The setting, late spring, sun gave one last warm caress over the face of the young man who sat on a battered plastic lawn chair that had been placed on the balcony that ran along the front of the apartment complexes' second level. He sat with the chair tilted so it rested on its back legs with his feet propped up on the balcony's railing with the top of the chair touching the wall behind, helping to keep him from falling over. His eyes were closed and a small smile graced his lips.
He loved this time of day. The time just before twilight, when the world seemed to hold its breath and for a moment everything seemed to stop in anticipation of what was coming next. He loved the peacefulness and the way it made him feel as if the world held some hope after all.
For him, moments like these were few and far between. He had grown up in a world not to many knew of. His was a world in which late spring suns didn't give warm caresses or peace didn't offer any hope. His world was one of darkness and mostly void of hope. In his world what most would consider creatures of fairy tales and horror stories were actually creatures of reality. In his world he was called a hunter, for that was what he did; he hunted down and destroyed the creatures of other people's nightmares.
It wasn't the life he would have chosen for himself, but then again he hadn't been asked; having been thrust into this life at the age of four by the violent death of his mother. The young man had been stripped of his childhood innocence and forced to don the never ending awareness that something always lie lurking in the shadows, waiting to devour any who crossed its path.
He hadn't told anyone what he had seen that night, he couldn't. He remembered every sound, every smell and his skin crawled as the vision of his mother plastered to his baby brother's ceiling, stomach cut open, blood dripping from her as the fire consumed her and his baby brother's nursery flooded his consciousness driving the peace from his pre-twilight respite.
His nose scrunched up as the smell of her burning flesh assaulted his senses and he felt his own stomach roil as it threatened to release the contents of his supper onto the balcony where he sat. He hadn't had time that night to really digest what had happened; to fully appreciate the sight, smell and sound of the fire. Before he could, his father was standing over him shoving his brother into his arms shouting for him to run and not to look back.
The shock that set in afterward had rendered him speechless for a short time, and by the time he could talk his father was too far gone, lost in his own sorrow, that he didn't want to talk to his oldest about what had happened; so he had learn to internalize it and everything that came after.
This led to his inability to effectively communicate to those around him what he needed. He had grown up with the belief that his main purpose in life was to take care of his father and his younger brother, that his own wants and needs were secondary and of little importance. This was drilled into him day after day as he followed his father around the country, as a foot soldier in his dad's own private war against anything and everything that held even the smallest bit of evil. His father's voice, incessantly barking, in his head reminding him to, 'Look after Sammy. Keep Sammy safe,' and the punishments that would follow if he failed on any level.
The door to the apartment he shared with his dad and brother, slammed shut rousing him from his recollections. He slowly opened his green eyes. He pulled his feet from the railing and sat the chair back on all four of its legs. Sighing he looked at his brother, wondering what this latest bit of drama was all about.
Sam stood by the door his arms crossed over his chest. His mouth pinched as if he had sucked on a lemon, his brows pulled down and his nostrils flared; he was really pissed off. 'Oh this isn't good,' the older of the two thought.
"Of all the most pig headed, stupid, idiotic….," Sam mumbled, "I swear I am so leaving here as soon as I can. Ugh, I can't take him anymore." Sam paused when he noticed he wasn't alone. Looking at his brother, his pout deepened and his voice went from sounding strong with righteous indignation to high pitched and whiney. "You know what he's doing now? Do you? You won't believe this. I swear you won't."
Sam paused for dramatic effect then huffed out, "He cancelled my trip to the beach with the rest of the graduating class. He even told me that I couldn't go to the Prom. The Prom, Dean! I asked Allison to go with me, you know that girl I have been interested in ever since we moved here, that Allison. Well, I asked and she said yes. And, well Mr. Killjoy in there goes and tells me that I can't go because he has lined up a hunt for that night."
