A/N: Well, here's the end. Thank you so very much for reading and all the nice comments! I'm glad you liked/hope you liked the story.
Under the Bed
Chapter Twelve - Easy
The morning comes with a storm. Rain pelts against the motel window, thunder booms, lightning crashes and John wakes the hell up in a room that is still dark and filled with sleep. Dean's snoozing away on the floor between the beds, an act he claimed he felt necessary given this curse was a "discredit to his masculinity" - though, John sees his head lift after one particularly loud round of thunder, his hair rumpled and his eyes bleary, and he remembers when the kid was three, remembers how the thunder used to be "the scary noise," how Dean would climb between his mother and his father and not move throughout the night, or even in the morning because it was safe there. Safe and warm.
"You okay?" John asks him now, and he sees a ringed hand come up to scrub at a tired eye.
"M'cool, Da'," Dean mumbles, and he lays back down, turns on his side with his back to John. Maybe he goes to sleep, maybe he doesn't, but John's being ignored now. He expects it to last throughout the day, honestly, the boys not meeting his eyes, skirting by him whenever they walk. They're big, big men, after all, and they don't need him close by in order to feel safe. Not anymore.
John lays in bed for he doesn't know how long and listens to the sounds of the storm. The other bed creaks as Sam moves about on it, sprawling across it, immersing himself in the pillows. At one point his arm dangles over the side, in that space where Dean has taken residence, and John sees it swinging in an odd fashion and thinks that his son must be having a very weird dream.
That is, until he realizes that Dean is actually awake and reaching over, poking his baby brother's open palm with one finger in order to amuse himself. John doesn't say anything, watches as the taps get harder, and the long arm swings farther, and Sam, who must have been in a very deep sleep, suddenly sucks in a loud breath. His eyes fly open and he grabs Dean's finger on instinct, pulls.
"Well, stop it, then," Sam says in a voice roughened from sleep, and he drops Dean's finger.
"Your gargantuan hand was in my space, Sleeping Beauty."
"Well, find a new space."
"You find a new space."
And that's the end of the argument. Maybe they go back to sleep, maybe they don't, but the storm is still raging on when they all get up an hour and a half later, as the boys shuffle in and out of the bathroom, as they stand side by side in front of the mirror and brush their teeth like they used to when they were ten and six and John was bleeding and hungover.
They still do this, he realizes. They probably do this all the time, taking comfort in what they know. Taking comfort in each other, because it's always been them and just them, even when John was there. And he's here now, but it's still just them.
He took care of them sometimes, sure, but John isn't the guy they run to or rely on. That was just on occasion. That was just the past two days.
Too little, too late.
They carry their bags out to their respective vehicles together, the boys dumping theirs in the Impala, John's in his truck. Separate. Because this is the way he made it. It's been like this for years, but the sadness is crushing for a brief moment, a moment that John hides behind his open door, situating his duffel on the passenger side of the truck bench.
Mary would have held on to them, would have shielded them from all of this. Affection would be easy for her, not reserved for desperate situations and heartache, not ended so abruptly after it started. John wishes he was still the father he was when she was alive, not this. Not this gruff asshole who barks orders at his kids, who puts them in harm's way every single day.
"Dad?" Sam's behind him, interrupting his thoughts. John is grateful, but he takes a few beats to swallow it all down.
"Mind if Dean and I stop off and get some brunch?"
The boys should eat. John should get back to finding the demon. These are things that they should do. "That's fine, Sam."
Sam shifts on his feet, bites his lip. "You comin' with us? You should eat, too."
"You should come with us. You're the only one that can stop Dean from clogging his arteries."
Sam really wants his father's company. The curse must not have been broken because this is fucking bizarre. "Are you feeling okay?"
Sam's eyes narrow. "I'm fine. It's over. And if you don't want to, you don't have to. It's not like I don't know where your priorities lie. Just thought I'd ask."
He stomps away in a huff. John watches him go, feeling only half-irritated by the tone of voice. He, too, knows where his priorities lie.
John has to kill the demon. For his sons. To keep Sam's life safe in his hands, to make sure Dean has his brother, to keep what they have, however little and delicate, from being ripped apart.
John wishes they knew why, but he won't tell them. They'll lose themselves in that bit of information. He'll only tell them what they need to know, when they need to know it. He'll keep them safe the only way he knows how.
That doesn't mean he can't go for some brunch, though, which he does when they stop off in the next town and find a decent diner. He watches his sons peruse the menu and asks the waitress to make sure there are no peanut products in their food - his kids are allergic, or whatever the natural term is for the need to steer clear of certain substances tainted by poison or bad experiences.
"Peanuts are whores," Dean agrees when she's gone.
Sam smacks his brother in the arm with the back of his hand, but his lips twitch in amusement.
They eat their brunch. John pays, tips the waitress, and in a display of rare, easy affection, he ruffles his sons' hair on the way out the door.