I'm a little late. Okay, I'm a lot late. About a month late, give or take a few days. The deadline was SUPPOSED to be Novemeber 17th, but the picture Marishna sent me wanted a very specific story to be told about it, and every time I tried to cop out and tell a different story, it ignited my intentions and burned them all to fucking ashes. So I finally gave in and told the story it wanted told. But I wasn't ready to tell it until now. Why? I'm not sure. But that's the way it played. So anyways, hopefully better late than never. As always, love to know what y'all think.
Title: The Thing About Clowns
Challenge: Marishna's Supernatural Picture Prompt Fic Challenge
My Prompt: Here's the pic! (thanks Marishna!)
Word Count: 10,000
Spoilers: up to Everybody Loves a Clown
Warnings: Just because it's about clowns doesn't mean I'm not going to try and break your heart. Because I am. I'm evol that way.
Disclaimer: I don't own the boys, I'm just stalking them for a while.
Summary: Yeah, that whole facing your fears thing? Over-rated, Sammy. Sometimes what scares you, scares you for good reason; and all facing that kind of fear does is show you how right you were to be afraid in the first place.
The Thing About Clowns
"What’s this?" Dean asked, turning the small package over in his hands.
"Open it," Sam said.
Dean lifted the box to his ear, shook it a little just to see if it would rattle. It did. "No, I mean, what’s it for? Not my birthday, just in case you lost track of all those big, important special dates you need to remember in that big geek brain of yours."
Sam smiled a little. "Call it a car-warming present."
"You know: a car-warming present. Like a house-warming present, only for a car."
"Dude. You are such a chick sometimes," Dean said.
"Oh, just open the damn thing already."
Dean shrugged and opened it. His expression squinched as he peered inside.
"Well?" Sam prompted after a beat.
"Well what do you think?"
Dean looked up, studied Sam for a long moment, then said, "I think you’re the kind of chick that needs to come with a warning label stamped on your forehead: Caution, buckets and buckets of crazy, steer clear."
Sam’s face fell a little. "What? You don’t like it?"
Plucking the gift out of the small box, Dean held it up to study it in the glaring, mid-day sun. They were in the middle of BFE; eating fast food out of a bag in the front seat of the Impala on the side of a highway that stretched from Nowhere, South Dakota to Nowhere, Montana; and this is when his brother decides to turn into a crazy chick. Twisting the small figure to get a look at it from every angle, he said, "It’s not that I don’t like it, Sam. I just don’t get it."
"It’s a clown," Sam pointed out like Dean might be blind in addition to being incredibly stupid.
Dean snorted. He shook the figure a little for emphasis as he said, "No shit, Sherlock. I can see it’s a clown." It was a clown all right – huge shoes, garish makeup, funky hair, the whole nine yards. But it wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill clown; it was one of those seriously demented looking clowns, like The Violator from that Spawn comic book, or Tim Curry in It, or maybe one of those whacked-out dudes from the Insane Clown Posse.
It was a toy of some sort – the kind of toy made for adults and kids with parents who aren’t paying attention – but even though Dean normally had a keen appreciation for toys designed to scare the crap out of kids, given how close they’d come to ending up as rakshasa chow on their last gig, toys that looked like flesh-eating clowns weren’t real high on his gifts-to-get list. Nor would they be, he assumed, high on Sam’s gifts-to-give list. Especially considering how Sam felt about clowns in general. But evidently they were … high on Sam’s gifts-to-give list, that is.
"So what’s the point?" Dean asked.
Sam sighed. "The point is facing your fears," he said as he took the clown from Dean, peeled some kind of paper off the bottom of the huge shoes, and stuck the thing to the dashboard between them. It stood there, staring at them with evil eyes and an insane grin like some crack-ass version of a Virgin Mary travel charm. "So, yeah, I’m afraid of clowns. But that rakshasa was a hell of a lot scarier than any clown I’ve ever met, so I figure it’s time to get over my clown-o-phobia and get on with it." He gestured at the clown figure stuck to the dashboard. "So now Bozo here is our travel charm. I figured we could lay some Latin on him, sprinkle liberally with holy water, and voila, he’s a token fetish to protect us from the big bad of the road instead of something for you to torture me about being scared of."
Sam glanced at Dean when he didn’t comment. Dean was watching him with an indecipherable expression.
"What?" Sam asked after a long moment of silence.
"Dude." Dean’s tone was quiet, appalled. "You stuck your damn clown to my car."
Sam was driving, Dean was half-dozing, and the clown on the dashboard was watching over them with a look that was anything but protective. It made Dean a little twitchy, his eyes blinking open every couple of minutes to that crazy-ass expression on Bozo the Lucky Charm’s plastic mug, so he twisted in his seat, propping himself against the passenger side door so he could stare out the window at the blur of scenery passing by. He let his mind wander, let his eyes fall shut as the quietly comforting purr of the Impala’s engine sang to him like a lullaby. As the road passed, Dean remembered:
The place was crazy with noise and confusion and people. It had been bright and warm outside; but once they got under the Big Top and inside the tent itself, it was cool and smelly and dank and dark. Dean held tight to his dad’s hand as they made their way through the crowd, wishing he was anywhere but here.
His dad glanced down at him, smiled. "You doing okay down there, bud?" he asked.
Dean nodded, but he didn’t mean it. He wasn’t okay; he was miserable. He wanted to go home. He wanted to go back to Sammy. That was all he ever wanted to do – be with Sammy – and Dad knew it. But even knowing it, they were still here, so Dean was pretty sure it wasn’t a real question his dad was asking so much as just Dad’s way of making sure Dean knew he knew Dean was still there.
And Dean was still there, so he nodded.
