A/N: I like the idea of John learning to become a hunter, and I like the idea of hunters all kind of knowing each other or having heard of each other, and this scene popped into my head… Basically just having fun (and by fun, I mean angst) here, I'm not sure how well this explains the actual story. Oh well, enjoy!
Why John Didn't Know
John paused outside the bar and took a deep breath, trying to shake off the unpleasant itch of nervousness before going inside. The old, brick building looked crushed between the much bigger, much more modern establishments on either side of it. It sagged a little, like it'd been sat on. It was called "Maggie's," and except for an ancient, peeling sign with that single word on it there was no other indication that it was a business at all, or that it was even still in use. But John knew better. He'd heard of it, recorded its location carefully in the journal he was keeping, which was already beginning to fill with a series of contacts he'd never dreamed of having before Mary died six months ago.
Of course, since then everything had been different.
For the briefest of moments he considered leaving. Not even bothering with this place, just going right back to the motel where he'd left little Sammy sleeping and Dean looking after him. Taking them back to the apartment in Lawrence and starting over. And then he opened the door and stepped inside.
He fully expected a feeling of not-belonging to wash over him, and he was not disappointed. As if the people inside had a spell on the place, one that would make people like him get the heck out, if they were somehow tempted to come in at all. And he knew better than to assume that that kind of thing was impossible.
He certainly looked out of place. He'd been in a handful of such establishments before, but never one so small, dark, and grubby. Even though his jeans could use a wash and his leather jacket was well-worn, he still felt too clean.
But that wasn't the only reason. There was just a certain feeling around hunters' bars. Like they might as well put a sign outside that said, "You Must Have Killed at Least __ Vampires to Enter," or something. But no, there was never an explicit rule against any Joe Normals (not a nice name, he'd discovered, having been referred to as such more than once) coming in, but you were more likely as not to get a hard time if you didn't keep to yourself.
John had no intention of keeping to himself.
It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim lighting—even with just the street lamps it had been much brighter outside than in this place. He saw that there were three other customers. A man about his own age with ragged auburn hair and need of a shave was fast asleep across three chairs in the corner. At the bar were two other men, one quite old and the other several years younger than John himself, sitting four stools apart. Behind the bar an elderly woman in a floral apron was in the process of cleaning a shot gun. She was the only one who looked up when he came in. Without acknowledging him, she went back to what she was doing.
Somehow, they always seemed to know he wasn't one of them.
Them. Hunters. Such a simple word. It wasn't ghost hunter, or demon hunter, or monster hunter. Just hunter. And there was a way they always seemed to say it too, slight touch of the sinister, a dash of self-importance. When they said it you just knew they weren't talking about deer. He couldn't say it quite like that yet, though he actually tried sometimes. It was probably something that came from experience, which, John admitted to himself, he didn't have much of.
There was something else that was always the same with hunters, as far as he could tell. Their stories. Something, some thing, took someone from them. Wives, husbands, sons and daughters. Friends. All lost to a world they couldn't have dreamed of before they were so brutally introduced to it. Maybe that's what made them do it, start hunting the things down, even the things that weren't directly responsible. It didn't seem fair that they hadn't known, that they'd been so caught off guard. It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair.
John was never going to be caught off guard again. He'd made that decision the night Mary died.
Of the available options, the young guy at the bar seemed his best bet. The guy in the corner was out cold, snoring even, and the old one had several empty glasses around him and was staring into the one in his hands, which was half filled, like it held all the answers. He probably hadn't even heard John come in. As for the old woman, who he vaguely thought might be "Maggie," …he couldn't put his finger on it, but something about her was just a little terrifying.
Knowing from experience that it was no good to be shy, or polite, John strode over and sat on the stool next to the young guy. The stool was as old as anything else in the bar, and it creaked loudly when he sat. For a moment John wondered if it was going to break under his weight, but it held.
"I'm looking for information," he said to the man.
This guy had also been stewing over a drink. After a moment he turned to John with a reproachful glare. He was quite good-looking, John noted. Would have been baby-faced for his age if he had any fat on him, but even under the loose plaid flannel he wore it was obvious this guy was all muscle. His dark hair was cut stylishly, as far as John could tell, which was unusual for hunters. But then this guy was younger than the one's he usually ran into, only in his mid-twenties. Maybe that made a difference.
John was not surprised when the guy's only response was, "Piss off, civvie." There was no real anger in the statement, just mild irritation. And that was another thing John had been called before. It made him bristle a bit. Everyone assumed he was so inexperienced just because he wasn't a hunter. Had any of them ever held a gun against another human?
