Title: Second Glance
Word Count: 4, 600
Pairing: Sam/Dean, John
Rating: R, non-graphic implied m/m sex, language
Timeline/Spoilers: Everything up to 1.22
Disclaimer: The pretty, shiny boys are not mine.
Summary: John is only ever a second glance to his boys, who see each other first, always first, with little room at the edges of their vision for anybody else.
Author’s Notes: Wincest Ahead. (That should so be a road sign!) Decamp if that ain’t your thing. This is a little different for me, and I appreciate that not everyone is going to like the style, but I’m a big believer in con crit so feel free to offer an opinion.
There was this one time, near Savannah, a bar that closed early because there was only him and two other people in the room, and the other two were employees who wanted to get gone, so they started noisily closing up around him, and John ignored them for as long as he could, not done with the drinking portion of his evening, miles from the neighbourhood of passing out, until his was the only barstool still touching the sticky, scarred-up, rotten floor of the dive, and he could have fought about it, but his kind of fights never started or finished with words, only fists and blood, so he downed the last third of his beer in one angry swallow, wrapped himself in his battered coat, made sure his expression slanted two degrees north of fuck you when he looked at the bartender and the waitress (who were probably doing each other because she was blonde and buxom and hell, why wouldn’t the bartender be putting her on her back), and left the bar, making the three and a half minute walk back to the nothing motel that needn’t have even had a name for all that John or any other guest ever to grace the spectacularly mouldy bathrooms was going to remember it, and his boys, deemed old enough at seventeen and twenty-one, had a separate room because John had so many notes and articles and maps to spread out across the surfaces of his (hunting a witch and damn if they weren’t a bitch to track and kill), only the walls were as thin as every other motel room in America (and how many had they stayed at that his boys didn’t know that thinness for truth, which raises difficult, nutty questions about his sons not caring that John could hear them), and two cheap whiskies and three cheaper beers isn’t enough to stop John from hearing every moan and breathy exhale and the rhythmic and impressively long drum solo of the bedhead against the wall (he will not, he will not, he will not think about which of his sons has the stamina to last that long except that his money is actually on Sam, based on the boy’s sheer stubbornness alone) but the worst part is when the slap of skin against skin ceases and John’s whole room, his whole head, fills to the brim with Dean’s lazy whispers and Sam’s low, languorous laugh, and the sound of soft, sleepy kisses, because it all sings of love, and John is in his room alone, not nearly drunk enough, with only a witch’s record of destruction for company.
John knows Dean fucks girls – hell, he’s seen it with his own two eyes, unexpectedly stumbling across Dean and the curvy redhead waitress who has served their meals for the last three days when he goes to the bathroom and spies them through the half-open door of a storage room, and he grins as he pisses, strangely proud (Dean is only seventeen and the girl is maybe nineteen and a total knockout who John couldn’t have netted at twenty-five), thinking that the boy can take comfort where he likes and it’s nobody’s business, except that when he returns to the table Sam’s fury is spilling out of his body, pushing past their empty plates and coffee cups, almost encroaching on John’s side of the booth, so Sam obviously thinks it’s his business and damn the kid for being so observant, but when Dean reappears (shirt half-tucked, hair mussed, no trace of embarrassment in his eyes, sex and satisfaction igniting his skin) the waitress swans past their table and deposits three pieces of the banana pie Sam was eyeing off from the moment they arrived with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and Dean says, “Eat up, Sam-I-Am” and contentedly watches his little brother consume the pie with a pout that melts with every bite, and when they’re done, sated, Dean reaches out and swipes a smear of cream from Sam’s lower lip with his thumb and says, with enough affection in his voice to fill the diner twice over, “Pig”, and Sam says “Jerk-off” with a smile, and Dean licks his thumb slow and deliberate, neither of them noticing when John shoots out of the booth to pay the bill (that he knows will not include the pie) because if his back is turned he won’t be able to see his sons’ legs glued together under the table or Sam’s eyes glowing with love and the certainty of being loved – so John doesn’t know when Dean stops fucking girls and starts fucking Sam, who is not now nor ever will be, a curvy redheaded waitress with the promise of heaven and free banana pie between her legs.
