Burden Of Consequence


"Okay; what happened?"

John Winchester stands in his sons' bedroom doorway, dark eyes surveying the potentially hostile territory. There's a method to the aftermath of a successful hunt, one polished and honed over states and time; John stays behind to clean up the mess, the boys head home and clean up each other. A task that should prove simple enough, given the night's fortunate lack of injuries. John expects to find Sam doing his homework, and Dean doing his best to keep Sam from doing it. Except Sam isn't doing his homework. Instead the thirteen year-old lies stiffly on his bed, his tear-stained face turned to the wall. He gives no indication he's even heard the question, and there's something familiar about the nearly defiant posture that makes John turn toward his eldest son.

Dean continues unpacking his bag by his own bed, the tense movements and tight mouth unusual for the enthusiastic teenager. Uh, oh. Weary from salting and burning corpses, all John wants at this point is a strong drink and a soft bed. When did slaying demons and werewolves become easy compared to dealing with the antics of his two children?

John sighs, rubs his hand agitatedly against the back of his neck. "Dean. Report." He's relieved when Dean stops what he's doing and straightens, giving his father his complete – if reluctant - attention.

"We cut off the heads and came directly home, sir."

"I figured that much out, Dean. I want to know what happened here."

"Yes, sir."

John waits for a moment, but the eighteen year-old doesn't continue. "Well?" Dean glances over at Sam's back, then at the floor, and John sighs again. "My room. Now."

**********************************************************

"What happened?" John asks the question again. He isn't fond of repeating himself in general, not when failure to comply with his commands could result in injury or worse, and he finds himself growing impatient as he shrugs off his coat and tosses it onto the bed.

"He disobeyed an order."

John turns to Dean, eyebrows raised in surprise. "So you punished him? Don't you think I should have done that?"

"It wasn't your order, sir."

"Dean?" Dean bites his lip and forces himself to hold his father's expectant gaze. He knew this moment might come; he only hopes his knees don't give out. "Exactly what order did you give him?" John asks.

"I told him to take position at the door and shoot anything that came out."

John's eyes narrow, and he leans back against the bedpost, folding his arms across his chest. "The plan was for Sam to back you up."

"Yes, sir."

"So why didn't he get those orders?" Dean looks at the floor, hoping it might open up and swallow him whole. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be hungry. Stupid floor. "Do you change my orders a lot?"

"No, sir." A flash of dismay.

"Did you think I was kidding?"

Dean shakes his head. "No, sir."

"Did you understand the plan when I explained it to you?" John asks, now genuinely bewildered. His eldest is nothing if not loyal, as good a soldier as any John's encountered.

"Yes, sir."

"Then why would you countermand my order?"

Dean stares at him blankly, trying to summon an answer. "I don't know."

John frowns. "That's a child's answer, Dean. You can do better than that."

"Maybe I just felt like it. Sir." Dean's stomach churns in protest. Nice. Treason and mutiny. Might as well go for broke.

"Like disobeying an order?" Fat chance.

Dean's throat is dry, and he swallows. "Sure."

"I doubt it." Johns straightens to his full height, pinning the teen with a stern look. "Son, I'm gonna ask you one more time, and I expect a straight answer. Why wasn't Sam ordered to back you up?"

Dean can almost hear the fracturing of his defenses. The general's voice he might be able to withstand, or at least resist until reinforcements arrive. But this, the Dad 'you're in big trouble' voice, instantly reverts him to the six year-old who forgot to come home before dark. He licks his lips nervously. "He's not ready."

John's anger sputters and dies, leaves him standing in the smoke. He should have expected this. Hell, he even encouraged it. Wasn't it him who retreated all those years ago, climbing into bottles or other people's attics in search of ghosts, leaving his four year-old standing guard over his youngest? Of course Dean would put Sam's safety in front of his own, would be reluctant to put him in the line of fire. And John's as responsible for that as anyone; he just never thought it would go this far. Winchester, sometimes you're a dumb son of a bitch. "Sure he is. He's not a natural like you, but he's never gonna learn from the sidelines."

