Title: "Survey Says!"
Characters/Pairing: Gen; Starring John, Dean, Sam, Rufus, & Bobby. Special Guest Star: Richard Dawson.
Word Count: ~2,700
Rating: PG-13 for language?
Beta: oddishly improved this fic vastly, and then, of course, I mucked around with it some more. Mistakes? All mine.
Note: Written for the spn_bigpretzel Spring Exchange, which was a really fun break from all the angst I've been writing. Based on vexed_wench's prompt, which I knew I had to write for as soon as I saw it: "Supernatural characters of your choice on old TV game shows—The Newlywed Game, The Match Game, Family Feud, whatever you like." Also, I'm completely in love with gryphon2k's art, to the point where I might
Summary: It's 1978, and John is trapped in a two-room rental with a broken ankle and two teenage boys. He's going out of his mind with boredom until he spots a shapeshifter posing as a TV game show host.
John Winchester would tell you, if he was in a talking mood, that the most pointless hunt of his life started because he'd fallen wrong on a rock in the deepest forests of upstate New York and smashed up his left ankle while trying to incinerate a wendigo. The ER doc had advised him to stay off it for a few days, and Dean took it upon himself to mother-hen John to death with blankets and pills and orange juice, only letting John up to go to the bathroom before ordering him back to the saggy plaid recliner where John had set up camp.
John put up with it. He knew it created a hell of a strain on Dean when he was gone for too long. Dean was like a herding dog, only truly able to relax when he had all the members of his flock within his sight.
John put up with it but that didn't mean he wasn't grumpy. He was going out of his mind with boredom and restlessness. Dean wouldn't even let him page through his journal.
Also, daytime TV was for shit.
After his third day of game shows and soap operas and more game shows, John started picking fights with Sammy just for something to do. Sam, refusing to be baited, would give John a dark look and return to his book. John would sigh and turn back to the television. Dean would hover and fret and probably fluff his goddamned pillows, if John would let him.
So it was almost a godsend when one of the game show hosts looked directly into the camera and his eyes flared silver-bright for just a second.
"Shapeshifter!" John hollered, sitting up straighter and then wincing as his swollen ankle knocked against the foot rest. Dean came skidding into the room from the kitchen, sock-footed, wide-eyed, and waving around a butter knife.
"Where?" Dean asked, looking around the room. His eyes narrowed suspiciously at Sam, still curled up on the couch and frowning at John.
"Not your brother, Dean," John said. "That guy on TV, the one with the mic."
Both boys turned to the television.
"Richard Dawson is a shapeshifter?" they said at the same time. Then they looked at each other and erupted in a flurry of punches and shouts of "Jinx!" that ended with them rolling on the floor like, well, children.
John swallowed the last of his orange juice and sighed. He did not often allow himself to imagine what his life would be like if Mary hadn't died, but he did, just every once in a while, indulge in a fantasy that he had two sweet-tempered and well-behaved daughters instead of the unruly boys that were now tearing apart the rental as they wrestled.
Well. At least Dean had the sense to drop the knife before the boys started going at it.
Getting onto the show had been ridiculously easy. Turned out Bobby's hunting buddy Rufus knew someone who knew someone who owed someone a favor, which was how they found themselves two weeks later on a soundstage in Burbank squabbling about which surname to use on the show.
"There's three Winchesters," John pointed out. "Plus I found the hunt."
"Yes, but I got us into the studio gates, you stubborn ass," Rufus countered. "We should obviously play as the Turners."
Bobby sipped from a flask and ran a hand over his scraggly beard. "I thought the point was to take out a shifter, not actually get on the dammed show."
"Top prize is $5,000," John said, and Bobby blinked, considering.
"Well, hell," Bobby said. "How's this game work, anyway?"
"Beats me," John said. "But how hard can it be?"
In the corner the boys had their heads together, and when they turned to face the others Dean said, "Sam and I think we should be called the Hunters."
John and Bobby and Rufus exchanged glances.
"It'll do," Rufus said grudgingly.
Getting on the show might have been easy but getting close enough to the host to test him and possibly take him out was proving to be much more difficult. Dawson, or whatever was wearing his skin, swanned in and out of the room trailed by makeup artists and production assistants, and John had no idea how he was supposed to nick him with a silver blade with all those people around.
"Maybe when he shakes hands in the beginning?" John suggested as he helped himself to one of the tiny deviled ham sandwiches piled high on a platter beside them.
Dean liked that plan, but Bobby pointed out that they might actually want to try for the money before they went around stabbing game show hosts in front of 500-some witnesses.
"What, you think they'll let us keep the money just 'cause we wait till after the show to stab him?" Rufus snorted.
