Mary Winchester looked up from the sink where she was rinsing the last of the dinner dishes. She heard the muffled coughing again. Sighing, she reached into the cabinet beside her and took out the bottle of children's cold medicine. She hated giving him this. He would fall asleep and not cough, but he also would not want to wake up in the morning. When her son didn't want to wake up, it was always a hard day. For a small, sweet boy, Dean Winchester could be an unbelievably grouchy bear at times—just like his father.
Hearing the hacking again, she grabbed a spoon and headed into the living room. Upon entering, she spotted her baby, little Sammy, sitting in the middle of the floor with a blanket tied around his neck and a winter hat crammed onto his head half-covering his eyes. The baby seemed puzzled by it but did not fuss. Mary cocked her head to the side, wondering about it as this was not how she left Sammy two minutes earlier. She noted quickly that her husband was no longer on the couch watching the evening news.
"What are you wearing, Sammy?" she asked as she approached the baby.
He offered her a toothless grin and clapped his hands.
"No, he's not Sammy," the culprit of this dress-up game said running from behind the couch.
He, too, was wearing a cape—this one real—and a mask of the Caped Crusader himself.
"He's not?" Mary inquired.
"He's Robin," Dean insisted to his mother as he paused to cough again. "Mommy, you're in the batcave. Girls can't come in the batcave."
"What about Batgirl?" she asked, knowing the longer she kept him talking the better chance she would have of him standing still to take his medicine rather than running to hide behind the chair or under the dining room table.
"There's no such thing," Dean replied, the wet, hacking cough punctuating his word again. "Batman and Robin only. We don't need a girl."
"Well, Batman needs to take this so he can go fight crime without scaring the Joker with his cold," Mary said, pouring a spoonful of the purple liquid onto the spoon. "Sweetie, I'll make you a deal. You take this, swallow all of it without spitting it out, and I'll let you have some more of your Halloween candy."
"How much more?" the little boy asked from behind the mask.
Mary pulled off that part of his costume and held the spoon out. She learned long ago never to negotiate with Dean when he was either tired or not feeling well (and certainly never when he was both of those things). Her oldest son was unspeakably sweet when he wasn't being maddeningly stubborn (just like his father). The child was also convinced he knew best about most everything. The pediatrician told her it was the age and that he would grow out of that eventually—she was counting the days until it happened. Meanwhile, she knew that if he started pressing her for details regarding the candy, it would lead to disagreements and finally a tantrum. She was in no mood for a toddler tantrum.
"Well," she said, stuffing the spoon in his mouth, "you'll have to ask Daddy about that because he took your candy."
Dean made a sour face as he struggled to swallow the medicine. His eyes watered with the effort, but he accomplished it with great strain. He then stuck out his tongue as his body shook with the reviling of the liquid.
"He's just protecting it, right?" Dean asked, pleading with his wide, vivid green eyes.
"Is that what he told you?" she wondered then shouted over her shoulder before scooping up the baby. "John, you don't need to protect the candy anymore."
A moment later, feet sounded on the stairs and her husband appeared holding a plastic pumpkin filled with wrapped candies. Dean bounced over to him and reached for the pumpkin, but it was held aloft and carried to the coffee table as John sat on the couch.
"You should be ashamed of yourself," Mary remarked half sternly, half grinning at her husband.
"What?" John replied, his mouth full of chocolate. "I was examining it to be safe. Besides, he doesn't even like the coconut ones. He says they taste like eating hair."
"He's never eaten coconut," Mary said. "And he told me the same thing about eating green beans."
"Those taste like worms," Dean said, throwing himself over his father's legs as he coughed again. "Daddy, Mommy said I can have all my candy."
"I said you can have some of your candy," she corrected, as she pet his dirty blond hair. "John, I don't think we should go to Denise and Bob's tonight. Listen to Dean's cough."
