Disclaimer: If I owned them I wouldn't be here, would I? Well I might, but my lovely boys would be acting out my scenes in my living room, and I'd be pretty distracted. My spelling and punctuation definitely wouldn't be this good.
A/N: Sam doesn't feature heavily in this one, so I hope the cuteness when he does appear, and of course the shameless Dean whumpage makes up for that. This is a look at what the hunting community might have thought of the Winchesters back in the day. We only saw Caleb briefly in the show, so I've used his POV since I could invent his character without risking contradicting existing or future canon.
This is set in January of 1991, just after the Christmas featured in Season 3's A Very Supernatural Christmas, and a week or so before Dean's 13th birthday. Living in Britain, I don't know a lot about the climate of the US, and I'm afraid I much prefer making stuff up to doing research, but I'm thinking somewhere far enough south that it's not icy, but far enough north that it definitely feels like winter. I've also made up the skin walker lore not featured in the show and all the medical stuff, so any similarity to reality is a happy coincidence.
Hope you enjoy!
John hadn't mentioned how old Dean was, just that his boy would be joining us on the hunt. I'd figured he must be 18 or 19 by the way John talked about Dean. He seemed to be pretty much in charge of taking care of the younger one, holding down the fort and so on these days, now that John was taking off for hunts of several weeks' duration. So I was pretty shocked when John's beautiful black Impala pulled up an hour before dawn and a kid of 12 or 13 got out.
I guess I must not have the poker face I thought I did, must've betrayed some disapproval because when I looked in the back seat of the car and saw an even younger kid asleep under a blanket, John was instantly defensive and gruff, and Dean, I guess reacting to the vibes coming off his Dad, was all focused military efficiency, looking to prove himself to me, silently defending his Dad's decision to bring him along.
The way he went through the weapons, methodically and thoroughly checking the actions and the ammo, I tell you the kid impressed me, but I still couldn't help feeling sad, a kid that young being so familiar with those instruments of death.
We were on the hunt for skin walkers; bear form according to witness accounts. By the number of bodies showing up over recent months, had to be a pair at least, maybe a mother protecting young uns. No matter how comfortable the boy was with a weapon, and he sure looked born to it, he was still a kid and I couldn't in good conscience go into the hunt without raising concern with his father, notwithstanding the storm gathering over that saturnine brow.
I took my chance when the boy shimmied into the back seat to get the little one out and into the cabin, half carrying him all cosied up in that blanket. I thanked the lord at least that John wasn't fixing to bring the ankle-biter along too.
"John, you serious about bringing the kid?"
The brows drew in, the shoulders squared and I could see this wasn't the first time he'd fought this battle, hell I hoped he was fighting it with himself as much as anyone else.
Low and dangerous, John's voice wasn't betraying any misgivings, "Boy's solid back up. Knows how to follow orders. He's got sharp eyes; he's fast, quiet and he won't panic."
"How old is he, 13?"
"Jesus, John, he's 12? Kid should be home flirting with his babysitter!"
"I've trained him. He's a better marine than men twice his age. This ain't first blood for Dean. He's a hunter, Caleb. Born to it."
"These skin walkers, man. They're badass. Primeval predators, damn near unstoppable. Not many grown men I'd trust to back me, job like this."
And damn, John wasn't kidding when he said the boy was fast and quiet, because as I finished he appeared in my peripheral vision and his words showed he'd heard everything I'd said, "I won't let you down, sir. I back Dad up all the time now. I wouldn't let anything get the drop on you."
It was against my better judgement but the look in the kid's eye just about killed me. He was smart enough, and had seen enough to be scared, but he was going to do it anyway. He wasn't lying when he said he had his dad's back and he had my back, and I could see that was why he was doing this.
