Author's Note: Thanks so much for bearing with me. I hope you enjoy this little ride. (It's been really fun to write this fic.) Thanks for the reviews and for all of your support. :)
Mac turned in his chair to stare at his friend, forcing himself not to become defensive. It would only fuel the Knight's blade-sharp tongue. Within a few seconds, the smile that had been on Dean's lips faded and his face, which had been starting to take on a healthy tone as he ate, became pale once again. Even Samuel, who'd been laughing and teasing him and his brother quieted in barely-concealed anger.
Dean's voice, which had somewhat been improving throughout the day, broke as he spoke. "We're ready to go, Dad. We were just having dinner. You made good time. We weren't expecting you for another half hour." The older boy stood up from the dinner table and went over to his father. "How'd the hunt go?"
The hunter looked as if he'd been wearing the same clothing for a week; rumpled, stained, and ripped. His beard had at least three or four days of growth and his eyes were blood shot with fatigue. Mackland hadn't seen the Knight drop off his children; had he seen John in his current state, the doctor wouldn't have let John leave the building. "It didn't." John snapped, "Wasn't anything real, just some stupid teenagers making up stories to keep from getting expelled from school."
Mackland took a sip of his wine, commenting, "You didn't need to rush into the hunt. You could've ordered Joshua or Boone to gather intel." He spoke purposefully, fully intending to take the brunt of John's bad mood on him instead of the children.
"Don't you start with me!" It was said in a snarl. "Boys, get your things! We're leaving."
Dr. Ames stood up from his chair, pulling himself to his full height before stepping in front of Dean to face the brute. "John, why don't you just stay the night? You look tired. You've been driving the last two days... take a break." It was said calmly, trying to tame the volatile man.
"I told you on the phone that I don't have time for this shit, Mackland! If I knew that you were going to pull this crap, I would've never brought them here!"
"John," he quietly responded, "You brought them here because you were doing what was best for them. Just calm down and listen to me. Call Jim - have him assign someone else to go on this next hunt." Mac wasn't going to back down; he was just as stubborn as the man before him -- if more so when protecting the people he loved. John Winchester was his brother; he was a pain in the ass, but he still loved him as if they'd grown up together... and in a way, they both had. They'd grown together in the worst and best possible way - through adversity and blood.
They'd kept eye contact, as if they were having a childish 'staring contest' like the boys loved to play. Finally, Mac arched his eyebrow smirking slightly, his way of telling him that he wasn't going to back down. A few minutes later, John rolled his eyes and walked away, proving to the doctor that Winchester was just as tired as his son. The man would've never backed down if he wasn't. Before he could get too far, Mac took him by the arm and led him into his office. John wiped his face wearily as he walked past his sons. He patted Sam's head and squeezed Dean's shoulder; it was his way of saying 'sorry'. Dean understood the meaning, while Sam scowled at his father.
Once they were safely in the quiet seclusion of Mac's office, John turned tiredly towards his friend. "So, how were they?" He rubbed his forehead before walking over to the mini-bar area and pouring himself a shot of the doctor's finest brandy. He chug it back with a hiss as he listened to Mac's response.
"John, I'm not sure what you want me to say." Dr. Ames watched silently as Winchester filled up the glass again and drank it, staring at the bottle thoughtfully. Sadly, the bottle got more attention than either of the man's children. The glass was filled again with its contents quickly drained before Ames felt the need to step in and take it from him. It earned him a glare, but he easily ignored it.
"I want you to say that you agree that there is a discipline problem emerging in Sam and that I need to put a stop to it." It was said matter-of-factly, like a commanding officer speaking about his subordinate and completely unlike a father regarding his youngest. "His attitude is starting to affect Dean."
Mackland sat down on his desk, motioning for John to sit across in the chair. "First of all, Samuel is a teenager now. You got off lucky with Dean. Running away, experimenting with marijuana, and field trips to the cathouse not-withstanding, Dean really didn't really act out during his teenage years. Samuel is a different; he's going to push the limits on your patience."
An eyebrow rose sharply, "He's already pushed my patience, Mac! I need him to stop."
"Well, unless you plan on drugging him into a vegetative state, I doubt that any of us will be able to stop him from acting out. He's becoming an adult, John. He needs to make mistakes and, hopefully, he will learn from them. Just -- give him room to explore and grow. None of us can keep coddling him." Mac rubbed his jaw, "I think he's doing these things to get your attention."
Winchester slammed a fist down on the desk. "He has my attention, damn it!"
Ames put his hand on top of the clenched fist, "I noticed." He said it dryly, smirking at him. "You know, all of the 'attention' you've put on Sam?" Mac waited for his friend to nod, "Well, you've taken it away from Dean... how long did it take you to notice that he was sick, John?"
John pulled his fist away as if he'd been burned, his ears flushing red. "Shit, Mac!"
"How long, John?" Mackland stared him down again, wanting an answer.
