Title: The Reason I Live
Characters: Sam, Dean, John
Genre: Gen, hurt/comfort
Disclaimer: I don't own Supernatural except in my dreams where schmoop abounds.
Warnings: Those of you who think John Winchester was a good father doing the best he could under terrible circumstances may not like my portrayal. He's not deliberately cruel, but he is negligent and he treats his sons as though they are soldiers, not little boys. Just remember this story is AU and Sammy knows what his daddy does at a much younger age than canon Sammy.
Word Count: ~4,200
Summary: Sequel to I Wish I was a Growed Up and second story in the Wish 'verse. Something is lurking near Sammy and Dean's new school and John thinks this is the perfect opportunity for Dean to research his first hunt. AU hurt!!Dean protective!Sam Wee!chester Ages Dean 9 Sam 5 and 24
The Reason I Live
Chapter 2 Dean Needs a Nap and a Snack
When the end of day bell rings Dean is out the door and down the hallway before most of the other kids have even hopped up from their desks yet. If Mrs. Simon calls out for him to remain seated until she has dismissed the class he definitely doesn't hear her. Honest.
The last five minutes had seemed like a lifetime while he watched the second hand on the large clock above the teacher's desk make its way ever so slowly around the plain black and white clock face. It's almost as though the darn thing was taunting him and at one point he could swear it ticked backwards a couple of strokes before resuming its forward motion. He wonders if clocks can be possessed by evil spirits. They probably can.
Although he fortunately hadn't been hungry at 11:45AM for his non-existent lunch, by the time 2:30PM rolls around he's starving, stomach threatening to turn itself inside out. Also, his nearly sleepless night is catching up with him and he's having a hard time keeping his eyes from sliding shut. But most importantly he has a bunch of information about a certain monster he's anxious to talk over with his dad as soon as he gets home.
Sammy's class is lined up neatly at the door waiting for the teacher to separate them into parent pick-up and bus riding groups. Leaning up against the white painted cinder block wall opposite Sammy's classroom door, Dean waits for his little brother to notice him. It doesn't take long.
A wide grin brightens his little brother's face while he waves a pudgy hand enthusiastically. All expectations of Sammy rapidly having his teacher wrapped around his little finger are proven true as the kid turns his grin on the woman, says something Dean can't make out over the chattering of the rest of the class and points at him through the open doorway. She nods and pats Sammy on the head.
Scrambling out the door and up to Dean, lugging his backpack behind him, Sammy starts talking immediately. "I told Miss Bridget you were my big brother and you were here to get me so we can walk home together." He beams.
"That's your teacher? Miss Bridget?" Dean asks, wanting to make sure he gets the right name and face memorized. After all, if there are any problems he can't take care of himself he needs to know who to go to. Most problems Sammy might have with school, Dean anticipates being able to handle without interference, still it doesn't hurt to have options and being prepared is as much a Winchester credo as it is for the boy scouts.
"Yup, she's really nice, too." Sammy's nose scrunches up and he gets this funny cross-eyed look on his face. "Dennis and Teddy said I couldn't play with them at recess, but Miss Bridget said I could and then she made them share the soccer ball with me and I kicked a goal!" The rambling narrative pauses as Sammy stops to catch his breath so Dean jumps in before he can get going again.
"Cool, squirt. Let's start walking and you can tell me all about it on the way home, how's that?" Putting a hand between his brother's shoulder blades, he steers the smaller boy down the now crowded hallway and out the double doors of the school building.
Just as expected, Sammy's backpack is bulging with goodness only knows what. "What have you got in your backpack, Sammy, your entire desk?" Dean teases.
"Nuh uh." Sammy gives him a lopsided smile to show he knows he's being teased. "We got books from the library and Miss Bridget let me take three." He holds up three fingers and the tone of his voice clearly says this is a good thing although Dean can't for the life of him figure out why getting more books would be considered a plus except that it's his little brother talking and the kid has always been kind of weird.
They walk past block after block of tiny houses with patchy white-washed picket fences, tricycles and other toys littering the yards. Several of the houses have angry looking mutts chained to trees or porch railings. Invariably the dogs seem to feel it's their duty to run until they reach the end of the chain link tethers to bark aggressively at anyone who dares walk too close to their territory. Each time, Dean pulls Sammy as far away from the house as the sidewalk will allow, puts himself between the dog and his younger brother and keeps the kid walking, not running, past the house without making eye contact with the snarling and snapping animal. He doesn't completely trust the strength of the chains to hold the dogs back and he feels better if he can provide just that much additional boundary between any potential danger and Sammy.