John was driven by rage, vengeance; I'd seen that the times we'd hunted together before. In fact, that was why I'd always been a little hesitant about hunting alone with John. He may once have been a marine, but his revenge mission trumped any "leave no man behind" motto. I knew that for John, completing the mission came before everything and everyone. But Dean, you could tell just by looking at him. He was a soldier all right, but he wasn't a predator or a killer. He was a father to the child in the cabin, and a protector to this damaged man in front of me, and I'd have trusted that kid with my life any day.
Still, that didn't mean I'd be relying on Dean for back up. Hell, John was the father, and I'd been a hunter seasoned by more years and more kills than I'd care to mention. I'd be the one watching the boy's back if his father wasn't up to the job.
John spoke to Dean, but didn't cut his eyes away from me, "Sammy still sleeping?"
"No, Sir. He's reading. He's got the sawed off and some sandwiches. He's set."
"You salted the place?"
"Yep. Sammy did the door as I left. It's locked up tight."
"Ok. Let's go over the plan."
We turned to the map I'd laid out on the hood of my truck and I talked them through the situation at hand. Bodies had shown up around these parts for years, mangled and partially eaten. Everyone was happy to go with Bear as the culprit, but the body count had risen over the past year, and I was thinking a skin walker had turned someone new. A couple of walkers in an area could do some serious damage and they were getting bold. The last two bodies had showed up four days before, only yards from the parking lot at the trail head.
I finished my run down and John and Dean both nodded sagely. I suppressed a smile at the way the young boy mimicked his father's stance and mannerisms, clearly emulating the competence he saw in the older man.
"Ok Dean. What's the drill?"
"Silver bullet to the heart."
"Right. Any questions?"
"Does it have to be the heart? Would a head shot do it?"
"You planning to miss, boy?"
"Just..." The kid's face was flushed with embarrassment. It obviously hurt his pride to feel he looked incompetent to his father; he didn't want to show up his Dad in front of me either. Still, shouldn't John be glad that Dean wanted to be sure of the plan back to front? Nothing more dangerous on the hunt than going in underprepared and overconfident. It looked like I was the only one going to take pity on him.
"Go on kid, what's your question?"
I wasn't the only one needed to work on his poker face; Dean was visibly relieved at the opening, "You said they're real fast? What if it's hard to get the angle? Will a shotgun blast of salt or a silver round to the centre mass slow it down enough so I can get to the heart or will it just piss it off?"
"You wing it, you'll piss it off. You'd have to be fearful close with the shotgun or it won't penetrate. These things have thick hides. Centre mass or head shot will slow it down; silver'll work as a poison in the blood, but it has to be silver to the heart to kill it. Remember there's probably more than one though, so make sure you keep back enough rounds for any others. Got it?"
John had the grace to look a little ashamed that he'd shut Dean down; hell it was a good question to ask. Showed the boy wasn't just hearing the words, he was thinking about how this would work in practice, when things are fast and dirty, and sometimes you have to act on the fly to get the job done.
I folded the map and tucked it back inside my jacket, checked my weapon one last time. It said something about how much John relied on Dean that when the boy handed him his 9mm and shotgun he didn't even check them. Knew without question that Dean wouldn't give him a weapon he couldn't count on.
It wasn't far to the trail head, but we took the truck for convenience. We hefted backpacks and were ready to head out just as the sun rose.
"OK, Dean, you're behind me, Caleb in the back. Move out." There wasn't a lot you could do; hell, I'd been hunting longer than John, but I still found myself falling into the formation he'd dictated as though he was our drill sergeant and Dean and I were his enlisted grunts. At least he had me behind and I wasn't going to have to risk insubordination to look out for Dean.
We walked in silence for an hour or so, and I found myself watching the boy. He moved efficiently, like a soldier. The set of his shoulders showed he was tense and alert. He scanned the tree line, watched where he placed his feet. Still, there was something else there. Even amongst all that trained professionalism, there was a spring, even a swagger in his step. He was excited to be out there. Hunting sure as hell is an adrenaline rush, and you had to think the boy was thrilled to be trusted on a grown man's mission.
