Title: Are We There Yet? (1/1)
Summary: John Winchester? Meet Jim Murphy.
Characters: John, Jim, tiny bit of wee!Dean and baby!Sam
Rating: PG (Gen, no pairing)
Disclaimer: Kripke and WB own them; this is my take on it.
Author’s Notes: Thanks to relli86
for the lightning-fast beta. I wrote this in anticipation of “Origins 3” because I was fairly sure we’d learn H’s identity (No ORIGINS spoilers). But I also wrote this so I could get to the point where A Good Visit
could happen – had to learn how John and Jim met before the adventures of Dean, Sammy, Bunny, Bear, and George could occur! However, you do not need to read that for this (but you should go read it anyway!).
Feedback / Archive / Rec: I love hearing your thoughts, and if you like enough to rec, that makes my day.
Elkins gave him an address. That was how so much of his life had been going lately: an address from this one, a contact from that one. “Jim’s a good man,” Elkins said, giving him the phone number, the name, the necessary information to drive his boys eight hundred miles. “You’ll understand when you meet him. I’ve called him, let him know you’re coming.”
And like that, his decision was made for him. John didn’t mind that so much, actually--it was easier than choosing what to do for himself. Not that he had any clue right at the moment, anyway. They’d left Manning and made their way through Nebraska, leaving around dawn. John only hoped he didn’t have to give up for the night and get a room somewhere along the way.
Dean and Sammy were in the back, absorbed in some child’s game for the time being. Only three hours ago, Sammy had been screaming with an undisclosed hurt, inconsolable, unable to give John any hint how to make it all better. John had pulled over and taken Sammy out of his car seat, walked him up and down the shoulder with a light bounce, doing everything he knew to do to keep a nine-month-old happy. Nothing succeeded. Finally, Sammy cried himself out and fell asleep against John’s shoulder. John eased him back into the car, and with a smile and a finger across his lips at Dean, they were on their way again.
An hour later when Sammy had woken up, Dean tried gamely to feed him, but that had resulted only in baby food all over the back seat, and another stop to clean up. At the time, John had thought, “Six more hours to Blue Earth, my ass,” but since then, Sammy had been remarkably calm. Dean kept him quiet.
“Whatcha doin’ back there?” John asked, eyes flicking to the mirror.
“Playin’,” Dean said.
John smiled. “Playing what?”
Dean looked up, but his hands were over his eyes. “Peek-a-boo, Daddy!” he said, giggling madly as he took his hands away. “Peek-a-boo, Sammy!” he called out, repeating the process to Sam’s obvious delight.
Dean played peek-a-boo until he bored of it. It didn’t take very long, but by then the afternoon sun warmed the back of the car and made naptime a simple operation.
As day sank into evening, John found a place for dinner, changed the boys’ clothes in the men’s room, and tucked Dean in with a blanket, a flashlight, and a picture book. “You read your book to Sammy, okay?” John told him. This routine had established itself as a fairly early blessing. Dean couldn’t read the books properly yet, beyond a few words, but he would make up the story based on the pictures and what he remembered and could make out from his tentative forays into c-a-t and d-o-g. Generally, his voice would lull Sammy off to sleep, and then Dean himself would drift off somewhere between one page and the next. Dean didn’t seem to have any trouble sleeping in the back seat. Less trouble than Sammy, sometimes.
That night was no different. Dean told Sammy about Thing One and Thing Two, and if the story was nothing like what Dr. Seuss intended, it didn’t matter one bit. Somewhere between the fish yelling at Sally and her brother and the giant bulldozer cleaning up the mess, Dean’s voice trailed off. John heard the dull thunk as the flashlight fell out of Dean’s hand and into the footwell.
He reached Blue Earth a little after 10 PM. He followed the directions Elkins had given him, consulted the map. He was definitely in the right place, but…there had to be some mistake. The last two miles had been nothing but the gravel road up into the woods. Light snow still dappled the terrain up here, though in Sioux City a bank thermometer had said 50°. As he came around a curve, he could see the buildings, finally, but couldn’t quite believe the sight. Murphy’s “home” looked more like a retreat center. And was that a chapel?
A motion-sensor light flooded the clearing as the Impala nosed her way through the last trees and onto the gravel circle in front of the log buildings. John slowed. Well, at least if it was a church, they should have a phone. He could call Murphy and find out where he’d gone wrong.
Sure enough, the priest had seen him coming and was on his way to meet the car.
“Sorry, Father, I think I’m lost--” John said as he climbed out, aware of the irony, but not willing to acknowledge it just now.
“John Winchester?” the priest asked. When he saw the wary look on John’s face, he smiled. “Daniel didn’t tell you, did he? That son of a bitch. Thinks it’s funny to fake people out. I’m Jim Murphy.” He extended his hand.
