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.
A strange vibration coming from the direction of his hip drew him slowly from oblivion into a confused, dark awareness. His body felt too heavy. He had to pee. And someone was wailing on a guitar just outside of his room. Another buzz and he realized that the guitar was in his room.
“What the hell?”
Dean rubbed the heel of his hand into his eyes, moaning in protest of being awake. When his hip buzzed a third time, he realized he’d tucked his cell phone into his jeans as he’d exited the Impala earlier.
“Oh, shit,” he grumbled, clumsily digging it free and flipping it open, not bothering to look at the caller ID. There was only one person it could be. “Dad? You okay?”
There was a pause.
His breath froze in his chest. It had been five weeks and three days. He’d burned six bodies—one of them a dog—killed a chupacabra and a Kappa. The country had suffered an unimaginable tragedy and had gone to war. He’d been cut up, knocked out, nearly drowned and was currently held together by Ace bandages.
In all that time, he’d only called Sam once. On September 12th. He’d left him a message, not mentioning New York, or their most recent hunt, or Dad, or himself. Just a checkin’ in with you, brother. Hope you’re getting freaky at a sorority party. Toss back a brewski for me.
Sam hadn’t called back. Hadn’t called at all.
“Sorry… I know it’s late.”
“What time is it?” Dean peered across the room at the clock radio. It blinked twelve o’clock repeatedly, revealing the fact that it had been unplugged and not reset. Helpful, thanks.
“Uh, it’s like… two in the morning here.”
Dean didn’t reveal that they were in the same time zone. “You okay?”
“Sam?” Worry spiked quickly and between one breath and the next, Dean calculated how quickly he could get from Brinnon to Palo Alto.
“I got your message,” Sam said softly, his voice thick and slightly watery. “Finally.”
“You been drinkin’, man?” Dean lay very still, listening to Sam breathe, not wanting to disturb the temporary solace from pain.
“No.” Sam said. “Just… haven’t slept in awhile.”
“What is it?” Dean prompted.
Sam was quiet again and Dean let Don Henley try to escape from the Hotel California in the background.
“How’s Dad?” Sam asked, evading Dean’s question.
Dean rolled his lip against his teeth, debating. “Oh, y’know Dad…”
“Is he there?”
“Is he… okay?”
“Dad’s always okay, Sammy,” Dean sighed, rolling to his right side and trying to push himself upright. He’d grown stiff in the time he’d laid still. He couldn’t bite back the grunt of pain.
“What happened?” Sam asked.
Dean sighed, giving in. “Cracked a coupla ribs,” he managed.
“Fighting a Kappa.”
“What the hell is that?”
“Believe me, man, you don’t want to know.”
A familiar riff filled the silence between their thoughts.
“You in the Impala?” Sam asked.
“I can hear Metallica.”
Dean huffed out a weak laugh. “It’s the clock radio. In the motel room.”
“Trust I seek and I find in you. Every day for us something new. Open mind for a different view. And nothing else matters…”
He waited another beat. “What’s really going on, Sam?”
“I just…” Sam paused and Dean heard the tears in his brother’s voice close around the words he was pushing forward. “It’s just a lot different.”
“What is? School?”
“Not… not being there. Wherever you are.”
Dean let his head hang low, stretching his taut neck muscles. Was it possible to be homesick when you’ve never really had a home? he mused silently.
“You made any friends yet?”
“Met some hot chicks?”
“One or two.”
“Anyone in particular?”
“Dude… it’s barely been six weeks.”
“I know, man! I’da been all over that inside of a day.”
He heard his brother’s grin when he replied. “No shit.”
“You like your classes?”
Sam sighed. Dean felt it. He closed his eyes and listened as Sam relaxed into his favorite subject. He talked about his professors, about finding his classes, about the bars and the food, about the energy of the students and how odd it was to stay in the same place for so long.
“I really… I mean, I think I could really have a… a home here, y’know?”
“That’s great, Sammy,” Dean smiled. “I’m happy for you.”
Dean nodded. “Yeah.”