The boy tuned out the discussion and made a grab for his haul. John caught his small hand in progress then pulled him onto the couch, offering him a mini Kit Kat bar. He then explained to his wife that the babysitter was on her way—not a long way of course, as it was just their adjacent neighbor Phyllis—but she was already prepared to watch the boys for a few hours. They were going to the neighbor's home across the street for a Halloween party. Mary had not spent a moment away from the boys in six months—since Sammy was born. She needed a couple hours as an adult without a child attached to her hip, her breast or her leg, he insisted.
Reluctantly, Mary agreed. Being a mother wasn't a chore, and she did not mind the constant nurse, maid, jungle gym that she had become to satisfy the needs of her two young boys. Sammy was a sweet, healthy and gentle baby. Dean was… busy, always moving and into something, but he generally listened and was showing interest in playing more with his brother now that Sammy could sit up and was starting to crawl. The thought of two mobile and active boys did give her a moment's pause. Sleep was not going to be in the cards for her anytime soon. So, she told herself, an hour of adult conversation might be a nice change.
They put the boys to bed. Sammy wasn't yet sleeping, but he would stare at his mobile until the song wound down then he would drift off. The harder one to put down was always Dean, but not this night. The medicine had kicked in to the point that John had to carry him to his bed. The child never even heard his parents say goodnight.
Sometime later, the boy awoke suddenly with his heart banging hard against his small ribs. A dark figure stood over his bed. Dean rubbed his eyes as the sounds of his little brother's squirming and grunting reached his ears. Dean was about to ask his father what was going on when something in his head told him this man wasn't his Daddy. He wasn't as tall as his Daddy. Dean threw himself out of his bed and tired to crawl under it, but somehow the man moved to that side of the bed in a flash and grabbed his ankle. Dean was yanked from under it, his knees and elbows burning against the carpet. He tried to scream, but found no sound would come.
The man picked him up roughly.
"Trust me, kid," he said in a harsh whisper, "it gets worse if I don't do this."
Dean made a grab for his brother and tried to bite the man in the process, but he was suddenly overwhelmed by a loud noise that made him want to cover his ears and close his eyes.
John and Mary arrived home just before 10 p.m. Phyllis was on the couch, knitting quietly. She said the boys hadn't made a peep. She refused the money John offered her, saying a reprieve from her husband's snoring in his recliner was payment enough then bid them goodnight. Mary went directly upstairs to check on Dean. She was surprised he was not in his bed, but figured he had still felt unwell and probably went into his parents' bedroom. She was certain she would find him curled up on her side of the bed waiting for her. She was mildly impressed he hadn't started crying when he found their room empty.
She went next into the nursery to check on Sammy as downstairs John turned out the lights and locked the doors. He was turning the bolt on the front door when his wife's scream pierced the quiet night.
John Winchester woke to the oppressive city humid hanging heavily on the air. He sat up from the creaking and lumpy bed in the flea bag motel not far from the El-train to look out the grimy window. The view was simply that of an alley and, if the sounds from the night before were accurate, a crime scene. Whether it was a drug deal gone bad or a mugging off the beaten path, John did not know. Nor did he care. His idea of safety and justice got twisted into a pretzel long ago.
He looked at the clock. It read 6 a.m. He scrubbed a hand over his stubbly face and sighed. Another day. Another crap assignment.
Not that he wanted anything exciting. He preferred the boring stuff. Yeah, they were menial tasks, but at least these paid. The others, the exciting action hero stuff that he left to the real 'pros,' were all pro bono work (for obvious reasons) and left you broke and broken, he knew. He only took these jobs from Bobby Singer when he was in serious need of work.
John had been working construction and picking up odd jobs fixing cars where and when he could. He couldn't live off the radar the way his wife and her cohorts did. It might have been easier to just get good enough at pool or cards to swindle people for cash like they did so he could get by, but John needed to work. He needed to feel useful. He also needed to keep his identity and maintain some connection to society. After all, what if there was a break in the case? How would the authorities find him to tell him?
