Disclaimer: Joss, I wish my last name was Kripke. Then, I'd not only have an awesome last name, I could also make a more convincing case for owning the rights to Supernatural.
A/N: I've come so far out of my little two-fandom shell recently, I almost don't recognize myself… oh wait, here I am, writing author's notes that take up more room than the actual story. Never mind.
The very first in this fandom. And it's not even set during the show. *sigh* I just love 'em when they're little…
John wasn't entirely sure how what had happened had come about, but he did know that he and Dean were going to have a long talk.
Just as soon as he found the kid and hauled his butt home.
One minute, he and Dean were discussing various ways to take out a wendigo-Dean having stayed home from school to do so-the next, they were glaring at each other, and having a screaming match the likes of which the Winchester's hadn't seen since Sammy's toddler days. They were both on their feet, fifteen year old Dean slim and straight next to his father's broad bulk. Almost as tall as him though, so they stood nearly nose to nose while they yelled.
And then Dean had spun away, growling something under his breath and started running. He flew for the tree line behind their rented little cabin so fast John could've sworn his feet barely hit the ground.
"Dean!" he'd called after the boy, but no response came and John knew better than to assume one was coming. He and Dean didn't argue often, but when they did, they did it the way Winchesters did everything: hard. John had gone back inside; Dean would be back in a couple of hours and then they would go back to training.
That was five hours ago.
Now, John was in the trees, searching for his son and growling under his breath. Dour threats and furious promises that he didn't mean a word of slipped from his lips right alongside breathless prayers in both English and Latin. Confound that boy! What did I say to make him go to ground so long?
It was getting dark. Sam was staying late at school, something John would normally not allow, but was at this point seriously aware of the necessity of. Sam's extra credit work on the middle school's paper was going to save his grade after all the unexcused absences this month. At eleven, Sammy was too young to actively participate in the hunt, but John would bring him along and leave him in the car with a shotgun while he and Dean took care of whatever evil thing they were killing this time. Sam was also their best researcher, their only cheerleader, and the one who made everything better for Dean as well as John. Having Sammy here right now would be really helpful.
But Sam wasn't there, and the light was fading. John cursed to himself and started back towards the house. He hated the idea of leaving his boy out in the woods overnight, but he'd yelled himself hoarse and the stubborn little brat wasn't answering. He'd have to come back later, with a light. Sam was probably home by now and wondering where everyone was.
Dean had been trained by the best. He'd be alright.
John called in a favor the next morning, and Caleb showed up a half-hour later from where he'd been hunting something John couldn't pronounce the name of a few towns over. Pastor Jim Murphy was the next one he called, and the older hunter agreed to come, promising to be there as soon as possible.
Sam went to school.
John wasn't sure if it was shame or pride or leftover spitefulness that had led him to tell Sam that his brother was asleep when the eleven year old got home the night before. His son had eyed him for a minute, but John was his father and Dad's word was law in the Winchester family. Sam had believed him and gone to bed in his own room-for once separate from Dean's. John had breathed a sigh of relief and a cuss in one breath and went to find a flashlight.
The next morning, Sam was informed that Dean would be staying home again. He'd rolled his eyes and left.
Now, John, Caleb, and Jim were trying to track Dean through the woods. Jim was partly sympathetic and mostly chewing him out for his part in the fight. Even now, John couldn't remember what he'd said to upset Dean so much, but whatever it was, it must have been bad, because Dean was far too responsible and mature to stay out all night just because he was mad.
Not that the alternative option was so much better, because it meant that Dean was emotionally hurt and possibly not thinking clearly, which was dangerous enough if you weren't spending the night in the woods.
"Dang it, John," Caleb's voice cut through the air. "Didja have to train that boy so well?"
"I know, I know," John murmured petulantly. There was a strange mix of pride and exasperation in him at the thought of his fifteen year old being able to avoid three experienced hunters on his trail for so long. Unfortunately, the skills were being used against him, which wasn't something John liked to think about.
"I'm just sayin'…"
"I know, Caleb."
The other hunter fell silent, feeling the strain in John's voice that kept him from shouting. Family was everything in their world. Those who had it were regarded with a strange combination of pity and envy; those who managed to keep it were all but gods.
John wasn't really sure which category he belonged in.
All he really knew right now was that somehow, he'd screwed up, and his eldest son was all alone somewhere in a forest because of it. It wasn't one of his better moments.
"Dean!" he yelled again. "Son, where are you?"
There was an answering yelp from his right, but even as John automatically hurried for the sound, he knew that it wasn't Dean.
