Title: Into The Woods
Summary: AU: Dean and Sam take their families on a relaxing camping trip for the first annual Winchester family vacation. Not long after arriving, the angels show up on a team building exercise. Relaxing isn't quite the word for the weekend from then on. 4th in the 'Lost and Found' series.
Disclaimer: Supernatural was created by Eric Kripke. No disrespect is meant with this work of fan fiction.
The Guardian training program was going rather well Castiel reflected, studying the files and transcripts of the two most recently graduated candidates. The coursework for the program was extensive and, after weeding out the more frivolous offerings from Uzziel's original idea, a curriculum had been decided upon and implemented. It was thorough and updated regularly, many of the courses taught by angels in Guardian positions.
He marked the two approved and moved on to the proposed list of further education courses. Modern technology, current sports, age-appropriate clothing trends, and vehicle trends topped that list. Abigael remarked constantly that all were necessary teachings. She'd acquired the latest iPad, iPod, iPhone, and other such things and had agreed to teach a course as long as it didn't interfere with her duties.
As the first guardian, she was in high demand and busy, especially as she was the guardian to the Winchester children. Her plate at present was as full as it could get. As young as Jack was, he had a knack for finding the sort of trouble that would give Dean a heart attack if he knew about it. The Winchester trait of going where angels feared to tread seemed to be genetic.
Uzziel came into the office and dropped into the chair across from the desk. "Castiel, our management team doesn't socialize. I find it a terrible missed opportunity for bonding."
Did they really need to? Looking up for a brief second, he recognized the gleam in Uzziel's eyes and returned his attention to the papers. Perhaps if he didn't comment, whatever 'great' idea Uzziel had this time would go away. That method had never worked for him in the past, yet Castiel retained hope that one day it would.
"What are the Winchesters doing these days?"
The sudden change in topic with no discussion on the previous one was suspicious. Uzziel adored discussing his ideas ad nauseam and appeared not to notice no one shared his enthusiasm, least of all Castiel. "Working, raising their children, and destroying the various forces of evil that are a scourge across the United States." Glancing up for a moment, he added, "I believe Jo is also attempting to get Dean to eat vegetables on a regular basis." Something every bit as challenging as some of their cases. He lowered his attention to the papers, crossed out one course, and jotted down changes.
"I mean besides the usual activities. Have they planned anything different?"
After a moment of hesitation, where he wondered if this would get him into trouble somehow, Castiel said, "Dean wishes to take the family camping. The whole family. He believes they need a relaxing vacation since Sean is now six months old and Jack is -"
"Camping," Uzziel asked with a frown.
Castiel wasn't sure Uzziel even knew what it was. "Tent camping to be precise. According to Dean, there is no other way to camp." He gathered papers, stacked them, and glanced at his appointment calendar. His assistant, Mariel, had noted several appointments he had today and he was going to be late for the first if he didn't leave now. He picked up his assessment notebook. "Uzziel, I have visitations to make."
There were six relatively new Guardians to perform three month evaluations on, three that needed six month evaluations, and one year evaluation. Then he had a speech before the next semester of classes could began, a meeting with Balthazar to go over the latest testing results (provided Balthazar showed up this time), a meeting with first the head librarian, then the master scribe, and a beer date with Sam and Dean.
The beer date was what Jo and Gwen had called 'guy night'. Apparently, Jo, Gwen, Ellen, and Jody had a similar gathering another night of the week.
It had been a long road to get back to the point of having friendly get-togethers with them and he looked forward to these occasional evenings at their favorite bar in Sioux Falls. Sometimes Bobby joined them and Rufus too when he was in town. Castiel had yet to figure out why Rufus called him 'flyboy'. He supposed it had something to do with him being an angel and having wings, but he'd decided it was better not to ask.
With age and experience did sometimes come wisdom.
Uzziel waved a distracted hand. "Sure, sure."
At a last glance before he was out the door, Uzziel was still frowning and murmuring 'camping' in a thoughtful tone.
Nothing Castiel could do about Uzziel. He'd ceased to try to talk him out of his ideas and simply let him go about them. Matters usually worked out in the end. How much trouble could Uzziel get into researching camping anyway?
