Title: The Lights of Home
Characters: Sam, Dean, Castiel, John
Category: Gen, Angst, Hurt/Comfort, Casefile, Big Bang
Warning: Very serious issues dealt with here. See the seventh part here on fanfiction dot net or maychorian dot livejournal dot com slash 126610 dot html for details. May contain triggers.
Spoilers: Through Season 4 in general
Summary: There are some memories that Dean doesn't want to remember, and some things that he hopes Sam has forgotten. But when Castiel calls the Winchesters to protect a seal in a small Indiana town where they once lived with their father, everything comes back. Sometimes even a sun-soaked childhood summer has shadows lurking underneath.
Word Count: ~31,000
Disclaimer: Tragically, they continue to not belong to me. :(
Notes: This is a Big Bang story written for spn_j2_bigbang on LJ, and so it also has artwork, a downloadable soundtrack, and a picspam accompanying it, none of which can be posted here. See maychorian dot livejournal dot com slash 128310 dot html for details.
Prologue: Lord, I Can't Go Back There
Somewhere in Pennsylvania — January, 2009
Castiel just looked at him, calm and cool and remote, but there was some subtle nuance in this version of his blank expression that told Dean that he was expecting something. And really, it sort of sucked that Dean was getting so good at reading an angel's blank face. Mr. I'm-Not-Here-to-Perch-on-Your-Shoulder was definitely waiting for something.
"What? That should mean something to me?"
"You've been to Indiana before." The angel's trench coat draped loosely around him, pulled shut but hanging partly open, as if Castiel really had no idea how you were supposed to deal with winter weather. A chill breeze cut through Dean, seeming to pierce right to the bone. They stood next to a blank wall in the downtown area of a small town in Pennsylvania—once again Dean had rounded a corner and found Cas waiting for him. It was getting to be a bad habit.
Dean snorted. "Hey, Sam and me, we've been everywhere. Multiple times. Heck, I died in Indiana. You remember that one?"
The blue eyes blinked, slow and easy. "I was not present for that particular incident."
"But you know about it." It wasn't a question. "We kind of have a problem with Indiana now. And you want us to go back there?"
"It's to protect a seal."
"Yeah, I figured." Dean turned partly away, as if to leave. They both knew that he wasn't going to, but even a show of reluctance let him retain just a bit of dignity.
"This is at the other end of the state," Castiel said, with the barest huff of air, the slightest hint that he might be just the tiniest bit exasperated with the stubborn human.
Dean turned back, feeling vaguely triumphant. "So you do know where I died."
Oddly, the other man's face seemed grim, now. Still the blank eyes and slack mouth, same as usual, but yeah, kinda, well, grim. Almost...unhappy. "Yes, I know where you died. It was at the southern end of Indiana. The seal is in the far northeast."
"So yay, more sub-zero temperatures."
"And saving the world."
"Yeah, that too." Dean turned away, officially done with this conversation now. "Just leave the details with Sam, okay? He's in the town hall down the block." He waved a hand vaguely in something like the right direction. "I gotta get me some chili before my stomach caves in."
He wasn't lying. He'd been hungry for hours now, stuck in a tiny records office looking through death certificates from a century ago. Yet another fun-filled Winchester day. The cozy restaurant down the street promised good hot eats, and that was all he wanted right now. Just food in his belly and a reprieve from all the angels and demons and seals and the freaking Apocalypse. Was that too much to ask?
But he could feel Castiel's eyes following him all the way down the sidewalk. And something itched deep in his mind. Northeast Indiana...
Yeah, now that he thought about it, that did sound familiar. And not in a good way, like oh, that's where I hit that home run for Little League. More like, oh, that's where my brother nearly drowned in a lake.
But Sam had never nearly drowned in a lake, and Dean had certainly never hit any Little League homers. He didn't want to dig hard enough to come up with the actual memory to fit this vague feeling. It was time for chili, not soul-searching. Dean had had enough soul-searching to last a lifetime and more.