In the end they decided to play the game and keep an eye on the shifter. Maybe after, they'd be able to get him alone.
John Winchester knew how to track a panicked werewolf through a city or a forest, knew how to put it down quick and clean, mindful that they weren't always monsters, and it wasn't their fault they'd been turned.
He knew how to dig up a grave by himself in under two hours—it helped that most of them didn't actually go much lower than four feet, no matter what the conventional wisdom said.
He knew how to stun a vamp with the blood of the dead, though he hadn't run into one in awhile—some dude named Walker was making a name for himself eradicating all the vampires in North America, and John was happy to leave him to it.
The point was, John Winchester knew a lot of things about saving civilians and hunting monsters, but he didn't know squat about how 100 normal, average people would answer some mundane, everyday question.
Which, of course, was what The Family Feud was all about.
When John realized that there were no right answers, just the opinions of other people—normal people that he could no longer understand, normal people that hunters didn't understand—he knew they were going to get clobbered.
As introductions were made, John sized up his competition. The family across the stage was blandly handsome, all glossy black hair and white teeth, and John couldn't remember their names so he thought of them as the Osmonds in his head. He glanced down the row at his own team and pursed his lips.
Shit, he thought, studying his team. Sammy should have captained this boat. Dean was making eyes at the Osmond niece, looking like a roadie in the Black Sabbath shirt he'd insisted on wearing. Bobby's left hand kept twitching towards the flask squirreled away in his jacket pocket, even with several studio cameras filming them, and Rufus kept glaring daggers at Dawson, who was gliding around the stage, completely unperturbed. Only Sam looked anything approaching normal, though he couldn't seem to stop tugging at the wide collar of his shirt.
John was starting to think this maybe wasn't such a hot idea.
It started pleasantly enough. John felt a mite sweatier than he would facing an angry spirit, uneasy about the audience and the cameras, uncomfortable in his only decent sport coat, a sprightly lime plaid. But he introduced his team without stumbling, and the host, shapeshifter or not, had the good grace not to blink when Bobby and Rufus were both introduced as John's brothers.
"We asked 100 people, top five answers on the board, name someone people call when they're in trouble!"
It was perhaps the first time that John's lightning reflexes worked against him, as he buzzed in to answer before Daddy Osmond had even lifted his hand.
"Bobby!" John exclaimed, and then grimaced as his brain caught up with his mouth.
The whole studio, of course, was laughing at him, egged on by Dawson, or the thing that looked like him, and John started to hope he was a shapeshifter so he could inflict a little silver-laced vengeance on behalf of his wounded ego. But he smiled and took the gentle teasing, ready for the camera to shift to someone else.
They had a chance to steal that round, but they were all so used to relying on "unofficial" channels when they were in trouble that they just looked at each other helplessly until the timer buzzed.
Round one to the Osmonds.
"Top four answers on the board. We asked 100 people to name something that you keep in your medicine chest."
Dean buzzed in and shouted "Surgical needles!"
John put his head in his hands.
Auntie Osmond buzzed in with dental floss and their team ran away with the category.
Round two to the Osmonds.
The game was for all intents and purposes over at that point, though not before Round 3 began with Rufus asked to name a crime most people had considered committing. John could see Rufus struggling to determine one of the least objectionable charges he'd been brought in on.
So it was in front of a studio audience of hundreds, soon to be broadcast to an audience of millions, that Rufus shouted, "Grave desecration!"
John knew they were not only finished, but likely unable to show their faces in public when this travesty hit the airwaves.
Back in the not-green room, where the deviled ham sandwiches were still plentiful, the game show host grabbed John by his elbow and took him aside.
"I know why you're here," he said. John was unsurprised. They hadn't exactly been stealthy in calling themselves the Hunters, had actually considered that the name might provoke some kind of response they could use.
"We're here to put you down," John said, amiably enough.
"I haven't done anything wrong."
"Does the guy whose skin you're wearing agree? Or is he rotting in some sewer, maybe a shallow grave?"
The veneer of charm never dropped from the shifter's face. "I have one more show to tape today and then we can talk about this like reasonable people."
John bit his tongue, just stopping himself from saying the man in front of him wasn't exactly 'people.'
"Meet me at this address at 6:30," the shifter said before disappearing back into the crowd, stopping every so often to kiss someone's cheek or shake a hand.
"That guy is something else," Rufus said at John's elbow.
"Hollywood," Bobby agreed with a grunt.
John and the boys headed west in the Chevy, Rufus and Bobby following behind in one of Bobby's beaters. It took them 90 minutes to drive 40 miles out of the city and into the Hollywood Hills, John grumbling about the traffic, Sam grumbling that he never even had a turn during the game.