Castiel ignored the shiver of apprehension that swept down his spine and went about his busy day.
"We're taking a family camping trip."
Jo's reaction to Dean's well-timed announcement was hardly what he'd expected: she made a mad dash into the kitchen and threw-up in the wastebasket. Dry-heaved, anyway.
"If you don't like the idea, you can just say so," he told her, leaning against the kitchen doorway.
She raised her head and grimaced. "You were the one who really wanted another baby. I could have gone another couple years without one."
The two topics didn't go together in any way, shape, or form, yet betrayed what had been on her mind. Jo was ten weeks pregnant with their second child. Her nausea was reaching record levels for her, surpassing how bad she'd had it with Jack, and she was regretting their decision during those moments when the nausea rose up. She was having to let everyone else do any cooking, as one whiff of cooking food had her heaving, and she carried saltines everywhere she went. It made eating out an interesting experience.
He felt a brush against his leg as their son, Jack, eased past him.
"Are you okay, mommy? You want 7-up? I'll get you 7-up. Daddy, will you take me to get some 7-up for mommy?" Jack looked up at Dean.
Jack was obsessed with 7-up despite the fact that he rarely had any and Jo didn't keep it in the house.
"I'm fine, sweetie. Go back to the table."
Turning, he returned to the other room.
Dean took a glass from the cupboard, filled it with water, and handed it to her. "It's just a two-day camping trip. Three tops. Sam's been monitoring the area for the past week and it looks like we're good to go. There's no activity within fifty miles that he's found. We'll drive down in the morning, get camp set up, spend two days relaxing, and come back Monday."
"Dean, I don't camp." She took a mouthful of water, swished it around and spit it out in the sink, then ran water for a minute. "I hate camping. I see no fun in freezing in a tent, sleeping on the ground, eating food half-scorched over a fire, and trying to catch said food from a lake or stream or something. It's not relaxing. My idea of camping is a cabin in the woods with running water and a toilet. You know, like the perfectly good cabin we already have? Gwen has anyway. It's got all your requirements for outdoor stuff. Lake nearby, forest, things that try to get away from you when you try to catch them to eat…."
"The point of camping is to camp," Gwen called from the table.
"Not in my opinion," Jo replied with a snort. "My idea of camping is with electricity and a working bathroom."
Sam leaned back in his chair far enough to see into the kitchen. "Didn't you and Ellen ever squat in some abandoned places while on cases?"
"With my mother's connections? Sam, she knows people in about every state. We slept in the car a few times, but I don't recall squatting. We always had beds of some kind."
"What about when you left the Roadhouse to be on your own?"
It was an innocent question Sam was asking, but Dean saw a darkening of Jo's eyes before she moved closer to the cabinet and out of Sam's line of sight. "Never did, Sam."
Jo didn't like to talk about the time after she'd left, rarely referencing it at all, though Dean knew there'd been a few times she'd gone hungry. In an attempt to lighten the mood, he moved behind her and put his hands on her shoulders, rubbing them just a little and bending to place a kiss beside her ear. "Think about this: looking up at the stars together, relaxing by the fire and water, spending time as one big family. It'll be fun."
She drank about half the water and replied, "Mosquitoes, ants, other bugs, weird critters and, in case you've forgotten, our son still screams at the sight of an ant. High-pitched, glass shattering screams."
Spiders and snakes Jack had no fear of. He'd pick up those with his bare hands. He also had no problem with beetles, roaches, grasshoppers, dragonflies, or other insects. It was, oddly enough, ants that earned his panic. "We'll work on that. Perfect time."
"Okay." She took another drink. "Who'll feed the cat?"
A stray had shown up when Sean was about four months old and started gifting them with dead field mice, birds, rabbits, and squirrels. It was hard to describe how Dean had felt to have the cat trot up with a squirrel tail for him one morning. It had dropped the tail at his feet, then rubbed against his legs, purring loudly the whole while. Jo and Gwen had been feeding it and Jack had named it 'kitty'. It was an affectionate cat, if a bit skittish, with the habit of sleeping on the Impala's hood in the sun, jumping on Dean's lap if he happened to sit down outside, and climbing up Sam to sit on his shoulder and lick his hair.
