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/N: I know I said that the last chapter was a “point A to point B” chapter as if in apology, but as I wrote this I realized… they kinda all are that way. This is a bit of a different type of story, I suppose. If you’re an action junkie, you’ll be rewarded in Chapters 5 and 6. These next two chapters, however, are more of an attempt to climb inside the characters and look out through their eyes. I hope you continue to enjoy!
The father who would taste the essence of his fatherhood must turn back from the plane of his experience, take with him the fruits of his journey and begin again beside his child, marching step by step over the same old road.
wwwThe morning air was crisp. His exhale clouded in the air before his face and hung suspended for several seconds before dissipating.
It wasn’t cold enough that Dean wanted to burrow deeper into the layers he’d donned, but it didn’t make him want to shed any of them either. He made his way to the waiting Impala, palming the crusted edges of sleep from his lashes. He was supposed to report to the job site at nine. A brief glance at the digital clock as he left the motel room told him he had two hours.
Sunday had been a hazy blur of distorted dreams that seemed to fold around him like memories and pangs of pain that shivered through him at alternating intervals. He’d returned to the motel from his father’s hospital room Saturday night and had fallen—fully-clothed—into his bed. He hadn’t moved for hours.
He’d woken once around noon on Sunday to pee, shuck his jeans, take more pain meds, and return to bed. He couldn’t remember having been so tired. His body had raised protest to the thrashing his dreams ensued, but he’d simply stacked pillows against his wounded side, preventing him from rolling over completely. When he opened his eyes again, pale light was bending through a slit in the heavy curtains and the radio he’d kept on for company was offering up a traffic report.
He’d tossed a pillow at it, knocking it from the dresser and eliciting a groan as his stiff body rebelled the sudden movement. A quick shower revealed that sleep hadn’t miraculously cured his bruising and cracked ribs, but he did feel steadier, able to nearly draw a full breath without wincing. And he was starving. He hadn’t gone this long without eating since Sammy had come down with the flu two years ago and Dean had forgotten to buy anything at the store aside from cold medicine and chicken soup.
Dressing had been a study in levels.
Like the level of discomfort he was willing to endure to ensure he was warm enough, had enough motility, and was appropriately armed to walk out of that door when he had no one to watch his back, no orders to follow, and no one to protect. He’d actually stood at the side of the bed, naked but for an Ace bandage around his ribs, staring at the contents of his duffel bag, trying to determine what he should wear.
Ultimately, he’d settled himself with his jeans and boots, the lock-pick and throwing knife secure in their usual places, T-shift and long-sleeved over shirt to hide the box cutter he fashioned to the inside of his left arm, and Sam’s gray hooded sweatshirt that he’d taken from his brother at the last minute. He’d only worn it once or twice since Sam left and it still held his brother’s musky scent.
Something about this morning, this town, this hunt had him reaching for that garment with a need for security he’d never cop to. Over the hoodie he’d slipped on John’s old leather coat that he’d somehow inherited along the way. Thus armed with his family, yet completely alone, Dean headed to the work site, the Impala rumbling happily around him. He pulled over at a diner about ten minutes away from the motel, silently wishing he’d thought about this place on Saturday night.
Walking through the door, Dean was instantly wrapped in welcoming smells of coffee, bacon, and bread. His vision wavered for a moment as hunger grabbed him by the gut.
Dean pulled his focus on an older, balding man standing with a menu in his age-spotted hands, a red apron lashed to his belly. A plastic name tag fixed to his plaid shirt read Beau.
“Yeah,” Dean tipped his chin up, surprised at how rough his voice sounded to his own ears. “One, please.”
Beau led him past a coffee counter flanked by three men to a booth and Dean slid into the seat that faced the door, putting his back to a window. Without looking at the menu, he ordered a coffee, double stack of pancakes, two eggs, and a side of bacon. Beau nodded and, without writing it down, shuffled around the corner of the counter to the kitchen, visible through a rectangular window positioned behind the counter.
Dean shifted, looking through the outside window at the slowly waking town and turned in to the scattering of voices of them men at the counter.
“You hear they’re moving ahead with that project?”
“Be fools not to.”
“You think so, do you?”
“Someone needs to get Spencer outta there, put someone in charge knows what t’ hell he’s doin’.”
“Ain’t no better contractor ‘round these parts ‘sides Gus Spencer.”
“You’re forgettin’ me.”
“No, I ain’t.”
“Here’s your coffee, Son.”
Dean’s head jerked around at the last and he looked up at Beau holding a pot of coffee and a mug. Gratefully taking the mug, Dean sipped a bit of the scalding liquid, then nodded toward the counter.
“They regulars?” he asked.
Beau looked over his shoulder to the trio of men sitting at the counter, shoulder-to-shoulder, each looking at a different section of the paper, grumbling towards their coffee as they spoke with each other.
He nodded. “Been comin’ in here for about nigh on twenty years now. Always got something to complain about.”
“That construction site’s big news, huh?” Dean pressed before the man could walk away.
Beau lifted a wiry gray eyebrow, looking down at Dean over a nose that had outgrown his face. “Son, we got less than a thousand people in all of Jefferson County. In the last six weeks, just about every life that goddamn site has touched has been ruined.” He paused, shaking his head sadly. “Haven’t seen the town this shaken up since—“
“Beau! You gonna jabber all day or you gonna get us some coffee!”
Dean glanced from Beau to the eldest of the three counter-sitters.
“I’ll be over there when I’m good and ready, Lawson.”
Lawson turned to more fully face Beau and Dean got a good look at him. Paunchy, a faded button-down shirt stretched taut at the buttons, graying comb-over sitting atop a ruddy complexion, the man looked like someone who was too friendly with the view from behind his desk and too familiar with the inside of a whiskey bottle.
“Who you talkin’ to?”
