Sam spent his first year with John and Dean flinching every time John made a sudden move. He never talked back, never disagreed. Just tried his best to go with the flow. After surviving Dean's first year, John felt like an old hand. He spent a lot of time teaching the boys to defend themselves, figuring that since Dean needed to be reassured that John loved him for who he was, Sam needed to feel like he had the ability to keep himself safe. Dean was a natural at anything that had to do with combat, whether it was hand to hand or weapons. Sam was clearly going to excel with knives and the bow and arrow, though. Which was good. He didn't want Sam to feel like he had no chance at all of measuring up to his big brother. John taught them to pick locks, get out of cuffs, strait jackets and any number of other restraints.
As Sam learned, his confidence grew and before John knew it he was talking back. Which was both a blessing and a curse. Because he wanted the kid to have a mind of his own and not be afraid to speak it, but he also thought a certain amount of respect was in order. Sam liked pushing his buttons, and he was an absolute pro at it. No, Sammy was definitely not Dean.
He could, and often did, spend hours with Dean just working on the Impala, or watching sports, or going over strategies and the best use of weaponry without a single argument. Dean had a good head for most of the things that John liked to do. At least he seemed to. John wasn't always entirely certain if the kid wasn't just determined to mimic him as closely as possible. But then again, Dean didn't enjoy the scholarly pursuits John did half as much. That was all Sammy. Unfortunately, the time he spent with his youngest didn't usually go nearly as smoothly.
Sam swore he'd scream if he heard that damn 'Being a Winchester Means' speech one. more. time! It was bad enough that John insisted on giving it every freaking time he turned around, but Dean did too. They had been born Winchesters so it was easy for them. Sam had been born a Roberts, and apparently had to be drilled on what it took to be a Winchester. But he didn't want to be a Winchester any more. If he hadn't been born a freak in the first place, his father wouldn't have lost his mind and would never have hurt him. He wouldn't have needed to be rescued by a grouchy control freak who moved constantly. He just wanted out. He wanted normal. He wanted safe. He wanted to be the geeky, innocent kid in class. He wanted to be a Roberts again.
"You can't just leave, Sam! It's not safe."
Sam threw John a disbelieving glare. "And living with you is?"
"It's Sam! And I'm leaving in the morning."
"No, you're not!"
"What the hell are you gonna do, 'John'? Tie me to a chair? Lock me up in the trunk of the car?"
John backed up like he'd been slapped at the use of his first name and Sam felt a pang of guilty satisfaction at the way the man blinked at him as if that was the worst thing that had ever been said to him. "If you walk out that door, 'Sam', don't you bother comin' back."
Sam laughed at that. As if that was ever something he'd even consider doing. "Oh, don't worry! I won't!"
Dean sat on his bed watching Sam angrily throw his meager belongings into his duffle.
"You're clothes are gonna wrinkle you keep throwin' 'em in there like that." His tone was reasonable. Always the big brother, even though Sam knew this was breaking his heart.
"I don't care."
"You're really doin' this?"
"Yeah. I have to Dean," he said for himself almost as much as for Dean. He stopped what he was doing so he could beg his big brother silently to understand.
Dean looked away. "Yeah. Okay." It clearly wasn't okay and suddenly Sam wasn't so sure he was doing the right thing after all.
"I'm not leaving you."
"Sure as hell coulda fooled me."
"I'm leaving him, Dean. I'm leaving this. You could come with me."
"And do what, Sammy? Sleep in your dorm room and party all day? Oh yeah, where do I sign up for that?" Dean sounded tired, resigned. Sam didn't like hearing his brother sound like that. Despite everything, Sam would always think of Dean as his brother.
"You can build a real life for yourself. You don't have to be what he wants you to be."
"That's what you don't get, Sammy." Dean finally looked at him again, his eyes a little hard. "I'm already who I want to be. I've wanted to be a hunter since I was four years old. You leave this life, you leave me. That's all there is too it."
"Come on kid. I'll drop you off at the bus stop."
"You came back." John looked genuinely surprised to see Dean walk through the door. Dean took his father in. The older man was slumped at the kitchen table, halfway through the bottle of Jack sitting in front of him. Dean felt his heart squeeze at the idea that John believed that he'd abandon him too. He'd never made the commitment out loud, but it was just as ironclad as John's was to him.
"Why wouldn't I?"
"I heard Sam ask you to go with him. I just thought… hell, I don't know what I thought."
Dean shrugged. He wanted to be angry with John for letting his temper get the better of him. Or with Sam for pushing every button their father had. But all he felt was sad. Sam had exposed every crack they had both spent years trying to mend. The loss of John's first two sons, the fact that Dean and Sam weren't his by birth, the fear of abandonment and loss and just not being enough that still ate away at Dean despite years of his father's patient, steady love. Dean should have seen it coming. In retrospect all the signs had been there almost from the day that they'd picked Sam up and decided to make him part of their family. But he still felt blindsided and a little lost. Like he'd suddenly awakened without a limb and no clue as to what happened to it. John was still here, though. John, the man who had saved him and kept his promise to never leave. The man who had been the center of his world for twelve years. Dean shrugged and said the only thing he could think of to convey what he was feeling. "Guess you're stuck with me."
