All of them had hair of gold, like their mother,
Um. Wow. The response to this story has simply blown me away
. Thank you so much, seriously. And a special thank-you to dannyblue, who gave me my first ever fic rec and got me writing in this again.
That said, after this I swear
I'm going back to writing in OMwF. Really. For a while, at least.
Oh, and, uh....I don't do the fry-in-the-Frosty thing myself, since I can't stand Wendy's fries, but I know people who do. So no, I didn't just make that up.
Two hours, three awkward phone calls, and a ton of legwork later, John was back in the waiting room, now with Joyce’s bags in his truck and a duffel of things he thought she would want or need at his feet. The insurance was taken care of, Caleb had another hunter on the way, and Dean knew he wasn’t gonna be home for a while. He hadn’t told either Dean or Caleb why he was staying in Vegas, and neither had asked. If he was honest with himself, he was hoping against hope that everything would work out fine and he and Joyce could get an annulment in the next week or so. Then he could go home without his boys ever finding out what a huge fuck-up their father was.
Joyce’s girls were another story. He’d spoken to the elder (whose name turned out to be Buffy, go figure) on the phone. Her reaction to his clumsy explanation of the situation had been understandably panicked and more than a little suspicious. He’d quickly decided not to tell her about the whole ‘marriage’ thing right then; she was twitchy enough without that hanging over their heads. Besides, he had a hunch Joyce would be much better suited to breaking the news to them, if it came to that.
That was, assuming Joyce survived.
John dragged his palms down his face for about the millionth time since Joyce had collapsed six hours ago. He didn’t want to think about what would happen if Joyce didn’t make it. Because John knew that if she died it would somehow be his fault. And that would make him morally – and legally – responsible for the well-being of two teenaged girls. And God help him, he had enough trouble figuring out how to father a pair of boys. Girls were so far beyond his experience he might as well try to raise dinosaur hatchlings. And to top it off, they’d surely hate him, just on principle, and he wouldn’t blame them in the least.
And all of that was without
taking the family business into account.
Damn it, this
was why he didn’t want to think about it.
He busied himself reciting exorcism and protection rituals in his head. The Latin was just unfamiliar enough to require concentration, just familiar enough to be comforting. Every so often he would glance up at the clock, but time might as well have been standing still for all the change it showed.
When he got through the Latin, he started in other, older languages. Greek, Etruscan, Hebrew, even as far back as Sumerian. The words flowed through his head, drowning everything else out, as he stared down at his folded hands.
Then a sharp female voice cut through his mental fog, saying Joyce’s name.
John looked up and felt his throat tighten. There, at the desk, were two beautiful young women that looked so much like Joyce it took his breath away. The elder had Joyce’s hair and eyes, while the younger had her stature, nose, and mouth. Both had her golden California tan, and both looked worried as hell.
The receptionist pointed them in his direction, and as soon as they turned his way, he felt the need to stand. Somehow it seemed more respectful to meet them on his feet, not hunched over in a brightly-colored molded-plastic chair.
Buffy strode over to him with a shockingly dark look on her sunny Valley Girl features. The younger girl – Dawn, he recalled – followed like a shadow, alternating between shooting worried glances at her sister and regarding him suspiciously.
“You John?” Buffy asked, getting right to the point.
“Yeah,” John replied, not even attempting to offer her his hand. She looked like she might bite it off.
“What the hell happened? All of it, from the beginning.”
John stole a glance at the younger girl, not sure how much she should be hearing about her mother’s exploits. Buffy caught his look and narrowed her eyes.
“Whatever you have to say, Dawn can hear it, too.”
Dawn shot a look at her sister that clearly said ‘since when?’ But John knew what Buffy was doing. He’d seen Dean do it with Sam on more than one occasion – allow something he never normally would have, to present a united front against an enemy. No matter how many issues a relationship had, those issues had no place in a confrontation.
It was such a warrior mentality – something he
would do – that it made John reconsider his initial evaluation of the girl. She was obviously as strong-willed and take-charge as her mother, and he found he respected her more for it.
“Your mother and I met last night,” he began, without preamble. “We had both been drinking heavily. She invited me back to her room, and I stayed the night.” He kept his voice as neutral as possible, but little Dawn’s cheeks turned bright red anyway. “We slept in late this morning, and then she invited me out to lunch. While we were out, she collapsed, and I called the ambulance. As soon as I knew she wasn’t in immediate danger, I called you.” None of it was a lie, of course; just a selective re-telling of the truth. He found himself absurdly concerned with whether the two young women would see through his half-truth, despite the fact that he’d been lying for a living for more than sixteen years now.