They came because Dad wanted to be here, not because Dean did. But the only reason Dad wanted to be here was because he wanted Dean to be here, even though Dean didn’t want to be here, so it was all kind of screwy, but that’s still the way it was.
"Pretty exciting, huh?" Dad asked.
Dean nodded again. It wasn’t exciting, though. It was smelly. The whole place was smelly and dark and a little bit scary. And it was loud, and confusing; and there were so many people everywhere it made his skin feel creepy, especially when someone he didn’t know brushed up against him, or bumped into him, or stepped on his feet because they were tall and weren’t watching what they were doing.
And to make it all worse, he didn’t know any of these people. They were all strange people, and strange people could be bad people, and Dad wouldn’t even know they were bad until it was too late because even Dad couldn’t watch this many people all at the same time. Rubbing at his nose with one hand and holding tighter to his dad’s with the other, Dean tried not to think about it. He tried not to think about anything except the fact that his dad was here, and that was really all that mattered.
That and Sammy being here, which he wasn’t, which was why Dean didn’t want to be here either.
"I’ll bet you’re pretty excited about seeing an elephant," Dad said as he led the way through the crowd and Dean followed. "I don’t think you’ve ever seen an elephant before, have you? They’re huge, buddy; so you wanna watch out for your toes when they walk by. And the tigers are going to be awesome. I’m really looking forward to the tigers, what about you?"
Because Dad was trying to make it sound fun, Dean tried to pretend it sounded fun; but it didn’t. At least, it didn’t to him. He didn’t want to see an elephant. He didn’t even want to see a tiger, although he agreed with Dad that seeing a tiger would have been awesome if Sammy was here to see it, too. But he wasn’t, so it wasn’t awesome, and Dean didn’t want to see it. And he sure didn’t want to see a bunch of stupid dogs wearing stupid hats, which is what the poster outside showed along with an elephant and some clowns and a whole bunch of tigers. But Dean didn’t care about any of that. And he didn’t want to see any of it. All he wanted to do was go back home and see Sammy again. That was the only thing he wanted to do: go see Sammy, go be with Sammy, go sit beside Sammy so he could make sure Sammy was safe and that nobody could hurt him or set him on fire or anything.
"And the clowns," Dad added. "The clowns are really funny. You’re really gonna love the clowns, bud. They’re gonna make you laugh so hard snot will come out of your nose, I promise." He looked down at Dean and grinned. Dean nodded because that’s what his dad wanted him to do.
They were walking through a gap in the bleachers, so Dad pointed out the big ring in the middle of everything up ahead. "There’s where everything happens," he said like he was giving Dean a tour of important things to know about going to the circus. "That big ring, right there. And see those wires up there?" He pointed overhead. "People walk on those. Can you believe that? They actually walk on just that skinny, little wire. And one of them will probably ride a bike on it, too. I saw some guy ride a bike on one of those things once with his wife sitting on his shoulders and his kid standing on one foot on his head. Can you imagine that, Dean? I’ll bet he had a heck of a headache when he got done after having his kid stand on his head all day, huh?"
His dad looked at him again, so Dean nodded.
There were red and yellow painted bricks all around the edge of the ring and a ton of lights shining on the dirt floor inside it, making everything look as bright as day there, or brighter even because it was so dark outside the bricks where all the bleachers were. Dean studied it as they walked, wondering why all the lights were there and none of them were out where people would be sitting.
He was still busy looking at the ring when his dad turned left to walk along in front of the bleachers toward their seat, and some big guy with a tub of popcorn in one arm shoved between them, and then the lady that was with the big guy shoved in between them, too. And then two more people shoved in, and Dean lost his grip on his dad’s hand, and they got pulled apart as another person shoved in, too.
Everything went still inside Dean’s head the moment he lost contact with his dad. His heart started pounding, and his mouth went dry like cotton as he strained to see around all the people standing between them. It seemed like there were hundreds of them, like the whole crowd had shoved their way between he and his dad and were pushing him one way and his dad the other.
He wanted to yell so his dad would know he wasn’t there any more and would come back to get him, but he couldn’t get any air to do it. He was too short and everyone around him was too tall, and more and more of them just kept shoving in like he wasn’t even there. It felt like he was being held under water because he couldn’t breathe, and his heart was pounding so hard now it was all he could hear, and for just a second, he thought maybe he was going to die.
His dad’s voice was loud and sounded close, but he still couldn’t see him. It panicked Dean to think his dad might go the wrong way looking for him, but he still couldn’t get enough air inside to yell, or even to do anything except just try and gasp in more air to keep from drowning in the crush of all these strange people pushing in from every direction.
Someone put a hand on his shoulder, and he thought for a second it was his dad; but when he looked up, it was someone Dean didn’t know, a man who was tall like his dad, but who was black and bald, and who didn’t have a beard like the one his dad grew because he kept forgetting to shave in the days right after anyway, so he said it was just easier, at least for a little while, until things got easier, if they ever did. The man was a stranger and strangers could be bad people, but he was smiling in a way that made Dean feel like things were at least a little better because he was here. "Hang on just a minute, son," the man said, "he’s coming for you." Then, with the hand that wasn’t on Dean’s shoulder, he reached out and started pushing people out of the way, saying, "He’s right here. I’ve got him right here."
"Dean!" Dad yelled again, and then Dean could see him, only a couple of people away. The guy who first pushed between them was still between them, and he didn’t move quick enough when Dad told him to, so Dad just knocked him out of the way – almost knocked him completely over – which made everybody else move, too; and as soon as they did, Dad jumped forward to grab Dean up off the ground, snatching him up and holding on to him in a way that made it okay for Dean to wrap both arms around his neck and hold on back without feeling like a baby for doing it.