Caleb stood over what looked like a huge mass of fur, smirking grimly. "Look what your boy left us, Johnny."
"Don't call me Johnny," John said absently as he bent over the corpse. It was a… berserker? That was weird. There hadn't been any indication that there was any sort of wild animals in these woods, much less anything on par with a berserker. And Dean had apparently come across it last night and-John shuddered. Dang it, boy. You could've been killed.
But Dean was a Winchester, and that was something at least. It was a reassurance-no matter how slim of one John felt it was at the moment-that Dean was alive and more or less alright. And leaving dead monsters in his wake, which was usually a good sign.
John sighed. He heard Jim come up behind him and knew the older man hesitated before laying a hand on his shoulder. "We'll find him, John," his friend said.
John rolled his stiff shoulders. "I know. I just hope we can do it before Sammy comes home and finds out I lost his older brother."
"You didn't tell Sam?" Jim's voice was almost laughably incredulous.
"Well, what should I have said?" John said defensively. "Oh, Sam, I sort of said something I shouldn't have to Dean earlier today and he ran off into the woods and now I can't find him. What did I say? Oh, I can't really remember, but he'll be fine. Have fun at school!"
Jim raised an eyebrow. "Well, I'd leave out all the sarcastic tone and the flippant parts, but other than that, I think telling him the truth would have been best."
John groaned. "Jim-"
"John," his friend said patiently, a wry smile touching his lips. The ex-Marine rolled his eyes. Jim wasn't a hellfire and brimstoner by any means, and he never tried to force his faith onto anyone. But Lord Above, if there was anyone who could make John Winchester feel like repenting, it was Jim Murphy. The man could let you know with one word that you were making excuses for something you had no excuse for, without making you think he was condemning you. It was one of John's least favorite qualities about him, but also the one he admired most.
"John," Caleb said softly. "It's nearly three."
John cursed quietly. Sam would be on his way to the cabin soon. Normally, Dean would walk him to and from school, but with Dean's training coming first recently, Sam had been taking the walk by himself. Today though, he'd expect Dean to be awake and there when he got home, and when he got there and Dean wasn't around… John cursed again and turned towards the cabin. Jim and Caleb fell into step behind him silently.
John Winchester wasn't an atheist. He wasn't even one of those ists that believed God existed, but simply didn't care. He did however believe that people got what was coming to them. And he was pretty darn sure at this point that God had it in for him, even if it was just the tiniest bit.
Which is why he wasn't exactly surprised to come home and find his youngest son frantically searching the property for any sign of his father and brother. This just wasn't John's day.
"Dad!" Sam shouted as soon as the hunters came into view. He ran toward them, skidding to a halt when he realized that his brother was not among those tailing his father. "Where's Dean?" he abruptly changed his question. John winced even as the vague uneasiness he felt when his sons were out of his sight settled halfway into his usual vague uneasiness.
"Sammy," he sighed, then hesitated. "Dean's in the woods."
Sam gaped at him for a minute then narrowed his eyes. "Ookay? So what, Dean practically lives in the woods."
John winced again. Really? Well, yeah, that was sort of true. No matter how much Dean repeatedly stated that he hated camping, he was always game to go hang out amongst the trees for a few hours. "He's been in there since last night, Sam."
He waited until that registered in his youngest's brain and then steeled himself for the accusation when it came.
"You lied to me?" Sam's voice was too shocked to be angry, though that could very well come later if they didn't find Dean soon. John grimaced. "Yeah. Yeah I did. And I shouldn't have done that, and I'm sorry. Thing is…" he rubbed the back of his neck. "Dean an' I… we kind of had a fight yesterday, an' then he took off into the woods and I thought he'd be back in a couple of hours so I didn't go look for him. But he didn't come back last night, and now… we're just looking for him."
Sam looked from his father to Jim and Caleb standing behind him. The latter, as irrepressible as Dean, waved at him, and Jim gave him a nod and a smile. Sam turned back to his father with a sigh, reading the man's face easily. To the rest of the world, John Winchester was an impenetrable fortress, but to his sons, he was an open gate. John was feeling guilty as sin, and would probably still feel that way for days after they got Dean back, though he'd show it with swats to the head and growled orders rather than hugs and gentle tones. That was alright though. If John ever actually started showing his feelings, his sons would probably break out the holy water.
Sam rolled his eyes. "Let's go." He started off in the direction of the woods.
"Hey, wait," John said, startled. "Who says you're going anywhere?"
"Dad," Sam said patiently. "I know where Dean is."
"You do?" Three voices leaped at him at once. He twitched a little. "Okay, so I don't exactly know. But I can get him back."
