It took Dean's sleep-fogged brain a few moments to register Sam's voice; it took far less time to register Sam's attempt to pull the blankets away from the cocoon Dean had made for himself. Growling in displeasure at being awakened, particularly since Dad had given him permission to sleep in, Dean rolled further to his left bunching all of the blankets he had a hold on further into his grasp and rolling his face into the pillow. Maybe if he just ignored Sam, he'd go away. It was Friday, didn't he have school?
Sam changed tactics – instead of pulling the blankets away from around Dean's head and shoulders, he began yanking them upward off of Dean's feet and legs. Dean frowned into the pillow; that was just weird. This wasn't a get your ass out of bed Dad wants us to run five miles and I'm not going by myself wake up call. Dean struggled to consciousness as Sam continued to fight with the blankets, all the while pushing and shoving Dean.
"DEAN!" The desperate edge to Sam's voice woke Dean up quicker than any pushing and shoving ever would.
Sam didn't recognize that Dean had finally started to rouse and continued to wrestle the blankets away with frantic movements. When Dean attempted to sit up and remove the blankets for himself, he ended up with a face full of linens from the other end of the bed.
"SAMMY! What the hell?"
Sam startled and sat down hard at the foot of Dean's bed. Dean pushed himself to a seated position against the headboard and peeled the blankets off of his head. Sam's eyes were wide and his face was tight with a look of barely contained panic. Sam moved in quickly, grabbing Dean by his arms just above his elbows. Any other time, Dean would've shaken him off, but the panic was still there; he reached out grasping Sam's arms in a grip that mirrored the one he was caught in.
Dean's mind raced through a million possible scenarios that set his heart to thumping an unpleasant rhythm in his chest because the one thing he was immediately certain of was that whatever had gone wrong, it had to involve Dad. Dean opened his mouth to speak, but before he could utter a word, Sam interrupted him.
"How old are you?"
Dean blinked and squinted. Of all the horrible and potentially terrifying things Sam might have said, Dean wasn't expecting that.
"Dean, how old are you?" Sam repeated urgently.
"Old enough to kick your ass and look good doin' it, Sammy." Dean replied with a smirk.
It wasn't the answer the youngest Winchester wanted, but Sam's barely repressed bitchface was the response Dean was looking for from his brother. The high level of hysteria was gone from Sam's expression though there was still tremendous tension in the hold he had on Dean, and he searched Dean's face like he was looking for something he'd thought he'd lost.
Now that he knew Sam was listening and could hear him, Dean replied with a straight answer. "I'm twenty, Sam. You're sixteen and I'm twenty." Sam relaxed even further and whispered a barely audible "Thank God".
With Sam back on track and relatively calm, Dean fought hard against the tightness in his chest to ask the question he really didn't want to ask. "Where's Dad?"
Sam's fingers tightened reflexively on Dean's biceps as he threw a glance over his shoulder at the bedroom door. Dean threw his legs off the side of the bed pulling Sam up with him as he rose. He shouldered Sam aside, not so much to move him out of the way, but to take the lead.
"Dad?" Dean called as he stalked through the door down the short hallway leading to the other bedroom. A quick search proved the room to be empty and that the bed hadn't been slept in. "If Dad never made it to bed, he should be out on the couch." Dean was speaking more to himself than for Sam's benefit.
Dean stalked out of his father's bedroom and made a short detour into the bathroom and kitchen area just to assure himself he had only one place left to look. The small cabin where they'd taken up residence when John needed a place to convalesce in the winter wasn't big by any stretch of the imagination. Sam's frantic shushing did not prevent Dean from calling out louder. "Dad!"
"Dean!" Sam grabbed the back of Dean's t-shirt in an attempt to slow him down. "You're gonna wake it up!"
"That's kinda the plan, Sammy." Dean approached the couch cautiously. Sam veered to the left and picked up a seldom used fireplace poker. The boys ended up standing side by side glaring suspiciously at the worn out couch. Sam held the poker with both hands in front of himself in a defensive position; Dean stood with his arms crossed.
"What is it?" Sam whispered.
"Not "it", Sammy." Dean replied. He was already wearying of Sam's inability to deal with the situation; particularly since the assumption was that he had the ability to function even thought he hadn't had any coffee yet.