"I can take point; let him cover the back." There's an unspoken plea in the hazel eyes, the eyes of his late wife, and John steels himself against it.

"You can't always be there to protect him."

"Yeah, I can. I will."

He's not always gonna let you. And neither am I
. "This isn't negotiable. Next job we have, I expect him to shadow you. Is that clear?"

"Yes, sir."

John smile is sad and brief. "Good." He searches his son's face, knows just what those two little words have cost him. John can see the fear just below the surface, the memory of loss, and for a moment he longs to pull Dean to him, swear that Sam will be safe, make him those promises a father should be able to keep. But he'll do none of these things. A heaviness settles in his chest. "You know, just because something's the right thing to do, doesn't mean we have to like it," he confides softly.

Dean nods, his heart beating faster as his father walks to the corner of the room and pulls out a chair. John wearily takes a seat. "Come over here, then."

"Dad?" Dean's hands start to feel damp, and he rubs them against his pants.

"I think you need a reminder on how this chain of command thing works."

Dean's stomach plummets at the pronouncement. He hoped that at eighteen his father would consider him too old for this kind of reminder, and wonders just how disappointed the older man might be. You should have told him or gone along with it. Mentally kicking himself, Dean makes his way to his father's side, hating the slight shuffle in his step. He can't help asking for at least one concession. "Does it have to be like this? Can't I just bend over the chair and you can use your belt or something?"

"Did you use a belt on Sam?"

"What? No," Dean says, shocked John even has to ask.

"Have I ever used a belt on either of you boys?"

"No." Dean has a sinking feeling he knows where this is going.

"Then the answer's no. If you behave like a kid, you get punished like one." Dean pinkens, but doesn't press the matter. "Jeans down."

"Aw, Dad..." The soldier is gone for the moment; this is all his little boy, the shifting feet and imploring gaze, and John's certain Dean would rather take a bullet than a turn over his knee.

"Do you need me to help you?"

"No," Dean says quickly, his hands fumbling with the button on his jeans. The only thing worse than taking his pants down himself is having his father do it for him. He hurries and unzips, shoving his jeans down around his knees and missing the affection that softens the lines of the ex-Marine's face.

When Dean looks up his father is once more focused on the task at hand. Taking his son by the arm, John draws him firmly over his lap and settles him in place, pulling the teen in tightly against his stomach. This isn't John's favorite thing to do with the boys, but in their line of work there's a certain comfort in the physical proximity, in having them safe and in reach; even if it is over his knee. Even if his sons don't see it quite the same way.

Dean shifts slightly and John tightens his arm around the boy's waist, his right hand whisking the black briefs down to join the jeans gathered at Dean's knees. Dean makes a choked sound, certain he must be blushing all over. "Dad…"

John pats his backside. "Just want to be sure I have your full attention, son." Dean groans and wriggles a bit, trying to get comfortable, but both the position and the weight of his father's hand resting on his bare skin make it impossible.

"Do you know why you're here?"

"Well, when two people really love each other - "

"Dean." John shakes his head.

"I didn't follow orders."

"Right." Seeing no point in putting off the inevitable, John lifts his hand and begins spanking. Dean jumps a little at the first smack, but then seems to compose himself as John falls into a steady rhythm. He gives Dean a few minutes to get used to the idea before speaking. "My orders aren't meant to inconvenience you," John tells him, watching his son's body language carefully. "I don't give them just to hear myself talk."

"Yes, sir." Dean winces at a particularly smart blow, and his hand unconsciously reaches for his father's pant leg, his fingers tightening on the denim. The heat and sting of the punishment are becoming impossible to ignore. Think of something. Anything. Think of Susan Anheim – from Algebra, remember? She had tits like MX missiles…

"I count on orders to keep you and your brother alive, and I count on you to follow them." The stern words strike at Dean's heart, and he blinks back tears. Guilt and shame swell in his chest, threaten to overwhelm him, and though he might not actually be six, he's certainly starting to feel it. He squeezes his eyes shut, tries to steady his breathing, but the smacks keep coming with fierce regularity, shattering each shield erected, burning away all resistance. The fact that he can't remain still anymore doesn't help things, the small involuntary kicks shuffling his jeans toward his ankles.

