"Today in other news, Congress once again debated the Federal Marriage Amendment, also called the Marriage Protection Amendment, a measure proponents say is necessary to preserve the moral framework on which this country was founded The amendment would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman and add that definition to the Constitution. It would also stop so-called gay marriage activists from waging war on the institution of marriage like they did last year in a successful court battle in Massachusetts or in the short-lived wedding sprees in San Francisco and Portland (Oregon, not Maine) earlier this year.
"Local officials are crediting the recent high-profile Marriage debates as a motivating factor in the so-called 'bashing' of a homosexual teen. They believe that without this amendment more of our youth will turn to homosexuality and—"
"Jesus!" Dean yelped, reaching over to swat off the radio with a disgusted slap, sending a thought of apology to the Impala for treating her so roughly. That kind of shit was why he never listened to the radio, especially talk radio. He blindly groped through his stash of tapes, daring to take his eyes off the road for a moment to confirm his fingers had closed around the right one Metallica. He felt the tension start to ease as he shoved it into the Impala's tape deck and the opening riff of "Enter Sandman" blasted through the speakers. He cranked the volume louder until, finally, the music drowned out the pounding of his heart.
He was shaking. He was livid, and he was shaking—felt as if his blood was boiling—and he was alone on the road in rural Virginia, not that far from Appomattox. Damnit! Why did he bother to turn on the radio?
He'd been listening for a weather report, trying to find out if he could make it up to Boston to rendezvous with Dad by driving straight through and getting there sometime tonight, or if the storm that'd been making its way up the Eastern Seaboard was going to get in his way, and make him pull over and hole up somewhere as early as this afternoon. Fuck! He'd been okay, feeling pretty good, riding a high off the last hunt. He'd rescued two kids from a Rawhead and successfully returned them to their parents unharmed. He'd saved people. Stopped the supernatural from destroying their lives. Dean had done that. And now… Now, he felt hunted. He just wanted to get as far away from Appomattox County and the relative proximity of the idiot Congress people in Washington, D.C; gay bashers; and idiot homophobes as he could and just be! He needed to regroup, recharge, ground himself someplace safe. Stomp out the monster of self-loathing and self-doubt that was rearing up inside him, and maybe even get laid. Not necessarily in that order.
Cursing out loud and slamming his hand against the steering wheel, Dean reluctantly pulled over. The Impala slowed to a halt on the side of the state road as grass brushed along her undercarriage. Dean rolled down his window and breathed, the aroma of fresh-cut grass and sticky, hot asphalt filling his nostrils. Metallica was soothing, but today, it wasn't enough. Breathing deep, he pulled out his cell phone and flipped it open, starting a text to Dad.
It took a few seconds (and only a few), but Dad texted back, John Winchester's gruff annoyance coming through loud and clear even when his words were typed.
Dean hesitated, looked at the words, knowing his dad was expecting an obedient 'yes Sir.' But if he explained… They didn't talk about it much, well, not with words, but then Winchesters didn't really talk about emotions and needs and all that. But this was one thing Dad understood. He wouldn't see it as shirking duty or unnecessarily blowing off steam.
Dean had the phone to his ear and it was ringing before he even realized he'd dialed.
"Dean?" Dad sounded annoyed.
"Dad?" he asked, voice cracking a little. He didn't know why he was so upset—okay he did, but he hated to admit it. It wasn't just the newscaster on the radio. That family, whose kids he'd saved? If they'd realized the truth about Dean… that he was a homosexual—the word sprang to mind in the singsong voice of the newscaster—would they have thanked him, or attacked him? Maybe blamed him instead of the supernatural monster they really didn't understand? Accused him of trying to hurt their kids? He shook his head, brushing the thought away. It was also the stupid Amendment thingy too. He knew settling down, meeting someone, and having kids really wasn't part of the hunting gig, but he hated knowing that if he wanted to, lots of places? He'd get shot if he even tried.
"Dean? What is it? What's wrong?" Dad asked, his voice switching from annoyed to worried in the span of a heartbeat.
"I'm driving through Virginia—and the radio—some kid got bashed and, and they're blaming it on 'so-called gay marriage activists,'" he sighed. "And there's this amendment in Congress, and the family whose kids I just saved? They had Focus on the Family and Christian Coalition bumper stickers on their minivan." Yeah, that was what was really eating at Dean. If those parents had known, the newscaster might be talking about something happening to him right now. At the very least, they wouldn't have been very thankful, or they would have told him to repent, and said they'd 'pray for him.' He shuddered out another sigh and kept talking. "I just… I need to touch base for a little while," he admitted, "go somewhere I can be myself, ground myself."
There was silence over the phone line and Dean let his eyes play over the landscape—rolling hills, a few grassy fields here and there, farmland, little patches of trees. A beat-up blue pickup truck drove past, filling the air with the scent of unburned diesel fuel and rocking the Impala with its wake.
