Okay, a couple of caveats up front.
A) This was a lot pornier when I first wrote it than it is now. Not because the sex was more explicit or because there was more of it (because actually, the sex is a little more explicit in this version, and there's a little more of it, too); but rather because the original story was only a couple of paragraphs longer than the sex scene, where now it is more than twice as long as the sex scene ... almost three times as long. So it's more of a ratio thing ... there was a much higher percentage of sex in the original compared to non-sex. But then again, everyone pretty much expected that, didn't you?
B) I don't really write porn, so when I say porn, I actually mean I'm not going to fade to black on you and make your imagination do all the heavy lifting. Which is to say I actually wrote the sex scene in this one instead of not writing it. But still, compared to this fandoms porn standards, pretty tame stuff, I'm sure. But still hot, I hope.
C) This is a 5 Times fic, but you'll notice this is only 1 Time. Which means there are, technically, 4 more times Mary is going to come to John, right? Which is where the big caveat comes in: I figure one endless WIP per writer is probably enough for any fandom to survive, so while this story has an over-riding arc in my head and I actually have an idea what the other 4 times are, this is pretty much a stand alone piece with a misleading title and 4 sequels in the offing. That may not get written for some time. Or they may get written tomorrow. I don't know, I can't tell. What I can tell is that I'm really being a lax bitch about Seasons, so I shouldn't be starting another WIP until I finish that one. But that being said, this is what wanted to be written, so this is what I wrote. I have no idea what will want to be written tomorrow. But whatever it is, the odds are pretty high it will be about John, if that helps any.
C-1) Because this is a stand alone with 4 sequels, you can't yell at me for not posting the other 4 in a timely manner. Or more accurately, I suppose, you can yell at me, but I'm just going to laugh at you instead of feeling guilty.
D) I haven't really sat on this long enough to be sure I'm finished with it. Because it feels very much like The Grass Assassin to me, I think I am, but I'm not sure. And because of that, I'm going to reserve the right to change the whole damned thing at a later date if I realize I missed something I should have caught. But if I do that, I'll probably do it only when I'm writing the other 4 "sequels" so I'll just repost it then, in conjunction with that, rather than editing this post significantly. Probably.
D-1) Because I'm not sure I'm finished with this, I'm not posting it anywhere but here, to my journal. I'm not going to post it to any comms, or to the paranormal chart challenge, which is what the whole 5 Times things addresses in terms of it being an answer to one of the prompts that is relevant to the arc overall, but I don't want to divulge at this point in time because it isn't particularly relevant to this one if its viewed as a stand-alone.
D-2) The reason I'm posting it now, to my journal, is cause y'all were so funny about the grabby-hands support that I wanted to post it for anyone who is still interested in reading it after all these caveats. Because to some degree, despite not being sure that I'm finished with it, I could kinda use a little feedback on it ,and it is at a point I like well enough to post it on its own merits as a stand alone, even if it isn't ready to stand up to its very long title yet.
E) It's all adelheide 's fault. She inspired me to do it by sending me Sammy het. Bad, Adelheide. Bad.
Okay, all caveated out? Then here it is. I'm going to run away now, while John has sex and y'all watch.
Title: Four Times John Thought It Was Over and Once He Realized It Was Only Just Beginning (1/5)
Challenge: Paranormal 30 Chart
My Prompt: Itsa Secret
Word Count: 6,800
Disclaimer: I don't own the boys, I'm just stalking them for a while.
Author's Note: While this fic stands alone in terms of making sense on its own, this does reference some of the backstory I developed both for John and Mary's first date and for John's childhood in the story In the Beginning, As It Ends. If you're interested in reading Mary's perspective on their first meeting (which, again, isn't necessary in order to understand John's perspective on these events, it just gives you a little clearer idea how it REALLY went down as compared to the way each of them perceives it to have gone down based on the bias of their own insular recollections) or knowing more detail about John's early life, clicking over and reading that story might be something you'd want to do before you read this, as compared to after. But after probably wouldn't be any big either ... still the same expansion on a theme, and neither story requires that you read the other to stand on its own in terms of how it portrays events as they are relative to the individual story told. Damn, that was a longer author's note than I thought it would be.
Summary: The first time Mary came to him, he thought it was a memory.
Four Times John Thought It Was Over
and Once He Realized It Was Only Just Beginning
The first time Mary came to him, he thought it was a memory.