Sam kicked the side of the railing then spun around and leant up against it, his hazel eyes blazing, "That man is impossible. He doesn't need me on this hunt, he has you. Why is it so hard for him to understand that I don't want to do this? Why can't he accept that I have other plans for my life? I mean this is fine for you. You enjoy it, hell you're good at it, but me; I hate it. I want out. Just last year we almost lost you for good. I'm tired of hunts going wrong and the never ending fear of having to watch someone I care about die, or even dying myself. This is his war. NOT MINE! He never asked if I wanted to ride along, he just dragged me. Well he can't make me stay. I won't. By this time next year I won't have to worry about him anymore."
Dean waited patiently as he let his little brother ride out his tirade, he knew it wouldn't do any good to try and talk to him while he was so riled up. When he felt that Sam had vented enough he spoke to him in a calm and low voice, "Sam, you know how he is. He sets his mind, it stays set. He says he needs you, he needs you. Did you even ask him what the hunt is? Did you ask him why he needed you? Did you try to understand where he was coming from," Dean folded his arms across his chest, tilted his head and gave Sam a crooked grin, "Or, did you just go off on him without giving him a chance?"
"Figures, you'd take his side. You're just like him you know. You both have your heads shoved so far up your….." Sam huffed out before he was cut off.
"I wouldn't finish that if I were you," Dean warned. He rubbed his temples; he felt a headache coming on. "I know you think that he's a hard-nosed son of a bitch, and guess what; I agree. But, c'mon Sammy be fair, it's not like he wanted this either," Dean's voice got softer and took on a faraway feel, "You don't know what that night was like. You don't remember how it was before. It hasn't been easy for him, you know. He has had to fight to keep us together. He constantly skates on the edge and he's terrified that he'll go over and that he won't be here to protect us."
Sam gave a humorless laugh, "It hasn't been easy for him? What about us? Dean, we've spent our lives moving from one rat infested shit hole to the next. We were pulled out of school so much that you just dropped out and he let you. He didn't even care enough to make you finish school. Nope, he got what he wanted from you. He got your undivided attention and focus on this crusade of his. Besides, how would I know? I was six months old and it's not like either of you has ever sat down and really told me about it. And, it's not like he really cares. Who's here to protect us from him? Huh, Dean? Who protects us from him?"
Dean fixed Sam with a hard stare. He knew what he was talking about but he didn't want to think about it. Shaking his head he spoke once again, "Alright Sam let me see what I can do. I'm not going to make you any promises, but I'll try. I heard Caleb was in the area, maybe I can get dad to see if he can help out that night. Why don't you take a walk over to the convenient store just down the street? Get a soda or something. You know cool off before you go back in. Give me some time to talk to him."
"Thanks, Dean," Sam said then headed to the stairs that lead from the second level of the apartment building down to its parking lot.
Dean watched Sam as he headed out of the apartment's parking lot and towards the little store. "You're welcome," he said out loud to himself, "anything to get you out of this life little brother." Straightening his shoulders he placed his hand on the doorknob of the tiny apartment. 'Well here goes nothing,' he thought. 'I hope dad's not to pissed off,' his body gave an involuntary shudder at the thought of what would happen if he was.
John stood in stunned silence as his youngest stormed out of the apartment he shared with both his boys. He understood why Sam was upset and hell he couldn't blame him, but that kind of behavior was inexcusable. He had thought about chasing right after his youngest, but at the last second decided not to. He realized that he was angry enough to do something they both would regret later. Besides, Dean was right outside the door and he would talk some sense into his brother; he always did.
John sat on the couch that had been positioned along the back wall of the main living room in the latest in the collection of run down apartments his little family had occupied in the eighteen years since his precious Mary had been taken from him. He took a long drink from the bottle of whiskey he had been drinking from for the better of that day. His eyes burned with unbidden tears. Mary had been his world, his rock. She had been the support he needed to be the kind of father his son's would need. Under her careful guidance and constant love he had no doubt that he would have been the contender for father of the year award for the rest of his life.
But, she was gone; his support had been lost. Now he knew the truth about what was out there and had discovered that his boys, especially his youngest, were marked for something and that something wasn't good. The more he learned, the more his blood ran cold; the more he feared. Had he made mistakes in their upbringing? Of course he had. Were there things he would have done differently? Of course there were; if there had been any possible way to do so.