"I’ve got you, bud," Dad said, his voice kind of panicky, too. "I’ve got you. I’ve got you." Dean nodded against his neck, hiding there while his dad held on to him like he was just as scared of almost getting lost from Dean as Dean was about almost getting lost from him.
Dean heard his dad thanking the man who helped him, saying they owed him one; and Dean could tell the man was still smiling the way he was when Dean first saw him when he told Dad, "No problem. I’ve got a couple around his age. Scary when you lose sight of them, even if you know they’re only a couple of feet away." Then the man put a hand in the middle of Dean’s back and said, "You have a good time, little man. Enjoy the show."
Dean didn’t let go of his dad’s neck or lift his face out of his dad’s jacket; but he nodded, and he hoped the man saw it and knew he meant thank you, too.
Dad carried Dean the rest of the way to their seats; only put him down again when they got there. Their seats were right in the front row, and Dad made a big deal out of how that turned out to be the case like it was a great big surprise to him it worked out that way.
But Dean knew it wasn’t a surprise. He’d heard Dad talking to Pastor Jim last week about making sure they got good tickets so Dean could get as close to the show as possible. But even if he hadn’t, he still would have known Dad planned it this way because he said at least three times on the drive here that maybe, if they were really lucky, they’d get seats close enough to actually see the tigers instead of just smelling them from the parking lot. That was Dad’s way of trying to make him feel excited about where they were sitting, and he wouldn’t have done that – tried to make Dean excited about it – unless he knew exactly where they were sitting way before they ever got here.
Dad was like that. Even before, he always tried to make things fun and exciting for Dean, even if they were stupid and boring to him. And even though he always did things just a specific way because he had reasons for everything he did – Marines always have reasons for doing what they do, son, even if they don’t always tell you what those reasons are – he sometimes pretended like it just happened without him having anything to do with it at all. Like he wasn’t behind it all, like he didn’t plan everything out just the way it happened; but instead, like some things just happened because of magic, or good luck, or God watching over them.
Like Santa wasn’t really Dad buying things and putting them under the tree in the middle of the night. Like the quarters that showed up under Dean’s pillow every time he left a tooth there wasn’t Dad instead of the tooth fairy, just like it had been Mom before. And like these tickets just happened to be on the front row, and wasn’t that cool, and weren’t they lucky guys for it all to work out this way? instead of Dad planning everything right down to the last detail and making sure all his ducks were in rows and crossed and dotted and everything else because that’s just the way Dad was.
But Dean didn’t believe in luck. And he didn’t believe in magic, either. Or the tooth fairy, or Santa Clause. He believed in his Dad. That was pretty much it. He used to believe in God, too; but not any more. Now he just believed in Dad.
And he knew, too. Knew all the things Dad did and pretended like he didn’t.
Dean was going to tell him that sometime – tell Dad he knew it was all Dad all the time, but it was really cool he pretended it wasn’t because Sammy wouldn’t know yet, not until he got a LOT bigger, and that way Sammy could believe in luck and magic and God, for a little while at least – but he didn’t want to tell him right now. Right now, he didn’t want to say anything to anybody. He didn’t want to talk at all, not even to Dad, and he hadn’t since it happened. He wasn’t quite sure why, he just didn’t. In some ways, it was almost like he couldn’t.
So he didn’t.
And Dad didn’t make him. Because Dad was like that, too. He knew. He understood.
"Hey, bud, you want peanuts or popcorn?" Dad asked. There was some guy with a tray full of food standing there beside them, and Dad had his wallet out, looking at Dean with a big grin he didn’t think Dean knew enough to know was fake.
But Dean knew. He understood.
"Whatdayathink?" Dad prompted when Dean didn’t point, or nod, or do anything else either.
Dean shrugged. He didn’t really care. Actually, he didn’t really want either one. He didn’t want anything. He wasn’t hungry, and he didn’t want to be here. He wanted to be back home with Sammy. That’s all he really wanted. Just to be back home with Sammy.
"Eenie, meenie, miney … popcorn," Dad said. "That work for you, bud?"
Dean shrugged again. He didn’t care. He really, really didn’t care.
Dad bought them each an extra big popcorn. Then, on second thought, he bought a bag of peanuts, too, just to be safe. "Never know when you might need to bribe an elephant," Dad told Dean as the guy with the tray went away. "Always pays to be prepared."
He took the peanuts because his dad handed them to him, and ate the popcorn because his dad bought it for him. The whole time they were sitting there, eating popcorn and waiting for the rest of the people to find their seats so the show could start, Dad acted all excited to be here, like he’d never been to a circus before even though he’d already told Dean twice that he had; like he’d never seen anything so fun and exciting as this dark tent and all the smelly things in it. He kept pointing things out like it was the first time he ever saw an elephant, or a clown, or horses with big feathers sticking out of their heads. He told Dean all about the trapeze, and lion tamers, and some guy named Petey Barney Bailey or something. He said lots of people thought three rings were better than just one; but he liked one ring better because there was so much going on with three that you ended up missing more than you saw. And then he pointed out a guy walking on stilts like he’d never been to a circus before in his whole life, and he did it like he didn’t think Dean would know he had because otherwise, how would he know if he liked three rings or one ring better?
Dean listened to everything his dad said, but he didn’t care about any of it. All he cared about what how long it took for the show to start, because the quicker everything started, the quicker it would all be over; and then they could go back home and be with Sammy again. Because that’s what Dean wanted to do. He just wanted to go back home and be with Sammy.
"I can hardly wait to see the tigers," Dad said, stealing popcorn out of Dean’s bag to throw it up in the air and catch it in his mouth. "What about you, Dean? I’ll bet the tigers are going to be awesome, huh? I can’t even believe how excited I am to see these tigers."
