Title: Wearing and Tearing
Characters: Dean, John
Rating: PG-13 for language and mature themes
Spoilers: None. Pre-series
Summary: With Sam at school, John and Dean must find a way to connect and survive. When John is hurt on a hunt, Dean is forced to pick up the pieces. However, when ghosts threaten to take Dean down, it's up to his father to keep him from fading.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity. Story title from Led Zeppelin song of the same name.
“Lonely is the night when you find yourself alone. Your demons come to light and your mind is not your own…”
Dean in the driver’s seat of a darkened Impala, the keys turned to the first catch, triggering the battery and allowing him to sink into the guitar riffs, fingers tapping out the beat on the inside curve of the steering wheel.
“Lonely is the night when there's no one left to call. You feel the time is right, the writin's on the wall…”
He peered through the window, waiting for his father to emerge from the motel manager’s office, wondering why they were taking one car—his car, no less—instead of the dual truck/car combination that had been serving them rather well over the last few years. John had tucked two Winchester 9422 rifles, loaded with the iron-tipped bullets Dean had seen, salt, and rope into the Impala’s trunk on top of the meager supplies he had begun to store up on his own.
Telling Dean to pull the Impala into the shadow of a large birch tree, hiding it from the powerful security lights, John had slipped through the night and into a side door of the manager’s office.
“What are you doing, Dad?” Dean muttered, narrowing his eyes and trying to see anything moving in the murk of darkness. Mid-October wind had turned the night from chilly to frigid between the time he’d left the bar and the lean hours of the morning.
When Dean saw his Dad emerge from the manager’s office, he twisted the keys, starting up the Chevy with a low rumble. Then he saw the short figure jogging behind John, a dark hoodie covering its head.
“What the hell?” Dean muttered, reaching for his door handle just as John yanked open the rear passenger door.
A kid of about nine, with large, dark eyes, sleepy-looking, but excited about whatever adventure he believed himself to be on, stared back at him.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” Dean replied, baffled, then looked over as his father slipped into the passenger seat.
“All right,” John said, slightly winded from the quick jog and tension. “Head to the coordinates I gave you.”
“Uhh… what’s with the kid?” Dean jerked his thumb over his shoulder toward the back seat.
John didn’t look at him, choosing instead to stare resolutely through the front window, rubbing his hands together to create friction-induced warmth. “I told you. I had to get a few things.”
“I’m here to help, “the boy interjected.
Dean shot him a look, then forced himself to smile. “Thanks, kid. Uh, you think you can hang out here for a sec?”
“You gotta talk to the Sergeant?” the kid replied.
Dean lifted an eyebrow, sliding his eyes back to his father’s profile. “Yeah,” he said tightly. “I gotta talk to the Sergeant.”
John looked at him then, the sarcasm in Dean’s voice tripping a land mine of pride. “We got a job to do, Dean.”
“Can I talk to you outside real quick?” Dean opened his door.
“No time.” John shook his head.
Dean stepped out, then ducked his head into the interior of the car, missing its warmth almost immediately. “Make time,” he said, slamming his door. He moved around to the hood of the car and rested his pockets just above the grill, waiting for his father.
After a few heartbeats, he heard the passenger door close and John made his way to the front of the car, facing Dean rather than sitting next to him.
“Well?” John flicked his fingers in the air between them. “You got something to say? Say it.”
“We’re not taking the kid,” Dean declared.
“You want to trap this bastard? We need bait.”
Dean jabbed his chin forward, dropping his voice, though he knew the kid couldn’t hear them over the noise of the radio. “We’ll find another way.”
“There is no other way,” John said, his whisper so sharp Dean felt it cut the air. “The Kappa feeds on children. You want to wait until it kills another kid? Or do you want to control the situation.”
“This is messed up, Dad.” Dean shook his head. “How the hell did you get him to come with you?”
“He’s the manager’s kid. Talked to him earlier today; he was outside playing war with his G.I. Joes. Kid likes to play soldier, so… I gave him a mission.”
