A/N: So, I finally got to the point in the story where Sam knows about hunting, so things should pick up from here. A couple of disclaimers here: 1) I've never shot a gun, so I have no idea how it actually feels, I'm just basing this off of the wise scholar, google. 2) I tried to include all 3 Winchesters, but it came off as a bit more Sam-centric, so next chapter I'll try and get more of the others in, too. 3) I obviously don't own any of the characters because if I did I wouldn't worry about student loans. Anyway, as always read/review/enjoy!
Chapter 10: Training
A pair of dirty white sneakers hit the forest floor with a resounding crunch. Frantic feet raced as fast as they could, not daring to stop. Sweat dripped down the boy's face, his bangs plastered to his forehead. The whole of his body was aching and his lungs felt as if they were on fire; no matter what he did he couldn't get enough oxygen into his system. A wave of nausea passed over the boy and he finally succumbed to the desire to sink into the earth.
"Whoa there, Sammy. You better not puke, that's just gross." Dean said kneeling next to his younger brother.
Sam spared Dean a side-glance. His brother had been running alongside him the entire time. How long had they been running? 30? 35 minutes? Sam felt like he was dying, his only desire to sit in a hot bath. His face was caked with a mixture of dirt and sweat, and his feet were so swollen he was surprised he had even lasted this long. Dean, on the other hand, looked like he was enjoying himself; every drop of sweat looked like it brought Dean closer to victory. He had a huge grin on his face, as if running like a madman was the most natural thing in the world. He was probably one of those kids who got really into gym class. What Sam really wanted to do was finish reading his library copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales. They were much more gruesome than regular Disney fairytales and Sam wanted to see how much they'd watered down the movies.
"Earth to Sammy?" Dean said snapping his fingers in from of Sam's nose.
Sam blinked, "huh? What?"
"Let's go, we should get back…Dad'll want us to do some other stuff."
"Yeah, sure. But, I'm taking it slower, okay?"
Dean bit his lip. "I dunno Sam, dad wanted us back by a certain time."
"We'll make it," Sam assured him with a pleading note in his voice.
Dean sighed and kicked a pebble on the floor. "Fine, c'mon."
Sam followed his brother at a slower pace. This—this was hell. Waking up at 5 am every weekend to go training was probably a CIA torture tactic. Ever since his Dad found out he knew about his real job, he'd started making him train alongside Dean.
Sam winced to himself as he followed Dean through the forest trying not to pant. The day his dad realized Sam knew, that would be a day to remember. It was sometime after his 9th birthday, probably June. The Winchesters had been staying in some small town in North Carolina. It wasn't big or cosmopolitan, but Sam had really liked it. It had beautiful sights and a calming atmosphere. He'd gone to school for a month there and he had a friend who lived down the road from the small apartment they had been staying in. There was a lake nearby, and when the humidity threatened to consume them, Dean would take him swimming. Of course, then there were mosquitos to contend with, but Dean seemed to remedy that too; after a few hours at the lake Dean would take him to Baskin Robbins and buy him a single scoop of vanilla ice cream (Dean always told him he was a pansy for getting something as simple as vanilla). It was blissful; time seemed to pass more slowly. In short, it was normal.
Of course his dad had to ruin that.
One night, John Winchester had stumbled through the door and declared they were leaving the next morning, just like that. They were going across the country to Oregon, apparently he had "business" there. Dean had nodded with the usual round of "yes, sir" and "how can I help, sir?"
"Pack the bags and make sure that the salt is laid down," John had ordered Dean. "Sammy, you gather your stuff and make sure not to forget anything."
"It's Sam," he had told him quietly.
"Sure, whatever. Just pack the stuff," John ordered again, losing patience.
"No," Sam responded looking at the floor. He felt the bag of salt Dean was holding drop next to his foot. The look on his face was probably one of shock, to say the least. It was the first time anybody had really disobeyed a direct order. It just didn't happen.
John looked up from the duffel bag he was packing. In an eerily calm voice he asked, "what did you say?"
"I—" Sam was beginning to get nervous. "I said no."
"John walked over to Sam and leaned in closely. "You listen to me, boy, and you listen closely: when I tell you to do something you do it. No questions asked. I don't need you to throw a bratty temper tantrum. You're 9, not 3."
Sam looked up with a steely determination in his eyes. "No. I like it here. It's nice and normal. You never tell us anything and I don't think it's really fair to just listen if you don't give us a reason."
His father's hand was balled into a fist; he was clearly trying to control his anger. "I've told you what you need to know."
"Really, dad? When? When you disappear for weeks at a time? For all I know you could be dead and we wouldn't know!" Sam's voice was near shouting levels. No effort was made to try and calm down. "Sure, let's just move again. Let's not tell Sam anything because we think he's blind and an idiot. Like I can't see the salt line you lay—"
Dean's eyes were wide as saucers. "Sammy, stop."