“You guys… y’know… getting along?”
“Dude, I’m not the one who pushes his buttons.”
“I know, but… I was just… worried.”
“About me and Dad?” Dean frowned.
“We’re fine, Sammy.”
“You hunting anything?”
“I’m trying to figure that part out.”
“What do you mean?”
“Kappa’s dead, but… I think—”
He heard someone call Sam’s name in the background.
“You gotta bail,” Dean nodded.
“Yeah, sorry,” Sam said. “My roommate and his friends just got back from a bar.”
“Next time go with them,” Dean instructed.
“Take care of yourself, brother.”
“You, too,” Sam said, and Dean heard the phone click as the line went dead.
“Miss you,” he said softly into the receiver.
As he settled back against the bed, this time with his head on a pillow, he grinned ruefully at the sound of Steve Perry’s voice ruminating, “They say the road ain’t no place to start a family… but right down the line it’s been you and me…”
Holding his phone in the palm of his hand, he sighed. “I’m glad you’re gone,” he said once more, but this time without malice. As peace found him for one moment, he slept.
“A job?” John said into the receiver, lack of sleep turning his voice into a growl. “What kind of a job.”
“A legit job, Dad,” Dean replied. “We need the cash.”
“You in any shape to be working?”
“I’ll be fine. You want me to bring you something after I talk to this guy?”
John sighed, scrubbing his face with his hand. “A razor,” he muttered. “And my journal.”
There was plenty he could be doing to catalogue what he knew so far of Mary’s killer if he was going to be stuck on his ass for a week.
“Got it. Anything else?”
“Some real fuckin’ food,” John groused.
“Real… fucking… food…” Dean repeated as though writing it down. “Check. See you later.”
The sound of knuckles rapping against the wooden door drew John’s attention. “Mr. Mac—”
“Just come in,” John cut off the greeting as a male nurse entered the room. He’d quickly grown to hate the sound of his chosen alias. “Call me John.”
The nurse frowned at his chart. “Says here that—”
“I know what the hell it says,” John muttered. “John’s my… middle name.”
“Okay then,” the nurse nodded amiably. “Gonna just check your vitals here.”
“You’re kidding,” John deadpanned. He was rewarded with a tight smile that didn’t meet the man’s eyes. “Hey, there any way I can get access to some newspapers? Or a computer?”
The nurse’s eyebrows bounced up. “Well, I can check on the newspapers, but, I’m afraid a computer is out of the question.”
John shifted restlessly in his bed. Feeling had returned to his leg mid-way through the night and he hadn’t been able to get back to sleep. Dean hadn’t called and he’d stubbornly refused to call him to check in, writing it off to giving the kid a chance to rest and not to feeling sorry for himself, trapped in a hospital bed.
He’d never been one to sit still. It was one of the reasons he’d joined the Marines the moment he could. The chance for action, to make a difference. To be more than just a mechanic like his old man.
He’d certainly gotten more than he’d bargained for in that sense, but had it not been for the experience of a soldier, the discipline, the regimen, the focus, he may not have survived Mary’s death. His boys may have been raised like warriors, trained to see through the bullshit humanity told itself in order to sleep at night, but at least they were alive. And they knew how to stay that way.
A muscle spasmed in his leg and he hissed as his bone throbbed. Each time he cursed the prison that was this bed, each time he thought to just say the hell with it and unhook the contraption suspending his leg at an elevated angle, the broken bone and tortured muscle and skin cried out to him, reminding him that even soldiers were human.
Even warriors could fall.
Skippy The Male Nurse—as John had taken to calling him, silently—continued his charting and checking, and John turned his attention back to the television and the loop of police interviews and parent interviews from the four dead children. Pleas for their safe return melded with tearful promises to seek vengeance for their too-early deaths. He’d not turned off the television since he woke at two a.m., scanning all cable channels for information on the so-called “Coastal Killer.”