John feels the change in Dean's breathing, the tensing of his body, and increases the force behind the swats, intent on driving the message home. "If you have a problem with an order, you tell me like a man. You don't sneak behind my back like a child. Is that clear?"

"Y-yes!" Dean's voice breaks on the word, and John knows they're almost finished here.

"Are we gonna have this problem again?"

Dean shakes his head, one hand moving to cover his face, and the ragged sobs that escape his fingers convince John of his sincerity. He lands a half-dozen more stinging swats to his son's behind and stops spanking. For several moments the only sounds are the ticking clock on his dresser and Dean's quiet crying, and then John reaches down and pulls up the teen's briefs, replacing them as gently as he can. He tugs the jeans up to Dean's knees and helps them both to stand, careful to keep a supportive hand on the teen. Dean manages to jerk the jeans up the rest of the way, but doesn't fasten them. He keeps his face turned down and away, either too embarrassed or ashamed to meet John's eyes. Aw, hell.

"C'mere," John says gruffly, pulling his son against him, his large hand rubbing over the short hair at the back of Dean's head. Dean doesn't resist, just drops his head against his father's shoulder, hiding his tears against the warm wool shirt. "Breathe," John murmurs, and Dean nods, taming the soft hitches for air, letting the steady drum of his father's heartbeat drown out everything else. After a few minutes, Dean steps back in the embrace, still looking a bit chagrined. "Okay now?" John asks.

"Yes, sir."

"Why didn't you come to me?"

"I don't know… I didn't want you to think I didn't trust you."

"Afraid of hurting my feelings, huh?" John teases lightly, using his thumb to brush the wetness from Dean's cheek. "Don't be worrying about me, champ. I'm a tough guy."

Dean nods. "I'm sorry, Dad."

"And you're forgiven. But this can't happen again." John pauses, brow furrowed. "You do realize your brother might have saved your life tonight."

"Yes, sir. I'll apologize to him."

"No, you won't."

Dean frowns, confused. "I won't?"

"Sam disobeyed an order. The wrong order, but he didn't know that." John shoves the chair back into the corner, then turns back toward his eldest. "If you're gonna lead, you accept the responsibilities. Sam needs to believe in you, needs to know you're gonna be right; every single time. You don't get the luxury of apologies. If you make a mistake, you suck it up, move on. And make damn sure you get it right the next time. Do you understand what I'm telling you, son?"

"That leadership sucks?"

"That's a big part of it, yeah," John says with a wry smile. "Oh. And you're grounded. Two weeks. Straight home after school."

Dean winces. "Any chance of time off for good behavior?"

"Any chance of good behavior?" Dean frowns again, actually considering the probability of such an occurrence, and John snorts. "Go to bed, Dean."

**********************************************************

"Morning, sunshine."

Sam rolls into his pillow. "Go 'way."

"Come on," Dean says, tugging Sam onto his back, not surprised when the pillow comes with him. "You're late for breakfast."

"I'm not speaking to you," Sam mutters into the pillow he's got clutched to his face.

Dean smirks. "Oh; you're not, huh?"

"No, I'm not."

"Just did," Dean jibes. Then, "Come on, Sammy."

"It's Sam." The younger boy lowers the pillow from his face. "I should've let him turn your sorry ass, you know that?"

"You should've done what you were told. Now get up."

"No," Sam snaps, annoyed as Dean tries to yank his pillow away.

"Sam-my," Dean sings, and pounces, straddling his brother and grabbing his flailing arms.