But Sam continued. Once he had started, he wasn't going to stop, and months of anger and confusion poured out of him. "—or the fact that we move every month, or those stupid fake last names you use. Nobody else besides us moves that much or does those things! But no, obviously it's totally normal."
"Sammy, stoppit!" Dean shouted, but it was drowned out by the sound of their father's fist connecting with the wall next to Sam. John pulled his fist from out of the drywall, his knuckles bloody and bruised. His nostrils were flared as he refused to look Sam in the eye.
Finally, Sam stopped talking and his mouth opened a little. His dad had been angry before, but not like this. There was complete silence other than John's heavy breathing. The silence was more unnerving than anything else.
"How long?" John asked when he finally spoke.
"6 months," Sam said in a whisper.
"How—how did you even…" John's voice trailed off as he closed his eyes. "How did you know? Did Dean tell you? Did you tell him, Dean?"
Dean opened his mouth to explain, but Sam cut him off before he got started. "It was late one night, Dean was asleep," he lied. "You were gone, and I saw… I saw your journal… and I… read it."
The tension in the room was palpable as John's eyes snapped open. "You what?"
"I was bored—and—and, well, you weren't around and I thought I'd maybe figure out why you were gone so often." The brave edge in Sam's voice had completely vanished.
John grabbed the front of Sam's shirt. "You fucking read the journal? You know not to do things like that. You're so desperate to be an adult, well you should realize that most adults would be too scared to read my private journal."
"Maybe I wouldn't have to if you'd just told me," Sam muttered back his hazel eyes locked on John's. Their noses were inches apart and Sam could feel his dad's hot breath on his face
"Hey, hey, stop! That's enough!" Dean said standing between the two of them. They could both be so incredibly stubborn. "What's done is done. It's over, and there's no going back."
John glared at Sam for a few more seconds and finally let go of his shirt. "You're damn right there's no going back. I want this room packed by the time I get back. We're leaving, and that's final." A dangerous look on John's face stifled the protest Sam was going to make. Satisfied at his youngest son's silence, John turned on his heel and strode out the door, slamming it behind him.
Sam just sat numbly on the bed while Dean silently began to pack up their stuff. Dean glanced at Sam briefly, betrayal apparent in his eyes, almost as if he were saying, "how could you get dad so pissed?"
John stumbled into the small apartment at 3:30 in the morning later that night, and Sam closed his eyes as he pretended to sleep. He was certain his dad had spent the night with his friend, Jack Daniel's. Sure enough, his dad struggled to get his coat off and dropped it unceremoniously on the floor. John shuffled to the edge of his bed and allowed himself to fall into it, and within minutes a soft snoring could be heard. Sam sat alone in the darkness, wondering if anything would ever be the same again.
Two weeks passed and John barely acknowledged Sam's presence, and when he did speak to Sam it was often in curt monosyllabic phrases. At first it stung a bit when his dad would talk to Dean, and wouldn't spare him a glance. However, after a while the apathy just set in, and Sam didn't notice anymore. It came as quite a shock when his dad woke him up at 7 am one morning.
"Sam, get up," came a voice from above.
"hmm? Wha—why? It's early," Sam mumbled groggily shrinking further into his bed.
'Well, since you took it upon yourself to find out what's really out there, you're going to need to know how to defend yourself," John told him without an ounce of sympathy.
"Training? Training for what?" Sam asked.
"Hunting," John said ripping the bedcovers off of Sam.
"And how do you train for that?" Sam wondered with a sincere note of curiosity.
"You'll see," John left Sam to get dressed.
As it turned out there was more to hunting than just a bag of salt and a gun. There was speed, strength, agility, shooting various types of guns, archery, and god knows what else. As it turned out, Dean was great at all of it, Sam, not so much. The first few times his dad had asked him to train he was eager to learn and was secretly pleased his dad trusted him enough, but after a few months the excitement wore off. Sam wasn't very good at any of the training; he could do it, but he, was mediocre at best. Dean said he was getting better and needed practice. His dad said nothing, but his lips were pulled into a perpetual frown. His dad began talking to him again, but it wasn't the same caring way he used to when he didn't know. It was as if his dad just stopped looking at him as a kid, and decided he could be useful, like a part of an army. Sam silently hoped it would go back to the way it was, eventually.
There they were, running through the woods 6 months later, and nothing had changed. Nothing would be the same, how could it be? He was now a part of a three-man army against something so large it hurt Sam to wrap his mind around it.
Sam realized they had reached the clearing of the forest where his dad was rummaging through the back of the Impala. "Whaddya think he's getting?" Sam asked Dean.