Dean smiled. "It's a stray, Jo. I think it can hunt for two days."
She rolled her eyes as she faced him. "Fine. We'll go camping. Peeing in the woods. Yay."
He tugged her to him and wrapped his arms around her. Time hadn't dulled his love for her. In fact, he could hardly believe they'd been together as long as they had. It only seemed months, when it was now years. "You'll have fun. Trust me."
"We need to get a butt load of paperwork done before we leave," she warned. "No running off this time and disappearing. If you want to leave tomorrow morning, you have to help. We're behind in invoices and I'm barely on top of the bills."
It was no secret he hated the paperwork end of their private investigation business and would pawn it off on whoever he could. "Tell you what, I'll work on Heather's stuff. I haven't heard her ask me if I'm witnessing to her in awhile. It's sort of fun to wind her up." He took every opportunity to tell Heather Holt, Jo's former high school nemesis and a practicing witch, that she was headed for hell. Some day she might even believe him. She couldn't seem to make the connections between her witchcraft, hell, and demons, though they'd all explained it to her.
An hour later, the dishes were done and they were sitting at the table upstairs working. He squinted at the top paper in the Heather Holt stack, slowly holding it first closer, then further away. The print didn't get any clearer despite him wishing it would.
Jo picked up the reading glasses beside her and held them out. "Here." She'd been trying to get him to go get his eyes checked and when he'd finally thought he'd refused enough, she'd bought a box of reading glasses at the dollar store and had been stashing them everywhere. She'd bring out a pair in a second and brandish them at him.
No way was he ever going to admit that he used a pair when he was alone and knew damn well he needed glasses to read now. The tiny print on papers was just a little too tiny these days. "I don't need those."
"It's bright in here."
With a lift of her brows, Jo set the glasses down on the table beside her.
As they worked, Jack was busy as well. He dragged his little plastic drawing table out of his room and over to the table where they were working, then dragged his chair so he was sitting beside Dean. He carried over a pad of paper, two coloring books, and a plastic cup filled with crayons, then settled down. Gradually, Dean began to realize that Jack was holding up papers close to his face, then at arm's length before sighing and scribbling on each page.
He could guess where this was going.
"Whatcha doing there, little man," Gwen asked, rocking Sean in her arms.
Jack looked up at her. "I'm daddy and I'm working. I'm doing Heather's papers."
Dean held out his hand. Jo set the glasses in them and he slid them on.
Sam snickered and slid a stack of papers across the table to him.
He pointed a finger at him. "Just wait. Your time's coming. Genetics, man. Even dad had reading glasses."
"I never noticed them."
"He only wore them when he thought I couldn't see him."
"Kind of like you," Jo remarked with an innocent smile.
Dean turned his attention to the papers and refused to dignify that with a response.
It wasn't that Jo wouldn't enjoy a family vacation. She was sure she would. It was just the whole camping thing that turned her off. Why camping of all things? What was Dean's obsession with it? He'd spend hours in the sporting goods store drooling over the tents and camping paraphernalia. Not her idea of a fun afternoon. She thought he might have visions of passing on his camping wisdom to Jack as some sort of father-son bonding moment.
She worked her way through a stack of bills, writing checks for some and paying online for others.
Dean's phone rang. He picked it up, grimaced and set it down. It stopped ringing only to begin again a moment later.
"You gonna answer that," she asked.
Curious, she picked it up, glanced at the number, didn't recognize it, and answered it. "Dean's phone."
"Is that Jo?"
The voice was familiar and Jo put him on speakerphone, suddenly understanding why Dean hadn't wanted to answer. "Hi, Garth. What do you need?" His calls were always a source of amusement and none of them could figure out how he'd remained alive since he wasn't the most competent of hunters. Still, he was a hunter and a good contact and, as he always gave them a heads-up on jobs he wasn't interested in, they tried to keep on good terms with him.
"Oh, Jo…. You flirtatious minx!" Somewhere along the line he'd gotten it into his head that Ellen, Jo, and even Gwen flirted with him every chance they got. Nothing they said convinced him otherwise. It was a mystery to them where he'd gotten that idea. "I've got a girl now, so you need to stop being all sexy."
