Title: Dad's Shadow & Matriculation
Author: Maychorian
Characters: Dean, John, Sam, OC
Category: Gen, Hurt/Comfort
Rating: PG13/T for swearing (Would probably be R if it was a movie)
Spoilers: None
Summary: Dad and Dean go on a hunt with another hunter who turns out to be a grade-A jackhole. Afterward, Dean still has to graduate from school, so Sam keeps an eye on him.
Word Count: 2559 & 1014
Disclaimer: Pretty sure they're not mine.
Author's Note: Two fics written for prompts on the h/c meme at spn_hurtcomfort by rei17 and rogue_clasique. They follow each other naturally, so I thought I'd post them together.

Dad's Shadow

Meisner rounded another corner in the abandoned house, knocking away a swathe of spider webs with a sidearm swipe. "Still think we could have done this without your little shadow, John."

Dad just grunted, following the other hunter with his gun held ready. Dean grit his teeth. I will not kill Dad's friend. I will not kill Dad's friend.

This would have been so much easier with just the two Winchester men, possibly with Sam along as backup or research monkey. But Dave Meisner was the one who discovered this poltergeist and had called Dad in because this particularly nasty spirit had a thing about fire. Apparently it was well-known among Dad's network of weirdo connections and acquaintances that he wanted in on any supernatural activity that had something to do with fire, and Meisner seemed excited to work with him.

Dean, though...

Meisner had been ragging on Dean since the moment he set eyes on him. He was too young, too stupid, too green. His eyes were too big and his lashes were too long. He held his gun like an amateur. His salt rounds were badly packed. (And how Meisner knew that without actually inspecting the ammunition was anybody's guess.) All in all, Meisner acted like a pissy teenage girl who found out the boy she liked was going out with someone else. As if he had wanted John Winchester all for himself or something.

Dean waited for his father to rip the guy a new one, because if there was one thing that Dad did not stand for, it was anyone (except for him) daring to criticize his family. But the elder Winchester just grunted and looked away, checking and rechecking his supplies, studying every corner of the creaking house with a panther's alacrity. Right, well, the hunt was more important.

Which was why Dean hadn't yet killed Meisner. The hunt was important. It might have something to do with Mom.

"Doing okay, kiddo?" Meisner gave Dean a smarmy grin, his voice dripping with condescension. "I know these old places can be scary for little guys. You want to man the flashlight, leave the gunwork to us men?"

"I'm just peachy, thanks," Dean chirped back, giving Meisner his best I-hate-you smile in return.

"We should split up," Dad said abruptly, so close on the heels of Dean's last word that it was almost an interruption. "This place is too big and there are three of us. More efficient that way."

Meisner nodded immediately, obsequious and agreeable. Dean rolled his eyes, and Dad caught it, giving him the squinty-eyed-frowny-face. "Something wrong with my suggestion, son?"

"No sir," Dean said crisply. "Splitting up. Excellent idea."

Dad simply nodded and started to move off, trusting Dean to follow the usual pattern—Dad took the upper floor or floors, Dean stayed below. Dean knew it was his dad's instinctive protectiveness, still alive and strong after all these years, leaving Dean closer to the exit and farthest from potentially weakened structures

Meisner, though, was not with the program. "I'll take the third floor, then." He grinned, sharp-toothed as a siren. "I'll keep an eye on the kid for ya."

Instead of spreading a map and claiming his territory (and possibly telling Meisner just where he could put his plans), John gave a short nod. "Fine. Dean, stick with him. I'll recon the lower levels."

Dean almost protested, then, because what was the point of splitting up if two of them were going to stick together anyway? But he knew better than that.

And that was how he ended up flat on his back in the rock garden, tasting blood in his mouth and staring up at the splintered railing of the third-floor balcony where Meisner still stood, gaping down at him, finally silent.

X

Dean lost some time, then. One moment he was blinking up at the clear blue sky, wondering why everything was so dim and gray and dusty when it had been bright noontime when they entered the old house. Next he knew, there were voices, Dad and Meisner, like they had teleported straight from the house to the yard. Dean grunted softly and moved his hand a little, because it sounded like Meisner was about to step on it, and he did not want that meathead standing on any portion of his anatomy.

"No, you listen to me, you sorry sack of disease-ridden shit."

Dad was using his quiet voice, the one that packed impossible volumes of fury and disgust into such a sweet, conversational tone that it sounded like he was discussing a bloody massacre over tea and crumpets. Dean blinked hard and tried to focus on the words, though he didn't try to turn his head to listen. He knew instinctively that any movement was going to hurt like the end of the world, though at the moment he only felt numb and cool, detached from everything.