“What happened?” That, surprisingly enough, was Dawn, the younger girl’s voice rougher and more frightened than her sister’s. Her earnest gaze reminded him so forcefully of a younger Sam that it was all John could do not to gather her into his arms and tell her everything would be alright. So much for a lack of paternal instinct.
“The doctor said the clip that was placed on her aneurysm slipped,” he said instead, purposefully gentling his face and voice. “They decided against another brain surgery and are trying a new technique.”
“What new technique?” That came from both girls at once, an echo, something that Dean and Sam did all the time. Christ
So he sat, and warily they sat as well, huddled together on the loveseat against the wall to his right. He told them what the doctor had told him, about the possible complications of going into Joyce’s brain again, and how the new procedure would work.
Dawn shuddered and proclaimed loudly how gross the entire business was. Buffy countered with her relief that her poor mother wouldn’t have to get another
hole drilled in her skull. Then she looked up, as if realizing something for the first time.
“How are we going to pay for this? Did anyone – ”
“I gave them your mother’s insurance card,” John assured her. “It’s taken care of.”
Buffy narrowed her eyes. “You went into Mom’s purse?”
John raised an eyebrow at her. “I also checked her out of her hotel and cancelled her plane ticket. I figured she’d have more important things to worry about.” He indicated the duffel of clothes at his feet. “The rest of her stuff is in my truck.”
“That was...awfully nice of you.” Buffy sounded as if she wasn’t sure if she should be impressed or suspicious.
“Well...your mother made quite an impression on me.” It wasn’t why he’d done all those things, but it certainly was the truth.
The conversation devolved into hushed small talk from there, tense and searching as a diplomatic meeting between two world powers. The girls wanted to know where he was from, what he did for a living, what he’d done in the past, on and on. He answered with the same story he’d given Joyce, which was mostly truth anyway. He was a mechanic from Portland, in Vegas to meet up with an old military buddy. Said military buddy had already gone back to Nebraska, but he’d stayed in town an extra night and met up with Joyce.
When the girls found out he was an ex-Marine, they exchanged looks.
After a moment of silent conversation, Dawn spoke up.
“Buffy’s last boyfriend was a Marine. He was kind of a jerk.”
Great. On top of everything else, they had a bad impression of the military.
Uncomfortable with that line of conversation, John took the opportunity to switch the focus to the girls. He learned that Dawn was in the eighth grade, and Buffy was in her second year of college at a satellite branch of the University of California. From the teasing, John gathered that Buffy was very smart but somewhat lazy, the type that could get good grades but never seemed to. Dawn, on the other hand, was one of those students who got good grades without even trying and amazing grades when she did.
The similarities between these two and his own children was like a stab to the heart. Buffy’s obvious protectiveness of her younger sibling. Dawn’s youthful rebelliousness, her brains, her pout. He even saw physical resemblances, though he was probably projecting somewhat. Dawn was at that long-limbed, gangly stage where she had just caught up to her sister in height and would probably pass her in a matter of months. Sam had just gotten past that stage, and was lording his newfound inch over his brother at every possible opportunity. Dawn’s dark hair and Buffy’s light. Dawn’s lankiness and Buffy’s more compact, adult frame. Even their banter reminded him of his sons.
It took nearly an hour before John could detect some slight relaxation from the two girls. That was good – well, not good
, but progress towards it. The more comfortable the girls were around him, the better off they all would be.
Then, finally, after nearly four hours, Dr. Johnson returned to the waiting room.
John was on his feet immediately.
“How did it go?”
The doctor smiled, and a knot in John’s chest loosened.
“Without a hitch. She’s all stitched up and she’s regained her lucidity. You can see her, if you like.”
Buffy and Dawn were at their sides in an instant.
“Where is she?”
Dr. Johnson gave John a questioning look over Buffy’s head.
“Her daughters,” John said by way of explanation.
“Ah. She’s in room 317. Down the hall and around the corner.” He pointed, and the girls were gone.
“Thank you,” John said. He turned to sit back down, but the Doctor stopped him with a hand on his arm.
“Mr. Winchester, I couldn’t help but notice your marriage is not on file. I take it that means your marriage to Ms. Summers is a new thing?”
