Author: Kat Lee
Character/Pairing: John, wee!Chesters
Challenge/Prompt: Christian Pens: Psalm 23
Word Count: 1,624
Date Written: 7 July 2018
Disclaimer: All characters within belong to Kripke, not the author, and are used without permission.
His heart’s still racing when he comes in the door. His first instinct is to take his boys and flee, but he stops when he doesn’t see them at first. He stops, and the world spins. His heart pounds inside of his head. He grips the door handle with one hand and his gun with the other. “Dean?” he calls out, his heart thumping painfully and loudly between his ears. “Dean?!”
“Sh, Dad!” The small, whispered voice comes from the bed, around which curtains have been drawn. John inches closer, uncertain, and snatches the curtains away from the bed. He lets out an audible sigh when he finds both of his small children huddled together in the bed, one still sound asleep and the other looking up at him. “Sh! Please don’t wake Sammy. He’s not feeling good.”
“What’s with the curtains?” John demands, trying to fight down the remainder of the panic that had risen in him from showing in his voice.
Dean shrugs. “Sammy said it was too bright to sleep. Said the curtains on the windows didn’t do much good to block out the sun.”
John eyes the curtains surrounding the bed and realizes that they are considerably thicker than the ratty ones hanging on the windows through which even now the moonlight can be seen streaming into the small room. He can imagine how bright the sun must have made it. He looks again at the curtains around the bed. They’re much nicer than the ones that tend to hang in the hotels they frequent. He’s about to ask Dean where he got them when the demand dies in his throat. Dean’s looking up at him so sweetly and pensively that John simply doesn’t have the heart to rattle him full of questions. “You said he’s not feeling good?” he asks, sinking down onto the bed instead. The dirty mattress creaks underneath his weight.
“No, sir.” Dean’s voice is small and timid. John wonders if he’s done that to his boy, made him so scared of him that he’s even afraid to answer him when he questions him about his little brother’s welfare.
“What’s wrong with him?”
“I’m not sure. I don’t think it’s anything serious. Maybe the food they gave us earlier?”
“They gave you?” John demands, his voice rising again.
“Well, maybe not exactly gave. Room service ended up at the wrong room.”
A sly smile creeps across John’s tired, grizzled face. “And you didn’t bother to correct them.”
It’s an observation, not a question, but Dean doesn’t seem to take it that way. “Well, no,” he says, somewhat hesitant, and John can tell he’s expecting to be fussed at.
He should tell him he’s a good boy. He should thank him for watching over his brother. He should try to explain to him why he’s always gone, why he’s not the better father that his sons deserve. There’s so much he should say, so much he should do, but now that he’s sitting down, the weeks away and on the move are beginning to catch up to him. He crawls backwards higher up onto the bed instead, not even bothering to lift his feet so he can take his boots off first.
Dean makes way for him, but he doesn’t move out from between him and Sammy. The boy truly does take his responsibility very seriously. If anything ever happens to him, if he ever fails to come home -- Fear and depression suddenly tighten John’s throat. Tears spring to his exhausted eyes. If he ever fails to come home, he’ll never see his boys again, but Dean will make sure Sammy’s all right even if he himself is not.
He reaches out and wraps an arm around his eldest son, a boy growing too quickly into a man, a child of whom he is so very proud. He should tell him, but he doesn’t know. He’s too tired to form words, and if he speaks now, he knows he’s going to cry. He won’t cry in front of his children. They don’t need their father’s weakness on top of everything else with which they already suffer and deal. They need him to be strong, always strong . . . and yet . . .
Yet, earlier, he was so afraid. He almost didn’t make it through the last fight. He almost didn’t make it back to them. He shuts his eyes tightly closed so that Dean won’t see the tears he’s fighting. He thinks of Mary and the endless battle to find and kill her killer. He thinks of his beloved wife and wonders what she would think of the way he’s raising their sons. It’s not like he’s got a choice. The fight isn’t just about avenging Mary; it’s about protecting their boys too. The Demons wouldn’t let Mary escape the fight; they’ll be after her sons just as much, especially if she was right about Sammy.
He lays a head back on the pillow and hears a groan rattle through the room. For a moment, he freezes; then he realizes that the groan came from him. He’s so tired, so very tired, but he has to keep moving. He always has to keep moving. He has to keep a step ahead of the enemy. He should already be moving them, but if Dean’s right, if Sammy’s sick . . . It won’t help him to move him right now. Maybe they can rest for at least a few hours.
Mary would want them to rest. She’d want them both to rest, and she wouldn’t want him to be away from them so much. She’d want him to be home with their boys, to just be with them more often. He wants the same thing truly, but he can’t. Somebody has to keep the monsters away. Somebody has to kill them before they come to kill Sammy and Dean too.
As sleep tugs at his fatigued mind, John pictures Mary in his head. He remembers the way she used to read Bible verses to the boys at night, remembers the way she’d kiss their little foreheads as they drifted off to sleep, and remembers too the way she always prayed to the God in which she believed so strongly and His Angels to keep them safe.
Bits of a verse come to him. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. His pastures aren’t green, and a dirty bed in an old, smelly hotel room is far different than a serene body of water. Still, with one arm wrapped around Sammy and Dean both, John can feel himself beginning to relax. He can feel the fight easing out of him, the tension going, and the peace coming. God may have let his wife be taken, and he’ll never forgive Him for that, but He also gave him these two miracles. Thank you for my boys, God, he finds himself thinking just before he falls fast asleep.
Watch over ‘em, please. In the daylight, he’ll remember his thoughts and scoff at himself. He used to pray the same thing for Mary. He used to pray the same thing every day for his family, and God let him down. He took Mary from him, but He hasn’t taken the boys yet. In the light of day, John would pray He never will if only he could believe in Him again. But for now, he drifts off to sleep, holding to the miracles he has been given and allowed to keep for now and feeling a rare peace, a God-given peace, fall over him as he sleeps beside them.
As quiet as a mouse, Dean slips from the bed. He undoes his father’s laces and takes off each heavy boot, dropping them one at a time quietly onto the floor. John groans in his sleep and rolls over, filling the middle of the bed and wrapping his arms tightly around Sammy. Dean’s left to take the other side of the bed. A tiny space is all that’s been left for him, and he almost hangs off of it.
Nonetheless he remembers what his mother taught him. He closes his eyes, lowers his little head, and prays for his father and his brother. Dear Lord, please keep us together. And please keep being Daddy’s staff. Please keep him safe and keep bringing him home. And God, if you can, it sure would be nice if he’d stay longer this time. Sammy needs him. Amen --
He’s just closing his prayer when the bed moves. His little eyes pop open, and he starts to reach for the weapon underneath the pillow. His father’s strong, burly arm suddenly throws over him, and Dean relaxes, laughing at himself and his own silly nerves. It was just his father moving all along. Now John holds to both his boys, and Dean feels what he’d like to think of as his father’s love as John sleeps with his arms holding them tightly to his sides.
One day, he’ll give up believing in both his fathers, but eventually an Angel will lead him back. He’ll come back to believe again, but even when he doesn’t, he’ll always protect his brother. He’ll always protect Sammy, and Sammy, in the innocence for which his father and brother both fight for him to preserve, will always believe even when his family ceases to. One day they’ll all believe again, and perhaps then they’ll get to see that tranquil, green meadow and feel the peace and love that will have so long eluded them both. For now, Dean falls asleep with a big smile on his face, his father’s arms wrapped tightly around him.