Even though all the chains do their job, catching the dogs up short each and every time, he can't help but think that his knives would be a welcome weight in his backpack right about now, certainly much more useful against an attacking dog than the history book and pad of paper it currently contains. Yeah, school and the stuff he's learning there are about as useful as a poke in the eye, Dean thinks morosely.
Sammy doesn't pay much attention to the dogs, oblivious to the threat, allows himself to be moved wherever Dean needs him to be as though it's perfectly normal and, for him, it is. This young version of Sammy is used to taking his leads from his big brother and trusting Dean to take care of most situations. In fact, the flow of words barely slows during the entire walk home as Sammy recounts every part of his day in great detail, telling his older brother about who he sat with at lunch, who was nice to him, who was mean, what book the teacher read to them during story circle, and how many crayons he was given to complete his picture of the letter 'A".
Dean tries to make appropriately interested noises at all the right places while he thinks about everything he learned from his interrogations of his classmates. If Sammy can sense through their bond that his brother is distracted and only half-way paying attention, he doesn't let on.
After getting everything he could out of Grant, Dean had checked with other students to see if anyone else had ever heard about a monster of some kind living nearby. Almost all of them had. It seems that the monster is common knowledge among school aged children, at least if Dean's classmates are anything to go by. He'd found out that tales of mysterious goings-on and strange sightings have been passed along from older siblings to younger siblings with all the devote sincerity of a sidewalk fanatic spouting the Lord's own gospel to anyone who will stop and listen. Those students who don't have older brothers or sisters usually hear of the monster through friends, like Grant.
Dean's hackles are up and his spidey-senses are tingling. He's not sure why the adults in this town haven't sounded the alarm, but such wide spread local lore can't possibly exist without having some basis. One thing he's learned over the years is to believe the unbelievable. Dad has definitely gotten riled up over a lot less, dropped everything to run off to one small town or another on only a hint of information, and here Dean has uncovered enough to fill five entire pages of notebook paper with jotted notes on the stories he's heard in one day alone. Dad's gonna to be impressed.
The front door of the apartment they're renting opens directly onto a small foyer with the kitchen on one side and the living room on the other. Dean catches their dad's wince as soon as they get through the front door. Whether it's because of the way the door slams behind Sammy or simply due to their sudden presence Dean doesn't know, but he has his suspicions. He's seen that look on the man's face far too often.
Dad is sitting hunched over at the wobbly, wooden kitchen table that serves as a research space more than as an eating area seeing as how they don't all three sit down to eat formal meals together very often. If dad's not with them the boys usually eat at the kitchen counter or in the living room in front of the TV.
"Hey, dad." Dean greets his father, pleased to see the man doesn't appear to be busy. This means he has an opportunity to discuss his day's findings right off the bat and have dad's full attention. "You'll never guess what I learned in school today." His backpack comes off his shoulder easily and clunks onto the kitchen counter.
"Not right now, Dean. I need you kids to get started on your training immediately." Their father looks at Dean and then at Sammy, catching them both in the severity of his gaze, as if they needed reminding of how serious he takes their training. "Just because school's started doesn't give either one of you a pass on your usual schedule. Today's Monday which means target practice and I want you to do sprints as well when we get to the field."
"But dad, I-"
"Later, Dean. I promise you can tell me all about school after dinner." With a weary sigh, dad heaves himself up from the kitchen chair and herds his sons out to the Impala.
It's a disappointment, of course it is, Dean had really thought his father would be interested in his news. The dismissal feels like rejection and as much as Dean wants to believe the man's promise to listen after dinner, he can't help the bitter twinge in his gut and the thought that something else will probably come up just like it always seems to whenever Dean wants his father's attention.
A quick glance at Sammy once they're in the car shows a frown on the boy's face as he stares at the back of dad's head over the bench seat. If looks could kill, this one wouldn't be fatal, but it would probably hurt quite a bit.
Dean scoots over until he can bump arms with his brother, tries to distract him from his scowling campaign. It doesn't take a genius to know that the younger boy is upset on his behalf and that's just not right.
Target practice means shooting cans in the fallow field on the outskirts of town, nearly every small town has a similar area. It takes them about fifteen minutes to drive there.
Five years old is old enough to learn how to handle firearms in John Winchester's book and on Sammy's fifth birthday he'd received his first lesson. He's not a bad shot; Dean's better though because Dean has several year's of practice on him and has graduated from stationary targets to moving ones.