Since Mary had died, there had only been one or two times they’d ever stayed in one place without a hunt marring the hamlet he created. Both times, it had been to get Sam through a few years of school. Dean had never really put much stock in education; he’d seemed to agree with John that it was a necessary means to an end. When he’d dropped out at seventeen, John had been relieved.
He hadn’t truly realized what worry was, though, until that day last August when Sam announced his plans. Until that moment, he’d had the false sense of security of Dean watching out for Sam, of the two of them together, safety in numbers. But now, Sam was alone and so far away.
“What’s the deal with this serial killer?” John asked the nurse, needing a break from the quicksand of his own thoughts. “Anyone catch it?”
“It?” The nurse looked at him quizzically.
“Him,” John amended. “Just… you know, anyone who does that sort of a thing… is a monster.” He shrugged.
The nurse nodded. “So true,” he replied. “I haven’t heard anything since they found little Teresa Bowing, though.”
John nodded. “Such a shame,” he said, working on a leading question. “Her father was a… lawyer?”
The nurse nodded. He’d finished gathering John’s vitals and was wrapping the blood pressure cuff up to insert back into the cart.
“What about the others?”
“Others?” The nurse frowned, his mind clearly on other things. “Oh, the other kids. Yes, a shame.”
John sighed, knowing he wasn’t going to get anywhere. “Don’t forget my newspapers,” John called after the retreating man.
“Sure thing, John,” the nurse called back over his shoulder.
Clenching his jaw, John picked up the remote and began clicking through stations, needing something that didn’t shoot digital-quality images through his head of Dean laying dead, bleeding, of Sam broken, lost. He needed something that helped him recall the surging rush of release that came from fighting the good fight. From doing the job. All he was able to find, however, were medical dramas, soap operas, and talk shows. He glanced at the clock. Three p.m.
“C’mon, Dean,” he muttered, leaning forward to scratch the section of skin exposed at the top of his cast. Ten days, my ass, he thought. I’m not gonna last two days…
Dean closed the phone, ending his call with John, and spared a heartbeat of thought toward the fact that he’d purposely not told John that he’d spoken with Sam. He wanted to hang onto that for a little while. He knew that when he told John, any good in that gesture would be tarnished with the sour taste of betrayal.
Dean showered, gingerly removing the bindings around his middle and allowing the seductive heat of the water to ease the deep-muscle aches that permeated his back. He’d leaned both hands against the wall Beneath the shower head and dropped his head low, lengthening his neck and carefully stretching his back as the water sluiced down the curve of his spine, fingers of warmth gently caressing his wounded side. The stiffness from his accumulated hours of sleep skittered away and he awkwardly re-wrapped his ribs with the bandage, swallowing a pain pill along with his antibiotic before he pulled on clean clothes.
Gus Spencer had agreed to meet with him downtown at four p.m. Dean was surprised that he was available on a Saturday afternoon, but apparently Gus was behind the eight-ball on a project and didn’t have a day to lose. As he left the motel room, the radio still playing, he noticed that at some point, Aaron Glover had dropped off a stack of clean towels, a two liter of pop, and a bag of potato chips. He kicked them inside the door for later.
October in the Pacific Northwest was rather unforgiving, he realized as he eased down behind the wheel of the Impala. He didn’t know what this job entailed, but as long as he didn’t have to move too fast or lift too much, he figured he could pull it off. He headed to the address Gus had given him over the phone, slipping the Chevy into a slanted, on-street parking space.
Brinnon was like so many other small towns he’d been to, and been through. With one exception. There were a few people on the street making their way from one store to another, or calling out a greeting from their car, but for the most part, Brinnon’s downtown was essentially deserted.
Nearly half a block of buildings at the end of the main drag were nothing but timber and roofs. Scaffolding covered the building fronts, tarps were fitted over roofs that weren’t yet complete, and every single wall was missing. Wind whistled through half-finished window frames and sheets of plastic snapped and crackled in the interior spaces.
“What the…” Dean muttered as he made his way closer. “It’s like a Tim Burton set.”
