Authors Note: Hello everyone. This is my first Supernatural fic, the result of a plot bunny that's been gnawing on me for a while. Slightly AU/ wee!chester. Constructive criticism is always welcome. Reviews = love. If you like, please let me know! =)
Disclaimer: None of the characters belong to me. I'm just borrowing them.
Jim didn't watch the Chevy pull out of the driveway and down the street. He didn't need to. He knew what it looked like when it left, had watched the dust kick up behind the tires, heard the purr of the engine as it accelerated away. Jim's attention was focused on nine year old Sam standing at the bottom of the steps, back rigidly straight, fists clenching and unclenching at his sides. He didn't need to be in front of the boy to know his eyes were locked on the car that had just left him behind.
The Chevy turned the corner. Jim waited, leaning against the porch railing. The sun was riding lower in the October sky than it had in the month previous, but the sky was true blue with marshmallow clouds. Even on the other side of the neighborhood the car's engine sounded over birdsong and other traffic. Sam didn't move. Jim waited.
The air was crisp, the leaves on the trees already yellow and red. The world was pregnant with autumn. Jim wondered if the boy was cold, standing in his torn jeans, worn sneakers, and a far too large flannel button down that Jim was sure had originally been packed into his older brother's bag. Maybe he'd bring Sam shopping sometime this week, buy him jeans without the tears and shoes that covered his toes. Although both the brothers had defended the look as a fashion called "grunge". Jim hadn't argued, but it hadn't stopped him from thinking about 'losing' some of the Sam's clothes and replacing them with new items while the boy was with him.
Even the sound of the car was gone now, its two passengers with it, but Sam was still motionless at the bottom of the steps. "Come on, Sam," Jim called softly. "Let's go start dinner." He pulled away from the railing. The screen door screeched on its hinges as it opened.
Sam didn't flinch, didn't look over his shoulder, barely moved. His voice was tight. "Yeah, okay. I'll be there in a minute." Fists clenched, unclenched, clenched. This year, Sam wouldn't cry, Jim knew.
Every other year, Sam had argued and Dean had let his younger brother sniffle into the sleeve of his shirt, saying, "It's just a sleep-over, Sammy. Normal kids have these too." Then Dean would wander off after a brief goodbye to their father, John, and a quiet Sam would follow. Later, at dinner, Sam would be Sam, full of energy and endless questions. Every year for the past seven years, for as long as Jim had known the Winchesters, he stood on the porch alone and watched as John, knowing his boys were safe, drove off to his annual long hunt.
This year, there was no Dean to distract Sam. Dean was thirteen and in the car beside their father, and not at Jim's house beside Sam. And even to Jim it seemed strange to have one Winchester boy and not the other. He could hardly begin to imagine how Sam felt.
"Okay," Jim said. "Don't take too long or the only thing left to do will be the onions."
It was raining outside the next day, the blue sky giving way to gray over night. The house was quiet, the pattering rain on the roof a soothing constant. The only other sound in the den was that of a turning page every few minutes.
Sam was still quiet. Jim had tried for a casual conversation during breakfast: how are things, what are you studying now, and learn anything interesting lately? He had been rewarded with one word answers: usual, geography, and no. And there was no prolific Sam-like explanations to go along with the answers like the Pastor had hoped. Jim sighed, seeing the foreshadowing of what Sam would turn into with the onset of puberty.
A happy, hyperactive Sam was enjoyable company as long as one was able to tolerate the constant questions that poured from the boy's lips. Dean said that once Sam learned to talk, he never stopped. Even an angry Sam was loud: screaming and arguing cases in a way that would make a lawyer proud. Jim was at a bit of a loss as to what to do with the lackluster Sam who didn't even make the floorboards creak.
If it had been Dean here and not Sam, Dean would have been climbing the walls, tearing the wallpaper off, cursing like a sailor, and planning some elaborate, potentially violent, escape. In some ways, Dean was easier to deal with. The older boy took any negative emotion and turned it into great, big, seething gobs of anger. More than once, Jim had taken an angry Dean outside, set up some targets, and handed the boy a shot gun. After, Dean was a little emotionally spent, but he was rational and no longer attempted to tear the walls down with his hands. But Sam wasn't Dean, and Dean wasn't there because he was with John, who also wasn't there. And that was the problem.
Jim looked away from his book for a moment to glance at Sam curled on the other sofa in the room. The book in the boy's hands had to be at least middle school level. Doing research for John had done wonders for both the boys' reading comprehension level. Even though the only leisure reading Dean participated in was reading the latest edition of Auto Trader, Sam read anything he could find. John was constantly buying books for his youngest. Jim sometimes received phone calls, asking what other books would be okay for a nine-year-old to read, asking what to do with a little boy who wanted all the answers to every question in the world.