Beau didn’t move and Dean felt the elder man’s eyes on his face. In turn, he leveled his gaze on Lawson’s jowly countenance.
“I believe the term is customer,” Beau replied. “Not that you’d be familiar with it.”
Dean merely lifted a brow as Lawson’s companions snickered into their coffee cups. Grumbling something unintelligible under his breath, Lawson turned back to the counter and Dean brought his eyes back up to meet Beau’s.
“You were saying?” Dean prompted.
Beau simply shook his head. “’Bout twenty years ago, this town got real tore up. Thought we’d all put it past us, but…” The man sighed expressively, his shoulders bowing. “Losing those kids—“
“Lawson,” Dean muttered suddenly. “Wasn’t that… the name of one of the kids?”
Beau quirked his head to the side. “Cody,” he nodded, then jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “Joe’s grandson.”
Dean nodded toward the counter trio. “His son one of the partners in that construction project?”
Beau lifted his brow at Dean this time. “You’re awfully well-informed for someone just passing through.”
Dean leaned back against the booth. “Never said I was just passing through.”
“You ain’t from ‘round here,” Beau said, shaking his head once, decisively. “That much I know.”
Dean looked down, pressing his lips together. “My Dad’s up at St. Luke’s. Busted leg. Gonna be around here for a little while.” He finished his coffee and set the empty mug down, then looked up at Beau.
“You’re that kid that Gus hired—the one that was with him when Jake Teller…”
“You see what happened?” Beau pressed.
“Just that the whole scaffolding collapsed,” Dean replied.
Beau rubbed a hand over his face. “Not ready to see this again. Just not ready,” he muttered, then turned from the table without offering more information. “I’ll bring you more coffee with your food.”
Dean watched him go, then slid his eyes back to the elder Mr. Lawson. He wasn’t surprised to see the narrow slits of the man’s eyes looking back at him. Beau brought him his food and more coffee and at some point a radio was turned on over the speakers and Patsy Cline’s Crazy drifted through the air turning the diner into a flashback of an old 1950’s movie.
When he’d finished his breakfast, Dean stood, dropped some cash on the table, and nodded at Beau as he left. The men at the counter watched him make his way to the door. Dean didn’t bother looking back. He was too busy trying to figure out how he was going to find money for more food and gas. He had ten dollars stuffed into the pocket of his jeans. John’s choice to use a limited credit card was arrogant and irritating. They’d never been stuck in one place this long without a plan before. He could head to the next town over and use a different fake credit card for some supplies if he got really desperate, but Dean felt himself snarling as he started up the Impala.
“Half a tank, baby,” he whispered to her. “Make it last, okay?”
It didn’t take long to get to the work site, and Dean parked down the block from the destruction. Exiting the car, he saw that though he was early, he wasn’t the first one there. Moving slowly up the walk toward the small group of men, Dean felt a disturbing gap along his waistband where the comfortable weight of his gun should have been.
“Mornin’,” he greeted them, nodding, his face open and friendly.
A man turned to face him, his jeans and cowboy boots a bit too bright to be authentic, his long-sleeved shirt starched so crisply that Dean could see the flakes of white along the seams. He was younger and thinner, but his face held the same distrust and ruddy complexion of the man at the bar.
Dean tipped his chin up. “Mr. Lawson?”
“Yeah, who the hell’er you?”
Dean slid his eyes to take in the group of dour faces. “Names Dean Winchester,” he said. “Just hired on with Gus this weekend.”
“You…” Lawson glanced at his companions, then back at Dean. “You came to work?”
“Yes, Sir,” Dean replied.
A murmur rippled through the silent group and Dean shifted his weight, feeling inexplicably ready for a fight.
“Cole,” Lawson called over his shoulder without taking his eyes off of Dean. “This kid says he’s here to work for Gus.”
“So I heard,” replied an oddly high-pitched voice.
A man stepped out from the group of people and walked over to stand in front of Dean. Unable to stop himself, Dean felt a smirk twist his lips as he regarded the other man. Hello, Biff Tannen, he found himself thinking. The man in front of him resembled the barrel-chested nemesis of Marty McFly in almost every way from the bulbous nose to the high-and-tight sandy-colored hair.
“Where’s your tool belt, son?” Cole sneered, running an index finger along the lapel of Dean’s leather jacket.
“Okay, listen,” Dean lifted his hands, palm-out, “I’ve obviously come at a bad time—“
“No, no,” Cole shook his head, his generous lips pushed out in a pout. “Not bad at all, considering we got no scaffolding, all our workers bailed, and our contractor is MIA.”
“I’m right here,” Gus’ voice carried to them from inside the building. “If you’d bothered to come in, you’da found me about an hour ago.”
Cole turned along with the group of men to face the loosely fastened heavy plastic that covered the as-yet-installed wall of the building face. Gus stepped through and Dean saw immediately that the man was exhausted. His features carefully blank, Gus stepped forward, extending a hand at the three men centered in the cluster of men.
“Matt,” he nodded, shaking the younger Lawson’s hand. “Jim, Terry,” he moved along the trio, “good of you to come by. I’m so sorry it had to be under such shitty circumstances,” he glanced down, then back up, “again.”
Dean took note of the names. He knew from Beau that Cody Lawson’s father had been part of the partners heading up the building project. He looked at Matt Lawson, trying to see in the sour face of the man a person who had recently lost a child. Trying to see the grief he’d expect to see. James Sutcliff and Teresa Bowing had been the other two victims. Shifting his eyes to the men named Jim and Terry, Dean saw etched in the tight lines around their eyes, the low draw of their mouths, the purple smudges beneath their eyes the evidence that life as they knew it was over.
“What the hell, Gus?” Terry demanded in a choked voice. “When is this going to end?”
“When we get this building done,” Gus replied with certainty. “These the guys you promised me?”