"I'm sorry, Dean," Dad said at last, genuine regret and sympathy in his voice. "You okay—physically, I mean, the family didn't—"
"No," Dean interjected, "they didn't know or suspect or whatever."
"Where are you gonna go, Dean? You sure you don't want to just come up here? I could give you some time in the South End," Dad suggested.
"I think I'm gonna stop between DC and Baltimore, you know that bar?" Dean answered certain his dad would know. "I'll stay the night, drive the rest of the way tomorrow and get to Boston sometime in the afternoon or evening depending on when I leave. It's no later than I'd be if the storm had waylaid me." He couldn't help the eagerness that came out in his voice. He was almost pleading.
He could almost hear the wheels turning in his father's head, even through the staticy cell phone connection. "Okay," Dad agreed at last. "Give me a call when you're on the road tomorrow." Check in and let me know you're okay. "Be safe." Don't forget to watch our back.
"I will. See you tomorrow."
The call disconnected. Dean stuffed his cell back in his pocket and punched the radio back on, not bothering to roll up the window, and pulled back onto the road. If the queer-hating locals didn't like the music, they could kiss Dean's cock-loving ass.
Sam was about ten when he found out about the Kinsey scale. Dean was never entirely sure how he found out, considering they were going to school in some Podunk town in Western Maine where they didn't even have a middle school, and the eighth grade was shoved in with the high school their temporary home shared with four other towns. But Sammy had a way of charming librarians, and somewhere along the way, he picked up the habit of striking up conversations. Librarians, even school ones, loved Sam. Dean was pretty sure it was because his little bro was the closest thing they got to adult conversation on an average day. Conversation with Sam was probably more intellectually stimulating than chatting with some of the teachers.
Sam spent most afternoons that year (one of those rare times they were in one place for the better part of a school year) in the high school library. He would walk over each day on the rutted dirt road that linked his elementary school to the high school, where Dean was attending ninth grade. Dean stayed after school for private tutoring from the Latin teacher, which was probably why they stayed in town as long as they did.
Dean knew one of the librarians was probably a lesbian and definitely a hippie (or at least he figured it out in retrospect), and Dean was pretty sure she was a big factor in Sammy's discovery of the Kinsey Scale and many, many other important bits of information. The school had research materials for some upperclassmen project or something or other that included some information on Kinsey and human sexuality. Sammy also charmed the librarian into helping him do more research on the school's one PC with internet access. It was before the concerned adults hell-bent on protecting youth from reality had figured out how to block access to any potentially useful sites on the web.
One day Dean had wandered down the hall from his tutoring session to find Sammy looking nervous, sitting in front of the monitor, his attention devoted to the dot matrix printer that was currently, slowly printing out a sizeable stack of papers.
"Whatcha doing, Sammy?" he asked, voice a little too loud for the library. He expected one of the lurking librarians to pop out and hiss an annoyed 'shh' at him, but the only librarian around was the hippie one Sam liked, and she just glanced over and gave Dean a knowing smile.
"It's not ready yet," Sammy protested, scrambling to gather up the bundle of papers already accumulated. "I'll show you later at home."
"Okay, just don't take too long, sport." Dean reached out and ruffled Sam's hair.
Sammy beamed at him.
Later that night, after they'd walked the three-quarters of a mile from the high school, across a bridge, and to the teeny rental Dad had somehow secured for them, Sammy approached Dean, his eyes wary, flicking around the room to the exits, the pile of papers clutched to his chest, as he rocked back and forth from foot to foot.
Dean was about to ask if Sammy was okay, if he'd maybe gotten n some kind of trouble or—more likely—been invited to compete in some competition or class and was working up the nerve to convince Dean to help him convince Dad to let him participate. Only, before Dean could ask, Sammy spoke.
"I know about you and Kyle Bingham," he stammered.
Surprise, followed by a wave of cold, black dread slammed into Dean. Oh shit, seriously? Dean wondered. Of all the topics Sammy could have raised, getting ratted out for… for being gay was the last thing he would have ever expected. His mind fell into a mantra of oh god, oh god, oh god, as he struggled to look confused instead of shocked. How can Sammy know? Dean wondered. Oh god, if Sam knows, who else knows? His heart felt like it was about to leap from his chest, his palms were sweaty, and his knees felt like rubber, although he was filled with the overwhelming urge to run. But he feigned disinterest and stood his ground.
But Sammy continued speaking. "And I know about Tyler Walsh and Billy Tims and Josh Stiller. And I—I know that black eye you got from Shawn Taylor before Christmas wasn't because you were a freshman and a Latin geek or because you were then new kid or because you hit on Tonya Millbanks." Sammy's words were tumbling out rapid-fire like water bursting through a breached dam. Sam took a heaving breath. "He punched you because he caught you and Kyle m… making out in the showers."