"Get off, you jackass," Sam gasps, straining to suck in a breath under Dean's weight, then growls and tries to roll Dean off. Dean doesn't roll.

"You gonna get up?" Dean races his fingers up Sam's side, and his little brother squeaks out a laugh. Dean freezes. "Dude. Did you just giggle?"

"No!" Dean's smile widens, and Sam's pulse jumps. "No," he warns Dean.

It's the only incentive Dean needs to jam his fingertips into his ribs again, ripping what even he would call a girlish shriek from his throat. Dean laughs so hard that he can't even maintain his balance, and Sam gives him an enthusiastic shove, pleased at the solid thump and grunt his brother makes when he hits the bedroom floor. Sam drops his head back on the pillow, shoving the pillow more firmly under his head, tries to slow his breathing. Dean is chuckling from the floorboards.

"I hate you."

"You, too, bitch."

************************************************************

Dean doesn't exactly hate research. It's a necessary part of the hunt, just like the interviews, the silver bullets and machetes, the people who diminish over time and in rear view mirrors. He just wishes it wasn't so uncomfortable. He shifts again in his seat, trying to remember the last time the kitchen chairs felt so damn hard. Oh, yeah. That would have been breakfast…

"Dean." John taps the book in front of him meaningfully, but there's not a whole lot of censure in the tone.

"Sorry," Dean mutters, coloring a bit as he pulls the book a little closer to him and resumes flipping through it.

"Want a pillow?"

Dean looks up and over the texts piling the table. His father isn't smiling, but Dean recognizes the glint of amusement in the dark eyes. "Ha, ha; very funny."

Now John does smile. "Just another hour, and we'll call it quits for the afternoon, okay?"

Before Dean can voice his relief at the pronouncement, Sam bounds into the kitchen, newspaper in hand. He slaps Dean's shoulder with the rolled edge. "Go to the movies with me?"

"Hi, Sam, I'm great. Thanks for asking. And how's your day?"

Sam rolls his eyes. "Come on, Dean. I'll even see something violent."

Dean exchanges a quick look with his father, glances at Sam apologetically. "Sorry, kiddo; can't today."

"But it's Saturday. Can't we do something normal for once? I can help you with this stuff later," Sam says, his eyes doing that pleading thing that Dean finds annoyingly hard to resist.

"No, I mean I can't," Dean replies, putting soft emphasis on the 'can't'.

Sam doesn't miss the implication. He looks between the two older Winchesters. "What? Are you in trouble?" Dean shifts uncomfortably, and Sam's eyes dart to his father's. "Why? Because of last night?" Sam frowns, suddenly suspicious. "You punished him because of me, didn't you?

"Sam – " Dean begins, uncertain how to defuse this.

"Because I didn't follow orders."

"That's between Dean and I," John tells Sam firmly, pulling another book from the stack on the table and opening it.

"But - that's not fair! You're a tyrant," Sam sputters, staring at his father with disbelief.

"Oh, god," Dean mutters, and waits for the fallout.

"Fair has nothing to do with it. There are consequences for every decision you make out there, for you and your brother."

"Of course; you'll see to that, won't you?"

"Sam."

"What?" Sam demands, glancing at Dean.

"Leave it."

"Why? Are you gonna get in trouble for me talking back now, too? What kind of dysfunctional bullshit is that?"

"Go to your room, Sam." The command is quiet but implacable, and Sam is torn. He's not done with this yet; not by a long shot. "I can put you there," his father offers, when he makes no move to comply.

"And spank you for the trouble." Sam finishes the unspoken thought on his own, and he's not really up for being spanked again just yet. Capitulation is bitter on his lips. "Fine." He slaps the newspaper down on the counter and shoots his father a scathing glance. "You won't always tell him what to do."

John doesn't flinch, just waits until his youngest turns and does as instructed. When Sam is well on his way down the hall, John picks up his book and resumes scanning it for references.

Dean rubs awkwardly at the back of his neck, flinching just a bit as the bedroom door slams shut. "Dad... You're not really gonna let him think that?"

