I've been beating my head against the same angsty fic until I've got a literal dent in my virtual creative skull, so thought it was time to take a break. Here's something I wrote for found_fic_spn, but it was actually inspired by the awesome ficwriter1966 with her Sammy and John thinky thinkings in Rock, Paper, Scissors. Put me of a mind to have this story in head when the kimonkey7's very cool prompt rolled around. Just to be filed under "odd things you never really thought would happen," this one touched back on the only story I've ever written about Sam leaving for Stanford. It's a nearly drabblish little ficlet (300 odd words) called When You Go, and some of the flashback dialog is directly lifted from that exchange.
Title: Code of the Boys
Author: Dodger Winslow
Genre: Gen, Pre-Series
Word Count: 4,500
Challenge: #16 for found_fic_spn (the photo prompt is below, also)
Rating: R for language
Timeline Note: Set shortly after Sam leaves for Stanford
Disclaimer: I don't own the boys, I'm just stalking them for a while.
Summary: John ran his thumb across smudged letters written in a child’s hand, read the second point in Code of the Boys: "Like video games." That was vintage Sammy. Dean didn’t need to make lists of the things he liked, the things he hated. He just did it. Liked them. Hated them. But Sammy had to quantify everything. He made a list once of everything John had ever done that made him a bad father. It was a testament to Dean’s clandestine skills that the list showed up in a trash can, torn into small pieces, rather than on his pillow where it had no doubt originally been left.
Code of the Boys
He found it in a book, being used as a bookmark. Even if he hadn’t recognized the handwriting, with its very specific cursive elements and large, curly-Qed "C", he would have known who wrote it simply because Dean would never consider "hating girls" to be part of any code except the code of "you’re a fag," an epitaph he favored when he was ten.
So this was Sam. Pure Sam. Typical Sam. If he wanted to learn something, he wrote it down, kept it in a pocket so he could pull it out and study it whenever he had a spare moment. If he wanted to figure something out, he made a list. Either way, once he had the subject down, his crib notes usually ended up in a book somewhere, or caught in a dryer filter, washed to shreds in a forgotten pocket once he’d finished stashing the information in that encyclopedia brain of his.
John held the paper carefully, smoothed the creases flat with his fingers as he considered the child his youngest son had been. Code of the Boys, it read. John smiled a little. Made sense. Everyone who had ever really mattered to Sammy was a boy—Dean, his old man, Pastor Jim, Bobby—so clearly there had to be rules to govern the way they acted.
And rule number one was "Always hate girls." That made sense, too. Women were sacrosanct in Sammy’s eyes, but girls sucked. They were his only competition for Dean’s attention, and they didn’t bring anything to the mix as far as he could tell. He told John as much once: said girls shouldn’t have even been invented. He was five at the time, and Dean was watching a girl instead of listening to whatever Sammy wanted to tell him.
It wasn’t until he was twelve or thirteen that Sam started to realize girls didn’t suck so much as they just confused the hell out of him. Poor kid. He’d never had Dean’s easy charm with the ladies, and he’d never recognized his own ability to lock a woman’s heart down for the duration with that sweet smile of his, and the way he blushed to the bone whenever one of them smiled back.
So "always hate girls" identified the code’s author beyond much question. And it also made the timeframe in which it had been put to paper more or less inarguable. Fourth grade, by John’s count. Leah Kinnesaul. That girl jerked poor Sammy around like a marionette on a string. Tall, skinny thing. Freckles and a rat’s nest of red hair that defied the laws of gravity. She beat Sam up as often as not. Must have had a hell of a crush on him to go to that much trouble; but smart as Sam was, even at that age, it never occurred to him the girl might just be trying to get his attention.
He thought she hated him. For absolutely no good reason he could fathom, she just started hating him one day. Punching him on the bus when she passed. Kicking him on the playground at recess. Pushing him in the lunchroom, or tripping him in the hallway so he fell in a humiliating sprawl of arms and legs and books.
It took John a while to figure out what was going on. At first, he thought the bruises were from Dean: instances where Sammy’s unpredictable bursts of speed or awkward agility caught his brother far enough off guard he didn’t get a punch fully pulled, or he held on a little tighter than he should have to keep Sam from wriggling out of a shoulder lock.