"How did it get here?" Sam continued.
"I'm pretty sure that's where he fell asleep."
Sam's brows drew down in concentration and disbelief. His tone declared his intention to dig in his heels on this argument, "That is NOT Dad, Dean."
But, Dean was fairly sure it was. The quick search of the house confirmed that John Winchester was nowhere to be found – at least, not the John Winchester that was immediately recognizable to his sons.
The figure sleeping serenely on the couch that had quickly become John's favorite place to crash looked to be around eleven or twelve years old. He was curled on his right side with his right hand folded loosely by his face. His left hand held the ancient faded afghan tightly around his shoulders. Legs and feet that would never have been hidden by the undersized throw at his full height were tucked neatly beneath the colorful blanket.
Dean absently slapped at Sam's hand as the poker was extended outward toward the couch. "No poking." Dean ordered softly, as if it needed to be said. Apparently it did, because the poker was immediately in motion again. Sam's concentration was so focused on the figure on the couch that he didn't see the glare Dean leveled at him as he tried to snatch the poker away from his brother. "Sam!" he hissed.
Sam, comfortable with rebellion after nearly a year of openly wrangling with their father, answered Dean glare for glare, and would not release his hold on the iron fireplace implement. A silent and furious tug-of-war followed and would have escalated much further, but movement from the couch froze the both of them and got their attention. Dean let go of the poker and Sam held it defensively once again.
The child on the couch woke in stages; rolling and snuffing into the pillow, rubbing a hand across bleary eyes, and then blinking into full awareness. A tentative smile warmed his face. "Mornin'."
Dean crouched and sat on the ratty ottoman to put him closer to the boy's line of sight. "Hey." Dean found himself at an utter loss for words.
"Did I fall asleep here? Oh jeeze…" the boy sat upright with a mixed look of embarrassment and horror on his face as a different scenario occurred to him. "Did my dad carry me in from the car?"
"Your dad?" Sam echoed, from his place between the couch and coffee table.
Dean replied smoothly, automatically seeking to soothe the boy's wounded pride. "Nope, you walked in under your own power…but you were kind of out of it." Dean paused and cocked his head to the side, not knowing where or how to push. "You don't remember how you got here…" Dean stumbled over how to address the boy, "John?"
The boy shook his head slightly, unconcerned with his vague recollections of the night before and apparently unaware of losing decades of his life. "Nope." He cocked his head in an eerie imitation of the gesture Dean had just made. "You're Dean, right?" He tucked his feet up under his crossed legs, and then looked up to beam at Sam. Dimples creased his face and his expression hit Dean like a fist to his gut. "And you're Sam? It's so boss to finally meet you guys!"
Dean frowned slightly at John's choice of adverb. "We're pretty excited to meet you too, uh…John. Johnny." Dean was getting a little tired of being the only one attempting to communicate. He tried to throw Sam a "help me out" look, but Sam was standing as stoic as ever, though he had let the poker drop down to his side.
"I've been so bummed out being cooped up for so long!" Johnny punctuated his statement with an elaborate stretch. "So when my old man talked to your old man about a visit, I was stoked!"
"Yeah, that was a great idea." Dean agreed, hoping that the grin on his face didn't appear as false as it felt. "Are you hungry?"
"Yeah, but I gotta pee first." John kicked his feet out from under the blanket, and then proceeded to pull the whole afghan up over his head in order to let it slide down behind his back. He jumped to his feet and looked at Dean expectantly. "Bathroom?"
Dean stood up next to the ottoman and tried not to show his distress at having to look down at his father. He pointed. "First door on the left."
John spun on one foot and slid himself through the space between Sam and the couch. Sam remained immobile and scowled at the disturbingly small figure as he scampered toward the bathroom.
When the door to the bathroom slammed shut, Sam finally broke his silence. "My "old man" talked to your "old man"? What's that all about?" The waver in Sam's voice was slight, but Dean could see him creeping back into panic mode.
"I don't know, but it's 'boss' to meet us." Dean snickered a little even as he rubbed a hand across his face; an easy tell of his discomfort.
"Dean! That's not funny." Sam glared at Dean, and then turned his focus to the bathroom door. "What are we supposed to DO with…that?" Sam gestured emphatically with the poker.
