A/N: Quick note - and apology for those lovely, lovely folk who've got me on alert. I'm planning an SPN Halloween story and hope to get it done (muse not cooperating with that fandom at the moment), but in the meantime, I'll be cluttering things up with something completely different. LOL, from a currently running show to one that went off the air over 30 years ago. Awesome shift, eh? Don't worry, I gave myself whiplash too. Bet Johnny and Roy could help fix me.
I've coopted Roy's family from fandom - after reading a billionty really old stories, they seem real. Also, a big thanks to LdyAnne for helping me out with this! You're a peach.
The Cat Came Back
The point of whether or not he already had made plans for the night was rendered moot the second little Jennifer DeSoto batted her eyelashes at him. She must get that from, well, both her parents. Or maybe her brother. God knew that Johnny Gage had a hard time saying no to any of the DeSotos if they gave him that little head tilt and those puppy-dog eyes. He doubted Roy – stoic Roy – even knew he could pull that expression. He wasn't sure anyone but him would recognize it for what it was. And it was far too late now for Johnny to mention the quirk to his partner and, besides, acknowledging it existed might only make Roy use it on him more. He was stuck. But to tell the truth, he didn't mind so much.
Logically, Johnny knew he had it in him to say no, to fight the bargaining power of those mighty puppy-dog eyes. Yet every time he opened his mouth with that answer forming on his tongue, every time he was certain he was going to succeed in delivering a negative, it came out as yes anyway. It felt like the DeSotos were the family he never had and always wanted, a tight little nuclear unit of contentment and happiness. Which was just plain stupid; he'd had a perfectly fine upbringing and his parents and sister were great. It was probably that they were hundreds and hundreds of miles away. That had to be it. And it also had nothing to do with him wanting a wife, kids and maybe a dog. He wasn't ready for that kind of life, himself. No, it was all just … some sorta weird thing.
So it was no shock at all, really, that there he was again futilely preparing himself to say no. He glanced at the doorway, where Roy stood leaning against the frame with his arms crossed and a smile on his face. Smug. Johnny scowled. As if Roy could say no, either. Sure, in that parent kind of way, but Jenny had her dad wrapped around her finger too. Johnny didn't appreciate the pot calling the kettle black, even non-verbally.
"I dunno, darlin'," he said, surprising even himself at the hesitation which managed to escape.
Huh, maybe he was making progress. A second after he thought it, Johnny felt guilty for being happy about his willingness to put a frown on Jenny's face just to prove his own will power. The little girl herself stared at him as if sizing up his answer and not liking what she was figuring. Smart cookie. She got that from everyone else in the family right along with the special, make-Johnny-do-anything magic.
"First, you can come over and we'll do jack o' lanterns and eat pumkin seeds. Mommy makes them taste real good," Jenny said at last, not sounding very deterred. "And then we'll go to the pumkin patch and wait. It'll be so much fun!"
"What about trick or treating? You don't want to miss all that candy."
"That's true. I like candy." Jenny puckered her lips to one side for a moment, deep in four-and-a-half-year-old thought, and then her face brightened with a big smile. "I suppose you'll have to come with us for that too."
Jenny was more sweetly devious than Johnny had given her credit for. He'd walked right into it. Johnny cast Roy a desperate look – it wasn't that he didn't have anything better to do on Halloween than hang out with his partner's family, it was just that he had better things to do on Halloween than hang out with his partner's family. First and foremost on his to-do list was Sandy Appleton, his very own sexy schoolmarm for the evening. He was hoping to do his own adult version of trick or treating. Johnny opened his mouth to protest when he saw he was going to get no help from his partner.
"I guess I will," was what he ended up saying.
Sandy was going to kill him. It had taken awhile to convince her to go out with him, and the ones he had to chase were always worth it in the end. Somehow, with a little pixie-faced girl smiling at him as if he'd just promised her the world, the sting of that loss didn't hurt quite as much. If he explained it right, maybe Sandy would still give him a shot. That thought lasted a fleeting moment. Never in his life had he been able to explain things right with women.
"Jenny, dinner's ready," Roy said. "Go wash up, quick."