It had been five years, to the day, since he woke to the sound of her scream, since he climbed the stairs to Sammy’s nursery and watched her eviscerated and burned. The way she slipped into bed was so familiar – like she’d only been away for five minutes, checking on Dean or feeding Sammy – that for a moment, it didn’t even occur to him this wasn’t the way it was any more.
She snuggled up to him under the covers, her arms slipping around his body as she nestled her head against his shoulder.
"Hey, baby," he murmured, still half asleep, still so drugged with the grog of exhaustion his lips tasted the words more than actually speaking them. "Sammy enjoy his midnight snack?"
She didn’t answer, kissing him instead, a small intimacy she placed in the corner of his mouth.
He smiled, moving his fingers in her hair, smelling the sweet strawberry of it, remembering the bright of sunshine streaking through it the first day he ever saw her, walking down the boardwalk with a gaggle of girlfriends, absolutely smashing in her perfect body and her perfect pink bikini. She’d ignored him like she didn’t see him, but he knew it was all show by the way her walk changed, the way it became slower, more pronounced at the hips. He could always tell when a woman knew he was watching, especially if she wanted to keep him watching.
And Mary certainly seemed to want that.
Which was damned convenient, as it turned out, being the reciprocal thing it was from the moment he saw her.
She caught his attention almost by accident, just a flash of bright color at the heart of a crowd of half a dozen or so girls in equally attention-grabbing clothing. Or lack there of. Clothing, not attention grabbing.
There was plenty of attention grabbing going on with those girls. They were actually trailing a dribble of interested men behind them as they moved.
None of them were so different from Mary in shape or size; and a couple of them were even a little curvier in ways that sent a man’s brain south for the season. But Mary was more than the sum of her curves and muscle tone, more than the light, honey-gold skin and radiant blonde hair caught up in some ridiculous hair thing that wouldn’t exist if men really did run the world.
She was a burst of color on a gray day, a set of blue eyes flicking over him for barely more than a second. But in that second – in only that small stretch of time – those eyes set him on fire in how much they changed, in the difference between what he saw there before she spotted him as compared to what he saw after, but before she looked away.
He hadn’t been back in the world long, and this was the first time he’d actually tried to mix with civilians on their own turf. He was standing on the boardwalk, leaning against a piling and doing his best to fit in simply by holding still, by not drawing attention to himself. At least three people had already spotted the corps tat on his forearm, giving him a wide berth as they passed like they could still smell the blood on him, still see the mud in his soul or sense the death he was trying to leave in the past like it didn’t haunt him in the present.
He was in the process of giving up when he saw the swarm of them coming his direction: pretty girls in bikinis, a whole handful of them, trailing men like dogs on hamburger making its way to the grill. He waited for no better reason than he was newly back home from the hell of over there, and it was expected of returning soldiers to notice pretty girls in skin-baring bikinis. But he wasn’t actually interested so much as just noticing until he saw her.
Until he saw Mary, and Mary saw him.
He was going to tell people for the rest of his life it was the pink bikini that put him on the hunt, but it wasn’t. It was her eyes. It was the way she looked at him, and how that look made him feel.
As much as she played it like she had no idea he was even there, she began moving away from the center of her group to the outside perimeter almost immediately. He watched, smiling a little at how casually she jostled a curvier friend farther away from him as she moved closer to him, never looking like there was anything to the maneuver but pure happenstance.
She might play it that way, but he was a soldier. A Marine. He knew strategic flanking when he saw it, even if it was wearing a pink bikini that could kill a man with distraction.
Mary’s hand drifted low across his belly, an invitation of the same kind she’d offered ten years ago, turning her ass his direction as she paused at a vendor stand nearby, fingering a dozen trinkets, showing him what she thought would keep him watching.
And she was right. She was absolutely, one hundred percent right.
Because she stopped, her friends stopped with her. They overwhelmed the small stand in girl-curves and girl-giggle as they clumped up, bumping and elbowing and pushing one another as they picked through the vendor’s wares. He didn’t seem to mind. Seemed to be enjoying himself, in fact, as were the men who’d been trailing the bikini caravan but who were now, to a man, standing stock still, struck dumb with awe and wonderment at all that clumping and bumping and elbowing and pushing.