Part 1: I Want to Ride My Bike
Woodlan, Indiana — June, 1990
"Oh, God, what is that smell?"
Dean made an exaggerated strangled, choking sound, both comical and truly disgusting at the same time, and little Sammy giggled. "Don't use God's name in vain," John said absently, keeping his eyes resolutely on the road.
"But Dad, you use God's name in vain all the time." Dean sounded truly hurt by the implication, as if John had put him down somehow instead of just gently correcting his son's language.
John glanced in the rearview mirror and saw the faintest hint of a grin hiding out in the corner of Dean's mouth, impish and quiet. Ah. Kid was trying to play him. "It's different here, kiddo. Small town in Amish country, folks'll look unkindly on a kid with a potty mouth. You watch your tongue, don't draw attention."
"Keep my head down," Dean muttered, and looked away. Quick as it had come, the impish little grin was gone, replaced with the sullen attitude Dean had been sporting far too often lately.
"That's right," John said, more sharply than he meant to. "Keep your head down. We've talked about this. Why is it so hard for you?"
The eleven-year-old hunched in on himself and stared out the window, obstinately quiet. Sammy watched him silently from the other side of the backseat, and John reluctantly returned his attention to the road. It wouldn't help anything to give the kid yet another lecture. Hadn't exactly done any good the last five times.
Fields of new green rising from deep brown flowed by on either side, stalks now reaching knee height. This was corn country, but not as flat as the breadbasket states further west and south. The land rolled and dipped like a rumpled quilt. Canyons dug into the land somewhere around here, John knew, forests, creeks, marshes and river flats. Quite a few fields of soybeans, too, the bushy plants still low to the ground in early June. A pretty, quiet place to spend the summer. The Impala's windows were down, letting in a cool rush of air. And something else, too.
John heard soft rustling behind him as Sam moved to the middle of the backseat and draped an arm over the seat back next to him, pulling himself up to talk in his father's ear. "Daddy, what is that smell? It's bad."
John turned his head slightly to give his younger son a half-smile. "What does it smell like to you? Give me specifics."
"Aw, man, training now?" Dean kicked the seat in front of him, therefore also kicking John.
John grit his teeth and refused to rise to it. Dean was being ornery on purpose. John would be the adult here. "Why not? It's always a good time to sharpen your perceptions. Go on, take a good deep whiff of that country smell and tell me what it reminds you of."
He could hear Sam next to his ear, sniffing obediently, but couldn't tell what Dean was doing. Oh, they were going to have a talk about this. Again. Not a lecture—a talk. John truly did need to get to the bottom of what was causing Dean's sudden bad behavior.
Maybe Dean was even preparing to answer—John couldn't see him, after all, couldn't know what he was thinking—but Sammy spoke up first. "It smells like poop." He sounded faintly outraged, his seven-year-old sensibilities insulted by the very idea. "Is it really poop?"
John grinned. "I told you things would be different in Amish country. They spread manure on the fields as fertilizer, always have, probably always will. Just the way they do things."
"But it stinks."
"It's natural. Good for the land. Think of it as...recycling."
Sammy sat back at this, mollified. He'd brought home coloring pages from his previous school covered with the recycling logo and cartoons of chubby-cheeked characters singing the praises of recycling, had colored them cheerfully while laying on his stomach on the floor of the last motel, his feet up in the air and tongue sticking out the corner of his mouth. He probably still had the sheets, packed somewhere in with his school things. The idea of it had made him more accepting of hand-me-downs, too.
John definitely heard Dean sigh, though. Since when had Sam become more easy to satisfy than Dean? Everything in the Winchester world had gone topsy-turvy. It was wrong, sitting heavy on John's heart, and he hated it.