"Aw, Sammy," Dean sighed with resigned frustration. He was unable to keep his voice from cracking and he could feel the blood draining from his face. "I'm not a queer," he protested, "I like girls—you've seen me with girls—Janet Mallon let me get to second base. I took Nikki Jones to the Eight Grade Dance last year. I…"
"Dean," Sammy interrupted matter-of-factly, his voice sage beyond his years. "I'm not… mad or—or anything. It's cool. Just—I know, and you shouldn't have to hide it, or feel bad. No one should hit you for it. I g—got some stuff for you." He held up the stack of papers, some of which were definitely not from the dot matrix printer and appeared to be adorned with gaudy rainbow-colored logos. "You're my big brother and jerks like Shawn don't get to beat you up just 'cause you like boys."
"But I like girls," Dean protested, still reeling from Sammy's speech.
Sammy just shrugged at him, nonplussed. "So, you're a Kinsey 4 or 5, maybe even a 3… but I think you like guys more than girls so, probably—"
"Wha?" Dean started, completely lost by Sam's new line of babbling.
"Just read Dean." He thrust the papers into Dean's hands. "The Kinsey scale's just a way of expressing who people are attracted to, and it's not just guys or girls, there's a lot of room in between. And there's organizations and support groups—and things they call Safe Zones, where its OKAY to talk about stuff and no one's gonna punch you for it. There's one in Portland," Sam added as he stood on tiptoes and pointed a long finger at one of the particularly colorful glossy pages in the stack, "where you could go and meat other GLBTQ kids and be… be yourself." Sam sank back on his heels and waited, clearly excited and nervous, bouncing and biting his lip.
"If this is about you worrying someone's gonna hurt me, I can take Shawn Taylor—" Dean started, not quite ready to concede his brother's point.
"I know you can, Dean. You just shouldn't have to."
Dean didn't really think he'd do anything with the stack of papers, except hide them in the bottom of his duffle bag, folded inside his rattiest old sweatshirt, so Dad wouldn't find them. And he had every intention of never discussing the issue again—with Sammy or with anyone else. But curiosity—and loyalty to his brother—got the better of him. So, he started reading, and learning, and maybe feeling a glimmer of self-acceptance and identity for the first time.
Even then, he still didn't think he'd do anything like go to one of those groups Sam mentioned. Community? Support? Heh! Who needed that shit? Groups were for sissies, or maybe normal people, civilians. Winchesters weren't normal and they weren't civilians, and Dean definitely wasn't a Sissy! He was a lone wolf. A Hunter. He was just fine all on his own.
But then he narrowly avoided getting suspended (and wound up with a Friday night detention) because he hit back when Seth Mulligan and his buddies on the varsity baseball team called Dean a 'faggot.' And then he tried to ask Jennifer Sands to go to the Spring Dance with him, and she got this scrunched up look on her face and told him she knew he French-kissed guys, and that meant he probably had AIDS, so she didn't want to have anything to do with him.
Next thing Dean knew, he'd convinced Dad he was going to Portland, about a 45-minute drive to the east, to research a Latin project at the big library there. Dad let him take the Impala! Trusting Dean to drive it with his real-fake license that said he was seventeen instead of just turned fifteen. Instead of the library, he went to that damn GLBTQ support group. He was skeptical of any organization that sounded like alphabet soup, but wounded enough he was willing to give it a shot.
Dean was surprised with what he found. It actually felt good to talk to people—like him—other kids and young adults who knew what it was like to have secrets and live in fear of someone finding out, but dreading everyone could tell anyway. Who knew what it was like to get slurs thrown at them by classmates, to get beat up because of who they were. Who had teachers who warned them about 'inappropriate' and 'reckless' behavior, while turning a blind eye to the jocks and cheerleaders who spent all class necking in the back row. Who knew classmates' parents who thought they were corrupting the moral character of their kids. Who 'dated' members of the opposite sex because they could, not because they wanted too… It was an eye-opening experience for Dean.
All his life, he'd gotten weird looks, attracted bullies' attention, for being the new kid, for being 'weird,' for being too poor… Getting shit for being gay was just one more thing. Only now he realized it wasn't. So far, nobody he'd met thought he should die or needed to be cured or should have no rights or not get to do the same things as everyone else because he was new or weird or poor. They might think he was worthless or a bad influence or never going to amount to anything, but that wasn't the same. But there were plenty of people out there who thought Dean should be hunted down and killed—like a monster—just because he likes guys.
Dean had been carrying that around, turning it in on himself, faulting himself for being bad. Sam was right. Dean had been fooling around with girls for the sake of appearances. He was trying to create the illusion of being an 'all American rebel'—to hide the truth. Only he hadn't been able to stop himself for falling, for acting on those crushes that really made his heart jump and his stomach flip and flutter, the feelings he had towards boys and… And Dean was starting to doubt himself—hate himself—over the conflict. How could he follow in Dad's shoes and be a hunter—save people—if he was a monster too?