“My brother, Cole,” Matt Lawson motioned to the man Dean had mentally dubbed Biff Tannen. Dean met the man’s beady-eyed stare and waggled his fingers as he walked away. “And he brought eight guys he knew from some surrounding towns.”
Gus nodded at Cole and the other men gratefully. “Glad to have you. Listen, I have a crew coming today to reassemble the scaffolding. We’ll be able to start construction again in a day or two. You think you can come back?”
The men behind Cole nodded and spoke assent. Cole, however, turned glowering eyes toward Dean. “What about the gaijin?”
Dean frowned at the foreign word, but Gus just chuckled and shook his head. Without glancing at Dean, he said, “He’s with me.”
As Dean watched, the men began to file away, Cole letting a lingering look rest on Dean for a moment before joining his friends. The trio of partners paused a minute and Terry spoke again.
“Gus, this is the last crew,” he said, his throat working convulsively. “Everyone else has walked off—they’re too afraid. Especially now, after Jake—“
“I understand,” Gus nodded, resting a hand on Terry’s shoulder. “And we will finish this job. I promise you.”
“You had better,” Matt growled as he turned away, his starched shirt glittering in the morning sun. “Your ass is on the line just like ours, Spencer.”
Gus dropped his hand from Terry’s shoulder and rolled his teeth against his lips, regarding Matt silently. The partners nodded at Gus, then turned away getting into separate cars. Dean waited until they’d pulled away from the curb before approaching Gus.
“Thanks,” he said.
“Cole Lawson is a bully and an idiot,” Gus shook his head, eyes on the dissipating cloud of construction dust lingering from the departed vehicles. “Don’t know what he thinks he’s gaining by trying to scare off a worker.”
“What’d he call me?” Dean asked, turning to follow Gus’ gaze.
Gus huffed a quick laugh. “Gaijin,” he repeated. “Means… stranger. Outsider.”
“In what language?”
“Japanese,” Gus said, his voice tipping the scales from neutrality to disgust. “My mother is Japanese—there’s a lot of our people in these parts. Damn fool thinks he can get on my good side using the language of my mother’s people.”
They stood in silence for a moment, then Dean turned to face the partially-constructed building.
“Some morning, huh?” he ventured.
“You don’t know the half of it,” Gus muttered.
Dean tilted his head. “Yeah? What’s up?”
Gus looked at him, his dark eyes tight in his brown face. “You gonna run off on me if I show you something… weird?”
Dean bit the inside of his cheek. “Believe me, man,” Dean said, an understanding grin relaxing his mouth. “You can’t scare me off.”
Gus looked at him a moment longer then turned toward the building, motioning with his shoulder. “Follow me.”
Dean carefully picked his way across the destruction of scaffolding and tightened his belly muscles as his ribs were jarred by his stumbling steps. He parted the heavy plastic to step into one of the rooms. The sight that met his eyes was jarring, but in some ways, not unexpected.
On the finished ceiling and along the studs that would eventually support outside and interior walls was painted sigils and symbols in black. Some of them Dean recognized, most, though, were foreign to him.
“Wow,” he muttered softly, turning and taking them all in.
“It’s only this room,” Gus said, “but it’s everywhere in this room. Even on the floor.”
“What… was this room?” Dean asked, looking at Gus. “Before you started the remodel?”
Gus shook his head. “All of these buildings had been abandoned for years. I mean years. Once upon a time this room was part of the city jail, but it was more of a holding cell and a couple of offices—old west style. The rest of these buildings were just café’s and shops, but they all went out of business about fifteen years ago.”
He sighed. “We don’t have problems with gangs around here, but…”
“These aren’t gang signs, man.” Dean grabbed a flap of paper from a sandbag weighing down a light fixture. “You got a pen?”
Gus frowned and handed Dean a marker. “You know what these mean?”
“I don’t,” Dean said, copying down the symbols as best he could. “But I know someone who might.”
He felt Gus’ eyes on him, but kept drawing.
“Dan never said what it is you do,” Gus revealed.
“I, uh… work with my dad,” Dean explained. “Kind of a family business.”
“Your dad’s in the hospital, yeah?”
“He get hurt on the job?”
Dean nodded, capping the marker and handing it back to Gus. He watched Gus take it, hesitantly. Before he could say anything further, though, he caught a blur of motion out of the corner of his eye.
Gus turned and headed in the direction Dean indicated, Dean close behind. They reached the back wall of the building and pushed the plastic aside. Heading out across the muddy yard toward a slope the reached down to beachhead was a tall, gangly man with waist-length black hair. He paused at the base of a tree and turned to look directly at them.
Dean could see even from this distance an angry red scar running horizontally along the man’s right cheek and the odd, unnatural slope of his right eye. He was wearing what looked like buckskin breeches, a red flannel shirt, dark boots and a jacket edged in fringe.
“Aw, dammit,” Gus swore, leaning his forearm against a wall brace and curling his hands into a fist.
“You know that guy?”
Gus nodded. “He’s harmless,” he replied. “Name’s Kwaiya. He’s a homeless guy, been living around here forever, since he was young.”
“Is he…” Dean tried to delicately search for the right word.
“He’s… not all there,” Gus said, his eyes on the figure still frozen, looking back at them. “But he’s not dangerous. I don’t really know the whole story. Some people say he was found wandering in the woods by a Quileute man when he was a kid.”
“A what man?”
Gus backed away from the opened space as Kwaiya turned from them and continued down the slope toward the water. “Quileute,” he repeated. “Local Indian tribe.”
Dean nodded, then looked around at the markings. “Could he have done this?”
Gus started to shake his head, then sighed, looking down. “Hell, I don’t know. A week ago, I’d have said no way, but now… everything’s upside down.”
Dean looked at the paper in his hand, wanting to talk to his father, almost afraid of what he might say.
wwwHe’d never admit to being lonely. Or bored. Or restless.
