Prompt: #49 Camping
Type of Story: General
Author's Website:Astrangerfate's LJ
Author's Note: Disclaimer Supernatural and it's characters don't belong to me, and I'm making no money from this fic.
August 22, 1992
Dean rested his head against the window, watching the featureless Minnesota prairie that surrounded the empty highway. He fought the urge to point out how screwed up his father's version of bonding time was. When I said I missed you when you left, I didn't mean I wanted to spend my weekends torching monsters. Sir.
It had been almost a month since Dad had left him and Sammy with Pastor Jim, and he couldn't pretend that he hadn't been glad to see his father, to breathe in the scent of his leather jacket as John held him in a tight hug. But when he found out what his father had planned for the weekend, the disappointment had set in. He cares more about hunting than me and Sammy, the thirteen-year-old thought savagely, and even though he knew it probably wasn't true, it felt good to be angry.
His father hadn't missed his attitude either, when they'd left before it was wholly light outside the rectory.
"Get moving, Dean. We're losing time."
"Oh, yeah, right, we wouldn't want to be late for the big camping trip."
That had earned him a few well-placed swats, and a warning that he could either clean up his act or spend the next four hours riding on a sore butt. He had lapsed into a resentful sulk, knowing that John wouldn't hesitate to make good on the threat. Sam had given up trying to get his attention and returned to his book, leaving Dean no distractions but the flat landscape and occasional bump in the road.
As they neared another small patch of civilization, John broke the silence. "I'll be filling up at the next station," he announced. "You boys pick out a snack if you'd like."
Dean jumped out of the car quickly, relieved at the chance to stretch his legs, and made a beeline for the candy aisle. He snagged the yellow package of peanut M&M's and was about to bring them to his father when he noticed Sam getting the same thing,
"I thought you didn't like peanuts," he pointed out. "Are you sure that's what you want?"
Sam nodded. "Yeah, Dean, I wouldn't have gotten them otherwise," he said, rolling his eyes.
Dean shrugged. "Okay, but if you hate them don't say I didn't warn you." He knew that Sam was only getting the candy because he was, but it was Sam's problem, not his, so he dropped it and went back to the car, pressing the two packets of candy into John's hands with a small grin.
But he wasn't surprised when, after his second M&M, Sam wrinkled his nose and stuffed the rest into his pocket.
"Told you that you wouldn't like them," he muttered.
"I like them, I'm just not hungry right now," the nine-year-old insisted with a whine.
Dean cuffed Sam lightly on the arm. "Don't whine at me," he ordered.
"Stop it!" Sam squealed immediately, aiming a kick at Dean's leg.
He reached for his little brother, but John picked that moment to stop pumping gas and turn to the car, raising his eyebrow at his eldest. Dean slumped down in his seat, glaring, and Sam stuck out his tongue as they drove north.
John eyed the clearing with eyes that were slowly being opened to the supernatural world. Juniper could be useful for exorcisms, he recalled to himself. Hawthorne trees, with strong connections to both good and evil witchcraft. And those trees had to be hazelhe'd seen Bobby Singer demonstrate how to make a divining rod from hazel branches not three weeks ago. He'd have to teach all this to the boys someday, he thought ruefully. Not today, though. First they had to learn what they were up against.
Sam and Dean were sitting in the entrance to the tent, finished with the sandwiches he had packed for a late lunch. It was a two-man tent, and might sleep a little snug, but he was counting on the boys being small enough to stay close. For the time being, he had some debriefing to do.
"Dean! Sam! Come here," he commanded in the strong tone acquired during his military years. They shrugged and stood up, Sam meticulously dusting the knees of his jeans. The look on Dean's face betrayed that he was still resentful about being swatted earlier, but at least his hostility was concealed under the surface. He stood at attention, waiting for orders.
"Now, boys, what did I tell you about the Wendigo?"
Dean spoke up immediately, anxious to show his father that he had been paying attention. "It used to be human. Now it's a monster. It kills people so fast you can't even see it, but it hibernates and this one won't wake up for another six or seven years."
John nodded his approval. "That's right. The Wendigo's sleeping, so there's nothing to worry about. And I have a pretty good idea of where we'll find it tomorrow. But it's a good idea to give you boys some pointers for what to do with one of these suckers when it's awake."
He knelt to the ground, swept it clean of the small debris from the woods. He located a fallen stick and broke it in two so that it was a manageable length. As he spoke, he began to draw marks in the earth.
"Wendigos are an old American Indian story," he explained. "They're warded off by certain Anasazi symbols. If you're ever in the woods with an active Wendigo, you can draw a protective circle. As long as you remain inside, it won't be able to touch you." He finished the circle he had made around the three of them, noting with gratitude that Dean's eyes were bright and focused. He was absorbing the information like a sponge. That was the kid John knew, the one who shot bulls-eyes every time and got excited about learning how to hunt like his Daddy.
"Daddy?" Sam's voice was curious. "Why do those symbols work on a Wendigo?" That was his Sammy, always questioning, always wanting to know why. And this was just another time John couldn't give a straight answer.
"I can't tell you, kiddo," he said honestly. "The Anasazi culture vanished hundreds of years ago. And there are a few different ideas about this particular lore, but I can't tell you which one's accurate."
Sam frowned, disappointed. "Okay," he said reluctantly. The nine-year-old began playing with a piece of grass, and John could tell he was losing interest in the lesson. Time to bring out the big guns.
He reached into his duffel for the sketchpad and charcoal pencils. Giving a piece of paper to both boys and keeping one for himself, he began to demonstrate the icons he had traced on the ground.