At eighteen, Dean can shoot a moving target with his eyes closed (and right on that drunken edge before the freefall into catatonia John will admit that Dean’s aim is better than his) and if they owned an AK-47 assault rifle John is willing to bet Dean could break it down and rebuild it faster than a Green Beret, and there isn’t a man John’s met that Dean couldn’t put on his ass, and Sam can read Latin like it’s still a living language that people converse in, and knows more about ancient religions and pagan rituals than most Ivy League graduates, and they both know the nail-splitting sound of a banshee scream, or the corybantic look in a werewolf’s eyes when it dies; they know that everything can be a weapon, that nothing is what it seems, that nobody can be trusted, that no story is ever just a pleasant fiction, all of it knowledge that nobody their age should possess or carry (Dean with a thousand scars and a heart of steel, and a fierce stoicism that makes John think perhaps there is some British in their family line, and Sam with his whole heart turned towards Dean, so really Dean carries it all and his heart is steel except for the part that has Sam’s name etched into the surface and that part is softer than Mary’s hair once was) so the fact that they know each other in ways that brothers should not is only one of a thousand and six other things John feels guilty about.
Sam is about as far gone from John’s orbit of influence as he can be without stepping off the edge of the earth, and that’s been a permanent state of affairs for years, like the way Sam would cry until lunchtime when Dean went to school, terrified his older brother wouldn’t return and not a single word John said (at least until he ran out of patience) ever allayed Sam’s fears until Dean walked through the door, or the way Dean always matched his stride to Sam’s and held his hand until Sam was well past the age of needing it, or how Sam at three, took to pointing to Dean and telling strangers that’s my Dean, as though Dean was a title, as if everybody had a Dean like everybody had a Dad or a Mom or a heart, or the time that Dean came home from school to find Sam two inches from falling out a window because John had been on the phone getting information about a poltergeist, which seemed more important than keeping an eye on Sam, and Dean had bellowed Sam’s name and cracked Sam’s head against the window frame as he yanked the four-year-old back from the ledge and Sam started crying, and Dean said over and over again, I’ve got you Sammy, I’ve got you, you’re okay, Sam, my Sammy, and Dean’s eyes across Sam’s curly hair were dark green with fear and contained the fury of an adult and burned into John’s gut because they said look what you did to my boy, my baby; and suddenly where John was once the centre of the Winchester family, he looks up from his breakfast one morning to discover that Dean has usurped him, that John and Sam rotate around Dean, who stretches as far as humanly possible to keep the two of them within his reach, forcing John and his youngest son (who is, John accepts, his reflection) to keep looking at each other around the beloved and much put-upon shape of Dean who seems immoveable, like a mountain or an ancient tree touching the sky, and his eldest son is no less beautiful or fragile than those wonders of nature, and that, that is the only thing John and Sam agree upon almost from the moment Sam learns to talk: that Dean is the world, and that is all.
It always catches John by surprise to discover that Sam has mastered some new skill, that he can suddenly tie his own shoelaces and dress himself, and then he can read and write, and he starts to shower by himself instead of being bathed by Dean before dinner, and next thing John knows Sam is picking locks (which John didn’t teach him but it’s certainly useful), and he can ride a bike and do laundry unsupervised and sort-of cook, and it keeps happening to him; Sam disappears from his sight for a brief moment and returns, an altogether different Sam, some other boy, capable of things John hasn’t taught him, until one day when Sam is fifteen John walks past their bathroom (Sam can touch both walls with his elbows it’s so narrow) and Dean is sitting on the closed toilet seat and Sam is straddling his older brother’s thighs, his long hair pushed out of his face and a look of deep concentration darkening his eyes as he shaves Dean’s face clean (which Dean doesn’t usually do himself, preferring a scruffier look) and Dean tilts his head back, offering up his neck to Sam and says, in a low, slow voice, “Steady hands, Sammy,” and when Sam hesitates, Dean adds, “You can do it – I trust you”, and that’s obviously what Sam needs to hear because he nods, shaving carefully up Dean’s jaw, and when he's finished Dean rubs his chin and says, “No cuts, well done,” and Sam puts the razor on the basin and Dean says, “You can shave yourself tomorrow,” and Sam smiles, pleased and proud despite the fact that the soft blonde fuzz above his lip hardly needs to be shaved, and he sinks fully into Dean’s lap and touches Dean’s smooth cheek, until their fingers tangle together and John walks away, unsure if it is the knowledge that behind him in the mustard coloured bathroom his sons must be kissing, or the sight of Dean baring his neck to Sam with complete and absolute trust that has his stomach churning, and John knows that Sam never disappears anywhere: he just goes to Dean.