Dean gaped at him, unsure if he should be awed or horrified by his father’s tactics. “I’m not letting you take him.”
John narrowed his eyes. “This isn’t the first time we’ve used… live bait.”
Dean looked away briefly, remembering the night Sam sat, alone, in a circle of rock salt while he and John flanked him, waiting. He’d never been so afraid, so sick, and so determined to not miss. “That was different.”
“How, exactly?” John challenged.
Dean narrowed his eyes, jabbing a finger in his father’s direction. “Sam knew the danger. He knew what was going on.”
“And that made it better?” John asked.
Dean felt his brows meet across the bridge of his nose. “You trying to talk me into this or out of it, Dad?”
“I’m trying to get your ass back in the car so we can go kill this mother and get some sleep.” John’s shoulders hunched close as he inched forward, his face close to Dean’s, his breath hot and slightly whiskey-tinged on Dean’s cheeks. “Believe me, boy, if there was another way—“
“There is,” Dean said, light dawning like a super nova in the back of his mind.
“There is.” He straightened away from the Impala, causing John to back up a step. “Use me.”
John instantly started to shake his head and Dean interrupted his denial. “You said it feeds on children.”
“You may act like a teenager in heat, Dean, but you’re not—“
“Yeah,” Dean interrupted again. “I am. I’m your child.”
John blinked and Dean heard him swallow. They stood, boots barely inches apart, eyes on each other’s face, challenging, waiting, thinking. Dean felt his back tighten, his heart slamming against his ribs, as he tried to determine if his father would accept his proposed solution.
“It could work,” John conceded.
Dean felt dizzy from relief. “I’ll take him back.”
“I won’t be long.” Dean was already loping around to the passenger side of the car, his heart climbing his throat and beating a rhythm behind his eyes. He opened the door and motioned for the kid to slide out.
“We still going on the mission?” the kid asked, a yawn punctuating the end of his sentence.
“Mission’s been aborted, kid,” Dean shook his head.
“But I was gonna help,” the kid said, allowing himself to be steered by the shoulder back across the lot and toward the side door.
Dean tried the handle, cursing under his breath when he found it locked.
“Key’s under the mat,” the kid said.
Of course it is, Dean thought, bending and kicking the silver object loose. If people knew half the ways that criminals got to them, they’d dead-bolt their doors thrice over. He unlocked the door, glanced over his shoulder, then put a hand on the kid’s shoulder.
“You did good, kid. You were ready when we needed you. The Sergeant told you how important it was to keep quiet, yeah?”
“National security,” the kid yawned.
“Exactly,” Dean nodded. “Get back in there and go to bed. Don’t want your Dad worrying about you.” He gave the kid a gentle shove through the door, closing it behind him.
National security, he scoffed inwardly. Dad, you scare me sometimes, man.
He made it back to the car, noting that John was now in the driver’s seat of his car, and slid inside.
“Happy?” John grumbled, pulling away from the lot.
“Hell, yeah,” Dean replied. “I’m fuckin’ ecstatic that I get to be turtle bait.” But at least some random kid isn’t going to have his world rocked by seeing that what’s really out there in the dark wouldn’t need a key to get to him.
“Everybody grows up sometime, Dean,” John said softly, as if reading his mind.
“Yeah, well,” Dean looked through the passenger window as they headed to the shoreline. “Doesn't have to be like that,” he muttered softly to himself.
He didn’t like this. Not at all. Risking Sam while there had been two to cover him was one thing. Risking Dean with no back up…
“This isn’t a bad plan, Dad.”
“It’s not a good one, either.”
Dean sheathed the Bowie and tugged his jacket down over it. “It’s okay to admit I’m good at this, y’know,” he grinned cheekily at his father.
John narrowed his eyes, his lips pursing. “That’ll be the day.”
He hefted one of the Winchesters from the trunk, eyeing the other, trying to work out a way to arm Dean with more than a blade.
“Hold this,” he said, handing the rifle to his son.
“Didn’t bring my duster to this shoot-out,” Dean said.