Dean had always been his good boy, his little helper, obeying without question and taking care of Sam without needing to be told. Sammy was the questioner, the balker, the one who had to be handled. And then, suddenly, just a couple months ago, Dean had started acting out. He got in fights at school, not just finishing them but starting them as well. His temper was suddenly needle-quick, snapping at the slightest provocation. He'd been doing well at school for the entire semester up to that point, but then his grades had dropped sharply, with no explanation.
And now, even complaining about training. Dean had never done that before, always eager to learn, to improve his skills so he could someday join his father on the hunt. John couldn't think of anything that could have set this off. Overnight, his steadfast soldier had become a problem child. It was disturbing. It could not stand. They had no time for this adolescent crap.
They were coming up fast on a buggy, and John slowed down, craning his head to peer around it and signaling to pass. The small town of Woodlan was visible ahead, little more than a hamlet nestled in among the swelling cornfields. One main road, train tracks, one blinking red light—not even a stoplight. A grocery store complete with an open-sided shed where buggies could park, a couple of restaurants, library, post office, bowling alley, five churches of various denominations. Population of less than four thousand. Not even a cemetery in town...the nearest one was five miles away.
John had found a cheap duplex just a block off the main drag, in walking distance of the library. A possible haunting a couple of towns over, but that wasn't why he'd chosen this town. The county library system was among the best in the country, and its genealogy collection was internationally known. A perfect place to put down temporary roots and really dig into the Campbell family history.
And, hopefully, a good place for him to reconnect with Dean, solidify the team. They couldn't afford any kind of schism, not now, not ever. When John said "keep your head down," he meant it, and Dean needed to be reminded of that in a calm, controlled environment.
If any place was peaceful, surely this tiny Indiana town was.
It didn't take long to unpack. Dean emptied his clothes into one drawer of the small dresser in his and Sammy's room, helped Dad bring his two boxes of books and other research materials in, and placed the few toys and household articles they owned in the living room. Dad would have to find a secondhand shop somewhere nearby and pick up things like sheets and blankets, cups and dishes, since the duplex had only come with a bit of furniture. They didn't usually stay in a house. It was kind of cool.
Sammy was wearing himself out running up and down the steep staircase that led almost straight from the front door up to the two bedrooms, yelling in delight, just to hear his voice shake as he thumped up and down on the steps. They didn't usually have one of those, either. Dean could see that he was going to have to show his little brother the joys of the staircase later, though the rail didn't look slick enough for good sliding. They could always fix that.
The place didn't come with a TV, though, and Dean knew his dad wouldn't think that that was something worth buying. That blew.
"Dean, go check out the garage," Dad called from the kitchen, still going through the cupboards. "The last people who lived here left a bunch of stuff inside. See how much work we need to do before I can pull the car in."
Only a few steps to cross the family room, and he opened the door for the attached garage and stepped into a small jungle of tumbled cardboard boxes and other junk. Even the Impala would have a home here. That was kind of great, actually. Dean didn't know what had made his dad try to find a house this time, instead of an apartment or motel, but he decided that he didn't mind it.
Dean tugged at a box on top of a stack of others, tipping it toward him to see what was inside. A bunch of hard- and paperback books, looked like generic westerns and romances. Stuff not even Sammy would want to read, and Sammy read a lot of really weird books, and liked them. Another box held a jumble of clothing, bright colors looking dull in the strips of light coming in from outside, and when he lifted one garment up he discovered a woman's skirt. Not useful, then. Dad would have to take this stuff to that secondhand store, once he found it. That or just throw it away.
He found a chair with a cracked leg that would be easy enough to repair with some wood glue, more boxes of random junk including toys too young for Sammy, and a busted-up tape player and a bunch of cassette tapes, mostly southern gospel and acapella Christian groups. So not his speed. On the other side of the garage was something covered with a tarp, and he instinctively pushed toward that goal, curious. If it was a lawnmower or something, that would definitely be useful, even broken. Dad could show him how to fix it up, and they had a yard now. Though it wasn't even big enough for a good game of tag—he and Sammy would be bouncing off the privacy fence before they got up to a reasonable speed.
