John Winchester is the spitting image of his mother's brother --- although it's funny, whenever someone brings it up it never seems like a compliment.
He finally gets to meet the man the summer he turns twelve; with no advance word his mysterious Uncle Eddie pulls in front of the house driving a sleek black Cadillac. It will be the first of the infrequent visits that --- as John realizes when he looks back with adult eyes --- clearly have more to do with flaunting his success than any attempt at family bonding. He's heard whispers that his uncle works for the government so John walks up to the car and asks if it's true.
"That's right, kid," he laughs, puffing on a cigar. "I kill bad guys for Uncle Sam." To twelve-year-old John this sounds like the greatest job in the world.
Years later John will see an echo of that bravado in Dean and won't know how to feel.
Whatever Uncle Eddie's motivation is for coming around, he takes an interest in John. He's the one who first puts a gun in John's hands, who teaches him how to acquire a target, the right way to squeeze the trigger, how to breathe in between shots so nothing disrupts your aim. In those first few terrifying months of Vietnam the memory of his uncle's words are what that keep his hands steady, and when he starts hunting repeating those lessons are the only thing keeping his heart from beating out of his chest. When the time comes to teach his own sons how to shoot, he uses his uncle's words.
John's mother screams and throws things when he enlists (a fight that's replayed almost word for word when Sam announces his plans for college, something that doesn't hit him until months later), but his Uncle Eddie beams with pride when John tells him the news. John asks him not to, but he knows his uncle pulls some strings --- not to keep him away from combat the way most concerned family would, but to put him with people he trusts to keep him breathing. "Hey, you're Blake's nephew, right?" Deacon says as John steps off the chopper, green and scared shitless. "Crazy sonofabitch saved my life. You stick with me and you'll be all right."
Sitting in the jungle in the wet and the heat, John sometimes thinks back to a few years earlier when his uncle pulled him out of high school and said they were going on a trip. They stepped out of the car ten hours later in front of a pricey New York brownstone and John could swear his uncle almost looked nervous. The woman who opened the door was beautiful, if of the carefully preserved variety, and her smile froze when she saw them. "Eddie! How did you find me?"
His uncle smiled, biting down on his cigar. "C'mon, Sally. Like you could hide from me."
John remembers she had the oddest expression on her face, a flash of fear in the eyes coupled with her lips curling up in a way that made John blush, although he didn't understand why. She stepped aside and his uncle swept into the room; John paused at the door for a few seconds before following, more because he knew he was supposed to than because he actually wanted to go in. "What've you been doing with yourself, Eddie?"
"You know. The usual war crimes."
She poured three glasses of brandy, downed one quickly, then handed one to his uncle and one to John. John sniffed it,then took a sip; it was the first time he'd tasted anything harder than a beer and he couldn't keep from making a face. The woman --- Sally --- noticed, laughed and squeezed his arm. "And who is this handsome young man you've brought me?"
His uncle grinned. "That's John, my nephew. Sister's boy. So quit manhandling him, would ya? Kid doesn't know where to look."
"I didn't know you had family."
"Most of 'em aren't worth wasting breath on."
"You can't stay, Eddie. Laurie'll be here soon, she can't...." As she trailed off she and his uncle shared a look that John couldn't fail to understand --- moreover he could tell his uncle knew he understood. On the long,quiet ride home he'd wondered if that look wasn't the whole point, telling a secret without saying a word.
He catches a glimpse of Laurie on the news a few months later, Sally's features framed by his mother's straight brown hair. Some long nights in 'Nam he tries to work up the nerve to make contact, just to have someone to send a letter to.
A few years later he reads a book by a man named Mason and realizes it was probably for the best that he never sent that letter.
John doesn't talk to his uncle for a few years, not just because of the book (although that was part of it, especially after meeting Mary). Still, the night of the fire, with horror constricting his chest and drops of this wife's blood still in his hair Eddie Blake is the only family he thinks to call. Sammy wails on his chest as he sobs out the story. "Hell, Johnny," he hears over the crackling line. "Kids are okay though, right?"
John nods, although when he thinks about Dean's blank, too-old eyes he knows that's not really true. "Yeah. Yeah, they're here."
"That's something, anyway. Fuck, kid, I'm stuck in fucking Nicaragua for the next two months. You got a pen?" John fumbles through his pockets as his uncle rattles off names and numbers. "You call the guys on that list, you drop my name and you don't say a fucking word to anyone else, you hear me? I'm going to do some things here on my end to help out so don't worry about. We've got this handled."
John does as he's told; the strangers on the phone stutter and stammer and get very helpful when they hear the name Blake. Suddenly the arson investigation is called off and the Lawrence medical examiner decides that Mary's autopsy wasn't suspicious after all.