Sure, he would have preferred to have his boys grow up in the perfect white picket fence, Leave it to Beaver kind of way; you know with the mom who stayed at home and the dad who worked. The kind of life where their biggest worry was if they were going to get to ball practice on time, or what kind of pizza the team should have after they won the championship game. But, that life was taken away from them the same night their mother was.
He had learned too much about what was really out there and had made it his mission in life to track down the monster that had ripped his family apart and end it before it could do that to another family. He decided that along the way he would take out any other evil son of a bitch that he crossed paths with. He felt a calling and he wasn't going to ignore it. He couldn't turn his back on the truth, he had to face it.
John had thought about giving his boys to some family friends to raise but he couldn't bear the thought of losing them as well. He felt guilty at times that he had raised them the way he had, but he believed deep down there wasn't any other way. He knew beyond a shadow of doubt that his boys weren't safe anywhere else but with him. He had to train them, get them ready. He felt it, knew it, something was after his boys and it would have to go through him to get them.
Shaking his head, he slammed the bottle down on the coffee table. His dark eyes flashed and he clenched his hands into tight fists. He couldn't believe what an ungrateful, selfish, snot nosed little bastard Sam had turned out to be. His anger grew as he thought of all he had done for his sons over the last eighteen years. He had provided a place for them to live, food to eat and most importantly he had taught them how to survive.
He heard the door open and looked up in time to see his oldest walk in and close the door behind him. He watched as the boy stood, shuffling his weight from one foot to the other. It would have been funny; his twenty-two year old looking all of three, if he didn't know what was coming next.
Inwardly he groaned, Sam had done it again, he had gotten to him. John's dark eyes locked onto his son's green eyes and he spoke low, not calmly like Dean had with Sam, but dangerously, "Dean, not now. My mind's made up. We need Sam. You know it, I know it. This is a three person hunt. It's not just one wolf out there, there's at least two, maybe more. We need Sam. I know he's disappointed, but life is full of disappointments."
Dean swallowed, his dad was that pissed off. He thought of nodding and then heading back out to wait for Sam, but he had promised Sam he would try and he wasn't going to let him down. Dean nervously cleared his throat before he addressed his father. When he spoke his voice was submissive, "Yes, sir. But, I heard that Caleb was in the area and thought maybe we could call him and see if he's available. I mean, Sam's still pretty inexperienced when it comes to werewolves and I don't know, I think it might be better to have Caleb go along if he's available."
"Oh, you do, do you," John mockingly replied. "You know you might be onto something here. It would be better to have four than three. And as you mentioned, Sam's still pretty inexperienced."
John watched his son, a smirk growing on his face. "Yeah, I like it. That way I can stay with Sammy and you could stay with Caleb."
"No, dad, that's not what I meant," Dean started than faltered as John stood up from the couch, "What I meant was we could take Caleb along and leave Sam here, where he'd be safe. His mind wouldn't be on the hunt anyway and we both know it. It'd be better for everyone if he stayed behind."
John took a step towards Dean causing the younger man to shrink back against the wall. John felt the anger and frustration grow and this time, unlike he just had with Sam, he didn't try to stop it. He walked over to his son and grabbed him by the front of his shirt.
"Oh, you do, do you? What do you think I am? You really think I'm that stupid? I know what you're trying to do. You want me to agree to leave Sam here so he can take that girl to the dance then go to the beach after with their friends. Well, not gonna happen. Sam's going and that's that," John said as he slammed his son into the wall.
John's cell phone rang and he let go of the boy's shirt with one hand so he could answer it. John placed his free hand on Dean's chest, effectively holding the boy in place with very little effort. Dean watched as his dad's face reddened and his jaw clenched. He could tell by the look his dad was giving him that a shove against the wall wasn't all he was going to get out of this.
"Caleb," John said his voice eerily void of any of the anger he was feeling, "Yeah, you heard right. Yeah, that'd be great. Uh, huh, yep always appreciate an extra set of hands. Sure, no problem. We won't be leaving for a few days. Good, guess we'll see you then. No, no problem at all. I'm sure Dean won't mind you using his bed for a night. No, its fine, he usually falls asleep on the couch anyways. Yep, sure, me too. Ok see you then."