Dean's face took on a serious and determined look. "We go back to the scene of the crime, Sammy."
"The Gypsy lady?" Sam asked. "You helped her out! Why would she do…" Sam gestured again, "THAT?!"
"I don't KNOW, Sam!" Dean snapped in frustration. Sam drew back slightly and Dean drew his hand across his face again. Dealing with a sixteen year old Sam was hard enough, but throwing an eleven year old "Johnny" into the mix might be too much for his sanity. "Get dressed. We're taking a field trip."
Sam sat and stared moodily at his shoes, and then traced random squiggles in the dirt between his feet. It was bad enough that this whole situation completely freaked him out, and that he'd panicked earlier in the morning, and he couldn't shake the knot of anger that had settled on a low burn in the pit of his stomach; but to add insult to injury… now he had to baby-sit?
The creak of the screen door announced Dean's return. His footsteps sure didn't sound peppy. This did not bode well. Sam continued to draw in the dirt; he felt, more than saw, Dean sit next to him on the porch steps. Sam didn't need Dean to tell him that so far, nothing had changed.
There was no time to answer the question before the boy of the hour came careening around the left side of the porch running full out. He came to a dead stop in front of the steps, sending up a plume of dust near his feet and asked breathlessly, "How fast was that, Sam?"
Sam ignored the withering look Dean shot at him as he pretended to read his watch. "Nope, you didn't beat the record yet."
Johnny let out a disappointed, "Aw, man!" as he braced himself on his knees and tried to steady his breathing.
"Hey Johnny…don't just stand there." Dean waved his hand toward the dusty driveway. "Walk it off. You gotta keep those muscles loose."
Johnny stood up straight and asked, "How far should I go?"
"To the bottom of the driveway and back. Take it slow though, just an easy walk."
Spinning on his heel, Johnny started walking. As soon as the boy's back was turned Dean leaned in closer to Sam to accuse, "Seriously? All I do is ask you to watch him for ten minutes and you have him running laps?"
As far as Sam was concerned making John run laps was poetic justice. Or, it would've been if Johnny wasn't enjoying himself so much. Ignoring Dean, Sam asked, "What did the witch say?"
"Gypsy." Dean corrected.
"What did the Gypsy say?" Sam corrected in a tone that he never would've used with his father even on his worst day, accompanied by a pointed eye roll.
Dean ignored the tone and facial expression and answered, "She said…this is a gift."
"A gift?!" Sam exploded, turning toward Dean in amazement. Sam's yelling got Johnny's attention so he whirled at the end of the driveway and picked up the speed on his walk back toward the house.
With a warning hand on Sam's leg to keep him quiet, and a not too gentle squeeze to indicate he meant business, Dean turned his attention toward Johnny. "Sam said you were trying to beat a record. You ready to go again?"
"Yeah…two laps in two minutes." Johnny grinned in anticipation and got in a runner's ready stance with his right hand resting on the rail of the old porch. He turned his face toward Dean, ready for the call.
Sam suppressed another eye roll because Dean was taking it seriously and was actually going to time the kid. The second hand ticked from 59 to 00 and Dean yelled "GO!" Johnny was scrambling, off like a shot, and out of hearing range within seconds.
Sam pushed Dean's hand off of his leg as he turned his body to face his brother. "What kind of crap is this? A GIFT?!"
Dean didn't back up out of the space Sam crowded into. "I don't know, Sam. I can only tell you what she told me. This…" he waved his hand to indicate their current situation, "is a gift to us, our whole family, for helping her out."
"A gift. "Sam spat out. "Oh yeah, turning Dad into an eleven year old is a real treat for all of us."
"Jesus Sam! Aren't you a ray of sunshine?" Dean was frustrated as he tried to explain, and Sam was surprised to see another expression on his face. It wasn't an expression Dean let slip often, but when he did it was a kick in the gut. That face said Dean really wanted something, but Sam was holding him back – Dean would never say it out loud, not if he really meant it; but Sam knew enough to know when he was a buzz kill whether he intended to be one or not. Why the hell would Dean want Dad to be a kid? It didn't make any sense.
