"I've known for a while."
-- John, 2.01 (In My Time of Dying)
Before Dean, John's concept of baby was of something removed, something holy. He hadn't really thought much about how it came from someone else's body, not more than really abstractly; though sure, he wasn't exactly ignorant when it came to anatomy.
It's a boundary thing, really. More the fact that babies don't have any. His learning curve with Dean had been a steep one; nothing that shat, drooled and vomited that much could ever be considered holy, even in the most esoteric sense (which John generally preferred).
By the time Sammy comes along, John isn't exactly at the point where he thinks getting piss in his eye is cute. But it isn't the same as it was with Dean. Though Dean has already passed that stage and is well into toilet training by the point the time comes for John to care for Sammy, perhaps it's the new familiarity with the trappings (and consequences) of babyhood that makes it different the second time around.
John only has six months to muse on it. Then the issue of 'boundaries' is moot; the three of them might as well be the same person for the amount of time they spend inside each other's proximity. And there's no time or opportunity to contemplate it anyway (or too much time; always opportunity).
Around the time Sammy's first tooth comes in, John finds a spot on Sammy's lower back that's inflamed; looking irritated and feeling hotter than the skin around it. Sensitive, too; Sam squirms and grumbles when John touches it experimentally. It doesn't feel right, either, right on the base of Sammy's spine but more protuberant than the bone there ought to be.
Sam wriggles a little on his belly, grabs for the teething ring Dean's waving at him from beside the fold-down changing table. Sammy's fat little fingers wrap around the donut-shape and Dean meets John's gaze in the rest room mirror. Dean looks washed-out, skin tone too green in the fluorescent light. His hair's still fanned out on the side from grinding his head into his pillow; it's only early, the waitress only let them in the ladies' room because it was too damn early for any real customers to want to use it.
John has a half-squeezed-out tube of cream for diaper rash; he rubs a smear of it into Sammy's back, then wraps the boy up again. It leaves his hands smelling like lanolin, remnant oiliness in the grain of his fingerprints.
A week later Sammy doesn't sleep all night for screaming. John keeps the lights low for Dean's sake, paces the short length of the motel room back and forth while Sammy shrieks against his chest. In the past month or so Sammy'd been getting damn near articulate with the almost-word noises he'd communicate with; now pain's making him inhuman again.
John knows he's hurting but doesn't know why, guiltily relieved when exhaustion sends Sammy into fitful sleep around dawn. The natural light shining through the thin curtains reveals Dean damn near crammed under his own pillow, and two small bumps crowning Sammy's sleeping face. John touches his fingers to them gently; the nubs are hard, like bone, breaking free of skin cleanly just behind Sammy's hairline.
They stumbled on the beach mainly by accident, too long in the car heading down the 101 and John sees it from the road. The cove's deserted, not even a parking lot.
It's a windy day but the cliff shelters them, though the waves crash all the higher for it. John instructs Dean to keep well back of the water, then plops Sammy down on the sand, drops next to him. It was hot enough in the car for the boys to have tugged shoes and socks off already, and Sammy's feet flex experimentally. His toes, which seemed to be webbing at first, have grown together in two segments on each foot, cloven. They get less dextrous as time goes on, even seem to shorten.
Sammy grunts a little as he struggles on the uncertain surface, managing with a small amount of effort to tip himself forward until he's on his knees. His fingers burrow down into the sand and then he lifts a fistful of it to his mouth.
"Sam, no," John says unnecessarily; Sam pulls a face and spits comically. An unexpected gust of salty air comes from the direction of the ocean, Sam's eyes squint closed against it and his shaggy hair blows flat away from his forehead, making the small, nut-brown horns suddenly obvious.
John swallows, looks away. Dean has rolled his trousers up to his knees, and he crows as he gallops across John's field of vision. Near John's knees is a battered old wicker basket with a couple blankets in it, some clothes for the boys, water. He got the basket from a thrift store after the fire, when Sammy was small enough to carry in it, when he was growing fast enough that John really couldn't afford to buy anything more high-tech. It was sturdy, then, two solid handles reinforced with wire, with metal hooks latching it to the wire frame.
He's well-versed in his mythology, but that's all it is, goddamn mythology. No way in hell that thing could float. No matter how light it is it's too full of holes to stay buoyant in any case. Especially not with something in it.
The sun shines bright and hard John's face and he closes his eyes, keeps them closed 'til he feels Sammy's unsteady hand grip his knee. Opens his eyes to see Sammy offering him a chubby handful of sand. Sam's saying something, but the crashing of the waves pulls the sound away, leaves just the earnest, unskilled curl of his mouth. John accepts.
