No spoilers. Pre-series.
"Dean's got a girlfriend."
"She's not my girlfriend."
"She's your girlfriend. You need to inform yourself."
"Dude, what the hell would you know about it, you're ten..."
John feels like he has quite literally just walked through the door and they are already bickering. That's all that registers at first, behind his blinding headache. He should be paying attention, he knows. A good father would pay attention. Mary would pay attention. But then again, a good father wouldn't leave his kids alone for six weeks while chasing a dead end. Mary wouldn't leave her kids ever. She was always a good woman, a good...
He pauses midway from the living room to the kitchen when his brain catches up.
"Dean has a what now?"
He gets "a girlfriend" and "not a girlfriend" as answers and they manage to say the word "girlfriend" completely in sync. Not the first time they do that, actually. Not the hundredth. Every time it happens John wonders if a good father would be paying for therapy. This level of intertwinement surely can't be healthy. But he has more pressing concerns now.
"Who is this girl?"
Dean opens his mouth but Sam beats him to it. "Cheryl Anne", he says mocking the southern drawl of everyone who lives in this godforsaken town. A good father would chastise him for it. John would, but Dean's got this odd expression as he exaggeratedly rolls eyes and it distracts him.
It takes John a heartbeat to recognize it. It's been years since Dean has ever been caught blushing. It takes Dean a heartbeat to cover it up. "She's just some chick, no big deal."
"Some chick who has been here every day," Sam helpfully adds. He ignores the "dude, shut up" coming from his brother. "They go out every Friday and Saturday nights. She cooks for him, she..."
John cuts him off and his tone makes Sam shut up immediately. "You brought a girl here? Are you insane?" Dean straitens his posture and reports. "The guns are all in the car, we're not hunting anything, I cleaned the house of anything weird she could find out, I dropped holy water on her and she wears a silver ring." He pauses. "She's cool, dad. You'd like her". Sam snorts. "But she is not my girlfriend!" Dean tosses a pillow.
"Ok, enough. We'll talk about this in the morning. You two go to bed."
They don't talk in the morning, though, because, in the morning, Cheryl Anne is there. Making breakfast. With an apron. She has curly blond hair and blue eyes and John is taken back to 20 years ago and can't talk at all.
"Mister Winchester! Good morning! It's nice to finally meet you, sir!"
He nods and looks around for his sons, who are nowhere in sight. "Sam's in the bathroom and I'm trying to make Dean hurry out of bed, but you know Dean, right?" She laughs and hammers right on. "I hope you like pancakes!"
"Told you she was his girlfriend", Sam mumbles past him and sits on a chair. "Morning, Sam!", the girl chirps and actually ruffles Sam's hair. Sam rolls his eyes and blush and it is the exact same expression his brother was wearing not twelve hours ago. A good father would definitely be looking into that therapy thing.
A good father would also do something about the frozen solid teenage son who stepps out of his room. Cheryl Anne has her back turned and hasn't had the opportunity to chirp him out of it. Dean's eyes go to his father, then to her, then back to John before settling on Sam's and silently begging for help.
For the everlasting credit of Sam, he doesn't jump on the opportunity to make his brother even more miserable. He actually stands up and says "oh crap, I just remembered I have a study group before classes today, I'm gonna be late, can we go right now, Dean? Please?" Dean looks as relieved as John has ever seen him as he blurts "yeah, Sammy, sure, no problem, Cheryl let's go."
By the time the girl has opened her mouth to protest, they are both out of the door.
Cheryl Anne doesn't get back to the house for the next few days. Dean must have said something. John doesn't care what. He should talk to him about it, he knows. But he needs an opening and Dean never gives him one. Keeps feeding him talks about anything but. The car. Sammy. The hunts. Sammy. The house. Sammy.
Jim warns him about a chupacabra two towns over. Quick and clean, in and out. He doesn't even bother letting the kids know about it, but they must have gathered he went hunting and expected him out for a longer time because when he gets back home one night, Cheryl Anne is there.
Curled over Dean, they both fast asleep on the couch. Sam is sitting on the floor doing homework on the coffee table. He looks at John, shrugs and silently mouths "told ya". John is too old for this shit. It's well over 10PM. Where are this girl's parents? John doesn't have to normally worry about this things, because other parents do it for him.
He doesn't even raise his voice and Dean jumps up. He barks a "sir" that would make a drill sergeant proud. Cheryl Anne merely yawns exaggeratedly. Ok, now what? What does John say? What does he want?
John doesn't know. So he just… turns around and goes to his room. He hears some talking and scuffling on the living room and when he returns, Cheryl Anne is gone, Sam is getting ready for bed and Dean is doing the dishes.
He asks about the hunt but John is done deflecting.
Dean cuts him. "Dad, I know…"
John cuts him back. "Dean, I don't have a problem with you having a girlfriend". Dean breathes an exasperated "she is not my girlfriends, Dad!". John doesn't usually receive that tone. That tone is reserved for Sammy. It makes John smile against his will.
"Dean, shut up and listen to me."
Dean shuts up and stands still. "There's nothing wrong with you having a girlfriend." Dean rolls his eyes and John glares. Dean resumes his posture. "As I said… uh…" What was his point, again? "Well, you are growing up and I understand that…. uh… girls are a part of that. As long as it doesn't affect your school or your training and you understand we are not staying here permanently…. Well, Cheryl Anne is welcome here. Just… keep the guns away. And, uh… use protection."
They stay silent for a long while and John just… Better parents would know what to do. Mary would know what to do. "Do you understand what I'm saying, Dean?"
Dean nods. "Of course, sir".
Next morning, he wakes up to the sound of Dean huffing while doing push-ups on the living room at 5 AM. Dean goes to school, gets back and works on their guns. He spends the night reading Singer's books on lore. He does the same routine every day and John is pleased. So pleased it takes him three weeks to realize what's missing from this equation.
Sam is doing homework one Saturday night and Dean is not there so John asks. He repeats it in his head a couple times to get the friendly tone right. Talking to Sam is hard.
"Dean is out with Cheryl Anne?"
Sam's eyebrows rise up in confusion. "He went to get pizza in the deli." Oh. Okay. John nods. He can actually see Sam's thought process across his features. "Dad… Dean broke up with her weeks ago."
John is… surprised? Relieved? "Oh… really?", he tries to go with confused. "Yeah", Sam says. "Like you told him to." And…
Dean did not understand what he was saying.
Ashamed. What John is feeling is ashamed.