Title: Air Time
Rating: PG - wee!&teen!chesters - Gen
Spoilers: General (for all aired episodes)
Disclaimers: SPN & characters are owned by their various creators.
Summary: "John had never seen the gap between a cynical fourteen and a hopeful ten ever look quite so wide."
John only started paying attention to the evening news after the first ten minutes passed by.
The smartly dressed anchor team had to make sure you were completely terrified before letting you slip into the free fall of the spastic commercial break. After the hints of possible deadly enfant toy recalls, a maybe health code violation downtown and the popular bottled water that might have lead in it, you were advised to not go changing channels.
Stay tuned if you wanted to know what, who and why. Stay tuned if you had any interest in: Keeping Your Family Safe!
Sammy rolled off his perch on the back of the sofa, crashing into John’s side and nearly knocking the sandwich out of his hands. His kid’s previous upside down view of the television was no longer adequate now that it required undivided attention. John wasn’t sure when the 6 o’clock headliners had become required viewing for the ten year old but the kid never missed it.
Biting into a clumsily made ham and cheese, he waited patiently for the dire dramatic music to stop. After a news hour satisfied its advertisers that the audience was hooked, they would eventually settle into the gritty stuff. The real deal type of information that ranged from robbery to rape. If it was a particularly slow day for human tragedy, the scandalous misdirection of funds at the church bake sale suddenly became a momentous crime. But John was hoping the inconsequential would stay just where it should be for the week.
Especially anything regarding the random grave desecrations that were suddenly occurring in the area.
To his relief there hadn’t been one single mention of the events in the local paper outside of the short blurbs in the police blotter. As far as he was concerned, no news was fantastic news. The cops had a lot of better things to do and media hype always put pressure to solve the sensations instead of what truly endangered the public at large. John’s bible and rusty shovel were assuredly not on that long list of threats.
Sam was restlessly flipping around in agitation on his allotted couch space.
“Problem?” John asked after he got a foot to the ribcage.
The kid started kicking at the coffee table in feigned distraction. John could almost hear Sammy form and reform sentences in his head until all he could do was sigh in frustration at each failure of articulation. His son finally decided on one thought and ventured to say it out loud.
“Why are people more sad if a lady dies?”
Glancing back at the screen, John studied the transposed image of a pretty young woman smiling amongst friends.
The newscasters always used photographs like that.
It was always a moment of innocent happiness for the viewer to reflect upon while the subject’s possible brutal end was meticulously hypothesized. As soon as John heard that the missing girl’s picture perfect boyfriend had been gone for as long as she had, he already had the conclusion to that flimsy mystery. If the cops were smart they’d set some cadaver dogs out on the woods just south. Plenty of ground out there for a quick shallow dig. To make the slice of wilderness even more ideal, it hid an abandoned stone quarry that was filled up with enough water to submerge a vehicle.
His kid was waiting for him respond.
Taking another bite out of the sandwich he thought about how much he didn’t want to answer Sam’s question. There seemed to be a cruelty in explaining that there was a business behind selling sadness. He didn’t have it in him to answer like he should, so he took a safer route instead. Besides, his alternative sentiment was something in which he wholeheartedly believed.
“Because it’s our job to protect women.”
Sam flopped over on cushions and considered his father doubtfully.
John shoved his dinner in his mouth again to stifle any traces of his incoming smile. Sammy still hadn’t quite gotten over an incident at school that had happened an entire month ago. Time’s passage hadn’t lessened the sting to wounded pride even a little bit. Getting knocked on your ass could do that to a guy. Getting knocked on your ass twice with a nice shiner while you were at it could do more of the same. To make the matter more humiliating, all the aggression had been accomplished by a fellow student named Cindy. The humbling experience had left his son with a profound lesson concerning the supposed haplessly vulnerability of the opposite sex.
“Fine.” Sam mumbled miserably to himself. “If I gotta.”
From the day John began his own self education, he had gone to great pains to teach his children about the nature of violence.
He’d always fought an inherent sense of good sportsmanship he’d earned from his own father. It got easy to put aside after a jungle out in Asia had taught him that expecting fairness from your enemy would get you killed. But he had carved a middle road that included degrees of mercy right alongside ferocious practicality, and he made sure his boys followed it right down its center line. While he had never specifically told his boys never to hit a girl, it hadn’t occurred to him that anything female might fall into the category of ‘unfair’. Unfortunately for Sam, the little girl he had deemed morally untouchable had a killer left hook.