They arrived at the address he'd been given, a Grecian-styled mansion, and made their way to the courtyard out back, where two Richard Dawsons sat under an umbrella sharing a pitcher of Tom Collins.
"Balls," Bobby said as he took in the identical men.
"Gentlemen," one of the Dawsons said. "Have a seat, have a cocktail."
Dean reached eagerly for the proffered gin before John smacked his hand away.
"What the blue blazes is going on here?" Rufus asked.
"Well, apparently you want to kill my friend Clive," Dawson said, sounding more British at home then he did on television. "Though why that is, I'm not certain."
"He's a shapeshifter," John said.
The hunters looked at one another, seemingly flummoxed. They'd never needed more explanation than that before.
"Why are you letting someone else walk around with your skin?" Sammy finally asked.
"Why not?" Dawson said. "I give him a cut of the money, I get more time off to relax."
"Everybody wins," the shifter agreed.
"But…" John said.
"But…" Rufus said.
"But…" Bobby said.
"He's not inherently evil, you know," Dawson said. "Just because his DNA's a little different than ours."
"But…" John said.
"But…" Rufus said.
"But…" Bobby said.
"I know you've hunted my brethren for being avaricious killers," Clive said with a shrug. "But me? I'm happy with my life, and I've never harmed a soul."
"But…" John said.
"But…" Rufus said.
"But…" Bobby said.
They stood around the patio table, outside of the shade of the umbrella, the early evening sun leaching the moisture from their bodies. Bobby rubbed his beard thoughtfully while Rufus mopped his brow.
Finally Sam, ever shrewd, asked what would happen if Mr. Dawson got tired of sharing the spotlight with the shifter.
"This is not the first such arrangement I've entered into," Clive said, waving a hand dismissively. "If Richard tires of me I'll find another celebrity who needs a break from all his obligations."
Privately John thought this Dawson character seemed like the type to enjoy his own company. He and Clive might make this odd little partnership last for years.
"Sit and have a drink," Dawson said again. "And please, try not to kill my guest."
So they sat.
If he was in a talking mood (which was pretty much never), John Winchester would tell you that one of the strangest evenings of his life was spent in the backyard of a Hollywood mansion with his kids, a couple of hunting buddies, a minor celebrity, and the monster who played him on TV.
At some point an honest-to-god English butler appeared with another pitcher and a tray of hors d'ouevres, and John pretended not to notice Dean and Sam swiping and sharing a drink.
The sun sank into the Pacific, the alcohol flowed, and tongues were loosened.
Dean wanted to know if Dawson (or Clive) had ever hooked up with one of the lady contestants whose cheeks he kissed. ("A gentleman never tells," Clive said smoothly. Dawson studied his fingernails.)
Sam wanted to know how they really came up with the questions on the show, and if someone didn't just sit in a room making up answers. Dawson pinkie-swore that they used a team of sociologists to survey people, but Sam still looked doubtful.
John wondered why the flashing shifter eyes didn't get picked up by the television cameras more often. ("Special contact lenses," Clive said, "but they hurt like bloody hell.") John told Clive he might want to go back to wearing his contacts, uncomfortable or not. John was not the only hunter around, after all.
Rufus asked if they might not have some scotch lying around instead of the sweating pitcher of Tom Collins mix.
When the scotch appeared, along with a fresh tray of cheese and crackers, Bobby filled his flask with it.
Finally the sun was gone and John decided it was time they hit the road. As they wound their way around the stone path to the circular driveway, Rufus wondered, "How long after this airs till we can show our faces at the Roadhouse again?"
"A few weeks after Judgment Day should do," Bobby said with a grunt. Then they climbed into their respective cars, their odd little caravan heading east, where hunts made sense and monsters didn't treat them to cocktails and canapés.
John wondered if they weren't all due for an actual vacation instead of a hunt that had them making asses of themselves on national television. School would be starting soon and he had to pick a home base where Dean could watch out for Sam while John tackled monsters in a 5-state radius, their usual MO since Dean had left school. He shuddered to think of the ensuing weeks; Sam grouching about moving again, Dean worrying all the time about Sam and John. When he wasn't dodging shotgun weddings, that is.
When John saw the exit for the Magic Mountain, he flipped his right turn signal, tapping his brakes at Bobby and Rufus in good-bye. His boys were dead asleep, Dean resting against the passenger window and Sam sprawled out in the back, and he enjoyed imagining their surprise at getting to spend the following day at an amusement park.
He knew he couldn't give them a better future, those days were long past. But he could at least give them one heck of a tomorrow.