Title: Tiger Boy 1/1
Rating: PG-13 (usual sailor-mouth shenanigans)
Characters: John, Dean
Spoilers: None. Pre-series.
Disclaimer: It’s Kripke’s world, we’re all just living in it. *snaps fingers, points*
Summary: We follow where the bent stalks lead.
A/N: For thandie as part of the 2008 Fall Fandom Free-For-All. Beta'd by kimonkey7, who makes me sing and dance and beg and plead and weep for my supper. It's why I love her so. :) Fic art by the gorgeous chocca2 , who withstands a lot from a Dragons.
Dean’s favoring his left side. John sees when his son’s cutting back through the front bar from the bathroom. Probably wouldn’t have noticed if he wasn’t looking for it. But when Dean sits again, he’s canted slightly to the left, and John knows he’s copped it harder than he let on back at the room.
And it serves him right. It really does. That’s what you get when you’re a cocky little shit who veers off track at the speed of light to circle round on a black dog. Like the sonuvabitch knew where it was gonna break cover before the goddamn mutt did.
John flicks at the stubble beneath his jaw and sniffs, lifts his whiskey glass until the deep malted scent overpowers the aroma of stale beer and cigarette smoke. He thinks back to the quiet clack of the door locking when Dean claimed first shower at the motel. Kid’s developing a nasty propensity for licking his own wounds, and in this business it’s a bad habit. John’s got plenty to say about it, but that conversation’s got trip-wires and he’s never been a man to defuse a bomb with his face. So, he scratches at his jaw and drinks his whiskey and doesn’t say anything.
He knows a way or two around his son.
John lifts two fingers at the waitress bussing the next table, points to his glass. “Make ‘em doubles,” he calls when she nods.
“What’s the occasion?” Dean wants to know, eyes passing warily between the bar and John.
John tosses back the rest of his whiskey, lets his glass freefall the last inch to the table with a bang. “Not bein’ dead.”
“Okay.” Dean’s smile is hesitant, but it grows, as if he’s warming to the notion of being alive. “Okay,” he repeats.
When the waitress brings the drinks, Dean drains the last mouthful of his beer and takes the double-shot of neat.
“I gotta piss,” John announces when she’s gone, starts to rise.
“First door past the kitchen,” Dean clips, leans forward on his elbows conspiratorially, as though he’s relaying reconnaissance and not directions to the head.
“You found it okay, then?” John asks him drolly. “Didn’t have to circle back, surprise it or anything?”
Dean’s glass halts midway to his mouth. The corner of his lip curls up in wry amusement, and – fuck - if he doesn’t look like his mother when he does that. Makes John wanna squeeze the air out of him or push him backwards off his chair and damned if he knows which. He can’t ever decide which.
He bounces his fist off the back of his chair, does neither. “Drink up, you smartass,” he says instead.
In the bathroom he has to give the faucet a thump, like no one’s even thought about turning it in a long time. There’s still blood wicked into the half-moons at the base of his fingernails, stubborn residue of the hound he hauled off his son just hours ago. He washes his hands with a bone-dry bar of ancient soap; methodically, unhurried. Last couple of months it’s been tough gig after tough gig and he has to admit, Dean’s been in step every inch of the way. He’s been focused and attentive, far more so than he ever was with Sam around. Christ, those two fed off each other’s bullshit like a dumb pair of bucks if you let ‘em.
For a while there, Dean floundered around the extra space like he couldn’t stand not to fill it. But he’s bounced back. Sam’s abscission may have razed their family to the ground as sure as any flame, but they were finding the new tare; adapting. It’s just the two of them now, and there’s a dependency in that. A reliance that doesn’t allow for the sort of sustained resentment that Sam’s departure weaved so deeply between them all.
The job demands trust, and trust? Well, hell. Sometimes the only thing that got you that was selective amnesia. But what family can say otherwise?