"And so you finish it off with this down stroke," he concluded, watching Sam and Dean struggle to imitate his lines. He tore out two more pieces of paper for them. "Keep practicing; you'll get it right."
After a few more tries Dean managed to draw a complete circle, and after that Sam redoubled his efforts. Before long both of them could draw it from memory.
"Good work," John said. "I want you to keep drawing the symbols before you go to bed every night for two weeks, so you don't lose them."
"Yessir," both boys responded readily. Dean caught John's eyes and smiled proudly. So he was forgiven for dragging them to the wilderness for some quality time.
"Now, a Wendigo lives in cool, dark places," he reminded them. "Abandoned mines, rundown shacks, and caves if they're not too damp. Our Wendigo's probably holed up in a series of caves about a mile south of where we are now, beside the riverbed. Once you've got him cornered in his lair or fenced in by symbols, you have to kill him. Guns, blades, holy water are all useless. What you need to do is break his heart."
"Break his heart?" Dean asked skeptically, his mouth twitching with all the sarcastic things he was aching for a chance to say.
"Yeah, break his heart. It's a shard of ice in his chest, and you've got to make sure you destroy it completely, or the spirit can enter another body. There are lots of stories of hunters who've thought that a silver bullet alone would finish the job and wound up becoming the monster's new packaging. You have to break the heart open, or you can melt it, which is a damn sight easier, especially if the thing wakes up."
"So we torch it?" Dean looked unreasonably pleased.
"Yeah, that's right. Set fire to the thing and watch it shrivel." There was no small satisfaction in his own voice as he answered, remembering the son of a bitch he'd seen in Michigan, ripping out the hearts of the victims to eat first, still throbbing. Sometimes even being burned alive seemed like it was too easy.
Sam looked a little uncomfortable at the idea, but John reached over to cuff him lightly on the shoulder. "You doing okay there, Sammy?" He remembered how the kid had been worried the last time he'd left, convinced that there were monsters at Jim's house, waiting to attack him as soon as John left. He'd given the kid a gun, and a lecture on what he should do if any of those ghosts in the closet or werewolves under the bed started causing trouble. Looking at the kid these past two days, though, he'd wondered if Sam was really over his worries that John and Dean wouldn't be protecting him.
Sam looked up into his dad's face, swallowed and nodded. "Yeah," he said, trying to sound casual. "I'm fine, Dad."
"Attaboy." He had thought about taking them through the woods and doing a little exploring, but the skies were already growing dark this far north.
"Now we'll need wood for a campfire if we're going to cook the hot dogs I brought," he said, and watched both faces light up with glee.
An hour later, Dean had already wolfed down two hot dogs and was reaching for a third. Somewhere in the darkness, there was a faint scuffling sound. Dean tensed and Sam jumped in shock, scooting a little closer to John.
"Don't worry about that, Sammy. It's just a deer or a squirrel," John said reassuringly, kindly patting the small boy on the back.
Dean grinned. "Don't be so sure, Sam," he said, barely keeping the smirk from his voice. "It could be a deer. Or it could be something else. Like, oh, I don't know, a bear? Or maybe even a Wendigo!" He dropped his voice to a thrillingly low whisper and watched as Sam grew pale and practically threw himself into John's arms.
"Dean!" John said loudly, putting enough bark in his voice to make his oldest pay attention.
"All right," Dean sighed, longsuffering. "It's not a Wendigo, Sammy. Don't be such a crybaby."
"I'm not a crybaby!" Sam yelled indignantly.
"Dean!" John's rebuke was stern, designed to dampen Dean's mood and prevent him from carrying this any further.
"Fine, fine." But it wasn't too long before Dean's good humor got the better of him again.
"So, I was thinking," he said in hushed tones, looking through the dying flames to his father and brother, "that this reminds me of the story Joshua was telling last year."
"What story is this, Dean?" John asked, the hint of a growl in his voice. He had been serious about Dean not teasing his brother, and this was almost enough to push him over the edge. Evil was no joking matter, and he thought Dean would recognize this by now.
"Well, it's about this woman who lived on the edge of some woods, kind of like the forest where we are now," Dean continued, clearly enjoying Sam's wide eyes and John's apprehensiveness. "She lived alone with her two cats, and one night some men broke into her house. So they tortured her and killed her, and"
"Enough is enough, Dean!" John ordered sharply, rising to his feet in an instant. "Get your butt over here." He sat down in one of the small folding chairs a short distance from the fire. The seat was short and his knees rose at an odd angle, but he wouldn't have any problem reaching his son's behind. In fact, it would present an easy target.
"Wait, Dad, I'm sorry" Dean began, ready to be serious now that he was faced with a spanking, but John shook his head.
"I warned you more than once about teasing your brother and you should have realized I was serious. Are you going to make me come get you?" he asked threateningly. The question was loaded with the implications of what that would mean, and Dean, who had already experienced enough punishment for dawdling to last a lifetime, was quick to make the right decision.
"No, sir," he said quietly, and he came to stand beside John, giving his father a pathetic look.
John cringed inwardly. He couldn't pretend he wanted to spank Dean so soon after coming back to his boys, and especially not when he had hoped this would become one of Dean's fonder memories, but there was no question that the kid had been asking for it. He remembered Joshua's story of the murder and the spirit created from the woman's death, and he'd be damned if Dean was going to use something like that to scare his little brother.
"Ghosts, Wendigos, or anything supernatural for that matterthey're not something to joke about, Dean. This is serious business," he scolded.
"Yessir. 'M sorry." Dean was looking at the ground, hands twisting nervously in front of him.