She knew about his new girlfriend and a ton of things about her that'd freak the woman out if she knew. It'd also freak out Sam and Dean to know who Garth had gotten himself entangled with, but so far, Jo had decided to keep that information to herself. "Not feeling too sexy anyway, what with the morning sickness and all."
"Crackers. Make sure you have crackers and one of my former lady loves ate banana instead. Said it worked every time."
"Don't mention it, you playful feisty gal."
"You need to talk to Dean?"
Dean shook his head and waved his hands in refusal.
"No, not really, I guess - since you're on the line. I was calling to tell him I found that object he was looking for. Got it in a nice box. Had it made to the exact specifications he sent me. Want me to FedEx it?"
"Hold on a sec." She put it on mute. "One of Heather's objects?"
"The one Sam tried to pick up when we were in Vegas last."
The object had been already gone by the time Sam had gotten to the magic show. Somehow, Jo wasn't surprised that Garth of all hunters would find it. She un-muted the phone. "No, why don't you drop it off with Bobby? Wouldn't want it to come open in transit."
"Gotcha. I'll call him about that."
"Good chat, Garth."
"You take care of yourself, Jo. Dean got lucky with you."
"Obviously, since you're knocked up again. Got lucky more than once, I'd say." Gwen's whisper had Sam stifling a chuckle and Dean covering a mouth with one hand and pretending like he wasn't smothering a laugh.
Jo concluded the call as fast as she could. "You guys are terrible."
Gwen grinned. "You love us anyway."
"Good thing, too."
She finished up the bills and went to pack for herself and for Jack.
While he was sad that Jo wasn't more excited about camping, Dean was determined to make it a good trip for her. After all, their attempts at vacations thus far had mostly been disasters. The first Las Vegas trip with the Trickster, the second one with the Supernatural convention. He really couldn't count taking Ben back to Lisa a vacation in any way. Not exactly good times, though they'd had some good things happen during all of those.
This vacation was going to be a relaxing one if he had to throttle everyone to make it happen.
He added ice to the second cooler and mentally went through everything already packed in the vehicles. All that was left were their personal belongings and the last cooler.
Sam glanced up from his iPad. He'd been playing some game about plagues for the past couple weeks. "I just killed the world using a virus I named Meg on lethal level."
Dean snorted. "It should probably frighten me how good you are at this game."
"Gwen's better at it. She got through all the levels on brutal in three days." Gwen had also been the first one to play it. She'd downloaded it, mastered it, and passed it on to Sam. Once she'd mastered a game, she got bored with it. Dean had lost count of the number of games she'd bought and deleted. "Three days from buying it. I don't think she even tried the regular level."
"Yeah, she's sort of scary."
Gwen emerged from Sean's room with two big bags. "I'm scary? You ever look at yourself, Dean? You can be a damn scary dude when you want to be."
Jack finished bumping down the steps on his rear and asked, "Daddy, what's damn mean?"
He smiled, wondering at the timing Jack had. He seemed to always walk in during the worst part of conversations. "Ask Gwen."
"Gwen, what's -"
"Ask Sam, little man."
"Ask your mom."
Jack sighed and called out, "Mommy? What's damn mean?"
Jo zipped one bag on the table and gave Dean her best 'annoyed mother' look. She looked just like Ellen when she did that. "Ask your father, Jack."
He sighed even longer and rolled his eyes. "Daddy? What's it mean?"
"I hate you all," Dean murmured and crouched down, holding up a finger with a stern look. "It's a word you don't say. It's a bad word."
"Then why'd Gwen say it?"
"Because your cousin isn't old enough to start repeating the things she says and she hasn't had him yell out something embarrassing in a crowded restaurant yet."
Jack scrunched his nose up, looking confused. "Huh?"
"She didn't mean to," he told him. "The word has a few meanings. But mostly it's a curse and you know curses are bad."
He stared at Dean, put a finger in his mouth and chewed on it a moment. "Oh. Can I have apple juice now?"
"Only if your mother says you can."
"Mommy?" He ran to Jo and tugged on her jeans leg. "Can I have apple juice?"
And the word was successfully forgotten by him before Dean had even finished explaining it. Amazing.
They packed the cars in record time and were on the road within the hour.