We reached a clearing where the path broke in a couple of directions and I knew a body had been found there a month before. We paused there, fanning out to check the tree line for tracks. It was a long shot after so long, but we had to start somewhere and the dump sites had been fairly scattered. We didn't find evidence of anything big coming through recently, so we took the track heading north, it being as good a direction as any.
It was beautiful country in the late fall, still leaves of red and yellow clinging here and there to the dark branches. The trees weren't too dense here, the ground rising a little with outcroppings of granite only a hint of the impressive mountains to the west. The thick leaf fall on the path was covered with a slight crunch of frost and it was getting on to be a beautiful clear day.
We were breathing little puffs of cloud and but the walk was warming us nicely. We kept a sedate pace, looking for tracks, anything that might give us a clue where our prey was holing up. We were in luck this time. Not more than four miles from that first clearing, we found broken branches and paw prints. The sucker was big. Judging by the prints, the bear had to be male, maybe 900 pounds.
"Look alive," John grunted. Wasn't really necessary, I'd been on alert the whole time, having seen the remains in the morgue back in town. Those mangled bodies were a hell of an incentive to keep my guard up.
And Dean, the kid's eyes were wide at the sight of huge paw shaped indentations in the ground.
"It's gonna be big, huh Dad?"
"It's a beast all right."
"Kind of a shame we can't take a picture. Sammy'd go nuts seeing those prints."
Couldn't help but smile at his excitement; it rubbed off a little too, I'll be honest.
Following the trail was easy once we found it. There were trampled bushes, broken branches, clumps of torn out fur here and there. It was either a grizzly or passing as one. The creature was big enough it couldn't be subtle in bear form. Still, we had to remember, as a human it could hide easily, and it could change form in the blink of an eye. Either way, like John said it was a beast all right.
The forest was silent where the skin walkers were abroad. Not a rustle of leaves, not a twitter of birdsong. The natural animals of the forest could sense creatures not of their world, could feel the evil that had forged that connection of animal, human and demon.
We walked quietly, weapons ready. The swagger was gone from Dean's gait now, and he was all stealthy grace.
You always think you'll be ready when it happens, but it's always a surprise and there's always that fast hit of adrenaline amping up your blood pressure when the action finally starts. The skin walker broke the tree line just a few yards to the east of us, and even in human form it was fast. As it closed on us it changed, not even breaking stride as it went down onto all fours. It was huge. In bear form its shoulder height wasn't much less than it had been as a standing man, and on its hind legs, would have been nigh on nine feet tall.
We raised our guns and John took the first shot. Considering it had caused so much damage crashing through the undergrowth, it wasn't clumsy in its movements; the speed was incredible and the bullet went wide.
The creature's jaw opened and it roared, easily drowning the echoing of the gun shot and the sound of the bullet impacting with tree or rock.
The three of us fired at once and it was down, its forepaw not three feet from our boots. Its abrupt stillness was a shock after the vigour of it a moment before. I looked at the others. John's expression was all grim satisfaction, but when Dean's eyes met mine I could see he was thinking the same as me. Didn't seem right somehow to take down such a magnificent beast so easily.
The next step would be to salt and burn the remains, make sure it couldn't come back in spirit form, and that no one could take any parts of the walker for supernatural talismans or spell work, but we knew there could be another out there, and we had to remain on guard. If they were working together, there was every possibility that we'd just brought down blood vengeance on ourselves from the bereaved mate of this dead creature.
Dean kept guard while John and I made ready the fire. It was tough work because beast was so big, it filled the whole of the pathway and we needed to clear some trees to prevent the whole forest going up. As we cleared ground, we arranged the cut branches over the carcass to create a pyre. It was getting on for lunch time by the time we had the fire going, but there was no sign of any other creature yet.
We moved away from the fire into the next clearing to eat jerky and drink coffee. We were quiet over our lunch, I guess all lost in our own thoughts. I never could decide whether I preferred to kill a skin walker in human or animal form. While there is the feeling of murder about killing a human, you can see the evil at work more than you can when a bear's just doing what comes natural.