"Don't joke about the things you can't understand," John said harshly, watching his son droop.
"And next time I tell you to cut the crap, I expect you to shut your mouth. Is that clear?"
"Yessir." Dean shifted his weight, ready to get his spanking over with.
"Good boy." John reached out to wrap his hands around Dean's wrists and pulled the boy over his lap, not bothering to take down the jeans. He wasn't really trying to punish his smart-alec teenager, just reminding him to behave himself. He began swatting firmly, hoping to get the message across as quickly as possible.
Dean squirmed uncomfortably at the stinging spanks, feeling his bottom grow warm even through the denim jeans. "Ouch! Dad, I'm sorry," he protested, a little shocked at the speed of the smacks raining down across his backside.
"Glad to hear it," John said shortly. "I guess you'll be paying some attention to orders for the rest of the trip."
"Yessir! I'm sorry!" The spanking wasn't as painful as it might have been, Dean knew, but he was acutely aware of the lack of privacy in the woods. Sam was deliberately avoiding his gaze, poking at the fire with one of the sticks they'd used to cook the hot dogs, but Dean was still embarrassed to be spanked like a kid in front of his little brother.
"Then we're almost finished." John brought his palm down five more times at the top of Dean's thighs, putting a little more force behind these spanks. He rubbed his hand against his own jeans, trying to alleviate the warm stinging.
Dean got up quickly and ran a hand gingerly over the seat of his pants, trying to shake off the mild throbbing.
"Dean," John's voice was firm. "I'm serious about this. The next time you disobey a direct order, you're getting a full-blown paddling on your bare butt. Am I clear?"
"Yessir," Dean replied, trying to keep his voice from trembling a little at the thought.
"Good. On that note, boys, we have a big day tomorrow. It's time you were in bed."
His youngest son was quick to abandon the warmth of the fire for his sleeping bag, rolling up his jeans and t-shirt to use as an extra pillow after he changed into his Spiderman pajamas. Dean was slower and more deliberate, fussing in his backpack until John had to call him again. He kept his voice gentle, knowing that being spanked made the teenager feel guilty and even slighted.
"Get to bed, Dean."
"Yessir." Dean's voice was subdued, but his actions spoke loudly enough as he tossed the bag aside, crawled in beside Sammy and wrapped himself up in his own bedroll. He turned over, pressing his face against the side of the tent, refusing to look at his family.
John's eyebrows quirked in surprise. It was more like Sammy to play the drama queen, and he was at a loss. He motioned for the younger boy to scoot over, and crawled across the pillow to sit beside Dean.
"Hey, buddy, what's wrong?" he asked. Dean shrugged his lean shoulders, still not looking up.
"I know you've had a tough day," he said, and Dean's small, bitter laugh almost made him decide not to continue. But a hunt was no place for unresolved tensions, so he continued with a slight frown. "Hell, it's been a tough month. I can't say I blame you."
Dean was tense and unresponsive. John blinked at his form, huddled under his sleeping bag, and remembered a smaller boy who got scared and upset, and would lie rigidly waiting for reassurance. He reached out his hand tentatively, running it over his son's back. Dean didn't flinch, or give any indication that he was aware of the touch.
"You're alright, Dean," he said softly, rubbing small circles across the shoulder blades. "Everything's okay."
What had he done when Dean was young, in the months after the fire? Held him in his lap, sure. And sang to him, songs that weren't lullabies, not the kind Mary knew, but were close enough.
"Do you want me to sing to you?" he asked. The words sounded strange in his ears. He hadn't asked that in years, probably since Sammy started school and became too old to be sung to, too old to need Daddy or Dean to tie his shoelaces.
He looked down to see Dean give an almost imperceptible nod. "All right," John said, clearing his throat a little. "Sammy, why don't you come back over here by your brother." He returned to his side of the tent, rocking softly on his heels as he tried to remember softer songs. The Grateful Dead
songs like "It Must Have Been The Roses" or "El Paso." James Taylor's "You Can Close Your Eyes." That was as good a place as any to start out, he figured, and he started singing "Sweet Baby James."
Dean would give him hell most of the time if he tried to sing, but for the moment both of his boys were still, even keeping their breathing quieter than usual. He fumbled a little over the wordssomething about snow, he knewbut Sam and Dean were both already slipping into sleep so he returned to the chorus, humming it softly until he joined them.
It took Dean a moment to remember where he was, and he rolled over on a root that had somehow been missed when the tent was set up. He drew in his breath sharply before realizing that he had been awakened by his younger brother pulling at his sleeping bag.
"Jesus, Sammy, what is it?" he asked irritably.
"I have to go to the bathroom," Sam whispered back, wriggling uncomfortably.
"Well, then, you're out of luck," Dean grumbled, "because there isn't a bathroom for miles."
"Deeeeean!" Sam protested. "You know what I meant!"
"So if you gotta take a leak, go outside and take a leak. Stop crying to me about it." Dean buried his face in his arms, trying to block out the moonlight brightening the tent, but Sam's insistent voice sounded again, right in his ear.
"I don't want to, Dean, it's scary! I'm not going out there alone." There was a definite note of panic in his voice, and Dean could have kicked himself for scaring the kid earlier.
"Fine," he sighed, sitting up reluctantly. "Since you'll just wet the bed if I don't take you, and I'd have to sleep next to it"
"I would NOT!" Sam sputtered, but since he had gotten what he wanted he didn't push the subject, carefully stepping over John's prone figure and following Dean out of the unzipped doorway.
Dean folded his arms across his chest. "Make it quick, dork, I'm waiting," he warned. He shivered slightly in the night breeze.