John began to eject bullets from the spare rifle, raising an eyebrow in Dean’s direction. “You watch too much TV, kid.”
“You can learn a lot from TV,” Dean argued, his eyes on his father.
“Such as?” John prompted, setting the empty rifle back in the trunk and reaching to take the loaded weapon back from Dean, catching his son’s grin as he did so.
“Well, you sure as hell didn’t teach me about the birds and the bees,” Dean smirked.
John raised his free hand in surrender, making a face. “I get it, I get it.”
The bodies of two victims had been found downriver, several miles apart. The third victim had been one mile north of the second, and the fourth, a half-mile north of the third. It was closing the gap, feeding more quickly, getting reckless.
“My money is still on summoning,” Dean commented as they made their way to the cluster of trees near the coordinates John surmised the Kappa would be lurking next. “It’s the only thing that makes sense. I mean, why else would it start… feeding so close together unless someone was making it?”
“So, what, these kids pissed someone off? That it?” John glanced at Dean, watching him shrug.
“It’s just a theory,” Dean replied.
John had to nod. “Not a bad theory,” he conceded. “I’ve been trying to figure out how the hell this thing got four kids away from their homes and parents in order to kill them in the middle of the night.”
Dean tossed his father a quick glance. “You managed it easily enough,” he said.
John opened his mouth, but closed it without replying as he felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise. They were near the shoreline. The rocky terrain gave way to pea-sized gravel and sand, branches strewn across tufts of grass turned silver in the waning moonlight. The night was fading, growing closer to dawn. When the bodies of the children had been found by morning joggers or a boat patrol, time of death had been estimated as six to eight hours prior.
Right about… now, John thought, nodding at Dean as his son stepped away and began his slow trek down the shoreline, hedging carefully away from the repetitive rush of the lapping tide. According to Joshua—and some swift research on John’s part—the Kappa emerge from the water long enough to snatch their prey, then pull them back to the tide and kill them. The bodies were then washed up on the shore.
He shivered, partly from the adrenaline rush of anticipation, partly from the rapidly dropping temperatures. He watched Dean move further from him, and gripping the rifle, his shoulder pressed up against a tree, wondering if they’d been wrong about the night… about the tactics… about the location.
About the bait.
This isn’t going to work, he thought, stepping from the shadow of the tree into the silver of the moonlight, flattening his lips and whistling once to grab Dean’s attention. Dean turned, seeing him, and started to head back when the impossible emerged from the black water to his son’s right.
It was only then that John realized his mistake. The Kappa hadn’t seen Dean until John emerged. It hadn’t recognized Dean as a child until the father became visible.
“Oh shit,” John breathed. “Dean!”
Dean had stumbled backwards several steps in surprise when the creature seemed to simply rise from the murk at the water’s edge, but regained his footing and opened his stance to fight.
“Get the hell out of there, boy!” John yelled, running forward, raising the rifle to his shoulder and firing in one motion.
The Kappa didn’t divert its attention from its prey. The description Joshua had offered didn’t do the creature justice. John had seen ugliness, impossible creatures, fiction-made-real, but nothing prepared him for this. The creature was a bi-ped, its dark, scale-covered arms reaching for Dean with claws extending like talons. On its head was what looked to be an inverted shell-like basin made of bone and filled with water. Its mouth was a wide slash in a scaled-covered face and John could see yellowish eyes with goat-like horizontal slits glowing where the pupils should be.
“Son of a…” he breathed, startled by his son’s echoed, “…bitch!”
Dean had the Bowie out and was holding the Kappa at bay—barely. John shook himself, raising the rifle once more, taking aim and firing. This bullet found a mark and the creature flinched, a howl echoing off of the water and causing Dean to curl in, covering his ears.
“Dean!” John barked again. “Run!”
But Dean stubbornly held ground and John hurried forward once more, kneeling down and firing just as the Kappa lunged. This bullet went wide and John heard his son cry out in a quick bleat of surprised pain before a flurry of curses chased the heels of the sound.