"Okay, Daddy," Jenny said. "You stayin' for dinner, Johnny?"
"Uh," Johnny said.
"Jo's already had Chris set a place for you." Roy uncrossed his arms and scooted to the side to allow his daughter to skip through the doorway. "You should admit defeat before the mashed potatoes start getting cold."
Joanne did something special to her mashed potatoes. Johnny's stomach rumbled at their mere mention. He clapped his hands together and rubbed them in anticipation.
"Well, all right."
The first time Johnny had joined the DeSotos for dinner without ulterior blind date motives attached, it had started out weird and a tad awkward. He didn't remember how or why it even happened – he was a single guy, why would he be interested in hanging out at his married partner's house all night? That was before he got sucked into the DeSoto thrall and, in hindsight, might have actually been the origin of it. By the end of that first dinner, he was hooked. He'd foolishly blamed that on Joanne's pot roast. Hah.
"Boy, I'll tell you what – I'm starved," Johnny said as he stretched his right hand and waggled it for an assist off the floor. "What else she make?"
"It'd be easier to pin down times when you weren't starved." Roy took a step in the room and hefted Johnny to his feet with one strong tug. He still had the traces of a smile on his face, the kind that said he knew it didn't matter a tinker's damn what was on the menu: John would eat it. "Meatloaf. And green beans. Brownies for dessert. I think that's what earned me a slap to the hand when I looked in the pan."
Okay, so he hadn't consciously planned on staying, but even Johnny had to admit to himself it was no coincidence he stuck around to play board games with the kids after he helped Roy clean the gutters. Hey, he figured if he couldn't say no to anything the DeSoto family asked, the least he should get out of it was a nice, home-cooked meal from time to time.
"Hey, Johnny, Mom says if you're eating with us, you hafta wash your hands too," Chris, Roy's son, announced as he left the kitchen and headed toward the bathroom. "Come on."
"Aye aye, Captain," Johnny said, and started down the hall after Chris. "Last one there's a rotten egg."
The seven-year-old started laughing as he ran to get away, but his short legs were no match for Johnny's strides. He grabbed Chris and started tickling. It didn't take long to reduce the boy to giggles. Hey, they all had home field advantage.
"Not fair," Chris said. "That's cheating."
Johnny knew the rules. The kids always had to win, even if that would never happen in real life. He let Chris scamper ahead of him, faking a muscle cramp as he hobbled instead of trotted. From the end of the hall, Roy cleared his throat. Right. Dinner, not playtime. Nobody liked cold mashed potatoes, or being on the bad side of Joanne DeSoto. He gave Roy a half-shrug and crossed the threshold of the bathroom, where he found Jenny tiptoeing on a stepstool with the water on full blast and a scowl on her face.
"It's too slippery," she said, an edge of frustration and a tiny tremble in her voice. "It keeps getting away."
The bar of soap slid around the sink basin like a fish. Johnny could see how it'd be tough for a little kid to make it work and try to stay on top of a stool at the same time. He stepped behind Jenny, took the soap in his right hand and Jenny's left in his. He put the soap between her hands, but kept his wrapped around them, prevented the soap from sliding out. They washed up together, the way he remembered his parents used to do with him. He forgot all about his worries that the DeSotos were whammying him at every opportunity.
"Hurry up, you two," Chris griped. "I'm hungry."
Johnny aimed his and Jenny's hands at Chris and squirted the soap right at him. He rinsed while Chris giggled and scrambled around on the floor. Joanne would kill him for that, but he knew Chris wouldn't rat him out. Besides, it only took the kid a second to pick up the soap and run his hands under the water. Before Johnny and Jenny had their hands dry, Chris stole the towel from them and was dashing for the dining room. He and Jenny followed, at a slower pace.
Dinner at the DeSotos was always kind of a chaotic affair, lots of laughter and talking. When he'd first met him, Johnny would have taken Roy as someone who encouraged discipline and quiet at the table, but it wasn't like that at all. It didn't take him long to figure out why: Roy was gone for long shifts at a time at a job that was dangerous on a good day and downright terrifying on a bad. He knew if it were him, he would want to enjoy every single minute of family time. Hell, it wasn't Johnny's family and he enjoyed every single minute of it.
