Once A Week, But For The Rest Of Your Life
Part of the Salvation AU. Rated G except for one brief curse word. Dean is in it, that’s why.
Dinner, once a week, all Winchesters welcome.
The minute they’d settled down, that had become the rule. It was usually at Sam and Sarah’s, because they had been at it like bunnies according to Dean and by that point it was easier to pack one kid into a car vs. three. Dean had violated the rule twice, when on long assignments out of state, but it hadn’t kept Danielle from being there once Charlie had been born. Before that...it had.
“Where’s Al?” Dean said while trying to set Charlie down and pay equal attention to Mary and Leigh.
“At a friend’s house,” Sarah said, scooping Charlie up for hugs and kisses. “At least, I think it’s a friend. Some strange guy showed up at the door with duct tape and I said, what the hell, we’ve got two others.”
Dean nodded. “Bucking for parent of the year again, nice.”
“Danielle,” Sarah said, “We’re going to put our feet up while these guys chase kids and finish dinner.”
“Good,” Danielle said. “Boys are silly.”
“And they smell,” Sarah said. “Charlie, tell me I’m right.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Charlie said.
Once dinner was over and Sam and Dean had beaten the dishes into submission, they hung out on the back porch and watched the girls play. Sam mentioned a case he was working on; Dean talked about a skeleton found in a hot water heater in the basement of an apartment building. They agreed again that the world was full of idiots and they were still on the reactionary end of things, just like always. They talked about who had been able to track John down most recently and whether they’d been able to nail him down about what he was really doing. John got even more mysterious and cryptic the older he got, which was saying something. Then it turned to kids again, because now that they were all walking and talking, they were into everything.
“Allie wants to do gymnastics,” Sam said. “It’s cartwheels all over the yard this week.”
“Last week it was curing cancer,” Dean said. “What happened?”
“Curing cancer means at least another eight years of school tacked on to high school,” Sam said. “At six, that’s eternity.”
“Charlie’s learned how to play hide and go seek,” Dean said. “But she calls it ‘hide-go’. Like you did.”
Sam cocked his head back to look at Dean, brows raised. “I did?”
“Yeah,” Dean said. “She doesn’t scream when I find her, though. You did. You screamed like a little girl.”
“Whatever.” Sam raised his voice. “Charlie, are you hiding?”
There was a pause, then the top of Charlie’s conspicuously reddish-curly head became visible along the bottom of the porch. “Yeah, yeah!”
The top of Mary’s head became visible a moment later. “She’s not.”
“You guys hide,” Sam said.
“Hide-go!” Charlie shouted, then took off, Mary behind.
Sam waited, smirking at Dean in that way he always had when something genuinely funny was happening and he was trying not to laugh. It had happened more often since the girls had come along, because kids tended to get pretty indignant when they thought adults were laughing at them.
“You go,” Dean said. “She’s pretty serious about it, though, so watch out.”
Sam snorted. “And that’s all her, right? Not just because all our games had a purpose when we were kids.”
When he glanced at Dean, he found him serious, staring after where the girl’s heads had been as if they’d made an imprint in the air. There was anxiety in the set of his mouth.
“Dean,” Sam said. “I was only kidding.”
“But you might be right,” Dean said without looking at him.
“You taught me how to play all the first games,” Sam said. “And it was always fun, even later when it wasn’t supposed to be. So don’t even go there. Take a joke sometimes.” He vaulted the railing of the porch in one smooth, compact motion, making it look ridiculously easy even with a 6'5" frame.
The girls were two and four. They wouldn’t go far or be that inventive at first, and Mary would probably go for a tried and true spot and drag Charlie with her. He snuck around the side of the house to the front yard and eyed the hydrangeas. They weren’t rustling, so he checked the trees. One small hand was visible on the trunk of an aspen to his far left that was thick with low branches — Mary’s. He circled a little as he headed toward her. “Hey, Dean, I don’t think I can find those girls,” he called in theatrical worry. “I’m really good at this, but they’re better.”
“Keep trying,” Dean called from the back porch. “They’re out there somewhere.”