Mary picked up a pair of cheap sunglasses and vogued in them like an elitist fashion model to amuse her friends and reward him for his interest. He felt the same stir now, with Mary’s fingers stroking the skin near his beltline, that he’d felt then, watching her body in the bright sunshine, letting it push away the dark cloud of experiences he’d left behind but hadn’t yet escaped.
One of her friends saw him watching and smiled, but he didn’t respond. He did notice though … noticed it was the same curvy girl Mary shouldered a little deeper into the crowd as they drew close. He must have been Curvy’s type, he figured. Must be the kind of guy she’d stop and talk to if Mary hadn’t put herself between them in what he decided was a girl’s way of calling dibs.
He liked that. Like the foresight of it, like how she took it on herself to change circumstances that didn’t serve her agenda, but did so in a way that never tipped what cards she was holding, or if she actually intended to bet herself or just interfere with her friend’s ability to put a little coin to the cloth.
She flicked him a second glance as she paid for the sunglasses, giving him the go ahead to hit on her when she passed; telling him she wasn’t going to be easy, but if he played his cards right, she’d definitely be worth the effort. So he did, and she was, although he screwed it up pretty badly before he actually managed to close a deal that should have been a gimme from the get-go.
Mary’s intimacies were escalating, making it hard to concentrate on anything other than what her hand was doing, and where it was doing it. She kissed him again, under his jaw this time, where it joined his neck.
"What?" John asked, teasing her with how little his hands were moving, with how much he wasn’t accepting her offer yet, hadn’t rolled her off him the way he normally would have if she even blinked his direction, let alone started putting her teeth to his skin the way she was, or pressing her knee between his thighs so she could wrap herself around his leg in a way that made her nightgown ride up all the way to her hips.
"You trying to tell me you could go for a little some’in-some’in, too?" he asked. "What happened to ‘getting kinda late, soldier, and you’re not the one with midnight KP duty.’?"
She answered by kissing her way down his throat, lingering to taste his collarbone, taking her time as she ran just the tip of her tongue down a shrapnel scar in what she damn well knew was a slow torture of neural confusion. Nerve damage there created a logic disconnect between input and output, resulting in a jumble of intense sensations the human body was never intended to feel at the same time, from the same source. Fire and ice, pain and pleasure: dual sensations from one delicate caress. She knew from experience what that did to him – how exponentially it amplified every other sensation in his body – and she used it against him as her hand slipped under his tee shirt, hot on his skin, stroking the same heat into his.
"Oh, that’s just playing dirty," he told her as he tightened his hand into the hair at the back of her neck, pulling her face back to his so he could kiss her this time, show a little appreciation for her change of heart and how she was choosing to express it.
Not that she lacked evidence of his appreciation, her hand painting insomnia right at the beltline of his pajamas the way it was.
Her mouth responded to him the way it had that first night, after he’d seduced her with coffee and unexpected heroics that involved a hell of a shiner he’d taken as much by instinct as intent. Damn jackass idiots and their games anyway. There should be a legal limit to how much someone can party and still play beach volleyball; something that puts guys on the bench before they’re drunk enough to spike something that fucking hard at a group of girls who are too busy flirting to see it coming.
Because he was out of practice and hadn’t been with anyone who wasn’t paid to take all the risk since he was young enough to be too young for the Marines, John had already blown his chances with Mary by saying something he thought she’d find funny, but she found offensive instead.
Offensive enough to change her signals from "come fuck me, soldier boy," to "who the fuck to do you think you are, you jackass?" He was doing his best to recover by keeping his damned mouth shut and lifting an eyebrow to say she must have completely misunderstood what he meant, but it wasn’t working. He could tell she was getting ready to walk off like she had no intentions of ever admitting she’d been interested in the first place, and he didn’t have any kind of ace in the hole to keep her from doing exactly that.
It made him a little sick to realize how badly he’d fucked up the first thing that seemed like it might be worth doing for so long he couldn’t remember the last time he wanted something instead of doing it just to keep on breathing. He wanted to touch her but knew he shouldn’t. He wanted to apologize but was pretty sure she’d tell him where he could shove his apology. He wanted to start over, to try again, but she’d already rolled her eyes at him once, forcing him to pretend it didn’t cut, didn’t hurt, didn’t bleed.
When it did.
It was right then, as Mary was turning away and his mind was cranking a million miles a minute in an effort to come up with something witty to say – something cute, something charming, something preferably inoffensive – that he heard the distinctive whistle of incoming.