The boys played rough, and John encouraged that. It was good training for them and an excellent form of exercise for a bookworm who’d rather read about sports than play them. But beyond that, the physical contact forged a bond between the boys. They spent too much time together to always get along, and a little rough-and-tumble helped them sort things out before they turned into something more than they needed to be.
And the competition kept them close even as it made Sam work harder to keep up than he would have otherwise been willing to work. He bitched and moaned, without fail, about virtually every training exercise John ever devised. But he wrestled with his brother for fun, and worked harder to keep Dean from pinning him than he would ever work to keep his ass from getting eaten alive by a wendigo.
And Dean was unfailingly careful. In the long run, Sammy would have a good four inches on him, but when they were that age, Dean was solid muscle and Sam was more pudge than anything else. But even so, Dean made their wrestling matches and bitch-slap fights seem like something he only dominated in the end, and after significant effort. He never let Sam think he was out of the running from the get-go; worked hard not to look like he could take Sammy down without breaking a sweat. And even though the occasional bruise or scrape was bound to happen, Dean was always careful to make sure the only thing that got pinched with any regularity or severity was Sam’s ego. Maybe his dignity, now and again. Certainly his pride. But not more than that.
So after the third unexplained bruise, John started pushing for answers. Sammy mumbled vague excuses, and Dean didn’t offer anything at all.
He figured out it was a girl by the fact that it didn’t stop. If it had been another boy, Dean would have broken the little bastard in half for even touching Sammy, let alone marking him. If it had been Dean, it wouldn’t have happened more than once in a blue moon. The fact that three bruises and a scraped elbow showed up in less than a week and a half meant it had to be a girl. Dean wouldn’t humiliate his brother by protecting him from a girl. And Sam would rather eat his own tongue than hit a girl himself.
Someday, that over-developed sense of chivalry was going to fuck the boy over if he didn’t outgrow it. He must have inherited that from Mary because he sure as hell didn’t get it from John. Or from Dean, who was about a chivalrous as a moose in heat, and half as subtle. But somewhere along the line, Sammy got the idea that you didn’t hit girls, even if they hit you first. And you didn’t say things around them that indicated your interest might be anything other than just being friends. And you sure as hell didn’t "ogle their hooters," as his brother liked to put it.
John had assumed Sam would eventually outgrow those idealized fantasies, but so far, he hadn’t. He was still shy as a virgin around girls. Hell, he probably still was a virgin.
John winced mentally. Mary would hate him for thinking about their son’s lack of sexualized indiscretions with the kind of derision he’d just indulged. Well, maybe not hate him, but read him the riot act at least. Tell him that was a hell of a way for a father to be when it came to sex and his own kids.
But as appalled as Mary might be with his thinking on the matter, it was still the way he tended to view it, especially when it came to boys … his or any other. Mary had her own fanciful notions when it came to sex, but she was a girl, so that was to be expected. He’d be surprised if she wasn’t appalled to find Dean had been getting laid on a regular basis from the time he was fifteen. Sixteen, tops. Or that John had dipped his own stick in the well at a much earlier age than that.
Callie Steinum was her name. He’d been thirteen going on thirty. She was seventeen and had been blowing boys behind the school since she was in seventh grade.
He wondered now if there wasn’t a darker reason for her being the way she was than just being an early starter; but at the time, he didn’t really give a shit. He just wanted to get on with it. Become a man. And Callie was up for the task. Or down on it, as the case might more accurately be termed. She blew him, and he fucked her, and they called it a date. He never spoke to her again.
It wasn’t an optimum situation, but that’s how it happened. And it happened that way a lot. Until he met Mary, sex wasn’t about love for him. It really wasn’t about anything other than getting laid. And maybe about being a man.
Or about feeling like one, at least.
And he didn’t want that for Sam, so he didn't know why he was so condemning of the way Sam still square danced like a schoolboy around the fairer sex, but he was. And he knew he was. He’d tried not to show it, but he knew he did by the way Dean dogged his little brother about being a virgin, about never getting any, about not being much of a man if he couldn’t close a deal Sammy wasn’t looking to close in the first place.
John never said a word on the subject, but he didn’t have to. Sam was smart enough to pick up on why Dean rode him so hard about it, to figure out how much Dean was just trying to protect him from the eventuality of their father thinking him somehow less a man for not being the way the two of them were: the way he was, the way Dean was.