"I did not send Dean with you so you could 'keep an eye on him.' I sent him with you because I knew that you were the worst kind of greenhorn—the kind who's moronic enough to think that he knows something when he's actually a miserable, ignorant bastard. I knew Dean would watch out for you, because that's what my boy does. Does it better than anyone I've ever met, and that includes some damn fine soldiers over in Vietnam, so you just shut your fat mouth. Don't say another word. I know whose fault this was, and it wasn't my son's."

Then Dad was kneeling next to Dean, and Dean relaxed, knowing that his old man would never let that miserable bastard step on him. Dad looked at him, dark eyes intense and focused, and it was like that gaze was pinning him to the ground, keeping him from floating away. "Dad," he breathed, very quietly, with the bare minimum of movement.

"Dean." This was the serious voice, but not the quiet, furious one. "Don't move, buddy. Don't you move an inch."

"'Kay."

Dad looked to Meisner again, and without that stare on him, holding him, Dean felt something start to slip. The furious voice was back, though, so he tried to listen. When it wasn't aimed at him or Sam, that voice could be pretty damn entertaining.

"Tell me what happened, asshole. And this time, no editorializing. My son was not careless or stupid. Tell me the truth."

Meisner's voice was subdued, contrite. As well it should be. "Dean said that he could hear the spirit coming at us. I didn't believe him."

"So you ignored the advice of a solid hunter and put yourself in danger, standing around as useless as tits on a bull, and let Dean take the fall for you. Literally."

Meisner cleared his throat, but did not disagree. "Yeah. Yeah, that's pretty much what happened."

"That's what I thought."

"Dad?" Dean felt the first, unspecified pulse of panic and raised a hand, waving ineffectively in the air. The poltergeist, the spirit, it was, it was still out there, he hadn't even managed to clip it, it might come back and get his father while he had no one to watch his back but this useless idiot... "Dad? Dad? Where's my gun? I think I dropped it. Where'd it go?"

"Dean, it's okay." Dad turned back to him, the fury vanished just like that, his voice calm and steady and sure. He captured Dean's wandering hand and held it still. "Don't move, okay? I'm worried about your spine. Don't move. I called an ambulance and they'll be here soon, but you have to hold still until then."

"But my gun, Dad, I don't know where it went..."

Dean tried to swallow, felt the slick of blood coating his tongue, his throat. He coughed, felt droplets of moisture fall on his face, warm rain that smelled like pennies.

And that small movement was all it took to wake the sleeping giant that was Dean's nerves. Agony flared up and down his body, startling a gasp out of him, which just made it worse. His back was on fire and his head was ice and his leg...

Dean heard a keening whine, like a kicked dog, and realized that he was holding his dad's hand so tight that the finger bones were creaking under the pressure. Oh, God. Oh, God, it hurt, it hurt.

"Dad..." Dean didn't think he'd ever heard that sound come out of his mouth before. Christ, he sounded like a fucking wimp, a pathetic baby. Christ. He couldn't let go of his dad's hand, but God, that had to be hurting him.

Dad didn't try to shake him loose, though, didn't try to ease his hold. Just gripped back, hard and tight, and leaned a little closer to Dean. His face was a grim mask, his jawline tight. His Captain America look, patriotic and sure and so fucking heroic Dean could cry. "I'm here, Dean. Help is coming."

Dean rolled his eyes around, found Meisner standing a few feet away, watching them with his mouth hanging open like an idiot child. Not looking out for the spirit, not even holding his gun ready. "Dad, my gun." He tried to make his voice as urgent as it would go, which wasn't very. "My gun, Dad. Did I drop it? I think I dropped it. You have to get it for me. Please."

The please was small, cracked. Dean heard the tones of a child in his own voice and winced, but couldn't take it back. He needed his fucking gun, damn it. He needed to watch Dad's back. That was his job. That was why he was John Winchester's shadow.

"It's okay, it's okay." Dad's other hand was in his hair, now, carding through it, smearing all the blood and sweat deeper into his scalp. "I'll get it later. I'll take care of it, I promise. You don't have to worry."

"No, Dad, now, you have to...now..."

Dad's eyes sharpened suddenly, as if he finally got it. He swung his head around to Meisner, started barking orders. "Dave! Get the guns together before the EMTs come. Put 'em in the cars, make sure there's nothing hinky lying around. We'll have to come up with a story."