"You can?" This was Caleb, not doubting John's boy, but wanting to know how the little squirt could possibly do what three seasoned hunters-including Dean's own father-couldn't.
And then Sam smirked and John knew that he could.
It was weird, following Sam into the woods.
Not that John thought his younger son was less capable than he or Dean in the long run, but, as a general rule, Sammy didn't go hunting. Not yet. Sammy stayed in the car with a gun and the first aid kit and yelled at them when they came back hurt. Sam had the training, just not the expertise. Having him lead the way into the forest was a singularly strange experience. John wasn't sure he liked it.
Sam wasn't mad at his dad, not really. Yeah, he'd probably really ticked Dean off, to make him stay out all night like that; and of course Sam hated it when Dean was upset, but Dad didn't mean it, and Dean was fine. 'Cause he had to be, right? Dad would know if he wasn't, and he would've told Sam about that. No, Sam wasn't mad.
Truthfully, he was a little amused.
All his life, Sam had looked up to the people around him. His father, his brother, teachers, Pastor Jim, older hunters, older people. Everyone had more experience, more knowledge, more… more. And yeah, it wasn't so bad, being the youngest, the one who was always learning, and nobody really treated him like a kid (except for Dean and Dad, when they were hunting), so Sam didn't really mind having adults always telling him what to do-that would come later.
And looking up to Dean, well, that was just a given.
But Sam had never been in charge, which was why he was finding this situation so amusing. These hunters, these big, strong, tough, older men who had seen everything and knew everything… had no idea how to handle Sam's big brother.
Lucky for them, Sam totally did. Honestly, if you want something done right…
"Where are we going, Sammy?" His dad's voice was soft. Sam stopped and took a good look around. Not too many trees right here, it was practically clear. Perfect.
He looked over his shoulder at the older hunters. "Just… stay there, okay?" He turned back to the open forest and started forward. He felt his father shift in place behind him, straining slightly at the request, but respecting Sam's superior knowledge on this one.
Sam slowly searched for an appropriate location, grinning when he spotted a fallen log that could give him that little bit of extra height he wanted. Scrambling up onto the slimy, mossy trunk was an undignified, distinctly ungraceful feat, but Sam accomplished it fairly easily and took a second to catch his breath. Dean was fine, he could wait a couple of minutes for Sam to breathe.
John, Jim, and Caleb stared up at him, and he spared another second to flash them his older brother's grin, knowing that what he was about to do was going to shock them. He took a deep breath.
And then threw back his head and screamed.
To say that the scream had startled the hunters would be an understatement. John and Caleb cursed, Jim said something unkind about vegetables that reminded John of his grandmother, and all three of them jumped about a foot in the air.
Okay, so maybe that last part was an exaggeration.
"Sam, what in holy-" Caleb cut off as John's hand closed on his shoulder.
"Shhh," the other man said, eyes on his son. The other men fell silent, following his lead and watching the young boy on the log.
"What is he doing, Johnny?" Caleb whispered. John's lips twitched. "Don't call me Johnny. He's… he's calling for his brother."
"Yeah, no duh, man," Caleb said snarkily. "I meant, why is he screamin' bloody murder for him?"
"Because that's what Dean will respond to," Jim said softly behind him. John shot him a grateful smile, glad Jim was there to deal with the other kid, and turned his attention back to Sammy.
Whose attention was all on the trees. "DEAN!"
And then the crashing started.
Not even trying to be quiet anymore, it seemed that Dean had finally heard his little brother's call. "I'm coming, Sammy!" he called out, and Sam grinned triumphantly and jumped down off the log.
"Dean!" he called one last time for good measure, but it wasn't necessary-Dean was coming, and nothing would have slowed or stopped him now.
"Sammy!" Dean called as he burst through the trees, head whipping back and forth in an effort to find his little brother. Sam stepped up the next second, easily placing himself within his brother's line of sight and spreading his hands placatingly. "Easy, Dean. I'm right here."
Dean skidded to a halt, half-dropped into a crouch, eyes on Sam and the trees and everything. They stopped when they fell on the little knot of hunters. "Sammy?" he asked uncertainly.
And Sam was there, two feet away, close enough to grab and hold onto if Dean decided he wanted to, not that that would ever happen. "Here, Dean. I'm fine."
His brother's eyes, gone a dark forest green with anger and worry narrowed. "What the heck, Sam? You're fine? You were screaming for help a second ago!"
Sam's eyes were big and brown and earnest, as he said. "Dean… I'm sorry. But you were missing, and you wouldn't come home…"
Dean's glared at him. "So you decided to give me a freakin' heart attack?"