Besides, it was kind of nice having people to talk to who he knew would accept him for who he was. And if—if he had a crush on some of the guys there… at least he knew that for the vast majority, he only had to worry about chemistry and reciprocation of feelings and all that stuff and not the added burden of 'does this dude even like guys?' and 'will he take a swing at me if I hit on him?'
So, after that first night, Dean kept going back every Tuesday evening when he finished his Latin tutoring after school. Later, much later, he figured out Sammy must have said something to Dad, 'cause Dad never once balked at letting him borrow the Impala, and he never told Dean he couldn't go out, or dug too deeply into Dean's transparent excuses.
Dean learned a lot that school year—he even got (and gave) his first blow job and attended his first Pride parade and festival. But no lesson was more important than learning the value of community. When Dad moved them away late that summer and Dean fell back into the familiar rhythm of going to a new school every few weeks, he tried to convince himself he didn't miss the it, didn't need it—he was just fine without a support group. He even succeeded in convincing himself he could go it alone for a while. But deep down, he'd always been looking for a replacement.
Driving from Appomattox, Virginia to Laurel, Maryland had been grueling, even if the trip only took a little over four hours, even with shitty traffic. Dean's nerves had been on edge the entire time. He'd avoided D.C. as much as possible, adding an extra half-hour or so onto his trip. Under different circumstances he might have enjoyed a detour into the city. There was this bar/coffee house combo thing near Dupont Circle that he'd been to a few times and really liked. There was even a bartender/barista there who remembered Dean's name. And there as a rather eclectic club in Georgetown, near the campus, that this guy named Matt had taken him to once a few years ago, when he'd been in town researching urban legends of the Potomac. He'd met with a history professor, Matt was a grad student and the professor's TA, and he and Dean had hit it off pretty quickly.
But not today. The uncomfortable itch that had started about the time he'd heard the stupid, fucking radio broadcast late that morning was growing stronger—it felt like his skin might actually itch itself off and crawl way. He couldn't shake the feeling of a million eyes on him, staring, accusing. Damn Congress for considering amending the frigging constitution to outlaw his existence!
Okay, that was being melodramatic. The Amendment was just about marriage, but who actually thought it would stop there? Dean was pretty sure if that thing passed he was looking at permanent, constitutionally mandated second-class citizenship. Dean might not be a genius like his little brother, and he didn't really pay that much heed to laws, since—well—hunting required him to routinely break most of them, but he'd gleaned enough information from school to know that writing discrimination into the constitution had been horrible when it was dealing with racism and slavery, and there was no way that doing the same with homophobia and marriage was going to be a good thing now.
It was times like these Dean wished he could vote—even I he didn't give a shit about 95% of what went down in government, he wanted to have a say when it involved idiots with designs on lynching him or getting state sanction to beat the crap out of other kids like him, people who didn't have a lifetime of being trained as John Winchester's top soldier to help them out. But always living in fear of the law and constantly moving from place to place, swapping out IDs like some people changed their underwear, didn't really make voting a practical possibility. And that just added to Dean's overall state of crankiness.
Besides, he didn't want to be near all the closeted, repressed tension that ran rampant in D.C. Not right now. So, he'd avoided the city and pushed through inexplicably bad midday traffic, exceeding the speed limit by an unhealthy margin when the roads were clear to make up some of the lost time. And finally, finally, he pulled off the highway around three in the afternoon, and began making his way through Laurel, Maryland on surface streets.
On the downside, at this hour of the day, the bar that was his intended destination was likely to be empty, if it was even open—nothing but alcohol to take the edge off of Dean's twitching nerves and hair-trigger temper. He wanted companionship not (just) booze, but beggars couldn't be choosers, and he'd just have to suck up and deal.
The Impala found her way to "Family" by rote memory. Dean had to admit it felt a little bit like coming home—or what he imagined coming home might feel like if he'd ever had a real home to come home to. He'd only been there maybe a dozen times in the roughly seven years since he'd discovered it—back then he'd been using a particularly optimistic fake ID that listed his eighteen-year-old self as twenty-three—but it still felt familiar, comfortable, nonetheless.
"Family" was one of roughly a few dozen bars, clubs, coffee houses, and community centers scattered across the country that Dean stopped at when he was in need of some community. It wasn't the same (or as satisfying) as those months in the GLBTQ group, but it kept him from getting lost or flying apart at the seams when he had to spend so much of his life as someone else.
The nice thing about hunting—in a manner of speaking—was most of the time, you were never in any one place long enough for anyone to get to know you or ask too many questions or give you a hard time. Always using fake identities certainly helped in that regard. But then again, it was lonely, and sometimes all Dean wanted was to hang out and not have to worry about getting kicked out 'cause some redneck caught him looking at someone 'the wrong way.'