Mary didn't hold out hope of the police ever finding anything useful to locate the missing Winchester boys. Nearly a decade had passed without a single tangible lead on the whereabouts of their children. She had her ideas of how and why they disappeared. John knew her theories. He wanted so badly to think she had simply lost her mind when their sons were abducted, except he had seen too much since that happened. He couldn't ignore the terrible things he saw living in the shadows.
His wife knew all about them—had her whole life—and didn't clue him into any of it until it was too late. Or, so she thought. John simply didn't know what happened to Dean and Sam. Mary was convinced a demon took them. She broke down one week after they disappeared and revealed all sorts of bone-shivering details about her early life to John. If she was right, something evil took their children. What it did with them was unknown and probably unthinkable. When his wife said he could go with her and look for the children her way, or he could stay behind and waste time. John… well, he let her go. He didn't want to believe anything she said.
Nearly a year later, after searching for her and finally finding her (he always suspected he was able to do that only because she let him), she truly opened his eyes. He spent several months with her, staying in rundown shacks and filthy motels, digging up graves (graves!) and burning the bones of people long dead who were still wreaking havoc in the land of the living. After that, he could no longer deny all the fantastic tales of monsters and ghosts she told him.
And for as much as those appalled him, what shocked him more was his wife's demeanor. He was certain, when she would reluctantly discuss Dean and Sammy, that she believed they were dead. Her heart didn't want it to be true, but everything she knew about life told her they must be. She had used all her skills and tapped into the occult knowledge of her fellow hunters and come up with nothing. She told John in a heartbroken tone this could only mean the boys were dead, victims of a vicious creature who snuffed out their young, innocent lives for a reason the parents would probably never learn.
John wouldn't believe that. He couldn't. The only thing that kept him from having a bullet for breakfast each day was the belief that his boys, well one of them at least, was still out there. John's father disappeared when he was a child. He resented the man for walking out and had never tried to find Henry Winchester once he was old enough to look on his own. John was ashamed of himself for being so obstinate about that. It felt like giving up.
If there was one thing John Winchester wasn't it was a quitter. So until the bones of his sons were found, all he knew for certain was that they were missing.
His morning routine of pumping himself up to face another day complete, John was preparing to go into the disgusting washroom to shave when the phone rang. The loud trill of it screamed in the room.
"Yeah, Winchester," John answered, his voices still thick with sleep.
"You get my crystals yet?" Bobby Singer replied abruptly.
Bobby was a thorn for John. He was helpful when John needed work, finding odd tasks like this that John could handle with ease and that paid. He was usually willing to follow up on any leads John might find on the boys—the real world leads that is. Bobby had contacts across the country who seemed to have access to any and all public and private records if they were given enough of an incentive to take a peek. The gruff bastard also sent John to help a few other hunters on a cases that involved werewolves and other types of monsters. John did not like killing, not during Vietnam and not even when it came to animals like deer or ducks, but he could do it. He didn't scare easily, was solid in a fight and knew how to handle a weapon. The ghosts, those were the cases he avoided. Not because he was afraid—after all, the greatest fear of his life had occurred when he lost his family. No, he shied away from the ghost hunts because he didn't like setting the bones on fire. A pit formed in his stomach just thinking about one of these callous road warriors doing that to his sons some day.
"Today," John said with agitation into the phone. "Your contact keeps changing the time and the place to meet him. He's twitchy."
"Well, you would be too if a mambo put a curse on you," Bobby grumbled. "Since you're still in Chicago, I have another job for you—this one pays, and it's legal. You still got that ID I gave you?"
John grunted. He did. He didn't like it, but he carried it as ordered.
