**please forgive any typos. I never seem to catch them all. Thanks!
The hotel room was dark, the atmosphere heavy with ritual. Weapons were laid out on the tiny vintage café table, close together, all in order. Dean's eyes narrowed as he meticulously studied each one.
Sam had realized the ritual was planned for that evening when Dean quickly unpacked the trunk of the Impala. Absolutely everything came out. Sam helped carry in the duffels, then helped to set the weapons on the table in a certain order, which was something their father had never done. He used to watch his father and brother cleaning the weapons. John would talk to Dean in a low voice, and Dean would nod. Sam would watch from his bed through half-closed eyes, taking in the motions and clicks and corrections and approvals. And while there was a military precision about it, John was never this fastidious.
When Dean randomly wiped down a weapon, he sat in a chair or on his bed and talked while he worked. But this was different. Absolutely every weapon was thoroughly scrutinized, taken apart, cleaned down to the nuts and bolts. If repairs were needed, they were made.
Oils, grease and lube sat on one corner of the table. The string on the crossbow was carefully waxed, the arrow track oiled. Bore rods sat on top of stained cloths beside newly cleaned shotguns. Bore brushes sat beside the flare guns. Their smaller handguns were at the far end, always last.
Sam sat on the side of his bed, his elbows propped on his knees, his hands clasped loosely in front of him, taking in the sight of nimble fingers sorting through the array of metal. The clicks were satisfying to hear. It sounded safe. He watched Dean standing before the array, assembling, disassembling, stroking each weapon with a cloth, gazing down the barrels before grabbing a brush. Dean's gaze lingered on a precious few guns that probably held memories deep within that cocky, confident body. Sam wondered how often Dean thought of their father while cleaning.
His brother finally looked up and cocked his eyebrow. "Getting an eyeful there, Sammy?" he asked.
The corner of Sam's mouth quirked. "I was thinking of Dad," he admitted.
"You could help me, you know," Dean muttered, bent back over the table, closing a chamber.
Sam gave a snort. "And take away your fun? Nah."
"Lazy." There was a smile in Dean's voice.
Sam watched for another moment. The question was nagging at him, and he decided if he didn't ask, he'd never know. "How come you don't clean them like Dad taught you to?"
"What?" Dean glanced over his shoulder briefly, setting down a small handgun and picking up another.
"I used to watch you and Dad."
"Cleaning is cleaning, Sam. Doesn't matter as long as the things don't blow up in your face."
"That ever happen to you?"
He pointed to his face. "You see this? This is God's gift to women. And here you think I'd risk fucking it up." Dean slapped the dirty rag on his pants leg, then started back to work, picking up an air gun. "Besides, he'd blow my face off himself if I didn't clean the guns right."
Sam shifted. "He gave me shit once for using the wrong brush on the flare guns. Obsessive bastard."
"That he was," Dean responded in a low voice.
Sam winced in regret at his words, but Dean had rolled right over them "So, why do you lay the guns out like that? Dad never did."
Dean darted another glance over his shoulder. "You're not letting this go, are you? Dad's not the one who taught me to do this."
Sam blinked in astonishment. "I thought Dad taught you everything you know."
Dean barked a laugh.
"So, who taught you?" Sam nodded at the table. "Bobby?"
Dean glanced up at Sam before looking behind him for a box of pellets. "Nope. Uncle Fred."
There was a pause. "We have an Uncle Fred?"
"And an Aunt May. Sure do." Dean found the pellets and tossed them on the table. With his upper body hunched over, he gave Sam the impression of a headless person wearing a denim shirt.
"Uncle Fred and Aunt May?"
"Out in Nebraska." The voice was again muffled.
Sam tried to process this new information. "We have relatives I've never even heard of?"
"Not by blood, no. More like the friendly type, so we called them Aunt and Uncle. They were good friends of Dad's."
Sam thought back. "They're not in Dad's journal."
"Yeah, well, they wouldn't be." Dean's voice was still muffled against his chest as he loaded the weapon.
His shoulders were hunched. Granted, he was working in close quarters, but. . ."Why?"
Dean frowned at him. "You're like a damn dog with a bone, you know that?" He tested the spring on the chamber, then rose and crossed the room to a smaller table, adding the weapon to a growing pile of clean and ready-to-use artillery. The rag darted over his grease-covered fingers.