“I think I need help,” Sam called, and the little hand withdrew. He knew it was now covering Mary’s mouth while she tried not to giggle. She wasn’t exactly predictable to him, but he knew her and how she reacted to things. “Nope, can’t see a thing. I’m all out of ideas. Where are those girls?”
Dean came around the other side of the house and met Sam’s eyes. He looked...content, but like he was trying to mask it behind a casual amusement.
“I’m trying one more place,” Sam called. “And then I’m gonna have to say they beat me.” He came closer to Mary’s tree, pausing a foot away and waiting. She was very still, maybe even holding her breath. He reached around the tree, one hand on each side, and encountered soft hair and the cool skin of a small arm. The same thing happened each time he touched his middle daughter, seen or unseen - a moment of connection that felt like the faintest static. He made nothing of it, just cataloged the moments and was careful not to react. It didn’t necessarily mean anything.
True to form, Mary screamed, her standard reaction to most things. Luckily this was her happy-scream, and it dissolved into giggles.
There was a pounding of feet. Out the door and onto the front patio came Leigh, hands held out in front of her to keep her balance. “May what!” she shouted, which translated from Leigh-speak to Mary why are you screaming. “May what!”
“Daddy sounded just like that when I caught him, too,” Dean said to Leigh. “I’ll bet he still does.”
Even though she had no idea what he was talking about, Leigh threw her head back and laughed as if it was the funniest thing she’d ever heard, and then ran back into the house.
“Whole family’s nuts,” Dean said.
Sam had pulled Mary around to his side of the tree and was holding her upside down as she shrieked when something touched his head.
He looked up. Charlie was patting him on the head. A two year old was nearly seven feet up a tree and had just tagged him.
“Sam-Sam,” she said. “Hide go.”
Dean was there a moment later as Sam was still righting Mary, holding his arms out and plucking Charlie out of the tree. “C’mere, before your mom sees,” he said. “Shit, what are you, a monkey?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Charlie said.
Sam was staring at him even as he kissed Mary and put her down. Toddlers didn’t usually have either the manual dexterity or the gross motor skills to climb trees, even if the branches were thick and closely spaced. Dean’s answering glance told Sam he knew that too. Dean had that look on his face again, the one Sam hadn’t seen since they were kids, that mix of pride and terror when Sam would do something above and beyond what Dean was trying to teach him.
“Told you she was serious about it,” Dean said.
Realizing something serious was transpiring and that her adults were nervous, Mary was staring up into their faces with concern.
Before she could get worried, Sam pointed to Dean and said, “Okay, you two find him.”
Charlie held her arms out to Sam and leaned toward him, and Dean let her go. “I don’t have a chance,” he said. “It’s like setting wolves after a Chihuahua, Sam, don’t you have a heart at all?”
Sam grinned. “Who can count to ten?”
Dean ran for it.
“I can count to fifty,” Mary said, covering her eyes.
“I know, but he doesn’t deserve it,” Sam said.
“One-two,” Charlie said, and pressed her palms against her eyes, little fingers splayed.
“Good enough,” Sam said. “Give him a second, though.” He knelt down and stage-whispered to Mary while pointing to the far side of the yard as she uncovered her eyes. “You go around the house that way.” When she ran off, he set Charlie on her feet and said, “Charlie, find daddy.”
Instead of running along on chubby legs straight toward the last place she’d seen Dean, Charlie stood in place and stared. After a moment, she turned and looked at Sam, then leaned around to look behind him.
Sam swivelled around to look and didn’t see anything except the treeline on the left side of the driveway. As he watched, Dean stepped out of the trees and onto the paved drive twenty yards away without looking up.
She had to have been peeking. Or Dean had made noise that Sam hadn’t heard. Okay, that last was really reaching, but it was easier than thinking what Sam was thinking. He stood with Charlie balanced on one arm and called to Dean. “Cheater,” he said.
“You’re giving me away!” Dean said with mock outrage. “Dude, I told you. Wolves. Chihuahua.”
“Hey, don’t blame this on me.” He met Dean at the edge of the yard and said, “She always finds you right away, doesn’t she.”