They're staying in a cheap apartment in Florida the summer John decides to take the boys out of school entirely and homeschool instead. Stupid, really, that he didn't avoid all that screwing around with bureaucracy every time they moved by doing it earlier.
Cheap apartment, thin walls (and ceilings and floors) not much protection from the sweltering heat. John doesn't even notice the clip-clipping of Sammy's hooves anymore, not even when the boys are in the kind of mood that flips that shitty weather the bird; chasing each other around on the uncarpeted floors.
It's still way too early -- and too light -- to take the boys to the parking lot down by the derelict mall on the other side of town. Couple hours after the sun's gone down it'll be deserted enough for Sammy to kick his haphazardly-modified sneakers off, run around for a while 'til he exhausts himself. Good for the boys to get more fresh air (blessedly cool in the evening); and the asphalt's good for wearing the hooves down, stopping them from growing out wrong, blunting their potentially sharp edges.
The sudden pounding on the front door make Dean and Sam both freeze mid-motion, then bolt into the bedroom; there's a sudden cease of the sound John's become accustomed to as they dive onto the bed.
It's their downstairs neighbor, a harried-looking woman who John doesn't have a lot of sympathy for; something in her manner, the distasteful way she eyes the boys whenever they pass her door.
"You got an animal in there?" she demands, trying to peer past John's shoulder. He shifts, slouches into the doorway.
"I can hear it. Where is it?"
"There's no animal. Ma'am." He stresses the politeness, straightens his posture without occupying any less of the space.
"I can hear it," she insists.
"It's my son," John says, slowly and clearly, like she just doesn't get it, and then, huh - feels a little lost (and lost as to why he feels lost) when he realize she really doesn't. "He, uh," John scrabbles to find a response to the skeptical expression on her face. "He likes to wear high heels."
She scowls; whether in disbelief or distaste, he doesn't give a shit. "Keep it down," she says, and turns heel.
When John goes into the bedroom, the boys are both lying flat on their backs on the bed, limbs bent up a little here and there by the crumpled covers. The gleam of their eyes matches the shine of sweat on their faces, chests still rising and falling rapidly. They're both only wearing denim cut-offs, good way to avoid buying new clothes or throwing out old ones when they grow out of them.
Sammy's chest looks hollow when it's stretched out like this, Dean's just starting to meat up with muscle. Sammy's tail isn't long, but long enough to curl down the back of his thigh, out from under the frayed cuff of his shorts and curl around his leg, just above the knee. John can see where the flares on the arrowhead point of it are digging into the sunburnt flesh.
Dean's gaze flicks to the gun still held low in John's hand - kept out of sight from their neighbor behind the doorframe, but in his grasp since the first knock -- then back to John's face. "Dad?"
"How'd you boys like to go to Mexico?"
Dean gives Sammy a cheap plastic costume-accessory trident for Christmas. Sam's not amused, but John knows what he doesn't; Dean's patient - the joke won't fully pay off until he gives Sammy the red, high-collared cape for his fourteenth birthday in May.
John gives Sam a stack of fresh sheets of sandpaper and a stack of the textbooks he's gonna need for the next six months. He gives Dean the copy of The Key of Solomon that Bobby finally chased down for him months back; he's been hiding it away. No such luck that officially finishing schooling means no more books for Dean. Just means he gets to pick them, now.
Sam, on the other hand, doesn't seem to want anything to do with it. In a way John's grateful for that attitude, now doubt saves him from a whole other handful of issues beyond those of a burgeoning teenager.
After the gag gift John figures that Sam doesn't want much to do with Dean either, but after the sun's set and he's made sure their property's perimeter is secure, John steps into the house and hears the familiar rough shh-shh of sandpaper, the soft murmur of voices.
The only light on in the house is the reading lamp by Dean's bed; it leaves the hall dark enough for John to pace up undetected, stand in the silent drifts of shadow outside their bedroom.
The horns don't need sanding often, and not really that much, either. Like fingernails, they reach a point where they're just a little too sharp, with the tendency to break skin in their bruising when the boys are tussling.
Sam sits on the edge of the bed, hooves cleaving furrows in the carpet pile as he swings his legs idly. His arms are straight and heels of his palms braced on the edge of the mattress, head slung down between his shoulders. Dean's fingers carefully part and hold back the long, messy hair that generally hides the horns from view, the other hand holding the sheet of sandpaper easily; buffing it against the point, testing smoothness with his fingers.
The fine dust of it drifts down onto Sam's shoulders almost like splintery dandruff, and when he shakes it off the particles grab the lamplight in a golden haze before falling out of light.