John frowned peevishly. “I don’t see how it’s any of your business, but yes.”
The doc held up his hands in a gesture of peace. “Just wondering. We see more newlyweds than you might think, being in Vegas and all. I only wanted to point out, you signing for Joyce’s treatment makes your marriage legally binding. You can’t get an annulment now. If you needed to separate, it’d have to be through divorce.”
John only glared, but inside his stomach was doing a soft-shoe shuffle. “Thank you for your concern.”
The doctor, recognizing a dismissal when he saw it, nodded, gave him a sympathetic half-smile and left.
John blew out a breath. Christ, he hadn’t even thought of that. Not that it mattered – he’d had no choice, he’d do it again in a heartbeat if it meant saving Joyce’s life – but it did make things much more complicated. Divorce, even when both parties were in complete agreement about who got what, was a lengthy and most likely costly business.
And it meant his sons would almost certainly learn what a tremendous fuck-up their father was.
He’d been planning on giving Joyce some time with her daughters, but he found himself wanting – not needing, of course, but wanting – her calm rationality and support. So he gathered up his leather jacket and Joyce’s duffel and headed down the hall to room 317.
The drug-induced fog was just beginning to lift from Joyce’s mind when the door opened and two cautious heads poked into the room.
Seeing her daughters’ concerned faces was exactly what she needed. The last of the numbness fell away, and she sat up and gave her girls the biggest smile she could muster.
“Mom,” Dawn squealed, high but soft. The next second she was at the side of the bed, wrapping her arms around Joyce’s shoulders and burying her face in her hair.
Joyce hugged her back, exchanging a look with Buffy over her youngest’s shoulder. Buffy grinned and came around to the other side, settling into the visitor’s chair.
“How did you know I was here?” Joyce asked. “Did the hospital staff call you?”
“Nope,” Buffy answered. “He did.” She nodded to the door, and Joyce turned to see John standing in the doorway, his broad shoulders and planted stance seeming to take up the entire space.
Her heart skipped. He’d stayed? Well, it sorta made sense, rationally, that he would have stayed, after all the never got around to exchanging contact information and there was that whole marriage thing to consider. Still, she hadn’t really thought she’d see him again. Part of her had thought the whole damn thing was just a figment of her aneurysmed imagination.
She didn’t know quite what to say, so she settled on just, “John.”
One corner of his mouth quirked upwards.
“It’s good to see you’re okay,” he said. Hearing his voice suddenly made him real to her, because that low, gravelly drawl was exactly the kind of voice she’d have given her delusional fantasy man, and the fact that yes, he actually WAS that sexy meant that everything that happened last night and this morning was real as well. Unless she was still insane, which she knew she wasn’t because Dawn looked like Dawn and not a glowing green ball of energy.
“Thanks to you,” she finally replied, after staring at him for what felt like forever but was probably only a second or two. “You saved my life, John.”
His smile broadened a little and she caught the faintest traces of color above his stubble.
“I didn’t do anythin’ spectacular. Just had the girl call 911.”
Joyce planted her hands on her hips. Well, one hand, anyway. The other was holding Dawn, who had shifted to be snuggling against her.
“Don’t give me that modesty crud, mister,” she said, mock-sternly. “I heard the doctors talking. You gave me CPR. And if you’d hesitated even a few seconds, I probably would have been dead before the paramedics could get there. You are officially my hero, in the ‘How can I ever thank you?’ sense.”
“Well.” John sauntered over to the bed, softly shutting the door behind him. “There’s always...” And he leaned right over Dawn and pressed a soft kiss to Joyce’s lips.
For the sake of her daughters, Joyce held back the pleased groan that threatened to crawl out of her throat. Instead she just kissed him back, firm but chaste. He pulled away far too quickly, revealing Dawn’s nose-wrinkled expression, somewhere between giggly and disgusted.
“Ew, Mom. Not over me, ‘kay?”
John was the one who answered, voice wry. “Don’t worry, kiddo, I’m sure that’s a one-time-only thing.”
“Mm-hm,” Joyce agreed. “Exceptions to the rules are made for women who almost died today.” She was half-kidding, but everyone else in the room shuddered slightly.
“Don’t even joke about it, Mom,” Dawn said softly, burrowing deeper into her mother’s arms.
