Summary: The first, and last, time John Winchester hits Sam.
A/N: I didn't think I'd ever write something from John's POV – it seemed like far too much of a challenge. And then this idea came to me (I blame pregnancy hormones) and this was written. In fact, I finished it just before my waters broke (Healthy baby girl – a month old now, which shows how busy I've been, it's taken this long to get this typed up and edited.) Anyway, I think this came out halfway decent.
Warning: Some swearing. Excuse my unimaginative title. I'm sleep deprived.
It was a week before Halloween and Sam was sulking.
John gulped his fifth shot of whiskey and glowered down at his research, determinedly pretending to be oblivious to his youngest son's ill-tempered and obnoxious slamming of books onto wood as he set out his homework on the small coffee table, cursing himself for booking a single-room motel. If only Sam had a bedroom to play out his tantrum in instead of grating on John's nerves out in the open.
Dean at 14 had never had this much attitude, John reminisced bitterly. He'd never had trouble with Dean. He just couldn't understand why Sam had to push every little issue and turn it into a battleground. So what if their leaving town meant the kid would miss some silly Halloween party? There would be others, right?
John pushed away the niggling thought reminding him that Sam rarely got invited to parties with another shot of whiskey. His youngest didn't slot in immediately the way Dean did, took time to build up friendships and was more focussed on schoolwork than spending his free time socializing, but there wasn't much John could do about that. Sam just had to learn to accept that things were the way they were for a reason. This wasn't the first time he's be uprooting the teen just as he began to fit in and it wouldn't be the last. That was the life that went with hunting and any other week maybe he'd sympathize some more, prehaps he'd even go so far as to push their leaving back until after the party, but now...
It was nine days until the anniversary of Mary's death. There were some electrical storms a few towns over and the need to hunt, to run, was pounding through his veins, almost rivaling his annual need to drink.
John glared hard into his bottle of amber liquid, catching a flash of Mary's face surrounded by flames that had him gripping his cup hard enough that he almost felt the glass creak.
Oh, John knew alright that he was particularly hard to get along with at this time of year. He knew the viscious need for revenge that burned inside him coupled with alcohol was a dangerous combination, left his mood stretched thin and ready to snap at the slightest provocation. Even Dean kept his mouth shut and the rest of himself scarce during this time. Why Sam couldn't just fall in line and make a damn effort to keep the peace was beyond John.
He wasn't foolish enough to believe that he was alone in his grief (though he felt achingly so). Dean's silence and growing tendency to find himself a pool game or a girl or, John suspected, a few drinks of his own, wasn't only for the sake of getting out of John's way, and Sam, when he wasn't acting like a whinging brat, was particularly skilled in the time honoured teenage tradition of brooding around this date.
It was selfish and unfair, John knew, but sometimes he found himself resenting Sam's involvement in the whole process. The kid mourned a woman who wasn't even a memory to him, just a photograph and a name. At six months old, he hadn't even had time to know Mary. Sam would never understand what losing her had actually been like. John suspected, when alcohol allowed the bitter thoughts to fester, that Sam's grief had more to do with the loss of his precious normal life, the one he could have had if Mary hadn't died burning above his cot.
John snorted furiously to himself. Here he sat, mourning the love of his life while his youngest sulked a few feet away over the loss of Halloween parties. Kid needed to grow the hell up already.
"Have you learnt that exocism yet?" John asked, pouring another dash of whiskey into his glass, careful to keep his words crisp and unslurred. The last thing he needed was Sam insolently rolling his eyes and making snide comments about his coherensy.
He glanced up from his drink in time to see Sam irritably push his bangs out of his face, eyes fixed on the book in front of him.
"I'll do it when I finish this," he said, blatantly disregarding what John knew the kid had recognised as an order.
"Do it now," John said shortly, glaring at the teen.
Sam let out an exhale through clenched teeth that raised the hairs on the back of John's neck. He downed his whiskey.
"I need to have this finished for tomorrow," Sam said stubbornly.
"I told you to learn that exorcism tonight," John said through his own gritted teeth. If Sam thought he was going to win this one he was in for a wake up call.
Sam ignored the glare, and the tone, letting his hair fall back over his eyes as if to block John out completely. John felt the whiskey swirl hot in his stomach as his temper rose.
"You need a haircut."
Sam shrugged dismissively.
John lost it.
He wasn't even sure what his plan was until after he's grabbed hold of Sam's arm, yanking him up from where he knelt in front of the coffee table. He was vaguely aware of Sam's books scattered on the floor, his own whiskey glass broken on the table, as he dragged Sam towards the bathroom.
"What the hell?" Sam burst out indignantly, "Dad, stop! Let me go!"
Sam shoved at him, twisting and digging his heels into the floorboards, even resorting to defensive moves John had taught him, but John had taught him and he knew how to block them even though his head was spinning with cheap booze. Anyway, John was twice Sam's size and it only took one hand to shove Sam into the small bathroom and up against the sink, ignoring his son's protests.
He saw Sam's face in the mirror as his free hand found the electric razor, his other hand reaching up to fist in Sam's too-long hair while he used his bulk to keep Sam pinned against the sink. He saw the exact moment that Sam realized what was about to happen, his expression switching from pissed off to horrified.