"I'm just asking, Dean. You tell me someone I've never even heard of taught you to clean guns. Someone that's not Dad. I mean, considering how we live that's sort of significant, isn't it?"
"Are you seriously that bored?." Dean turned and sat back against the table, looking at Sam. "I guess now you want a bedtime story. God, you are so fucking four years old. You figure Dad's the only one who should teach me about birds, bees and barrels?" He gave the brush a lewd thrust down the gun.
"Now who's four?" Sam's eyes rolled. "Listen, if you don't wanna talk about it. . ."
"Fine. Whatever. Suits the hell outta me. I'm just aching to discuss something." Dean grimaced and turned away.
Sam's brow drew into a frown, and he stood. Dean's back was tense, which spoke volumes about his past dealings with "Uncle Fred". Sam suddenly felt tense himself, layered with misgiving. "This Uncle Fred," he found himself saying, "he – do something to you or something?"
"Oh, fucking hell, Sam!" Dean spun to find himself literally face to face with his taller brother, and jerked back slightly. "No! No, I wasn't abused, I wasn't molested as a child. I wasn't anything that your freaky, demented head just now came up with, okay?"
Sam backed off, feeling a little embarrassed. "Okay, Jesus! It was just a question, Dean! Forget it!"
"You better believe I'll forget it." And again, Dean turned to the table.
But Sam couldn't let it go. His lips were pressed tight together. He swallowed back his sudden need to know, and returned to his bed. Flopped on it. Sulked. Waited. Because if he stared long enough, Dean would come around.
It took a while. Dean's sigh finally floated over him. "Don't suppose you wanna go out for a burger."
"You're in the middle of cleaning."
"I meant you go out and bring me back one."
"Dean. . ."
"Then stop staring at me."
"Dean, I just. . ."
"Oh for Christ's sake, Sam! There's nothing to tell!" Dean turned, ready to go off, but stopped himself. He braced his hand against the table and leaned back. Silence followed. When he did speak, it was with a voice that was deep in memory. "Look. You were still a baby. Well, one, two maybe, I don't know. Guess I was five, almost six. Dad left us with Fred and May for a few weeks while he went on a hunt. So, I learned some things while we were there. End of story."
"What things?" Sam asked softly. He propped himself against the headboard and folded his arms across his torso.
"Like you were a pain in the ass when you needed a diaper change. Don't even wanna go there. Damn legs'd take you right down the hallway. Aunt May just couldn't understand why I had to tackle you."
"I was one, and you tackled me?"
"Or two. Three, maybe. Don't remember. Got shit all over me. Had to clean myself up, then clean you up. That was the last time I tried to stop you when you ran away with a load in your pants."
Sam laughed. "What else happened?"
Dean sniffed and cleared his throat. He tossed the rag down and faced Sam. His face had softened, become more conversational, though reluctant. He scratched behind his ear. "Well, you know. She taught me how to make sandwiches and macaroni and cheese. She made me dust the place." He cleared his throat again quickly. "And Uncle Fred – he, uh, told me more about the things that go bump in the night."
"He was a hunter?"
Dean barked out a laugh. "Hell, no! But he knew things. Saw things. I always thought he was some kind of superhero in disguise and just didn't say anything, cause man, the stories he'd come up with." Dean was smiling, but his face fell. "Anyway, he showed me the ropes a bit. We'd talk, and Aunt May would take care of you. You were a damn brat. You'd scream bloody murder if she held you too long."
Sam frowned. "She wasn't nice?"
"Oh, she was nice enough." He paused. "I think you wanted Mom."
Sam's gaze fell.
"You were weird about women for the longest time. Didn't want them touching you too much. Probably explains why you can't get laid now." He tried a smile, but it sank. "No, really. I got that, because Mom, man, she had a touch like an angel, you know? Just all soft and instantly made you feel better. And she always smelled so clean, or like she'd just been baking. Don't know why cause I can't remember her ever making cookies. And friends would come over and I'd have to go upstairs to my room. I was so pissed when that happened."
"Wish I'd known her."
Dean waved the memory away with his hand. "Anyway, we were there for about a week when Uncle Fred decided to show me his gun collection."