Heard it, not saw it.
That’s the way danger was. If you waited for your eyes to show you what was on the way, the head’s up was always going to come too late to make any difference in the outcome at all. So despite the fact that he wasn’t really listening, John heard the wrongness of the direction the ball was heading from the moment the guy’s hand hit it with a half-assed slapping sound, angling the air displacement of something moving fast, moving hard, right at them.
It would have hit Mary full on if he’d taken the time to think, so he didn’t. He just moved, stepping in front of her and taking the shot in her stead, damned near getting himself knocked out for his trouble.
The joker actually hit the ball that hard; hit it that hard with girls and children milling about the field of fire that the damned thing hit a full grown man expecting to be hit and knocked him to his ass on the boardwalk anyway.
The fucking idiot.
It did give John a second chance to make a first impression, though; which he did by getting knocked on his ass right in front of her. Embarrassed the hell out of him to go down like that, so he started to get up again and just about fell a second time.
It was right around that time he decided it might be a better idea to just sit the fuck down and wait for the haze of disorientation to burn off before he tried to do anything more involved than just sitting really still, which he did really well because he’d had a little practice at that while he was lying flat on his back in the desert, staring up at a sky the color of diesel smoke, wondering what the fuck blew up and how in the hell he’d managed to survive it.
More or less.
The first thing he saw when he’d blinked away enough daze to see anything more than swashes of color and sways of motion that made him feel like puking was Mary’s hair, Mary’s face, Mary’s eyes. And the first thing he heard – the first words she ever said to him that weren’t "What did you say to me?" – was, "Why the hell did you do that, you idiot?"
Which he took to be an improvement, being called an idiot over a jackass.
Because she looked concerned enough he thought it might work – and because she had one hand on his jaw and the other pressing experimentally against an eye already swollen shut like she thought it didn’t hurt when she did that, which it most certainly did – he took his best shot at leveraging a little sympathy into some general first aid from a field medic in a pink bikini who let him buy her a cup of coffee simply because he never actually said she owed him anything, he just said that would be a nice way to show her appreciation, her buying him a cup of coffee, if she actually felt any appreciation she wanted to show.
Which, of course he didn’t let her do, because his dad would have rolled over in his grave if John actually let a lady pay, no matter what she owed him, or why. But it was a great hook to talk her into that first cup of coffee after he’d pissed her off enough to just about cut his own throat in the not-a-snowball’s-chance-in-hell department. And then to wink her into a second one when she let him, at his insistence, pay for the first only to be reminded she’d never actually bought him that cup of coffee she promised.
By the time he got done, they were eating breakfast together the next morning, which wasn’t a bad return on a shiner and one hell of a headache. But even though it played well for him in the end, it wasn’t really anything he wouldn’t have done even if she was someone who didn’t interest him that way at all.
If she’d ever asked, he probably would have been smart enough not to admit he’d have done the same thing for any of her friends, but he would have. It was something his father taught him before fate stripped them apart the way it did: you see something bad happening, you stop it if you can. Not if it serves you to do so. Not if you look like you can do it without getting hurt. Just if you see it, and if you’re in a position to make it stop.
That was the measure of being a man in his father’s eyes. It was one of the few things John had a chance to learn from his old man beyond an appreciation for a fine-tuned engine and the difference between crap rock and real rock. He’d have liked a chance to learn more, but that wasn’t the way the world turned, so he’d had to make do with what he got, and he’d joined the Marines to learn the rest.
Not because he was particularly patriotic, but rather because his dad had been a Marine, and that was the measure for John. It always had been, for as long as he could remember.
One of the few things he remembered about his mother was how exasperating it was for her to be raising a boy she referred to as his father, only shorter. He and the old man laughed about that when they worked on the car in their garage. He was only five then, so he only had a glimmer of an idea what they were laughing about at the time; but still, he remembered them laughing, remembered his dad saying it wasn’t John’s job to be his mama’s boy, they could leave that one to little Bobby.
And John had thought that was a grand idea at the time, even though he was really quite fond of Bobby; excited as hell to have a new little brother and looking forward to the day he was old enough to do more than bawl and eat and shit, then bawl and eat and shit again.
Way things worked out, that day never came. But at the time, when his dad was telling him it was Bobby’s job to grow up to be just like his mama and John’s job to grow up to be just like his old man, it had seemed like a very good plan for the rest of their lives. The rest of their lives being, at that age, until he was old like his pops. A whole twenty-six and ready for retirement, as far as John could see.