Johnny raced past, waving, with a determined expression on his flushed face. Sam shook his head in defeat as Dean checked his watch. "How long is it supposed to last?"
"As long as these things usually last." Dean replied in a wavering voice that was a poor impersonation of the Gypsy he'd left inside. Sam glared, gearing up for another explosion. Dean headed him off saying, "Three days. She said we have three days. He'll be back to his old self, literally, on Monday morning."
"Can we do anything to speed up the process?" Sam pushed.
"It's three days, Sam. I'm sure we can handle it 'til then." Dean looked away toward the left side of the house anticipating Johnny's return. Sam looked at Dean's profile, seething in silence. It was very clear that as far as Dean was concerned, the matter was closed. Not that he'd asked Sam's opinion, or that it was likely he would. Like father, like son.
What Sam couldn't quite get a grasp on was why the situation pissed him off as much as it did. This clearly ranked at the top of the list of "weirdest things that ever happened to me", but it wasn't completely outside the realm of being able to deal with. When Johnny came flying around the side of the house again, his appearance hit Sam again - it was just wrong. He was too small, and too young and too… everything. It felt like a personal affront, though Sam couldn't pinpoint why.
Johnny skidded to a halt at the foot of the steps as Dean hauled himself up from his position. "Good job, dude! Two minutes flat!"
"I did it Sam!" Johnny crowed.
"Great. Can we go now?" Sam couldn't help the shortness in his tone, though in all honesty, he wasn't trying very hard to rein in his attitude. The disappointed look on Johnny's face when Sam didn't acknowledge his achievement hit Sam almost as hard as the casual way Dean threw his arm around Johnny's shoulders and tried to cheer him up. Sam was determined to ignore the whole stupid situation and slumped in the front of the Impala for the ride home.
The round trip to the Gypsy's place and back ate up all of the morning and the early part of the afternoon. Once the initial shock was over and it had kind of sunk in that they were stuck with Johnny for the weekend, Sam found himself increasingly irritated that he'd missed yet another day of school for "family business". It wasn't just any day of school either; with finals looming most of Sam's teachers were planning on passing out outlines and study guides to use as review – of course he missed all of that.
In a huff, Sam announced that he was going to study and didn't want to be disturbed. The display was really for Dean's benefit, so Sam was surprised when Johnny took it personally. It wasn't Sam's intention to hurt Johnny's feelings, but that was the unintended consequence of his dramatic declaration. Sam didn't even realize the kid was upset until he overheard Johnny asking Dean why Sam didn't join them, and if maybe their dads should've arranged a weekend in the summer so Sam wouldn't have had to miss school.
Sam pretended not to notice the glare Dean leveled at him and hunched down further over his books. In his mind, at least, he could acknowledge feeling badly about making Johnny feel unwanted and extraneous; but then he justified his attitude by arguing that John now knew how he felt most of the time. But even in his own head Sam knew the argument held no water considering that it wasn't John whose feelings had been hurt; it was Johnny, and they weren't the same. Sam sighed and fretfully rubbed his forehead.
Sam had dragged all of the books he'd brought home out to the porch because it was unseasonably warm and the kitchen was too confining. The temperature on the porch was marginally cooler than in the house, but certainly wasn't a quiet place to study. In his sulk, Sam found himself aggravated by every little noise – the chattering birds building their nests; the creak of the chair each time he shifted; the slam of the door every time Dean or Johnny went in or out of the house which they seemed to do every two seconds.
Dean made no pretense about making as much noise as possible, but Johnny was painfully conscientious about trying not to disturb Sam. After Johnny's latest excursion in and out of the house, Sam slammed the book in his lap shut. The universe was conspiring against him with the help of a Gypsy and it was really pissing him off. Reluctantly Sam gave his attention to the scene in the yard. He wouldn't admit it, but a small, unacknowledged part of him found it compelling and he was drawn in.
The centerpiece of the scene was Dean with the car – that at least was normal. He had his tools laid out, just the way Dad would, and was under the hood doing whatever it was he did under the hood. But next to him, looking even smaller than he was because he was tucked up so close to Dean, was Johnny. Johnny, who appeared to know as much about cars as Sam did, which was to say, very little; Johnny, who when leaning in to examine whatever it was Dean pointed out, had to lift his feet clear off the ground; Johnny, whose unbroken child's voice sailed above Dean's baritone in counterpoint with question after question.