Sam didn't flinch, knowing that the anger for what it was: a disguise for relief and suppressed worry. "It got you back here, didn't it?"
Dean shot him a dirty look and then drew in a breath sharply, his entire being straightening up in the next second. Sam didn't need to look behind him to know his father was standing there.
For a moment, the whole world sort of held its breath. Jim and Caleb watched the scene silently from their places behind John, not interfering, but definitely there. Dean was looking his father right in the eye, though the difficulty he had in doing so was almost visible. John's face was impassive as he stared at his eldest son, but Sam's hazel eyes were sparkling, just a little. He could read both of them like his favorite books, and even though neither one had any idea what the other was thinking, for once, Sam did.
John wasn't really sure if he was mad or just relieved that Dean hadn't been eaten by something while he was out in the freakin' woods all night long. He was however, mildly ashamed of himself, knowing that whatever he had said to Dean-and dang it, why couldn't he remember that part?-it had to have been pretty bad.
So. Looked like it was Dad's turn to be the bigger man here. Dean's eyes had dropped.
Holy Lord, did the boy just flinch?
"Dean," he said a bit more forcefully. "Look at me, son."
Green eyes flashed up to his instantly. Dean Winchester would not disobey his father now. John felt his face soften by itself. "I'm sorry, son."
Dean blinked, Sam's eyebrows shot up, and John was pretty sure he could hear Caleb choking on his own air behind him. John Winchester did not apologize for things. Well, except to Sammy, but who couldn't for those huge puppy-dog eyes?
"What?" Dean's voice couldn't have been more incredulous if John had said he'd taken up knitting in his spare time. He shook his head.
"Come on, boy, don't make me say it twice."
The kid's face would have been comical if it wasn't so pale. "I was out all night."
"Yes," John replied patiently.
"I was acting like a brat."
"I'm a little hazy on all the details, but I'm pretty sure I called you something mean in Latin."
"That's probably true," John agreed. He didn't dare look away from Dean, because he knew if he did, he'd see Jim, Caleb, and Sam trying to hold in their snickers and he'd probably start laughing himself, from sheer relief if nothing else.
Dean eyed him suspiciously. "Then why are you apologizing to me?"
John sighed. "'Cause you ain't a brat, that's why. And you ain't so irresponsible as to stay out all night in the freakin' forest without some heck of a good reason. So, yeah, I'm not entirely sure what we said either, but I know whatever I said had to have been pretty dang awful. And I'm sorry."
"Don't-" Dean held up a hand suddenly, face scrunching up. "Don't… do that, 'kay? It's weird. But… for what it's worth, I'm sorry too."
John knew he'd exhaled louder than he'd planned when he heard Caleb's snickers finally break free, but he didn't care. Dean was okay, they were okay, and nobody was crying or bleeding. As far as John was concerned, this was a win.
Reaching out, he smacked Dean in the side of the head lightly. "Let's get back, kids," he said to them all.
Sam appeared on his other side as he walked in step with Dean, one arm slung casually over the boy's shoulders. Jim and Caleb trailed behind, no longer needed, but not unwelcome. Sam immediately started chattering to his brother about what he'd been doing while Dean was off pouting in the woods, and Dean growled in response that he wasn't pouting. John just listened to his boys bicker back and forth and tried to remember why he'd been so mad yesterday.
Eventually he just gave up.
It had probably been stupid anyway.
A/N: This came out rather different than I had expected. Also, I'm afraid they might be slightly OOC. All of them. For instance, it occurred to me whilst I was writing that John Winchester would not call for help until he was literally too desperate to think of any other alternative. But, by this time, I'd already written most of the story, so I left it in there. Sorry if it bothers you. This is my first Supernatural fic. I'm sure they'll get better with practice.
Y' know, Zany, dis whole "branching out" t'ing isn' so bad.
This isn't Romy.
*shrugs* Sam and Dean are cute.
Huh. Well, now I know how to get Indy to branch out. Now for Ash…
Oh, he's comin'. He was pouting at first, but den Indy mentioned dat dey burn stuff a lot, an' dat dere be a character wit' de same name as him, an' he was on board.
That's… very clever of you.
Indy knows how t' handle him.
I bet you do…
Since it's sort of been my thing lately, I'd like to dedicate this one-shot to K Hanna Korossy, for being such a good sport about my haunting of her profile, and for writing some amazing fiction. The boys as I write them are probably a lot like hers, because I read a heck of a lot of her fic. - *complete shamelessness* Thanks, girl.