But a couple of children swinging fists over the water paints were at least in the same weight class. John wasn’t sure how to explain that the reasonably level playing field of childhood didn’t last for very long. He looked back into the bright eyes of the missing woman on the television screen.
The image flashed to a startled older lady who was unquestionably the victim’s mother. Staunchly awaiting news of her daughter’s safe return, the shell shocked parent was tightly holding onto a frame of a high school portrait. The victim was slightly younger in that photo, but John still found something lingering in her expression that made his appetite fade. She looked almost expectant. She looked like she was impatiently waiting for someone to brush away the few inches of dead leaves and loose earth off from over her wide empty stare.
Dean’s voice from behind them was low and thoughtful.
“People flip out about pregnant chicks even more.”
John handed his plate to Sam who made a face at the sight of wheat bread before biting into it anyway. Brushing off his hands, he looked over a shoulder at the cluttered kitchen table. He did a double take when he saw his other son had somehow appropriated his favorite Allman Brothers T-shirt.
Dean sagely nodded.
Sunday night was when the mountain of the week’s homework was finally acknowledged. Not necessarily done, but at least spread out while Dean pretended to pour over the chapters while listening to his walkman instead. It seemed the walkman was off in favor of the television for this week’s session of tedium.
“Strangle one of them and everybody goes nuts.” Dean explained with a yawn. “They have those candlelight vigil things and all that other stuff.”
John felt as if he should have offered something in the defense of the well meaning intentions of civilians but he found he didn’t have much to say. Some murders inspired millions. Some became a percentile. Most went without leaving anything behind at all.
“And students.” Dean raised a badly gnawed pen. “If yer gonna croak off, it totally helps if you’re a student. The whiter, the better.”
The ten year old was listening attentively but warily. Backed into the sofa’s ample corner, he’d drawn up his knees and was chewing the unsavory leftovers slowly.
“Oh! Little kids too.” Dean pointed at his troubled brother to site an example. “Everyone loves it when a kid bites it. Any color.”
Sam blew at his bangs with a short exhale of contention.
John had never thought of the public’s general fascination with other people’s personal disasters as ‘loving it’ but he supposed there was a point to the flippant phraseology. There was a gigantic wide line between moral outrage and morbid curiosity. Maybe it was natural to feel a mixture of both when the media shoved it down your throat every time you were just trying to find a weather forecast. By nature it was a difficult task to watch other lives be viciously snuffed out and not twist the grip you kept around your own soul a little tighter.
“Girls. Students. Kids.” Sam repeated to himself. “And pregnant ladies?”
Dean shrugged drowsily from his leisurely slump on the pile of unread text. Sam shoved the last of the bread crust in his mouth and let his hesitant gaze go back to the television.
“Oh yeah, and dogs.”
“Dogs?” Sam’s distress finally seeped through into his voice. “P-People like it when dogs die?”
“Nah, not like that.” Dean was stabbing holes in a neat even row down a binding. “It’s more like, they show a story about some asshole shooting up a nightclub? Then bam! Camera cuts from blood on the sidewalk right over to a dog that surfs.”
John raised an eyebrow.
“Well...” Dean scrubbed at the back of his head as he formulated a qualifier. “They show the dumb dog so everyone will laugh.”
“What’s wrong with that?” Sam honestly wanted to know.
Dean blinked at his father uncertainly when it suddenly became obvious that his brother’s hands were wiping at watering eyes. John knew Dean didn’t mean to get his brother all worked up. All either of them had done was call it like they saw it. Rubbing a few days of beard, John had never seen the gap between a cynical fourteen and a hopeful ten ever look quite so wide. His boys both lapsed into their own confused silences.
The hand he put on Sam’s shaking shoulder stayed there until the kid twisted away to cover his head with a blanket.
The knowledge that some life was blatantly considered more precious than others was never easy to swallow. Sammy would have to get used to the idea sooner or later. Better right here with a few bewildered tears on the couch than somewhere else down the road. That road was filled with plenty of other lessons that a man would have to figure out all on his own. Patting the backside of the lump under the blanket, he picked the plate off the sofa and headed towards a sink full of dirty dishes.
Dean’s eyes briefly met his with a sheepish flash of guilt, his headphones back over his ears and the chords loud enough for John to recognize the song. He figured that while he doling it out, he might as well give him a few pats too. When he observed his gracious fatherly comfort was being regarded with some suspicion, he made sure to include a nice hard one across the head for good measure.
Walking across the cracked linoleum, John wondered why the promise of mindlessly washing every dish they owned always looked like a great time.
It sure as hell beat whatever was on TV.