Silence reined for minutes, until they both decided to back down at the same time. The point was made. There was no need to hash it out.
The doctor pushed himself off the desk, and started to pace around. "What's wrong, Doc? Ants in your pants?"
He didn't answer him and continued counting his steps as he walked around the desk. "Just tell me, Mac! Don't overthink things!" Mackland stopped midstride and turned towards John.
"I don't know if I should say this... Dean's almost an adult; he's months away from turning eighteen." The way he said it was cold and clinical -- emotion was left out, leaving behind someone who was detached from his friends for the moment.
John knew that this was one of the doctor's defense mechanism. He needed it when confronting dying patients, parents of missing children, and in some cases, his family. "Like you said, Mac. He's not eighteen yet." Winchester's voice was equally cold, leading Mackland down the path of least resistance. "And since he isn't eighteen, I'm still his father and need to know if there's a problem with my son."
Mac bit the inside of his cheek, struggling with himself. John had enough and he grabbed the doctor's arm tightly, "Mac!"
With a big sigh, the decision was made. "Dean is showing signs of severe stress."
John dropped his arm with a roll of his eyes, "Stress? Give me a break, Mac."
Huffing, Dr. Ames stopped him before he could walk out. "You are incredibly exasperating, John. I've seen this type of behavior in my field -- I've had colleagues suffer the same condition -- and unless it's dealt with, usually leads to burnout. Please tell me that you've noticed... Dean had a panic attack and fainted yesterday. Something is going on in his life."
Something in John's eyes sparked, bringing the doctor to a stop. "Wait a minute, John. You know what's going on?"
"Whatever you may think, Mac, I know my son."
Licking his lips, Mac asked a question he already knew that his friend wouldn't answer, "Are you going to tell me why Dean is emotionally and physically stressed?"
John smirked, and something in the doctor hardened; whatever the secret was, he wouldn't agree with it. This he knew. "No. Trust me, Mac. Dean's just over-thinking things right now. Like you said, Dean and Sam are opposites. Sammy, well, that boy's a dreamer... always wanting things to be normal. Dean -- he's rooted in reality. This is his normal. He'll make the right choice and as soon as he does, he'll be fine."
"The right choice? It's funny, John... I just had a similar conversation with Dean. I'll ask you what I asked him. Is it the best for you or for him?"
The Knight gave the Scholar a pat on the face. "It's what's best for all of us, Mackland."
Mac pulled away, frustrated. "He's just starting to recuperate. Just don't tell me that you're planning on taking the boy on a hunt. He needs to rest, John. I'm serious."
John opened the door to the office, before he left he shook his head. "You always are, Mackland."
"So, you'll stay the night?" Mac called out to the retreating form.
"Only if you saved me some steak and beer."
"Steak and beer? You're an easy date." Mac smirked back at his brother.
"Really?" John laughed, putting his arm around Mac's shoulders. "Is that what you tell Esme?"
He moved on before the doctor could sputter a comeback. As he neared the front door, he noticed the boys had placed their packs by the doorway and were standing front-and-center, ready to leave.
Dean's eyes were shining bright; his posture slouched as if preparing himself for the dress-down of a drill sergeant. Sam was standing slightly beside and behind him; he clearly was planning on throwing his big brother under the bus in one of his 'it's not my fault' tirades and John had no plans of going there with him.
He placed one hand on Dean's shoulder and another to his forehead, keeping him in place as he checked him over. "You feeling alright, Ace?"
As he expected, he straightened and quickly assured his father that he was 'fine'. "Yeah? Mac mentioned you fainted."
Immediately, Dean argued, "I didn't faint! Girls faint! I just got a little dizzy. Hadn't eaten..."
"You feel better, then? Not dizzy anymore?" John forced their eyes to meet, pushing up his chin with his thumb and forefinger.
Dean looked down and to the left, "Yeah."
John moved his face to meet his eyes, "Really?"
"I uh, still get a little dizzy when I stand up too fast." Dean softly confessed.
Mac went over to them from where he'd been watching silently. "Well, I think you'll be fine after a few more days of rest and healthy portioned meals, son." He walked into the kitchen and pulled out a covered plate from the refrigerator with a relish. Motioning for the family to sit down, he put the extra piece of steak in front of his friend. "What do you boys say that you help me warm up dessert?"
Sam grinned, "Sure, Mac."
The cobbler was quickly put together. Sam spooning the peaches in the plate while Dean added the topping. It was popped into the oven and by the time John had burped away the last of the beer, dessert was ready.
Mac pushed Dean into the recliner and encouraged Sam to sit beside him on the couch, leaving the second recliner to John to rest on. Each member of the family got a large helping of the peach cobbler before settling in comfortably to watch the third installment of Lethal Weapon.
Everyone was calm, laughing, and most of all -- not fighting. As Mackland bit into a piece of peach, he couldn't help but wonder how long it would last.