I wondered how the boy was faring. I know when I first started out I found the reality of death dealt by my hand sobering and grave, no matter the rage that still burned from the loss that brought me to the life. I wanted to ask, but I confess I was apprehensive John would take it as interference.
In the end it was John who broke the silence, and it wasn't to check on how Dean was doing. He was all business as usual. "We should turn back to that path bearing east about a half mile back."
"Yep, looked to be that was where it came from. If they're living together it'd make sense."
Dean didn't speak, just listened as we formulated our next move. He was soaking up the strategy, filing it away for future use.
It wasn't until I mentioned a previous hunt and got Dean laughing delightedly at the image of the guy I'd been hunting with running yelling out of the bushes with his pants round his ankles, a wolf gnashing at his heels, that I got a glimpse of the cocky, funny, exuberant kid John had described once when his tongue was loosened by firelight and Jim Beam.
Dean was an odd mixture of old and young, responsible and fun loving, serious and charming, confident and diffident. It was hard not to warm to him right off.
The ice broken by my story, he was willing to talk, telling a story of his own where he and Sammy had had to run from the principal when they'd almost been spotted letting his tyres down after a particularly unfair school-wide detention. Apparently Sam's smaller stature had been slowing the getaway, so Dean and another kid had hoisted one arm each over their shoulders and run for their lives, Sam's little legs still wind-milling in the air between them.
Dean watched his father carefully as he wove his tale, judging his reactions. I could see it was a bold step for him, unsure whether the entertainment value was worth the risk of incriminating himself and his little brother. He so wanted to be an equal member of the group though, and in the end, he took the risk. He started to smile shyly when he added that pumping his tyres up wouldn't do the principal much good: Dean had given the distributor cap to Wendy Dickinson, a girl he was apparently sweet on, as a souvenir.
The smile on his Dad's face and the chuckle at the end of the story were clearly rare rewards, judging by how Dean's nervous half-smile transformed into a mega-watt grin.
Rest over; we made our way back to the eastward trail. There were more tracks along this path, fewer trees and more rocks, so where the ground was clear of leaf fall, a second set of paw prints was visible alongside those of the first bear. This second creature was smaller, but not by much, which meant it was another male. Strange, since mostly these creatures were solitary. If they were living mainly as human I guessed it wouldn't be out of the realms of possibility that they'd enjoy some company, but it was odd that they'd be hunting together.
We wound our way along the path, which twisted around trees and boulders. Here and there we clambered over larger rocks where it was easier than going around. I could hear river in the distance, and figured we were likely getting close to where the skin walkers lived.
We were good trackers, but this thing made us look like amateurs when it appeared with no warning at all. Out of nowhere it reared up on hind legs right in front of me and I reacted on instinct, pulling Dean away from it and a little behind me with my left hand as I raised the weapon in my right. Before I could fire a shot it swiped at me, knocking the gun clear from my hand and sending me to the ground. It came down over me, fangs bared and I was sure my number was up.
Then a gun went off right by my ear and I felt my ear drum pop, and saw the muzzle flare, and the second bear was down, the force of the bullet dead centre to the chest at that angle just enough to send the body to the right, preventing it crashing down right on top of me.
I looked around, following the smoking barrel of the gun up to the small hand, the skinny arm, the shocked, open-mouthed face of the 12-year-old kid who had just saved my life.
John pulled me up by my hand, which I'm not ashamed to say was trembling just a little. He'd barely laid his other hand approvingly on his son's shoulder when another skin walker materialised out of the trees. This third creature wasn't any smaller than the other two and if you could see emotion on a bear's face, this one was way beyond pissed. My weapon was still on the ground, out of my reach and man, did I feel naked.
It didn't hesitate; having lost two friends it knew it had no time.