"Not heeeeere," Sam whined. "It's out in the open."
Dean fought back the urge to smack Sam upside the head. The little geek knew they weren't supposed to leave camp. It was only John's most basic rule: not to leave his sight. "Look, Sammy, we're in the middle of the woods in the friggin' middle of nowhere. No one's watching, I promise."
Sam's lower lip jutted out petulantly, and Dean rolled his eyes. "Okay. Fine. But you don't tell Dad we left the clearing for one minute, you understand?" What Dad didn't know wouldn't hurt him. Besides, they would only be gone for a minute. He couldn't help feeling a little pleased at the small disobedience, a petty vengeance for being spanked earlier.
Sam nodded his assent, and they went a few yards into the growth of trees. Dean turned his back obligingly while Sam found a larger tree to hide behind, and for a moment he allowed himself to relax, looking up at the clear night sky, trying to find the North Star. Then he heard the distinctive sound of a human scream.
Sam was at his side in an instant, clutching his arm and sobbing.
"Dean, Dean, that was the Wendigo," he wailed, practically climbing into Dean's arms, locking his arms around his brother's neck. "Dad said they can mimic a human voice. It's awake and it's gonna get us, Dean!"
"Calm down," Dean ordered, trying not to let his brother's panic affect him and fighting to keep a cool head. "The Wendigo didn't wake up, Sammy. It's still hibernating. And you know how hibernating is, like bears do. It's a real deep sleep. They don't just wake up."
"Then it's Dad!" Sam cried, tears streaming down his cheeks. "Something happened to him!"
"He's fine, Sammy," said Dean. He detangled his brother's arms from his neck gently, took Sammy's hand in his, feeling a lot less confident than he sounded. He had to keep Sam calm now, even though Sam had just voiced his biggest fears. "Come on, let's get back to the campsite."
He led Sam through the trees, back in the direction of the clearing they had only just left. When they arrived, they could both see that the tent had vanished.
John woke to rough, fast motion and yelled. He reached for his flashlight, fumbling in the jumble of junk being sloshed around in the mobile tent and unable to find it. "Sam! Dean!" he called sharply, but there was no answer. He was alone in the tent with the blankets tangling around him, and something heavy that hit him across the shoulder as he struggled to free himself. Whatever was dragging him pitched forward and he was flung to the opposite side of the tent. Struggling to regain his balance, he fell through an opening. He couldn't tell whether it was the entrance, or a rip in the lightweight fabric. He sat up just in time to see the tent disappearing among the maze of trees, hauled by an enormous bear.
"Oh, my God," he said huskily, pulling himself to his feet. "Boys...."
He took off at full speed, running back the way he hoped he came, almost tripping over rocks and roots lying in his path. "Sam! Dean!" he bellowed, calling their names over and over again, his heart pounding in his chest. He found a small break in the trees and looked up, trying to locate the North Star to get his bearings. He ran in the direction of the campsite, shouting until he was hoarse, but there was no answer.
As he stumbled through the darkness, his breathing ragged and his heart pounding in his chest, rising to his throat, he pushed all thoughts of what might have happened to the back of his mind. There hadn't been time for them toto He shook his head emphatically, as if he could get rid of the thoughts with the motion. They're all right, he told himself, over and over, because he couldn't have kept going without that thought. They're all right and I'm going to find them. He repeated it out loud, hoping that saying it would somehow make it true.
Dawn was creeping through the trees as John climbed up the last hill, certain that the campsite was just above the crest. "Sam! Dean!" he called again, without any real hope that this time the calls would be answered. He needed to get to his car, go for help. Thank God his keys were in the bag with the food and supplies, high enough to keep away from the bears
He was forming plans, keeping his mind occupied with rational thoughts instead of the yet unspoken terrors. He ascended to the top, stepped forward purposefully. It was camp, and it was empty.
He leaned his head against a tree, taking a moment to catch his breath. He hadn't known what he expected to find, but the cold morning light on the blackened ashes of the fire was singularly unsatisfying. As he looked around for a log to stand on and cut down the supplies, John was certain he heard something in the clearing, coming closer. He opened his mouth and cupped his hand around an ear, trying to make out the sound. There was a voice along with the shuffling leaves, and although it was too far away and high-pitched for him to distinguish words, he knew whose voice it was.
"SAM!" he yelled as loud as he could. "Sam, can you hear me?"
"DADDY?" The return yell was too loud and full. He could pick out Dean's voice joining his brother's, and, supplies forgotten, leapt down from the log.
"Boys, I'm here!" he called. "In the clearing!"
A moment later his sons came barreling into his arms, two small barefoot figures in dirty pajamas. "Dean. Sam," he repeated, clutching them tight and running his hands through their hair. He was aware that the relief was causing tears to spring to his eyes, and he might have been squeezing them a little too hard, but all he wanted was the reassurance that they were safe, they were there, that he hadn't lost them.
Finally he released them, looked into the tired, tearful faces. Sam was sniffling with chill and his gratitude at being found.
"I thought when you boys weren't in the tent, that the bear
" John said, his voice thick with emotion.
"Bear?" they chorused, eyes widening in surprise.
"There was a bear? That's why you were gone?" Dean asked.
John frowned a little. "Yeah, the tent got dragged off by a bear." His mind was racing. Sam and Dean were safe, thank God, but what had happened? Why hadn't they known about the tent? He chose his next words carefully. "When you said I was gone, Dean, what did you mean? You and your brother weren't in the tent when it was dragged off?"
"No, sir," Dean replied in a low voice. Sammy's lip began to tremble at the memory.