But John was all three now.
If he could just do something other than sit on his ass it would help. Pacing would help. He’d paced a lot when Mary was pregnant. She’d laughed at him, the big, tough soldier nervous over something so natural. But he wasn’t in control of the situation that took over her body, changed her, changed them. He helped cause it to happen and then was forced to step back, merely an observer.
So, he’d paced. A set amount of steps, measured, specific. The control over that pattern was calming. The set parameters gave him focus and channeled his scattered thoughts into a workable plan. But there would be no pacing with a leg suspended in a canvas sling above his bed.
He’d made them take him off of the infused pain medication yesterday afternoon, switching to pills he could take every four hours, or as needed. He was hell-bent on pushing the as needed out as far as he could. Something about the pain brought about the same focus he’d found when pacing. It forced him to concentrate, to close off the repetitive sounds of a hospital alive with patients. He turned his eyes inward and found the will that had sustained him through wet, jungle nights and the hours of sleeplessness where all he could do was look at the empty side of his bed.
His back had started to spasm sometime in the night, protesting the endless hours in the same position. He’d managed to shift slightly sideways to relieve the pressure on his back and not wrench his leg out of position, but he was only able to hold that pose for a few moments before his trembling limbs gave way. Now, coming on the end of a Monday, he was once again snarling from discomfort—he wouldn’t call it pain…not yet anyway—and had lost focus three times on the sentence he was scratching into the blank page of his journal.
He glanced at his phone. He could call Dean. See how the kid was doing. He hadn’t heard from him since he’d walked out of the room Saturday night, dead on his feet. Swallowing a familiar sensation of anxiety, he picked up the handset of the phone, then paused. A sick sort of shame slipped through him and he dropped the handset back into the cradle.
How could he excuse reaching out to one son and not the other? Sam was just a kid. And John knew better than anyone that kids make hot-headed, stupid choices. It should be the parent’s job to only let them go so far before pulling them back to safety. To let them see the other side, but not fall into the abyss.
And yet, he’d let Sam go. Practically made him go. And couldn’t bring himself to bring him back.
John darted his eyes to the doorway, recognizing Dr. Rice’s rich voice before he took in her image.
“How goes it today?” she asked, stepping around to his suspended leg.
“It goes,” he replied softly, dropping his head back against the pillows and riveting his eyes to the paneled ceiling as she opened the Velcro bands on his air cast.
Her hands were quick, sure, soft and he held still as she removed the dressing on his wound, examining her handiwork. “How’s the pain?”
“Your wound is healing nicely. I imagine in a day or so I’ll be able to remove the stitches.”
“Fantastic,” John sighed dully, not looking away from the ceiling. He felt her begin to re-wrap his leg. “How much longer do I have to be in this thing, Doc?”
He felt her pause, suspected that she was weighing her response with the barely contained hostility he heard behind his own words.
“If you keep progressing as you are,” Dr. Rice replied hesitantly, “I’d be inclined to allow you access to a wheelchair for a few hours a day starting… tomorrow, perhaps.”
“Tomorrow,” John repeated, marking the day in his mind like a deadline.
“You need to be careful, Elroy,” Dr. Rice said, gently laying a hand on his forearm.
John tensed under her touch, climbing inside himself, but not pulling away. Without conscious thought, he’d retreated from human contact in the years since Mary died. He chose who, he chose when. Allowing others the privilege of grabbing his attention or offering comfort via touch was not something he was inclined to grant. Reluctantly, he had to admit that included his boys.
Dr. Rice lifted her hand and he heard her sigh.
“I understand you’ve asked for access to newspapers,” she informed him.
At this, John dropped his eyes. “Yes.”
“I’ll have the last few days brought in to you,” she promised, “but I wouldn’t expect much. Brinnon’s not exactly a Mecca when it comes to the latest news.”
“Not looking for much,” John said. “Just… something other than… this room.”
Dr. Rice nodded. She tilted her head. “Where’s your son today?”
John automatically glanced at the empty chair next to his bed. “Not here.”
He heard the frown in Dr. Rice’s voice when she asked, “Is everything okay, Elroy?”
Sliding his eyes back to her, John tipped his chin down, regarding her with disbelief. “You mean other than the fact that I’m trapped in this fu—“ He stopped himself, undone by her outward calm. “… damn bed with my leg in a sling?”
Dr. Rice arched a brow, her mouth quirking to the side. “I’ll see what I can do about those newspapers.”
John jerked his chin up in a brief nod, watching her leave the room. He picked up the TV controller and scrolled through the limited cable options, not really resting on any one station longer than the few seconds it took for the channel to come into focus. At the end of the cycle of channels, the television automatically shut off and he let it.
Rubbing his hands over his face, feeling the wiry bristle of his overgrown beard, he closed his eyes, trying to breathe out slowly, feeling the frustrated scream beating at the back of his throat. Clenching his jaw, he opened his eyes and reached once more for his journal. Slowly he flipped through the pages, finding solace in the passing of time he saw captured in those words. The moments of truth—proof that he wasn’t crazy.
It hadn’t been an electrical fire. He hadn’t been hallucinating. His wife had been pinned to the ceiling, her belly slashed, her face frozen in terror and fire had taken her, trapping her family in a surreal life on the fringe of reality. She had been killed by a… demon. It still took him a moment to wrap his mind around this fact. He had yet to say it aloud.
He wasn’t sure if he could ever tell his boys, tell Dean.
Spirits, werewolves, witches, creatures of myth… he could buy them. He’d seen them. He’d defeated them. But demons? If he allowed himself to believe in demons, then he had to open up to the possibility of another side. A balance to the universe. He’d learned in the last eighteen years that the tenuous balance that most of the world took for granted was the only thing that kept humanity from the precipice of the pit.