“You fucking lizard,” Dean growled, his voice seeming to roll up from his gut, “I’m gonna turn you into boots!”
John saw him slash at the creature’s jugular—or where a jugular should be—and raised his rifle once more just as the Kappa swiped at Dean, its arm a blur, and cracked across Dean’s side. Dean slammed, hard, to the ground, sound evaporating as John heard quick punches of air escaping.
John fired, cocked the repeater and fired again, emptying the iron into the creature as it thrashed backwards, away from Dean, toward the water.
“Goddammit,” John cursed, digging into his pockets for the spare bullets as he ran. He needed the bastard falling the other way—toward land. He splashed through the surf as he reloaded on the move, casting a glance at his son, lying still on the wet sand, his body shivering from cold and pain.
Dean lifted a hand, motioning, but didn’t respond. As John splashed past, he could hear the ragged rasp of his son’s breathing and guessed he’d either had the wind knocked out of him, or had broken some ribs. The Kappa was stumbling back to the ocean when John reached it and instinctively grabbed the creature’s wet, scale-covered arm.
The Kappa roared.
There was no other category for John to place the sound. It was a lion’s roar, ferocious and frightening. John flung himself at the horrific, nightmarish body, shoving it with force toward land, rolling with it, working to wrestle it into submission. With surprise, he felt himself flung aside as the creature rose to its feet. Blinking up from the ground, John focused on the dark shape of the creature as the barest hint of dawn lit the sky behind him.
“Dad!” Dean yelped, and John reacted, rolling to the side as the Kappa’s foot came down in what would have been a bone-crunching blow.
He bounced to his feet. “Dean! The rifle!”
The iron didn’t seem to be slowing it down as much as John had hoped, but it was still something to fight back with. He backed away from the creature, catching Dean’s figure out of the corner of his eyes as he crawled through the edge of water toward the discarded rifle. The Kappa turned to Dean. John drew back a fist, ready to send a powerhouse blow to the creature’s neck.
The Kappa was faster. Stronger. Deadlier.
The blow from the creature’s foot hit John’s tibia with a sickening crunch. He was falling before he felt it shatter, before he felt it break through the flesh of his shin, tearing his jeans and spilling his blood. He was on the ground before the pain hit him, sweeping over him like a white-hot wave, rolling him in an embrace of fire, reaching down his throat and dragging a scream of pain from his belly.
He saw nothing but white, the edges of his blinded vision crinkling in like burning paper and fading to black.
“DAD!” Dean screamed, feeling the sound scrape the inside of his lungs raw.
His side was weeping from pain, the blow of the Kappa effectively breaking at least two of his ribs. He lifted the Winchester rifle and fired two shots before John had finished screaming. The Kappa jerked with both blows, but continued to come at him. Dean cocked the gun, but the Kappa reached out and tossed the weapon away, bending the barrel as it did so. Dean lunged at it, pain and fear turning his attack desperate.
The Kappa simply wrapped him in a suffocating embrace and allowed itself to fall, dropping them both into the pull of the tide, letting the strength of the water roll them under. Dean grabbed a breath and closed his eyes, knowing the combination of salt water and sand would render them useless in seconds. He pushed against the slick, water-tight skin of the creature, his struggles weakening as pain and lack of oxygen began to win.
As he fought, his flailing fingers found the large orbs that gave the creature sight. In a last-ditch effort, Dean dug his thumbs into the Kappa’s devilish eyes, pressing until he felt the creature’s grip loosen. He kicked free, gaining the surface and gagging on water. With weak strokes he swam the short way to the shore, his body trembling, his side almost numb from pain and cold.
He fell to his knees just shy of being free of the water, unable to move, for a moment needing simply to breathe.
The ocean exploded behind him and Dean instinctively ducked, rolling to his back and crab-crawling away as the Kappa seemed to fly at him, enraged. Dean couldn’t move fast enough. It was moving like a blur, claws extended, hand reaching—and then it stopped.