Something was wrong. After three and a half hours of searching for them, there was something his sons were keeping from him, and he was not happy about it.
"Dean. Report," he ordered, his eyes locking into the pools of crystal green.
"Sammy and I weren't in the camp, sir," the thirteen-year-old said, swallowing hard, even though his mouth was dry and his throat parched from calling for his father. "He had to goyou knowand we were in the woods a little ways off. We heard you scream and ran back as fast as we could and everything was gone. We're sorry. We
we didn't know anything was gonna happen."
The fear that had been present in John's heart and the back of his mind rose sharply to the forefront of his consciousness again at those words. His boys, wandering off alone through the woods, where there were bears, Wendigos, and God only knew what else
"You left camp on your own and went into the woods?" he asked, trying to keep his voice steady. "After I'd given explicit orders about keeping in my sight?"
"Well, we didn't want to wake you" Dean started lamely, trying to flash his father a weak grin that would make John forgive him.
John, however, wasn't buying it. The entire night had been more than he could handle, thinking of everything working against them, and how one push in the wrong direction could have taken everything from him.
"It's a miracle you're alive," he said shortly, letting the stern note in his voice show his displeasure. "You know not to wander off on your own." Dean dropped his head in guilty agreement, but it jerked up in shock at the words that followed.
"You see the log over there?" John pointed at the block of wood he'd been planning on using to cut down their supplies.
"Yessir." Dean was cautious, confused.
"Get your pants down and bend over it."
The little color remaining in Dean's cheeks drained, and his voice quivered a little. "Dad?"
"You heard me, Dean. I want your pants and your underwear around your ankles, and I want you bent over that log."
John reached in his pocket for the switchblade he hoped was still there. He felt it, smooth between his fingers, and turned his back on his shaken son. He marched over to one of the hazel trees lining the enclosure and began to cut. The wood was soft under his blade, and he found a branch of approximately the right thickness. He skinned it quickly, smoothing the edges from the rough bark the same way he would make a divining rod. But this rod was for an entirely different purpose.
He turned back to see Dean frozen in place, standing and watching him as if, after hours of searching in the lonely forest, he no longer trusted his eyes and ears not to mislead him. Sam was sitting on the ground, his knees drawn up to his chest and his face buried in his arms, shaking a little.
"Dean!" he barked. "I thought I told you to get those pants down."
"I'm sorry, Dad," Dean apologized, his voice still smaller than usual. "Really. I didn't think it would be bad to take Sammy just for a minute
" He took a step back as John took a step forward, trying to keep his distance. His eyes were fixed on the switch John held in his hands.
"I gave you a direct order and you chose to disregard it," John scolded angrily. "You know that'll earn you a spanking every time, and you know not to fight me when I tell you to get in position." He crossed over to Dean quickly, taking his son's arm to keep him in place as he used his right hand, still holding the switch, to tug Dean's pajama pants to his knees.
Dean gasped sharply as he felt his father's no-nonsense grip leading him over to the log, but he didn't resist as John bent him into place, or try to move after John released him. He gritted his teeth and squeezed his arms around the block, waiting for the switch to land on his unprotected behind.
"You know damn good and well not to leave a campsite on your own, son," his father said tightly. "I'm not going to go into all the details here, because we'll have more than enough time for that later. I want you to think about some of the mistakes you made while I blister your behind."
A moment later Dean heard a faint whistling, and then felt a thin, painful line of fire spread across his bottom. He exhaled in pain and surprise before the switch descended again, a little lower. Dean clenched his jaw and his fists, fighting not to reach behind and rub the fiery stripes across his seat.
John was somewhat satisfied to see Dean's immediate reaction at the concentrated area of pain, the pink lines blooming on the pale skin. At least it appeared to be having an effect. He brought the switch down sharply, again and again. Dean squirmed, his breathing growing heavy, but he didn't cry out or beg for his father to stop.
John put more force behind the blows than he would normally employ, but he felt he was justified in driving the lesson home, remembering his own panic and how easily it might have been avoided. As he brought the switch down on the twelfth stroke, it snapped in two, startling him. He glanced down at the naked rear, crisscrossed by angry red lines that would itch and burn. The switch wasn't flimsy, and the wood was strong. He had been spanking Dean too hard.
"Stay where you are," he growled to his eldest, lying uncomfortably over the wood. He began to cut another switch, but the time allowed him a moment to cool his head.
He made a quick decision, bringing the new switch over to his sons. "We haven't finished this conversation," he warned Dean. "You can look forward to a sound spanking when I get you back to Jim's, young man. But we're done for now. Pull your pants up."
Dean complied, still silent. His face was pale and his eyes filled with barely-disguised resentment and pain.
"Sammy, come here, son," John requested.
"Dad, don't use that on Sammy." Dean's voice had come back to him, and he moved quickly to stand in front of his younger brother. "It was my fault, sir, not Sammy's. He doesn't deserve that." Dean's face and tone were determined, just short of insolent, but John could see the fear and hurt under the tough exterior.
"Dean, it's not for you to decide what punishment your brother deserves," John reminded him. "Samuel, pull down your pants and bend over the log."
Sam nodded his head slowly, new tears coursing down the tracks on his grimy cheeks. He sent his father a beseeching look, but John shook his head firmly. He tugged Sam towards him and pulled down the pajamas, ignoring the boy's small shudders. He kept a hand on Sam's back as he bent him over the chunk of wood, keeping him steady and in place. Dean watched with his fists clenched, but didn't make a move to interfere.