As fascinating as it was to watch Johnny, Sam still couldn't completely wrap his brain around the whole situation – that this boy was his father – so Sam focused on Dean instead. Sitting on the porch, outside but not excluded, Sam had a unique perspective. Dean was relaxed and clearly enjoying himself. Sam envied his ability to totally embrace the moment in spite of its inherent weirdness.
Sam knew that he harbored a lot of resentment about Dean being a "good soldier" and constantly marching in lock-step with Dad, but seeing Dean with Johnny made Sam reevaluate. What struck Sam the most was how unbelievably patient Dean was with the younger boy. The kid had a million questions; Dean had a million-and-one answers. In the same situation, where John would've just grabbed the tools and done the job himself, Dean guided Johnny and showed him how to do each job. Dean was generous with his encouragement, and it was easy for Sam to see why Johnny soaked up all of the attention.
It wasn't hard for Sam to make the leap from watching Dean and Johnny to analyzing his own relationship with his brother. It was abundantly clear to Sam how Dean became so practiced dealing with extremely inquisitive little boys; though at twenty Dean was probably exercising more patience entertaining Johnny than he had when he was sixteen and dealing with a twelve year old Sam.
Sam became acutely aware of just how fortunate he was to have Dean as a brother. He didn't know what he'd do if he didn't have Dean looking out for him. Sam was uncomfortable with the sudden influx of feelings, but after a moment or two of letting it all wash over him he realized that though he was overwhelmed, the feelings were all positive – gratitude, love, satisfaction, pride. Was this part of the Gypsy's "gift"? And in the end, who was it supposed to benefit – Sam or Dean?
Suddenly claustrophobic, Sam pushed his books aside and abruptly stood up. A quick detour into the house was all it took to get the things he required. Sam flung the screen door open, vaulted down the steps of the porch and took off toward the back field. He needed to do something; he needed a distraction from the whole, crazy situation. Sam's feet seemed to have a mind of their own as he headed toward the area they had set up for target practice. The irony of the situation was not lost on Sam; the one activity he felt compelled to do, to shake his frustration, was the thing he would have fought the hardest against if it had been suggested to him by his father.
Methodically Sam set up the equipment he needed. They were lucky that the cabin was remote and abutted an isolated field they could use for this purpose. It was unlikely a stray hunter would wander into their territory and take unexpected buckshot in the ass; and even less likely that a neighbor would wonder what they were doing. Even if someone did overhear the shooting, there were enough hunters in this area of Georgia for the sound not to raise any suspicion.
Sam chose to practice with a rifle instead of one of the bows because he felt the need for some destruction. The "thunk" of an arrow into a target would not be nearly as satisfying as bits of flying hay or metal cans exploding. Automatically Sam inspected and loaded the rifle; ammunition was handy on a nearby stump if he needed to reload. Sam settled into the zone and began to fire round after round at his unsuspecting targets. After the last round was fired Sam took a deep breath. A soothing silence settled over the field.
"Whoa, Sam! That's pretty good!"
Sam whirled in irritation ready to unleash his frustration with this whole stupid situation; it was a new, but already deeply entrenched habit created by nearly a year of fighting with his father. Sam could feel his anger growing, bubbling up in a familiar wave ready to be released. But when he turned to face the source of his anger, it was at least a foot shorter than it was supposed to be, and currently having difficulty untangling its shoelace from the fence rail where it had become entwined.
Sam was overwhelmed again by the intensity of his feelings. This kid had nothing to do a lifetime worth of new schools, worn out clothes and living out of motel rooms. He had nothing to do with the last four months of John's illness and confinement or Sam's growing anxiety and determination to finish out the semester in the school where he'd started. This kid knew nothing outside of his shiny-happy, pre-Cold War bubble, and Sam just couldn't be the one to break it to him.
With a sigh of exasperation, Sam walked over to the fence to help Johnny. Before he knelt down to inspect the snagged shoelace Sam placed the rifle against the fence on his side an arm's length away and ordered, "Don't touch that." Sam was surprised to note the expression of acceptance on Johnny's face. It was just so unfamiliar coming from that source, Sam didn't quite know what to do with it, so he focused on the problem at hand.