He caught the tarp by one corner and flipped it off, then choked off the happy gasp that wanted to burst out of him. It was a bike, a ten-speed, dusty red and chrome. Dean crouched down to check it out, running his fingers over the cool metal. The chain was busted and one of the tires was flat, but he knew he could fix it up, no sweat. There was a hardware store in town just a short walk away—really, everything here was in walking distance—and a new inner tube wouldn't be too expensive. A patch kit might even be enough.
A footstep scuffed on the grimy concrete behind him, and Dean looked up. Dad was standing there in the middle of the piled junk, a smile tugging at his mouth. "Hey, a bike! Looks a little big for you, though."
"I can handle it," Dean shot back, his hand still on the foam-covered seat, feeling the cracks near the front. Then he looked back, realizing too late that he was being disrespectful. "I mean, I could handle it. If you let me keep it. Can I keep it?"
"Sure, I don't see why not. You and Sam will need something to occupy yourselves with while I'm gone during the day. But I want you always home before dark, you got it?"
Dean stood straight to face his father, eyes suddenly wide. "You mean you don't mind us running around? You didn't want us to leave the motel in the last town."
"The last town was a lot bigger than this one. And not as safe. The last crime they had here was three years ago, and it was vandalism, somebody spray-painting a bench in the park. Heinous, to be sure, and they never caught that master criminal." Dad tapped his finger on his chin as if reconsidering, his voice light and teasing. "You know, maybe you're right. Maybe you boys shouldn't be out in such a dangerous town."
Dean groaned and kicked one of the nearby boxes. "Aw, Dad. You always think you're so funny."
"That's because I am, dude." Dad stepped closer and took Dean's shoulders in his big hands, holding him still to look into his eyes. "I'm serious about being home by dark. You keep the salt handy, keep your eyes and ears open. We won't be neglecting your training either. This isn't a vacation from everything."
"Is it a vacation from some things?" Dean was surprised by how hopeful he was. Dad was always so serious, so busy finding information and fighting monsters. It would be nice to leave some of that behind, just for a little while.
"I'm not here on a hunt, you know that," Dad said. "This is research time. It's just as serious, just as important."
"Yeah, I know." Dean nodded and looked down. His chest felt heavy again, the brief lightness blown away. He hated that, but he couldn't seem to make it stop.
Dad gripped his chin, pulled him up again to look in his eyes. "It's a vacation from some things. No schoolwork, after all." He smirked, almost coaxing, trying to get Dean to smile back.
Dean could never refuse that kind of request. Not from his dad, not from Sammy. He smiled, though he still felt weighted down, confused and unhappy. "Yeah. I'm glad about that, believe me."
Dad kept looking at him, eyes darting minutely back and forth. Studying Dean as if he was a puzzle, some clue that had to be fit in with the rest of his research. He still hadn't let go of Dean's chin, and it was starting to feel uncomfortable, weird.
Dean shifted uneasily and tried to pull back. "Dad...what...?"
Dad grunted and let him go. He smiled again, but it was twisted askew. "Just trying to figure you out, kid. You've been acting...you haven't been yourself lately. It was nice to see you smile."
Dean shrugged and took a small step back, folding his arms around his chest. "I'm okay. You don't have to worry about me."
"Dean..." Dad paused, sighed a little. "You know you can tell me anything, ask me anything. Right? You have questions or problems, you come to me. You got that?"
He looked sharply up, eyes wide with horror. "Holy cow, Dad, you don't have to tell me about sex! I don't need The Talk. I figured it all out without any help."
Dad grinned for real this time, swaying back on his heels and sticking his hands in his pockets. "Oh, yeah? And what do you think about that whole thing?"
Dean shrugged again and turned to put his hands on the bike's handlebars, fiddling with the speed-changer and the brake handles. "I dunno. It all sounds kinda...gross, I guess. Interesting, though."
