Sally Jackson didn’t love John Winchester. That was okay, though, because he didn’t love her, either. She loved his boys, though, and he cared for all of them as much as he was able.
“Lift your shoulders,” John told Percy gruffly, a scowl marring an otherwise handsome face.
He was always either scowling or sad and Sally did her best not to let that bother her, not to let worry over what that kind of attitude was going to do to her sons, to Percy undermine the good things about their…arrangement. As far as marriages of convenience went, she was pretty sure that this one wasn’t bad.
She cared for his boys while he travelled the country, hunting things that gave her nightmares and what time he was home was spent teaching Sally and the boys to defend themselves, how to lay wards and whatever protective charms he picked up on the road. And she was under no delusion that he did it just for Percy, either. No, the way he watched when Sam and Percy played and scuffled, the way he pushed less sentiment, more perfection, the way she would wake up to find him standing over her, something haunted etched in the lines of his face. There was something he hadn’t told her about his boys, about the way Mary died.
Sam landed on his back with a startled squawk and John grudgingly patted Percy on the shoulder and said, “That’s good. You’re doing better. You still need to widen your stance, though.” He held a hand out to Sam, long-legged, lanky Sam who was too old for nicknames and had started arguing about everything, and Sam took it after thinking about it for a second. “And you need to stop telegraphing which direction you’re going.”
He ruffled Sam’s hair to take the edge out of the rebuke but Sam still scowled about it. Dean flopped down beside her as the boys squared off again, hesitating before leaning against her. That was his signal that it was okay to touch so she reached up and ran her hand over his hair. If Sam at 12 was too old to be babied, then Dean at 16 was definitely too old. He, unlike Sam, allowed it, though, treasured it, possibly because he remembered both what it was like to have had a mother and to have lost her. Sam only had what memories Dean could scrape together because John couldn’t bear to talk about her. Sam’d also been 6 to Dean’s 10 when they’d moved in with her, he had a security that allowed him to rebel that Dean’d never really seemed to have. Well, he hadn’t until about 6 months ago.
“Nugget’s getting good at this,” he said, grinning as Sam hit the mat again.
Sally bit back a smile at the nickname. Percy would grumble about it if he heard it but it always made her think of the first time she met them. Percy’d been a baby, barely a year and a half, and she’d been running from a cadre of harpies only to be saved by a maniac with a gun and two little boys. Dean had spotted Percy, wrapped safe in a blanket, proclaimed him to be a nugget and Nugget he still remained.
Dean had taken to Percy and vice versa but he always held Sally at arm’s length. Until 6 months ago when, for the first time in their six year relationship, she had lost her temper with John. It started when Dean mentioned that John had agreed that he could drop out when he turned 16. She’d blown up, starting on the importance of education and continued on about how much pressure he put Dean under. He’d yelled back that they weren’t her damned kids so it wasn’t any of her business anyway. Blood had rushed to her head, fury swept through her body and she’d stepped forward, hands balled. Dean had popped up between them, prattling on about how he had to stick close to Sammy and Nugget, anyway, he might as well finish high school. John had a look in his eye like he knew he’d overstepped himself and he’d grumbled something, giving way.
She was pretty sure that that was the first time he’d realized that she wasn’t weak, that she wasn’t a coward, that she’d just been naïve when they met, scared and in over her head; that she was older, wiser, and perfectly capable of fighting her own battles now. She’d half expected to find two empty beds and blankets folded military neat on the couch. Surprisingly, John hadn’t been gone for more than 2 day stints since and Dean had allowed her affections more often.
Percy finally hit the mat with an, “Oof!”
Dean laughed, settling against her side. “He’s getting good, but Sammy’s still got tricks up his sleeve.”
Sally fought a grin as her eyes sought out John, who was watching her with Dean. He always seemed to be doing that these days, studying her. Like he wasn’t sure what to do with a woman that cared, anymore. She squeezed Dean’s shoulder, then stood, saying, “I’m going to fix dinner.”
He grunted, bouncing up to razz Sam about being beaten by a seven year old two out of three matches. It was an informal end to practice, but she was still surprised when John followed her into the kitchen.
“Need help?” he asked, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot.
He’d been doing that more, too, trying to help even when she didn’t ask for it. Not that she ever asked for it. She hadn’t asked anything of John Winchester since Percy was a year and a half and she’d asked him to help her train her baby to survive.
“No,” she said, studying him from the corner of her eye. “But you can stay in here if you like. The boys need to do their homework and they’ll find an excuse not to if you go back out there.”
He stiffened at what he probably took to be a backhanded compliment, then slowly relaxed. “Sure. I’ll just…”
He stepped back, hopping up until he sat on the counter, and she thought about chastising him for, knowing she’d be forever swatting Dean off counters if he saw, but decided to let it go.
“Boys, homework!” she called, ignoring plaintive whining and false assurances that everything was finished already. She stepped back so she could see them through the doorway, raised an eyebrow, and said, “Now.”
They grumbled even as they rolled up the practice mat, sliding it back under the couch and pushing the coffee table back into place.
“You’re good at that,” John said and she startled, looking up to catch him watching her. “Getting them to do what you say.”
“I’m their mother,” she said, shrugging. She wasn’t all that certain how he thought she’d been running their home while he was gone and she wasn’t about to explain things to him.
“Yeah,” he said gruffly. “I see that.”
She flushed, turning away to start supper. She didn’t know what had gotten into him lately. First, he was home more than he’d ever been, then he became attentive, and now, well, it had been awhile, a long, turbulent while, but she was pretty sure he was flirting.
She turned to grab something from the fridge and crashed into his chest. His well-formed chest. She looked up into his eyes and said shakily, “That is not where I left you.”
He smiled suddenly, dimples winking, and Lord, but that was still devastating. He held up the carton of milk she was reaching for and said, “I thought you might need this.”
Sally blinked, focusing on the milk carton before looking back up at him. “John…can you just tell me what’s going on? Because I wasn’t very good at guessing when we first got married and I’m still not six years later. So just…tell me?”
He carefully set aside the milk, then captured her face in his hands. Her breath caught as he gazed at her, the warmth in his eyes making her feel kind of gooshy. “I guess you could say I’m trying to buy my way off the couch,” he finally said, quiet enough that only the two of them heard.
“Oh,” she managed before he kissed her.
Sally Jackson didn’t love John Winchester. Not yet, anyway.