But just like he could tell his dad was pretending about not being to a circus before, Dean could tell he was pretending about being excited, too. When his dad wasn’t pretending – when he was really excited about something, and he was really having fun – he didn’t grin so much, and he didn’t talk to Dean like Dean was a baby who needed to be entertained every second of every minute. He was just doing that because he was trying too hard, because he really wanted to make this fun for Dean.
So Dean tried to pretend like it was fun. He tried to pretend it was exciting, and that he wanted to be here. But it wasn’t, and he didn’t. He really, really didn’t.
But he didn’t want his dad to know that, so he ate the popcorn anyway.
When the show finally started, the lights went down and the whole tent got really dark. Dean fidgeted in his seat, looking around, wondering if there were monsters out there his dad wouldn’t be able to see coming for them now. He wanted the lights back on – he wanted them back on right now – and he almost told his dad that; but when he leaned over to say it, his dad looked down at him and grinned; grinned like he was really happy for a moment instead of just pretending he was happy.
So Dean didn’t say what he wanted to say.
Instead, he just scooted closer to his dad, sitting as close as he possibly could so he could hide a little bit in the shelter of his dad’s body just in case there were monsters out there, so maybe they wouldn’t see him. Dad dropped an arm around him like it was no big deal, like he didn’t know Dean was hiding; and he squeezed just a little, like he was saying "just you and me, bud" or "no worries, Dean-o; I’ll kick carcass on anything that dares to screw with us;" and that made Dean feel a little better.
Not safe exactly, but better.
Like at least like Dad was paying attention to the dark, too; like he wasn’t so excited to show Dean the elephants he wasn’t paying attention to what might be out there and how close it might get before they saw it. Or heard it. Or smelled it. Because that happened sometimes. If you didn’t know there was anything in the dark, sometimes it could get close enough to set you on fire.
They brought the horses with feathers in their heads out first, and then elephants, and then acrobats, and then more horses; but really short ones this time, with dogs on their backs that wore stupid hats and did stupid tricks. His dad kept leaning over and whispering stuff to him, telling him different things the guy with the microphone and the big, black hat didn’t know.
Things like elephants can talk to each other from miles and miles away, but their voices are so low that people can’t even hear them talking; and that their trunks aren’t just their noses, but their lips, too; and it can pick things up just like fingers can because they have a kabillion muscles in just the trunk alone, more than people have in their whole bodies. And also things like every dog there is – even the really small, stupid-looking ones like the ones wearing hats and doing stupid tricks – are descended from wolves because a long time ago, wolves were the only kind of dog there was. And that some of the dogs in the stupid hats were so small because they were bred to hunt rats – which is good because rats suck, and they can chew through metal, you know – and those dogs were so small they could go right into the walls after them, which is how they used to catch rats before people put hats on them and made them do stupid tricks.
His dad knew everything like that, and once the lights went out and the show got started, he forgot to pretend he was excited when he wasn’t and just started acting more like he normally did, telling Dean things just because they were interesting to know instead of telling him things because he thought he had to. And he kept cracking jokes, too. Really funny jokes about the stupid dog hats, and about the acrobats getting dizzy if they tried to walk like regular people, and about what a big mess it would make if one of the elephants stepped on one of those little dogs and if they did, he sure hoped that didn’t happen right in front of their seats because he wasn’t going to clean it up.
And because of that – because his dad was just talking to him now like he normally did instead of trying so hard to make everything fun and exciting – Dean quit worrying quite so much about the monsters that might be hiding in the dark. In fact, he quit worrying about them so much he’d almost forgotten they might even be there by the time the ring in the middle of the tent was full of clowns with rainbow-colored hair and white faces and round, red noses.
The clowns were doing all sorts of stupid things that weren’t half as funny as the things his dad kept saying about what they were doing; but Dean kinda laughed anyway, even at them, but more at what his dad was saying about them. Because the clowns were pretty lame and everything his dad said once he got started on making fun of them made them seem even lamer, which was mostly what was funny, at least to Dean.
Like one of the clowns that kept chasing a dollar bill another one had on a string even though every time he bent over to pick it up, the other clown pulled it away. He was totally lame, so after the third time he did it, Dad leaned over to Dean and said that guy right there was the type of clown you only had to know one knock-knock joke for because you could tell the same joke every single day, and he’d laugh at it every single time. Dean thought that was pretty funny. And right, too.
And then Dad said the clown who was pulling on the string was the kind of guy who’d pick a knock-knock joke that didn’t make any sense at all for that one joke to tell every day because that was just the kind of clown he was. Dean laughed at that, and then he laughed harder when his dad told him a really stupid knock-knock joke that made no sense at all just to make his point. He didn’t even have to pretend he was laughing at that joke because it was just so, so, so stupid he couldn’t even believe his dad actually told it. And he even thought maybe his dad had made it up right then, right at that moment, because it was that stupid, and Dad was like that in what he’d do sometimes when he wanted to make Dean laugh.
Some of the clowns kept losing their shoes and other ones kept losing their pants, so Dad leaned over again and said nobody told him there’d be clown nudity or they wouldn’t have come, and Dean really laughed at that. And then some of them kept pulling things out of their sleeves like nobody would know they’d put all those things in their sleeves before the show even started, so they’d think it was magic or something lame like, and Dad said they didn’t have anything on Sammy because Sammy could keep crapping in his diaper so long you’d SWEAR it had to be magic for one little boy to have that much crap in such a little body; and Dean almost cried he laughed so hard because Dad was totally right, Sammy was totally magic in how much crap he could get out of his body and how often he could do it, and how good he was at doing it right after Dad changed his diaper for a clean one. Not like a minute after or anything, but right after. The second after. Like he knew, and was doing it on purpose or something.