"Dunno. Maybe knife throwing?" Dean couldn't hide the excitement in his voice.
"Don't be such a downer, you little geek. Your fairytales will be waiting for you when we get back. I hear they're showing Barne y& Friends on PBS at 10, you can catch that too if you'd like," Dean grinned.
"Shut up, jerk. You're one of those jocks who takes gym too seriously in school and everybody hates them for it," Sam retorted rolling his eyes.
"At least I'm not a midget."
"At least I can do math that's higher than a third grade level."
"Hey, it's a fourth grade level," Dean said with a wink. "Hey, do you need any help or somethin' dad?"
"No, just take this," John told Dean handing him a sawed-off shotgun. John closed the Impala's trunk with a slam. "We're doing target practice today. There are three targets out there," John pointed to three tall trees with small orange post-its stuck on them. "You just have to hit the post-its. If you do decently, I'll call it a day, how does that sound?"
"That's awesome, dad!" Dean eagerly began to load the gun.
"Wait, Dean. Not you. Let Sam do it," John said eyeing his youngest.
"But, Dad.." Dean began.
"No, let him do it. He's been working for months on this, it took you weeks, and it's taken him months, he needs to be able to shoot a gun straight," John insisted.
Dean reluctantly handed the gun over to his little brother and shot him a "sorry I tried" look.
Sam grimaced and gingerly took the gun.
"Load the gun," John instructed. Sam followed orders and loaded the gun. The technical aspects were easy to grasp. In theory, it was all easy. He knew what the best strategies were, but it was one thing to read about them in a book and another to actually carry those theories out.
"Now what?" Sam asked even though he knew the answer.
"Now hit your target," John told him.
Sam stood and carefully aimed the gun and inhaled sharply, his shoulders tensing. He let out a slow breath and aimed for the tree on the left-hand side. The blast from the gun reverberated throughout the forest and Sam felt himself get physically pushed back a bit on the recoil; not as bad as when he first started, but enough that he stumbled back a step. He blinked a few times and crammed his head to see if the bullet hit its mark. Sam bit his lip; the bullet was roughly 5 inches above the target. It wasn't much, and most kids his height and weight would have probably done worse, but it wasn't good enough, and he knew it.
Sam waited for his dad to admonish him, but the only thing his dad said was, "reload, and move on to the next one." Sam could feel the disappointment. As he reloaded the gun he looked at Dean for help, but Dean had suddenly become very interested in his fingernails.
He was on his own, so Sam began to reload. He'd get it, he would. He took another breath and aimed for the tree on the right. He exhaled and pulled the trigger, bracing himself for the recoil of the sawed-off. He took one step back, but didn't stumble. He was only an inch off the mark, it was a vast improvement, but it made his blood run cold. There was no "close enough" in the Winchester family; things were all-or-nothing, with no in between. Sam shuffled his feet knowing his dad would further humiliate him by making him shoot the third target.
"That was good, Sammy," Dean said clearly trying to make him feel better. "It was a big improvement, it was really close to the target and you didn't stumble—"
John cut him off. "It's not good enough. Being close enough to the target won't be enough when you're hunting something that wants to rip your head off. Close enough is what's going to get you killed. Your head's not in the game, Sam."
"He's doin' better, though, dad. He'll keep getting better," Dean insisted trying to placate both his father and brother.
"Stop babying him, Dean. He wanted to be treated like an adult, and now he's getting it. It's not enough to try and shoot straight, you have to actually be able to do it."
Both Winchesters were treating Sam as if he wasn't even there. "I can do it," he announced loudly as he reloaded the gun and turned to the middle target. The world seemed to fade from around him; Dean and his father's voices faded, the forest seemed to sink into the shadows and the only thing in Sam's field of vision was the target. He ignored the bead of sweat that ran down his face and the fact that his palms were moist. He inhaled as he took aim, and then upon exhaling, pulled the trigger. The recoil of the gun only made Sam wince, as he watched the bullet hit its mark.
"Sammy! You did it!" Dean said walking over and clapping him on the back. "Not so bad for a nerd!"
Sam gave a small half-smile, and looked up expectantly at his dad. John stared at him for a moment and then said, "You hit the target after three tries. Your brother would have hit it in one."
Sam's smile faded. "I'm not Dean," he said masking the hurt that was threatening to creep into his voice.
"Yeah. I know," John said walking back to the motel that was up the road of the Washington forest.
Sam stood dumbstruck. He didn't understand. This was supposed to make his dad happy. He didn't even like training. His dad would always favor Dean. Dean who was perfect and fast and strong. Tears threatened to fall from his eyes so Sam bean walking back to the motel.
"Hey, Sammy, you did great," Dean said placing a hand on his shoulder.
Sam shrugged it off. It wasn't Dean's fault, but he wanted to be left alone.