"Looks like everything's here except Dad." Dean sighed. It was bad enough when John wasn't answering his phone or responding to any of the dozens of voicemails he'd left him, but seeing his room empty like this, with his truck out in the lot, but no John... it was even more fucking disturbing.
"Even his journal's here." Sam gestered at the rinky little table next to the door as he put their father's duffle on the bed. He didn't open it, didn't want to invade his privacy like that. Dad was big on that sort of thing, since they'd had so little privacy as it was with the way they lived on the road so much of the time.
"Maybe he left on a hunt? 'Borrowed' another car?" John always left his journal behind… just in case. "Which means he could be lying in a ditch somewhere, and we've got no way to locate him."
"We don't know that. Maybe the hunt's just taking longer than he anticipated."
"Dude! It's been four years since you've seen me. Two since I've even called you. You really think I'd suddenly show up in your apartment just 'cause Dad's hunt went a little long?"
"I guess not."
"I'm not some pathetic little bitch, Sammy." Dean knew he was snapping, but he couldn't help himself. He hadn't had much sleep since the night he truly realized that John was MIA. The nightmares had come back and he couldn't get rid of the nagging fear that John had just had enough of him, had gotten tired of the emotional black hole that Dean knew he was sometimes. Had just finally left him. The same way Sam had left him.
"Never said you were, man."
"Alright, then. Let's work this by the numbers."
Sam came out of the shower to find the room empty. H e looked out the window to see Dean sitting on the hood of the Impala looking up at the sky. There was something about his posture that worried Sam. He'd never seen Dean this afraid before. Not that Dean would ever admit to being afraid. Sam dressed quickly and went outside.
"Dad never asked." Dean's voice was strange and Sam got the feeling that the older man was crying.
"Never asked what?"
"About Masters. My bio dad. I never told him either. Never told him why he did what he did. At first I was afraid he'd be disgusted with me if I told him. Then it just didn't matter anymore. It was something that I just wanted to forget ever happened. But when Dad disappeared…" Dean reached up and wiped at his face with his sleeve. Sam sat on the opposite side of the hood, facing away from Dean. This had to be hard enough to talk about as it was without having your kid brother staring you in the face.
"I don't think… I know that nothing you could have told him would have made Dad feel differently about you."
"Yeah. I figured that out."
"Was he… was Masters a good dad before your mom died?"
Dean snorted out a bitter little laugh. "Son of a bitch always liked to humiliate people. Used to make Mom cry all the time. Sometimes I think he spent so much time tracking that damn werewolf 'cause he was pissed at it for taking away his favorite punchin' bag and leavin' him with some kid that was useless for anything other than bait."
Sam listened to Dean silently, trying to imagine what Dean's life had been like. Sure, his own original father had been a couple fries short of a happy meal, but that had only been after he found out that Sam was a freak. Before that, there had been love, and tickle fights and staying up late at night watching movies and eating popcorn. Dean had apparently never had that.
"One of the hunters Masters fell in with gave him a whole new way to humiliate me. He was having a hard time bringin' in enough cash, and this bastard… this bastard tells him I should earn my keep. Masters let him…" Dean's voice trailed off with a shudder. "I was maybe seven at the time. They laughed when I chocked." Dean closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around himself. "At first he just watched what the guys he traded me to did and called me names afterwards. Eventually he started doing things to me too. Said that I might as well take over Mom's job since it was my fault she was dead.
"By the time Dad came along, I was used to it, you know? I mean, I remembered what my life was like before and I knew that it wasn't supposed to be… I knew my father wasn't supposed to touch me like that, wasn't supposed to let other people do it for money or favors. But it was just the way it was. Man, I was scared shitless of Dad when I first saw him. Most hunters are scary, and pretty much bat shit, but Dad was… Dad's in a class all by himself. I kept waiting for him to be like Masters or those other bastards… but he never was. You have no idea how grateful I was when that finally sunk in. The day I finally believed that he wouldn't treat me that way. When I finally understood what a good man he was."
Sam could understand that. He'd kept measuring John by his first father too. When he realized that he was safe with John, that he wasn't going to turn on him because he wasn't normal, he'd kept waiting for the man to be like Roberts was before. That was his measure of being loved, of being part of a family even if it was fractured and incomplete because of the absence of a mother he didn't remember. And he'd punished John for not being the other man. He felt sick at the realization. They had to find dad… they had to. He couldn't let that last fight be the last time he spoke to his father. "We'll find him, Dean."