One of the main clowns saw Dean laughing that hard at what Dad said about Sammy, so it pointed at him and pretended like it was laughing, too; or like it had a bellyache or something, which was what Dean thought when he saw what the clown was doing, so he didn’t really pay attention because Dad was still talking about Sammy and saying he was pretty sure Sammy knew whenever he had a clean diaper on, and he’d save a little crap back for just such a special occasion, which was just exactly what Dean had always thought, so that made it twice as funny that Dad thought that, too; so he was listening to Dad instead of paying attention to the clown, which is how it got so close before he noticed it was coming right for them.
The clown walked all the way across the ring and Dean didn’t even notice – he was laughing that hard – until it tripped on its big, stupid shoes again and fell flat on its face, right in front of them. It landed so close it puffed dirt up into Dean’s nose, and that surprised Dean, and it scared him some to realize the clown got so close to them without him even noticing. But when the clown hit the ground and Dean jerked and quit laughing like somebody hit his off switch, Dad’s arm tightened where it was draped across his shoulders like Dad was saying it was okay, he’d noticed, so everything was still okay.
But Dean stopped laughing anyway.
And he didn’t start laughing again when the clown got up and brushed itself off by jumping up and down and shaking like a dog because he hadn’t been laughing at the clown in the first place, he was laughing at Dad. And he sure didn’t laugh when it started pouring dirt out of its shoes like no one would know it put dirt in there way before now just so it could pour the dirt out now to make fun of some kid who wasn’t paying attention and make them feel stupid. And most of all, he didn’t laugh when the clown pulled a big feather duster out of its back pocket and started dusting itself with it, and then Dad, and finally Dean.
Dad laughed, but Dean didn’t. He just ducked away from the duster and scooted closer to his dad, glaring at the clown and wishing it would go away. But the clown kept dusting him anyway, looking over at the crowd every couple of seconds with its mouth wide open like it thought this was oh, so hilarious that it was dusting Dean and Dean didn’t want to be dusted. Like it was just the funniest thing it had ever done; and it was oh so funny it could hardly stand it.
And the crowd laughed like they thought it was hilarious, too.
But Dean didn’t laugh. He didn’t want to laugh any more. The clown wasn’t funny; it was stupid. And it didn’t have any right to make fun of him, or of Dad either, although Dean was pretty sure it was mostly making fun of him.
And he was even more sure when the clown pulled some flowers out of a different pocket – big, sproingy flowers that looked like they were WAY to big to be in the pocket they were in, which Dean figured was pretty much the whole point – and tried to make Dean take them. But Dean wouldn’t take them because Dean wasn’t a girl, and he wasn’t going to let some stupid clown say he was by giving him stupid, sproingy flowers. So then the clown tried to make his dad take them; and his dad did, which really made Dean mad because the clown calling him a girl was bad enough, but calling Dad one was just stupid.
Really, really stupid.
And not funny at all.
His dad must have realized what he was thinking, because even with the clown right there in front of them, and all the big lights on them now, and everybody in the whole stupid tent watching them, Dad leaned over and whispered in Dean’s ear that he wouldn’t have taken the flowers if the clown pulled them out of his butt instead of his pocket; and Dean laughed at that even though he didn’t mean to. The clown clapped its hands when Dean laughed, like it was the one who did something funny; and it made everybody in the tent clap with it, like they were agreeing it was funny when Dad was the one who made Dean laugh.
And then it started talking to them, like it wanted to be friends all of a sudden even though it had already made Dean feel stupid for not paying attention and called him a girl by thinking he’d want a bunch of stupid, sproingy flowers. It asked a whole bunch of questions, and Dad answered them when Dean didn’t.
Everybody laughed at some of the things the clown asked, and then again at the way Dad answered. But Dean didn’t laugh. He just sat there and watched, holding on tighter to Dad’s hand and hoping the clown would go away and the whole show would be over soon so they could go back home to Sammy.
He just wanted to go back home to Sammy. More now even than before, all he wanted to do was go home to Sammy; and he’d really wanted to go home to Sammy before, but he wanted it twice that much now.
And then the clown started talking to him. Not to Dad. To him. And it kept talking, asking more stupid questions and waiting like it expected Dean to answer them. But Dean didn’t. He didn’t say anything, even when the clown asked his name – especially when the clown asked his name – or how old he was, or where he was from, or if he had any brothers or sisters, or if that was his dad or just some big guy he bought at the concession stand because they looked so much alike.
Dad answered for him a couple of times, told the clown his name was Dean, that he was five and he was more a man of action than one of words. He even told it about Sammy, saying Sammy stayed home today because he was scared of clowns but Dean wasn’t scared of anything because he was the big brother, which was Dad trying too hard again, but talking to the clown like it was a baby this time instead of talking to Dean that way.
But still, talking to it. Talking to it about Sammy.
Dean blinked up at his dad when he told it about Sammy, surprised and confused he would give out all that information not only to this clown, but to all the other strangers in the tent, too. Dad grinned to show him it was okay, trying to pretend like the whole world was a great, fun, interesting place and there was absolutely nothing to worry about here; but Dean didn’t believe it.
He knew. They both knew.
When the clown reached out to take Dean’s hand – the hand Dad wasn’t holding – and tried to pull him away from his dad, Dean just kind of panicked. He jerked his hand back and scrambled away from it, crawling into his dad’s lap in the process, his heart beating so fast he could hardly breathe.
But Dad was on the clown’s side this time. He picked Dean up and set him on the ground, then told him it was okay, he should go with the clown and do what the clown wanted him to do. When Dean just stared at him because he couldn’t believe his dad actually said that, Dad leaned forward and looked him straight in the eyes and said it again: "It’s okay, Dean. Go with him. It’ll be fun." He said it like it was just something he was saying, and he was smiling when he said it; but it was an order, and Dean knew it. He could hear it in his dad’s tone – that this was an order and he was telling Dean he had to go with the clown and do what the clown wanted him to do. "Go on, Dean," Dad said. "I’ll be right here, I promise."