Dean pulled his hand back as if it stung. "I'm starving. Maybe there will be some kind of brunch thing going on at the local diner. I could go for some bacon and pancakes."
Sam kept walking in silence, and eventually Dean stopped trying to talk to him. Once they reached the motel Sam took the longest shower he'd ever taken. He let the hot water burn his skin and fog up the bathroom. Finally alone in his vapor filled wonderland, he let himself cry.
Later that night Sam was huddled in a ball on the couch with Dean who was spread across the entire couch, watching Raiders of the Lost Ark for what seemed to be the 100th time. John had gone into town for some supplies and food.
"Hey, Dean?" Sam said finally.
"Mmm?" Dean muttered clearly engrossed in the movie. No matter how many times he saw it, he never got bored. He secretly wished he could be Indiana Jones.
"Do you think we could go shooting again?"
"Sure, dad can probably take us tomorrow," Dean told him interested in Sammy's sudden desire to go shooting.
"No, no. I mean, can you take me alone?" Sam asked emphasizing 'alone.'
"You know we're not supposed to leave while dad's out…" Dean said hesitantly. In the 13 years of his life, if there was anything he knew, it was to follow orders because they were probably there for a good reason. He'd learned his lesson when the Shtriga incident occurred.
"Dean, please," Sam pleaded.
"Sam…" Dean stared at his brother. Sam's face looked disheartened, and the puppy eyes were full force. "Fine. When should we go?"
"Now, " said Sam hopping off the couch and pulling his jacket on.
'Now? Whoa, slow down there, geek boy wonder. Now? It's barely light out, and we just practiced a couple hours ago. Are you ok?" Dean asked concerned.
"Yes, now, Dean! I'm fine, c'mon!" Sam said as he laced his sneakers.
"Fine, fine," Dean stood up and stretched, his shoes already on his feet. "C'mon, Sammy."
Both Winchesters walked towards the clearing in the forest by the motel and Dean brought along the sawed-off his dad always left in the room in case of an emergency. "Here," Dean handed Sam the sawed-off. "Same as earlier today, you got this."
Sam stood to the left and aimed for the target. He braced himself for the recoil, and pulled the trigger. He hit the very tip of the target and immediately began reloading the gun. He aimed for the right-hand target and fired off the shot. It hit the upper right quadrant of the target.
Sam reloaded and aimed one final time. He didn't hear Dean's frantic voice telling him, "shit, it's dad. He spotted us," Sam exhaled and pulled the trigger. The bullet hit the center of the target.
"Dean, I did it!" Sam said gleefully turning to his brother. The smile evaporated from his face when he saw his dad standing there with his arms folded.
'What the hell are you two doing?" John demanded.
"Well, we were just…practicing," Dean finished lamely.
"Dean, I told you to stay inside," John said angrily. "You're going to end up getting you and your brother killed if you don't listen to orders. Is that what you want?"
"N—no, sir," Dean said guiltily "I'm sorry. It won't happen again."
"You're damn right it won't happen again," said John calming down. "Just go back inside boys."
Both of the younger Winchesters practically ran back to the motel when John called out, "and nice shot, Sammy. It better happen more often."
Sam smiled to himself. That was practically a damn hug and kiss coming from his dad.
"Dude," Dean let out a low whistle. "We just dodged a bullet with that."
"Yeah no kidding," Sam said.
"Nice shot, dweeb."
John watched the figures of his two boys disappeared into the sunset. Sam had hit the target right in the center. He'd done really well. Sure, he wasn't as quick on the jump as Dean, but Sam had all the bookish characteristics that Dean didn't. Both of them had special skills, John just didn't know how to tell them this. Dean didn't seem to need the constant validation. Dean followed orders (for the most part), and gave 110% all the time. It was harder with Sammy. He tried, but just enough…and he sure as hell couldn't even think of talking to him. Ever since Sam read the journal things had been different. Sam was more resistant, and had begun to vocalize his displeasure. John knew any normal parent would sit and try and talk to their child about it, but then again, these weren't normal circumstances. He was way in over his head.
Sammy was stubborn as hell, and once an idea was planted in his mind it would never leave. He should've told Sammy he'd done a good job earlier… but where would that get him. John's blood ran cold at the thought of Sammy fighting for his life one day and missing a monster with a shot that was "close" and suffering the consequences. No, tough love was how it would have to be. They had to go after the thing that destroyed their life. The whispers were that it was a demon. John didn't even know if he believed it, really John didn't want to believe it. Especially since there were rumors that this demon was trying to get at children—get at Sammy. John didn't know why, but he intended to find out. Sammy had to be ready, no matter what. If it meant getting his feelings hurt in order to save his life, then so be it.
John sighed, and slowly followed his boys back to their motel and allowed the darkness to consume him.