Once they get out to the field, the boys start a series of sprints while dad moves across to a remote section of land, far enough from the road to be hidden by a small rise, and sets up a pulley system from a tree so he can dangle a can from a piece of rope for Dean to shoot at.
Sprinting can be fun if you know how. Dean can make just about anything into a game, knows how to make anything fun. Not only does it help him get through the exercises himself, but it also makes his younger brother easier to handle. Even good kids have their moments and Sammy has his share.
"Bet you a piggy back ride you can't beat your best time." Dean sing-songs the taunt while wiggling the stop watch in the air and raising his eyebrows in a question to see if Sammy will accept the challenge. A piggy-back ride almost always works as a reward, although at five years old Sammy's weight is getting to be more of a strain on Dean's back than he'll ever admit.
This time is no exception and the little boy's brown curls bob around his face when he nods his head eagerly, crouching down in his slightly-comical version of a runner's stance when Dean yells out, "on your mark…get set…GO!"
Dean clicks the button to start the timer and Sammy takes off, pumping his short legs as fast as they'll go. The course dad set up for them includes a straight section, a zig-zag through a stand of birch trees, and a double back to the starting point. Every situation is a learning opportunity to their dad and this sprinting track mirrors his cautions to 'never be predictable, always leave your opponent guessing and never allow the enemy to outmaneuver you'. The words ring in Dean's ears as he watches his younger brother take the tree obstacle with ease. The kid's getting better and better every time they do this.
"Atta boy!" He calls out, pride evident in his voice. "Comin' into the home stretch now, squirt!"
Sliding across the imaginary finish line, Sammy looks up expectantly. "How was that? Faster than last time?"
"Yup, you shaved another 5 seconds off your best time."
"Yes!" A small fist lifts in triumph and Dean laughs as his little brother rushes over to clamber gracelessly onto his back for his victory piggy back ride.
Two times around the sprinting course and Dean has to stop, leaning over to rest his elbows on his thighs and letting Sammy slide down to the ground. He'd forgotten how low his energy reserves were after having missed lunch earlier today, growing boy and all that.
"Your turn now, Dean." Dad says, coming up behind them, scooping up the stop watch from where Dean had dropped it and brandishing it with all the seriousness on an Olympic track coach.
Nothing makes him more nervous than his father when the man looks at him the way he is right now, intense and apprising, as though measuring his worth like a fish just on the verge of being too small, like there's every chance he'll be thrown back into the pond if he can't meet expectations.
He's not up to his best effort at the moment and he knows it, but there's no use trying to explain to his dad that he needs a nap and a snack. And doesn't that make him sound like a whinny baby? Excuses are never tolerated even when they aren't excuses at all. He still thinks about giving it a try anyway, just because the disapproval is so hard to see blossoming on his father's face.
Instead he wets his lower lip with his tongue and gets ready to run.
It comes as no surprise when he gets back from his sprint only to hear his dad say, "You can do better than that, son." And sure enough, there's the reproachful glare. "If you're not going to even try we may as well go home now."
It feels like acid is burning its way down his throat because, he knows he can do better and he wishes more than anything that he could just tell his father why he didn't do better. The follow up question will only bring more criticism though. Why didn't you remember to pack a lunch for your brother on his first day of school, Dean? Better to accept the accusation of not trying hard enough than to have to answer that particular question.
Ducking his head so he misses the full impact of the glare of doom, Dean breathes heavily through his open mouth. "Yes, sir. I'll do better next time." He pants.
He should have seen it coming, felt his brother's anger building, he really should have, but when Sammy steps up next to him, eyes flashing, it comes as a complete surprise.
"Don't be mean, dad, you're hurting Dean's feelings." The younger boy announces.
Ugh, really? It doesn't get much more embarassing than having your little brother try to defend you to your dad. Curse that empathic bond anyway. Dean looks around for a hole to jump into. Unfortunately, there are none big enough to cover him up.
Dad stares at Sammy for a minute then shakes his head like he's not sure what to make of his youngest son and, without acknowledging the outburst, resets the stop watch, preparing to time Dean's second attempt.
A dry wind blows, kicking up some dust which drifts through the air in careless eddies before settling back onto the untended ground. The air smells faintly of fertilizer and growing things in the wind's wake.
As soon as his dad yells "GO" for the second time Dean forces himself to forget about how tired he is and run like his very life depends on it. He imagines himself as a jet airplane, all jets firing at once, wind at his back pushing him along even faster. Every other thought and idea falls away and all that's left are his feet pounding as fast as he can possibly make them go and his pure determination. He goes for broke, using every ounce of energy available to him and leaving nothing for latter.