Mary’s hand slipped inside his pants as he was kissing her, jerking his mind out of the slight fugue of memories flickering behind the muting curtain of exhaustion that was allowing him to respond, but not to focus the way he should. The way he wanted to. It felt like it had been forever since they’d been together, since her hand had been doing what it was doing now, stirring him up, draining all the blood in his body right the fuck away from his brain and down to where she had every ounce of his attention well in hand and was working on putting it into overdrive.
"Damn, Mary," he whispered into her mouth. "Let a guy catch up for a second, will you?"
But he didn’t mean it. He didn’t want her to let him catch up, didn’t want her to do anything except exactly what she was doing.
It wasn’t often she took the aggressor role when it came to sex and, even as tired as he was, even as much trouble focusing as he was having, he loved it. She didn’t seem to want any kind of reciprocation right now, she just wanted to do what she was doing. She was completely focused on him, on what she was doing to him, on how much he was enjoying it, and how quickly she was escalating him from dead flat asleep to dead flat not-asleep-so-much-as-nearly-brain-dead from lack of fucking oxygen.
It almost felt more like a dream than a memory, it was that visceral, that immediate, that intense.
She’d thrown a leg over his body, shifted until she was straddling him, looking down at him with a smile he remembered so acutely it was like agony just to see it again. She didn’t take the time to even pull his pajamas off him, slipping him free of them instead, lowering her body until he was inside her, and his eyes were rolled back in his head from the effort it took not to just lose it right then, not to let it be over before it even really began.
He grabbed at her thigh, held on as she started to move. Slowly. Rhythmically. His body was shaking within moments, acting like he hadn’t been with a woman for years, like he was so long overdue that even the thought of what she was doing would be enough.
And it was.
He lost track of time, lost track of sensation, lost track of everything except the intensity of a single moment turning him to fire, consuming him, killing him in all the most pleasurable ways.
He came down slowly, more slowly than he should have. It was almost like he was drugged. Or like he was still asleep.
And then he realized he was. Or had been. Or must have been. He opened his eyes with an effort, already knowing she was gone, knowing she wasn’t there and hadn’t been there and never would be there again.
His body seized up, his heart pounding, his blood pressure so high he could feel every pulse of blood as it screamed through his veins. He was shaking, his skin hot, sweat sticky in his beard, down his throat, all over his body. For several seconds, he couldn’t make himself breathe, it hurt that bad.
Hurt that bad just to know it wasn’t real.
Hurt that bad just to remember the way it was instead of the way it had been.
The sound he made when he did start breathing again was something he hadn’t heard from himself in almost three years. It had been that long since he’d dreamed about Mary and woke himself crying. Gasping. Dying like a man dies when he’s drowning in the past instead of water.
But he was crying now. There were tears leaking from the corner of his eyes, tracking across his skin in a gravity line that ended at his ears. He closed his eyes and let it happen rather than trying to make it stop.
He wasn’t ashamed to cry for Mary. He wasn’t ashamed to be broken by everything he’d lost.
He heard something near the door, a quiet shuffle of movement in the night. That would be Dean, checking on him in a way that tried not to wake him if he was asleep, but that offered someone to talk to if he wanted to talk.
He was ashamed of that. Ashamed of how many times he’d let Dean crawl into bed with him after dreaming about Mary, how many times he’d cried in front of a son who bore that weight like it didn’t terrify him the way John knew it did.
He thought maybe that was why he’d quit dreaming about her in the end. Just because it shamed him so much to hear his child’s voice telling him it was okay, that everything would be all right, when that voice was shaking with the fear that nothing was okay, and nothing would ever be all right again. Just because it shamed him so much to feel his six year old petting his shoulder like a child might try to pet a dog to soothe it if it was whimpering from being run over and left to die in the street, to make it feel safe if it had been beaten so badly all it could do was cower in the dark until a child crept in to try and make it all better the only way a child knows how.
By saying "It’s okay, Dad. Everything’s going to be okay."
It shamed John every day of his life, how often he broke to that in those first two years. How often it was Dean carrying him instead of him carrying Dean. How often it was Dean being the strong one while his dad sobbed in the night over things they’d both lost for no better reason than having fallen into a memory of what it felt like to have that again, only to wake and find it gone.
