John sees a flash of movement down a side street and signals Dean to go around. He's studied a map of the neighborhood enough to know that the one way street has no exits except a drive that goes behind one of the storefronts, some fru-fru boutique. Dean will see it, John's sure. The kid's getting to be a good hunter.
John runs down the street, keeping the figure in front of him and his gun held carefully at his side. Sure enough, the man turns sharply into the drive next to the store to get away from John. John nearly grins as he follows behind the man and sees the imposter frozen at the end of Dean's sawed-off.
"Stay on him, Dean," John says. Shapeshifters usually need a source to change their entire appearance, but they're good imitators regardless, and he doesn't want Dean faltering no matter what he hears.
"I got 'em." Dean glares down the sight of the shotgun pressed into his shoulder.
"Oh, you got me?" The shifter's voice is strangely oily. Deep and distorted in a way John can't really put his finger on.
The shifter looks over his shoulder at John, its mouth pulled into a sly smile that somehow doesn't have any affect on its eyes. Then, the eyes blink, and there's no color. For a brief moment, John think he's just lost the eyes in the dimming sunset, but no, there's no color at all. The man's eyes are completely black.
"Dean, get down!" John yells and trains his gun on the man's back.
Dean drops as John fires, but the man — demon, it's a demon — spins to face John and raises his hand in a claw-like gesture. Something as large as a concrete block punches John right in the chest, and he can feel his feet leave the ground. He lands on his back, and he can't even manage to gasp for air.
Sounds are muffled until John feels a hand on his shoulder. He jerks back immediately, but his head is clearing.
"Dad! It's me."
John blinks hard to erase the stars from his vision and scans the alley-like driveway carefully.
"He got away," Dean says from where he's kneeling on the pavement next to John.
Dean's shaken; John can see it in the way his eyes are wide and every muscle in his body is tense like he's expecting the demon to show up again any moment. John just nods. This is his fault. He was sure the weird man people described seeing around the neighborhood was a case of a shifter coming in and taking over a victim. He didn't recognize the demon until it blinked and showed its damn black eyes.
"We won't find it now." John shrugs off Dean's hand, angry at himself for the mistake. "Let's go."
John pushes the door open with his shoulder as Dean practically tumbles in behind him. It hasn't been a very good night.
"Go take a shower." John lays one hand on Dean's back and shoves him gently toward the first floor bathroom.
Dean only makes it two heavy steps before he turns back to John and lifts one arm, burying his face in his armpit dramatically.
"I don't stink that bad," he says with a smile that tries to be cheeky.
"Go." John pushes him again. The hot water will be good for the sore muscles he knows Dean is trying to hide.
Dean plods his way upstairs to get some clean clothes, and John walks to the kitchen where Sam is bent over a notebook with the kind of focus he hasn't been giving to his few pieces of homework lately.
"Sam, you finished with your homework?" John asks because he's not sure how much homework fourth-graders are actually supposed to get.
"Didn't have any," Sam says shortly.
John stops searching in the fridge for a bottle of water and looks hard at Sam.
"Are you lying to me?" His voice rises in a way that leaves out the your answer had darn well better be no.
"I'm almost done." Sam's eyes don't even leave his notebook.
Leaving the fridge to swing shut on its own, John creeps forward and peers down at Sam's dedicated project.
"What—" He doesn't quite know what to make of the symbols on Sam's paper, repeated in straight lines over and over until they fill the page. "What are you doing?"
John lays the tips of his fingers on Sam's notebook and slides it slowly away from the kid. Sam looks up then, but his face droops into a pout, like John's taken away his toy instead of his homework. He turns the notebook the right way around, but as much as he studies it, he doesn't recognize anything on the paper. They aren't circles, so Sammy isn't practicing writing devil's traps. John hasn't started Sam on devil's traps yet, just the handguns; he needs to know how to handle a gun safely before John ever gives him one with an actual bullet in it.
"Where did you find these symbols?" John knows he has nothing like this in his journal.
"Seth gave them to me." Sammy pulls the notebook back in front of him and turns it around so that he can trace the repeated symbol with the tip of his finger. "See?"
John doesn't even know what he's looking at, much less what he's supposed to be seeing.
"He said they're protection symbols," says Sam. "They'll keep the Big Bads out."
"Big Bads?" Either Sammy and Dean have been making up their own code again, or John is really missing part of this conversation.
"Yeah, like in a video game." Sam nods as if that's the best explanation. "There are Little Bads that you have to get through to fight the Big Bads."
John has no idea what Sammy's talking about since he's never had any video games for his sons. But it sounds like the typical hierarchy among a group of bad guys. There are bosses who order the little ones around. So the protection symbols are for the bosses rather than the underlings. John wonders if demons even have underlings, and he studies the symbol harder.
"He say anything else?" he mutters to the top of Sammy's head.
"Just said that I had to practice until I could paint 'em on the walls with no mistakes." Sam shrugs through the explanation, seeing nothing wrong or particularly important about it.
Dean thunders down the stairs and pokes his head into the kitchen.
"Hey, Sammy, isn't it bedtime for pipsqueaks?" he demands with a grin.
"I'm almost done," Sam says again, like Dean is going to give him more slack than John is. John lays a hand on Sam's shoulder before Dean can undermine him any more.
"No," he says. "Go upstairs and get changed. Brush your teeth."
"Don't you dare take my hot water," Dean says as he ducks into the downstairs bathroom and Sammy trudges obediently — if not reluctantly — up the stairs.
John waits until he hears two doors in the house close before he pulls out his cell phone and flips through his journal to the small business card inserted into one of the pages. He dials the number, checks it on the screen twice, and presses the send button.
"This is Wesson."
"Seth, it's John Winchester," he says into the flip phone.
The man on the other end is silent for half of a second.
"Yeah," Seth says like he's been expecting John to call. "What can I do for you?"
"I'm hunting a demon in Joliet."
"By yourself?" Seth snaps, suddenly more tense.
"Dean's my backup," John says right back, quick and painless.
"Dean's fifteen," Seth says flatly, singularly unimpressed with the answer.
John really wonders if Seth and Bobby are related. He glances back into the kitchen where Sammy left his notebook with the strange symbols, lying open on the table.
"Bobby said you have a lot of knowledge in exorcisms," John starts, leaving the sentence open for Seth to fill in. He can probably get more information as long as Seth is trying to fill any uncomfortable silence.
"Yeah," Seth says quietly. "I have ... experience with demons."
John waits for the rest, but the phone line is silent after that. Apparently, experience is the only clue he's going to get. Still, it's enough that John suspects Seth has as much reason to hate the black-eyed bastards as John does.
"Would you be interested in looking at my case?" he says.
"You want me up there?" Seth asks after a pause.
The other option is conferring over the phone, and John knows a part of him would be happy with just that. But Seth is also a hunter, and if he's in the fight, that's less chance for Dean to get hurt. It was fine when John thought Mr. Wilson was just a shapeshifter, but possession was a different matter.
"Depends how fast you can get here." He decides to leave it in Seth's hands, see what he'll do with it.
"I'll be there tomorrow morning," Seth says.
John gives him the address of the house he's renting and ends the call. He turns back to the table and flips a few pages in Sam's notebook to see some shakier versions of the symbols that he's been working on. Tearing a page out of the notebook, John folds it twice and tucks it into his pants pocket. Better to confront Seth on this once he's actually here.