On the edge of his awareness he hears Sammy's voice. "go Dean, go!" If he could spare a glance he knows he'd see his little brother jumping up and down and cheering him on.
His momentum takes him way past the finish line and when he comes to a stop he has to stand very still and blink quickly to clear the black spots swimming in his vision.
"That's more like it. Much closer to what I know you're capable of." Dad says, flicking the button on the stop watch. "You know Dean, you have to treat every one of these exercises as if they're life or death situations. Slouching you're way through isn't going to help anybody, least of all yourself." The last of these comments is issued over his back as the man moves across the field toward the targets he has set up for them to shoot. There isn't any question in his mind as to whether or not his kids will follow behind him.
Typical. Dad doesn't ask if there might have been a reason for the slower time and Dean really wishes he hadn't tried to spare the energy the first time around because the end result is the same, he feels vaguely light-headed and weak, but now dad thinks he was deliberately slacking off. Well, live and learn, he won't be making that mistake again.
The target shooting goes much better. It takes very little energy to stand still and fire a gun at a target, even a moving one. Dean has had fantastic hand/eye coordination from the first time he was handed a gun and shooting has always come naturally to him. This is the one area of his life where he excels and can reasonably expect to get some positive attention from his father. There are things the man thinks are worth doing and things he thinks are completely lacking any merit. He's free and easy with his opinion of those things he sees no use for, Dean has plenty of experience in listening to those rants.
Learning to shoot well is one of the things dad believes is worth doing and when Dean hits the targets – which move more and more erratically as the practice continues – without missing a single one he gets a "Nicely done!" from his dad and a high five from his little brother who thinks giving and receiving a high five makes him cooler than cool.
The praise warms him up from the inside out and he's able to ride the high it provides him all the way through Sammy's turn at target practice and all the way home afterwards.
But by the time they get home and he's thrown something together for dinner his appetite has dwindled to next to nothing. He's only able to pick at his food while he tries to decide how to make dad take his concerns about a monster near their school seriously. The more he goes over it in his mind the more he realizes it just sounds like a bunch of nonsense made up by children. Nothing more than childish imagination. He still believes there's something going on though so convincing his dad is crucial.
Sammy is eating slowly, eyeing Dean constantly like he suspects something is wrong and is trying to figure out what to do about it.
He'd better move quickly before his little brother makes up his mind.
"Hey Dad?" Tapping his fingers quietly on the counter top, Dean waits for his father to swallow the mouthful of food he'd been chewing.
"What's up, Dean?"
"I heard some stuff at school today and I think there's something going on in this town…like our kind of something." He holds his breath and hopes for some sign to continue.
Dad looks up, interested, scratching the side of his face where his beard meets his cheekbone. "What makes you say that?"
"Well, the kids at school were talking about someone going missing and there are lots of stories about people seeing some kind of monster. I wrote some of them down just in case you wanted to see." The notebook he has clutched in his fingers trembles slightly and Dean puts it down on the kitchen table in front of his father, giving it a little push forward until it rests next to his glass of water.
"A monster, huh?" Dad's lips twitch at the corners and Dean's hopes plummet. He must sound just as childish and stupid as he feared because dad obviously doesn't believe him.
Dean looks down at his fingers twisting together in his lap. "Yeah." He all but whispers.
Sammy squirms uncomfortably in his stool at the kitchen counter.
"I have a hunt I'm already working on." Dad indicates the papers spread out on the table under his dinner plate and tacked up on the kitchen wall to his left. "And I can't stop in the middle of one hunt to start another, right?"
Dad flips through the notebook with one hand, too quickly to actually read anything Dean had written, and then turns thoughtful eyes on him. For a moment, Dean doesn't see his father at all, instead he sees cold calculation leveled at him through a hunter's emotionless eyes. It isn't the first time.
"But you have a good start here. This is a great opportunity for you to do the research for your own hunt. Keep working on it and let me know what you come up with." And with that Dad pushes the notebook back across the table.
Maybe Dean should feel like dad's just being condescending, but he doesn't. He's happy, thrilled even, like he's been elevated from padawan to full jedi status. Like he's been given the keys to the city. Because this is permission. Permission to hunt on his own. Thoughts of doing his own research, finding the monster all by himself, showing his dad what he really is capable of, and saving anyone else from being taken bubble up and he feels invincible, powerful, important. For the first time ever he thinks he has a shot at making his dad truly proud. For the first time ever he thinks he might be able to make a difference.
His very own hunt!
On to ( Chapter 3 )
Back to ( Chapter 1 )