Where John's hand had been on his son's shoulder, suddenly it was extended out uselessly to reach for the boy as the bear's massive foreleg and claw slammed into Dean hurling him into the air with such force that we heard the crunch as he collided with a rock more than twenty feet away. John's roar of pain and fear rivalled the bear's as he saw his boy crumple to the ground and lay still.
The bear swiped again, catching me a glancing blow across the side, but we were already moving and I was able to use the momentum to go into a roll, reaching for my gun. John and I fired at the same time, taking the third bear down together.
Immediately the atmosphere changed, the woods returning to life. I heard the flapping of wings and saw a small bird land on a bare branch, then on another tree the movement of a squirrel caught my eye. The death of the third walker had lifted the threat in that landscape and we followed the animals' lead, dropping our guard. We turned back to our fallen comrade.
John reached the boy just ahead of me, and then stood for a moment as though frozen. The kid's eyes were closed, blood on his temple, the skin already red over his forehead down to his cheek bone. He lay slightly twisted on his side by the rock, his knees bent. His right arm was outstretched along the ground, his gun still rested in his loose fingers.
"He didn't let go of his weapon," John murmured, barely a whisper.
I crouched, and the movement seemed to spur John to action. It was still cold enough that I could see tiny puffs of cloud that showed Dean was breathing, and that let my heart slow just a little.
That crunch as he'd landed; I'd been sure that was it.
John cupped Dean's shoulder with one large hand, the other touched his cheek gently, low, by his chin to avoid the rapidly deepening bruise.
"Dean? Can you hear me?" He spoke loudly, clearly, trying to make it an order, but I could hear the shake in his voice. Dean didn't react to the words, and for a second, John's face was screwed up in an agony of fear and horror. He spoke louder, repeating the words and squeezing Dean's shoulder hard this time, knowing as well as I did that shaking him would be a bad move if he had injured his neck or back in connecting with that rock. The kid was out cold, not even a flicker.
John touched him gently, checking for obvious broken bones, unzipping his coat and slipping his hands around Dean's back carefully to feel for bleeding. While he worked, I mustered our first aid supplies.
I'd been out in the woods on enough hunts to never come unprepared – since one memorable occasion with a slashed artery courtesy of a wendigo, I travel with the makings of a portable field hospital, so in addition to the usual antiseptic and bandages (and the hunters' patented all purpose whiskey remedy, of course), I had IV morphine, antibiotics and adrenaline, suture kit, inflatable splints, the fixings for a stretcher, a neck brace, and tubing to set up a transfusion.
Hell, these days I even pack a portable defibrillator. If you're thinking that seems a lot to carry, I figure it keeps me in shape, and I'd counter that I've used each and every one of those items at least once, although I confess the whiskey does the trick without the trimmings most times.
John finished his examination without eliciting so much as a grunt from the boy, which was not a good sign, although there was no gushing blood, and while John said he could feel a broken rib on the left, the break wasn't close to Dean's spine, which we took as a mercy.
Well, as it was, all we could do was get the boy back to civilisation and proper medical help, so in this case, all it required was the neck brace and the stretcher, though I'd have been thankful for a hefty swig of that whiskey to settle my nerves. In the circumstances damn if it didn't seem inappropriate somehow.
Every muscle in me was taut as a spring as we got the brace around his neck and inched him onto that stretcher, trying to keep from moving him any more than necessary. I can't imagine what John felt, supporting his boy's head and shoulders as we shifted him carefully off that rock. My God, that kid weighed almost nothing, and he didn't come near to filling a stretcher sized for a grown man.
John allowed himself a moment to feel it; I guess I couldn't blame him. He stroked a hand across Dean's marine short hair, and leant down to drop a fast kiss on his forehead.
We lifted Dean between us and took a steady pace back the way we'd come. Neither of us mentioned the carcasses of those two remaining skin walkers; they would have to wait for us to come back and finish the job, and if in the meantime spirits were conjured, so be it. Guess in the end, John could live up to his former motto to leave no man behind if that man was actually a little boy, his little boy.