As he approached the open frame of the first building, he started to call out, but closed his mouth quickly when he heard angry voices several buildings down toward the end of the torn-up block.
“…not my fault that we’re at a standstill, here, Jake.”
“You’re the contractor, Gus! This is your project.”
“You need someone to blame? I get that. But you better be damn sure you got the right guy.”
Dean followed the voices, realizing one of them was that of his potential future boss.
“This town is dying, Gus. We need this project finished. We need it finished yesterday.”
“Jake, listen to yourself,” Gus replied, his voice reminding Dean of Wilford Brimley’s.
He half expected to find a rotund man with a Burl Ives mustache when he rounded the corner. He was surprised to find a tall, muscular, Asian man facing off with a familiar face—the blue-eyed doctor from the ER. He stood still, listening, aware that they hadn’t yet seen him.
“I couldn’t be sorrier about your little girl—”
“This has nothing to do with what happened to Annie.”
“But,” Gus continued. “We’ve had walls collapse. Tools go missing. Two guys with broken arms, one guy with a concussion. There was that fire last week, and now, with the guys walking off, threatening to strike—”
“You don’t get it,” Jake Teller pressed, hands on hips, chin jutting forward in a move Dean was recently familiar with. “My partners and I… we’ve poured everything into this restoration project. Everything. If this fails—” His eyes darted to the side and caught sight of Dean. He broke off his tirade at Gus, standing straighter. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Dean tossed him a casual, two-fingered salute. “Good to see you, too, Doc.”
Gus turned and Dean saw he was more of a Giant Bruce Lee than a Wilford Brimley. “You Dean Winchester?”
“Yes, Sir,” Dean nodded, stepping forward, carefully avoiding the scattered bits of wood and tools strewn around their feet. He reached out a hand. Gus shook it firmly.
“I repeat,” Jake snapped as Dean straightened up. “What. Are. You. Doing. Here?”
Dean slid cool eyes to meet the doctor’s impassive expression. “Interviewing for a job.”
“Dan Glover from over at the Beachhead sent him,” Gus replied.
“Gus, this kid just walked out of my ER yesterday morning,” Jake shook his head, gesturing to Dean. “He’s in no shape to—”
“Hey,” Dean interrupted. “Sorry to be a pain in your ass, Doc, but I think I remember you saying pretty damn clearly that you didn’t care what I did when I left.”
Jake stepped around Gus, squaring off in front of Dean and turning his sharp eyes into lasers. “You don’t want to get messed up in this, kid,” he said, his warning carrying the shadow of a threat.
“Sounds to me like you could use all the help you can get,” Dean replied, masking his dismay at the realization that the job was for construction work with his intense dislike for the disdain the doctor continued to show him. He didn’t care if Gus wanted to pay him to push a boulder up the side of a mountain. He damn sure wasn’t about to let this doctor tell him he couldn’t do it.
“What kind of help are you going to be with cracked ribs and bruises three layers deep?” Jake shot back.
Dean shot his eyes to Gus. “I can handle it.”
“You sure, kid?” Gus replied. “I could use the help, that’s true, but I don’t want anyone else getting hurt.”
“I can handle it,” he repeated.
“My ass,” Jake muttered. “You can’t even handle—”
Dean sensed the motion before he actually saw it. Jake Teller had lifted his hand, intent, it seemed, to push against his shoulder and knock him off balance. Quick as lightning, Dean brought up his hand and caught the doctor’s wrist mid-reach before he ever touched Dean. Squeezing hard enough to make the man’s fingers tingle, but not too hard that he would damage him, Dean blinked slowly, making sure to capture the doctor’s eyes with his.
“You were saying?”
Jake jerked his hand back and Dean released it before he was unable to maintain the mask of control that disguised his discomfort.
“You’re right,” Jake said, his voice glacier-cold. “I don’t care what you do. And when you get hurt, I’ll make damn sure someone else has the chore of putting the pieces back together.”
He looked at Gus, his eyes venomous. “I’m calling a meeting tomorrow, Gus. The four partners. I don’t want to, but we need a contractor to finish this project, regardless of a few random accidents. If you can’t do it, we’ll find someone who will.”