After securing the Impala in the bar's tiny, empty parking lot, Dean stepped through the swinging door underneath the cheery rainbow-patterned awning, letting his eyes adjust to the dim interior with its dark wood furnishings and deep, purple blue carpet. There was a long, well stocked bar on the right wall. A mirror ran behind the shelves and various queer-themed neon signs added a touch of perky, riotous color to the slightly more subdued, glittering display of bottles. There was a lighted rainbow-colored sign that read "Pride" and a giant neon Pink Triangle hanging over the center of the display.
Dean's eyes flitted around—not much had changed from the last time he'd been here about nine months ago. Same overstuffed purple velvet couches in the back; same dark-stained wooden dance floor with a gratuitous mirror ball hanging overhead. There was a mini-stage that Dean knew just as often held indie folk and country guitarists as it died modern technopop acts—all the musicians that played here were queer. He'd even seen the stage modified and used as a platform for go-go dancers two or three years ago. There was a polished, spotless dark wood bar counter, complete with a brass bar rail that ran along the floor, and purple-seated swivel stools scattered along its length.
His eyes stopped as he took in the pride flag hanging sideways, stretched floor to ceiling along the back wall and the rainbow swag that seemed to be strewn everywhere around the room. Dean did a double-take, eyes flicking to the events calendar that hung over the ATM just inside the door. It was June—oh that explained it—Pride was coming up in a few weeks, so of course the place was decked out in anticipation of the LGBT—GLBT on much of the East Coast—community's high holidays. He mentally kicked himself for being so out of touch that he'd forgotten.
Another side effect of living on the road and constantly moving around, he often wasn't anywhere he could celebrate Pride, when Pride came around. Hunting down the murderous, angry ghost of a KKK member in the back woods of Alabama like he had on Pride weekend last year, wasn't exactly conducive to celebration. But he'd also fortuitously been in San Francisco once and New York twice during Pride.
Dean might just have dismissed the whole celebration thing as unnecessary or an ill-advised way to invite trouble if not for that first ride Parade when he was 15. The first time a beautiful drag queen with six inch platform heels and a dress cut down to there had walked up to him, given him some rainbow-colored pride beads, and wished him 'Happy Pride,' it had done something crazy and wonderful to Dean's self-esteem. He'd been sold on the holiday ever since.
"Can I get something for you?" someone called, pulling Dean from his reminiscence.
He looked up and saw the bartender, the only other person there at the moment, standing at the near corner of the bar. The guy was a big, muscular, dark-skinned, teddy bear of a man with a buzz cut, wearing a tight-fitting pink t-shirt and low slung jeans covered by leather chaps. He was regarding Dean a little warily, a little skeptically, with one eyebrow raised to his hairline.
Dean glanced down at himself—flannel over-shirt; grubby black tee; dusty, baggy blue jeans; and biker boots. And he was standing there staring probably looking like an overwhelmed—breeder—who took the wrong turn off the freeway and stumbled into the bar by mistake, or worse a redneck looking to start a fight. Damn, he was stressed out. Normally he would at have at least changed between finishing a hunt and going out for some quality community time. He'd at least have ditched the flannel and maybe put on tighter jeans, but he was so out-of-sorts, he'd driven straight through—straight, hah!—yeah. He shook himself. He was feeling pretty punchy. So he smiled and tried to relax.
"Can I get a seven and seven, a double?" he asked, walking towards the bar and sinking down into the center stool, resting his hands on the edge of the counter.
"Sure thing," the bar tender answered, spinning around to start preparing the drink.
Dean caught sight of the red hankie stuffed in the guy's left back pocket and smiled. Yeah, he felt better already just being here. If he'd been a little less overwhelmed he might have remembered to fish one or two of his own hankies out of his duffle bag—it would sure make getting picked up (or picking someone up) a lot easier. Save him the need to converse and all that. But then again, Dean really needed conversation—the opportunity to connect, exorcise his personal demons, get in touch with himself again—more than he needed a wordless hookup. So his oversight was probably for the best.
The bartender turned back and placed the glass in front of Dean.
Dean gulped it down greedily, finishing half in one swallow.
"Okay, seeing as it's three in three thirty in the afternoon, and that's not a shot you ordered, I'm gonna assume something's bothering you," the bartender stated.
Dean stared at his glass for a moment, set it down, and ran his hands through his hair, tugging in frustration. "Uh, yeah."
"You're not a regular," the bartender continued, scrutinizing Dean closely, "but now that I think about it, I think I've seen you in here before."
"Yeah, I, uh, travel for work," Dean stuttered. "I stop in whenever I'm passing through." He shrugged, tried to sound noncommittal, not sure if he was ready to explain why he was a jittery ball of nerves.