So, he knows his share of women, after Mary, long, long after Mary, when both boys are in double digits, but they are rare and never anything but impermanent, some stolen warmth and a way to shut the world out for a few hours, a small moment to set against the endless tide of blood and violence (what he likes most is the delicate, elusive scent of a woman in the bed sheets, foreign after so many years with the boys and their sweat-metal-leather smell), and Sam and Dean are adept at reading the signs because John’s never had to tell them to vacate the apartment or motel room, they’re just gone and return when John is once more alone, so he’s as surprised as anybody when he agrees to go to dinner with a woman when Sam is sixteen and Dean is twenty (which John is not coping with, because his eldest son is in his twenties, his goddamn twenties, which is when John went to Vietnam, got married, had kids and other things that he is not ready for Dean to have although Dean has shown no signs of knowing those options exist, that those are roads he can travel), but the woman is a doctor at a local Massachusetts hospital that’s been the site of eight unusual deaths in the last six months, and John and Dean have been investigating to no avail (Sam apparently has too much homework to help them, except that he’ll stop at the table and lean against Dean’s back, hook his chin over Dean’s shoulder, and point to something, ask a question, or make a connection Dean and John couldn’t have found with a detailed map and night-vision goggles, and saunter on to the kitchen where he eats enough to make John feel nauseous and it’s only a snack to Sam’s stomach) so when she asks him out John says yes without hesitation and tells Dean it’s because she’s a useful source of information, firmly telling himself it’s got nothing to do with her curly blonde hair and clever brown eyes, which flash beguilingly at him across the table all night while they talk of things unrelated the hospital, and John discovers that in some far-flung, dusty corner of his mind he still knows how to talk to a beautiful woman, and when he drives her home and she confidently rests her hand on his thigh John doesn’t stop to consider the ethics of sleeping with a woman who thinks he’s John McCarthy-childless-FBI-agent but instead thinks about exactly how talented her mouth might be, only when they pass the motel where John Winchester, hunter-warrior-father-of-two is staying, there, leaning against the Impala, in front of the Suncrest Motel (it’s New England for fuck’s sake, he thinks), in front of God, in front of John and Dr. Allison Lyndale, in front of everybody and their mother, Dean and Sam are kissing, their bodies pressed together without a crack of daylight between them, Sam’s hand stroking his brother’s neck, and Allison makes a soft noise in the back of her throat and says, “How sweet – young love”, (and is completely mystified four minutes later when the interesting, attractive man drops her at her house, mutters something blatantly untrue about an early morning meeting and drives off before she’s barely shut the passenger door, leaving her to wonder if perhaps he’s homophobic), and John hurtles back the motel, furious, sick, incapable of understanding why it’s this, it’s this one thing that has finally made him crack, and he crashes through the door of Room 17 to find only Sam on his bed reading a book, the surprise in Sam’s voice genuine when he says, “Dad…I wasn’t expecting you so soon”, and that’s because John realises that neither of his sons believed him for a moment when he said the doctor was a good source of information and figured they’d see neither hide nor hair of their father until the small, thin hours of the morning, and for some reason that makes him feel guilty, makes him feel that he’s betrayed Mary, so he can’t help the sharpness in his tone when he asks where Dean is, but when Sam replies with something tight and fragile in his voice that Dean has gone out and John realises that he saw Dean with somebody else – not Sam at all but someone who looked damningly like Sam – and that Sam knows exactly what Dean is doing, John (God help him) feels only pity for his younger son, so he asks if Sam wants to watch a movie with him and hides his pleased surprise when Sam agrees, and they flick through the channels until they find a black-and-white spaghetti Western and Sam begins to tell John about the Trail of Tears and John listens quietly and attentively to every word, the way that Dean would, but he knows it’s not enough.