John was more level-headed now, and he gentled his strokes, giving Sam half a dozen licks that were surely painful, but not enough to raise a welt that would last, the way one or two of Dean's might. The nine-year-old kept himself from wailing as he usually did when he spanked, but he whimpered with every lick of the switch, small sounds that tore at John's heart and compounded his guilt over the marks he had left on Dean.
He snapped the switch in half when he finished, tossing it beside the remains of the other. He helped Sam to his feet, pulled his pajamas back to his waist, and moved the log under the bag of supplies, climbing on top to cut it loose. They could all use clean clothes and something to eat. He could hear Sam's shaky cries, somewhat louder than before, but when he looked down Dean had wrapped his arms around his little brother, and the two of them were obviously bonding over the sting of John's punishments.
He laid out their clothes without a word and handed them the cereal bars he had brought for breakfast. They ate slowly, and he let them finish before he spoke, having gone over his next plan of action as they had their meal.
"We're not leaving until I finish this hunt. You boys do exactly as I say, and you can come with me," he announced finally. Sam and Dean both looked mildly relieved, and John felt a pang of conscience, remembering how often he left them alone, and how reluctant he was to let them out of his sight now. "And what I said earlier still holds," he added as an afterthought. "You can both expect a good spanking once we're done here, as a reminder about following orders and what to do if we get separated."
They nodded, but didn't make a sound. He packed up the trash and stood up, already feeling uncomfortable about spanking them again.
John made them wait outside the cave when he noticed the stench, and luckily enough the hunt was over before the Wendigo had a chance as it slept undisturbed by the flickering light and crackle of its own skin. He stayed to watch the corpse shrivel and the icy heart evaporate, just to make sure.
Once they hit the road again, Dean and Sam fell asleep in no time, although they shifted restlessly on their sore bottoms. Sam stretched out, his head against Dean's shoulder, and Dean's chin nodded forward, his eyelids drooping until he too was fast asleep. When John got service again he called Jim, updated him on the hunt, and asked if dinner could be waiting for them. Jim listened, didn't judge him. It was dark when he pulled up in front of the house, but lights were lit on the front porch and inside.
"Sam. Dean," he said, and they stirred sleepily. Hunger roused them, and they climbed out of the car, arms stretching and legs tangling. Jim held the door open as they trudged in.
John shook his head to Jim's questioning look. "I need to clean up first," he said ruefully. A shower would give him time to think, to relax in a way he hadn't been able to since he fell asleep the night before. He left the boys sitting at the table, anxiously awaiting something that smelled like spaghetti.
After John showered, he told Jim in a low voice about the hunting fiasco, watching Dean shift a little in his seat as he finished his dinner in the next room. Jim listened patiently, not passing judgment or remarking that the trip had been a bad idea in the first place.
"I said they could both expect a spanking again tonight," he finished, a little ashamed of himself.
"Do you mean to follow through with that?" Jim asked.
John nodded slowly. "I don't think it would do them any good to go back on a promise," he said finally, his eyes shadowed but his voice resolute. "I'm going to watch myself this time, though."
Sam and Dean had finished their spaghetti by now, and Sam was yawning in his seat. "Why don't you let me get the boys cleaned up and ready for bed while you eat something," Jim suggested kindly. "You look like you could use it before you have your talk."
John nodded his thanks and headed for the kitchen as Jim called to the boys. He could use the additional time, however brief, before facing his children.
He stood outside the door to the small guest room, wondering what he could do or say to his sons. He still shuddered at the memory of Dean's bottom, and how he had let his own fear harm his son. He was acutely aware that neither boy had spoken directly to him since the spankings, not even to give a simple "yes, sir" or "no, sir."
Taking a deep breath, he walked into the room. Sam and Dean were lying on their respective twin beds, on their stomachs. They looked up as he entered, and he saw Sam's hands go protectively to his backside, his eyes blinking rapidly to try and prevent his tears. Dean flinched at the sight of his father, burying his face in the pillows and pretending they were still alone.
"Dean, go stand in the corner until I've finished with your brother," John directed quietly. It would be easier to spank Sam first, he reasoned. His younger boy could stop worrying about his impending punishment and get some much-needed rest. Dean, on the other hand
he hadn't missed the betrayed look in Dean's eyes or the way the boy had been ignoring him. That would take more effort to fix.
Dean obeyed without a word, shuffling over to the corner and slumping his head against the wall in defeat. John took a seat on Sam's bed, motioning for the nine-year-old to sit up and scoot closer to him.
"Sammy, do you understand why you're getting spanked?" he asked gently.
Sam looked guiltily at his father, squirming a little at the thought. "Cause Dean and I left camp without telling you, and we got separated," he admitted.
"That's right," John said. "I love you boys more than you know. When I couldn't find you, I was terrified." He said this deliberately, knowing that Dean could hear them.
"We were scared too!" Sam was quick to point out.
"I know you were," John agreed. "And I don't think either of us wants it to happen again any time soon."
"What do you say we get this over with, kiddo?" he asked. Sam wrinkled his nose in distaste and sent his father a pleading look, but finally nodded and stood up slowly beside his father's knees.
John pulled the pajama pants to the floor before lifting Sam to lie over his lap. The small, pale bottom showed no signs of the earlier switching, which was an immediate relief. He kept his voice stern as he began spanking firmly, bringing his hand down across Sam's upturned backside.
"You knew not to leave the clearing alone, Sam, and you deliberately disobeyed me," he scolded as he spanked. "You could have been badly hurt, and I'm not sure you realize how lucky we were to find each other within a few hours. There's a reason I give you directions, Samuel, and it's not to hear myself talk." He concentrated a flurry of smacks to his son's thighs, eliciting a small yelp and the arrival of tears.