Dean blinked, his breath coming in ragged gasps. He saw the creature struggle, trying to lift its basin-like head, water sloshing free. Pinning its outstretched hand to the compact earth was John’s six-inch Bowie knife. Dean looked with shock from the buried blade to the pale, trembling hand that slowly released the hilt.
John looked at him, face white as a sheet, eyes pain-filled. “You… c-call this a… good plan?”
“Jesus Christ, Dad,” Dean breathed.
The Kappa tried to lift its head once more, but being pinned face-down seemed to be as effective in trapping it as tipping an actual turtle onto its back. Dean swallowed, gathering his legs beneath him, and reached out a hand to the basin on top of the creature’s head. He pressed, tipping the head so that more water sloshed out.
The Kappa thrashed violently at first, but as the basin emptied, its struggles lessened and in moments it was still. Dawn bruised the eastern horizon, tipping the sky above the ocean into an ink-like blackness. For one heartbeat, everything on the beach was still, then a soft blue wrapped its arms around the edges of the world and when Dean looked at the Kappa, it had curled and shriveled into a hideous, alien-like corpse.
“B-burn the bastard,” John choked out.
“Need to get you some help, Dad,” Dean argued.
“Do it,” John ordered.
Dean pushed himself to his feet, tapping his wet pockets uselessly. He turned to his father and reached for the inside pocket of John’s coat when he saw the mangled mess that was John’s left leg.
“Oh, fuck me,” Dean breathed. “Dad—“
“Hurry… hurry up, Son,” John choked out. “Can’t…”
With that, John’s eyes fluttered, the brown rolling back in his head, and Dean saw him sag as he gave in to the pain.
“Dammit!” Dean dug John’s silver Zippo from one pocket and a small, palm-sized can of lighter fluid from another. He crawled painfully back to the husk of Kappa and squirted the lighter fluid on the remains, pulling the knife free before flicking the lighter and touching the flame to the fluid.
A horrid, dead-fish smell permeated the air around them and Dean tucked his nose into the crook of his wet elbow before making his way back to his dad. The sight of John’s mangled leg made him want to gag once more, but he forced himself to clear his head, to remember his training, to think.
“Splint? Right… right, splint,” he said to himself, working to keep his teeth from chattering, forcing himself to breathe regularly as each hitch, each gasp drew fire across his side. He forced himself out of his wet jacket, easing John’s leg up and wrapping the arms of the jacket around the base of his knee, above the break.
Grabbing two sticks of roughly the same size from the scattered collection on the beachhead, he slipped them beneath the jacket tourniquet, shrugged out of his wet flannel shirt and used a combination of it and the jacket to encase the wounded leg. He looked up the path they’d walked down earlier.
He couldn’t drag John up there; the damage to his leg was too severe. The only thing left was to carry him. The thought twisted Dean’s stomach, knowing how it was going to jar his broken ribs. Closing his eyes, he breathed in slowly, then exhaled, steeling himself for the inevitable.
“Dean…” John’s voice startled him.
“Lift me up, Son,” John slurred, his eyes barely open. “Can’t… carry me…”
“You’re not walking out of here,” Dean shook his head, pressing John’s shoulder down as his father started to roll to his side.
“Dean,” John looked up at him, his mouth hidden by beard, his eyes hollowed-out by pain. “Together.”
Dean felt his jaw tremble, wishing with every part of him that his brother was there. That Sam was beside him. Keeping Sam calm and focused had always kept him calm and focused. And he could really use the kid’s strength right about now.
“On three,” Dean nodded. “One… two… three.”
He got John to a seated position before they both had to stop to breathe. Another three count and Dean was bent at the waist, John near-collapse across his back. With a painful shift, he got his arms around John, securing John’s arm over his shoulder. They began to move, every few feet stopping to breathe, John unable to keep from crying out as weight was inadvertently shifted to his left leg.
It was arduous, it was impossibly long, and just when Dean decided that dying in the woods could be an acceptable way to go out, he saw the Impala.
“Hang in there, Dad,” he panted. “I see her… just a bit further, okay?”