I'll admit, I felt more than a little culpable, not having stood up and said no at the outset. Over those hours trekking through the forest, and watching Dean stand his ground in the face of overwhelming evil, take the shot in that moment of necessity and more than live up to his father's faith in him, I'd started to see him as a hunter, an equal. When we stopped to check on him after an hour and John took his hand, commanding him to squeeze and still getting no response, all I could see was John's big hairy hand dwarfing the soft, delicate hand of a child.
I was fighting a growing sense of doom over that walk and by the time we reached the truck Dean still hadn't stirred. I was thinking the worst.
We weren't going out of our way to stop for Sam, but when I slowed the truck as the cabin came in sight, I recognised John's split second of indecision in the rear view mirror where he was kneeling in the foot-well beside his boy. To be honest I wasn't sure what his deal was: not wanting to slow for anything, or not wanting Sam to see his big brother like that; to see how badly his Dad had screwed up.
John unfolded himself from the floor and headed for the cabin. He wasn't dallying, but I could see reluctance in his step. The cabin door opened before he was more than a few steps from the truck. The little one had obviously been listening for the sound of the engine. I couldn't hear what was said, but I watched the colour drain from that kid's face and felt a pang of remorse that had me twisting in my seat, wishing soul-deep to see Dean's eyes open, that grin back on his face.
John put Sam in the front seat and climbed back in with Dean, and while Sam acquiesced to the seat belt fastened around him, he was turned around kneeling over the seat back, silently watching his brother the whole way to the hospital.
The doctors rushed Dean off back to the examination room, and John received a bunch of forms and some suspicious glances from the admitting nurse. Hadn't occurred to me to think what we'd say when we got to the hospital. I got injured on a hunt, I just said I got injured on a hunt, just didn't go to elaborating on the prey. A kid gets hurt and questions are asked.
Turned out John was scary practiced at lying to the authorities; considering his kid was hurt bad, maybe dying, he was damn frosty. A story about a fall from a tree seemed to allay suspicions, but the shaky breath when the nurse left betrayed John's anxiety that the tale was pretty threadbare.
We waited a long time for news, and when the doctor finally came, we were beyond relieved to know that the damage likely wouldn't be permanent. Even so, little Sam was holding back tears, and John was pale as a ghost. Like we thought, there was a broken rib and there was deep bruising to his back, but no neck or spine damage. He had a hairline skull fracture, and while he was still unconscious, there was no bleeding, no need for surgery. They were watching him carefully and were hopeful that he'd wake when he was ready.
The nurse came to take John and Sam to visit with Dean, and I found myself trailing after them. I couldn't bear not to see with my own eyes that the kid was really going to be ok.
I guess it shouldn't have been a shock, but my stomach sank when that nurse led us into a paediatric ward. The place was decorated in bright primary colours, pictures of cartoon characters on the walls, and clowns and ducks on the curtains separating the beds. The place was lousy with little kids, from newborns to teenagers, and it struck me anew that the boy I'd seen shoot a skin walker in the heart with a silver bullet fired from a .45 pistol hadn't even hit puberty yet.
It was a sorry sight, I can tell you, and I felt sick and guilty as hell, seeing the kid hurt like that again. The bruise on his face from where the skin walker had hit him had had some time to develop, and his forehead, his eye and his cheek were swollen and black. They had him turned on his side a little so as not to put pressure on his head and back where he'd hit the rock. Lump on his skull was big as a hen's egg; I could see it from the foot of the bed.
They had a bag of fluid running to an IV in the back of his hand, and cables to a heart monitor snaking out of the hospital gown, but thank god he looked better than some of the kids on that unit.
I didn't stay long. Sam and John were sitting at Dean's bedside, settled in for the wait, and I felt like a spare part. I said I'd stop back later, check in on how he was doing.