But Johnny, much like the son he would father, was not one to hold back his garrulous tendencies. "I hope I didn't bother you, Sam. But when we heard the shooting Dean said you were doing target practice and said that I could come watch as long as I didn't go past the fence. So I sat up here to watch you and my shoe got stuck. Sam…you were SO GOOD!"
In his enthusiasm, Johnny lost his balance and had to reach out to grab Sam's shoulder to steady himself. Sam found himself automatically reaching out to steady Johnny as well. They made a strange tableau – Sam on one knee and Johnny on one foot working together to strike a balance from either side of the fence. A moment later the shoelace was free and Johnny had both feet under him. Since Sam was already in a good position, he took the time to tie the sneaker in a strong double knot. The simple action made Sam smile and improved his irritated mood.
When Sam straightened up he made sure to reclaim the rifle even though Johnny made no indication that he was interested in it. Instead, the youngest Winchester picked up the train of thought where he'd left off as he leaned his arms on the top rail of the leaning fence. "Wow, Sam. Do you always hit all the targets like that? You were amazing!"
Sam tensed and turned away slightly; he was waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it never did. The whole thing was disconcerting; it was rare in Sam's recollection that John gave any compliments, let alone ones that weren't backhanded or attached to "constructive criticism". But Johnny was completely genuine – he was impressed by Sam's skill, felt free to say it…and that was it. He had no expectations, which was extremely confusing for Sam to deal with.
Johnny seemed to be waiting for some kind of response, so Sam mumbled, "Uh, yeah…thanks."
Johnny didn't seem phased by Sam's reluctance to converse and just filled in the silence by himself. "Dean told me to tell you that when you were done that we should come back and get ready for dinner." Johnny looked up in inquiry. "Are you done?"
Again, what would've been a loaded question asked by John - "Are you done?" meaning "Are you going to leave those targets lying around?" or "Are you going to put that gun away without cleaning it?" both of which implying that of course Sam was not done - was innocently put forth by Johnny.
"No, I uh…need to put everything away." Sam paused and tipped his head as he looked at Johnny. "Do you want to help me?"
Johnny beamed as thought it was just the invitation he'd been waiting for. "Sure, Sam!" He vaulted cleanly over the fence and paused, standing next to Sam. Sam rested his rifle against the fence again repeating, "Don't touch that." It was so weird giving orders to his father.
Together Sam and Johnny walked over to what was left of the targets; Sam instructed Johnny to pick up the larger bits of shrapnel while he picked up the smaller remnants. The job was quickly done, and they headed back toward the cabin. Sam carried the rifle on his left side because Johnny was traipsing along on his right. As soon as they were in sight of the cabin, Johnny ran on ahead shouting to Dean, "Dean! Sam shot all the targets! Every single one!"
The slam of the screen door did little to muffle the clarity of Johnny's report or Dean's enthusiastic response, and Sam allowed himself a smile.
After dinner, while Johnny was trying to knock cans off the fence near the house using a sling shot that Dean whipped up, Sam started a conversation that made Dean's head hurt. It was good that Sam was starting to warm up to Johnny and Dean didn't have to resort to kicking his ass to make it happen, but now that Sam was showing some concern his mind had taken a strange path. The way Sam's brain worked was mysterious sometimes; he thought about things that would never occur to Dean, and then harped on them until he got his point across.
"All I'm saying, Dean," Sam continued as he passed a dripping plate over to be dried, "is that we don't know what he knows or how what he sees might affect him."
Dean attempted to make the point he'd been stuck on for what felt like hours. "I really don't think watching Star Wars will rip the time-space continuum, Sam. What could it hurt?"
"We don't know and that's just the problem!" Aggravated Sam turned toward Dean splashing dishwater everywhere. Dean shoved Sam until he was pointed toward the sink again. Sam pointedly shook his hands free of suds and water, and then turned again to Dean. "From the way Johnny looks and the way he's behaving, we can guess he's around eleven or twelve. When Dad was eleven or twelve the first time, Star Wars wasn't even close to being around, it was all Bonanza and Elvis. What if exposing him to Star Wars makes him realize that he's not our "cousin" and he freaks out? What if watching commercials on TV make him realize that he's supposed to be forty five and it does some crazy shit to his brain when he figures out he's missing thirty-five years of his life? Are you going to explain the Gypsy's "gift" to him?"
