John's looking at the pathetically shriveled and brown head of lettuce that sits alone in the fridge when he hears Sammy confiding in Dean.
"The prize is a boombox!" Sammy whispers, as if their elderly neighbors couldn't hear that, and Dean wipes saliva from his cheek with a grubby hand. Kid does tend to spit when he enunciates, but Dean's still smiling.
"I don't think so," Dean says, shaking his head with ten-year-old superiority.
"It is! It's in the trophy case near the lib'ary!" Sammy might be indignant, but he's still trying to keep his voice down. "You're gonna help me, right?"
"Yeah, course," Dean says like the thought of Sammy entering the elementary school's Halloween costume contest has been preying on his mind day and night. "We can figure out -"
"I already know what I'm gonna be," Sammy announces. "Don't tell Dad, okay?"
Dean manages to catch his eye, and John shrugs, tacitly giving permission; he knows Dean won't ask for money, and it's never a bad idea for the boys to learn resourcefulness. How dangerous could a school-sponsored contest be? He nods, and Dean smoothly agrees. Immediately, Sammy's still-chubby fingers hook into the front of Dean's flannel shirt and drag him off to work on their top-secret plans.
Goddamn it. It was a murder-suicide out at the old King farm, back before the land was broken up into smaller parcels and sold off a piece at a time. John hears himself sigh, sees the pages of the newspaper flutter with his breath, and feels tension pooling in his neck. He's not getting further than this without heading out and seeing the place for himself, and he needs to get home, tuck the boys in.
There's a chill in the air when he steps out of the library, and he rubs his hands together, wishing he could stretch his budget enough to get a nice pair of gloves - leather, maybe, with fleece lining - but at the rate the boys are growing, that's so far from likely he should just quit daydreaming now. He scrubs his palms against his face, letting his beard warm his hands enough to bear contact with the steering wheel.
He lets the car warm up for a minute, sitting and trying to shift his thinking from the case to his boys. Sammy'll probably be asleep already, though Dean will definitely be waiting up, sharp and alert, and since Dean's got it covered, he really could just take an hour to investigate the King farm now, so that he doesn't have to try to sneak around in the daylight.
Just this one thing, and he'll bring the boys hotcakes for breakfast.
"Yessir?" comes a sleepy-sounding voice, and Dean marches into the kitchen, his eyes drooping a little. They look a little brighter when they spy the McDonalds bag John had set on the counter.
"How many times do I need to say this? You can't eat anything you find in a place we've moved into, not unless you bought it or I bought it." He points at the misshapen cardboard box of teabags; its stale smell permeates the air. "Who knows how long that's been sitting in the cupboard?"
"Dad, I didn't - I wouldn't." Dean's face comes unflinchingly up, and John figures the kid's telling the truth. He doesn't look caffienated, anyway.
"Alright. Get your brother up, and we'll see about putting these hotcakes away."
Dean grins, dashes off, and comes back with Sammy hanging off his back. They settle down to eat, plastic utensils squeaking against the styrofoam containers, and both the boys' faces are sticky with syrup in about ten seconds flat.
"Daddy," Sammy giggles and points. "You got some too."
John swipes at his beard with his tongue and finds an errant drop of syrup. Too late, he realizes his error, as Sammy busies himself trying to clean his own face with his tongue as well. It's like looking in the world's cutest, smallest mirror.
It might not be a bad idea to spend some time with the kid. "Bath time for you, mister," he says, grabbing Sammy around the middle and hoisting him in the air. Sammy squeals and giggles, and John smiles, feeling his exhaustion recede.
Dean is hovering, in exactly the way he knows he's not supposed to, while John tries to piece together what he needs to do about the spirits preying on the young men of the town. Damn, but he should have slept for a couple of hours, or at least brewed a pot of strong coffee. His eyes just don't want to stay open.
"What is it, Dean?" he asks when he's tired of watching the kid in his peripheral vision.
"Can you come to Sammy's costume parade tomorrow?" Dean asks, setting an orange flyer with the time and date on top of the journal. The words cross in front of John's eyes. He shakes his head and takes another look; the contest is at two, peak daylight hours, and he wouldn't be able to wander freely around the old King homestead at that time. If he can catch up on his sleep and get back out there tonight, he should be able to sit and watch his kid walk by and force down some cardboard cookies and lukewarm apple cider.
"Sure," he says, and Dean's posture relaxes. "Now how about you get your old man a cup of joe?"
One more night should do the trick, John thinks as he slowly climbs the bleachers in the elementary school gymnasium; they're made so that even the first graders can climb up them, and he keeps misjudging the height of the steps and walking like he's watching out for land mines.
The lady principal comes out in an ugly maroon pantsuit and sensible low-heeled shoes. She doesn't have a particularly strong voice, and he's not all that interested anyway, so he hears only a few words of her speech, but he follows along well enough to get that he should clap when all the kids in costume stream into the gym.
They come in one long, gapped line, clumsy steps negotiating costumes. John can count five separate pumpkins, all but one store-bought and fancy. The homemade pumpkin is really a jack-o'-lantern, and a pretty scary one at that, and the kid inside the costume is grinning and making his soft, pudgy, baby hands into claws as best he can.
And then comes Sammy, grin lighting up the gym, hell, the whole school, until he remembers that he's not supposed to be smiling at his dad, he's supposed to be his dad, and John wonders how Dean approximated his beard on Sammy's round little face, and how long Sammy practiced his mannerisms. Dean's flannel shirt is far too big on the kid, but the sleeves are rolled up to clear his wrists, and Sammy looks like he's having the time of his life.
One by one, kids' names are called out and they're eliminated from the costume parade. Soon it's just Sammy, the jack-o'-lantern, and a princess left. Sammy's sparkling now, covered from the knees down in the princess's glitter, but he's doing a great job of keeping a straight face. Damn, John thinks, maybe he should smile more, but he knows he's already grinning at the thought of his kid dressing up as him. Maybe he's not doing so bad by his boys.
"Third prize, Colleen Kirk, fairy princess!" the principal says, having found a microphone at some point. The little girl squeals and gets her prize, a hardcover book. "Second prize, Justin Chang, as a jack-o'-lantern!" That means Sammy's won. "And first prize is Sammy Winchester, as . . ." she looks down at the sheet of paper in her hand, frowning when she can't make out the words. Sammy trots over to her, and she bends down to hear his explanation; when she stands back up, she's laughing a little. "Sammy Winchester, for his hobo costume. Congratulations, everybody!"
John keeps his seat in the bleachers, even when Sammy needs help lugging his new boombox over.
John sits at the kitchen table while Dean tucks Sammy away in bed, boombox on the nightstand next to him to keep him happy.
"He didn't mean to make you mad," Dean says, startling John.
"Where would he even get an idea like that?" John demands.
"Caleb calls you a hobo all the time," Dean points out, and John remembers that little pitchers do have big ears. "He just wanted to be you, Dad."
He can't talk about this anymore. "How on earth did you make that beard for him?"
Dean just goes with it. "Vaseline on his face, then the stuff from inside a teabag."
No one ever said his kid wasn't inventive. "I would never have thought of that," John admits.
"You taught me everything I know," Dean says.
"Go on, get out of here."
"Are you gonna solve the case tonight?"
John doesn't have an answer, until Dean says, "I bet you will."
"Yeah," he says, and Dean smiles. "All I need is one more cup of coffee."