John slowly closed his phone. He turned a cool gaze upon his oldest and when he spoke the tenor of his voice sent chills through the young man's body. Dean swallowed, he knew he was in for it, he could feel it. How did Caleb know? He hadn't called him, yet, he knew better. He closed his eyes, Sam. Sam had called. Dammit Sammy, I told you I would handle this. He felt his father's weight shift, pushing him further into the wall; he felt his hot breath on his ear and he prayed for it to be over before Sammy returned from the store.
John's anger had turned to full blown rage and his voice conveyed as much, "Well I guess you get your way. Whose idea was it to call Caleb and tell him that Sammy wasn't going because I had promised him he could stay behind and go out? Whose idea was it? Was it yours or was it his? Cause I gotta tell ya if it was your idea that brother of yours has no idea how lucky he is to have you for his brother. You're willing to do whatever it takes to make him happy, it's too bad he doesn't really appreciate it."
Dean felt the air leave his lungs and his knees go weak mere seconds after his dad landed the first punch to his stomach. His pain filled grunt reached his ears only a few seconds later, to be followed quickly by tears building in the corners of his eyes. 'Don't cry,' he thought, 'please don't cry; it'll only make it worse.'
John pulled his arm back and let loose with two more quick jabs to his mid-section. He removed his other arm from across Dean's chest and coldly watched as he fell to his knees, his arms wrapped around his stomach. The younger man's body shook as he coughed and he placed one hand on the floor in front of him for support.
"It's your fault, you know that don't you," John asked as he circled around his son, "You and your insisting that he be kept in the dark about what was out there. You and your wanting him to have a childhood, to hold onto that innocence of his until it was no longer possible."
John stopped in front of the boy. "Look at me when I talk to you," he ordered harshly and nodded when Dean raised his head and looked up at him. "That's better," John said his voice deceptively calm, "Oh, you're not the only one to blame here. No, you see I understand that I shoulder some of the responsibility as well; after all I did listen to you. I went along with you, and I see the error of my ways. I should have been with him like I was with you, from the very beginning. I shouldn't have allowed you to influence my decisions when it came to Sam. You were and still are only a child."
John hit Dean along the cheek bone with an open handed slap that was strong enough to flip him over onto his back. He straddled the stunned kid, placing his knees on the floor on either side of him. He reached out grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled his head up off the floor. John's voice had once again gone dangerously cold, "Now, here's what you're going to do. You're going to get up, go to your room, get the keys to your car and wait for me to leave with Sam before you head out. You're going to go to the local dive in town and stay for a few hours. When you get back and Sam asks you about your face, you'll tell him that you got caught hustling the wrong guy. Are you clear on that, boy?"
John slammed Dean back onto the floor then lifted him again when he hadn't answered him fast enough, "I said are you clear on that?"
"Y-yes sir," Dean stuttered out. John let go of his shirt and stood up. Dean rolled over pushed himself up and staggered to his room. He felt the tears as they threatened to break lose and this time he didn't stop them.
He made his way to his room and then to the small bathroom that he shared with Sam. Looking into the mirror he could already make out the red mark that would, by the next morning, turn into a rather nasty looking bruise on the left side of his face. He turned on the cold water, cupped his hands beneath the cool liquid and splashed some onto his face.
"He didn't mean it," he said to his reflection, "He's drunk and I should have known better than to have pushed him. If, I would have just let things be, none if it would have happened. He didn't mean it." Turning off the water he reached for the towel and patted his face dry, wincing as the towel came into contact with his abused face.
He grabbed his keys from the nightstand, which stood between his and Sam's beds, his coat from the hook on the back of the door and waited as he had been instructed to. He couldn't let Sam know what had happened and he was more than happy to follow his father's orders; besides a few good stiff drinks sounded good to him right now and maybe if he was lucky enough he would find a pretty young thing to console him.