John can see the signs writ in neon, each a fluttering flag, each some bold colour, a firm presence in Dean’s otherwise empty eyes, he can see it in the way his son walks, in the casual, negligent flick of Dean's wrist when he fires his gun at ghosts, zombies, or whatever crosses their path, as though it doesn’t matter to Dean whether he misses because a real fight, real pain is now a welcome reprieve, a longed-for friend; John can hear those signs in the short, monosyllabic answers John garners for his trouble to prod Dean into conversation (the idea that John would one day be the most talkative Winchester is laughable), he can hear it in the pointed absence of Dean’s laugh; he can feel those signs in the thick coldness that emanates from Dean’s side of the motel room, he can feel it in the strange stillness of Dean because there is nobody for Dean to check on over his shoulder now, no-one to smile at across the table, no brother to half-hug, half-nelson in the bathroom doorway, and that shape, those signs are all too-familiar to John, who is well-versed in grief, all of it saying what Dean will not: that he misses Sam, misses him like a lost limb, misses him like half his heart has lifted anchor and sailed away, beyond sight, beyond touch, and all of it is beyond John’s power to cure and he can feel that too when it knifes him between his shoulder blades on the rare occasions when the brilliant fire of fury briefly sets Dean’s green eyes alight before dying away, desperately.
They share clothes (until Sam gets too tall and even then, Sam still appears some mornings with unkempt hair, sleep-dark eyes and the jut of his hipbones peeking between his pyjama pants and one of Dean’s vintage rock T-shirts and Dean nearly hurts himself trying not to stare), they share jokes John isn’t permitted to know, they share bedrooms and the backseat of the Impala, they share coats and toys and comic books, they share a distaste for shrimp and broccoli, a love of corn fritters and an inexplicable aversion to apple juice, they share baths for years, Dean sensibly pointing out when John asks that it’s the only way he can ensure Sam doesn’t drown, they share the same nose (Mary’s nose), they share weapons, they share sections of the newspaper over coffee, they share their fury and frustration – each the other’s target on bad days because John will not brook a moment’s rebellion – they share bathrooms (and for years John thanks God he never had a daughter, until…well, until) and even toothbrushes (mostly because it invokes apoplectic fury in Sam and Dean falls about laughing with evil glee), they share food at diners and cafés, Sam snaffling fries from Dean’s plate and Dean getting pissy except that Dean always orders the largest serve of fries wherever they go, they share the afternoon hours of training, punishing drills that Dean loves and Sam hates, brutal winter days tracking in grey forests, their fingertips so blue with cold that Dean tucks Sam’s hands under his armpits, hot stagnant summer evenings on flat prairies running circuits until John tells them to stop and every time he does Sam always runs an extra hundred yards and turns to poke his tongue out at Dean, because since his legs shot up like steel springs running is the one thing Sam can beat Dean at, and then he doubles back to his older brother, the two of them flopping onto the grass to stare at the boundless sky, their lungs heaving, their clothes stuck to their bodies like a second skin with sweat and John is often only a few feet away from them but it could be miles for all that Sam and Dean can see him, they share the same bizarre obsession with Pamela Anderson (Dean because he thinks she’s hot, Sam because he thinks she’s a demon) and they both know all the words to every AC/DC song ever (Dean by love, Sam by default), they share scars, matching wounds from firewalkers, shapeshifters, and spirits with anger to spare, they share their lives as easily as breathing, and there is not one single thing about Sam that Dean doesn’t know, that Dean hasn’t witnessed or been told about after the fact, Sam forever laying himself bare and prostrate before Dean, like a zealot before an idol, and John does not feel left out precisely (he and Dean spend hours under the hood of the Impala, engage in long-running debates about ammo and the value of protection charms and share a thousand silent glances when Sam irritates them both, and John and Sam roll their eyes over Dean’s womanising, and laugh at Letterman together, late at night, just before Sam goes to bed and Dean and John go out to hunt) but he is only ever a second glance to his boys, who see each other first, always first, with little room at the edges of their vision for anybody else.