I called after a couple of hours; couldn't settle to anything, but there was no change. He was still out when I visited the next morning. The doctor was still hopeful, said Dean had a nasty concussion and he might take a while to come around but there was no reason to think he wouldn't recover.
Sam was curled up asleep at the foot the bed, his left hand curled into Dean's right. It would have been a sight to warm the heart in other circumstances.
John on the other hand looked awful. Worse than Dean. He was unshaven, and clearly hadn't slept. The nurses were keeping their distance like there was an invisible force-field of intimidating vibes surrounding the bed. When one of them approached to check Dean's blood pressure, she was eyeing John nervously like she might a sleeping tiger.
I stayed for a few minutes, tried to make conversation, but the most I could get from John were grunts and his attention was so focused on Dean that he barely looked my way. I figured the best I could do was make myself useful, so I went in search of a cafeteria and came back twenty minutes later with coffee for John and me, a juice for Sam and some suspect looking sandwiches that I at least had no intention of eating.
After an hour or so, Sam woke up. He obviously hadn't had much luck getting reassurance out of his father because he quickly overcame some initial shyness to ask me if I thought Dean was going to be ok. He kept tugging on his brother's hand, talking to him, trying to get a reaction. At one point I thought the tears in his eyes were going to spill over, but he held them in and for an eight year old he was pretty patient and calm considering his brother's unresponsiveness was clearly scaring the crap out of him.
Dean woke up mid afternoon and it was like the sun coming out. That dark scary vibe coming off John was gone, and he smiled so tenderly at the boy that for a moment the hunter was gone and all I could see was the father.
The kid was groggy for a while, couldn't speak above a whisper or keep his eyes open for more than a few seconds, and even hours later, when he tried to shift a little to get more comfortable, he turned green and had to breathe real shallow to keep from tossing his cookies.
I stayed the rest of the day. I told myself and John I was there to keep Sam amused so he could focus on Dean, but the fact of it was I was so relieved I didn't want to leave. I couldn't help but feel a weight lift off my own shoulders. Selfish though it may sound, I was glad I wasn't going to be carrying guilt for that child's hurt along with all my other sins.
I was fixing to leave for the evening, and when John suggested I take Sam back to the cabin so he could get some sleep, the little one got teary again; didn't want to leave his brother alone in the hospital.
Dean was obviously exhausted, must have had one hell of a headache, not to mention the pain of a broken rib and all those bruises, but the kid hadn't complained once. He forced himself wide awake and worked at putting some strength in his voice, reassuring the younger boy that everything was going to be fine.
I wasn't surprised to see Sam take that reassurance at face value, but that John visibly relaxed too was a shock; he didn't seem to notice how much it took out of the boy to make even that amount of effort. It was an eye-opener to see how much Dean looked out for both his brother and his father, even when he was the one should have been getting all the care.
I couldn't talk John out of bringing Dean back into the hunt as soon as he was back on his feet, or out of conscripting Sam to the war as soon as he was big enough not to be knocked off his feet by the recoil of a shotgun. I wanted to refuse to hunt with John if he was bringing the boys, at least until they were as tall as me, but in the end I relented. Like I said, there was no talking him out of it, and while he was sorry when they got hurt, remorse was no good to an injured kid. At least if I was there, they had someone watching their backs while their daddy's attention was focused on the kill.
I know Jim Murphy and Bobby Singer saw it the same way. We talked now and then about those boys. Frustrated the hell out of us that John could only see evil when he had two kids with the purest hearts right there in his eye line, willing to lay down their lives to make him proud.
I heard from Dean just the other day. His dad's taken off and the boy's looking for him, worried something bad's happened, or something bad's coming. He's riding with the little one again. Still think of Sam like that, although Dean told me these days he's protecting his not-so-little brother from hunters mistaking him for a Sasquatch.
I sure hope John's ok, and that he's not dragging his boys into something even worse than the evil we've been up against all these years.
Thanks so much for reading – I'd be ridiculously grateful for a review!