"Next time you find yourself in that situation, Samuel, I want you to think long and hard about what I've told you before you decide to ignore instructions," he continued. "In fact, maybe if you think long and hard about this spanking you're getting, you'll make a smarter decision."
"I'm sorry!" Sam wailed, his legs kicking a little as John's hand colored his bottom bright pink.
"Settle down, Sam, unless you want some extra swats," he warned, and to Sam's credit, he really did try to hold still, bursting into noisy tears and burying his head in the bedspread, defeated.
John eased up on the force if not the volume of spanks, feeling the heat radiating from the reddened bottom and the sting in his hand, which felt heavy even to him as he raised and lowered it yet again.
"I'm sorry, Daddy, I'm sorry," Sam sobbed, shaking his head as if to emphasize his regret. "I won't do it again, Daddy, I promise!" His small voice, broken with tears, was achingly sincere.
"We can't afford to make these kinds of mistakes, Sam," John concluded. "In the woods, you're at the mercy of anything natural or supernatural that could pose a threat to you. Once I start taking you boys hunting, you need to follow orders, and do it quickly, because it could mean the difference between success and failure. From now on, you make sure you're doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing. Am I clear?"
"Yes, sir," Sam swore remorsefully, his regret all too clear.
"Good boy." John landed another few swats, extra hard to drive the point home, and pulled Sam's pajamas back to his waist, scooping the boy into his arms and holding him tight as he shook with cries, his tears soaking John's chest.
"It's all right, kiddo, I've got you," he assured gruffly, feeling the small body quiver with emotion as he tried to suppress his sobs. "It's all okay now, all right?"
"Yes, sir," Sam stammered as he tried to apologize yet again. "'M really, really sorry
." His voice trailed off as he hiccupped back a fresh wave of tears.
"I know you are, Sammy," he replied, giving the boy's shoulders an extra tight squeeze. "I'm not angry at you anymore."
Sam nodded, and his cries quieted gradually as he slumped against John's side, relieved that the worst day he could remember was drawing to a close. John pulled him away once the sobs had subsided to sniffles, looking him in the eyes.
"I need to have a little talk with your brother now, Sammy," he said, steeling up his resolve for what he knew would be a difficult confrontation if Dean had any say in it. His teenager stood stiff and defiant in the corner, giving no indication that he could hear his father's voice. "I want you to go wait in my room until we're done, lay on my bed so you can start settling down for the night."
Sam bit his lip but nodded, knowing that he didn't want to be anywhere near his dad while he was spanking his brother. He slid off his father's lap, sent one last look at his brother and darted out the door, shutting it behind him with a solid bang.
John watched his youngest scamper from the room, a faint smile crossing his face at the sight of his sweet little boy before he remembered the task at hand with a weary frown. He stood up heavily, walked over to Dean and placed a hand on his shoulder. Dean recoiled at the touch, jerking back involuntarily and sending a startled glance toward his father. John saw dread in his son's eyes, raw fear and anxiety. His own son was afraid of him.
"Dean," he said hoarsely, staring into the frightened pools of green, glistening bright. He'd finally done it this time, finally made a mistake big enough to prove that he didn't know what he was doing, that he was running blind. "Dean, I'm sorry about this morning, son. I spanked you too hard. I was angry and scared and I made a mistake. I wish I could change that."
"Yeah, it's a little late for that now,' Dean shot back, but his shaking voice and nervously twisting hands belied his bravado.
John's insides knotted at the harsh words, and he breathed in deep before he responded. "I never wanted to hurt you, Dean," he said finally, and the honesty of the words was almost physically painful as his heart clenched, remembering the fear he'd felt when his sons were missing. "I love you more than anything, and I hope you know that."
"Do you?" Dean asked, looking up at him with something other than defensive cynicism. His voice still trembled as he waited nervously for John's reaction. "Do you really? Because I'm not sure you do."
"Why would you think that, Dean?" John asked, searching his son's face for answers.
Dean shrugged helplessly, biting his lip as two or three tears escaped from his eyes and swam down his cheeks. "I don't know," he said, raising a frustrated hand to wipe away the signs of his weakness. "You never have time for us
you get so mad sometimes
and you hit me so hard
" His voice fell to a crushed whisper. "I screwed up really bad, I know you hate me
"No, Dean," John said emphatically, reaching out to touch Dean's cheek, his heart breaking when Dean flinched a little. "No. I care about you and Sammy more than anything in this world, Dean, no matter what you do. I was wrong to get so angry. I wasn't thinking, and I wish you could know how much I want to take it back."
He reached out to pull Dean into his arms, and Dean began to panic. "No!" he yelled, pushing and kicking at his father. "Don't touch me, don'tstop it! You don't love me and I hate you!" He burst into a torrent of tears, writhing and struggling.
"Shhh," John soothed, ignoring Dean's ferocity and enfolding him tight against his chest, flailing limbs and all. He lifted the thirteen-year-old and bodily carried him to his nearby bed, sinking down onto it and holding his son in a firm embrace. "It's all going to be okay, Dean, I'm not going to hurt you," he insisted, his voice a steady rumble through Dean's erratic shrieking. "I love you, Dean. I love you so much."
"No, you don't!" Dean cried desperately, thrashing around and trying to get away from his father. "I hate you, I hate you!" His words were almost indistinguishable through his tears, though John could make out the occasional desolate proclamation.
He kept cradling Dean, rocking him gently on the bed until he went limp, exhausted from his ineffective struggles. The angry howls subsided into spent sobs, but John didn't stop speaking. "I love you, Dean," he repeated again. "Everything is all right."