John shook it firmly, but didn’t quite lose the confusion on his face. “You’re…Jim Murphy?”
“In the all-too-weak flesh. You must be exhausted. I’ve got some tea, or if you’d prefer something more…fortifying, we can arrange that, too. Come in,” Father Murphy said.
John hung back. “If you’re a hunter…how do you know I’m not something evil?”
“You’d rather I shot first and asked questions later?” the priest asked. “Daniel called ahead. Said you had two boys needed some looking after while you came up to speed.” He paused and looked him over. John felt exposed--and weren’t priests supposed to put people at ease? “Daniel said you were rather new to the business.”
John snorted. “I’m not in the business, Father. I’m just looking for the thing that k…killed my wife.” The priest’s expression changed abruptly. John could see that this man of the cloth was restraining himself from offering the usual counsel to a recent widower.
“I’m very sorry,” was all he said after nodding. “Let’s get you and your boys inside.”
John unbuckled both boys’ restraints and lifted Dean into his arms first, then picked Sammy up by his car seat handle. He could come back for the bags. For a moment, he thought Murphy might offer to take one of the boys--an offer he would reject, hunter or no--but the priest seemed to understand that without being told. “Straight through,” he simply said, holding the rectory door open, “and third door on the left.”
John barely registered the comfortable-looking red sofa, the corner filled with bookshelves, the pictures of the parish lining the walls, or even that the kitchen and bathroom were to the right. He pushed open the third door on the left and found a small but cozy room with a bed that took up one whole wall. He set Sammy down gently and pulled back the “Curious George” comforter to lay Dean down and pull off his shoes. Dean clung to his neck as he tried to stand up. John had to gently pull his son’s arms away to tuck them in. He turned back to Sammy and pulled him out of the carrier. Sammy half-woke, fussing, so John backed out of the room quickly to avoid disturbing Dean.
“Shhh…” he told the baby. Murphy was coming back inside; he’d picked up Sammy’s bag.
“Is there formula in here?” he was asking, already patting down the bag for the necessary trappings of an infant.
“Outside zip-pocket,” John told him. Within moments, the priest found the formula and a bottle and was moving to the kitchen to mix it up.
John paced the small living room, prolonging the moment when Sammy would wake up completely and demand feeding. When Father Murphy returned, it was with the baby bottle and two squat glasses of an amber liquid decidedly stronger than recommended for infants. He set down one glass on the coffee table and handed John the bottle.
“Thanks.” John popped the nipple into Sammy’s mouth. Sam began to suck immediately, still not fully awake, but aware enough to eat.
John sank onto the sofa near where Murphy had set the tumbler. Balancing Sammy in one arm, bracing the bottle with that hand, he could take a much-needed slug. He tipped back the glass and sighed as the liquid stung his throat. Single-malt, and pretty smooth, not that John knew anything much about scotch. “Thanks,” he said again. He looked over to where Murphy was watching him, not touching his own glass. When he sat back, rocking Sammy a little, Murphy visibly relaxed.
“That was a test?” John asked.
“Yes. Sorry. But you passed,” Murphy told him.
“Daniel didn’t say he was sending me to a priest.”
“I’m not a priest,” Murphy said. “And it’s not ‘Father;’ I’m just a Lutheran pastor.” John could tell he said it in the way Dr. McCoy said, “I’m just a simple country doctor.” Pastor Jim smiled. “Couldn’t have made it past the celibacy and false piety. But there are advantages to being in the trade, you might say. Easier to bless my liquor, for example.”
John smiled without showing his teeth. So that was the test he’d passed.
“Daniel did say that you’re having a hard time looking after the boys and learning to hunt,” Murphy continued.
“They’re all I’ve got,” John heard himself saying. Probably because Murphy was a minister, though John had little enough use for religion. “I don’t know how to keep them safe unless they’re with me, but….”
“But hunting can hardly be a safe place for children as young as yours.” Murphy nodded appreciatively. “I’m sure you know that few of us ever start on this path without some sort of…prod. Some loss. It’s what drives us. You’re not alone in that, John.”
John blinked hard. He took a big swig of the scotch. “Look, I am not on a path. I told Elkins that, too. The boys…they need a home. They’ll need school soon enough. And I…I want them to have that. I do. But first I have to find this thing. That’s all. I’m not taking up the profession on a permanent basis. Got that?”
Murphy sipped his drink. “All right. So what are you up against?”
Sammy fussed a little, hands grasping the bottle and shaking it. His feet kicked up. John quieted him, smoothing his hand lightly over Sam’s curls. He ignored the question, didn’t want to admit the answer. Didn’t want to admit what it meant.