Dad made his way back to the door to hit the garage opener, and Dean squinted as bright light began to flood the enclosed, stuffy space. The Impala waited outside, long and gleaming black. It was an awesome car, but it was so big. It was going to take awhile to clean out enough space in the garage to fit it in. Even empty, it might be a bit of a squeeze.
"Sammy!" Dad yelled, leaning in the door. "Time to get back to work!"
"Aw, maaaaan..." echoed the small, high voice from inside.
Dean grinned and gripped the handlebars of his bike again. Suddenly he had a plan for what to do with that women's skirt he'd found. It had been too long since he'd pulled a prank on his little brother.
Dean started awake, staring into the dark. The whole room was shaking gently, a rumbling, rhythmic roar filling the air with its clatter-clacka-clack, clatter-clacka-clack. Another train was speeding by, the tracks only a few yards from their backyard. Dad said they would get used to the sound, soon, would sleep through it. You could get used to anything. Eventually it became normal, whatever it was. Dean hoped that was true.
He automatically looked across the room to check on Sammy, but only a thatch of brown hair was visible from this angle, Dean sleeping on a mattress on the floor, Sammy in the twin bed. As he watched, his brother stirred and muttered, but by the time the train had finished rattling off into the night, trailing a whistle in its wake like the mournful wail of a banshee, Sammy was still again. Dean smirked, remembering earlier in the day, when he had completely convinced the little dummy that the skirt was a poncho, and ponchos were totally cool and should be worn everywhere. Dad had acted upset about it, but Dean had seen the twinkle in his eye when he finally just reached over stripped the skirt off his younger son in one smooth move, despite Sammy's protests and attempts to hang onto it. Watching his baby brother and his father in a tug of war over a skirt had definitely been the highlight of Dean's day.
Well, that, and finding the bike. Dean turned over on his side to face the wall, planning tomorrow. Dad couldn't spare the money for a new tire, but Dean figured he could find a way to get some easily enough. Once he had a working bike, the whole town of Woodlan would be his. He couldn't wait to find all its shortcuts and back alleys, the good places to hang out, the secrets no one knew but him and Sammy.
He drifted off to sleep with visions of the bike dancing his head, an image of himself popping a wheelie like a cowboy on a rearing horse, joyful and heroic and completely badass, the sunlight behind him and a grin on his face. Yeah. The bike was going to be awesome....
The kid standing on her stoop was slim and straight-shouldered, his eyes clear and steady. Megan squinted out through her screen door, eyeing him up and down. "I don't know, honey. Our lawnmower's pretty heavy. You really think you can handle it?"
The boy nodded, nothing but self-confidence in his posture and expression. "I'm stronger than I look, ma'am."
As if on cue, a much smaller boy popped out from behind the older one, grinning sunnily. "It's true! Dean's totally awesome!" He stood next to the other kid and lifted both fists above his shoulders, flexing his skinny biceps in a strongman's pose.
The older boy, Dean, sighed the long, exasperated sigh of the put-upon big sibling and shoved the little one's chest, making him stumble back a step. "Shut up and let me handle this, Sammy."
Sammy let himself be pushed, but continued to grin at Megan, nodding and attempting to wink at her behind his brother's back. The winks were more like very quick blinks, but he kept trying.
Dean just looked at her imploringly, all of the self-confidence swallowed up in mortification at his little brother's antics. "Please just give me a shot? If you're not happy with it you don't have to pay me. Just five dollars for your whole yard, front and back."
Megan couldn't help chuckling out loud. "That's not as good a deal as you might think, sweetie. My yard is tiny—this is a duplex."
The kid nodded sagely, as if he had a lifetime of experience with tiny homes and their inherent problems. "I know. We just moved in next door."
"Oh, did you?" Megan glanced over at the twin driveway just a couple steps away from hers. The other unit didn't look any different than it had yesterday. She couldn't remember seeing any moving trucks or trailers, just a big, black, old-looking car and a man with a scruffy leather jacket and the most meltingly chocolate-brown eyes she'd ever seen. "I thought that man with the black car was just another looker."