He also finds an embarrassing amount of money deposited in his account. The first credit card scam he ever pulls is to pay back at least part of that windfall, a gesture his uncle accepts with an amused shrug and the same pride John'd seen when he signed up for the service. And if Eddie Blake has any qualms about where the money came from, he certainly doesn't show it.
Late in September of '85 John gets a call at 3 AM. His uncle is drunk and slurring and sounds like an old man for the first time since John's known him. "Hey, kid. Didn't know if this number was still good." He's quiet for a long time, breathing into the phone. "How're those boys of yours?"
"Growing like weeds. It's all I can do to keep them fed sometimes."
"Good. That's good. How's the hunting?"
"Slower than I'd like." His uncle didn't blink an eye when John told him what had really killed Mary or why he was always traveling; in fact, his exact words were, Hell, when you've seen the kind of fucked-up shit I have there's nothing you won't believe.
"There's a lot of wrong hiding out there in the dark, isn't there."
John almost asks what's happened but doesn't. He'll wonder years if anything would have been different if he had.
"Johnny, listen to me. You keep doing your thing out there in the middle of nowhere. And stay the fuck out of New York, it's no place for anyone." John hears a long, shuddering breath. "Mother forgive me." Then the line goes dead.
When John gets the news days later that the Comedian died in New York he isn't surprised; he's received similar calls from hunters who felt the end galloping towards them. It instead reminds him of a conversation from a few months back, when John ran afoul of a youkai and was forced to park the kids with Bobby and hole up at his uncle's apartment, knowing the youkai would be rebuffed by his seeking protection from an elder blood relative. While he lined the doors and windows with salt (never hurt to be thorough, after all), his uncle watched, his cigar dropping ash to the carpet. "Think I should look into this hunting thing, Johnny?"
John laughed and shook his head emphatically No. His uncle wasn't insulted, just curious, and John explained, "Because I'm sure in a few years you'd be what I'd have to hunt." Eddie couldn't help but admit that was probably true.
Now, though, taking a bored condolence call from some cop who'd found his number among his uncle's papers, John wonders if he shouldn't have taken that risk.
Years later Dean will find an old picture of the two of them from 'Nam and note the resemblance. "That's your Uncle Eddie," John offers as an explanation; this is all news to Dean, who peppers John with questions: How come we never met him? How come you never talk about him? He looks like a bad ass, how come....
"He died when you kids were little. And you two didn't meet him because he wasn't the kind of man I'd want you to know."
"I'm done talking, Dean. Put the picture back and forget you found it." And Dean does as he's told, like the good soldier John's raised him to be.
It's Sammy who gets the full story. They're watching the Presidential debates for some report Sam's been assigned and the scotch hits John's empty stomach hard. Watching the two candidates out lie each other, John makes a stray comment about how at least they couldn't screw things up more than Nixon did in his fifth term. Sam pushes his hair out of his eyes and looks at John. "Dad, Nixon didn't get elected five times," he says, with the patient tone of children everywhere dealing with senile parents.
Sam has always been the one who needs to know, the one who reads John's journal when he thinks no one is looking and takes it upon himself to research their hunts. He's got that look in his eyes now, the look that he knows John's hiding something and John sighs. He sits Sammy down and tells him about Tricksters, immensely powerful beings who normally only cause mischief and chaos but could cause world-wide change if it suited them.
Or if someone presented an interesting enough case. He tells Sam about a friend of Bobby's, an man he'd known as a naturalist but who turned out to be interested in more than just birds. "Why would anyone want to mess with something like a Trickster?" Sam says, doubtful and questioning as always.
"Some men have secrets that eat them alive, Sammy. Bobby's friend, he'd agreed to keep a secret years before and just...couldn't live with the price. Couldn't live with his ghosts. Thought a Trickster was the way to fix things."
John takes another hit of scotch. "Well, like you said, Nixon wasn't elected five times." He explains about blood ties, how he thinks that's why he remembers before --- or maybe that was just the Trickster's excuse to have someone appreciate its work. "Now I want you to forget I ever told you about Tricksters, Sammy. They're dangerous. Don't ever, ever mess with them."
Sam nods, his eyes hooded, and John reads the mistrust there. As he gets up to go to bed (he never does write that report, the only failing grade he ever receives) he turns back to John. "Dad, do you have any secrets like that?"
John pours himself another glass. "Sammy, live long enough and everyone has them. Get to bed."
When Sam leaves the room John sits there for a long time. He thinks about all of the things he needs to tell his boys, especially Sam, the secrets that press him in the dark and the quiet. He whispers aloud the last words of a man long dead without even realizing it.
"Mother forgive me."