And then sometimes that thought was amazing to him. If people only knew… if they only knew what they were up against… would they still bother to fight each other?
"C'mere kid," said a voice to his other side. With some surprise, John turned to see it was the old guy who had spoken. He'd hardly moved a muscle from where he was, hunched over his drink, but his eyes gleamed at John from a face that possibly had more scars than wrinkles. It was an old face, with old eyes, far older than his age even, and John found it was difficult to meet the man's gaze. But he wasn't going to turn down the opportunity, and he certainly didn't want to piss this guy off, so he obligingly hopped down and took the stool closer to him.
"What kind of information you looking for, boy?" the man asked. His voice was low, and grizzled, like maybe the inside of his throat was scarred like the rest of him.
John found his own voice and said, "Information on something that… that killed my wife…"
Down the bar, the kid who'd brushed him off snorted into his beer. John whipped around and saw that he was chuckling to himself. He'd found that since Mary's death he was always angry, always. It was an undercurrent to everything he did. And now it flared out like a fanned flame, and in that moment he wanted to kill this upstart punk who wasn't even as old as he was, and who was laughing about Mary being dead. He had a gun tucked into the back of his jeans. He wondered if he could possibly reach it before the kid got him first. Probably not. And that wouldn't be as satisfying as cuffing the guy right in his smug, good-looking face anyway.
He was startled out of his own thoughts when a mug was slammed down in front of him. He looked up and saw the bar woman, watching him grimly from sunken eyes. She was so wrinkled it seemed her skin might drip right off her face. Her lips were invisible. She turned to the kid, who had stopped laughing and was eyeing her with anxiety, the first time he'd shown the slightest bit of vulnerability since John walked in. Hunters were hard, but they were broken too. Sometimes you could see through the cracks.
"Shut up, Flute," was all she said, then promptly ignored the three of them again. John took a tentative taste from the mug. It was beer, crappy beer, but it was better than nothing. He took two huge gulps and willed himself to calm down.
"Thanks," he said to the woman. She didn't look up, and made a quiet noise that sounded something like "bah."
Now the kid, Flute, wasn't laughing anymore but the insolent smirk was back on his face. "What did it look like?" he asked John. "A big scary werewolf? Ghost of your dead cat?"
John took another sip of the beer. His hands were shaking, and he held onto the mug tightly to get them to stop. "I don't know," he said quietly. "I didn't see it. I only saw Mary… my wife. She was… she was pinned to the ceiling, something was holding her there. And there were flames, everywhere, burning her up. I couldn't reach her…" He took a deep breath and it hitched in his throat. God, it was so hard to talk about. Even now, in a place he knew people would believe him, which was something, his mind and his body were screaming at him to rationalize, to find a way to make it all make sense. No, he told himself. It doesn't make sense. Nothing will until that thing is dead.
The kid shut up after that, and for the first time he really looked at John, like he might actually take him seriously. "I never heard of anything like that," he said after a while.
John sighed and finished his drink in one swallow. Of course he hadn't. Nobody ever had. But he wasn't going to give up. Not by a long shot.
The old guy was quiet, and seemed to be thinking. It was enough to give John hope. Surely, of anyone, this was the person who would know something. And so he was disappointed when the man finally spoke. "I don't know what to tell you," he said. "Probably long gone, cold trail. Best get over it, you're not gonna find the damn thing." His tone was too casual, John thought, like maybe he knew more than he said. But now the old man was staring into his drink again, exactly the position John had found him in, and he knew that pressing for more information would be a lost cause.
His anger peaked, and he did his best to fight it down. God, he wanted to hurt someone. Or something. Did all hunters feel this way? he wondered. Is that why they did it? "Oh no," he said resolutely, "I'm going to find it." He stood up. "If you don't know anything, fine, but if you hear anything like this happening again, my name is John Winchester. You'll be able to find me the way you people always find each other." And he left. His Impala was parked on the street, and he paused before getting in, taking a moment to breathe in the cool night air. He needed to calm down, keep his head clear, because God knew what was out there waiting for him.
Silence reigned over the bar again as soon as John left. Flute was clearly agitated by the encounter and kept shifting in his seat. "Screw this," he said, shoving his beer aside. "Can I get a tequila, Mags? Double shot?"
"You're going to make yourself sick," the old woman observed, but poured it for him anyway.
The old man, whose name was Malcolm, raised his voice slightly and said, "Bobby."
There was no reaction to this from anyone in the bar. Flute rolled his eyes and spun around on his seat. "Bobby!" he shouted, "Get the fuck up, Malcolm wants to talk to you!"