"Hey, bud," John said, opening his eyes, looking over to the door and smiling at the nine year old standing there like he wasn’t quite sure if he should come in or go away.
"Hey," Dean returned quietly. Then, almost hesitantly, he asked, "You okay?"
"Yeah. I’m good." He wasn’t. He was anything but good. But he also wasn’t sure exactly what shape he was in, and he didn’t want Dean climbing into bed with him if the intensity of the dream affected him as much physically as it had emotionally.
There were limits to the amount of shame a man could afford to feel when he looked at his son and saw everything he’d allowed that child to see that he shouldn’t have. It was hard enough to know how weak he’d been in letting Dean see him cry, letting Dean see him break. He didn’t need Dean seeing this, too. Didn’t need Dean to realize whatever he heard that woke him had been whatever it was he’d probably heard.
Dean was nine now. Not old enough to really give a damn about girls, yet; but old enough his body was starting to show him what it meant to give a damn about things that re-directed blood flow the way girls tended to do when boys were nine and girls were the most fascinating pains in the asses a boy couldn’t give a damn about.
"You sure?" Dean asked. "You sound kind of … funny."
"I’m sure," John told him. "Go back to bed. It’s a school night, and morning’s going to come early."
Dean hesitated. "You mind if I sleep in here?" he asked after a long beat.
Dean shrugged. John could see the gesture of motion in the shadows of the doorway, but he couldn’t see the details of his son’s expression. But even not seeing it, he was pretty sure the offer was made for his sake, not because Dean needed something, not because Dean was looking for anything for himself.
"Just ’cause," Dean said.
"No," John said. "Sleep in your own room, Dean. You’re too old to be sleeping in here with me."
Dean nodded. "Yeah. Okay. Night, Dad." But he didn’t leave; didn’t even turn away to leave.
"Go on," John said after several seconds.
"I’m going," Dean said. But he didn’t go.
John sighed. "Something else you want to talk about?" he asked.
"No. I’m just waiting for you to go back to sleep."
John smiled at that. "Who’s the dad here?" he asked.
"Damn straight. Now go back to bed."
"I thought I heard you crying."
"I was crying," John admitted. "But I’m not now."
"How come you were crying?"
John pushed up to his elbows, met his son’s eyes through the dark of the room between them. "I’m tired, Dean. I appreciate you having my back, appreciate you coming in here to check on me, but it’s time for you to go back to bed. Don’t make me tell you again."
Dean fidgeted a little. "How come I can’t sleep in here?" he asked, knowing he was pushing it but pushing it anyway.
"Because I’m too old for you to be sleeping in here with me. I’m fine. It was just a dream."
"Dreams can be bad," Dean said, speaking with the voice of experience.
"They’re just dreams, son," John returned. "A dream can’t hurt you unless you let it."
"Yes, I’m sure. Now for the last time: Go back to bed."
Dean sighed, defeated. "Okay," he agreed. "But can I say something first?"
John closed his eyes, eased himself back down to flat on the bed. "Sure."
"I know what day it is, so you don’t have to pretend it isn’t."
John didn’t say anything.
"I just wanted you to know," Dean added after several seconds. "So in case you want to talk or something, you don’t have to worry that I don’t remember and you saying something might make me remember. ’Cause I remember, Dad. So if you want to talk, it’s okay."
"Thanks for telling me that," John said, speaking to the ceiling.
"Okay. Goodnight then."
John listened to the near-silent retreat of his son’s bare feet on the carpet as Dean returned to his own room and climbed back into his own bed. It was another ten minutes before he got up and took a shower, then went down and made himself a pot of coffee. He was three cups from the end of the second pot when he picked up the phone and called Jim.
They talked for almost three hours. Or more accurately, John talked while Jim listened. And then Jim talked while John listened. Neither of them said anything the other hadn’t heard before, but it still helped to say it, still helped to hear it. And it was a much better choice than talking to his son, a much more responsible choice than showing his son things a boy his age shouldn’t see in the only man that stood between him and every big bad in the very big bad of the whole world.
Sammy was already chattering full-tilt when he hit the kitchen, looking for cereal or pancakes or cherry pie, he didn’t really care which. Dean followed in his brother’s wake, much quieter but no different in that he was always quieter in the morning than Sammy was.