“John? What was it?” Murphy prompted.
“I don’t know yet,” John said, barely making noise as the words came out.
“Daniel said as much.” Murphy leaned forward. “Look. No one is telling you what to fight, or how long to stay in it. But from what little I understand, what happened was far from the work of a simple poltergeist. I hate to tell you this, but I don’t think you’re going to track this thing down quickly. And even if you do find it, will you be able to destroy it?”
“I’ll do what I have to do,” John growled. He took the bottle away, ignoring Sammy’s whine of protest, and flipped the baby onto his shoulder to burp him.
“I’m sure you will,” Murphy said, forcefully enough to make John whip his head up to look at him. But the preacher had no condescension in his face, no hint of patronizing sanctimony, only resignation. “I’ve said the same thing many times. Like I said, almost everyone who does this has a damn good reason to. And I’m willing to help you, if you stick around long enough. Only understand that this thing may not have the same urgency to be found as you have to find it.”
Sammy was kicking, his legs pumping up and down like a frog, but John held him tight against the wiggling. Just when Sam was about to cry at the restraint, John swooped him backward and almost upside-down. He’d done this with Dean, assuring Mary that babies’ digestive systems worked best when jostled like this. Mary had laughed and told him she was sure it was so, but if Dean spit up all over the carpet, John would be the one to clean it up. Mary--
John pulled Sammy close to his chest, cradling his head. Mary was gone. No: Mary had been taken,
ripped from her boys and from him like a bandage off a bloody wound, and no one was going to tell him that revenge was hopeless. “Preacher, believe me,” he said when he could trust his voice again, “what this thing wants? Is of no consequence to me. I’m going to find it.”
“But when you do? What then? You’ve got to know what you’re dealing with, John. You’ve got to know what you’re doing.” Murphy stood up and went to the bookcase. He took down a photo from the wall next to the shelves. “In seminary, I had a friend named Doug Parker. He and I went out to pay a sympathy call on a family. They had lost a daughter, kidnapped.”
Sammy began to wriggle again, so John laid him in his arms and gave him the bottle back. Once the baby settled, Jim continued. “Unfortunately, this child was taken by a human. But I was so certain it had to be something else, that the signs left where she’d disappeared were…not from this world. I convinced Doug that we were dealing with the supernatural. I stirred up a hornet’s nest, too. See, while Krista Jacobs had been brutally murdered by a sex offender, there was actually something else hunting for human prey in the area.”
He brought the picture over to John and handed it to him. A younger Jim stood next to a sandy-haired young man, their arms around each other. “Based on my previous research, I was sure we were dealing with a Rawhead. I confided in Doug and talked him into coming with me to the thing’s lair. It wasn’t a Rawhead at all. It was something much more powerful.” He sipped his scotch and took the photo back, sinking into his chair. “Before I could even raise my weapon, it grabbed Doug and disappeared. No sulphur, no ozone, nothing I recognized. I had gone in blind, and Doug paid the price.”
“What was it?” John asked softly.
Jim shook his head. “I was lucky to get away. By the time I was able to come back, it had moved on. My best guess was a Wendigo, but looking back, I don’t even think it was that.”
“A Wendi-what?” John said.
“A creature that feeds on human flesh. The point is, John, that unless you can figure out what you’re looking for, you can’t know how to kill it. And if you go in without knowing how to kill it, you won’t get the revenge you’re looking for. The best you’ll do…is orphan these boys of yours.”
He looked down at Sammy, who was barely holding the bottle now, fast asleep again. He pulled the bottle away and set it on the table. “I should…I should get him to bed. Excuse me.” He stood quickly and pushed his way down the hall to the back bedroom. Dean was still asleep, on his side, his arms flung out in front of him as if trying to hold something. John sat down on the edge of the bed. He lifted the covers and eased Sammy down carefully between the sheets. Dean’s arms circled Sammy like he was a teddy bear. John leaned over and kissed both of them on their foreheads.
“Daddy?” Dean murmured. “Are we there yet?”
John smoothed his boy’s hair. Murphy made a certain amount of sense. He needed to get this over with, so he could get back to…something. Give the boys a shot at a normal life, anyway, even if he doubted he’d ever be “normal” again. But it was stupid to march in headlong and blind. Elkins had said as much. Hell, Missouri had told him that back in Lawrence. The quicker he learned, the faster he could track this sonuvabitch down and send it to whatever hell it had crawled out of. In the meantime, Murphy could provide him with a shelter for the boys and at least a temporary base of operations while he figured out what was next. He had work to do.
“Oh, buddy,” John said quietly. “I think we’re here for a while.”