"No, we moved in." Dean shifted from foot to foot, hands behind his back. "That was my dad."
"What about your mom?"
Dean looked away, slump-shouldered and fidgety. The confident, steady-eyed kid who had showed up on Megan's steps looking for work seemed to have entirely disappeared, replaced with this sad, mute little boy.
Sammy chose this moment to step in again, though, his eyes round and solemn. "She died when I was a baby. Daddy works a lot, but Dean looks out for me. He's the best."
"The best, huh?" Well, Megan might as well admit now...her heart was completely melted, trickling down to the floor and soaking her shoes. "You take care of Sammy all by yourself, Dean honey?"
Dean mumbled something unintelligible. Sammy leaned into his side, butting his floppy-haired head against his big brother's arm in a gesture that was clearly familiar to them both. Dean allowed it for a moment, then gave a low growl that sounded distinctly similar to a kitten and shoved the child away with both hands. "Cut it out, Sammy! Jesus!"
He stiffened in alarm, then, and his gaze darted to Megan, eyes big and wary as he waited for a scolding for the cuss. Megan laughed loud and true, unexpectedly delighted. "All right, all right. You can mow my yard. And later maybe you two can play with my son, Eddie. He's just about your age, Dean. Maybe you can teach him something about hard work and the value of earning what you want."
Dean's eyes lit up, bright with joy, and if Megan's heart hadn't already been melted, it would have gone then. Sammy grinned, too, responding to his brother's happiness, and started bouncing around like a puppy eager to lick everyone's hands and arms and faces and everything else he could reach. She smiled back and opened the door to step outside and show Dean how to work the lawnmower.
Megan's family seemed to have been cursed with a long line of bad neighbors. It seemed like everyone who had lived in the other unit for the past ten years had been unsuitable in some way. But maybe their luck had finally changed. These two boys and their father might be just perfect.
Darkness had fallen like a thick blanket by the time John pulled the car into the now tidy garage, just a few boxes stacked in the back corner, the red bike propped upside down on seat and handlebars with one tire missing and the chain still hanging loosely. John's hands felt heavy on the steering wheel, as heavy as his eyes and head. Too much reading would do that to you. He desperately wanted exercise, a run, some sparring, but it was too late in the day. First thing tomorrow. Dean would be happy for some face time with his dad, and they needed to work on that new combo.
He let the door slam behind him as he crossed into the house, books dragging heavily on the bag in his head. Sammy lay on his stomach on the living room floor, reading a large picture book in the yellow pool of light from a floor lamp. Dean sat at the kitchen table, an inner tube in front of him, pieces of a patch kit scattered all around. At John's entrance, both boys looked up, and Sam jumped to his feet and ran to him for a hug. "Daddy!"
"Hey, sport." John dropped his bag to scoop up his younger son and swing him in his arms for a moment, then let him down again and looked to his older boy. Dean's face was sour with frustration, lips pursed and eyes narrowed. "What's up, kiddo? Something not working for ya?"
"I can't figure out where the leak is. Stupid tire."
"Did you read the instructions?"
Dean slumped back in his chair and shoved the inner tube toward the middle of the table, cheeks flushed and ears pink at the tips. "I thought I could figure it out by myself."
The kid usually could, John reflected, heading over to the kitchen. Dean was good with his hands, and had an intuitive understanding of all things mechanical. He got it from his old man. "Let me show you how it's done."
He plugged the sink and started the faucet, then reached over Dean's shoulder and grabbed the half-inflated tire. "You got a bicycle pump, right? Not just the patch kit?"
Dean gave him a very eloquent "duh" look, but it was Sammy who chirped "Here!" and fetched the pump from the corner. "Can I do it, please please please?"
A tiny smile struggled onto Dean's face, pushing through the layers of pre-teen resentment and irritation with life in general like a butterfly fighting its way out of a cocoon. "Sammy really likes using the bicycle pump."