For being more the way Mary had been. For having a sense of himself that was strong enough he didn’t need to supplement it by tapping anything that would give him the time of day just to prove to himself he was a man.
Or to prove it to anybody else.
Because, virgin or not, Sam was a man. He was man enough to tell his old man to fuck off, man enough to strike out on his own and to hell with the consequences. In that way, he was exactly the man John had been at his age, and even younger.
In that way, he was undeniably his father’s son.
John ran his thumb across smudged letters written in a child’s hand, read the second point in Code of the Boys: "Like video games."
That was vintage Sammy. Dean didn’t need to make lists of the things he liked, the things he hated. He just did it. Liked them. Hated them. But Sammy had to quantify everything. He made a list once of everything John had ever done that made him a bad father. It was a testament to Dean’s clandestine skills that the list showed up in a trash can, torn into small pieces, rather than on his pillow where it had no doubt originally been left.
Of all thirty-seven points Sam qualified to the list, he remembered number thirty-seven the most clearly. "You don’t even love your own son," had been that particular bitch. Not sons. Son. Number twenty-six was "You never listen to me." Number twelve had been "You’re never around when I need you." Number one was "You don’t care whether we want to move again or not because everything is always about you, and you never even think about what anyone wants except you."
He taped that list back together and kept it. Some day, when he was long dead and gone, Sam would find it in one of the back pockets of his journal, along with a response he wrote after he’d sucked down four fifths of a fifth of Irish whiskey: a note trying to answer each of those thirty-seven points, a note telling Sammy he did love him, and even though he knew he’d made mistakes, he’d always done the best he could.
He almost tore that note into as many pieces as Dean tore Sammy’s note into once he sobered up; but at the last moment, he decided to let it stand the way he’d written it. To let the drunk he’d fallen to tell his son things the boy would never hear any other way because he never listened to John. And because, as much as Sammy quantified everything, John quantified nothing. It was the way he was; the way he’d always been.
The third point in the Code of the Boys was "Read comics." Not like comics. Not enjoy comics. Just read them. Find common ground with his brother. Figure out a way to connect with Dean on Dean’s own turf.
That was vintage Sammy, too.
Read comics so he could be like Dean, even if he wasn’t.
The fourth point was "Don’t brag." John smiled again, considered the way this particular point fell dead center of the whole list, the same distance from the top as it was from the bottom. If it was Dean, that wouldn’t matter. But it was Sammy. And with Sammy, everything mattered. Where this point fell was a statement. It was the center of his whole idea of what the Code of the Boys was: don’t brag. Be like Dean, even if you aren’t. But don’t be Dean.
Number five was "Eat candy." It was a good follow up to an admonishment not to be his brother. Don’t be Dean; be Sam.
And Sam was candy. The kid had the sweet tooth from hell. The year gummy worms came out, they’d almost gone broke in service of his habit.
Dean loved food. All food. Any food.
Sam only loved candy.
But he did love candy. Any kind of candy. All kinds of candy.
The sixth point was as much about Dean as the two previous ones had been. "Don’t be a cry baby." It was Dean’s mantra, and he’d drilled it into Sammy’s head for years before it even started to take hold.
When Sam was four, he cried at the drop of a hat. By the time he was seven, he understood crying was a sign of weakness in Dean’s eyes, so he cried at the drop of a hat even while he was telling Dean that didn’t make him a crybaby.
By the time he was nine—by the time he was in fourth grade, by the time he hated girls and liked video games, by the time he wanted to be like Dean without being Dean—he would cry at the drop of a hat in front of anyone but Dean, but he wouldn’t cry in front of Dean to save his life.
Any more than Dean would cry in front of John.
The last point was the one Sam no doubt considered the most important. Most kids put their big guns first; Sam always saved his best for last. You don’t care whether we want to move again or not because everything is always about you and you never even think about what anyone wants except you was first. You don’t even love your own son had been last.
And Sam’s last point in the Code of the Boys was this: "Be strong."
Simple. Clear. Quintessential. Not "Be brave." Not "Be good," or "Be heroic," or "Be wise" or even "Be smart."
Just "Be strong."