Dean looked at him like he didn’t understand.
“Why don’t you hide, and this time pretend I’m looking for you,” Sam said. “Like we used to do.”
Dean was still staring at him.
“It’s not bad,” Sam said in the same tone, shifting from foot to foot quick enough to jostle Charlie into giggling. “Kind of cool, actually. C’mon, hide somewhere it would take a while to find you. Go ahead and cheat.”
Dean looked like he wanted to say something about not knowing anything about cheating, but he was also eyeing Sam with resignation. He glanced at Charlie, who was looking at Sam with total adoration. “Whole family’s nuts,” he said again, then turned for the house and raised his voice. “Hey, Mary, c’mon, they found me.”
When he came through the house like he was being chased, Danielle and Sarah watched him go. When he vanished upstairs, Danielle said, “It’s almost always better not to know.”
Nearly a half minute later, Sam set Charlie just inside the door. Mary followed, realizing something was up. “Don’t give her hints,” Sam said to Sarah and Danielle.
“She wouldn’t take them anyway,” Danielle said with a smile. Sarah leaned back on the couch, also realizing something was up by the look on Sam’s face.
“Charlie, get daddy,” Sam said.
Even if Danielle or Sarah had involuntarily glanced toward the stairs, that didn’t account for the two year old’s beeline down the hall once she climbed the stairs using both hands and feet with Sam right behind. She went straight to the master bedroom without a pause, even though she’d never been up there on her own. There were toys on the floor just inside the door of Mary’s room, but Charlie didn’t give them so much as a glance as she ran. She pushed at the partly-open door to Sam and Sarah’s room with both hands, running in and heading straight for the sliding doors of the closet. She chose the one on the left and slammed tiny hands against it, boom boom boom. “Daddy,” she said, looking up at Sam and then back at the door. There was a muffled snicker inside.
“Charlie,” Sam said, crouching down as close to her eye level as he could get. She looked up into his face immediately, automatically, eyes intent on him. “How do you know where daddy is?”
Her answer was as open and sweet as her face. “I love daddy,” she said.
The snickering stopped.
Sam nodded. “I guess that’s all there is to know, then, huh?”
Charlie tilted her head at him the same way her father did when he didn’t think Sam was being clear. With it came a slight frown that gave Sam the impression that whatever it was, if she didn’t understand it, it wasn’t worth worrying about.
Sam slid the closet door open along its runners. Dean was sitting in amongst a batch of shoes, holding several skirts and sweaters out of his face with one hand. His eyes were a little bright but Sam ignored it.
“You found me, Pook,” Dean said. “Your aunt Sarah has a lot of shoes.” He struggled out of the closet and swung Charlie into the air by the back of her tiny jumpsuit, and she squealed with glee. He kissed her on the top of the head and tucked her against his hip. “We don’t talk about this,” he said to Sam.
“Dean - “
“It’s funny now, but it’s still weird,” Dean said. “She doesn’t need to be weird. And it’s totally useless unless we decide to become a family of trail guides. Dani doesn’t need to know, because it’ll become a big deal. It’s the first part of something, and you know it.”
Sam shook his head as he stood. “She doesn’t need to be weird, or you’re not gonna allow her to be weird,” he said. “Which is it?”
Dean clenched his jaw. “We’re all weird,” Dean said. “I’m not saying she can’t be whoever she’ll be. It’s just that our kids don’t need to...” he trailed off. “If they end up with powers, they don’t have to use them. They’re not gonna hide all their lives because they get something’s attention by being different. My kid’s not gonna be a born hunter.”
There it was, and for once it hadn’t taken Sam days or weeks to get it out. Dean was trying to figure out how to protect everybody all the time, and any sign of ‘gifts’ in their kids would up the ante beyond what he could strategically handle.
Sam was smiling before he could stop. “Paranoid.”
“Not,” Dean said, and stalked by him and out into the hallway.
“Shit,” Charlie said clearly.
Sam knew Dean was reminding her again that it wasn’t a word she could say, but Sam didn’t hear it. He was laughing.