The idea that there were angels—or some sort of benevolent force—in the universe while so much evil persisted in the world twisted a knot in his heart. The fact that his girl was gone, that his sons had grown up as soldiers and not simply boys, that their lives had never been and would never be safe… he wasn’t sure he was ready to accept that fact.
“I see you put that razor to good use.”
Dean’s voice bending through memory and unexpectedly hitting his ears caused John to tense in surprise, snapping the journal shut, the last few lines jotted there still burned into his brain: need to check for patterns, signs with the weather, cattle deaths, temperature fluctuations, electrical storms…
“Where you been?” John heard himself asking aloud as his heart whispered, it’s good to see you chased by thank God you’re all right.
“Sleepin’… doing some research,” Dean replied, leaning a shoulder against the wall as the door to the room closed behind him. John took in the sight of him, jarred by how quiet he seemed. There was an energy within his oldest that he’d come to expect, to count on. This… stillness… wasn’t simply a by-product of his wounds.
But John wasn’t ready to face the real cause. Not yet.
“Thought you had to work,” he replied, his voice gruff, his tone short.
Dean nodded, moving further into the room. He crossed at the foot of John’s bed and stopped to stand in front of the window. John watched his son reach out and grasp the slim rod that controlled the motion of the blinds, turning it until the lean light of evening spilled into the room.
“Gus shut down the site for a few days,” he replied, his back to John, his voice low and heavy, as if the air used to expel the sound was wet. “Until he can get the scaffolding back up.”
“So what about the mon—“
“Don’t worry about it, Dad,” Dean interrupted, turning to rest his backside against the windowsill.
John saw the purple smudges of exhaustion beneath Dean’s eyes as his son regarded him. It still jolted him a bit to see the rough growth of beard frame Dean’s lean jaw. How was Dean old enough to grow a beard? he found himself thinking. He’d created a tight universe for the three of them, keeping the boys close, keeping them safe. He was with his sons more than anyone.
And yet… he’d missed so much. So many moments. So much time.
“Poker or pool?” John asked.
Dean’s mouth ticked up in a slight, appreciative smile. “Poker, I think,” he replied, his hand sliding up to rest carefully along his wounded side. “Even you could kick my ass in pool right now.”
John lifted an eyebrow. “I could always kick your ass in pool.”
“Plus,” Dean continued, “if we’re going to be here awhile, gotta be careful when I hustle. Only gonna be able to do it once.”
John tipped his head down in a nod. “Good point.” He stared hard at Dean, watching him work his jaw, the muscle there rippling beneath the taut skin like it was trying to escape. The kid's eyes were directed at him, but they rested on nothing. “So, are you sleeping in the Impala, or what?”
Dean shook his head, bringing his eyes back into focus. “Maxed out Elroy’s card,” he said. “Bought us two or three days before Glover starts hitting me up for cash.”
John looked down at the journal resting on his lap. “I could be out of here by then,” he mused.
“Nah, Dad,” Dean protested, making his way to the opposite side of the bed. “Even if you’re outta here, you’re not traveling.”
“That’s not for you to decide, Son,” John snapped.
“Or you,” Dean shot back. “That doctor said you messed that leg up pretty bad.”
“I’ve had worse.”
“Yeah?” Dean challenged. “When?”
John stared at him, saying nothing. There were years of war—here and overseas—that he’d never shared with Dean. And he never would. If he couldn’t protect him from the life he’d forced them to lead, then he would at least spare him the details of hunts gone sideways, dark alleys and damp woods, moments when he knew it could very well be his last.
That this time he might not get home to his boys.
“All I’m saying,” Dean sighed, his voice softening, “is why push it?”
John tightened his jaw, looking away.
“I got us covered right now, Dad,” Dean pressed on. “And… I don’t know, there’s definitely something hinky going on in this town.”
And you’re out there in it. Alone. Unprotected. His mind clamped down in denial, refusing to acknowledge the truth: Dean could do this. Without him.
“I think it’s connected to that building site, too,” Dean continued. “I got some sigils I wanted to show you—see if you recognized them.”
“They were painted around one of the rooms at the building site.” Dean dug a rumpled paper from his pocket. “They looked kinda familiar, but…”
John took the paper, turning it to study the different symbols Dean had drawn. “These are for protection,” he said, reaching for his journal. He flipped the book open and thumbed through a couple of pages until he found what he was looking for. Setting it open on his lap, he motioned Dean closer. “This and this? Old school charms. Witchcraft.”
“Witchcraft?” Dean brought his head up. “You sure?”
John nodded, looking at the last symbol. “I don’t recognize this one.”
Dean tilted his head. “Could be Quileute.”
Dean rolled his neck, rubbing the muscles at the back with the tips of his fingers. “Local Indian tribe,” he said. “I’ve been looking into them.”
“Long story,” Dean said, picking up the paper and stuffing it back in his pocket. “Has to do with a homeless guy that I saw at the building site. Gus says he’s harmless.”
“But you’re not so sure?”
Dean lifted a shoulder. “I’m not ready to eliminate any possibility yet. I just know too much weird stuff has happened since they started this building renovation. I thought I’d head out there later tonight, put down some salt lines, run some EMF.”
John slid his eyes closed, feeling a loathing he reserved for only himself twist inside. It was a good plan, exactly what he would do. What he should be doing. He sensed Dean shift and opened his eyes again, watching as his son moved aside the empty cups and napkins on the bedside table to pick up the razor he’d brought in a few days before.
As John watched, Dean made his way into the bathroom, returning with a small basin filled part-way with water, a towel, and a small can of shaving cream.
“What are you doing?” John asked.
Dean looked at him. “Helping.”
“I can shave my own goddamn face,” John growled.
Dean merely lifted an eyebrow. “You’re doing a bang-up job at it, too.”
John looked away.
“C’mon, Dad,” Dean sighed, tossing a towel toward John, letting it fall across his chest. “I taught Sammy to shave. His mug is still in one piece.”
