Dean liked to wear a bath towel tied around his neck like a cape. He was a superhero, like Batman, that’s what he told anyone who dared to ask why he a blue and red striped towel around his neck. His father would roll his eyes and his mother would shrug and say at least he had an active imagination. A little boy with an imagination like that was never bored. Dean fought against all kinds of criminals: like the dog next door that barked all the time and his arch nemesis-- the little girl that lived down the street that made him wear a fake pearl necklace and have tea parties with her when Mary left him at her house when she ran errands. He saved his damsel in distress, most often his mom, from the dangers of living-- like mud puddles and people not paying attention while they pushed their shopping carts around stores.
“Don’t stand on the couch, Dean,” Mary called from the kitchen,watching as her little boy battled invisible foes with a plastic sword in their living room.
“I’m fighting the monster!” Dean called from the other room.
“You’re very brave, Dean,” Mary laughed. “Just do it from the floor, okay.”
“Okay, Momma,” Dean answered, jumping down and stabbing at air. “I think I can get to monster to go back in it’s cave. But I might have to climb on the chair just for one minute.”
“Stay on the floor sweetie,” Mary told him. “I don’t want you to fall and hurt yourself. You won’t be very good at fighting monsters if you have a broken arm, will ya?”
“No,” Dean conceded. “I guess not.”
“ When you’re done, do you think you’ve worked up enough of an appetite for a snack?”
“Pie?” Dean asked eyes wide as he turned to her. “I knowed you maked pie yesterday. I sawed it.”
“I can get you a piece of pie after you get the monster back in it’s cave.”
“Monster said that it can wait until after pie,” Dean answered, dropping his sword and running toward the kitchen, his cape flowing behind him as he ran.
“That’s very nice of him,” Mary laughed as Dean climbed up into a kitchen chair.
“It’s not a real monster,” Dean whispered as his mom place a plate in front of him. “Just a fake one. I’m only practicing for just in case. You never know when a monster is gonna show up.”
“That’s very true, sweetheart,” Mary answered running her fingers through the boy’s hair.
“I will be better at fighting the monster after pie,” Dean explained. “I get extra strength Like Popeye.”
“He eats spinach,” Mary replied.
“Yeah, but that’s gross,” Dean told her. “Pie not gross.”
“Alright,” Mary laughed.
He could be a handful, like any three year old could, but at least there was never a dull moment in Winchester house.
Dean was very brave, but even superheroes have have weaknesses, and for Super Dean, his kryptonite were the monsters that lived under his bed. He spent hours practicing fighting those monsters in the living room in the daytime, but the moment the sun went down all the bravery seemed to disappear along with it. No amount of practice prepared Dean for the horror that waited for him inches below where he slept.
Mary figured it was normal, he didn’t know that there were things that went bump in the night. All little kids were scared of the things under their bed. She’d made sure that her family was never in danger, hidden hex bags and sigils where no one would find them unless they were looking. There was nothing there, but no matter how many times he was told, it never comforted Dean.
Usually, his dad would check when he tucked him in. But that night John wasn’t there, working late at the shop, and Dean’s night light and the Christmas lights hanging in the window were casting extra scary shadows across his walls; so Dean waited until he heard the door to his parents’ room close, so he didn’t get in trouble for being out of bed, and crawled slowly out from under the covers. He crept over to his toy box where he kept his sword, then tiptoed back to the bed. He laid down and lifted the bed skirt, sure that there wouldn’t be anything under there, his dad had checked the night before, but staring back was one very large, angry looking monster.
It had big yellow teeth that showed when it growled at him when he met it’s giant red eyes. Dean dropped the bed skirt and ran out of his room as fast as his little legs would carry him; right into his parents’ bedroom.
Mary lay reading a novel hand absentmindedly rubbing what was quickly becoming a large baby bump she was going to have to explain to Dean soon when pushed the door open. The light from the hallway silhouetted a little body resting a sword over his shoulder.
“What is it sweetheart?” Mary yawned.
“It’s back!” Dean whispered, eyes wide with fear.
“What’s back Dean-o?” Mary asked, motioning for her little boy to come over to her.
“The monster!” Dean explained, trying to climb onto his parents big bed. “The big monster under my bed. I telled Daddy about it and he got rid of it one time. But I knowed it was gonna come back. And you didn’t check when you tucked me in, so I did just to make sure. And it was there.”
“What are we gonna do about it?” Mary asked pulling him into her lap. “Cuz it’s way past bedtime.”
“I dunno,” Dean answered. “I cannot sleep in there. Too scary. What if it comes out and it eated you?”
“We can’t have that now can we?” Mary smiled.