"No! Dad, don't, please!" His arms came up, fingers frantically scrabbling at the hand John had tangled in his hair.
John felt a flare of satisfaction at the total loss of angry defiance in Sam's voice. He pulled Sam's head up sharply, making sure he could see in the mirror. Let the kid watch as he lost his hair as punishment, that would take him down a few notches. He wouldn't be so quick with the back-chat and disregarding of John's authority then.
"I'll learn the exorcism!" Sam protested desperately. "Dad, don't!"
John flicked the razor on, it's buzzing fueling his determination. The kid needed to be reminded who was in charge, needed to learn how to follow orders without question and outright disobedience. The kid -
elbowed him in the stomach.
When he looked back, John thought it might have been more accidental than deliberate, an attempt to shove away from the sink rather than an actual attack, but in the bathroom, the whiskey running liquid rage through his brain, it was the last fucking straw. John saw red and before he had a chance to think or calm himself, he'd backed up enough to spin Sam around to face him and landed a blow to the side of his youngest son's head.
Maybe it wouldn't have been so bad if he'd been sober (who was he kidding? If he'd been sober he never would have been in the bathroom to begin with) but he didn't pull his punch as much as he wanted, the alcohol making him sloppy and the bathroom was small enough that the force of it sent Sam spinning into the wall.
John watched in horror as Sam crumpled to the tiled floor, stunned, and it was a long moment before he could bring himself to act.
"Aw, hell," he mumbled, feeling the whiskey-anger drain out of him in an instant. He moved to crouch in front of the fallen boy, hoping the damage wasn't as bad as he feared, but Sam's eyes widened impossibly and he threw his arms up over his head, pressing back against the sink, obviously expecting another punch or maybe the razor John realized he was still holding, buzzing in his hand.
"No, Dad, I'm sorry! Please, don't -"
And because John understood he'd just lost the right to even the smallest of mercies, that was when Dean spoke up from behind him.
"What the hell is going on?"
If John hadn't already figured out that he'd let himself get too drunk he definitely knew it now. There was no other way Dean would have managed to enter the motel room and sneak up on him undetected. Constant vigilence, keep his family safe. Well, he had certainly made a mess of that. Not only had he let his guard down – Dean could have been anything, after all – he'd...
"God, Sammy, I'm sorry," he forced out. He couldn't bring himself to turn around and see the look on Dean's face. The look on Sam's was already too much. He thumbed the razor off with suddenly shaking hands.
"Get away from him."
Dean's tone left no room for argument and the fight had left John the second his fist collided with Sam's head. Numbly, he stepped aside, bracing himself against the shower stall.
Dean slid past, eyeing him warily, and dropped to one knee in front of Sam.
"Hey, kiddo, you okay?" Dean tilted Sam's head up, gently prying Sam's hand away from his face. John caught a glimpse of the angry red mark, destined to turn into a spectacular black eye, before he had to look away.
Sam's wide eyes stuttered from Dean to John and back again before he nodded slowly and let Dean pull him to his feet.
"Go get your bag," Dean said quietly. "Pack some clothes, okay?"
Sam hesitated, looking to John again as if expecting an argument, but John had been struck speechless, the walls spinning a little. He pressed harder against the shower stall as Sam slipped past him.
"Dean." John found his tongue loosening as his oldest stalked past him too. "Don't..."
He wanted to say, 'Don't leave. I can't lose you both as well. Not this week. Not ever' but maybe he'd just lost the right to say that. He followed Dean out of the bathroom.
"I didn't mean to..." he started instead, trying to explain, but Dean held up a hand to stop him. Over Dean's shoulder he could see Sam shoving clothes into his duffel.
"I know. I know, Dad." Dean ran a weary hand through his hair and even through the murky whiskey still sloshing against his eyeballs John could see how tired his oldest looked, how much older he seemed than 18 years. "We'll come back. Just... you can't do this. I know that it's... hard, but... Christ, Dad, you could've really hurt him."
The whiskey was turning sour in his stomach, replaying the image of Sammy hitting the wall and falling to the floor.
"Every year, Dad," Dean continued, the words coming out in a rush, like he'd been holding them back for a long time. "Every year, it's... God, it's putting you to bed when you're too drunk to walk, cleaning up your puke, screaming matches over nothing or you rushing into hunts like you don't care if you..." Dean swallowed. "It's got to stop, Dad."
John stood defeated in the bathroom doorway.
Sam's hesitant voice had Dean turning away. He joined Sam at the foot of his bed, taking the kids duffel from him and slinging his own bag over his shoulder.
"We'll be back," Dean said flatly, not quite meeting John's eye. "Next week."
John wanted to ask where they would go, if Dean was alright for cash, or tell him to remember to lay down salt, but old familiar words were forcing themselves out of his clogged throat.
"Watch out for Sammy."
He saw Dean's back stiffen as he placed a hand on Sam's shoulder to steer him out of the motel room.
"I always do," Dean said tightly, and then both boys were gone and John was alone with his grief and his whiskey and his regrets.