Hell, an AK-47 on full automatic was quieter than Sammy on a school day. That boy anticipated sucking the knowledge bank dry the way most kids anticipated Santa Claus.
When they’d finished breakfast and were ready to hit the road, John sent Sammy out to the car first, holding Dean back with nothing more than a glance his direction. Dean waited by the door as John shrugged into his jacket, asking, "So, do you want to talk?"
Looking at his shoes like they’d suddenly become a subject of fascinating interest, Dean said, "No. Not really."
"Because you don’t, or because you think I don’t?"
"Both, really," Dean said. Then he added, "And neither."
John grunted. "Huh. Sounds like a girl answer to me."
Dean smiled a little, but didn’t revise his response.
"So does that mean you do want to talk or you don’t?" John asked, joining his son by the door.
"How ’bout we dig out some photo albums tonight?" John suggested. "I’ll tell you some stories, and we can make up some lies to tell Sammy just to see if he’ll buy them."
"Do we have to?" Dean asked quietly.
"No. We don’t have to. I thought maybe you might want to."
Dean kept his eyes on his shoes as he said, "I don’t. It kinda hurts to do stuff like that."
"Looking at photo albums?" John asked. "Or telling stories?"
John nodded. "Okay." He waited, giving Dean a moment to offer an alternate suggestion. When he didn’t, John prompted, "Do you just want to play it like any other day then?"
"That’s all it is, right?" Dean asked. "Just another day?"
"Okay," John said. "Fair enough."
"You don’t want to?"
"I’m not really sure what I want to do," John admitted. And he was actually telling the truth. "But it’s not really just any other day," he added after a beat, "so I’m not sure we should think about it that way, even if we decide to play it that way."
"How should we think about it?" Dean asked.
"Not sure, bud. You’d think after five years I would be, but I’m not. Sorry."
"That’s okay," Dean said. "I’m not either."
"Why don’t you give it some thought today while you’re at school," John said finally. "And I’ll give it some thought at work. Then we’ll compare notes tonight and see what we can come up with. Sound like a plan?"
"Maybe we could go out for pizza." Dean suggested. He looked up, met John’s eyes. "She liked pizza, right?"
"Yeah. She loved it."
"Pizza Hut, right?"
John smiled. "Absolutely. Wouldn’t go anywhere else."
"Maybe we could go there, then."
"That sounds like a good idea."
Dean eyes flickered with an emotion John couldn’t read. "But maybe we should just know it between you and me, okay? Because Sammy asks too many questions. And I don’t really want to think about questions today. Unless you do."
"No. I really don’t."
"Yeah. Me neither."
"So Pizza Hut, then."
"Okay. We’d better get out to the car before Sammy figures out how to start it up and drives to school without us."
John had started to walk away, but he stopped, waited.
"I know I’m just a kid and everything, but it’s okay to talk to me sometimes."
"Because you need to, not because I do."
"That’s not really the way its supposed to work, son."
"Yeah, but nothing about us works the way its supposed to, right? So that shouldn’t either."
"Yeah," John said gently. "Actually, I think that one should."
"No it shouldn’t," Dean insisted. Then, a little more quietly, he added, "I don’t really want it to."
"What do you mean?"
Dean shrugged again. "Just that you used to talk to me more. When you wanted to talk, about what you wanted to talk about."
"I shouldn’t have done that to you, Dean," John said. "I’m trying to be a little bit less of a punk on things like that."
"I liked when you did that," Dean offered quietly. "It made me feel kind of, like …" He let the thought trail off, ended it with yet another shrug.
"Made you feel what?" John pressed.
"Like maybe it wasn’t just me, maybe?" Dean said hesitantly. "Like you maybe kind of needed me, too."
John ran a hand over his mouth. "I’m not sure I really agree with that, Dean," he said finally. "I’m your dad. I’m not supposed to lean on you as hard as I have since your mother died. I couldn’t help it at first, but I’m trying to do better. I think that’s the right thing to do, so that’s what I’m trying to do."
"I know what it felt like," Dean said quietly.
John frowned. "What?"
"You said you don’t agree with me that it felt like that. But I know what it felt like, Dad. I know what it felt like then, and how it feels now. And I liked it better then. Maybe it isn’t what other dads do, but I liked that you did it."
John looked down at his son for several seconds. Dean met his gaze without speaking, without looking away, without offering anything to mitigate the stance he’d just taken … a stance he knew was in opposition to what his dad wanted out of him, and he didn’t care. Not this time, at least.