Everybody in the tent was clapping, and his dad started clapping, too, nodding at him, saying it was okay even though it wasn’t okay. And then the clown took his hand again and led Dean away while his dad just watched him go.
The middle of the ring was so bright Dean couldn’t see anything. It seemed like there were a thousand lights all pointed right at him, and it made everything beyond the lights dark as black ink. Once he stepped over the yellow and red bricks at the edge of the ring, Dean couldn’t see his dad at all any more, but Dad had told him to go, so he went.
The clown made him stand in the middle of the ring and bow to everybody, which he did; but only because his dad told him to do what the clown said to do. And then it made him turn a little and bow again, then turn a little more and bow again, then turn some more and bow again until he must have bowed a thousand-hundred times, and he’d completely lost track of where his dad was sitting. The clown finally let him quit bowing, and it let go of his hand, too; so Dean thought he could go, which he did, just as fast as he could do it.
But it was a trap. The second Dean started away, the clown ran after him and grabbed him by the shoulders. It made him come back to the middle of the ring while everybody laughed at how funny it was Dean thought he could go when he couldn’t. He felt really stupid for not realizing it was a trap when everybody else did; and it made him mad the clown tricked him that way just because it knew he wanted to go back to his dad so bad he wouldn’t be paying as much attention as he should have been.
And it probably made his dad feel stupid, too; that his son was so stupid he couldn’t see a trap so obvious everybody else saw it except Dean. Thinking that made Dean’s face burn; and it made him want to throw up at the same time as it made him want to kick the clown in the shins so hard its big, stupid feet would fall completely off its legs, because that’s what it deserved for setting Dean up like that and making his dad embarrassed for everybody to know Dean was his son.
When the clown let go of him the second time, it made a big deal out of telling him to stay and treating him like he was a dog or something. It pointed at Dean and said stay! then walked away two steps and turned around real quick like it thought Dean was too stupid to get he couldn’t leave yet. Everybody laughed, so the clown took two more steps and turned around real quick again. And everybody laughed again. Some of them even clapped.
And the clown just kept doing it.
And the crowd just kept laughing at him.
Dean was shaking with humiliation by the time the clown quit making fun of him for trying to leave the ring and started giving him things to hold. By that time, Dean couldn’t really follow what was going on any more, so he just took whatever the clown gave him without trying to figure out what it was doing or why it was doing it.
It would give him something, and then take it away again and give him something else. And then it would take that away, and give him back the first thing.
And everyone would laugh.
Dean wasn’t quite sure why they were laughing, but he knew it was something about the way the clown was doing what it was doing. Because it wasn’t giving him things in a Gunny Sergeant Dean Right-Hand Man kind of way like Dad did when they worked on the Impala. Instead, it was giving him things like he was its slave and all he was good for was holding stuff. And then when it took things away, it did it like he wasn’t even good for that. And sometimes, it would bounce those things off his head before it gave them to him, or after it took them away.
And the more Dean flinched when it did that, the more everybody laughed.
He was numb and his body had gone cold all the way through to the bones, but he held everything the clown gave him to hold because his dad had told him to. Because his dad sent him with the clown and told him to do what the clown said to do, so Dean did.
But he didn’t want to.
When the clown started moving him around again, it made him go to one end of the ring and hold some stuff, and then it made him go to the other end of the ring and hold different stuff. And the whole time, the clown was running around the ring, doing things Dean couldn’t make any sense of because his brain wasn’t working right any more. Everything was confused inside his head, and the more he tried to make sense of it, the more confused he got, so finally, he just quit trying.
He tripped once when the clown was moving him back to the center of the ring, and the clown caught him before he fell, set him back on his feet and patted him on the head. The crowd really laughed at that, and then laughed even harder when the clown started tripping everywhere it went, doing it every three or four steps but making fun of Dean this time instead of just tripping over its big, stupid shoes like it was before.
Inside, Dean’s heart was going crazy. It was beating twice as fast as it should, and it had been for a long, long time. He felt like he’d been inside the ring forever, but the clown still wouldn’t let him go back to sit with his dad. It kept telling him to do things, and he did them all because his dad told him to do what the clown said, but it was getting harder and harder to hear anything over the sound like an empty TV buzzing in his ears. By the time the buzzing got so bad he couldn’t hear what the clown was saying any more, couldn’t understand what it was telling him to do at all, his head felt like someone had pumped it full of air until it was ready to pop like a big balloon.
And then it did. It just popped. Everything just popped.
Dean didn’t know he was even moving until he tripped over the small, colorful bricks around the ring and fell, landing hard on his hands and knees, jarring everything. He bit his tongue and twisted his elbow; but he was up again almost immediately, searching for his dad in the sea of strange faces that were staring at him from the bleachers just beyond the bricks and the circle of blinding light.
But he couldn’t find him.
He couldn’t find his dad.
The empty TV sound got worse. It got so bad it made him dizzy – so dizzy he could hardly walk, let alone run – but he started running anyway, stumbling as he worked his way along the front row of bleachers, looking for his dad, trying to find him by checking faces three or four rows deep just in case he’d just moved, or gone to the bathroom, or walked to the concession stand for more peanuts to use as elephant bribes.
Dean was so cold now he was shaking. He could taste blood in his mouth but he didn’t know why. He couldn’t feel his fingers or his toes any more. His head hurt so bad he could hardly stand it, but he kept going, kept trying. He fell again, and then a third time; but every time he fell, he got back up. He had to keep trying. He had to find his dad.