You can’t order me around any more, Dad. This is my life, and I’m going to do what I want to do with it. You can’t stop me from going. You can try, but you aren’t strong enough to bully me any more, and I’ll kick your ass to prove it if I have to.
John studied the note in his hand for several more seconds before he folded it up, slipped it into the back of his journal along with a scotch-taped list of his failings in Sammy’s eyes and a barely legible note trying to excuse those failings as things he hadn’t been strong enough to stand against when it counted. He closed the journal, banded it and set it aside.
When he stood, Dean glanced up from the comic book he was reading. The graphic novel. Whatever. His eyes were cautious, wary. He knew a storm was coming, and he was right in the middle of it, caught between the fury of two men who had never learned to pull their punches either to protect those they loved or make the fight look equal when it wasn’t.
"Where you going?" Dean asked.
John shook the question off. He walked out of the room and out of the house, stood in the cool night air and stared off into the distance in the direction of California.
Stanford University. Any other father would be proud. Any other father would have told his son what a fine man he’d become, shook his hand and sent him out to find the life he wanted to live.
The life he deserved to live.
The life Sam Winchester was never going to be allowed to live by things that wanted to control him in ways his father never had.
The near-silent pad of Dean’s feet behind him reminded John of a thousand times his kid had crept down a hallway in the dark, trying to be there for a man who lived his life by hiding the things that hurt too much to show. "You okay?" Dean asked after several seconds of not being acknowledged.
If you want to go with him, then go, he’d said.
Dean had looked at him, met his eyes when he asked, Are you telling me to go?
Number twenty-six: You never listen to me.
I won’t stop you, he’d raged at Dean, more angry than he’d ever been in his life. More frightened. Closer to the edge of coming apart than he’d been since he looked up and saw Mary bleeding on the ceiling of Sammy’s nursery. I’ve never tried to stop you. This has always been your choice, Dean. Stay or leave; it’s up to you.
Number one: You don’t care whether we want to move again or not because everything is always about you, and you never even think about what anyone wants except you.
Dean’s lip had twitched to a one-cornered smile. Nothing is ever my choice, Dad, he’d said quietly.
Don’t be a crybaby.
Fine, John had snarled back at him. Get the fuck out then. I don’t need you either, Dean. You think I do, but I don’t.
Number thirty-six on Sammy’s list of reasons John Winchester was a shitty dad : You take everything out on Dean. You make him feel like crap all the time. You never tell him you’re proud of him, or that you love him, or that he did a good job or anything. You just yell at him, especially when you’re mad at me.
Sam was thirteen when he wrote that.
John proved himself a man by fucking a girl he never spoke to again. Sam wrote a list for his dad … a list his brother tore into little pieces in hopes of keeping a punch that wasn’t pulled from ever landing.
"Dad?" Dean prompted.
John turned, met his son’s eyes. "There’s some kind of predator hunting the rail yards outside Omaha," he said. "Might be a werewolf. Could be something else. Killed a couple of transients last week. Tore them up bad enough to make the front page without paying taxes, so I’m thinking there are probably more who’ve gone missing or showed up cold without meeting the gore requirements to play to ratings on the evening news. I’ll be heading out in the morning."
He left the rest unsaid. Dean nodded, hearing it anyway.
"I can handle it alone," John added, his voice tight in his throat, hurting with how hard it was to say something he didn’t want to say. "Isn’t outside my range if you have something else you need to do."
Dean didn’t even blink. "Sounds like fun," he said. "Count me in."
John nodded. He brushed past Dean, headed back inside. When they were back to back where he didn’t have to face his son when he said it, he added, "Wasn’t fair of me to take it out on you. I’m sorry if I … if I said anything to make you feel like I don’t appreciate you sticking around. I do. I know there are other things you could be doing. Other things you’d probably rather be doing."
"I’m not Sammy, Dad," Dean said. "I chose this when I was sixteen. I’m here because I want to be here."
"Make sure that's the reason," John said. "You’re no good to me if I have to wonder where your head’s at. I’d rather have a partner I can trust than a kid who’s only staying because he feels he has to."
Dean didn’t answer that. He didn’t say anything at all. He wanted to think he was the partner, but he knew his dad was telling him he was the kid.
"The keys are in the Impala," John told him. "She’s yours, if you want her. I bought a truck yesterday. It’s better suited to what I’m doing, anyway. More the kind of thing I should be driving now that you boys are old enough I don’t have to drag you around in the back seat any more."