“I don’t want you to be eated,” Dean said seriously.
“I thought you were a brave little superhero,” Mary teased. “Not scared of nothing.”
“You didn’t see it’s teeth, Momma,” Dean explained, holding his hands to his face to demonstrate how big they were. “Big teeth.”
“What if I showed you how to keep the monster from getting you?” Mary asked running her fingers through Dean’s hair. “We’ll set your room up so that all your toys can protect you from the monsters.”
“I would like that,” Dean yawned, laying his sword down beside him. “But I am very tired. I should sleep here until Daddy comes home. I protect you from the monster.”
“Alright, Angel,” Mary said. “But you gotta go to sleep, okay.”
“I promise, Momma,” Dean yawned.
Dean woke up alone in his parents’ bed to the smell of bacon. “Breakfast,” he smiled to himself sliding off the large bed with his sword and running down the hallway. He wanted to slide down the stairs, it was the fastest way down, but he knew how much his mom didn’t like it when he did that, so he grabbed the railing and made his way down.
“Good morning sleepy-head,” Mary smiled as she stirred some eggs in a large bowl. “You ready for breakfast?”
Dean nodded and climbed into on the kitchen chairs, sitting on his knees so he could reach the table. “Always ready for breakfast.”
“What are we gonna do about this monster problem?” Mary asked as she poured eggs into a skillet for scrabbling. “Cuz we can’t have you sleeping in my bed all the time. You’re too big for that.”
“I dunno, Momma,” Dean shrugged. “But I’m not gonna sleep there ‘til the monster’s all gone. I don’t want it to eat me. I don’t want to be eated. If I get eated, how am I gonna keep you from gettin’ eated?”
“I know, Dean,” Mary nodded seriously. “I think I might know a way to keep the monsters away. But I’m gonna need your help.”
“Okay,” Dean replied. “That monsters not there in the daytime, only the nighttime. So it’s safe in my room.”
“Eat up, big guy,” Mary told him, setting down his breakfast. “You’re gonna need all your strength for this one.”
“I gotta be big and strong like Daddy?” Dean asked mouth full of eggs and bacon.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” Mary instructed.
Dean nodded and continued to shovel eggs and bacon into his mouth as his mother joined him.
“How does you knowed how to keep the monsters away?” Dean asked after swallowing, reaching across the table to grab his orange juice.
“When I was little,” Mary explained. “My Daddy taught me.”
“Oh,” Dean nodded. “Does my Daddy knowed how keep the monsters away?”
“Not as well as my Daddy,” Mary smiled. “But your Daddy does the best he can.”
“How come you didn’t take care of the monster to start with?” Dean accused. “This monster problem is a big deal.”
“I know kiddo,” Mary answered. “Daddy said he took care of it. We didn’t think it would come back.”
“Well, it did,” Dean huffed, eyebrows pressed together. “I coulda been eated.”
“I know sweetheart,” Mary nodded solemnly. “We’re very sorry.”
“You better be,” Dean pouted. “I would be very mad if I got eated and then found out you knowed how to get rid of the monster the whole time.”
“Do you need to go to timeout for your attitude?” Mary asked. “Cuz that sounds like you’re talking back.”
“No,” Dean mumbled picking up his fork again and finishing his breakfast in silence.
Mary met Dean in his bedroom after he washed up from breakfast and had gotten himself dressed. He sat on his bed, legs swinging off the edge, sword on his left side, towel tied around his neck.
“Are you ready?” Mary asked clapping her hands together.
“Uh huh,” Dean nodded.
“Alright then,” Mary nodded surveying the room. She wanted to make this seem as real as possible. She knew how scared Dean was of that thing under his bed, whether it was a figment of his imagination or not, he was scared and she had to help him get over it. She looked to find some of the toys that Dean didn’t play with as much anymore, stuffed animals and such, tried to figure out the best way to arrange them for maximum protection.
“What we gotta do?” Dean asked, chewing the inside of his mouth.
“I’m not sure yet,” Mary answered looking over the room a second time. “We gotta have someone to look over your bed when you’re not here. Who can we trust with that?”
“Batman,” Dean said forcefully.
“Alright,” Mary smiled. “Where is Batman right now?”
“In the toy box,” Dean replied. “That’s where you said to put my toys when I’m not playin’ with them.”
“Right,” Mary nodded, turning to the toy box. Inside were most of Dean’s action figures, matchbox cars, and trucks; exactly what Mary needed to make Dean’s room monster under the bed proof.
“Is this how grandpa fighted monsters?” Dean asked as he watched his mother dig through his toy box.