Dean sighed and rolled his eyes, fairly sure that Sam was being melodramatic. At the same time, was it really worth the risk of traumatizing Johnny for the sake of a two hour movie? They'd kept busy all day; surely they could find something to occupy themselves until it was time for the kid to go to bed. That was how they ended up playing Risk until close to midnight.
Generally, board games were not a Winchester pastime but when Pastor Jim had found this place for them through a friend of a friend they took up residence – "as is". That included a motley collection of furniture, a furnace with a dubious past and a surprising assortment of board games. Sam and Dean had spent many long nights during John's convalescence entertaining themselves with marathon games of Monopoly or Parcheesi. Risk was not really fun with two people and it was probably the last game they'd voluntarily play with their father; he was too competitive, too focused on making it a training exercise and too strong of a strategist for them to have any chance of beating him.
Playing Risk with Johnny was completely different. He understood the rules of the game, but didn't have the far reaching knowledge of strategy that he did as an adult. He gambled too much on each roll of the dice but was good-natured about every loss. He was generous with his praise and was particularly impressed when Dean conquered all of Asia.
By the time Sam had successfully engineered a surprising rally to take back North America, Johnny had already been knocked out of the game and was dozing in the corner of the couch. A soft snore stopped Sam in mid-roll. He put the dice down. "I guess we should put him to bed."
Sam appeared to be at a total loss and that panicked expression of What do I DO with him? from this morning was creeping back onto his face. Dean had to laugh – he'd seen Sam stand his ground against much scarier things, but Dad as a kid was completely freaking him out.
"Don't worry about it, Sam. I'll put him to bed. You check the doors and windows, and then you can turn in."
Sam immediately got to work, but Dean hesitated. Though he certainly had the strength and size to do it, it just seemed wrong to pick Johnny up off the couch and carry him like an infant. Dean could deal with Johnny being eleven years, but babying him sat wrong with Dean. Luckily he had a lot of experience putting young Winchesters to bed.
Dean lightly shook Johnny's shoulder as he rolled him so his feet were off the couch. Speaking softly, so as not to scare him, Dean encouraged Johnny to get up and start walking. Johnny roused enough to be somewhat mobile and Dean guided him into the big bedroom where he would sleep. In no time, Dean had Johnny undressed and under the covers. He figured that missing one night of teeth brushing wouldn't be the end of the world.
It crossed Dean's mind that double checking Sam's work at the doors and windows would be insulting to his brother, but as the eldest, in charge of not just Sam, but Johnny, Dean couldn't help himself. Sam didn't get his panties in a twist; he seemed to understand that Dean felt the added responsibility and didn't give him grief about it; at least not out loud. A short time later, both he and Sam were settled in the room they shared.
Dean allowed his thoughts wander as he let his body relax. He swore he could hear Sam's mind racing across the small divide between their beds. Dean could only imagine how Sam was extrapolating the ramifications of this whole Gypsy "gift", but as far as Dean was concerned he was going to enjoy the time they had with Johnny and deal with Monday when it rolled around.
Sam's breathing eventually evened out, and Dean relaxed even further. He was just about to slip under from a doze to true slumber when soft footfalls in the hallway got his attention. Clearly Johnny was making a midnight run to the bathroom which was indicated a few moments later by a flushing toilet. Dean listened for the tread of Johnny's feet heading back toward the bedroom, but he hesitated out in the hallway. Dean wondered if he'd lost his way; if the light he'd left on in the kitchen wasn't enough to guide Johnny.
It seemed Johnny got himself straightened out, and in the darkness Dean could hear him head back to the big bedroom. Dean strained his hearing to listen for the sounds that Johnny was settling back to bed and was surprised when a minute or two later, Johnny was out of bed and wandering in the hallway outside their room again. The footsteps went into the living room and then came back again. Concerned that the boy might be sleepwalking, Dean rose to intercept him.