Whatever the reason, John’s got Dean’s full attention for now, and if he’s completely honest, that’s as terrifying as it is satisfying. Because wouldn’t you goddamn know it, Dean’s gonna be better at this than his old man. Twenty three years old and it’s fucking organic, half the shit the kid intuitively knows. And yeah, he’s full of himself and he acts before he thinks and he’s got a fuse shorter than a bee’s dick. But he’s smart and physically bold and his instincts are uncanny. And its hardly surprising, because he’s been raised to the hunt like John never was, has it stamped in his blood in ways no military training can beat into you. It makes John’s chest swell with pride.
Mary’d be proud too, he silently tells his reflection in the mirror as he works the soap around his still-grimy hands. He rinses the stubborn remains of the night’s work into the dirty sink, shuts off the faucet. Pauses to study the contours of age her dismayed fingers will never trace.
She’d be proud, he tries to tell that old man again.
Dean’s exercising that same brand of focus and attention to detail on the bent ass of the waitress when John comes back. He has to give the boy a clip up the side of the head as he rounds the table; hits him hard enough that Dean jumps, gives him a startled look of guilt-laced indignation.
“What?” he yelps.
“She’s not a fuckin’ dog biscuit.” John settles in his chair, hunches forward around his lingered-over whiskey.
“I can see that,” Dean agrees wholeheartedly, and John can hear in his voice he’s a little wounded by the smack.
“Don’t get any ideas. We’re outta here first thing.”
Dean’s gaze wanders again to the woman.
“Dean.” There’s a warning behind it this time.
“What?” Dean lifts both hands in acquiescence, innocence personified.
John gives him a hard look, and it’s criminal, the way you gotta sell a straight face with this kid sometimes. “Why don’t you give the women of Sweetwater a night off? Think they can use the rest.”
“Fine.” Dean slaps his palms on his thighs and rubs. “Where are we goin’? We got a gig?”
“Maybe.” John reaches into the folds of his jacket, pulls out his journal and slaps it on the table in front of him. He opens it where the folded map bookmarks the address Caleb gave him. “Some guy in Natchitoches, Louisana. Might be a possession.”
Dean slides the heel of his palm across polished wood, grips the corner of the map between two fingers and tugs it haltingly back toward him. When John makes no move to stop him, he grows bolder, moves his whiskey to the side and spreads the map wide. He finds a retractable ballpoint in his jacket and gets to work abusing the pen’s mechanism with the flat of his thumb.
John tolerates the rapid-fire clackclackclack until Dean glances up and sees the look on his face. Then the boy’s thumb stills abruptly, and he turns his studious attention to the topography. The whiskey’s starting to make a dent, though. Dean rolls his eyes like it’s the map that has the bug up its ass, and John generously pretends he doesn’t see it.
Dean flicks the pen around his fingers, because he can’t just hold it. He can’t just leave it the fuck alone, and John can find that amusing as long as Dean’s absorbed in the map. Then the pen stills and Dean blinks, sends a one-finger search party riding over the plotted highways and towns. He marks a cross, reaches his left hand across his body in blind search of his drink, and brings it absently to his lips while he drags the pen to the next point of interest. He scratches another cross, and John wants to lean -- see if Dean’s doing what he thinks he’s doing -- but he doesn’t.
He twists in his chair instead, silently engages the waitress behind the bar for another round.
When the drinks arrive, Dean’s bothering the back of his front teeth with the end of his pen and frowning. “Wasn’t there a chick in Baker? When was that?”
John thanks the waitress with a smile. “Ninety-nine,” he grunts to Dean. Speedy little prick. Because he’s almost there, and he’s only got half the goddamn pieces.
Dean’s brow furrows more deeply, and John raises his eyebrows; waits. Kid can’t see the pattern yet. But he will. John leans back in his chair. “Somethin’ you wanna share with the class, Dean?”
Dean shakes his head, as if to clear it. “I dunno. No. Never mind. What else we got?”
John screws up his nose. “It can wait.” He pushes the second of his stock-piling whiskeys across the table towards Dean. “When was the last time I beat your sorry ass at pool?”