With that, he pushed through a flapping piece of ragged plastic and stormed from the ramshackle building. Dean watched him go, then turned to look at Gus, jerking a thumb over his shoulder.
Gus held up a hand. “I know. He’s a dick.”
“Took the words right outta my mouth.”
“So, is what he said true?”
“Which part?” Dean hedged.
“Were you in the ER yesterday?”
Dean pressed his lips together, narrowing his eyes. “Yes,” he confessed finally, watching Gus's face fall. “But, I can handle it,” he asserted. “And… I really need the money.”
“Nothing more motivating than desperation,” Gus nodded. After a beat, he stuck out his hand. “You’re hired. Be here Monday morning at nine—”
A cacophonous crash shook the ground beneath them, interrupting Gus's instructions. Exchanging a baffled glance with Gus, Dean turned and headed out of the building the same way Jake Teller had gone. The ground shook again and he felt Gus's hand at his shoulder, pushing him away from the building.
Around them, scaffolding began to teeter and fall, collapsing on itself and against the building like a badly constructed house of cards. Dean went to his knees behind a large SUV parked on the street, Gus crouching beside him, both with their arms wrapped around their heads for protection. When the noise stopped, they looked up, coughing from the construction dust that billowed around them.
Dean braced his side as it sang out against the pain of his coughs. He was unable to speak, didn’t look at Gus, simply stayed crouched until he could pull in a shallow breath without his vision going white.
“Christ on a cracker,” Gus breathed as he stood up, surveying the damage to his construction site. “The entire scaffolding is down.”
A screech of horror caught Dean’s attention and he used the bumper of the SUV to push himself to his feet. They both looked toward the opposite end of the block, near where Dean had parked the Impala. A woman stood at the edge of the fallen scaffolding, pointing.
“Someone’s under there! I see a hand! There’s a hand!”
“Oh, God, no…” Gus breathed, breaking into a run.
Dean followed, slowly, walking an effort in coordination at this point. He staggered a bit between a dust and debris-covered car and a leafless tree planted along the sidewalk, reaching out for balance. He held his side, biting the inside of his lip to keep from whimpering with each step. He saw Gus reach the end of the scaffolding and drop to his knees, reaching for the hand and feeling for a pulse. He knew by the way the older man’s shoulder dropped that the person—whoever it was—was dead.
“Gus?” Dean croaked as he reached his new boss.
“It’s Jake,” Gus whispered in a destroyed voice.
“You sure?” Dean asked, his lungs feeling as though they were suddenly pressed flat.
Gus nodded, his fingers resting on the face of a broken wristwatch still wrapped around the protruding hand. “I’m sure.”
Dean sank back into his heels, trying to wrap his mind around the devastation. His instincts were on fire. Something was very wrong here, and everything inside of him screamed that it was their kind of wrong.
“I’ll call the police,” he said, pulling out his cell phone.
“What the hell am I gonna do?” Gus whispered. “What am I gonna do now…”
His leg ached. His skin itched. His stitches throbbed. His ass was numb. His beard was driving him insane. He was desperate for a drink—a drink. Not more water. Anymore water and he was going to start sloshing. And he wanted this fucking catheter out. He could feel the damn thing in there.
“Dean,” he growled through teeth grit with discomfort, restlessness, and frustration. “Where the hell are you?”
“Quitcher bitchin’,” Dean’s tired voice pulled his head around. “I’m here.”
“Where the hell have you been?” John demanded immediately, then sank inside of himself as Dean stepped into the light.
He looked destroyed. Paler than when he’d seen him yesterday, smudges of grayish dust on his coat, hands, and across his forehead. His body shook slightly as he made his way into the room. He set a white paper bag on the table next to John’s bed, grease splotches exposing the contents as burgers and fries. John watched as he reach into the inside pocket of his jacket and removed the journal, setting it next to the bag almost reverently.
