The three of them have been hunting together for about a month and as far as John is concerned, things are fine. Sam has stopped provoking him, and John, knowing a good thing when he sees it, has refrained from saying a word about The Ultimatum. They're saving people, hunting things, and getting a little closer to The Demon every day.
Dean is on board - that goes without saying. His oldest son is 100% focused on the hunt - well, except for when he is focused on Sam. Four years have done nothing to change the dynamic between his sons - Dean is protective of his brother, perhaps overly so, whether there's call for it or not. Meanwhile, his youngest has done some growing up, and is finally becoming a decent hunter in his own right, his fighting skills nearly on par with Dean's. And although he isn't going to admit it out loud, John is secretly thrilled to watch Sam dedicate his Stanford-worthy brain to research for the family business.
They're going to need it, John muses, as he returns to the motel with all the local newspapers. He could have sent out one of the boys for them, of course, but the less they're out and about, the better. It's a fine line he's walking, unsure now whether they're safer with him or without him. As he'd gotten closer to finding his quarry, it had seemed best to keep his distance from his sons, even when it had meant ignoring their multiple attempts to reach out to him. But there was being practical, and there was being a father, and eventually he had given in to his instinct to keep his children where he could keep a close eye on them.
Dean's gone - for breakfast, according to Sam - since John can't bring himself to confine them 24/7. At least he knows Dean will seek the most direct route to satisfy his appetite, and won't have gone far. Meanwhile Sam, the one who has always chafed at confinement in grungy little rooms, appears totally absorbed in whatever he is doing on the laptop. While both his boys have tried to persuade him that they didn't need to get newspapers where they have wi-fi, John remains unconvinced.
John does ask him what he's doing, partly out of curiosity and partly just in the interest of maintaining the truce. As long as Sam is willing to give up struggling against the life they lead, John is willing to indulge him with respect to his little projects.
Sam glances up at him, through shaggy hair that is still too long for John's liking, as if gauging the sincerity of the question. John suppresses a sigh, knowing the kid's suspicion is warranted.
Apparently concluding the inquiry was genuine, Sam launches into an explanation of how he is organizing hunting information on the computer. He throws around a lot of words - bookmarks, tags, hyperlinks, metadata. John doesn't quite follow everything, but does as well as he can, grasping that what Sam is doing really does have a lot of potential, even if he's not ready to give up on his journal and newspaper clippings quite yet. Old habits die hard, but John has to agree that the traditional written journals aren't necessarily easy to make head or tails of. John is especially interested in the indexing possibilities, only half listening as Sam goes on to emphasize that hunters need a system where knowledge won't be lost, even if the original writer isn't around anymore.
They're deep in the woods, wrapping up a black dog hunt, since the regular, everyday evil continues right alongside the malevolent forces targeted specifically at the Winchesters, and it's not like John can pretend not to notice, not when there are people who need saving. Besides, he hopes that continuing normal hunting will help keep up appearances and throw off any demonic observers. He's just retrieved a can of gasoline from the car and is heading back into the forest when he overhears Dean, who is checking Sam for injuries - the boy had cut it a little close on this one - asking about a watch, apparently some gift from his girlfriend.
They haven't really talked about Jess. Nobody needs to say out loud that it's hardly a coincidence that Sam lost his girlfriend the same way that John had lost his wife. Sam wants answers, but John has none to offer. Giving Sam even a hint of the truth would open the gates to more questions, and John isn't risking it. Besides, Sam is still upset about her, and he doesn't want to make that any worse than it is. The sooner Sam gets over her, the better. It's not as if Sam's situation is really identical to John's. After all, Mary had been his wife - they'd known each other for a decade, they'd gotten married, they'd had a home, children. Sam and his girl had been together for a span better measured in months than in years. He knows, he'd gone to Palo Alto more than once, kept vigil over his son as well as he could, and the two had only really been together since their junior year.
Not long at all.
Sam is resilient, he tells himself, he'll recover.
By the time he returns to the car, the boys are ready to leave, and while Dean seems vaguely troubled by something, he sure as hell wouldn't be sitting there calmly if Sam had been seriously injured, so John allows himself a moment of relief that Sam is unhurt, that for another day his sons are safe and sound.
They're supposed to meet up, the boys are late, and John automatically starts to call Dean, when he remembers that Dean's phone is out of commission, so he'll have to call Sam. He'd rather not - even when he and Sam are getting along, when they're on a job, he prefers following the chain of command as they always have, knowing Dean is keeping on top of whatever is going on with Sam. He's a bit relieved when it's his older son who answers the call. They
need to discuss the current hunt, and even though Sam is finally getting with the program, Dean is really the best one to talk to about that kind of thing.
John doesn't surprise easily, not in his line of work. Still, he wonders if some witch has snuck past the salt lines to inflict some kind of bodyswapping curse on his boys. Returning to the motel room, he's visibly startled to find his elder son scrutinizing the computer while the younger strips and cleans the guns. They must be getting really bored, he suspects. He compliments them on the cross-training, which can't be anything but good news, and resolves that he's going to have to give them at least a little room to run sometime soon.
He knows this town is clean, checked it every way he knows how, it's secure, for a couple of days, at least, nothing on their trail. So when Sam wants to take a walk, John has no reason to stop him and lets him go with nothing more than a warning to get back in time for a good night's sleep before the next hunt. God knows the boy needs to get out for a little bit, especially after declining to go bar-hopping with his brother the last two chances he'd had. Even knowing there shouldn't be anything supernatural in their vicinity, John looks on approvingly when Sam takes a gun with him. You can never be too careful.
John pores over his journal (he'll get to those bookmarks of Sam's eventually, he supposes) while Dean drinks a beer and listens in on the police scanner.
When Dean's phone rings and the call puts an odd expression on his son's face, it takes John a moment to place it. He's seen it often enough, too many times in Vietnam, and these days, on the people he's trying to help, when they're talking about the ones he was too late to save. It doesn't belong on Dean.
End Part II
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A/N - If this chapter seems weaker than the last about what's going wrong - well, let's chalk it up to whose POV it is.