“Kind of,” Mary answered. “Some of the monsters he fought were much bigger.”
She turned back to see Dean’s eyes widen, and his finger tighten around the handle of his sword.
“You don’t gotta worry about those monsters, Dean-o,” Mary explained. “They’re all gone now.”
“You’re sure?” Dean asked tentatively. “Gone like the one under my bed? Or gone for real?”
“They aren’t coming back,” Mary answered with certainty. “Once we get rid of the one under your bed, you won’t have to worry about any other monsters, alright?”
“Okay,” Dean nodded skeptically. “As long as you’re sure. But what if the monster under my bed had a mommy and daddy, and they come looking for him?”
“That’s a very good point,” Mary conceded. “That’s why we’re going to do everything we can to make sure the monster under your bed just leaves and goes home.”
“What if he goes under someone else’s bed?” Dean asked. “I don’t want no one else to have a scary monster under their bed.”
“Dean,” Mary walked over and sat down next to him, placed a hand on his head. “You gotta trust me okay. We’re gonna get rid of this thing. Me and you. And after that, the monster isn’t going to bother anyone else.”
Dean nodded and looked up at her through his lashes.
“Okay Momma,” he nodded.
“You ready to get rid of this thing?” Mary smiled, standing up and going back to the toy box. She pulled out a couple GI Joes and well loved Batman figurine. “Alright, so, we gotta make it so that Batman and GI Joe are always watching under your bed.”
Dean nodded with his whole body as he pushed himself off the bed.
“We gots to make it so that when monster comes over, that GI Joe sees him,” Dean decided. “Cuz he doesn’t just appear under my bed. He has to come in the house from outside.”
“Alright,” Mary replied.
“I don’t think grown ups can see the monster,” Dean said, pushing his eyebrows together in thought.
“Then what are we gonna do?” Mary asked.
“I’m gonna check under the bed,” Dean answered. “Just to be safe. Even though everyone knows under bed monsters aren’t out in the day time.”
“Okay,” Mary shook her head as she watched Dean lay flat on the floor and lift the bed skirt.
“There’s a crocodile under here,” Dean announced, half his body disappearing under the bed for a moment before reappearing holding a stuffed crocodile John had won out of a claw machine at store. “I been lookin’ for this.”
“Do you think that could be the monster?” Mary asked, hoping that maybe this would be the end of the monster problem.
“No,” Dean said sternly. “The monster if very big, and yellow, and have big teeth. This is too little. We can use this though. Crocodiles are very scary too.”
“Where do you want to put the crocodile?” Mary asked.
“On the table!” Dean smiled placing the stuffed toy on his bedside table. “We can put Batman by the window!”
Mary followed Dean’s instructions, this was a way to get Dean to sleep in his own bed, keep him from being afraid. “Where should be put GI Joe?”
“Umm...” Dean looked around the room for a place to put the next protector. “On the shelf.”
“Good choice,” Mary said walking across the room and placing the action figure on the shelf next to the closet where Dean’s baby book and pictures of him as a newborn were perched. “Do you think this will be enough?”
Dean shook his head, walking over the toybox to see what else he has in there. He pulled out a second Batman and Robin.
“We can put these up with GI Joe?” Dean asked. “Just to be safe.”
“Of course,” Mary smiled taking the toys from her son. “How’s that?”
“Can we put my stuffed animals around my bed?” Dean asked. “So that the monster can’t get in without movin’ them?”
“Alright,” Mary nodded. “Got get them.”
Dean pulled a laundry basket full of stuff animals from his closet. The two placed them all against the bottom of Dean’s bed.
“That’s good I think,” Dean smiled. “I like it. I don’t think the monster will be able to get in the room with all these people watching. We will find out tonight when I go to bed.”
“Okay,” Mary smiled pulling Dean close to her side. “You wanna go play down stairs?”
“Can we play in the snow?” Dean asked looking up. “I want to build a snowman, with a carrot nose.”
“Go get your snowsuit and mittens,” Mary replied. “And we’ll play in the snow. You can’t wear your cape outside in the snow though.”
“Okay, momma,” Dean said excitedly. He untied this cape and left it on his bed before running off.
“Bedtime,” John announced at seven thirty that night. “You ready for your bath?”
“Mmhmm,” Dean nodded pushing himself up, and running up the stairs. “Let’s go, Daddy.”
“I’m coming,” John sighed. “I’ve never met a kid excited for bath time.”
“Likes to pretend,” Mary shrugged, grabbing her book from the side table. “He can be a ship captain in the bathtub.”
“He’s a weird one,” John chuckled.