Dean swallowed, his throat bobbing with the effort. He shifted his chin toward John, but his eyes stayed down.
“What is it?” Worry cut an edge around John’s words. He wanted to get up, to take Dean by the shoulders. To make him sit down before he fell on his face.
Dean sank into the chair next to John’s bed as if his legs had simply disappeared.
“Had me a big day today, Dad.”
John turned as far as he could in the bed to face Dean, his hip muscle gasping at the angle.
“Got a job—downtown Brinnon. A construction site.”
“Construction? Dean, you aren’t in any shape to—”
“The site has had a bunch of shit happen. Random shit—like accidents and fires and tools missing. While I was there,” Dean continued, his eyes on the floor, the thumb of his left hand rubbing concentric circles in the palm of his right. “The scaffolding collapsed.”
John gaped, waiting for Dean to go on. Dean pressed his lips together, folding his forehead in a line of worry before he finally looked up at John.
“The doctor from the ER—the one that fixed me up—he was, uh… caught under it.”
“He’s dead, Dad.”
“What the hell was he doing there?”
Dean looked back down at his hands. “Well, turns out he and three other people are—well, were—the financial backers for this construction site.”
John narrowed his eyes. “Dean… this doctor—”
“Teller,” Dean supplied, not looking up.
“This Dr. Teller… didn’t you say that his kid was the first one killed by the Kappa?”
Dean nodded, lifting only his eyes. “I’ll give you one guess who the other three partners are.”
John rubbed his face. “Son of a bitch.” He dropped his head back against the pillows. “Son. Of. A. Bitch.”
Dean took a slow, shaky breath. “Yeah. Got the names from my new boss.”
John looked over at his son, took in his wrecked appearance. He looked back at his leg, shifted slightly just to test the extent of the pain, grimacing as it tweaked hard inside the cast.
“Well, this sure ain’t good.”
“Tell me about it,” Dean sighed. “Oh, here,” he said, pulling a razor from his jacket pocket and standing up, slowly, as if he were eighty years old.
John lifted an eyebrow at his son. “Where are you going?”
“Back to the motel,” Dean said, grimacing. “I plan on sleeping for the next twenty-four hours and hope no one gets killed before Monday.”
John tilted his head, watching as Dean walked away from the bed as if his legs were spun glass.
“I’ll be back, Dad, don’t worry.” Dean cast him a heavy look over his shoulder. “But… I got work to do. In more ways than one.”
“Dean!” John barked, the authority in his voice stopping his son in his tracks. Dean swayed slightly before turning to face his father. “You’re not doing this. Not alone.”
They stared at each other in that moment, both keenly feeling the loss of their unity, their balance. It had worked when Sam was there. Sam’s innocence gave John a reason, gave Dean a purpose. Sam’s drive gave them their heart. Sam’s absence took it all away.
Dean held his eyes, then looked at John’s suspended leg. “Yeah,” he said softly. “I am.”
John curled his lips up in a helpless snarl. “Don’t…” he curled a hand into a fist. “Don’t do anything without checking in first. You stay in contact with me. At all times. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Sir,” Dean replied automatically, though John felt as though he were speaking to an after-image of his son, a memory burned on the backs of his eyes, not the flesh-and-blood being that was a part of him.
“See ya,” Dean said, turning. As he walked from the hospital room, John saw how alone his son really was in the world. And as the door shut behind him, the loneliness was caught inside the room with John, hovering like an unwanted presence.
Jaw clenched in frustration, John hurled his plastic cup filled with ice across the room, and watched with empty and short-lived satisfaction as it splattered against the far wall, liquid darkening the plaster and trickling down in a fan.
Continued in Part 3A here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/67523.html
a/n: I found that working from an outline is a curious exercise in planning versus creating. In this case, the inmates have taken over the asylum and I’m kind of excited to see how it’s going to play out.
I’m working to update every two weeks. Hope you come back for more!
Everything Changes by Staind
Childhood’s End by Pink Floyd
Hotel California by Eagles
Nothing Else Matters by Metallica
Faithfully by Journey