John considers telling them he has plenty of cash, but he wants to see them at work, so he says nothing when they stop at the roadside bar, open their wallets and realise they’ve got seven dollars in cash between them, immediately deciding they need a decent take so they can get clear and hunt the demon, which requires them both to hustle, always a risky strategy but not unfamiliar to them, so John goes in with Sam, ignores Dean when his eldest son darkens the bar’s doorstep ten minutes later, and sits at a wobbly table in a murky corner and watches his boys (mostly Sam because he cannot believe his younger son is standing real and true before him after four years away) as they hustle separate pool tables, both confident and easy among the raucous Friday night crowd, Dean tapping his foot in time to the live cover band, allowing a fraction of his strength to show so the men at his table accept that he’s nobody’s fool, Sam gravitating to a group of younger players, his college face firmly planted on a body most men should be wary of and over his beer John marvels at this new power of Sam’s, to hide in plain sight, to fool people into looking only at the surface, a skill Dean never has been able to master, until it’s time for John to play his role, and he saunters over to the table with a fresh beer for Sam, claps a hand on his son’s shoulder and teases him for being such a hopeless player, perhaps he better let his old man help him out, and the young guys around Sam’s table eat it up, impressed by the sheer presence of John Winchester, more impressed by his talent, and so the hours pass, Dean two tables behind John and Sam in their peripheral vision, his games growing tenser as he begins to direct one-way traffic from the break to the eight-ball, and just like they planned, somebody at their table finally notices Dean, notices that he’s pissed off all his opponents and suddenly there’s a crowd of almost-drunk men betting money on a game between Dean and John that John loses (carefully, because it’s hard work to throw a game properly, to look at Dean with the eyes of a stranger), which is Sam’s cue and it’s an award-worthy performance when he challenges Dean to a game and the guys who’ve seen Sam play that evening fall over with amusement and there’s money going every which way from Sunday, John playing the supportive father to the hilt, joking to a guy his age that he’s throwing money away but he can’t not back his kid, how would that look, gotta encourage him, and hell, he’ll just win the money back on the horses, and then his sons are playing and John can’t look away, because even though the plan is for Sam to win, he and Dean are honest-to-God competing, matching each other, moving around the table in a complex, beautiful ballet that takes them down to the last ball until John begins to worry that they’ve forgotten their own plan, too caught up in each other (and that’s the only flaw in their performance, because surely everybody around the table, in the bar, across the whole damn state can feel the electricity crackling between his sons each time they stare each other down or brush past one another, not touching but somehow more intimate), but then Sam sinks the eight-ball making the really-fucking-difficult shot look like good luck and John fakes disbelief, and Dean lets anger rise through his skin, slams his cue onto the felt, pushes Sam against the table, traps him, gets up in his face, you and your Dad hustle for kicks, huh, you little shit, and just like that, the three Winchesters own the room and nobody wants to trespass, the crowd backing up, letting Dean have all the space he wants, Sam like a deer in the headlights, except that if you knew what to look for you could see that his hips are relaxed against Dean’s and his breathing remains regular, and Dean milks it for all it’s worth, cursing dirty enough to make a few of the old-timers blush, the three of them silently communicating about how far they need to take it, John thinking the mood in the room is such that there’s no need for one of them to throw a punch, and the boys come to that conclusion too, because Dean gives Sam a final shove, hurls his money on the table and quits the bar, relief colouring the room in his wake, and John is solicitous as he walks Sam over to the bar, their act convincing enough that the bartender pours them a drink on the house and shakes his head about guys who don’t know how to lose gracefully, John agreeing, noticing how Sam has to force himself to drink the beer slowly, commit to the conversation, accept the compliments being thrown his way, when John can tell that every nerve in Sam’s body is singing out for Dean, and John looks down at his beer for a nanosecond so no-one will see the anguish in his eyes that it’s still like this, that Sam’s four year absence hasn’t normalised anything, hasn’t stopped his boys from falling into each other, from committing at least half of the deadly sins together, but Sam holds it together and so does John, so they eventually leave on a wave of good will, both silent in the truck as John makes short work of the two miles to their rendezvous point, the Impala a black shadow against the black night, Dean a blacker shadow against the black hood, but he’s up on his feet the minute he sees the truck’s headlights, and Sam’s barely out of the passenger seat before Dean has him in a headlock, the two of them laughing and cursing, reeling along the shoulder of the road, high with adrenaline, five hundred bucks richer for their trouble, Sam praising Dean’s tough guy act, Dean messing up Sam’s hair and ribbing his little brother about how scared he seemed, both looking at each other with promise and possibility, their eyes shining even in the dark like lights that will not go out, their whole hearts straining towards each other even as they keep up the façade of their fraternal teasing, even as they throw a few compliments John’s way too, benevolent in their young joy, in their young and old and constant love, and there is that much at least: they are happy.