Joyce shared a knowing smile with John and stroked her daughter’s stick-straight hair before turning to her uncharacteristically quiet elder daughter.
Buffy was regarding John with a thoughtful, searching look. Joyce recognized what was happening, she’d seen it before. Until now, any judgments Buffy would have made about John would have been concentrated on ‘is he a threat?’ Now, though, the focus had shifted to ‘is he good enough for my Mom?’
“So,” Joyce said, pulling Buffy out of her scrutiny. “What’d I miss?”
And with that they were off, telling her all about the little mundane things that had been going on at school and around the house in the week or so that she’d been gone. The project Dawn got an A on, the funny little thing that happened in Buffy’s lecture, the argument Giles and Anya had over bookkeeping, the picnic Dawn went on with Tara and Willow. Joyce could see there was something else, something Buffy was just itching to tell her, but couldn’t because John was in the room. She considered finding a way to get John to leave, but decided against it. Whatever it was, it couldn’t be that important, or Buffy would have asked him to leave herself. It could wait.
John himself was just sitting there, straddling the plastic chair in the corner, watching the exchange with a small smile on his lips. He didn’t try to interject or ask any questions, even though she knew he didn’t have a clue who they were talking about.
After a few minutes a nurse came in with a tray of good-smelling but funny-looking hospital food. Joyce was startled to realize she hadn’t eaten since the continental breakfast, and a look at John told her he was thinking the same thing.
“Food sounds like an awfully good idea. You girls want anything?”
Buffy shook her head, but Dawn perked up.
“Where are you going?”
John shrugged. “There’s a Wendy’s across the street.”
“Ooooh. Can I have a Frosty?”
“Sure thing,” he said with an amused grin. Before Joyce could offer him a couple bucks to pay for her daughter, he was gone.
“Dawn,” Buffy hissed, “you’re not supposed to say yes!”
Dawn pouted at her, arms crossed. “Why not? It’s just a Frosty.”
“Because! It’s rude! And he might drug it or something!”
“Buffy,” Joyce warned. Buffy mimicked her sister’s pose.
“Mom, you know you don’t actually know anything about him.”
“He’s a nice man.”
“That’s what you said about Ted.”
Ok, Buffy had a point there. But Joyce was fairly certain John wasn’t a robot. Or a serial killer. She couldn’t be that
“Speaking of Ted,” Dawn said. “Buffy fought another robot yesterday.”
Ah, so that’s what she was waiting to talk about.
Buffy nodded and started explaining the situation, while Joyce dug into her mystery meat and soggy vegetables. Dawn stole her Jell-O, as usual.
They had finished discussing the robot and moved on to debating Spike’s apparent obsession with Buffy when John came back. He handed a large cup to Dawn and turned to Buffy, a still-steaming cup of fries in his hand.
“I ordered too much, couldn’t finish these. You want them?”
Buffy hesitated, then took them with a “thank you” that was only a little suspicious. John shared a look with Joyce that said ‘well, I tried.’ He pulled over the chair and straddled it again, sipping a half-finished cup of coffee, and watching as Buffy handed Dawn a few fries and they both dipped one into the Frosty.
John made a face. “That looks disgusting.”
“Oh no,” Joyce told him with a smile. “It’s sort of a tradition.” She snagged a couple fries from Buffy’s cup, dipped them in Dawn’s, and offered one to him, popping the other into her mouth.
John raised an eyebrow but took the fry, munching with a thoughtful look on his face.
“Hmm. Not bad. Still think I prefer barbeque sauce.”
Joyce laughed. “You’re such a man
John, to his credit, left the obvious cheesy retorts unsaid. Instead he lifted a single eyebrow, staring into her eyes with a small smile that made her heart race. She felt herself blush, and was glad Buffy and Dawn were too busy fighting over how to divide the fries to notice the exchange.
It hit her, then, that she was married
to this man, however temporarily. And besides being handsome and charming, he was making a genuine effort to befriend her girls, which despite Buffy’s inherent suspicion it seemed to be working.
The illogical, girly part of her brain silently wished that maybe he’d change his mind about the annulment, that he and his boys would move into her house and they’d all live together in one big sitcomish family. But there were a thousand and one reasons why that wouldn’t work, number one on the list being Buffy’s secret. And if she was really honest with herself, she knew that she didn’t really know anything about him. The chances of it working out would be slim to none, and she didn’t want to put her girls through the loss of another
Still, it was nice to dream.