Finally Dean turned a tear-streaked face towards his father, wet eyes hungry for reassurance and fearful of betrayal. "I
Dad, I don't
I don't hate-" he stumbled timidly.
"I know, buddy. It's okay. I know you didn't mean it." John's voice was kind, sincere, and Dean felt the rest of his anger draining away with his energy. He burrowed closer in his father's grip, relieved by the solid presence.
"I'm sorry," he mumbled, embarrassed by his outburst.
"It's all right, Dean. You've had a rough couple of days." John squeezed his son's shoulders before continuing. As much as it pained him, his son needed more than comfort right now. He needed discipline, needed his father. "But we need to make sure this doesn't happen again, don't we?"
Dean peered up at his dad, his eyes sparkling with tears. He nodded reluctantly, knowing what was coming next. "Yessir," he whispered. John released him, set him gently on the ground, allowing Dean to remove his own pajama pants before returning to his father's lap, this time facedown with his bottom in the air.
John's guilt when he saw the thin red lines striping the pale skin was almost too much to bear, but he steadied himself, seeing that this was the final step before he and his boy could heal their relationship. "Do you know why I spank you, Dean?" he asked.
"Sir?" Dean's stomach was churning and he half-wished his dad would just get it over with, but at the same time he knew that he'd feel differently once the swats began raining down on his seat.
"Because I love you," his father said. "Because nothing is more important to me than keeping you and your brother safe. I was scared to death this morning. I spank you because I want you to learn from your mistakes, because I want you to remember that I give you orders to protect you. And if I didn't love you, I wouldn't bother spanking you. You understand me?"
Dean squirmed. "Yes, sir."
With that, John raised his hand and began spanking. Dean yelped almost immediately, and although he thought he had cried himself out, new tears began pricking his eyes with a god-awful sting that was only surpassed by the feeling of his father's large hand colliding with his sore backside.
The swats that Dean was receiving wouldn't cause a horrible burn on their own, but the weight of John's hand slapping over his welts caused an unpleasant smarting prickle. The lines of the switch awoke under the onset of slaps, and the biting pain was amplified to a completely new extent. Although Dean had been spanked harder, he couldn't remember being in this much pain. Maybe it was how tired he was, or how his eyes were so swollen from crying before the spanking even began. Whatever the cause, he turned his head to one side and buried his face in his hands, racked with dry, aching sobs as his father's hand descended.
John didn't hesitate to warm Dean's backside until it blushed a sunset pink, but the boy's total defeat and his persistent self-reproach prevented him from continuing until it matched the red marks. In order to avoid irritating the welts from the switch any further, John landed the last and the sharpest of the spanks on Dean's thighs, where the switch hadn't caused any damage. He pulled Dean's pajamas back to his waist, carefully holding the fabric away from the tender skin until the elastic snapped into place.
"It's over, Dean," he said gently. Dean nodded his acknowledgment but kept his face pressed to the pillows and his hips squarely on John's knees. John rubbed his hand across Dean's back, trying to show his oldest son that he was forgiven, that everything could go back to normal now. After a few minutes of silence, Dean unclenched his fists and stood up awkwardly.
"I'm sorry, Dad," he apologized, his voice low and husky from the crying.
"Just avoid it next time," John told him, smiling. He was grateful when the teenager flashed him an uncertain grin in return. "What say we get you and Sam into bed?"
"Yessir," Dean agreed emphatically. John clapped him on the shoulder as he stood up, and Dean was under the covers before he was out the door.
Sam, waiting patiently in the room Jim had set aside for John's use, seemed to have recovered from his punishment fairly quickly. His eyes were bright and alert when John entered the room, and he jumped off the bed and ran to his father's side.
"Is Dean okay?" he demanded, looking seriously up at John.
"Your brother's fine," John promised, amazed at the kid's energy. "Now why don't you go get into bed, and I'll come tuck you boys in."
He gave them a few minutes before he came in. Unsurprisingly, both boys were lying on their stomachs. He tucked the covers around them carefully, and even Dean relaxed enough to let him, despite his usual protestations that thirteen was too old to be tucked in. When he came to Sam's bed, he realized that his youngest was still wide-awake.
"You need to get some rest, son," he told the kid, still propped up on his elbows. "Settle down and get to sleep."
Sam lay back down obediently, but as John reached the door his voice was loud and clear.
"Hey, Dad?" he asked.
"What did you do when you woke up and found out you were getting dragged off by a bear?" The kid's voice was full of glowing admiration, and his belief that his daddy could do anything.
John frowned a little at the memory. "Well, the first thing I did was call for you boys," he said. "Then I fell out pretty shortly afterwards." It wasn't as glamorous in his retelling as he was sure it was in his son's mind, but there was no way he could make those memories romantic. That sort of panic and desperation wasn't the stuff fairy tales were made of. "I noticed it was a bear dragging the tent off, and I wondered how the hell that happened."
"Why? Didn't you know there were bears?" Sam wanted to know.
"I did, but I thought I'd taken care of it," John admitted ruefully, aware that he still had a few things to learn about camping himself. "I had all the garbage tied up away from the tent, and all the food too, so the bear wouldn't be attracted to it"
"The bears go after food?" Sam asked.
"That's right," John told him. "And that's why I wouldn't let you boys leave any of the hot dogs out. Those bears will go after anything they can eat."
Sam shifted guiltily. "Daddy?" he asked cautiously.
"What is it, Sammy?"
"Do bearsum, do bears like M&Ms? Ow!"
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