"Good, you might need it," Bobby continued. "It's an above board job, everyday human crap, but it doesn't hurt to be prepared. I got a friend whose wife ran off with another fellah. He don't want the wife back. He just wants everything she took from him back. He heard through the grapevine she's working as a lunch lady at a private Catholic school in Chicago. It's over near West 18th and South May Street. Just get your camera and go there. Take pictures of any adult woman you see leaving the school. Bring the film to that place you used last year for me, over on Fullerton. Tell Jenkins it's for me. He'll process the film the same day. Bring the prints with you when you head back this way."
"So now I'm a private dick," John groused.
"Hey, in my book, you're just a dick, Winchester," Bobby said. "My friend will pay you $100 for doing next to nothing. You want to back out, fine by me."
John sighed. One hundred dollars was a fortune to him just then. He was living on his last few bucks. Thankfully, the rusting little Toyota Bobby let him rebuild at his salvage yard got good mileage. John rubbed his hand over his neck and massaged a knot that formed there. He then agreed to the job before hanging up.
It was an easy task. He loaded the camera with a canister of 36 and just pulled into the parking lot at the school. Kids would pour out of the front when the day was done, but the adults would leave through the side and back doors leading to the parking areas. John did as he was instructed and shot a full role of film. He then went to Jenkins' place and dropped off the film. He promised to have it by the next morning. Next, John waited until dark as directed and went to his other task, picking up a box of crystals for Bobby from a paranoid and twitchy man. The hand off went smoothly. He stowed it in the trunk of the Toyota and his day complete.
All in all, it was an extremely boring and pointless existence for him, particularly when his mind betrayed him and reminded him what he ought to have been doing, acting as a father and a husband to his family. This Chicago run was made harder, of course, because John had to go to that school. When he was there, he couldn't help but look over his shoulder at the buses in the front . A wave of little people had flooded into them as the last days of school drew near. The kids were joyous as they departed, yelling and screaming at being outside finally.
His boys should be doing that, he sighed painfully back at his hotel as the night fell heavily on the busy city. He should have been waiting outside their school to pick them up and telling them to pipe down because they were too loud and rambunctious. But he had no one that needed him, no one he was responsible for that was acting up. His heart ached with his uselessness.
The next day rolled around, the same as the one prior. John woke up, found a reason to continue the process and got out of bed. He wandered to Jenkins' place on foot, looking for something to fill his hours. He was tired from having not slept well. His mind had raced far that night, not surprisingly. It took off and brought him back to the house in the Kansas suburbs with the tree in the front yard. The living room was scattered with blocks and matchbox cars. Two little faces smiled and shrieked with joy when he walked through the door then vanished before he could put his arms around either of them. John woke up with moist eyes and a heavy heart. The 18-block walk didn't help him any, but it kept him moving.
His plan, he decided, was to pick up the pictures and then hit the ABC store he passed along the way. The motel had one more night paid for already. He hadn't numbed himself from the pains in his heart in a while and after the unrelenting dreams the night before, he felt it was time.
So, he arrived back in his room with a bottle of cheap Tequila (it got the job done quickly) and the damn photos Bobby sent him to take. The son of a bitch knew John's story and still sent him to a fucking school. Bobby was the one always telling John all of his leads would come to nothing. That the grizzly bastard was always right never helped matters. John tore open the picture envelope—making sure Jenkins gave him the right package (something he knew he should have done the moment he was handed it in the store).
Instantly, he swore.
"Shit!" he said, looking at the up close picture of a child.
All John's shots were taken from a distance. He hadn't taken any photos up close and he certainly didn't take any pictures of kids. Pissed Jenkins gave him the wrong pictures, he thumbed quickly through the rest of the stack and saw the shots he expected to see. Puzzled, John turned his eyes again to the top photo of the young boy.
John brought it to the window to see it in the full light of day and promptly dropped all the other pictures. His stomach flipped and his blood began to pump very loudly in his ears as he stared at the small face looking directly into the camera.
It was Sammy.
A/N: More to come. Review if you're into that kind of thing. Thanks.