Jim's gaze fell to the cordless phone sitting beside Sam on the couch. Every few minutes, the boy's hand would rest on it, clench and unclench, as if willing the object to ring. "Maybe they'll call today," Jim said, breaking the silence. He kept his gaze on his own book before him.
Sam didn't speak. Jim waited. Jim watched Sam's hand freeze above the phone. The boy's eyes slid over the top of his book to meet Jim's gaze. Sam's brows furrowed, his head tilted as if he were listening, considering. His focus slid to the old brown carpet. "No," Sam said after a moment. Jim caught Sam's gaze again, and the boy shrugged when Jim raised an eyebrow in prompt. "There isn't a payphone there."
Jim nodded his understanding, and Sam returned to his book. Jim didn't ask how he knew. Sometimes the boy just knew things he couldn't know. Like the time he had told Jim over the phone to take the back road instead of the main road that day. Sam had sounded upset, so Jim had agreed. On the nightly news, there was a report of a deadly car pile-up on the main road. If Jim hadn't listened to Sam, he would have been a part of the accident.
Looking out the window, Jim was sure that John, Dean and Bobby Singer were tramping through the mountains somewhere in search of shelter for the night. The hunt was safer and far more simple than most of John's hunts. There would be no werewolves involved, no chase after demons or ancient deities. It was just a simple haunting in the woods. John wanted Dean to walk away from his first hunt intact. Out of Dean's earshot, John told Jim that he only planned to be gone a week, and the majority of that time would be camping in the mountains looking for the bones to salt and burn.
Jim watched Sam's hand clench and unclench on the phone. "I'm sure they'll call when they can." Sam nodded, but didn't look away from his book.
"Thank you for today, Uncle Jim," Sam said with a flash of smile as they pulled into the driveway in front of Jim's house. Sam's arms were full of books; the back seat was full of shopping bags; and they had just finished having dinner at the house of Jim's friend who happened to have a couple of boys around Sam's age.
"Whatever for, Sammy?" Jim asked as he turned off the car. He wasn't going to let the boy know he had planned it. Although he was thoroughly pleased it worked. After five days of not hearing from John or Dean, and the day before spent at the Church, Jim thought it would be nice for Sam to be able to do something more normal. Even if Jim wasn't sure a normal child had to be bribed with a stack of books before he would agree to go clothes shopping. Didn't his parishioners often complain about having to bribe their children with sweets?
"Can we watch a movie?" Sam asked, opening his car door and looking on either side of himself for the seatbelt release button. Jim smirked, reached over, pressed the button, and freed his charge from the seat. "Maybe a horror movie? Or will you be too scared? Do you like horror movies?" The questions continued rapid fire even as Sam hopped out of the car, closed the door and opened the back door to grab some bags.
Jim smiled to himself, glad that Sam's questions and energy was back. Jim took his time getting out of the car, watching amused as Sam all but bounced on the balls of his feet, shopping bags in hand. Jim locked the car, and suddenly Sam was on the porch waiting for him to open the front door.
"We should check the answering machine," Sam said as Jim walked up the steps.
Jim darted a glance at his charge at the sudden change of gears. "We can do that," Jim said as he pushed the key into the lock. Once the front door swung open, Sam scuttled past him, dropped the bags of new clothes in the entry way, and sped towards the kitchen. Jim wondered if the bundle of energy was tall enough to reach the answering machine on the wall yet. He was answered with the scrape of the chair across the floor and the loud beep echoing throughout the house. Jim listened to the messages as he closed and locked the door behind him, checked the wards in the woodwork, and quickly set all of the shopping bags out of the way so they wouldn't be tripped over later.
Sam was still standing on the chair in front of the machine when he entered the kitchen. The boy's eyes didn't move from the little black box on the wall. Jim leaned against the doorframe and waited. On the last message, after Jim's friend thanked him for advice, after a parishioner called with a question about this week's sermon, after the salesmen left their number, John's voice filled the room with its deep, rich timbre: "Hey Jim, Sammy."
"Hi, Dad," Sammy whispered in the pause that followed, and Jim laid a hand on the boy's shoulder, knowing he was homesick for his family. Dean and Bobby's voices were in the background arguing over something.
"Sorry it's taken so long to call…we couldn't find a pay phone." John said. Jim raised an eyebrow at Sam when the boy glanced over at him. Sam smiled and shrugged. Jim suddenly understood why John said his youngest unnerved him sometimes. "Won't be gone much longer," John continued, "few more days, tops. Getting supplies, then just finishing it."