Sam's eyes widened. "Just like that? Show it to a five year old?"
Dean's mouth worked uncomfortably. "Almost six. I think. Well, I might've found it myself, actually. First time I'd held a gun. I'll never forget it. I just stared at it, all shiny, so heavy in my hands." He looked down at his upturned palms. "It wasn't like anything I'd ever seen. And I was curious about it. I pointed it at my face so I could look down the barrel."
Sam sat up. "You serious? Was it loaded?"
"That's what Uncle Fred said. Well, that and a few other choice words. He walked in and just froze, and his face went all white. I just said, 'Hi Uncle Fred' like nothing was up, 'cause I didn't really know what was going on. Man, talk about a nightmare. He ran to me and slowly took the gun away, talking all quiet. Then he yanked me up by my arm and gave me a beating Dad would have been proud of."
For once, Sam was glad. He could remember their Dad going after Dean with a belt when they were little, and it always scared him. He hated it. But in this case, he hoped the mysterious Uncle Fred beat the living crap out of his brother. "Apparently it worked."
"Why? 'Cause I didn't shoot my face off? Hell, I guess." Dean slowly walked to his bed and sat on the side, across from Sam. "That damn bastard. After Dad came for us I told him I never wanted to go back there."
"Why? Because of that?"
"No." Dean shook his head. "It wasn't that." He sat up straight, rubbing his hands on the legs of his jeans and exhaled sharply. "Look, Uncle Fred, he taught me to shoot. Okay? Took me out back to this old barn he never used, and put things on a board for targets. Cans, old stuffed animals his grandkids had outgrown, that sort of thing. And he taught me how to aim and fire. Don't know how many Teddy Rupskins I blew away out there."
"That's awful," Sam laughed shortly.
"You kidding? Those things deserve every bit of it. Talk about demonic." Dean smiled wryly. "Hell, I was a good shot, too. He'd help me aim, and I'd fire. The bigger guns he'd help me hold and I'd pull the trigger. Got to where I could shoot the smaller guns, and I wouldn't waver. He said he'd never seen anything like it. I got all cocky, and he was all proud because I was blowing stuffing all out in his yard. Looked like fucking snow." His voice grew bitter, and Sam slowly swung his legs over the side of the bed.
"We did this for the last two weeks we were there, shooting round after round. He showed me everything about those guns, how to lay them out, take them apart, clean them, put them back together. After a week I was helping him do it. And he showed me what bullets do to things. Even had a few ugly-ass dolls of his granddaughter's he put up there, and I obliterated the suckers. Blew their fucking heads off.
He paused for a moment, then shifted slightly toward Sam, looking him in the eye. "See, the thing is. . . I still thought it was a game. He said these things killed people, and I took his word for it, but it was fun aiming and blowing away Barbies. And one day, I wasn't thinking, and I aimed the gun at him. I was going to ask him something, and I turned and aimed the barrel right at his face. I wasn't paying attention. I was aiming the gun, and I just turned."
Sam held his breath. He waited as Dean licked his lips, then continued.
"That son of a bitch was damned fast. I mean, scary fast. He snatched that gun away from me and had me down in the dirt before I could blink. God, he looked like a monster, worse than anything I'd ever seen. He just stood over me, all tall and skinny and glaring down. Swear to god I thought his eyes were going to catch fire. I was crawling backwards as fast as I could and he followed me, walking with those damned long legs of his, and I hit something and stopped. No idea what it was, think it was just an old paint can we shot up, but it stopped me.
"He knelt over me, and I thought I was dead. He said, 'Boy, have I taught you nothing?' And like a damn fool I shook my head even though I knew it was the wrong thing to do." Dean stared at a spot on the carpet. "I was scared, Sam. And he was standing over me and holding that gun and I couldn't breathe.
"Then he yanked me up by the front of my shirt and dragged me over to the far side of the yard. There was a fence there, barely, just some old posts with some rusted wire stretched between them. He pointed to a lump of dirt and asked me if I knew what death meant. His voice was so loud and so angry. I just shook my head. He said people don't come back from death, that they're gone forever."
Dean swallowed. "It was a grave he was pointing at, Sam. I don't know whose it was, but it was a grave."