"Okay, I'll bite," the bartender answered, leaning forward, elbows on the counter, "What's got a cute young thing like you so outta sorts?"
"I was just down in Appomattox… uh Virginia," Dean started, swallowing hard, "and some poor kid just got bashed and…" he shook his head, "it's just kinda been a shitty day."
The bartender sucked in a breath, the air hissing through his teeth, as he took in the information.
"I was just looking for some place safe to unwind," Dean added finishing the rest of his drink in one chug, "count my lucky stars and all that."
"Well, you're safe here, sugar." The endearment sounded funny in the bartender's rumbling bass voice, but he shot Dean a comforting wink, and rested his hand gently on Dean's wrist. "How 'bout I get you some coffee, so you can actually enjoy yourself when the crowds start coming in a couple hours?"
"Okay?" Dean agreed uncertainly, looking after the bartender, as he took away Dean's empty glass and busied himself with the coffee maker. "Crowds?" Dean ventured, not sure if it was hyperbole or not.
"Well, maybe not crowds, but we've got a good punk rocker coming in tonight and before that a couple Indigo Girls–style singers, so the turnout should be pretty good," he answered, plunking a bowl of mixed nuts down in front of Dean. "You'll probably get a lot more out of your evening if you're not totally wasted by then," he said with a smile.
Dean smiled back and felt the tension ease a little, the itching slowing, his skin not crawling so much. And in here, he didn't feel like he had accusing eyes on him at all times. For the first time in weeks, Dean was starting to feel like himself again. Not a hunter. Not a fake ID. Just Dean.
Dean never really came out to his dad. By the time they actually talked about Dean's sexual orientation, John had known for years, and the circumstances leading up to that talk were more comical than confrontational.
He was twenty-one. It was February—maybe March. Sam had been staying at Pastor Jim's because he'd gotten into some sort of nationwide mock trial competition thing, and for once, rather than rage and scream about how unfair Dad was, Sam had actually rationally, calmly articulated how good the competition was at simulating the kind of acting and persuasion hunting required them to do on a regular basis. Sam had also explained the simulation was valuable because the persuasion was being evaluated by real judges—it was an unparalleled opportunity to test out Sam's skills with real-world judgment, but without any real-world consequences. Dad actually thought that was a good idea, and he let Sam participate. Sure, the competition would also help Sam with the college applications Dean knew he'd been squirreling away and preparing to fill out, but Dad didn't need to think about that.
So, Sam stayed in Minnesota, and Dean and Dad went on a long string of back-to-back hunts: werewolf, poltergeist, nasty case of spirit possession, selki, and some Scandinavian legend gone wrong. The hunts all blended together in Dean's mind. It was after Valentine's Day; he knew that because he'd seen the store displays shift from red hearts to purple and rabbits and colored eggs.
They were in a little motel on the Kansas/Missouri border near the twin Kansas Cities, technically in Kansas, but far enough from Lawrence that it was okay. Just him and Dad and the truck and the Impala. And for once there was enough cash they didn't need to hustle pool or scam a poker game or resort to anything more nefarious to get by. So, when Dad asked him if he wanted to hit a bar, Dean felt safe (and without guilt) in declining the invitation, knowing his pool-playing services weren't needed.
"Maybe later," he responded. "I'm just gonna watch TV for now, if that's okay with you, sir?" He threw the 'sir' on there to be as respectful as possible and hopefully put Dad in an even better mood. The last thing Dean wanted was to wind up roped into spending the evening at some honky-tonk straight bar where he'd spend the entire time on edge, worrying if some asshole macho idiot was going to catch Dean's wandering eye and decide the 'little faggot' or 'queer' or 'fairy' needed to be taught a lesson. Or even if he did nothing, some jerk would probably make a comment about Dean's 'cock-sucking lips' or how pretty he was. He'd probably be afraid to touch the alcohol lest his control slip, and wind up throwing himself at random women using stupid pickup lines to try to cover. Dean shuddered.
"You sure, Dean?" Dad asked, pausing at the door to look over his shoulder.
Dean glanced back from his perch on the bed closest to the TV. "Yeah, positive," he replied, breathing a sigh of relief when Dad gave him a tiny nod. Dad wasn't going to drag him along.
"Suit yourself," Dad threw out as he exited.
Moments later Dean heard the growl of the truck's engine and the squeal of tires on slightly wet asphalt, and he breathed even easier. He had every intention of going out and unwinding tonight, just not at the kind of place his dad was likely to go.
He'd started making a list about two years ago, when he was old enough and mature enough looking to be pretty much guaranteed that bartenders, bouncers, and even cops, would believe the age listed on his ID. It was a list of places where he could get back some of that sense of community he'd had that one semester—and summer—in Maine.