“You’re getting a little too comfortable with me trapped here in this bed,” John said.
At that, Dean’s head snapped up, surprise evident on his face. “What’s that’s supposed to mean?”
John leaned his body slightly forward, his eyes hard on his sons face. “I’m not your brother, Dean.”
Dean set the basin of water on the table and dropped his hands to the side. “Yeah, I noticed,” he replied, sarcasm heavy in his voice.
“I am your father,” John continued, the words your leader implied. “Don’t forget that.”
Dean’s face smoothed out, his eyes emptying of emotion. It had always amazed—and somewhat frightened—John that his kid could do that. Slip a mask neatly into place so that from all outward appearances, nothing got to him. Nothing.
“Yes, Sir,” he replied, but John didn’t miss the slant of cynicism that hung on the words.
“You heading out there, working this hunt… it’s not going to work,” John muttered, shaking his head.
“Why the hell not?”
“You’ve been—“ John rolled his lip against his teeth as he searched for the right word, feeling a scary sense of desperation spike behind his eyes. “You’ve been trained to work in a unit. You… you’re not going out there alone.” He shook his head decisively, as if that ended the discussion.
“Oh, come on!” Dean exploded, hands motioning to the sides with frustration. “Do you even hear what you’re saying, Dad?”
John felt the frustration of being pushed to the side, of not being needed, heat up, his head throbbing with the rage of it. “I am still in charge here, Dean!”
“Nobody said you weren’t,” Dean exclaimed, his body bent slightly forward with the effort of his words. “But I am out there, Dad. And you know as well as I do that someone summoned that Kappa.”
“The Kappa is dead,” John snapped.
“Yeah, and so are four kids and one doctor,” Dean said. “Someone—or something—is trying to keep that construction site from going forward. And you know as well as I do that it’s our kind of something.”
John’s mind immediately jumped to a list of possibilities: witch, spirit, shaman… demon. His heart hammered behind his eyes and his vision swam with the idea of Dean facing down any one of those things without his family to back him.
“You will not hunt alone,” John barked. “That’s an order.”
“No offense?” Dean pulled back, a hand unconsciously pressed to his side. “But it’s a shitty order.”
John felt his jaw muscles seize up.
“I mean, what the hell are you trying to prove, Dad? That you’re strong? That you can take a beating?”
Dean’s face was tight, his eyes flashing hot and hard. “Well, you win. I get it.”
“You don’t get it!” John bellowed.
“Yes, I do!” Dean yelled back.
“I don’t want you out there where I can’t protect you,” John dropped his voice, anger and fear punching the words through the air even as he worked to bring himself back under control. He knew their words were carrying in some part through the closed door to his room and he wasn’t sure how much of their real lives he wanted the hospital staff to hear.
“Oh yeah?” Dean replied, his voice trembling slightly, matching his father’s lowered tone. “What about all those times it was just me and Sammy back in some rented house or motel room while you were off playing hero, huh? You weren’t exactly protecting me then.”
“That’s different,” John argued.
“Not to me,” Dean returned. “Only thing that’s changed is that I don’t have to be afraid for Sam now.”
But I do, John thought. I’m afraid for both of you every day. All the time.
“I do get it, Dad,” Dean said softly. “And… you are in charge here. But you raised me to know what the hell I’m doing. You made me see what’s hiding out there. You never once let me pretend it all wasn’t real. Hell, you taught me to shoot before I could tie my damn shoes!”
John felt his heart quiver, his eyes on his son’s lean face. It didn’t matter at the moment if Dean was making a good point. It didn’t matter that John had lost in the ability to be in action. It didn’t matter that his son was a damn good hunter with instincts that couldn’t be taught.
All that mattered was that John was losing control; he felt it slipping through his fisted hands like sand.
“We’ll talk about this when I get out of here,” John said.
Dean swallowed, his shoulders squaring. John’s belly tensed as he braced himself for his son’s next words.
“This hunt may not wait for that, Dad.”
“Doesn’t matter,” John shook his head, looking away.
“Matters to me,” Dean said, turning away and heading out of the hospital room.
Dean stopped, but didn’t turn back.
“Where are you going?”
Dean didn’t say anything for a moment. John waited, hoping somehow he’d gotten through, hoping Dean’s trust—the trust John had come to count on and had taken for granted—had returned.
“I don’t know,” Dean finally sighed, his chin shifting over his shoulder so that John could see his profile. “Kinda making this up as I go along.”
“This is what I’m talking about, Son,” John said, trying to use his words as a lasso, looping them around his boy so that he could bring him close once more. “You don’t have a plan, you don’t know your enemy… you don’t know what you’re doing out there.”
Dean turned slightly, his shoulder toward John, his eyes sliding to the side to take in his father. “No, that’s your department, right? You’re the one who always has a plan. Always knows the next move.”
John took a sharp breath, finding the dichotomy of Dean’s words of praise and tone of dissention hard to connect in his mind.
“Always one step ahead of the bad guys…” Dean shook his head, looking at the floor. “I guess you’re just gonna have to trust that I learned enough from watching you,” he finished and continued through the door.
“Dean!” John yelled after him, but the door shut at Dean’s back, and John was alone in the room.
“SON OF A BITCH!” he bellowed, thrusting out his arm and sweeping the contents of the bedside table to the floor, the water Dean had provided for shaving splattering across the linoleum. The only thing that survived the carnage was his journal, tucked safely against his side.
His rage was complete. His patience gone.
Yeah, you had the fuckin’ plan, Johnny, he mocked himself. You had the plan to kill that goddamn monster and you ended up in this bed with one kid three states away and another walking wounded. Great plan, soldier.
He grabbed the phone from the bed side table and threw it, uncaring that the action would bring nurses and security running. Leaning as far forward as he could, he batted at the mechanism that held his broken leg aloft, knocking the sling free and dropping his leg down to the bed.