The man in the corner woke up with a start and proceeded to swear a blue streak for the next few seconds. Malcolm waited patiently for him to finish. "What?" he finally asked.
The old man still didn't turn to look at him. He said simply, "Go follow the kid."
"What?" Bobby demanded. He did not look happy to have been woken up for something like that.
"The kid who was just in here," Malcolm explained calmly. "John Winchester. You know there's a job in this town, and I want to make sure he gets out without getting hurt. So go follow him."
Bobby stood up and stomped over to the bar. He was clearly angry, but didn't make any kind of threatening gesture towards the old man. Obviously he knew better. But that sure didn't keep him from shouting. "What are you, my god damned general?"
Finally Malcolm turned to him, and although his glance was fairly expressionless it was enough to cause Bobby to back down somewhat. "I've had five beers," Malcolm explained, "I want someone with sharp reflexes on him, and I know you ain't had anything." When Bobby still looked as if he were going to refuse, the old man quietly reminded him, "You owe me a favor."
"Fine," Bobby conceded grudgingly. He grabbed a baseball cap from where he'd left it on a table and crammed it on his head. "But we're even after this, you hear me you old coot?"
"Fine, fine," said Malcolm carelessly. Flute, meanwhile, was laughing himself almost into hysterics at the exchange. Bobby cast him a scathing look and snapped, "What are you laughing at you god-damned fairy?" before heading out into the night, the door slamming behind him.
Flute's expression immediately soured and he stood up. "I ought to kick his ass," he growled.
"I'm sure you ought," Malcolm agreed, "But let him follow the kid first."
Flute's expression changed once again as suddenly he realized something. "Hey," he said, "That guy said he was John Winchester!"
"Yep," said Malcolm.
"John Winchester!" Flute said again, amazed. "That was Mary Campbells's husband!"
"I don't know no Mary Campbell," Malcolm grunted.
"Oh shut up, old man, you know everybody! I heard about the Campbells. Two of 'em killed in one night, ten years ago, nobody knows by what. And now Mary's dead."
"Looks that way," Malcolm agreed. He took a sip of his drink. Whenever Flute ran into him he was always impressed at the older man's unflappability. He supposed there was just a certain point you could reach where nothing else would amaze you. But now it wasn't impressive, it was aggravating.
"Why didn't you tell him?" he demanded. "Mary Campbell was a hunter, and he… he didn't have any idea! You should have told him." He curled his hands into fists and slammed them down on the bar, causing his own and all of Malcolm's glasses to jump a bit. Maggie shot him a reproachful look but he hardly noticed, his mind was racing to people and places beyond the bar, beyond John Winchester, who he wasn't really the reason he was angry.
Malcolm sighed. He'd never heard Flute's story, exactly, but from the look on his face he'd probably guessed. "Look, kid, Mary made it pretty clear a long time ago, before you were on the scene, I might add, so I don't know who blabbed about her to you—she wanted off the radar. She didn't want to be a hunter anymore. So we don't talk about her, not to nobody who comes asking."
"Not even to her own husband?" Flute asked, while thinking, not even to his own son…
"No," Malcolm said. "This is a lonely life, and you know we don't hardly stick together. But we look out for each other if we can. Mary knew what she wanted."
"Mary didn't know shit," Flute snapped.
Malcolm knew he wasn't really talking about Mary, but it didn't matter. You hear enough stories, all different, but all alike, and they're interchangeable. "Don't speak ill of the dead, boy. They're all around us."
That quieted Flute for a moment, and a small shiver twitched down his spine. Not a shiver of fear, just one of knowing about things you can't see. But he couldn't back down just yet. Sure, he'd given John a hard time when they'd met, and he hadn't particularly liked him. But he didn't much like anybody. And liking him or not had nothing to do with how he was feeling, like he had to keep defending the guy, somehow. "But he's obviously going to be a hunter," he insisted. "You saw the look in his eye. I've seen that before and so have you. We've all got it."
"I know," said Malcolm, and for the first time he seemed troubled, if only slightly, "But I'm damn well not going to encourage him. He'll get out of town safe with Bobby on his tail. After that I don't care what he does."
Flute sighed, and finally forced himself to let it go. "You're an insufferable old grump, you know that?"
The old man was unfazed, like always. "That's the job, kid," he replied, taking a sip of his beer. "That's the job."
Post A/N: So maybe it's a little implausible to assume that nobody was willing to tell John about Mary. More likely she was young enough just to drop off the scene without it being that big a deal, like maybe nobody really knew about her in the first place. Or maybe John just never told the boys, but I don't think he would do that. What would be the point?