Moving quietly so he wouldn't wake Sam, Dean ghosted out into the hallway. What he found surprised him - Johnny was waffling back and forth between their bedroom door and the living room clutching a blanket and a pillow with an expression of abject misery on his face.
Dean was instantly concerned, "Johnny? What's wrong?"
Johnny startled, and misery turned to mortification. "Dean! I'm sorry. It's nothing. I'll just go back to bed."
Johnny continued to apologize, but it was hard to hear what he was saying with his face buried in the pillow that was smushed up against his face. But what was worse was that Dean was pretty sure, positive in fact, that Johnny was using the pillow to wipe away his tears. Johnny moved to try and scoot past Dean, but Dean didn't let him pass. Instead he pulled the boy, blankets, pillows and all, close to him for a hug. The shaking in Johnny's small frame went right through Dean. Every protective instinct he'd ever had came blazing up as a bonfire from his gut. Whatever was wrong with Johnny, he had to make it right.
"Is everything okay?" Sam called out from behind them sounding genuinely concerned. Dean could hear him rising from his bed as well.
"He's fine, Sam." In a split-second decision, Dean steered Johnny back into the room he shared with Sam instead of toward the big bedroom. Sam was sitting up in his bed which was pushed up against the wall across from the doorway. Dean maneuvered himself and Johnny through the limited walking space between the two beds and sat them both down on Sam's bed. The only light in the room was the weak moonlight from outside and the ambient light that made it down the hall from the kitchen; Dean thought it was better in the semi-dark, he had a feeling Johnny wouldn't want Sam to see that he'd been crying.
Though Sam was seated cross-legged against the headboard, he had a long enough reach to put a soothing hand on Johnny's back under the arm Dean still had around his shoulder. Sam shot an anxious glance over Johnny's head at Dean, but Dean still didn't know what was wrong. At least the emotional storm from the hallway seemed to have passed; Johnny was no longer shaking.
"So what's going on, kiddo?" Dean prompted trying to keep his tone light. "What's got you wandering around in the middle of the night? I thought you were asleep."
Johnny mumbled into the pillow, "I had to go to the bathroom."
Dean waited, but when Johnny didn't seem inclined to offer more information he pressed him. "I heard you go out to the bathroom, but why didn't you go back to bed?"
Johnny hunched miserably around the pillow he held across his midsection. Dean could feel the tension in his shoulders increase. "I didn't want you guys to think that I was a big baby!" Johnny moaned unhappily.
Johnny's response didn't answer the question. Dean looked across at Sam, but Sam only shrugged at him. "I thought maybe if I slept on the couch like last night…but I was already asleep…"
It finally hit home for Dean that this was a kid they were dealing with; an eleven or twelve year old kid. He didn't know much of his father's childhood history, but maybe sleepovers were not a common occurrence. And maybe spending a weekend with his "cousins", as cool as they were, was still kind of unnerving. And maybe sleeping in a strange house in a strange bed all alone was just too much to ask, Gypsy gift or not.
"You want to bunk in here with us tonight?"
Johnny's gasp seemed to indicate that it was more than he could hope for. Dean didn't wait for him to respond. He stood up, leaving Johnny with Sam and strode into the living room. Dean gathered the couch cushions and returned to the bedroom. Johnny picked his feet up and scooted closer to Sam as Dean arranged a makeshift bed on the floor between their two beds. Satisfied with his work, Dean indicated that Johnny should make himself comfortable. Johnny basically fell out of Sam's bed onto the cushions and quickly made himself a nest.
"Are you guys sure this is okay?" Johnny asked tentatively, though it was clear he had no intention of leaving.
"As long as Sam remembers not to step on you when he gets up in the morning, I think it will be fine." Dean answered as he walked around to the far side of his bed in order to climb in.
By the time everyone was settled once again Dean's eyes had adjusted to the darkness. He could see that Sam had rolled over onto his side and was looking at Johnny with an expression that was hard to pinpoint on his face; it was a mixture of exasperation, concern and a little bit of awe. Clearly, Sam was still having issues dealing with John acting like a child – not because he was being childish, but because this pint-sized version of their father really was the child John had been long before life had scarred and hardened him. It was scary and a little heartbreaking to see John this way.
There was no telling what tomorrow would bring.