The pain was immediate. It rolled through him, lighting his skin on fire with its heat and sending cold shivers through each joint. John bit into his lip, holding the howl in check. He heard foot falls and voices outside his door, but was too focused on getting the hell out of that bed to care.
Dr. Rice’s outraged voice drew his focus as he continued his efforts to detach himself from the IVs and catheters holding him in place. He glanced once at her face, noted the way her lips thinned out in anger, then dismissed her.
“Stop! Stop this minute!”
“I’m getting outta here, Doc,” John panted, the pull of the catheter enough to steal his breath as he tried to rotate toward the side of the bed. His leg pulsed with pain, sending waves of white over his vision.
“The hell you are!” Dr. Rice yelled and John felt her sturdy hands on his arm.
He shook her off and reached once more for the IV in the back of his other hand. From a distance he heard a groan, and it was only when Dr. Rice’s hand covered his that he realized it came from him.
“Elroy, stop,” she said softer, her voice calmer. He looked up and realized there were three more people in the room with them. “You’re not ready.”
“My kid’s out there, Doc. And he needs me,” John said, feeling his voice rumble deep in his chest.
Dr. Rice, tucked her chin, catching his eyes. “You want to be there for your son? Then you listen to me. You follow my orders.”
John blinked, wondering how much of their fight she’d heard.
“I can’t stay in this bed another day,” John shook his head. “I won’t.”
He hoped the naked pain that shivered through him wasn’t exposed on his face as she studied him. He worked to control his breathing. Worked to keep his face still. But his leg… God, just cut it off…
“All right,” Dr. Rice nodded. “But you do exactly what I say when I say it. Is that clear?”
“Crystal,” John replied tightly, then tipped slightly to the side to rest his shoulder against the propped up bed.
Dr. Rice motioned to one of the orderlies. “Can you help pick up Mr. MacGillicuddy’s belongings? Andy, get me a wheelchair. With a leg extension.”
John felt his body sag as Dr. Rice and another nurse rotated him back onto the bed. He caught Dr. Rice’s wrist as she moved to check his leg.
“Thanks, Doc,” he said softly.
She arched a brow at him. “Don’t make me regret this.”
wwwHe knew exactly what he could buy for ten dollars. He’d always been good at making money stretch when it came to taking care of Sam while John was gone. But as he strode through the doors of the only bar in town and swung his right leg over the leather-covered stool fixed to the floor in front of the darkly-stained wooden counter, he tossed all sense of frugality out the window, ordering two shots of whiskey and a beer chaser.
“What kind? We’ve got Bud, Heineken…”
“Whatever you have on tap,” he nodded at the bartender, glancing around surreptitiously at his surroundings. The bar looked slightly different from the last time he’d visited. The dance floor was empty, though the jukebox played on. Patrons were scattered at various tables and Dean could hear the sweaty smack of billiard balls from somewhere in the back.
It was good that the place was nearly empty. The last thing he really needed was to run into someone he knew in this postage stamp-sized town. Not now. Not until he cooled off.
He could still feel the hot anger seething beneath taut muscles along his face and across his back. His direct encounters with John’s authority had previously been tempered by Sam’s presence. It had always been easy to say Yes, Sir and move on when Sam was there. Because Sam was so busy fighting back, so busy questioning, so busy needing an explanation, justification for every command that Dean didn’t have time to wonder why.
He knew their lives depended on them both obeying John. And it had often times taken every ounce of energy he’d had to both do what John ordered and keep Sam in line at the same time. Now, though, there was no one to protect. And no one to argue.
And John still pushed.
You can’t put a gun in my hand, teach me how to use it, then order me not to pull the trigger, Dad, he fumed silently. I may not have been born for this, but I sure as hell was trained for it.
“Hey again,” said a familiar voice over the low drone of Steely Dan.
“You know there's fire in the hole and nothing left to burn. I'd love to run out now, there's nowhere left to turn…”
Dean tucked his chin against his shoulder, sliding his eyes to the right to see who’d greeted him. Gus Spencer sat at a table against the wall, fingers lightly spinning a bottle of beer, an empty plate pushed to the side.
“Hey yourself,” Dean returned.
Gus’s dark eyes skipped to the whiskey shots, then back to Dean. “Rough day?”
Dean dropped his head. “You could say that.”
“Feel like some company?”
Dean lifted an eyebrow. It wasn’t the invitation he was accustomed to getting—at least not from another guy. He hesitated. Gus lifted a shoulder self-consciously.
“I’m kinda… persona non grata ‘round here,” he explained. “Might be nice not to eat alone for once.”
Weighing the need to fume against his father’s stubborn dictatorship against the idea of company, Dean finally tipped his chin up in a nod. “Sure, okay.”
He clinked the shot glasses together with his fingers and picked up his mug of beer, heading to Gus’ table. He set one of the shot glasses down in front of his new boss, then slid into a seat across from him. They lifted their glasses in unison.
“Cheers,” Gus said, tossing back the amber liquid.
Dean nodded, and followed suit, letting the heat of the liquid smack the back of his throat and slide down to sit comfortably in his belly. Gus signaled the bartender.
“Nah, man, I can’t,” Dean waved him off.
“Sure you can,” Gus argued. “I’m buying.”
Dean let his mouth relax into a grin. “Well, hell, in that case…”
“So you talk to your friend?” Gus asked as two more shot were set in front of them.
“My friend?” Dean frowned, not following. He could count his friends on one hand and have a few fingers left over.
“About the graffiti.”
“Oh, that,” Dean nodded. “Yeah—my Dad, actually.”
“He know what they are?”
“Protection symbols,” Dean said, sipping his beer and watching Gus through hooded eyes.
“Protection? From what?”