There was a pause on the line, static as if John had covered the phone with his hand. His voice was muffled, words indistinguishable. There were some thunks, mutters, and suddenly Dean's voice filled the room: "Hey Sammy! Uncle Jim!" Jim watched Sam smile at the sound of his brother's voice. "Man Sammy, this hunt has made me miss your geeky little brain. I never realized how much faster the research goes with the two of us working."
Jim laughed as Sam rolled his eyes. "Duh," Sam said softly.
"Anyway," Dean's voice continued and Jim wondered how many quarters John had fed into the payphone for them to be able to talk. John's voice came from the background telling Dean to hurry up. "Don't drive Uncle Jim crazy, okay, Sammy? And Uncle Jim, two words: duct tape." There was the sound of rustling and shoes on gravel before the message clicked to an end.
Sam turned to him, eyes wide not with fear or hurt but with curiosity. "You wouldn't tape my mouth shut, would you?"
Jim paused for a moment and thought about all the reasons and possibilities that could turn saying 'no, never' into a lie. He decided on: "Probably not this visit."
"Oh, good," Sam said. He jumped off the chair, his sneakers making a loud thwak on the linoleum floor. "It hurts to take off."
Jim eyed the boy as he replaced the chair at the kitchen table. "Has Dean ever taped your mouth shut?"
There was a quick shake of Sam's head. "No." A shrug. "But him and Dad always threaten to. I wanted to see what it was like in case they ever do."
Jim nodded, pretending the idea made sense. "So you taped your own mouth shut?" Jim said. His voice was a little tighter than he meant it to be. It was suddenly very difficult not to laugh.
"It was only once." Sam said, sounding a little indignant. He had probably seen the smile threatening to break out on Jim's face. "Let's go watch a movie." Sam said, and pulled Jim to the living room.
It was five past midnight on the seventh night of Sam's stay when Jim's house exploded. Explode wasn't the right word—the walls, windows and most of the furniture were untouched—but it was the word that most closely described what happened. One moment, Jim had been sitting at his desk in his den writing his next sermon, and the next he was sitting on floor in the middle of the room along with all the books from the bookcase and everything from his desk. It took his mind a moment to process what had happened: the house had shaken like a bomb had been dropped, and everything that hadn't been nailed down aside from some furniture had been blown across the room.
Jim was still sitting in the middle of the mess, processing, when Sam started screaming. And then the condition of his house and what had caused it no longer mattered. Sam Winchester did not scream like that—terrified, desperate, broken.
Jim took the steps upstairs two at a time, paying no mind to the battlefield imitation that had once been his house. Glass crackled under his feet in the upstairs hallway. Sam's screams were much louder from two doors down than they were downstairs. Just the sound of them made Jim's heart thud against his ribcage. He paused for only a moment, retrieving a vial of holy water and a small handgun from the overturned cabinet in the hall. He tucked the holy water into his pocket, and quickly loaded the small gun. He was sure nothing entered through his wards, but he couldn't take the chance. John had told him that something very evil had once hovered over his youngest sons crib. There was no telling if it would come again.
"Sam?" Jim called out, slowly approaching the bedroom. "Sam, are you alright?" The room didn't have a door, but the bureau had been blasted against it and blocked the view inside. Jim let out thanks that the thing was both empty and top heavy. It toppled over with a shove, and Jim pointed the gun into the room, ready for an attack.
But there was only Sam, lying in a bed among the rubble of books and toys and clothes, screaming his throat raw. Looking at the devastation around him, Jim suddenly remembered a younger Dean saying in all honesty: "Sometimes when Sammy cries, the windows rattle."
Jim was at Sam's side within moments, gun tucked away in his waistband, he gripped the boys' shoulders to wake him. Sam's complexion matched the newly bleached sheets, dark hair plastered to his sweat-soaked forehead. His hands were clenched white-knuckled into the bedspread. There were no tears.
"Sam," Jim said, "Sam, wake up. It's okay, Sam. Wake up." Jim's voice was soft. Sam still screamed. Jim let go of the boy's shoulders and held the boy's face in his hands, ran his fingers through the boy's hands like he had seen Dean and John do a million times in the past years.
"Come on, Sammy." Jim nearly whispered. He didn't know how to help if he couldn't get the boy to open his eyes. He wasn't sure which hurt more at this point: his eardrums or his heart. The boy sounded like he was being tortured.
"Wake up, Sammy," Jim tried one more time, pulling the boy to himself as much as he could, and rocking. His fingers still ran through Sam's sweat-soaked hair. "It's okay. Just wake up."