“He’s three,” Mary answered, finding her page. “And if you don’t get up there, an angry, naked three year old is going to run down our stairs.”
After bath time came storytime. Dean grabbed his favorite book of fairy tales off the shelf in his room and presented it to his father in the hallway.
“I want you to read the mermaid,” Dean said. “I like that one the most.”
“We read the mermaid one the other night,” John replied.
“Yeah and yesterday Momma told me a story she maked up,” Dean explained. “I wanna hear the mermaid story.”
“Right,” John nodded and followed the little boy into his room. “I’ll read the mermaid story, then it’s good night time.”
“I know,” Dean nodded, after climbing into bed. “Go right to sleep after Momma says goodnight.”
“Why are all your toys out?” John asked looking around the room. “You’re supposed to put them away when you’re done.”
“There protecting me from the monster,” Dean said quickly. “You said you got rid of it, but it came back.”
“There’s no monster, Dean,” John sighed.
“Yeah-huh,” Dean nodded. “I sawed it.”
“Clean up your room,” John told his son. “Then I’ll read you the story.”
“No!” Dean yelled. “It’s protection!”
“Do not speak to me like that,” John demanded. “There’s no monster. So put your toys away like you’re supposed to.”
Dean shook his head back and forth.
“Dean!” John groaned. “You gotta learn to listen.”
“No,” Dean whined. “You listen. I can’t put them away. The monster will get me.”
“What’s going on?” Mary asked from the doorway, the commotion was too much to ignore.
“This mess,” John said pointing into the room.
“It’s protection from the monster under his bed,” Mary stated.
“Really?” John sighed. “You encouraged this? We’ve talked about this, and him making things up. I thought you were on my side here.”
“I’m not fighting with you in front of Dean,” Mary said crossing his arms over her chest. “Tuck him in, kiss him goodnight. We’ll talk about it in our room.”
John rolled his eyes and pushed past her into the hallway without saying goodnight to little boy.
“Good night, Dean,” Mary whispered, pushing his hair out of his face and kissing him on the forehead. “Angels are watching over you.”
“I don’t want Daddy to be mad at me,” Dean mumbled.
“I’ll fix it, alright,” Mary promised. “You just go to bed, sweetheart.”
“Okay,” Dean smiled weakly.
Mary kissed him on the forehead again before turning and heading into the hallway.
“He’s suppose to put his toys away,” John whispered harshly before Mary had a chance to close the door.
“And he did,” Mary said, securing the door behind her. “The ones he played with. We set up his room so the the monster couldn’t get back under his bed.”
“Why are you letting a three year old call the shots?”
“He’s scared,” Mary answered. “He’s terrified of that thing. Whether its a balled up sweatshirt or toy that got shoved under there or just his imagination, he’s scared of it. And I’m not going to look a terrified little boy in the face and tell him it’s not real. It’s real to him. That’s all that matters.”
“It’s stupid,” John sighed. “You can’t just do whatever he says. I played along once, told him it wasn’t there. That should have been enough.”
“You weren’t there last night when he came into our room nearly in tears because he thought something was going to eat him in his sleep. It’s real to him. He has a very active imagination. I’m not going to tell him to stop playing pretend. That’s what little kids are gonna do. If he’s ten and still scared of the thing under his bed we’ll talk about there being a problem. He’s three years old, John.”
“Old enough to learn,” John voice raising as he shook his head. “Old enough to start acting like a big kid now. He’s going to start school in a couple years. A big brother is a few months. He can’t be a little baby afraid of monsters wearing a towel around his neck. What if he tries to rescue the baby and something happens?”
“He’s not gonna hurt the baby, John,” Mary sighed. “We’ll teach him what to do, how to handle the baby.”
“He punched the little kid next door,” John sighed crossing his arm.
“Karen saw the whole thing,” Mary retorted. “It was an accident.”
“An accident from this stupid superhero shit that you encourage.” John yelled. “He needs to grow up.”
Caught up in the argument, neither of them noticed the door to their right opening, or the little blonde boy in the Superman pajamas staring up at them with tears in his eyes.
“Don’t yell,” he whispered. “I’m sorry.”
“Dean,” Mary sighed, leaning down to pick him up.
“I’ll be a big boy if you don’t yell,” Dean said, muffled by his mother’s nightshirt. “I put all my toys away. Except the ones on the shelf cuz I can’t reach it.”
“You didn’t have to do that,” Mary sighed.
“I didn’t want you to yell,” Dean replied. “I don’t like it.”
“What about the monster?” Mary asked. “Are you gonna be alright to sleep?”
“I don’t know,” Dean pouted. “I just don’t want you and daddy to yell at me.”
