishing line out of willow bark."
"Well, I bet he taught you all the wrong techniques," Jack said. "Just you wait—when the time comes, I'll show you the best way to use a knife. There's a whole finesse to it. You need a master to show you the way."
John glared at the other man for this, and Dean was a bit startled to realize that there was real venom in that look. Damn, these stubborn old bastards really did want to kill each other. Then his father's look went back to Dean, still hard, something in it that Dean didn't quite recognize.
He puzzled at it for a few moments, worrying at it like a fish hooked through one lip. Finally, realization hit, and Dean took a startled step backward, almost dropping his pole in the process. That look his father had laid on him… It was…it was proprietary. So were the ones Jack kept giving him, though his were more laced with humor, John's more deliberate and sustained. Both aimed at him, both equally guarded. Jealous.
"Oh my God!" Dean groaned, dropping his pole on purpose and digging his fingers into his hair, pressing his heels into his eyes so he wouldn't have to look at them. "You're competing over me! As if I was a girl and you both wanted into my pants!"
He lifted his hands just enough to sneak a peak at the two older men, and sure enough, they were both staring at him, guilty, caught in the act. No shame on their faces, though. Just a touch of embarrassment, but neither made any attempt to deny the facts. It was completely and unavoidably true.
"Oh, fuck me. You are! You totally are! You know what, if I was a girl and you were competing over me, this would be totally sexist. God, I don't even know what to call this!" He flailed, momentarily at a loss for words. "It's completely unnecessary! And stupid! And weird! And kind of gross, come to think of it."
Dean stopped to breathe, feeling nauseated. John and Jack looked at each other, sort of shrugging, then back at him, in mirroring poses, standing in the water with their stupid boonies and their stupid faces. Waiting for him to pick one, or something.
"God, you two. I don't even know how to deal with this. I like you both, okay? Fuck. This is just too weird. I'm going to go wait in the truck. You…do whatever you have to do. Beat each other to a pulp or fish the river out, whatever."
Dean paused at the picnic basket to scoop up a couple of leftover peanut butter sandwiches, because conflict always made him a little hungry, then stomped back toward the truck. The squelchy wet noises that his waders made at every step made the whole stomping thing a little ineffective, though. He took care not to look back.
Back at Jack's truck, he climbed in the back seat and flopped down, holding the sandwiches against his chest. Looked at them for a bit, so carefully wrapped in saran wrap and waxed paper, toasted whole wheat bread, dripping a little bit of crunchy peanut butter and thick strawberry preserves at the edges. ("A man's PB&J," Jack had called it, inordinately proud.)
He thought about his dad, so carefully alphabetizing Jack's tackle boxes. Organizing things always made John sort of unreasonably happy, but he'd had no cause to do that. Except the fact that he was going fishing with his son and his son's new friend, and maybe he had wanted to take ownership for a little bit of that, put the John Winchester stamp on something. Prove that he wasn't just along for the ride.
Dean unwrapped the sandwich and took a big, hearty bite, chewing carefully, enjoying it. Something about it told him that Jack had made this sandwich just for him. He'd done a bunch of stuff for Dean over the past few days…cooked him waffles and steak and spaghetti, bandaged the cut on the back of his head, listened attentively to everything he had to say about things that shouldn't exist. Held him while he knelt on the cold ground in a dark cemetery, shaking and shivering.
So yeah, maybe Jack had the right to feel a little proprietary. He had taken Dean into his life, and Jack O'Neill did not do that lightly. He held onto his friends with all the fierceness of a lion with his pride. And John Winchester was exactly the same, though his pride had been given to him by the woman he loved above all the world, not chosen through years of strife. Dean guessed he should have expected something like this to happen.
It was still stupid, though.
The inside of the truck was warm but not stuffy, spring sun angling through the windows, and Dean was dozing, one arm wrapped over his chest, one shielding his face, when he heard the footsteps approaching. Heard Jack and his dad stacking stuff in the bed, talking quietly, just a few words here and there and only when necessary. Well, at least they hadn't killed each other. Yet.
The squeak of the front doors as the two men got into the cab, and Dean could feel eyes on him, but did not open his own. Fabric rustled as someone reached back to him, and he felt the large, rough hand on his arm, warm, pressing lightly for a moment, then drawing back. He couldn't tell if it was Jack's hand or John's.
And that was okay.
The drive back to Jack's cabin was long enough for the two men to start trading war stories. Vietnam, Iraq, the merits of various helicopters, methods of attack. Their voices were civil at first, then gradually more than that. Animated, speckled with small, genuine jokes, quiet laughter. Easy. Comfortable.
Dean drifted off for real when the wheels hit highway, and everything went smooth and deep and quiet. Half of a peanut butter sandwich rested on his chest, and he knew it wouldn't fall off. It was a well-balanced sandwich.
Practically a work of art.