"Think what, Dean?" His father doesn't look angry; just a little tired around the eyes.

"That you'd punish me for something he did? He's not gonna understand – "

"He doesn't need to understand. He needs to follow orders. And your brother is a lot more careful when he has you to think about."

Dean shakes his head. "I don't like it."

"You don't have to, remember?" John sighs, softens. "It's gonna be fine; you know how Sammy is. He'll have forgotten all about it in a few days."

"Yes, sir." I hope you're right.

*************************************************************

Dean snatches up a Nerf basketball from the dresser and flops down on his bed, tossing it up in the air and catching it. "Dad said you could come out an hour ago." He doesn't need to look at his brother to know that Sam is scowling.

"Yeah, well right now I don't care what he says… How do you put up with it?"

"He's our dad, Sam."

Sam sits up from where he's been sulking on his bed. "And you're eighteen; you don't always have to do what he says."

"I don't do what he says because I have to. I do it because it's the right thing to do."

Sam chuffs. "Right. Well, that's not gonna be me. I'm gonna be out of here."

"Yeah. What are you talking about?"

"College. My counselor says it's a sure bet if I keep my grades up."

Dean catches the ball and throws his brother an amused look. "Nothing's a sure bet, Sammy - you ought to know that by now. How are you gonna go to school when you're out hunting all the time?"

"I'm not. I'm not gonna be hunting."

"Oh, yeah - you'd rather sit in some stuffy library all the time? Are you mental?"

Sam hesitates. "You could come with me."

The quiet words are hopeful, and Dean's startled for a moment before he shakes his head, scoffs good-naturedly. "What? And give up all this?" He waves a hand vaguely. The hunting is their life, their responsibility, is as much a part of them as their blood, an arm or a leg. Even for Sam. He might complain a lot, might think he can amputate limbs without a second thought, without ever feeling that phantom pain, but he's wrong. Even with everything he hates about this life, his excitement last night was a living, breathing thing…

"Did you see it, Dean? I got him – right in the heart. Even Dad couldn't believe I got the son of a b – gun," he amends, seeing Dean's eyes narrow. "Did you see the look on his face?"

"I told you to stay put." Dean throws the duffel bag down on the bed.

"What? Dean, he was gonna turn you, man."

"You were ordered to stay at the back door and shoot anything that came out. That didn't mean 'hey, if you hear monsters, come on in'."

"I don't always have to do what you tell me."

"Excuse me?" Dean's used to this tone when it's directed at his father, but is unprepared at having it directed at himself.

"You heard me."

"Yeah, I did," Dean says, and grabs a hold of his arm, pulling him over to the foot of the bed. Sam balks, trying to jerk from his brother's grasp.

"Let go, you jerk!"

"When we're done here," Dean agrees, sitting down and yanking his younger brother over his lap. Sam immediately tries to push up from the bed, but Dean's arm snakes around his waist and locks him into position. Sam tenses, his body instinctively summoning one of the moves from their training, only to hear Dean's voice above him. "You're not gonna win in a fight, kiddo."

"Someday I will," Sam says with conviction, tears already burning his eyes.

"Don't count on it," Dean tells him, and he's as proud as he is angry...

"You know, you were pretty good with that bow," Dean tells Sam. "Dad's talking about having you shadow me next time."

"He is?"

"Yeah," Dean says, and he guesses that he doesn't sound as enthusiastic about it as he should, because Sam's face falls.

"I'm sorry I got you in trouble, man." Sam says, his eyes dark and guilty.

Dean shrugs, ignoring the twinge of his conscience. "Don't worry about it. You just stick with me and do what you're told from now on; you got that?"

"Got it," Sam agrees, and smiles.

Dean snorts, knowing it won't be that easy, but willing to take Sam's word for now. He tosses the ball at the ceiling again, catching it neatly as it falls back toward him.

"Dean?"

"Yeah?"