“We aren’t yelling at you, Angel,” Mary shot daggers across the hallway toward her husband. As much as she loved him, she couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t let her be the parent she wanted. She wanted to be better than their parents. She didn’t want Dean to grow up to hate the way he grew up. She just didn’t see why John wouldn’t listen to her.
“You’re yelling about me,” Dean answered. “I don’t want you to be mad.”
“I’m not mad,” Mary promised kissing him on the top of the end. “We’re not mad at you.”
“You promise?” Dean said leaning back so he could look into his mother’s eyes.
“Cross my heart,” Mary nodded. “Do you want to set your stuffed animals back up or are you going to be okay?”
Dean looked at his father over Mary’s shoulder. “I don’t know. I’m still scared but I don’t want Daddy to be mad at me.”
Mary spun around to look at her husband. She mouthed “Tell him it’s okay.”
“It’s fine, Dean,” John sighed giving in. “Do what you gotta do.”
“I can have my toys out?” Dean asked softly.
“Just for monster protection.” John said rolling his eyes.
“Okay,” Dean nodded. “You can put me down.”
Mary did as he requested and the little boy went back into his room.
“Why don’t you help him set his room back up?” Mary said, a cold glare in her eyes. “So that he knows you’re not mad at him.”
John sighed loudly and followed Dean.
“What do you need me to do?” John said shaking his head.
Dean pulled his tub of stuffed animals back out.
“The bears,” Dean explained. “Go around the bottom of the bed, and then the crocodile goes on the little table. But I gotta check under the bed first. Grown ups can’t see the monster.”
“Okay,” John set up the bears as Dean instructed while Dean laid on the ground and lifted the bed skirt.
“All clear,” he nodded, smiling slightly. Dean dove into his toy box, pulling out the action figures that sat on his window sill and put them back.
“Is this how you had it?” John asked when the bears were back around the bottom of the bed.
“Thank you,” Dean mumbled nodding. “Will you still read me the mermaid story?”
“Tomorrow,” John grumbled. “It’s gettin’ really late for you.”
“I’m sorry I’m scared,” Dean pouted climbing back into bed and under the covers. “The monster is really scary.”
“There’s no such thing,” John said standing up over the bed. “There’s nothing under there and there is nothing in your closet. There aren’t monsters.”
“John,” Mary sighed from the hallway.
“Good night, Dean,” John said before heading out of the room. Mary stalked across the hall to the master bedroom, John close behind her.
“Don’t talk to him like that ever again,” Mary hissed, finger in his face.
“He has to --”
“If you say ‘grow up’ I will punch you,” Mary continued. “Do you remember being a little kid? Because I remember. I remember running around pretending to be an astronaut and an airplane pilot on my parents’ sofa. And I remember my dad telling me to stop being such a dreamer and live in the real world. And I hated him for it. He’s been dead for almost ten years, and I still hate him for it. I don’t want our kids to grow up to hate you. So let him be a superhero and wear his silly towel around his neck. Let him fight the monster under his bed his way. He’ll grow out of it eventually.”
“When he starts school --” John said shaking his head.
“When he starts school,” Mary said over him. “We’ll tell him that he can only be a superhero at home. That the towel stays at home. We’ll tell him that he can be Batman all he wants at home, but he has to be Bruce Wayne at school. He’ll be mad, but he’ll get over it. Maybe when the new baby comes, he’ll decide he needs to be a big boy. I read that getting a younger sibling makes the older ones feel important, like a grown up.”
“His little friend across the street didn’t become grow up overnight when they brought home their younger one.”
“That’s totally different. Jamie was eighteen months old when Brandon came home,” Mary, pulling the sheets down on the bed. “He wasn’t even a real person yet. Dean’ll be four when the we bring home the baby.”
Mary grabbed pillows off the side of the bed closer to John and threw them at him.
“Seriously?” John shook his head.
“Couch looks pretty comfortable,” Mary said between tightly clenched teeth. “And honestly, I can’t stand the look of you. And God forbid that little boy has a nightmare and runs in here. Who knows what you’ll say to him. Tomorrow, since you’re not going into work on the weekend. You’re going to sit down with him. And you’re gonna be his Robin the day. You’re gonna play with your son and let him know it’s okay. That he’s not doing anything wrong.”
“Mary, we need the money,” John shook his head. “I said I would. Someone’s gotta supervise.”
“You own the stupid thing right?” Mary argued. “Call Ricky in the morning and tell him your wife is giant bitch that wants you to spend time with your kid. I’m going to bed. Get out.”
John rolled his eyes and walked out of the room with his pillows.