Meisner jumped to obey, and Dad turned back to Dean. "Good call, son. Good call. I didn't even think..."

"No, Dad, that's not what..." The pain was messing with Dean's head, though, making everything fuzzy and indistinct. He couldn't remember what he'd been trying to say, and his voice was getting weaker with every syllable. He wanted to toss his head, shake away the pain, but he was frozen to the rocks, immobile, a gutted fish laid out ready for the fryer. "I...that's not...Dad..."

"Dean?" The alarm in Dad's voice punched through the haze, barely, and Dean opened his eyes again. Hadn't even realized he'd closed them. "Dean! You stay with me, boy. You stay awake till the ambulance gets here, you hear me?"

That was the commander voice. Dean knew all of his dad's voices. That was why...that why he was his shadow....

"'Kay," he mumbled. "'Kay, Dad, stay with you..."

"Dean? Dean!"

"Dad, you gotta...you gotta get my gun...I think I dropped it..."

And this time, Dean couldn't open his eyes again, no matter how his dad yelled and cursed and squeezed his hand until it hurt almost as much as his head and his back and his leg. They just...they just wouldn't open.

X

Dammit, he was in the hospital again.

Even before he opened his eyes, Dean could smell the antiseptic, feel it in his mouth, wiping out the thick taste of blood with its unpleasant tang. Tubes in his arms, in his nose, limbs heavy, something around his neck holding his head still... Yep, all par for the course.

The pain was a deep, distant throb, though, buried under a thick blanket of drugs. Thank God.

Dean forced his eyes open, had to blink about a million times before anything came into focus. Then he relaxed, because yeah, it was Dad, sitting there watching him with those dark sad eyes that always made Dean want to his pat his shoulder and tell him it was okay until Dad believed it. Not that he would, but Dean had to try, right? That was his job.

That was why he...

But the thought slid away. Wasn't like it was going to make any sense, anyway.

As soon as he managed any kind of focus, Dad smiled at him, and ten years fell off his shoulders. "Hey, Dean. How ya doing."

Dean tried to swallow, but couldn't quite manage it. "Urgh."

It was almost funny, the way Dad jumped like a scalded cat and reached for a cup on a nearby table. "Oh, right, right, you gotta be thirsty, huh?"

He held the straw for Dean, let him drink his fill. When Dean turned his head away, Dad leaned back, almost reluctantly, still holding onto the cup. He sighed, sounding old and tired again. "I'm sorry, dude. I should have gone with Meisner myself instead of sending you to babysit his sorry ass. I was too busy looking for clues, you know, too...too distracted." He smiled painfully. "Too busy and too distracted to even notice that he wasn't just an idiot, he was being a total asshole to my kid. I shoulda had your back, the way you always have mine."

Dean couldn't shake his head, so he settled for frowning as deeply as possible. "Dad...don't. C'mon. It's okay."

"No, it's not. It's really not." Dad shook his head, but he seemed to understand that this discussion wasn't going to go anywhere. He looked away, fiddled with the straw in his hand, then looked back with a bright, sudden smile. "Hey, you feel up to some visitors?"

Dean's face was seriously starting to hurt with all of this frowning. "Not Dave Meisner."

Dad shuddered. "God, no. We're not having anything to do with that moron ever again. No, Sammy's waiting in the hall. He's been bouncing all over the place, can't wait to see you. And Pastor Jim came over, too, brought some cookies from one of those grandmas in his congregation."

Dean wasn't really hungry—too many drugs, yet still not enough to completely hide the ache in his head—but those cookies were always fantastic, and his mouth started watering despite himself. Pastor Jim had some top-quality grandmas in his church. "Yeah, that sounds great."

Dad smiled, a better one, the wrinkles around his eyes looking soft and happy instead of hard and hurtful. "Great," he echoed. "Okay, I'll get them."

He headed toward the door and Dean stared after him, already wishing that he could get out of this bed and follow him. That was where he belonged, at Dad's back. It itched deep inside him, being unable to walk with him, hurting worse than any of his injuries. Barely here and already he couldn't wait to leave.

Sammy and Pastor Jim and grandma-cookies were pretty good distractions, though. Dean managed to survive a whole three days in the hospital. It was a near thing, though. Hospitals sucked, and even lots and lots of the good drugs couldn't really make up for that fact.

(End)

Matriculation

Dean never complained about the pain.