John didn’t answer. He’d grown so heavy in Dean’s arms that he wasn’t sure if his dad was still conscious. He eased John down on the ground next to the car, and opened the door to the back seat. He had to climb in and pull John in behind him, jostling his wounded leg and eliciting a choked cry of protest from the older man.
With John situated in the back seat, Dean closed the door and turned to get behind the wheel when the world suddenly faded, going silent and gray. He felt himself tip, caught at the shoulder by the roof of his car. The feel of her sturdy body against his brought him back with a nauseating swiftness.
This time, he couldn’t swallow the bile, bite back the cry of pain, or stop himself from going to his knees. The force of his retching tore at his side and all he gave up, it seemed, was water. When he was finished, he lifted the back of his hand to his mouth, not noticing how it trembled as his entire body was shaking. Reaching up, he opened the door and pulled himself inside, digging the spare keys from the glove box and starting up the car. He punched the heater and turned the wheel, heading for town and the nearest hospital.
“Guess it’s a good thing you t-taught us to locate the hospitals first, Dad,” Dean said, knowing John wasn’t listening. “Hospital, hotel, library. Always in that order.”
He drove through a red light, took a four-way stop on two wheels, and arrived at the ER with two police cruisers behind him. Stumbling from the car, he lifted his hands, a battered image. Standing in his wet T-shirt and jeans, his face bruised and dirty, hands up, he waited until the police approached him.
“Where the hell’s the fire, Son?” one asked.
Dean tipped his head, willing his body not to follow. “My Dad,” he said. “He’s hurt. Pretty bad.”
The other cop whistled, waving at someone on the other side of the Impala. In moments, Dean was moved aside and the cops and two men in dark blue scrubs were pulling John from the back of the car and laying him on a stretcher.
“Jesus H. Christ, kid,” one of the men in scrubs exclaimed upon seeing John’s leg. “What the hell happened to you guys?”
“He… got kicked,” Dean said, finding it hard to make his tongue obey his commands. There was an odd ringing in his ears, as if an alarm was going off somewhere in the distance.
They began to wheel John toward the door. A cop rested a hand on Dean’s shoulder, then pulled it back. “Why are you wet?”
“I, uh… I f-fell in the ocean,” Dean said, shivering as he shut and locked the Impala, then shoved the keys into his pocket. He followed the cop around the trunk of the Impala, his hip on her body the whole time, reluctant to part with the impression of safety she offered him.
The cop at his side was still talking, asking him questions, but Dean’s eyes were on the rapidly disappearing stretcher bearing his father down the hall, words like severe bone fracture… low blood pressure… surgery… filtering back to him.
He bounced off of the shoulder of a female nurse, pushed back as another person in the ER waiting room shoved at him to get by. He felt hollow, as if his insides had been scooped out and deposited elsewhere. The world was about three feet away from him, the sounds tinny and senseless. The overhead lights were too bright and he squinted up at them, wondering who needed lights that powerful while they waited to hear if their family was alive or dead.
I need to call Sam, he thought, patting his pockets clumsily, clueless as to where he last saw his phone. He turned to the officer on his right, who was staring at him, brows gathered in concern, still talking.
“Can I use your phone?” he said, unaware that he was yelling. He couldn’t seem to hear his own voice. “Need… need your phone,” he repeated, blinking as the cop started to blur around the edges. The cop said something; Dean saw his lips move, but he couldn’t make out the words. “Just… hey, I just… I just need your…”
With a slow spin, the rotation of the world decided now was a good time to toss him off. He felt his knees disappear, registered the sensation of falling, and with a last, slow blink, sank forward into the abyss of a stranger’s arms.
a/n: And so it begins. This story—if told properly—will have a few layers of a story-within-a-story. And I hope you take the journey with me.
If anyone is curious, I decided not to incorporate Adam or his mother, except in passing references to John’s “escapes.” Hope that’s okay.
Night Moves by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band (always loved that name)
Don’t Let Me Down by Bad Company
Shook Me All Night Long by AC/DC
Lonely Is The Night by Billy Squier
Part 2 begins here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/65177.html