Tonight, he sat back and watched it all happen – a part of it and yet just outside it at the same time. Chris complaining about having to go to school tomorrow, Jenny laughing because she didn't. Joanne and Roy smiling in all the right places and, without even thinking about it, at each other as if they were on their first date instead of up to their elbows in meatloaf and mashed potatoes with three other people at the table. Okay, sue him, maybe he did want this kind of life just a little bit. He was only human.
"Pass the green beans, please, Johnny," Chris said, the request punctuated by his heels thumping against the legs of his chair.
Judging from how everyone was staring at him, Johnny figured might have gotten a bit too involved in his own headspace. Contrary to popular belief, he did have ample space in his hea … oh, shoot, if he ever slipped and said that out loud he'd never hear the end of it.
"Sure, here ya go," he said. He picked up the beans and handed them over. He noticed Roy's slightly frowny look and gave a short headshake. "Dinner's fantastic as always, Jo."
"Thank you, Johnny."
"Mommy, Johnny said he would come over for Halloween," Jenny said. "Isn't that great?"
"It sure is," Joanne said, with a twinkle in her eye.
Johnny had better stay on top of conversation this time. The last thing he needed was to get suckered into wearing a silly costume. Showing up was enough of a commitment; he wasn't putting on some ridiculous get-up, not even for a little girl's happiness. Frankly, he was beginning to wonder how this had escalated into such a big affair. Roy and Joanne weren't as bad at catering to Jenny's every whim as he was, what with the whole parenthood thing.
"I still think it's stupid we have to sit in a dumb ol' pumpkin patch waiting around for the Great Pumpkin instead of going to the haunted house," Chris grumbled.
Ah, question answered. No way was Jenny old enough for a haunted house, and Johnny doubted Chris was either; the boy just thought he was. A 'dumb ol' pumpkin patch' was a much better option for parents who didn't want to be up all night with crying children. He shivered, remembering how traumatized he'd been when his sister dragged him into a haunted house when he was little. He had taken no comfort in being assured the bowl of "eyeballs" was only peeled grapes. All that had done was make him hate grapes forever. He didn't even want to talk about the nightmares about vampires and werewolves and mummies.
"Chris," Roy said, warning. "We've had this conversation."
"I know, I know."
"If everyone's done, I have brownies for dessert," Joanne said before the happy times could turn bad. "Kids, help me clear the table and get things ready in the kitchen."
"We get ice cream on 'em," Jenny whispered as she walked by Johnny's chair. "Chocolate and vanilla swirled!"
Sugar shock in T-minus fifteen minutes. Johnny glanced at Roy, who rolled his eyes.
"We only break out the ice cream when you're around," Roy said. "You're kind of a big deal around here."
"So it's my fault your kids will be bouncing off the walls in a few minutes. That's nice, Roy, real nice," Johnny said, mock-grouching. Even on a sugar high, Chris and Jenny were great kids. Roy knew that better than he did. "And what's with not helping me out of Halloween? You know I've finally got a date lined up with Sandy, you remember I told you about her. She loves Halloween too."
"Yeah, I know." Roy shrugged and started stacking empty bowls on his plate, dropping the silverware. "Sorry, but if it's any comfort, the kids'll be so tired I'm sure they'll be out by nine. Especially if you're going to be around all afternoon with them."
It actually was comforting. He and Sandy could still make their party – costume, but it was different and so, so much better when a woman wanted to play dress-up – and have a decent time. Johnny refused to give Roy the satisfaction of knowing he was mollified.
"The Great Pumpkin, though, Roy? Really?"
"Jen's been into Charlie Brown lately. It's all she can remember from watching the special last year," Roy said. He shrugged. "Chris's school has actually put something together. Jenny just doesn't know it."
"Well, still, I hope she doesn't get any ideas about Thanksgiving," Johnny said. He laughed. "You'll be stuck eating popcorn and toast and attacked by lawn chairs."