Sam nodded hugely, grin bright and wide. "It's like setting off TNT!" He bunched his fingers together, then spread them apart in an exaggerated explosion. "Ka-boosh!"
John chuckled, almost involuntarily. The heaviness that had weighed him down was lightening, floating away. "I knew those cartoons would rot your brain someday."
Still, he handed over the inner tube and let Sam attach the small nozzle, tongue poking out one corner of his mouth, then pump up the tube with quick, enthusiastic pushes on the T-bar handle. Mission accomplished, he placed the circle of rubber and air back in his father's hand with a look of glowing triumph. John grinned and ruffled his hair, then turned to the sink, now half-full with water. He turned off the faucet and immersed the inner tube, waving the boys up next to him.
"All right, there. You see the bubbles coming up? That's where the leaks are. Just two of them, looks like."
Sammy leaned over his arm to peer into the sink, mouth hanging open in fascination, and Dean couldn't hide his own interest, staring openly. "Oh."
"Not so bad, was it?" John clapped him on the shoulder and moved pack to the table, picking up the thin metal rasp that came with the kit. "Dry off the tube, then use this to roughen the rubber around the leaks. Glue, patch, and let it dry. Try not to get the glue on your fingers, though. Okay?"
"Okay." That tiny smile finally fought all the way out of the cocoon, spreading a bright pattern of color and light. "Thanks, Dad."
John retrieved his bag from the door where he'd dropped it and started toward the stairs. Maybe he would be able to sort out some of his notes and do some reading before he had to sleep, head back to the library the next day. The Woodlan library branch was nice, but he would have to go to the main library in Fort Wayne for most of the deeper genealogy resources. They also had this fantastic thing called an inter-library loan....
"Dad? You hungry?" Dean asked before he quite crossed the room. "There's some ravioli on the stove, if you want it."
John turned back, blinking. Huh. He'd somehow managed to forget that eating was important, too. What would he do without this kid to look after him? Probably dry up and die. "Thanks. That sounds good."
Damn it, he was forgetting. This summer wasn't just about research and books. It was also supposed to be about working with Dean, getting the team back in shape. John scooped ravioli into a bowl, scraping out the meaty tomato sauce beginning to congeal from warming on a stove for too long, even getting up the burned bits on the bottom in silent censure of himself. Only a day and he'd already lost himself in the hunt, such as it was, dry and dusty and smelling of old paper. Dean and Sam deserved better.
He sat at the table to eat and watched Dean work on the tube, now with purpose and understanding, the frustration gone. Sammy had gone back to his book, bored now that the work with the pump was done. "I take it you found some yardwork?" His son had mentioned his plan at breakfast this morning, but John hadn't thought to ask how it had gone until now.
"Yeah, a few places. And Mrs. Stoller, next door, she said I could mow her yard once a week all summer." Dean looked up long enough to let John see the genuine happiness in his eyes.
"A steady gig! That's great." Dean ducked his head, smiling shyly at the praise. "Hey, tomorrow evening the library closes at six, so we can do some sparring before dark. How's that sound?"
He expected to see more of that enthusiasm—Dean loved training, loved learning new moves, punching and kicking his way through life. But his hands slowed on the tube, head ducking further so John couldn't see his eyes. "Yeah. That sounds good."
The tone belied the words. Dean seemed reluctant, unhappy, as if John was talking about cleaning toilets. John frowned, but didn't call him on it. It wasn't as if he could discipline the kid for sounding less than ecstatic.
Maybe tomorrow evening he would finally figure out what was eating at his son.
They didn't spar the next evening. John got caught up in Fort Wayne, ended up investigating a haunting he'd stumbled over by accident. By the time he got back to Woodlan, both boys were asleep. Tomorrow, he promised himself firmly. Tomorrow was the weekend, plenty of time for everything he needed to do.
But the main library was open on the weekend, too. Even on Sunday.