He complained about the stupidity of high school in general, the classes, the teachers, the principal, the other students, the jocks, the nerds, the stoners, the bikers, the preppies, the subjects, the textbooks, the assignments, the schedule, the newspaper, the cafeteria, the food, the lockers, the field, the gym, the trees, the benches, and the parking lot. He complained about needing a piece of paper to prove that he had suffered twelve years of schooling when none of it was going to be useful to him, anyway, and he complained about missing time that he could be using to hone his knife technique. It was pretty much all bitching, all the time, over there in Dean-land.

But he never said a word about the pain. And so Sam had to figure out other ways to know when his brother was hurting, when he needed help.

Sam knew that Dean had to be aching pretty much everywhere, all the time. He had been, like, thrown off a cliff or something on the last hunt-gone-bad (neither he nor Dad would deign to share the details with Sam, no matter how much he pestered, but he knew it had been something violent, terrible, worse than usual). Dean had spent three whole days in the hospital, come out with crutches and a bunch of pins in his leg and prescriptions for three kinds of painkillers. Not to mention all the bruises on other parts of his body, of course, the bloody scrapes that marked his side and swept around his back, the lump that was far too near his temple for comfort, and the way his jaw was perpetually clenched as if holding back a scream. And the bitch of it was, Dean still had to graduate.

Two weeks, just two weeks and it would be done, and Dean would never have to whine about high school ever again. Sam was looking forward to that. Christ on a stick, he was looking forward to that. He just had to get Dean there, that was all. And if that meant being a sneaky little bastard, Sam could totally do it.

The trick was to never, ever give Dean the choice of refusing his help.

"I've got your books," Sam would say brusquely, popping Dean's side with his elbow as he passed on the way to the door. His own backpack was pretty heavy on his back, but Dean's school stuff was in front, so it balanced out. "C'mon, the bus is gonna be here soon."

Mentioning the bus always worked. Dean went off on a rant about how he couldn't drive his baby with this stupid fucking cast and totally forgot that Sam was helping him with his junk. Classic.

Same thing at ten o'clock, when it was time to make sure the level of opiates in Dean's bloodstream never reached a normal saturation. "Bet you can't swallow them all at once," Sam would say, or, "Only girls cry about taking medicine, dude," or, "Dad will kick your ass if you don't. Wait and see if I don't tell him."

Lunch kinda made Sam sad, though. Dean had always been so happy about food, even the crappy slop that was the universal fare of the American school system. Not now, though, not with antibiotics constantly churning in his gut, or the headache or backache or legache just ache that was guaranteed to start getting to Dean after several hours of sitting at uncomfortable desks with his leg jutting out at a bad angle.

Sam bullied and distracted and cajoled, and even then sometimes he couldn't get Dean to eat more than a few bites. After a few days he figured out that talking about the hotties in his classes was the quickest way to get Dean's mind off it, get him perking up and asking pertinent questions, eating while he talked without realizing he was doing it. Dean was always interested in the hotties, even if they were four years younger than him.

"That Candy girl," he would ask, eyes sparkling with interest behind the fading bruises. "She drop any pencils today?"

If she hadn't, Sam would make up a story anyway.

The only thing Sam didn't really have to worry about was the schoolwork. Even though Dean was invariably exhausted in the evenings and mostly ended up falling asleep on the couch with his leg propped up and a book open on his chest, he really did want to graduate. Sam proofread his assignments for him, though, erasing any mistakes and correcting them with his best forgery of Dean's sprawling handwriting, and the older Winchester let him do it. Teased Sam goodnaturedly for his big head, what a geek he was for claiming that he enjoyed that shit. Sam grinned back and took the teasing in the spirit it was intended.

And even with all that, all the annoyance of Dean's bitching, the constant worry, the work, the sly cunning Sam was forced to employ, Sam really didn't mind it. Dean was his brother, and he would do anything for him.

And yeah, okay, when Dean stumped across the stage on those giant crutches, the tassel on his cap swinging violently to and fro, and took that useless piece of paper from the hand of the principal he loathed so utterly, maybe Sam whooped and cheered louder than anyone else in the whole damn place. Maybe he stood up and clapped and pumped his fist and generally made a jackass out of himself, until even Dad, who was also grinning a huge, shit-eating grin, had had enough and grabbed the back of Sam's shirt to drag him back down into his seat.

But damn it, it was worth it all to see that smile on Dean's face when he looked across the crowd and found Sam, the green-cornered wink his tossed in his little brother's direction, the triumph in his lunging movements as he made his way back to his seat.

That was worth everything, and more.

(End)