He just wanted his dad. All he wanted was his dad.
But his dad was gone.
He looked everywhere, but all he could see was strangers. He looked for the bald man who helped him earlier, but he couldn’t find him either. All the seats were filled – every single one of them – but they were all filled with strangers who were staring at him, some of them talking to him or laughing at him or even trying to reach out and grab him as he passed. He could hear the clown coming up behind him to drag him back into the ring again, so he ran harder, desperate to find his dad first, to get to his dad so his dad could protect him, so his dad wouldn’t leave him.
Hands grabbed him, jerked him into the air, and Dean started to scream. He screamed and kicked and hit and gouged. He twisted his whole body as hard as he could, but the hands on him wouldn’t let him go, wouldn’t put him back down. He kicked harder, screamed louder. He didn’t want to go back into the ring. He didn’t want to stand with the clown any more. All he wanted was his dad. All he wanted was that. Just his dad.
He was shrieking his dad’s name. Shrieking it as loud as he could, knowing his dad would hear him, knowing his dad would help him. Praying his dad would hear him. Praying his dad still could hear him. Praying they hadn’t already gotten him, hadn’t already gotten his dad, hadn’t already found his dad and set him on fire.
Dean thrashed around like his life depended on it – like his dad’s life depended on it – but the clown was too strong for him. It had hold of him good, pinning his arms to his sides as it wrapped him all up where he couldn’t even kick any more. Where he couldn’t even twist or bite or gouge. Where he couldn’t do anything at all except scream into the suffocating dark of clown arms and clown body. So that’s what he did. He screamed and screamed and screamed.
It was his dad’s voice, right by his ear, right in his ear. The shock of hearing it was like ice on Dean’s brain.
"Dean. Stop, Dean. Stop."
Dean stopped. He stopped everything. Stopped screaming, stopped kicking, stopped twisting, stopped breathing. He held completely still in the dark of the clown’s arms, not doing anything at all, just waiting for his dad to find him.
Believing his dad would find him.
"Dean. I’ve got you, bud. I’ve got you. I’ve got you, Dean. I’ve got you." It was his dad’s voice again, right by his ear, speaking right into his ear.
The clown arms shifted him a little, let him go some, let him breath now. Dean didn’t move. He just kept waiting for his dad to find him.
"It’s me, Dean. I’ve got you. I’ve got you, baby. I’ve got you. It’s me, Dean. Can you hear me? It’s me. Come on, buddy. Open your eyes. It's me. I've got you, Dean. It's me. It's me."
Dean didn’t know he’d closed his eyes until he opened them. Something warm and soft was pressed against his face. It smelled like his dad. Not the clown, but his dad.
"It’s me, Dean. There you go, buddy. That's it. Keep 'em open, buddy. It’s me. I’ve got you. It’s me."
Dean blinked. He focused on the familiar red flannel of his dad’s shirt, breathed in the familiar smell of his dad’s jacket. He realized then it was his dad who had him, not the clown. His dad was here, his dad hadn’t left him.
His dad hadn’t left him.
His dad hadn’t left him.
"I’ve got you, Dean," his dad said in his ear. "Shhhhh. I’ve got you, bud. I’ve got you. It’s me, buddy. I’ve got you. I’ve got you, Dean. Can you hear me? I’ve got you."
Twisting his arms free of where his dad had them pinned, Dean wrapped himself around his dad’s neck, wrapped his legs around his dad’s body. He held on as tight as he could, hiding his face in his dad’s shoulder, digging his hands into his dad’s jacket, twisting them so deep into the worn leather someone would have to break them to tear him free. He could feel his dad’s hands on his back now, on his shoulders; and he knew they were his dad’s hands, they felt like his dad’s hands.
"Don’t leave me," Dean whispered. They were the first words he’d actually spoken out loud since the night his mother died, and he said them over and over and over again. "Don’t leave me, Dad. Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me."
"It’s okay, bud," his dad said. "I’ve got you. I’ve got you, Dean. I’ve got you. I’m right here. It’s me, buddy. I’m right here. I’m not leaving. I’ve got you, Dean. I’ve got you …."
Dean jolted out of the memory, coming full awake with a start that made him cough, choke, gag. He could still smell his dad’s jacket, still feel the pressure of his dad’s hands against his back.
Sam glanced at him, frowning. "Hey? You okay?"
Still feel the warmth of his dad’s breath against the side of his face, still hear the sound of his dad’s voice whispering in his ear. Dean looked around wildly for a moment, disoriented, confused.
"Dean? Wake up, man. You’re dreaming. Wake up."
Blinking himself back to the present, Dean sat up, scrubbed at his face with both hands. He cleared his throat, coughed, cleared his throat again. "Yeah," he managed after a long moment. "Yeah, I’m good." Putting both hands over his eyes, he shielded himself from the bright of the day, just breathing until he could breathe without gasping again, until he could hear the purr of the Impala's engine through the thunder of his own heartbeat again. It was several mintes before he pulled his hands down from his eyes, over his mouth, down his throat. He scratched at his collarbones, then reached up to run his fingers through his hair and scratch at his scalp.
He looked at Sam finally, flashed him an anemic grin. "Wow," he said.
Sam’s frown deepened. "Nightmare?" he asked when Dean didn’t offer anything more.
"No. Not really."
"What then, really?"
Dean blinked several times. He shook his head, trying to clear it, then said, "Wet dream. Very hot. Very active. Very … aerobic, if you know what I mean; and I know you do."
"Ha ha," Sam returned. "I’m serious."
"So am I. Three on one. You want details?"
"I’m serious," Sam repeated.