Tonight, his destination was a nice, friendly bar on the Missouri side of town. It was a gay bar, as in pretty much guys only—not really any lesbians in sight—and it was a great place to flirt, cruise, and chat, without any of the pretense or ear-bleeding music the trendier places seemed to be steeped in. They played a tolerable mix of classic rock and disco (at least they had last he'd checked), but unlike many bars, they didn't blast the latter until it felt like glitter was going to erupt from the speakers. That was where Dean was headed.
He waited twenty minutes, until the program he'd nominally been watching finished; he stretched, freshened up, changed out of his grubby hunting clothes, and pulled on a clean pair of dark, tight-fitting jeans and a black t-shirt. He stopped to glance in the mirror, running his hands through his hair to give it a livelier, artfully mussed look, and jogged out to the Impala.
Twenty minutes later, he was sipping a beer, having a good time, and feeling much more relaxed. A cute guy with blue eyes and brown hair, a little taller and more built than Dean, was flirting shamelessly with him. Yeah, this? was good. Dean felt the tension that had built up since the last time he'd done this slide away. His skin seemed to fit him better, and for once he was just another guy in a room full of people who all had something in common.
After they'd left Maine, he'd tried to convince himself he didn't need anyone or any group. Sexual orientation wasn't important to a hunter. Hunters lived outside society, so what was one more thing to make him different from some damn civilian?
That had worked fine until he'd gone on a hunt the fall before he turned seventeen. It was a big, complicated hunt with him and Dad and Uncle Bobby and Joshua and the Tarmans—Dwight and his two sons Chuck and Buck. They were hunting a pack of black dogs and needed all the help they could get. They needed hunters to work together to hunt in teams and groups to flush, track, and kill the dogs until they were all gone.
They'd only been gathered for two or three minutes when the fag jokes and slurs started. Dwight and his sons were incessant and mean… hateful. These weren't just the 'silly fairy,' 'gay men are sissies and pussies,' kind of jokes Dean had dodged at least at every second school since he was thirteen and sprang a rather mortifying woody in the boys' locker room. Those were bad enough. But in addition, the Tarmans were telling jokes about beating up fags and 'givin' 'em a good, deep dicking, to put them in their place,' and about how they'd kill a 'homo' if one was ever stupid enough to come on to one of them. They even made a joke about how one of the victims of the black dog pack had deserved what he'd got, and how the dogs had 'done the world a favor.' As if that wasn't bad enough, they seemed to expect everyone to join in. Dean was grateful to notice Dad and Bobby and Joshua didn't. But Buck and Chuck, who were each a few years older and a good fifty pounds heavier than Dean, just kept trying to get him to join in or agree with them. They wanted to hear him tell some jokes of his own.
Dean brushed them off as best he could, saying he liked to focus on the hunt and keep things strictly business when they were dealing with life or death situations. He portrayed the consummate professional. All three Tarmans acted like he was annoyingly stuck up—suggested he was too sensitive (and man, he'd never let anyone say that shit about Sammy ever again) and called him a wet blanket who was ruining their fun. But eventually they'd ignored him. Of course, Dean was convinced his behavior was out of character enough so Dad and Bobby at least had to be suspicious, but they never confronted him. Didn't say anything.
And of course, Dean was certain the Tarmans knew, which meant he spent the rest of the hunt in a cold sweat, scared shitless they were going to try to kill him (or possibly rape him). It was tricky, but he managed to avoid ever being alone with any of them, and as soon as he and Dad had rejoined Sammy at their motel, he'd split on foot and walked ten miles to the next town over, where he'd seen an add for an LGBT youth group at the local community college.
That was when Dean stopped being in denial and started making sure he always took time out to find some community and ground himself.
A sultry chuckle from the blue-eyed guy pulled Dean out of his memories. He was on his third beer and now shamelessly flirting with Mr. Blue Eyes—whose name was Karl with a K. His and Karl's knees were touching, and Karl had just slipped his long, strong fingers around Dean's wrist, giving a little squeezing tug that sent shivers up Dean's spine and made his stomach flip with anticipation, as his jeans grew unpleasantly tight.
"Wanna get out of here? I've got an apartment two blocks away," Karl asked, leaning forward, and speaking in a rumbling whisper in Dean's ear.
Dean shivered harder, "Sure," he agreed, letting Karl pull him to a stand. He'd checked the place out the first time he'd come, and the lot was pretty safe and secure enough that he could leave the Impala overnight. Karl took him by the hand and started leading Dean towards the door, only when Dean turned, he bumped right into someone who'd been in the process of sidling up to the bar to order a drink. "Sorry, excuse m—" Dean started, breaking off abruptly when he took in the far-too-familiar leather jacket and flannel shirt. He'd looked up. Beside him, Karl stopped and stilled. Dean's eyes continued their upwards path and finally met the man's face. "Dad?" he squeaked, jaw dropping in surprise. Shit! Did Dad not realize what kind of bar this was… no; there was a guy next to Dad, and that was the guy's very male hand shoved in Dad's back pocket, and Dad had his arm wrapped around the guy's waist kind of possessively, and something in Dean's brain felt like it had broken and shifted out of gear into some dimension surreal and unfamiliar.