Dean settled against the booth and spread one arm across the backrest. He had a choice to make here. Break Rule Number One, we do what we do and we shut up about it, or bring Gus in on The Big Secret: chances are the monster in your closet is real.
“Could be a number of things… you know anyone that dabbles in witchcraft?”
Gus blinked at him, his almond-shaped eyes wide with surprise. “Witches?”
Dean nodded, his face carefully blank.
Gus grinned, “You’re joshin’ me.”
Dean lifted a shoulder, taking another sip of beer. It always amazed him how many different ways people could find to explain the unexplainable. “Just telling you what they are. Some we couldn’t identify.”
Gus’s grin slipped from his face. He leaned forward, tenting his fingers horizontally around the base of his beer bottle. “There’re rumors… of… of witches and… y’know crazy shit like that,” he shook his head. “But, y’know that was like… twenty years ago.”
Dean licked his lips, weighing the impact of his words.
“Witches? Really?” Gus tried again.
“I’m not saying witches drew those symbols,” Dean clarified. “I’m just saying that whoever did knew something about wiccan protection symbols. Trying to protect the site from… something.”
“Yeah, but… what? Or… or who?”
Dean looked down at the table. “I’d like to try something. Line the exterior of the building with salt.”
“Salt,” Gus repeated, blinking at him.
Dean nodded, not offering further explanation.
“What did you say your family business was again?”
Dean opened his mouth, unsure, exactly, what words were going to come out. He was saved from a potentially job-ending explanation when the music from the jukebox screeched to a painful halt in the middle of Joe Walsh’s Those Shoes’ guitar solo. He and Gus turned to look across the bar. Cole Lawson stood next to the machine facing a slim, dark-haired girl, her raised hand caught in his fist, his face dark with irritation.
“You’re coming with me,” he said, a note in his voice marking the girl before him as property.
“Let me go,” the girl demanded.
Dean felt his belly tighten and he straightened in his seat. He wasn’t sure what was transpiring, but the sight of the over-sized man gripping the waif-like woman ran sideways across his sense of chivalry.
“You’re making a scene,” Cole growled.
“You think this is a scene?” the girl replied, her voice tipping upward to shrill. “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Before anyone in the sparsely-populated bar could move, the girl gripped Cole’s shirtfront with her other fist and thrust her knee upward, forcefully making contact with Cole’s groin, sending him backwards with a groan and causing Dean and Gus to wince and pull slightly away in unison.
“You don’t own me, Cole Lawson,” the girl snarled at him, as Cole went to his knees, his hands cupping his wounded member.
“Marissa—“ he choked out, trying to catch his breath.
The girl turned away with a flounce of hair and Dean blinked in shocked surprise. Her blue eyes were neon with anger, but he felt them hit him, then slide along his face, down his chest to his hands. She blinked back at him, her full lips parted in surprise.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hey,” Dean replied, almost sad to find that he now knew her name.
“Didn’t think I’d see you again,” Marissa said, rolling her bottom lip against her teeth and making her way toward his table.
“Yeah…” Dean replied lamely, unable to kick-start his brain into a serviceably suave response. As Marissa approached their table, Dean saw Cole rise to his feet, his face almost purple with embarrassment and fury. “Hey—“ Dean started, sliding from the booth as he reached for the blue-eyed girl.
From the shadows behind Marissa and Cole exploded a blur of motion, and Dean felt a hand on his sleeve. He looked quickly over at Gus, whose eyes were pinned to Cole.
“Wait,” Gus said softly.
Marissa, taking in the looks on their faces, turned and all three gaped as Kwaiya stepped up behind Cole and grabbed him around the neck and waist, halting his apparent attack on Marissa. The homeless man’s dark eyes were on Marissa, his arms effectively cutting off Cole’s oxygen.
“Kwaiya,” the bartender said softly, suddenly stepping into the mix and drawing the scarred man’s eyes. “It’s okay. You can let him go.”
“He was going to hurt her,” Kwaiya said, his voice a deep rumble.
“We won’t let him.” The bartender stepped closer to the man, eyes on Cole whose skin was shifting from purple to red, his lips turning an ugly shade of blue as his fingers clawed ineffectually at Kwaiya’s arm. “It’s okay, big guy. We won’t let him hurt her.”
Kwaiya seemed to calm at the bartender’s voice and released Cole enough so that the man slipped like liquid to the floor, gasping and retching. The bartender laid a gentle hand on Kwaiya’s arm.
Kwaiya nodded silently, looking over at Marissa, then down at Cole.
“C’mon,” the bartender said, tugging slightly on Kwaiya’s arm. “I got something for you in the kitchen.” He started to lead Kwaiya away from Cole, then glanced over his shoulder. “Gus?”
“I got it,” Gus replied, standing and nodding at Marissa as he passed her on his way to Cole. Dean watched as Gus hauled Cole to his feet. “You’re gonna be okay,” Gus grumbled. “Don’t be such a baby about it.”
“He was gonna kill me, Gus,” Cole rasped.
“Yeah, well, he didn’t.”
“Freak should be behind bars,” Cole continued, rubbing his neck.
Gus just shook his head and turned Cole toward the door. He glanced back at Dean. “Rain check?” he asked.
“You bet,” Dean replied, watching them leave.
Someone reset the jukebox and Marissa turned to face Dean. He stared back at her, unsure exactly what had just happened or what to say about it. Marissa’s blue eyes pooled with tears and he watched her throat work to keep her emotion in check.
“I,” she started, swallowing again. “I, uh, think I kinda lost my ride. Could… um, could you take me home?”
Dean looked at her a moment longer. Taking a breath, he turned to his table, tossed back his second shot of whiskey, and then after a moment’s hesitation, downed Gus’ as well. Eyes momentarily watering from the hit of liquor, belly warm and muscles loose, he turned back to her.
“Lead the way,” he replied.
Continued in Part 3B, found here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/67617.html