Which for Dean was tantamount to an outright rebellion.
"I talked to Pastor Jim for a while last night," John said finally.
"That doesn’t help me any," Dean returned.
John sighed. He looked out the kitchen window, watched Sammy with his face pressed against the window of the Impala, making fish faces to keep himself entertained.
"I’ll have to think about that one, Dean," he said finally. "In the mean time, we’d better get Sammy to school before he deforms his lips permanently by keeping them pushed into the window like that for too long."
"Is he making fish faces again?" Dean asked.
Dean shook his head. "He is such a geek, Dad."
John smiled, dropped a hand to his son’s shoulder. "Yeah, Dean. He kind of is, isn’t he? Cute geek though. And smarter than both of us put together."
Dean shrugged. "If you’re into geeks, I guess," he said philosophically.
"What?" Dean asked.
"Nothing. Let’s get going."
"He’s not all that smart," Dean said as they walked to the car.
"He will be," John assured him.
"Maybe. But not yet. I mean, come on. Look at that." Dean gestured to where Sammy was doing a masterful expression of a blowfish against the back passenger window. His cheeks were puffed out to an almost impossible degree, and his eyes were so wide they looked ready to pop out of their sockets. "He’s going to blow his head off doing that," Dean said. "And if anybody but us sees it, he’s going to be a virgin until he’s fifty."
John’s eyebrows climbed up his face. "A virgin? What do you know about virgins?"
Dean gave him a smug grin. "I know," he said. "I read."
John laughed again, shaking his head. "Not what you’re supposed to be reading evidently. Remind me to check under your mattress when we get home."
"Why? What’s under my mattress?"
"Nothing. Never mind." He bipped Dean gently on the back of the head. "Get in the car, you little horndog."
Dean snapped the car window with his middle finger, startling Sammy out of his blowfish impression before he opened the door and crawled in beside him.
"What’d you do that for?" Sammy demanded. "I almost had it perfect."
"Because I didn’t want to rip your lips off when I opened the door," Dean returned. "You’re going to have a hard enough time ever getting a date without not having any lips, Geekboy."
"Hey!" Sammy protested.
"Keep it down, boys," John said as he started the Impala and pulled out of the driveway. "And put your seatbelt on, Sammy."
"Yeah, Geekboy," Dean echoed. "Put your seatbelt on." Then, speaking to the rearview mirror as John started down the street in the direction of their school, he said, "Hey, Dad."
"You think I’m stupid or something?"
John flicked him a glance on the rearview. "Never ask a question unless you’re prepared to hear the answer," he said, smiling a little. "Why do you ask?"
"Why do you wonder?"
Dean grinned at him then. For just a moment, his eyes looked ten instead of twenty six and damaged for life. "Because you must think I’m kind of stupid if you think I’m going to keep them under my mattress. How lame would I have to be to hide them there?"
"Hide what under your mattress?" Sammy asked as John laughed.
"My books," Dean answered, still grinning.
"What kind of books?" Sammy wanted to know.
"What kind of educational books?"
"We’re going out for pizza tonight," Dean said.
Sammy brightened with excitement. "We are?"
"What kind of pizza?"
John was still chuckling when he dropped them off at school. Sammy scattered out the car door like he was spring loaded, but Dean was much slower. Dean was always slower when it came to going to school rather than coming from it.
"Hey, Dean," John said as Dean started to close the Impala’s door behind him.
Dean stuck his head back in the car. "Yeah?"
"Have I ever told you what a cool kid you are?" he asked.
Dean grinned at him. "Yeah."
"Okay. Just wanted to make sure I’d mentioned it."
"You have. And good thing, too, huh? Because it would be tragic to get stuck with two dorks like Sammy, wouldn’t it?"
"Tragic," John agreed. "Have a good day, son."
"You, too, Dad." His eyes were twenty six again. Damaged for life.
"I love you," John said quietly. "You know that, right?"
Dean nodded. "Me, too."
"Hang in there."
"I’ll see you tonight."
"Pizza Hut," Dean said.
Dean slammed the door shut and walked away. John watched until he was inside the school then drove to work, wondering if his dad ever felt about him the way he felt about Dean. And hoping he did. Hoping that even if they didn’t get to share it for long, they’d shared this kind of connection he felt for a child who gave him a reason to get up every day and keep on living.