"Dean," Dad replied with a nod, and a far-too-amused smile, "guess you decided to come out tonight after all," he added, stifling a snort.
Dean was dumbfounded. Dad knew? Wait; hold on, Dad's gay?
It's called the Kinsey Scale, Dean, it's not just all or nothing, Sammy's ten-year-old voice echoed in his mind.
Dad slapped a hand on his shoulder. "Glad you decided to unwind a little. Be safe, son," he whispered the last words in Dean's ear, with an approving glance over Dean's left shoulder.
Dean was once again aware of the tantalizing tug of Karl's warm hand on his left hand.
"You still coming, Dean?" Karl asked.
"Uh, yeah," Dean agreed, shaking himself and nodding a goodbye at Dad.
"Was that really your dad," Karl asked a few minutes later as they were climbing the steps to his apartment.
"Yeah," Dean snorted. "Wasn't expecting him to be there tonight," he admitted.
"Dude, you're lucky! Your dad's so cool. And he's kind of hot too, if you're into bears, at least," Karl babbled.
Dean whirled on him, because seriously, hearing his hookup babble on about his father's attractiveness was not a turn on. "Shut up," Dean grumbled, mashing his lips against Karl's and earning an excited growl for his efforts.
It was a good night despite the awkward beginning, and the next day, Dean felt lighter, realizing he could be open with Dad about his—needs—and tell him about the list. The ensuing conversation was a little vague, and a bit awkward, but Dean got a lot of places added to his list as a result, including a particular bar in Laurel, Maryland.
The bartender, whose name was Tony, was right. More people started arriving just before six, and Dean soon felt comforted by the thrum of conversation laughter, and people. He was glad he was sober enough to lose himself in people watching rather than just being trashed. This way, Dean was a lot less lost in his own thoughts, less likely to dwell and nitpick, and tear himself up. The distraction of the diversity around him made it easier to let go.
There were a handful of peasant skirt–wearing fifty-something lesbians gathered on one of the purple couches in back, giggling uproariously over Long Island iced teas. A butch-femme couple in their thirties were shamelessly making out on one of the other couches, and a couple of bears were having a conversation over cups of coffee at a small table tucked along the wall opposite the bar, just this side of the dance floor. At the bar with Dean was an androgynous person chatting with a green-haired punk kid, an unassuming guy in a suit, and a Goth college-age woman, who was currently ordering a drink from Tony. But more than that, they were people, individuals, defined by so much more complicated things than how they dressed or who they loved, but yet bound together because they all faced bigotry for exactly those reasons.
Everyone was being themselves, enjoying themselves, and even though Dean had never had a home or a home town, he fit in perfectly here. It didn't make that bashing in Virginia okay, or heal that kid's wounds. It didn't mean he wouldn't be looking over his shoulder, watching his back for idiots like the Tarmans or other people who would hate him without knowing anything about him. It didn't mean he'd never again feel the tug of bitterness the next time he rescued some homophobe from the supernatural. It sure didn't make what those stupid politicians were doing okay. But right now, for a little while, Dean could find a sense of peace and belonging, content to just exist.
"Penny for your thoughts?" a pleasant baritone voice spoke softly into his right ear. Dean turned back to see a guy with chestnut-colored eyes, mocha-colored skin, and the most adorable dimples smiling at him.
"Hi," Dean smiled back.
"I'm Justin," the guy said, holding out his hand.
"Dean," he offered with a firm handshake.
"You were totally lost in thought; I've been trying to catch your eye for ten minutes," Justin explained with a chuckle.
"Just had a really rough day," Dean explained.
"You wanna talk about it, maybe I can buy you a drink and you can join me?" Justin nodded at the sole empty couch at the back of the room.
"Sure," Dean agree, feeling his mood lift a little higher. Justin was tall, strong, confident, and seemed genuinely friendly and concerned—exactly what Dean needed right now.
"Scotch and soda okay?" Justin asked.
"Sure," Dean added, chuckling at his sudden monosyllabic behavior.
"Better make yours a double," Justin teased, drawing a smile from Dean.
He waited while Justin ordered the drinks and allowed himself to be led back to the couch, a warm glow that had nothing to do with alcohol and everything to do with companionship and community—family—stirring inside his chest.
It wasn't always easy being gay or being a hunter or living on the road, and all three together could make life pretty lonely and isolated at times. But all it took was some creativity, a list, and the acknowledgment that sometimes it was okay to need other people, and Dean would feel okay again.
Better than okay, if the glint of promise in Justin's eyes was any indication.