Sam's screaming stopped. Jim waited, still rocking. Sam took a big gulping sob and the window rattled. "It's okay, Sam. You're safe." Jim said. Sam's hands unclenched from the bedspread, and clenched onto Jim's shirt. Jim pulled the boy the rest of the way into his arms as he sobbed, and held him as if he were three years old with a scrapped knee again. He didn't ask what had happened, what the boy had seen. He wasn't sure he wanted to know. Instead, he continued to rock, murmur in the boys' ear, and run his fingers through Sam's dark hair as Sam cried out all the agony with gut wrenching sobs. Sam's hands clenched and unclenched in the material of Jim's shirt.
"It's okay," Jim said. "It's over. You're safe." Sam continued to cry, and every so often, the window would rattle as Sam sucked in a breath.
The next morning was spent cleaning the house: fixing what they could and trashing what they couldn't. Sam had woken up curled beside Jim, looked around at the mess and asked, "What happened?"
Jim, blinking blearily at the nine year old, then at the mess in the morning light, couldn't help but laugh in relief that the boy didn't understand. He told as close to the truth as he could: "I'm not sure."
Sam had nodded, still looking around at the mess. Then his gaze rested on Jim. "I think I had a nightmare last night," he said.
Jim sat up and nodded. "I think you did, too."
Jim heard Sam swallow before he said, "I want Dean." And Jim could guess what the dream had been about and why Sam had sounded like his world had ended. The last question was how badly had Dean been injured?
The answer came shortly before noon when Sam suddenly ran out to the front porch and stood at the top of the steps; hands clenching, unclenching. Jim placed the last book onto the shelf in the study. As he stepped onto the front porch, he could make out the distant purr of the engine. Jim marveled that none of the Winchesters were deaf travelling around in a car so loud. Sam started to bounce on his toes, and Jim knew the boy could hear the car, too. He had no doubt Sam could pick out the sound of the car better than most people probably could. For all intents and purposes, that car was Sam's home.
Jim leaned against the porch railing and waited. Within moments the classic Chevy was in sight, rounding the corner of the small neighborhood road a little faster than necessary. Dust from the unpaved driveway kicked up around the car, leaving a fine coat of yellow over the shiny black paint.
The car was still running when the passenger's side door opened and Dean stepped out, left arm in a cast. Sam stayed on the front porch, hands clenching, unclenching, face unreadable. Dean grinned, waved, and closed the passenger side door. He had bags under his eyes and didn't look like he had slept very well.
"Hey Sammy," Dean called out. The thirteen year old was grinning, but his voice was uncertain. Jim watched Sam's hands clench, unclench, and then the boy was no longer on the front porch. Instead his arms were wrapped around his brother's waist, face buried in his brother's chest. Jim watched Dean roll his eyes even as the older boy pulled his brother closer, run fingers through the younger boy's hair. Jim couldn't hear the windows rattling behind him, but he was pretty sure by the way Dean was murmuring to Sam that the younger boy was crying.
John stepped up onto the front porch and shook Jim's hand. "Thanks for watching him. I hope he wasn't much trouble."
Jim smiled. "Not much." He said. "Let's get his bags." He turned and led John through the hallway to the kitchen. Jim watched his friend take in remaining mess as he packed the last of Sam's new clothes into the boy's new duffle bag.
John took the new duffle bag from Jim without question and slung it over his shoulder. Jim always bought the boys new things when they stayed whether the Winchesters wanted it or not. Jim was just glad John no longer argued with him over it or tried to pay him for the clothes. "What happened to the house?" John asked, eyes still wandering around the piles of broken dishes and empty cupboards.
"Sam had a nightmare." Jim said with a smile.
He watched John pause, blanch of color. "Oh," John said. It made Jim wonder if Sam had upended a whole house before. Jim waited. John was silent. Neither man was willing to speak more about their shared suspicions. As if saying it out loud would make it more true than it was.
"Is Dean okay?" Jim asked, remembering the cast on the young teen's hand and changing the subject.
John smiled, and Jim could feel his pride for his boy. "Yeah, he's a tough little soldier. He did really well last night." Jim smiled back, relieved everything was okay. Or as okay as it was ever going to be in a world where a little boy could upend a house with his screams, another could break a bone fighting a spirit, where a demon could lurk in a nursery and kill a young mother.
This time Jim watched the Chevy pull out of the driveway and down the street. He didn't need to. He knew what it looked like when it left, knew what the dust devils left behind looked like, knew the purr of the engine. This time, there was no nine year old standing at the bottom of the steps being left behind to draw his attention. So Jim stood alone and watched as the car drove away and turned the corner, all three passengers safely inside. He stood on his porch and waited for the last purr of the engine to blend into the midday sounds before returning inside.