Sam leaned forward between the close beds, his knees touching his brother's.
Dean's jaw clenched. He swallowed again, his eyes drifting to Sam's legs. "He told me that people don't come back. And he said, 'Your momma's dead, boy. She ain't coming back.' He said that, and then he said it again, and again. 'Dead, just like your momma. She ain't ever coming back.' And I looked at that pile of dirt out there and I swear to god, Sam, I thought it was her grave. I thought it was Mom out there."
Dean finally looked at Sam. "I was just a kid, Sammy. I know he was just trying to make a point, but I mean – Christ."
Sam swallowed down the lump in his throat. He watched his brother, watched him drown in the pain of a memory. "Why would he say that to you?"
"I don't know. Guess you weren't the only one crying for Mom. After all that he was probably tired of having us around." Dean hesitated, and cleared his throat. "So anyway, I never told Dad about it. I let Dad teach me about guns, how to aim them, clean them, and I never let on that I already knew how to do it. And every time we practiced, I pretended that asshole of a so-called Uncle was the target."
"So, Dad didn't really teach you everything you know." It presented a whole new side to Dean Winchester. Had he been subservient to his father for all these years out of guilt? Did the resentment come from the fact that John Winchester thought he knew it all, when in reality someone knew it better? The last thing he needed was another Dean mystery on his hands.
Dean quickly wiped his nose on his sleeve in a self-conscious move, and stood. "I don't know. This way of cleaning is solid. I like it. I wasn't about to tell Dad that his old friend had a better system, so I did it Dad's way for years."
Sam followed Dean with his eyes. "I'm sorry," he said quietly.
"Nothing you could've done, Sam." Dean was back at the larger table, looking over the two guns that remained.
"No, I mean – you had so much going on. I was just a baby."
"And that's supposed to be your fault how?"
"I don't know. Sometimes I just feel. . . kinda guilty."
"You feel guilty that you missed out on Mom's death." Dean shook his head. "You're full of shit."
"No, I mean, I just. . ." Knowing he was taking his life into his own hands, he walked to his brother and stood at his shoulder. "Look, you've been through enough crap, okay? So I'm just saying if you ever need to talk about anything. . ."
"Oh, for the love of . . ." Dean's shoulders fell as he sighed. "Look, I promise I'll pull your toe. Okay?" He rose and returned to the table.
"Wh-What?" Sam sputtered.
"Something Aunt May used to say. 'When I want a squeak from you, I'll pull your toe'."
Dean's unexpected high-pitched imitation of a woman Sam had never met sent Sam over the edge into full-blown laughter. "What the hell?"
"She'd do it, too. Run down the hall after you, reaching for your toes like this," he stretched out his arm and pinched his fingers together. "Seeing that woman try and run down the hall way bent over was a sight to behold, Sam. I'm telling you. You ever see a gorilla go for a mouse?"
"Just sayin' The lady was not built for physical exertion." He shook his brush at Sam. "Don't tell her I said that."
"They still live in Nebraska?"
Dean looked thoughtful for a moment. "Don't know." His work quickly took his attention Two guns remained, Dean's Colt 1911, and Sam's Taurus.
Sam, still chuckling, edged him aside and picked up his gun. "Hey, go get a beer. I've got this. Maybe you can grab us some burgers like you wanted a minute ago."
Dean looked like he wanted to argue. After all, this was his gig. Why it had come back up after his father's death, Sam didn't know. Maybe he was looking for precision, for comfort in a safe routine. Maybe he was looking for something "better". But there was no way Sam was going to let Dean fall back into this painful memory. They had enough to deal with.
Dean finally slapped the cloth into Sam's hand. "Don't jam it."
"Learned from the best," Dean responded. "You want everything on yours?"
"Sure. Thanks." Sam cleared his throat. "Hey, Dean?"
Sam looked up. "You know, cleaning usually went faster when you and Dad did it together. I know this way is different, but I guess I don't mind stepping in next time."
Dean blinked at him for a moment, then picked up his jacket and nodded. "Thanks, Sammy."
"Don't mention it." The door closed, and Sam looked at his gun, and Dean's. There was little doubt in his mind that the next time he used one, he too would picture blowing bullets through the face of Uncle Fred.