"When do you think Dad's gonna let me drive?" The Nerf ball bounces off Sam's forehead. "What? I'm just asking."

********************************************************

A week passes, and John starts to wonder whom a grounding is actually meant to punish, the child or the parent. Sam is determined to keep Dean company, and having two energetic and bored teenagers cooped up in the tiny rental house is a recipe for disaster. The first casualty is a lamp, the second a set of blinds; the third's destined to be John's sanity. Or what's left of it. It's his rapidly declining mental health that dispatches John on tonight's mission, and his two sons look equally surprised to see him tromp in the front door, his arms full of supplies.

"You got pizza?" Dean asks, from where he and Sam lounge on the couch, absently watching a rerun of Family Feud.

"You might not believe this, but your mom didn't marry me for my cooking."

"Oh, we believe it," Sam mutters, as John kicks the front door shut behind him. John isn't surprised. His youngest has been decidedly cool all week, and John guesses in Sam's Book of Villainy he now rates right up there with The Grinch and people who make fur coats from small puppies. But at least he's listening to Dean for a change, and John knows it will be a while before Sam disregards another order.

"Here." John dumps a bag in between the boys and carries the pizzas into the kitchen.

"You got us movies?" Sam calls, eyeing the Blockbuster bag warily.

"No," John tells him, raising his voice slightly so he can be heard. "Only kids who behave get movies. Those are for research."

Sam rolls his eyes and opens the bag, dreading what he'll see, and is surprised to pull out a From Dusk Till Dawn VHS.

"Cool," Dean says, grabbing it from him, throwing Sam a quick grin.

"From Dusk Till Dawn? Bordello of Blood?" Sam asks, eyes narrowing on the tapes in question. "You rented these for research?"

His father doesn't look at him as he returns with two paper plates in hand. He hands one filled with pepperoni and sausage pizza to Dean, who grabs it greedily. John squeezes his shoulder with his free hand before turning to Sam.

"Isn't that what I said?"

"So explain The English Patient," Sam says, holding the movie up and waving it.

John looks away, disgruntled. "The clerk must have made a mistake."

Dean snickers under his breath as John offers Sam the other plate, the one with the pepperoni and mushroom pizza. Sam looks at it for a moment, then at his brother, who's happily devouring pizza and ogling Salma Hayek at the same time. His eyes slide up to his father's, and he takes the plate, offering him a small smile. A moment later his father's hand reaches out and ruffles his hair. Sam doesn't pull away.

**********************************************************

3:21 am. Kristin Scott Thomas is still stranded in the desert. John wanders from the living room and into the kitchen, once more riffling through the materials on the table. This is what his life reduces to, these lists of bullets and herbs and artifacts, a bundle of loose notes, of names and numbers; a topography of scars and secret chasms. He hears the low moan that means Sammy is having another one of his nightmares, the ones the doc says are transitory, caused by the stress of oncoming adolescence or the Winchesters' frequent moves. John finds himself in the hallway without thinking, the hunter moving instinctively toward the whimpers of his youngest. He catches the stir of movement and pauses outside the half-open door.

Dean perches on Sam's bed, leaning over his brother. The two become a single shape in the darkness, whole and self-contained. A soft rush of words emanates from the room, whispering in John's ears. The murmuring and hushed tones are Dean's, but the words are Mary's; words John remembers her speaking over their eldest in the pitch of night. Like Dean before, Sam soothes under the litany's spell, sighs in his sleep at his brother's reassurances, and John wonders why he ever worries. When has Dean ever failed him?

He watches as long as he dares, before he forces himself to back away, return to his work. He grabs a bottle from the cabinet, pours a finger of Jack Daniels. The heat that floods his belly burns away the worst of his hunger, leaving only forged resolve. He sits back down at the table, his hands heavier as they turn the yellowed pages of the dated library books. He won't find what he needs tonight. Scraps and pieces, fragments and traces. Echoes of something less than complete. But he'll work with that.

Whatever he comes by, it has to be enough.

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