Dean’s head snaps up, and his eyes are over-bright from the alcohol. “Hell,” he muses, “I think that was ‘ninety-nine, too.”
Kid learned to drink from his old man, too. It’s an expensive exercise, getting Dean plastered. Could have cost him a lot more, but John’s years past stupid enough to put any money on a pool table when his son’s holding a cue. Dean can sink two balls off a snooker when the ability to string a simple sentence together has long since fallen by the wayside. It’s a flavor of hand-eye coordination that’s preternaturally unaffected by his blood-alcohol reading.
A little after closing, John figures he’s had enough. Dean has to be physically persuaded to let go of the stick.
On the way back to the motel, the boy curls against the passenger door of the Impala, temple kissing glass. And mission accomplished, because he’s well and truly tanked; has a violent case of the hiccups before they’re out of the parking lot. Dean skips and jumps like an old forty-five all the way down East Broadway, punctuates every jolt with a soft, ridiculous Oh, Jesus.
“Hold your damn breath,” John tells him, but it doesn’t help any.
He has to all but carry Dean into the room, which used to be damn sight easier when the kid fit on his hip. But he’s grown tall and strong and capable, so the sonuvabitch weighs a ton. He squares Dean up at the door to the bathroom, sends him in with a slap to the back like a pioneer. Hopes he’s not so wrecked that he’s stymied by the button fly of his jeans. A minute later, there’s the door-muffled echo of a racehorse piss, and John’s relieved to hear it sounds like Dean’s pointing in the right general area.
There’re two banging false starts on other side of the door before it opens, and then Dean makes a freight train break for his bed on a track that detours with a lamp-tipping crack into the nightstand. His arms stay at his sides, lacking any self-protective reflex, when he face-plants atop the bedspread.
John leaves him where he’s crashed, hooks himself a beer out of the bar fridge. He leans on the counter, and he’s downed about half of the ale when Dean finally starts snoring.
Used to be a lot more buttons, John recalls, fingers feeling thick but sure as they move down the front of Dean’s shirt. Lotta doin’ em up and gettin’ ‘em undone. Used to seem like every time you turned around, they had another one loose. Guy could get paranoid, think the little pissants were doing it on purpose.
Dean’s done a pretty good job on the clean-up, dressed the wound, and it’s not as bad as John suspected. But it’s messy enough to have warranted presentation, maybe a couple of stitches where the claws dug deepest at the base of his ribs. A fleeting glance at his watch tells John they’ve missed that boat, but it’s not going to do any harm to take a pass with some antiseptic, change the dressing. Black dogs aren’t exactly known for their rigorous hygiene.
It’ll be okay, John decides as he hunts for the first-aid kit. He’ll talk to the kid on the road tomorrow. Won’t read him the Riot Act. Just let the sneaky little shit know he needs to declare an injury. Discretely withheld infections land you in the ER. It’s not about riding his ass. It’s about responsible self-management. Towing the line. Doing your job.
Somewhere on the way back to Dean’s bedside, he gets a vague resigned prescience: He’s gonna balls up that conversation so bad it’ll be visible from space.
Dean stirs, hisses softly through his teeth when John first swabs the wound. The boy’s fingers jerk up and twist at the fabric of his father’s shirt.
“I know,” John soothes, because it’s the only honest comfort he has for a demonic mauling.
Dean’s too inebriated to execute an organized protest. He grimaces his way through John’s attentions, and he’s snoring raggedly again by the time the dressing’s replaced. In a few hours, the hangover’s gonna be about as pretty as his ribs.
He’s fine, John silently tells his reflection in the bathroom mirror. He washes his hands with the cracked bar of ancient soap: methodically, unhurried. He rinses the pungent antiseptic film into the dirty sink, shuts off the faucet. Stops to examine the weary lines etched around the hard set of those seal-brown eyes.
Boy’s fine, he tries to tell that fool again.