Dean cleared his throat again, wiped the back of one hand across his mouth as he dropped his eyes from of the intensity of Sam’s gaze. "Yeah. I know. Sorry. No. I’m fine. I wasn’t really asleep."
"You were snoring, Dean."
"I was not."
"You were, too."
Dean shook his head sharply, shaking the argument off. "Fine. I was snoring. Whatever, dude. Where are we?"
"Middle of nowhere."
"Can you be more specific?"
"Sure. Corner of Bumfuck, Egypt and Timbuktu. What were you not really dreaming about when you weren’t really sleeping?"
"Pull over at the next town," Dean said in lieu of an answer. "I’m hungry, and it’s my turn to drive."
"I’m still good for a couple more hours," Sam said.
Dean shot him an impatient look. "Let me re-phrase that: It’s my car, and its my turn to drive."
Sam was still watching him, still concerned. "You sure you’re okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost. Or maybe a rakshasa or something."
Scratching at his head again, Dean rolled both shoulders and sat up a little straighter in his seat. "Heh. Funny you should say. In my not-really dreaming dream, I was being chased by a clown. Big, ugly, mean-looking sucker. In fact, looked a lot like him." He gestured at the small clown figure stuck to the Impala’s dashboard.
Sam laughed. "Really?"
"Yeah. Really." They were crossing a bridge over a sluggish, muddy river when Dean reached out and detached the clown figure from the dashboard with a sharp twist, then pitched it out the half-open window. It arced through the clear-bright air and disappeared.
"Hey!" Sam demanded as Dean rolled his window up. "What the hell did you do that for?"
Dean shrugged. "I hate clowns," he said simply.
"I hate clowns."
The admission caught Sam off guard. He studied Dean for several seconds, his expression twisted with a combination of disbelief and perplexity. "You do?" he said finally.
"Yeah. I do. Hell, why do you think you’re scared of them?"
"Uh … I don’t know. I never really thought about it, I just am."
"What? You think you were born that way or something?"
"No. I mean … I just really never thought about it. Because they’re freaky looking, I guess? And because of that whole Ronald McDonald thing in Nebraska."
Dean shook his head. "No, you were scared of them long before that."
"Yeah. Terrified. In fact, that’s kind of why that whole Ronald McDonald thing happened in the first place. Because you spazzed out, and then he spazzed out, and then everybody else spazzed out. But you spazzed first, and he didn’t do anything but smile at you."
"So … you’re saying I was born scared of clowns?" Sam ventured.
Dean chuckled. Rubbing a hand along his eyebrows, he said, "Nah. You were born ugly, Sammy; but I don’t think you were born scared of clowns. I pretty much did that to you."
"I don’t know. I mean, Dad’s a good looking guy. And Mom was pretty. And hell, you just have to look at me to see what a handsome gene pool the Winchester line has —"
"Oh, you’re just hysterical, Dean," Sam interrupted. "Just freakin hysterical."
"Hey, you’re the one who asked."
"How did you make me scared of clowns?" Sam insisted, ignoring his brother’s intentional misunderstanding as if it wasn’t worth the waste of breath it took to address it.
Dean shrugged. "You were kind of monkey-see, monkey-do as a kid. You wanted to be me when you grew up – awesome choice, by the way – and I don’t like clowns." Dean smiled a little. "I may have told you that a few times. Or a few hundred times."
"You’re scared of clowns?!" Sam face nearly split in two with the breadth of his delighted grin.
"Not scared of them," Dean corrected. "Hate them. Big difference."
"Oh yeah? How so, pray tell?"
"Pray tell?" Dean’s expression was derisive. "What the hell is ‘Pray tell?’ Is that like ‘Do say?’ Or ‘Shan’t we all have tea and crumpets?’ "
"Pray tell," Sam repeated. "As in, give it up, bitch."
"How so this, Geek Boy," Dean countered easily. "Hate is an acceptably manly emotion. Being scared is more of a girly thing. Just like the difference between me and you." He gestured at himself: "Manly." And then at Sam: "Girly. See how that works?"
If it was possible – which, in all truthfulness, it really wasn’t – Sam’s grin split just a little bit wider. "Yeah, I see," he said. "You’re scared of clowns. Big, bad Dean is scared of guys in wigs and whiteface."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Whatever, dude." He cracked his neck, then relaxed back against the car seat again. "If I don’t really go to sleep again, wake me up when we get to the next town," he said, closing his eyes.
"I think the next town is Clownsville," Sam said. "Or maybe it was Bozo City. I get the two of them mixed up sometimes."
"Ah, yer just hilarious," Dean said without opening his eyes. "Yer so freakin’ hilarious I almost forgot to laugh."
"What about the whole facing your fears thing?" Sam asked. "I mean, I was ready to face my fear of clowns. Can you say the same, big brother?"
Dean didn’t open his eyes. He could still smell his dad’s jacket in his memory, still feel the pressure of his dad’s hands against his back as he carried him out of the tent and back into the sunlight, promising he wouldn’t leave, promising that wasn’t going to happen. Promising that was never going to happen, that the monsters were never going to get him.
Swear to God, Dean. I promise I won’t leave you, son. I promise.
"Yeah," Dean said quietly. "Well, what can I say? That whole facing your fears thing? Over-rated. Sometimes what scares you, scares you for good reason; and facing that kind of fear doesn’t help, Sammy. It doesn’t help at all. In fact, all it does is show you how right you were to be afraid in the first place."
The grin on Sam’s face faded as Dean spoke, darkening itself back down to a frown of shaded concern. "We still talking about clowns?" he asked his brother.
Dean didn’t answer. Leaning against the passenger door of the Impala, eyes closed and the memory of his dad’s broken promises still fresh as fire in his memory, he pretended he was asleep, even though he wasn’t.