When he walked inside, he closed the door behind him. Locked it.
He heard the Impala start up and drive away; felt the world crack around him as the roar of its powerful engine faded into the distance.
John spent the night in the living room, sitting in the dark, listening to his own heartbeat and waiting for it to stop. The Impala pulled back into the driveway as the sun broke over the horizon in the East. Dean unlocked the front door without knocking, walked in and tossed the keys on the table as he passed.
When he came out of his room again, he was carrying a duffel of clothes. "You driving, or am I?" he asked.
John stood. He stretched the kinks out of his back and legs before picking up the keys, dropping them back in his pocket where they’d been before he surrendered them.
"I am," he said.
It took five minutes to pack his own duffel. Dean was waiting for him in the driveway, leaning up against the Impala, drinking coffee out of a styrofoam cup he’d picked up at a local quick mart. There was a matching cup on the Impala’s hood. It breathed steam into the cool morning air as they waited.
John opened the trunk, stowed his duffel inside, then caught the one Dean tossed him and stowed it, too. He slammed the trunk, picked up the coffee and took a couple deep draws before observing, "Tastes like shit."
"Beggars can’t be choosers." Dean glanced at the empty street, then asked, "So where’s this fancy truck of yours?"
"I’ll pick it up when we get back," John said.
Dean grunted. "Then I guess you’re not driving."
John lifted an eyebrow. He studied Dean for a long moment, saying nothing.
"My ride, my choice," Dean said. He held his hand out for the keys. John waited a moment longer, then passed them over. "And my music," Dean added with a grin.
"Don’t push it," John advised as he dropped into the Impala’s passenger seat and pulled the door shut behind him.
Dean slipped behind the wheel, kicked the car to life. He revved the engine a little and smiled at the smooth growl of power that replied. "Sweeeeeeet," he said more to himself than to John.
"You driving or you jerking off?" John asked.
Dean shifted the Impala into gear and backed out of the driveway. "I can do both," he said.
"More than I really needed to know."
"Then don’t ask next time." Dean reached into a box on the seat beside him, pulled out a tape and held it up. "Metallica?"
He tossed the tape back in the box and pulled out another. "Kansas?"
"You have any Eagles?"
"Hell, yeah." Dean dug around in the box for a moment, then pulled a tape out and popped it into the stereo.
"At a level that doesn’t make my ears bleed," John said when the stereo came on loud enough to wake all the neighbors and most of the dead.
"Dude." Dean reached out to turn the volume down. "When did you get so old?"
"About the time you started driving my car."
Dean flicked him a grin. "My car," he corrected.
"Yeah," John agreed quietly. "Your car." He leaned back, rested his head against the seat and closed his eyes. He listened to the Impala’s engine dig in, get down to business. Don Henley was singing about wasted time, and his son was humming to the tune under his breath. When they hit the highway, Dean opened her up, didn’t level her off until she hit eighty.
"Thank you," John said, his eyes still closed as he listened to the road passing beneath them.
He could feel the weight of Dean’s gaze when it shifted to him, feel the way his son was watching him, trying to find the right answer, trying to find the right words. "For not playing Metallica?" he asked finally.
"Yeah," John agreed. "For that."
"Sure. No problem."
"If you change your mind, it’s your car," John added.
"I know that."
John nodded. "Wake me when we hit the state line. Or when you’re ready to switch drivers, whichever comes first."
"State line," Dean assured him.
"I figured as much. But either way."
"Thanks for the car," Dean said suddenly.
John opened one eye. "Always intended for it to be yours," he said. "Somewhere along the line, I just forgot to tell you that."
"Told me now," Dean said quietly.
John closed his eye again. "Needed the tax write-off," he said.
Dean snorted. They settled to a companionable silence. Time passed. It had been nearly an hour when John opened his eyes again, watched his son drive the car he’d loved since before he could walk. Dean’s attention was focused on the road ahead. His lips were curled with satisfaction as he hummed to himself and tapped one thumb to the beat of music playing so low it barely cleared the grumbling roar of the Impala’s engine.
It was Kansas now, instead of the Eagles. John reached out, turned the song up a little. Dean grinned, but kept his eyes on the road.